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.
Many people have helped me in the making of this book. My first thanks are to Leah Scragg, Suzanne B. Butters and Naomi Baker. Their long-standing support and enthusiasm for my work made it possible for me to write this book. I am also extremely grateful to Catherine Richardson, Jerome De Groot and Jacqueline Pearson for their invaluable advice in the early stages of planning and writing the book. I am deeply indebted to the anonymous readers who looked at the initial book proposal, and especially to the reader who offered incisive, rigorous and detailed comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Huge thanks to Naomi Baker, Paul Harvey and Charlie Porter for reading and commenting on the manuscript as it neared completion. I’m also very grateful to a number of friends and colleagues including Carolyn Broomhead, Hannah Coles, Hannah Crawforth, Andrew Frayn, Florence Grant, Gavin Grindon, Margaret Harvey, Andy Kesson, Sonia Massai, Lucy Munro, Gordon McMullan, Ann Thompson and J. T. Welsch. In the very late stages of writing this book I joined the University of Sussex, and would like to thank Matthew Dimmock, Andrew Hadfield, Margaret Healy and Tom Healy for their help and support. Thank you also to Manchester University Press for seeing the book to publication.
My greatest thanks are to my family: Sarah, Sophie, Charlie and especially my parents. My mum and dad have supported my research in every way possible, and I have loved talking about ‘making and unmaking’ with them. Finally, much love and thanks to Paul.