Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Early Modern Workshop 2009: "Reading Across Cultures: The Jewish Book and Its Readers in the Early Modern Period"

2009 Early Modern Workshop Announcement
The sixth Early Modern Workshop will focus on the topic of “Reading across Cultures: The Jewish Book and Its Readers in the Early Modern Period.” The workshop will be held at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University from Sunday, August 23, 2009 and to Tuesday, August 25, 2009. The keynote speaker will be Professor Ann Blair (Harvard University).

The proposed workshop aims to understand more deeply the developments in reading within Jewish society, as well as the impact the Jewish book may have had on culture in early modern Europe among both Jews and Christians. Recent studies, mostly on France, England, and Italy, have focused on the people behind “the book” – not only the author, but also those involved in book production and distribution, as well as the readers. As Guiglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier have argued, the text is fixed, whereas reading is ephemeral and creative. This workshop will seek to open a discussion of the culture of reading in Jewish society, as well as of the reading of Jewish books in Christian society, during a period of rapid cultural transformation. It will bring existing scholarship on the history of reading in Christian Europe to bear on the subject of Jewish reading. For example, scholars in this realm have highlighted the importance of medieval monastic culture for the development of silent reading, which in the early modern period became normalized within a broader reading community. What were the different or parallel developments within Jewish society, with its very different institutions and conventions of learning? How did print and access to books affect readers? Did it facilitate new reading communities? Did it modify existing reading traditions? And did it affect the ways of reading? How did authorities seek to control or prevent access to new texts, and how did these measures affect readers?

The proposed workshop will bring together scholars in European history who have done innovative work in book history and scholars of early modern Jewish culture who have explored the “Jewish book” and its reading in different environments. Given the dramatic recent developments on the book and reading within non-Jewish historiography, we would like to facilitate a workshop that would bring together scholars of Jewish and non-Jewish cultural history to explore this field. We hope that such an encounter will allow for a fruitful discussion, opening up some new questions for the broader field of the history of reading.

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