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Leah Price
President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA 02138-3800)
People of the Book: How Understanding the Printed Past Can Shape Our Digital Future

Drawing on historical materials as well as interviews in places ranging from libraries and homeless shelters to hospitals, this book explores  the past and future of reading in the United States. How and why have Americans developed the range of beliefs they hold about the power of books?

Do books have a future? Does reading? This book asks what Americans who worry about those two questions -- and who wonder about the relation between them -- can learn from the history of competing and often conflicting uses to which print has been put. It asks more specifically why, after centuries of expert warnings that reading is hazardous to health and morals, around the turn of the millennium many of those same Americans began to believe that reading (especially in print, of literature) would improve their civic, emotional and even medical well-being. What's lost and gained in our newfound faith that engaging with books will save a self or a society? To answer those questions, I draw on archival research in book history, bibliography and literary criticism as well as on interviews with present-day readers in a range of settings (from libraries to homeless shelters, prisons and hospitals).

Project fields:
Literature, General; Media Studies; U.S. History

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
3/1/2017 – 2/28/2018