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Reading

How Historians Study Reading, Some Models, But What Exactly Is Reading?, Bibliography

The question "Who read what—and how?" is fundamental to intellectual history. No idea can have a history until someone reads it somewhere, and its impact on society will depend on the readings of individual readers. It was inevitable, then, that the historiography of ideas would turn toward the historiography of reading. That trend picked up momentum in the 1980s, when postmodern critics raised provocative theoretical questions about canon formation, the indeterminacy of texts, and the role of the reader in making meaning. Those critics, however, mostly failed to produce empirical studies of actual readers in history. That gap would be filled by scholars working in the emerging field of "book history," taking their inspiration from Robert Darnton's 1986 manifesto "First Steps Toward a History of Reading."

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