The ethnography of reading is such a timely idea that one is tempted to ask why it has taken so long for students of society, history, and literature to come around it. This chapter notes that the only way to move beyond the limits of our present understanding is to expand the archive of known reading practices. Our ignorance of a scientific interpretation of reading is not an obstacle to the historical and anthropological analysis of reading. Historical forces have buttressed the cognitive view. They fall under four headings: the format of reading materials; the rise of general education; the way in which learning to read among children has been experimentally studies; and the growth of university departments of literature, and, in particular, of literary theory.
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