What do John Keats’ Shakespeare volumes, William Wordsworth’s library catalog, and Victor Hugo’s commonplace book have in common with primers and spellers and other historical materials about learning to read?
Each item is among the 1,200 books and manuscripts — more than 250,000 Web-accessible pages — that are now online at a site called in Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History. Developed by Harvard’s Open Collections Program with support from the Arcadia Fund, the effort is an online exploration of the intellectual, cultural, and political history of reading as reflected in the historical holdings of Harvard’s libraries.
“Although reading happens everywhere,” said Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library, “we don’t know what it is when it takes place under our nose. How do we make sense of typographical marks embedded on a page? How did other people in other times and places decipher signs in other languages? The process of reading lies at the heart of our most intensely human activity, the making of meaning, and therefore deserves study as a crucial element in all civilizations, even those without modern means of communication, where natives learn to read footprints in the sand and clouds in the sky as meaningful portents.”
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