The research project “Cities of Readers” aims to supply a new phase in the scholarly exploration of the “long fifteenth century” (1400-1550), a period characterized by great cultural, political and religious changes: a stronger urbanization, the development of religious observance movements, a growing social mobility accompanied by a rising literacy and an increasing book production. This pivotal period in Dutch and European history will be approached by studying the participation of lay people in the production and the transmission of religious knowledge through their engagement in reading, textual and performative activities. The project will innovatively approach religious knowledge in terms of dynamics, exchanges and negotiations and will consider both individuals and groups (“communities of interpretation”, i.e. formal and informal textual communities sharing texts and knowledge) as objects of research. Reading activities will moreover be studied in relation to the specific places and spaces in which they were generated.
The complexity of the topic and the broad varieties of selected sources (ranging from personal miscellanies to post-mortem inventories) require an interdisciplinary and programmatic approach that will be conducted along three main methodological lines: a) the study of the multiformity of readership and modes of transmission (textuality, orality, aurality and performativity); b) the role of communities of interpretation; c) a spatial approach to cultural dynamics striving towards the reconstruction of a late medieval religious taskscape, i.e. identifying the place where religious knowledge was ‘made’, ‘discussed’ and ‘exchanged’.
The research lines will be combined in three complementary research projects and in the final co-authored monograph that will contribute to the evaluation of material from the Low Countries in a wider European perspective. The project will result in the writing of new narratives concerning the crucial role of active readership during a pivotal period in European history.