Adrian Johns, "The Science of Reading"

Wednesday, March 6, 2024, 4:30 pm6:00 pm



Event Description

We live in a culture defined by the practice of reading. We depend on that practice, and its centrality to a modern information society is everywhere acknowledged. But reading itself has always been mysterious at its heart. In the late nineteenth century a science arose that sought to solve that mystery, and throughout the twentieth its practitioners worked to investigate what happens to us when we read, how, and to what effect. Their efforts had consequences: the champions of this science sought to reshape education so as to produce better citizen readers, and the childhoods of millions of Americans reflected their maxims. The workplace experiences of countless men and women reflected them too, in corporations, the armed services, and government alike. A history of the science of reading can help us understand how our information society arose and why it took the shape it did.

Adrian Johns is the author of The Science of Reading: Information, Media, and Mind in Modern America (Chicago, 2023), Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age (Norton, 2010), Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (Chicago, 2009), and The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago, 1998), and co-editor (with James Evans) of Beyond Craft and Code: Human and Algorithmic Cultures, Past and Present (Osiris 38, 2023, forthcoming). He has also authored dozens of papers in the histories of science, the book, media, and information. The Nature of the Book won the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association, the John Ben Snow Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the Louis Gottschalk Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the SHARP Prize for the best work on the history of authorship, reading, and publishing. Piracy won the Laing Prize and was selected as Book of the Year by the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Johns has been awarded Guggenheim, ACLS, and NEH fellowships. Educated in Britain at the University of Cambridge, he has also taught at the University of Kent at Canterbury, the University of California, San Diego, and the California Institute of Technology. (

Lee Horinko Reed
Scholarly Series
History of Science Colloquium