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    Birkwood, Katherine and Howard, Eric 2014. Bibliography. Library & Information History, Vol. 30, Issue. 3, p. 225.



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  • Published online: 29 January 2014

‘What do the masses read?’ After popular literacy and an urban market for mass culture became conspicuous in Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century, dozens of literary figures and social researchers took it upon themselves to answer this question. Middle-class inquirers sought in newsagents' wares a vicarious connection with the culture and values of the readers of popular fiction. Many of these investigators, from Wilkie Collins in the 1850s to George Orwell in the 1930s, practised a form of literary criticism that doubled as social criticism. Other students of popular reading – Florence Bell in her study of early twentieth-century Middlesbrough and Mass-Observation in its surveys of reading during the Second World War – worked at the margins of British traditions of social research. Critics working from the texts of popular fiction tended to concentrate on questions of style and ideology; those doing fieldwork focused on reading as a social practice. Examining the corpus of studies of popular literacy from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century opens up the question of the scope of literary criticism and social research in modern Britain.

Corresponding author
Department of History, University of Sydney, NSW 2006,
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I wish to thank participants in the Cambridge modern cultural history seminar and the Oxford modern British history seminar – and especially Jon Lawrence, Ross McKibbin, Peter Mandler, and Gillian Sutherland. Alastair Blanshard, Barbara Caine, Marco Duranti, Andrew Fitzmaurice, John Gagné, Julia Horne, Miranda Johnson, Glenda Sluga, and Philip Waller read an earlier version of this article. Their criticisms and suggestions improved it a great deal, as did the insights of the anonymous referees for the Historical Journal. I am grateful to Jennie Taylor and Emma Grant for research assistance. This research was supported by a fellowship from the Australian Research Council (Discovery Project 1093097).

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David Vincent, Literacy and popular culture: England, 1750–1914 (Cambridge, 1989)

Joseph McAleer, Popular reading and publishing in Britain, 1914–1950 (Oxford, 1992)

Robert James, Popular culture and working-class taste in Britain, 1930–1939: a round of cheap diversions? (Manchester, 2010)

A. H. Halsey, A history of sociology in Britain: science, literature, and society (Oxford, 2004)

Mike Savage, Identities and social change in Britain since 1940: the politics of method (Oxford, 2010)

Rick Rylance, ‘Reading with a mission: the public sphere of Penguin Books’, Critical Quarterly, 47 (2005), pp. 4866

Nicholas Joicey, ‘A paperback guide to progress: Penguin Books 1935 – c. 1951’, Twentieth Century British History, 4 (1993), pp. 2556

Billie Melman, Women and the popular imagination in the twenties: flappers and nymphs (New York, NY, 1988)

Judith R. Walkowitz, City of dreadful delight: narratives of sexual danger in late Victorian London (London, 1992), p. 124

Alastair Reid, ‘Intelligent artisans and aristocrats of labour: the essays of Thomas Wright’, in Jay Winter, ed., The working class in modern British history: essays in honour of Henry Pelling (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 171–86

Mathew Thomson, Psychological subjects: identity, culture, and health in twentieth-century Britain (Oxford, 2006)

Jeremy Nuttall, Psychological socialism: the Labour party and qualities of mind and character, 1931 to the present (Manchester, 2006)

Kelly Boyd, Manliness and the boys’ story paper in Britain: a cultural history, 1855–1940 (Basingstoke, 2003)

Selina Todd, Young women, work, and family in England, 1918–1950 (Oxford, 2005)

Matt Houlbrook, ‘ “A pin to see the peepshow”: culture, fiction and selfhood in Edith Thompson's letters, 1921–1922’, Past and Present, 207 (2010), pp. 215–49

Christopher Hilliard, English as a vocation: the ‘Scrutiny’ movement (Oxford, 2012)

Lawrence Goldman, ‘A peculiarity of the English? the Social Science Association and the absence of sociology in nineteenth-century Britain’, Past and Present, 114 (1987), pp. 132–71

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