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Jacob Halford - Visiting Research Fellow, Reading Publics 2012-13


Virginia Woolf in her famous essay A Room of One's Own said that for women to be able to write they needed money and a room of their own. Woolf believed that money and space freed women from the constraints and worries of life that was conducive to thinking and writing. As Woolf said in the essay “One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well." Money according to Woolf was a tool that meant women did not have to worry about day-to-day concerns such as cooking, cleaning, and money, meaning that they had mental freedom that could now be used to think and write about other things. As Woolf further elaborated, money was a way to open up the world because if you "possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle" then you are able to "contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”

The sentiments expressed by Virginia Woolf concerning women and writing is equally applicable to the Mellon-funded Reading Publics fellowship. The generous support that the Reading Publics fellowship provided has allowed me to 'dream over books' and to contemplate the past worlds of the Renaissance and Early Modern period and it would be fair to say that the freedom that this fellowship gave me had the same effect that money and a room of ones own had on female writing according to Woolf. The funding that I was so generously given from the fellowship was exceptionally useful in developing my research as it removed any financial concerns so that one was truly free to think just about books. This was because it allowed me the freedom to travel to special collections to look at books, to spend time with other scholars in order to help develop my research ideas, and it gave me the freedom to think without the everyday worries.

One of the major benefits of the fellowship was the ability to travel and spend extensive time at Oxford in the Bodleian library. This allowed me to see rare texts that have yet to be digitized in their physical context. As my work looks at print culture the ability to see texts physically helped me to understand the ways in which early modern books were classified and grouped together and the importance of materiality when considering and reading texts. This helped me to think about the differences between electronic texts and physical books and ways in which digitization alters the meaning of texts. Theses insights have been made into an article for the Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies that is currently under review and other ideas are also being developed for a paper at a research institute at the Folger library this summer and a paper for a conference in Oxford later this year. These findings were the direct result of ideas discussed whilst at the Reading Publics summer school and have been given the time, space, and resources to develop as a result of the fellowship.

The fellowship has also developed my PhD thesis on the dialogue genre. The time at the Bodleian allowed me to research how printers and publishers provided readers with interpretative aids through typography, genre tropes, frontispieces and introductions that helped to establish the dialogue genre. These ideas have been instrumental in my own research output. For instance, the ideas of genre and reading communities were used in preparing for a paper I gave at the European Society for Early Modern Philosophy biannual conference on the importance of genre and typography in structuring ideas and intellectual debate.

Having the ability to see books not only highlighted the role of the physical structure of the book but it drew my attention to the importance of literary organization in shaping reading publics and how readers interpreted books. Looking at the way in which Anthony Wood catalogued various pamphlets, dialogues and other cheap print material in his collection helped me to see how early modern readers classified literature into genres. This research is being developed in a chapter on my thesis that looks at how readers are guided in their reading of a text through the mediation of printers, publishers and booksellers that all shape the horizons of expectations of readers or provide a reading public with a guide for how they should read the text. The way a book was advertised through its frontispiece, grouped with other texts in a bookshop, and even its title all provided cues to readers on how to read and interpret the book. This research would not have been possible without the ability to spend three weeks at the Bodleian library that was made possible through the Reading Publics Fellowship.

The second benefit that the fellowship provided was the ability to participate in a research community. As John Donne famously said 'No man is an island' and equally no scholar should be an island. As part of the fellowship it brought me into contact with numerous scholarly communities that helped to ensure that as a scholar I was not an isolated island. For instance being able to attend the Early Modern and Renaissance centre's STVDIO seminars. This allowed me to come into contact with scholars from across Europe, and the research that they shared often provoked me to think about my own research in a new light. It has also allowed me to discuss ideas with other fellows, such as Jonathan Olson. This has allowed me to discuss ideas with him that has resulted in a refinement of my own ideas and given me different avenues for me to research in greater depth. For instance, discussing Olson's research on frontispieces helped me to think about the print shop and how the printer and editor used frontispieces to shape the tropes of a genre that is going to be used in my thesis. Thus, the fellowship allowed me to spend time with other scholars that resulted in a cross-fertilisation of ideas.

As a direct result of having this fellowship my ideas and thoughts have been developed and refined. Ideas that were germinated at the Reading Publics summer school have been given the space, time, and resources that have allowed them to grow and bloom. Particular ideas such as the nature of the relationship between the book as a physical object and how its physical structure effects how it is read have been enhanced and improved. The tangible product of the summer school and the associated fellowship has been an article, three conference papers, and a substantial section of a chapter of my PhD thesis. However the legacy of the summer school and the fellowship run deeper then this, as it has caused me to re-evaluate the methodology of my research and to think about how readers are studied. The fellowship by giving me the ability to think about the importance of looking at genre, physical books, typography and printers has resulted not simply an article and conference papers but it has inspired me take a whole new approach in the studying books and their associated readerships.