This project examines the cultural lives of the literate, urban ‘middling sort’ in early modern England, analysing the broad range of written and material forms they both produced and consumed.

Some of the most popular writers in English were members of this key, but neglected, social group and Middling Culture provides the first sustained and holistic analysis of their cultural practices. Fully understanding their production and consumption patterns will allow us to reconstruct the urban aesthetic and scribal cultures in which significant prose and dramatic writers such as Thomas Nashe and William Shakespeare grew up and participated.

At stake here is a more comprehensive and accurate sense of the cultural identities of a range of influential households, those of professional writers, clerics, physicians, tradesmen, lawyers and urban administrators, their wives, servants and children: how their writing related to their broader aesthetic environment, and how their outputs mediated culturally between those above and below them – the way they used them to further their social and political ends.

This project will transform our sense of the way reading and writing fitted into the everyday cultural lives of the middling sort, and give us a clearer understanding of the history of those relationships between social mobility, creativity, and the arts that continue to be of interest and importance today.