Medieval Books in Early Modern England
In Jennifer Summit’s account, libraries are more than inert storehouses of written tradition; they are volatile spaces that actively shape the meanings and uses of books, reading, and the past. Considering the two-hundred-year period between 1431, which saw the foundation of Duke Humfrey’s famous library, and 1631, when the great antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton died, Memory’s Library revises the history of the modern library by focusing on its origins in medieval and early modern England.
Summit argues that the medieval sources that survive in English collections are the product of a Reformation and post-Reformation struggle to redefine the past by redefining the cultural place, function, and identity of libraries. By establishing the intellectual dynamism of English libraries during this crucial period of their development, Memory’s Library demonstrates how much current discussions about the future of libraries can gain by reexamining their past.
North American Conference on British Studies: John Ben Snow Foundation Prize
“The early fifteenth century is not a great age of English literature: yet it inaugurates, Jennifer Summit argues, a process of great English library building that flourishes for two hundred years. It is a joy to encounter a book that restores the presence of medieval books as active agents within Renaissance culture through their power to disturb and provoke. And to learn how our own reading habits, as English-speaking moderns, have been decisively shaped by this singular history of collection, ruination, and reassembly. Memory’s Library is a brilliant, lucid, and generous book that deserves the widest possible audience.”
“Memory’s Library is not (just) a history of important books and the powerful people who collected them. In Jennifer Summit’s erudite and elegant account, English libraries emerge as theaters of memory and agents of change, sites of conflict and commemoration that play a major role in the construction of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and modernity itself. It deserves a place on every scholar’s bookshelves.”
“Jennifer Summit offers persuasive—and original—views of the role played by Renaissance librarians in seeking and defining scientific knowledge. With deft strokes, she paints a picture of how collecting medieval manuscripts helped humanist scholars create the concept of textuality we still live with. Without the librarians, Summit shows, literature, and knowledge generally, would look very different.”