Centrally Controlled Reading (completed)

The project examines Czech and Polish reading culture behind the Iron Curtain 1950-1980.

A man holding a hand above a glass with a drink. Illustration.

"No, rather a book!"


Reading practices have their own history; their appropriation, conduct, properties and impact have greatly varied across times and places. Nonetheless, the history of reading as a field of study is in its relatively early stages of development and Western European and North American research, with the works by Roger Chartier, Robert Darnton and Jonathan Rose, dominating the area.

Traditionally, reading has been considered as an important way to appropriate knowledge, values and norms, and as a social practice with a high potential to change human thought and behaviour. The post-WWII centrally controlled regimes of Central Europe believed strongly in this potential and turned the reading of fiction as well as non-fiction into vehicles for an ideological restructuring of society and for a transformation of readers’ consciousness in order to forge the “New Socialist Man”. 

About the project

The project has a twofold ambition. First, it is an exploration into the normative discourse on readership in the Czech Lands and Poland in the 1950s and 1970s and into the authorities’ strategies to adjust, implement and maintain reading practices originating in specific Soviet conditions. Second, it is an investigation of common Czech and Polish readers’ actual reading practices and strategies. 

On the one hand, the project draws on archival and printed sources related to the procedures of publishing and publishing houses, the web of censoring practices, book trade, library practices, reading circles and campaigns, school curricula, and respective statistics and surveys etc. On the other hand, the project makes use of semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups representative of different socio-demographic categories.

The project aims to contribute to a more complex understanding of the relation between public and private discourses and their changes in the Czech and Polish societies in the given period. With a comparative approach to two centrally controlled regimes, the project considers the “geography of reading”: that where texts are read has an important bearing on how they are read. Moreover, with its perspective rooted in “the other Europe”, the project seeks to bring new empirical evidence and methodological tools both to the history of reading in general and to the history of reading in centrally controlled regimes in particular.

Tags: History of Reading, Communism, Czech, Polish
Published May 15, 2013 11:12 AM - Last modified Apr. 16, 2020 5:58 PM