An Undisciplined Discipline?
A dispassionate, professional review article on a selection of books relating to books, literacy, and print culture in the Renaissance (including Johns, The Nature of the Book which Clegg pans for naive scholarship and erroneous generalizations); begins with a survey of discipline of book history (and the history of that discipline), then provides a careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the eight books under review, and focusses on the difficulty of successful interdisciplinarity. Book history as an interdisciplinary field can be fruitful, but the works of any one scholar are likely to be flawed by his or her disciplinary allegiances (to say nothing of his or her flaws as a scholar):
The great strength of the books considered here is that together – in a full complement – they advance our understanding of authorship, textual authority, reading practices, and the political implications of printed texts in Renaissance Italy and early modern England. […] Taken individually, however, each of these books reveals that however much the history of the book needs to be an ‘interdisciplinary endeavour’, to practice interdisciplinary scholarship requires more than becoming conversant in the recent literature of another discipline; it requires a certain humility in the face of long traditions of bibliographic, historiographic, and critical practice, and a willingness to acknowledge and incorporate these precedents along with often unaccustomed methodologies (245).
Books & articles to add to reading list
- Douglas Brooks. From Playhouse to Printing House. Cambridge: CUP, 2000. Useful complement to Johns, The Nature of the Book.
- Frances E. Dolan. Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1999. Gunpowder plot and other plots under consideration; difficulties of being a Catholic, etc.
- Suzanne Hull. Chaste, Silent and Obedient: English Books for Women 1475–1640. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1982.
- Brian Richardson. Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge: CUP, 1999. Solid on the history, weaker on the theory.
- Eve Rachelle Sanders. Gender and Literacy on Stage in Early Modern England. Cambridge: CUP, 1998. Readings of women’s roles in theatre.
- Kevin Sharpe. Reading Revolutions: The Politics of Reading in Early Modern England. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. Provides reading of Sir William Drake’s commonplace books and marginalia and tries to demonstrate how his reading and politics influenced and changed each other.