Wednesday 16th January, 2019








not required


Dr Williams's Library Seminar Series


The Lecture Hall, Dr Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AR


Speaking books and noisy reading: the early modern conversation manual


Any English-speaker hoping to travel beyond Dover in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have been faced with a significant difficulty: almost nobody in continental Europe spoke English. In the days before English was a global language, travelling English-speakers had to become language-learners. In this paper, I will introduce the genre of multilingual conversation manuals, hundreds of which were printed in the period 1480-1715, for the use of men and women, poor and rich, apprentices, travellers, traders, tourists, and refugees. These texts offered dialogues in languages from French and Spanish to Malay and Narragansett, and could contain up to eight languages in one edition. This paper will explore these rich texts and ask what they have to tell us about linguistic competence, multilingual communication, travel, trade, and encounter in a period of increased mobility and expansion for early modern England. It will explore the relationship between text and speech in these very oral texts, and ask how they were really used by their readers. Written by teachers, exiles, and refugees, and teaching everything from polite conversation to dirty dealing, conversation manuals offer insights into England’s multilingual and European histories.


Dr John Gallagher

Dr John Gallagher

Dr John Gallagher is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Leeds. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and was a Research Fellow in History at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. He is a historian of language-learning and multilingualism, migration and mobility, education, and oral culture in early modern England and Europe. His first book, Learning Languages in Early Modern England, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2019. He has articles published or forthcoming in Renaissance Quarterly, Renaissance Studies, Huntington Library Quarterly, and The Italianist.