Medieval Islamic societies were extremely learned, textually-oriented cultures. The use of the written word grew significantly in Egypt and Syria between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, and within these societies, more and more groups began to participate in individual and communal acts of reading. New reading sessions, revised schoolroom curricula, the growth of endowed libraries, and the increasing presence of popular written literature all attest to the profound transformation of cultural practices and social contexts engendered by the influx of texts. Consulting a range of documentary, narrative, and normative sources, Konrad Hirschler explores the growth of reading audiences in a pre-print culture and develops his history around the key themes of literacy, orality, and aurality. He focuses particularly on the proliferation and accessibility of libraries and reviews popular reading practices often associated with notions of the illicit.
Konrad Hirschler is senior lecturer in the history of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.