CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will host a conference May 18-19 called "The Emergence of the Female Reader 1500-1800" that will explore how literacy changed women's lives.

Eight noted scholars from universities throughout the United States and Canada will deliver a series of lectures that are free and open to the public. The conference is bringing together the "best and most exciting new work on reading and gender," said Heidi Brayman Hackel, an assistant professor of English and organizer of the conference.

"Literacy and identity have always been intertwined in ways that we are just learning to understand," she said. "Long before Jane Eyre curled up in a window seat to read, girls and women were reading - sometimes furtively, often voraciously - and rarely with the full support of their culture." Janice Radway, a professor at Duke University, will open the conference with the keynote address on Friday, May 18. She is the author of "Reading the Romance," a landmark study of 20th century women readers of romance novels. Her talk, "On the Sociability of Reading: Books, Self-fashioning and the Creation of Communities," will begin at 7 p.m. in The Valley Library rotunda.

Sessions on Saturday will pair scholars working on Renaissance England with historians of early America and focus on these themes: Prohibitions and Pleasures, Performance and Accomplishment, and Religion and Science. The conference will conclude with a roundtable discussion led by David Scott Kastan of Columbia University. It begins at 4 p.m.

All Saturday events will be held in Memorial Union Room 208. Saturday presentations include:

  • "Early Modern Women Readers and the Culture of Consumption," by Mary Ellen Lamb, Southern Illinois University; and "'The Privilege of Reading': Women Making Meanings in the Early Republic," by Mary Kelley, Dartmouth College. 9 to 10:30 a.m. 
  • "The Accomplishment of Reading: Literate Women in 16th-Century England and Italy," by Eve Sanders, Concordia University; and "Reading and the Problem of Accomplishment," by Catherine Kelly, University of Oklahoma. 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  • "'With All Due Reverence and Respect to the Word of God': Aphra Behn as Skeptical Reader of the Bible and Critical Translator of Fontenelle," by Margaret Ferguson, University of California-Davis; and "The Word Made Flesh: Reading the Body in Puritan America," by Janice Knight, University of Chicago. 2 to 3:30 p.m.

The conference is sponsored by the Thomas Hart and Mary Jones Horning Endowment for the Humanities at OSU, and supported by several OSU programs and departments.

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Heidi Brayman Hackel, 541-737-1631