Jeffrey Todd Knight
- Northwestern University
Compiling Culture: Reading and the Use of Books, 1476-1676
Shakespeare's generation lived through a media revolution at least as significant as our own. This project draws on little-known archival evidence of real readers and book owners to explore an experimental dimension of print culture long obscured by modern bibliographic practices. It demonstrates that to their earliest users, printed books were interactive. Rather than static "wholes" like the kind in archives today, early printed books were assemblages—collections of movable parts to be continually reconfigured and remade. For writers like Shakespeare, this was a key impetus to create. This project explores the influence of a more physical history of reading on literary writing, and in doing so, it revises our knowledge of both pre-modern literature and modern archivology.
Compiling Culture: Textual Assembly and the Production of Renaissance Literature
This project excavates a culture of compiling that prevailed after the emergence of print but before the ascendancy of the modern book, arguing that conceptions of imaginative writing are inextricable from the physical production of texts: binding, anthologizing, and assembling pages into volumes. Through analysis of works by William Shakespeare, Michel de Montaigne, Edmund Spenser, and others, this study demonstrates how the unsettled conventions of book and manuscript assembly in the Renaissance fostered an idea of the literary text as interactive, and of writing as compilation, modification, and enlargement. Turning to library archives where these texts were later rebound and remade as books on the modern model, it shows how habits of conservation and curatorship shape our own habits of reading and interpretation.