Reorienting the narrative of digital media studies to incorporate the medieval, Participatory reading in late-medieval England traces affinities between digital and medieval media to explore how participation defined reading practices and shaped relations between writers and readers in England’s literary culture from the late-fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries. Traditionally, print operates as the comparative touchstone of both medieval and digital media, but Participatory reading argues that the latter share more in common with each other than either does with print. Working on the borders of digital humanities, medieval cultural studies, and the history of the book, Participatory reading draws on well-known and little-studied works ranging from Chaucer to banqueting poems and wall-texts to demonstrate how medieval writers and readers engaged with practices familiar in digital media today, from crowd-sourced editing to nonlinear apprehension to mobility, temporality, and forensic materiality illuminate. Writers turned to these practices in order to both elicit and control readers’ engagement with their works in ways that would benefit the writers’ reputations along with the transmission and interpretation of their texts, while readers pursued their own agendas—which could conflict with or set aside writers’ attempts to frame readers’ work. The interactions that gather around participatory reading practices reflect concerns about authority, literacy, and media formats, before and after the introduction of print. Participatory reading is of interest to students and scholars of medieval literature, book, and reading history, in addition to those interested in the long history of media studies.
The genealogy of this book is, like those of the books discussed in the pages that follow, an unruly one of overlapping origins and intersecting concerns. I am indebted to my father, whose passion for history insists on the relevance of the past to contemporary politics, laws and culture; to my mother, who taught me always to question established wisdom; and most of all to my brother, who long ago determined my focus on the marginalized. I would like to thank in particular Jennie Batchelor, in whom I have been lucky enough to find a colleague at once challenging, insightful, encouraging and inspirational and who unfailingly and generously gave (and continues to give) of her time and guidance. Without her invaluable and constant support and friendship this project would not have been possible.
I would like to thank Donna Landry for spurring me to new lines of enquiry in my research, providing many valuable conversations, being an ever-encouraging and astute critic and not least of all for reading and commenting upon the manuscript in various drafts. I am grateful to the many colleagues and friends whose insights and time have strengthened this book, particularly Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Marie Mulvey-Roberts, Karl Leydecker, Gillian Dow, Phil Stevenson, Sarah Horgan, Petr Barta, Monica Mattfeld, Steve Martin, Manushag Powell, Koenraad Claes, Peter Brown, Cathy Waters, Robert Maidens, Kat Peddie, Barbara Franchi and Declan Wiffen.
The wonderful staff at the University of Kent have been a constant source of help and I offer thanks to Megan Barrett, Gemma Vaughan, Faith Phoenix, Anna Redmond, Andrea Griffith, Claire Lyons, Helena Torres and Emma Bainbridge.
The institutional support that has been crucial to my research must be acknowledged; through the University of Kent I have received funding that has facilitated my research at various libraries and participation in academic conferences and the award of a Chawton House Library fellowship enabled my work on manuscripts and texts that have been vital to my research. I would like to thank the editorial team at Manchester University Press, and particularly Matthew Frost, who have provided guidance and help during the publication process.
Throughout the writing of this book I have been supported by the best of friends and colleagues, Kim Simpson and Victoria Bennett. Without their strength and insight that, to paraphrase Margaret Atwood, taught me to steer through darkness by no stars, I could not have written this book and it is to them that I dedicate this work.