“Gentyll Reader Ye Shall Understande”: Practical Books and the Making of an English Reading Public, 1400-1560


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project traces the rise of vernacular practical books in England as evidence for the growth of a reading public newly appreciative of the utility of the written word. Around 1400, English people began to record practical knowledge—how to fish, when to pick herbs, or how to cure a fever—in personal manuscripts. After 1476, this practical knowledge was transferred into printed books that remained popular until the mid-sixteenth century. As a comparison of over 300 of these practical books in manuscript and print, this project reveals the continuity of everyday concerns that structured English life over a period of seismic cultural upheaval, even as it confirms the printing press as an agent of change. It explores how even minor changes to the presentation, transmission, and circulation of knowledge rippled outward, transforming how English people conceived of their roles as readers, writers, and consumers of knowledge.