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Reading and literacy


Admission requirements

No requirements for students of Book and Digital Media Studies and Erasmus exchange students. Other students: by application to the course organiser only.


Literacy is more than simply being able to decode written texts. Without necessarily being aware of it, from our earliest exposure to books and print, for example, we learn to read the page not just for the meaning of the actual words it contains, but also for the typographic form they have been given. The mise-en-page and the mise-en-livre—the way we place text two-dimensionally on the page and three-dimensionally in books—have become an indissoluble part of all textual meaning. Typography thus extends the semantic richness of language through enlisting the possibilities of typographic form. Similarly, can a person be called literate who has no knowledge about the role of books and text in society? Successful reading is based on a vast body of largely unconscious knowledge.

The massive embrace of reading from screens is making us aware for the first time of the full extent of the knowledge and skills that are presupposed in the act of reading. Literacy researchers now talk of ‘digital literacy’ or even ‘literacies’, but the pre-digital nature of literacy in this broader sense remains largely unexplored. The digital revolution primes us uniquely to investigate properly for the first time what unspoken assumptions we have about literacy. What knowledge and skills does society expect a literate person to possess? What do individuals need to live in a literate society? How do we teach the requisite literacy skills?

Course objectives

Students will

  • Learn about the contingency of reading culture over time, depending on the dominant text technology;

  • Gain a new understanding of the concept of literacy;

  • Learn to recognise conventions of textual form and how they have contributed to make meaning;

  • Learn to understand how textual form is created in practice, through analogue and digital processes;

  • Gain some hands-on experience in creating textual forms;

  • Gain insight into the intricate relation between textual form and the social significance of literacy and reading.


Time and date on which the course is offered or a link to the website. The administration will complete this with the link to the website.

The timetable is available on the MA Media Studies website

Mode of instruction

Lectures and seminars; private research project; excursions.

Course Load

Total course load 5EC x 28 hours=140 hours
Lecture and seminar attendance: 24
Preparation for seminars (study of compulsory literature): 52
Assignment(s): 12
Final course paper: 52

Assessment method


Final course paper
Abstract, oral presentation.


Final course paper 80%
Abstract, oral presentation 20%


Rewrite course paper.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Weekly programme

  • Course documents (if applicable)

Reading list

  • Stanislas Dehaene, Reading in the Brain: The science and evolution of a human invention (New York: Viking, 2009)

  • D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the sociology of texts (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986)

  • Bonnie Mak, How the page matters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011)

  • David Olson, The world on paper: The conceptual and cognitive implications of writing and reading(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996)

  • David Pearson, Books as History: The importance of books beyond their texts (rev. edn., London, British Library, 2013)

  • Katherine Tyner, Literacy in a digital world (Mahwah, NJ & London: LEA, 1998)

  • Adriaan van der Weel, Changing our textual minds: Towards a digital order of knowledge (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2011)

  • Daniel Willingham, D.T., The reading mind: A cognitive approach to understanding how the mind reads (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2017)

  • Maryanne Wolf, Tales of literacy for the twenty-first century (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016)

  • Selected articles (full bibliography to be provided)

Please prepare for the course by reading Wolf, Tales of literacy, chapters 1-6 (pp. 1-162).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. You can register until two weeks after classes have started however students are advised to register as soon as possible and preferably before the start of the course. In the case of electives: please be aware that most electives have a maximum amount of students who can enroll. Do not approach the course instructor in case the class is full. You will automatically be put on a waiting list.

In case you have difficulties with registering for courses you may ask the student administration at Van Eyckhof for assistance. Their e-mail address is [](mailto: and their phone number is + 31 (0)71 5272144.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Contact information: [Prof. dr. Adriaan van der Weel] ( [Coordinator of studies: Jurjen Donkers MA] (