THE DETERMINATION OF HISTORICAL POPULAR READING HABITS: A CASE STUDY

Publication Date01 Apr 1989
Pages318-326
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb026848
AuthorJ.R.R. ADAMS
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
THE DETERMINATION
OF HISTORICAL POPULAR READING HABITS:
A CASE STUDY
J.R.R.
ADAMS
Ulster Folk
and
Transport
Museum,
Cultra,
Co.
Down
The study of popular reading habits
is
in many ways an important one. While
the reading habits of the elite form the leading
edge
of intellectual thought, the
vast majority of humanity have had, in the past as
well
as the present, different
habits and
aims.
Popular literature
has
been bought
right
from
the
beginning by
its readers, but from the seventeenth century there has been an interest in it
from
above,
and from the nineteenth century
some
attempt to study it
in
detail.
In order to recover the reading habits of a real community (Ulster) between
1700
and
1900,
a number of methodologies
were
examined, and the conclusion
was come to that a full examination of contemporary evidence was of the
utmost importance. Of great
use were
several advertisements specifically aimed
at the unsophisticated reader, dating from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-
nineteenth century. The material recovered from these agreed well with other
evidence. In addition, a contemporary eighteenth century classification of the
physical types of popular reading material was found.
INTRODUCTION
THE DETERMINATION OF POPULAR READING HABITS is in-
creasingly a matter of concern for bibliographers and historians
alike.
This is
in line with recent trends in the historical sciences generally, fuelled by the
feeling that in
the
past historians did not pay enough attention
to
what
is,
after
all,
the
majority of humanity. But there have been previous
waves
of interest in
the topic, each inspired by somewhat different motives. Popular literature has
attracted attention, for one reason or another, for a very
long
period.
Its study
and collection has almost as long a history as the genre
itself.
HISTORY
The first collectors of popular literature in the British Isles were themselves a
part of it rather than mere observers and recorders, in the sense that they
bought it to read and enjoy. Indeed at this period there was less distinction
between popular and 'high' culture than was the case in succeeding periods.
One of
these
collectors
was
a Captain
Cox,
stone mason of Coventry, a person
with 'great oversight. .
.
in matters of storie'. In
1575
he owned more than fifty
items,
and they form an interesting contemporary survey of what was
available to the common reader at this time. There were chivalric romances
Journal of
Documentation,
Vol.
45,
No. 4, December
1989,
pp. 318-326.
318

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