On the use of anecdotal evidence in reception study and the history of reading

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. (2010) ‘On the use of anecdotal evidence in reception study and the history of reading’. In: Gunzenhauser, B. (ed.). Reading in history: new methodologies from the Anglo-American Tradition. London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 11-28.

Extract from the editor’s introduction in lieu of an abstract

‘the reading historian needs some kind of tangible record to use as a starting point – and most often this record takes the form of a reading anecdote…. Reading historians, Allington argues, should focus less on the veracity of reading anecdotes and more on their structuring tropes and themes; doing so, he suggests, will enhance their evidentiary function by moving scholarly debates past questions of reliability and legitimacy and will, finally, generate richer histories of reading.’ (Gunzenhauser 2010. pp. 3-4)


The chapter’s main example is James Hogg’s account of his first encounter with the work of Robert Burns (comparing the different versions of his memoir in two editions of Altrive tales), but I also re-examine some of the evidence used in Jonathan Rose’s influential monograph, The intellectual life of the British working classes (Yale UP, 2001). This chapter is to some extent structured as a critique of the latter work, with the critique being resumed in ‘The mediation of reading’.

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