Managing Readers

Printed Marginalia in English Renaissance Books
William W. E. Slights
A sideways look at books that sheds light on the activities of authors, printers, and readers during the English Renaissance


Managing Readers explores the fascinating interchange between text and margin, authorship and readership in early modern England. Printed marginalia did more than any other material feature of book production in the period between 1540 and 1700 to shape the experience of reading. William W. E. Slights considers overlooked evidence of the ways that early modern readers were instructed to process information, to contest opinions, and to make themselves into fully responsive consumers of texts.

The recent revolution in the protocols of reading brought on by computer technology has forced questions about the nature of book-based knowledge in our global culture. Managing Readers traces changes in the protocols of annotation and directed reading--from medieval religious manuscripts and Renaissance handbooks for explorers, rhetoricians, and politicians to the elegant clear-text editions of the Enlightenment and the hypertexts of our own time. Developing such concepts as textual authority, generic difference, and reader-response, Slights demonstrates that printed marginalia were used to confirm the authority of the text and to undermine it, to supplement "dark" passages, and to colonize strategic hermeneutic spaces. The book contains twenty-two illustrations of pages from rare-book archives that make immediately clear how distinctive the management of the reading experience was during the first century-and-a-half of printing in England.


William W. E. Slights is Professor of English, University of Saskatchewan. He is also author of Ben Jonson and the Art of Secrecy.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . wide-ranging studies such as Slights's are invaluable and becoming rarer as time pressures in the academy increase. Slights's extensive research enables him to consider in more depth and with more historical perspective Derrida's and Genette's suggestions that printed paratext, including marginalia, interact with texts and readers in complex ways that are rarely univocal and unidirectional. As to the importance of marginalia, Slights marshals evidence that ought to put it beyond doubt. . . . [H]is study will be invaluable to scholars and editors who work with annotated books."
    ---Christine E. Hutchins, East Carolina University, Ben Jonson Journal, Vol. 9 (2002)
  • ". . . well written and critically astute. . . . It is because of the work of Slights and others that we are alerted to the possibility of a significance in the layout of early modern books. . . . Managing Readers offers a [sic] engagingly sophisticated critical and historical framework for an important aspect of early modern reading and producting of text."
    ---William Berker, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 97:2 (2003)

Look Inside

Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted April 2002.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 312pp.
  • 22 drawings.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11229-6

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  • $94.95 U.S.