Taking “idle readers” seriously: Bancroft Roundtable, March 17th

Open book laying on lawn

Spencer Strub, Bancroft Library Summer Award recipient and doctoral candidate in English and medieval studies, UC Berkeley, will present “The Idle Readers of Piers Plowman in Print” at the Bancroft Roundtable on Thursday, March 17th.

Its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers were laypeople, never attended university, and lived far from London and its intellectual circles. Over several decades, these modest provincial readers left copious notes and records in the book. Their marginalia include doodles, pen-trials, and jokes, but they also reveal readings that surprise with their inventiveness and insight.

The focus of this talk will be on such “idle readers” of the Bancroft Piers and books like it – that is, on the readers who casually flipped the pages, marked their names, and drafted doggerel in the margins, rather than the scholars who read cover-to-cover with publication or career advancement in mind. Taking these idle readers seriously lets us better see the history of books and the afterlife of medieval poetry in the post-Reformation period.

When the medieval English poem Piers Plowman was first printed in the sixteenth century, nearly two centuries after its composition, its readers were Protestant churchmen and scholars interested in mining a famously difficult work for its criticisms of Rome. Or so the story goes. A copy of the 1561 edition of Piers Plowman recently acquired by The Bancroft Library tells a rather different story.

When: Noon, March 17, 2016

Where: Lewis-Latimer Room, The Faculty Club

Free and open to the public.

Post contributed by Kathryn M. Neal, Associate University Archivist


Crystal Miles, Public Services Assistant, The Bancroft Library