The History of Reading as Told by Students at the University of Toronto


This last semester I taught a course called “Readers and Readerships” to close to a hundred and fifty bright young Torontonians. A core second-year course in the Book and Media Studies program at the University of Toronto, the class surveyed the history of Western reading from the pre-history of writing to the present. We talked about thrilling topics from the oldest library catalogues on clay tablets, to ways of looking at Twitter as an inheritor of nineteenth-century reading societies.

The students each had to complete a major project on a topic in reading history, and one stage in the development of their research involved writing an encyclopaedia entry on their chosen area. The students collaboratively edited these entries, and posted to them to this website,, an online encyclopaedia of reading history.

You can explore their work by browsing the six chapters in the Table of ContentsPublic ReadingReading and Human RightsPersonal Reading ExperiencesGendered ReadingYoung Readers, and e-Reading—or by clicking on topics in our Index, er, “Tag Cloud.”

These encyclopaedia entries are clever and and inspiring, often rough, always intriguing. Read through a few and you’ll find gems.