In 1991 the Cambridge Project for the Book Trust hosted the Practice and Representation of Reading seminars at Cambridge University, with a major international conference under the same title in 1992. Both addressed themes in the interpretation of reading – the way in which people read, where they read, and what people thought reading and readers were or should be for. Speakers included Prof. Jesper Svenbro (Paris), Prof. John Brewer (Florence), Prof. Roger Chartier (Paris), Prof. Lisa Jardine (London) and Prof. Françoise Waquet (Paris). The events, attended in all by some 300 people, brought together those interested in understanding the nature of reading but working from very different perspectives and academic traditions.

Papers given at the conference, focusing on the performance and representation in Britain from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, were published by Cambridge University Press in 1996 as:

James Raven, Helen Small, and Naomi Tadmor (eds.), The practice and representation of reading in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996


  • James Raven, Helen Small, Naomi Tadmor Introduction: the practice and representation of reading in England
  • Suzanne Reynolds ‘Let him read the Satires of Horace’: reading, literacy and grammar in the twelfth century
  • Andrew Taylor Into his secret chamber: reading and privacy in late medieval England
  • William H. Sherman The place of reading in the English Renaissance: John Dee revisited
  • Lisa Jardine Reading and the technology of textual affect: Erasmus’s familiar letters and Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • John Kerrigan The editor as reader: constructing Renaissance texts
  • Adam Fox Popular verses and their readership in the early seventeenth century
  • Adrian Johns The physiology of reading in Restoration England
  • Naomi Tadmor ‘In the even my wife read to me’: women, reading and household life in the eighteenth century
  • James Raven From promotion to proscription: arrangements for reading in eighteenth-century libraries
  • Jan Fergus Provincial servants’ reading in the late eighteenth century
  • John Brewer Reconstructing the reader: prescriptions, texts and strategies in Anna Larpent’s reading
  • Kate Flint Women, men and the reading of Vanity Fair
  • Helen Small A pulse of 124: Charles Dickens and a pathology of the mid-Victorian reading public

‘…contains some excellent work. …opens some new ground, and…illustrates the great and still growing diversity of this field of study.’

John Feather, SHARP News