History of Reading across Cultures: The Jewish Book and Its Readers in Early Modern Europe

August 2009

Today we are witnessing “an information revolution.” New technology, the Internet, has provided us with new ways to disseminate information. The information revolution of today has made us learn to cope with, what Ann Blair has called in another context, “the information overload.” We read differently on-line than from books, and new technology forces us to develop new skills to process information.

But centuries earlier, Europeans faced their own “information revolution” that forced them to learn how to cope with “the information overload” of their time—the printing press. With better access to texts, a new group of readers emerged, adapting old techniques to new conditions, or developing new skills to process the information. This subject has been studied by cultural historians of Europe; this workshop seeks to connect them and their findings with scholars of Jewish cultural history. Ironically, we know little about how “the people of the Book” read in the premodern era.

This workshop seeks to examine how Jewish readers coped with this new development and what the areas of direct or indirect interaction between Jewish and Christian readers were. What did they read and how did they process available information? We seek to form collaborative interaction among scholars of Jewish history, early modern history, and literature and to facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas among them.