Image: Dic Aberdaron (Richard Robert Jones) (1780–1843)
Image: An elderly man is depicted reading for leisure in Saturday night by Nicole Erskine
Image: In 'A Dame's School' (1887)

Ignorance in the Age of Text: “Ignorant” Readers and Their Reading in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Jakob K. Hellstenius’s project seeks to understand the reading practices of those readers in Britain who were deemed “ignorant” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

“Ignorant” readers were berated by elites for reading “uninstructive” texts that did nothing to change their material and intellectual poverty, but instead deepened their ignorance—yet such reading was anything but a meaningless pastime.

Jakob explores, first, how such readers’ understanding of religion, economics, intimacy, human nature, and more was shaped by the texts they read; and second, their practices of reading, which mediated the creation, not of ignorance, but knowledge that was legitimized by a different epistemology and was opaque to those unaware of its foundations.

Methodologically, Jakob applies a range of approaches, from traditional archival work to methods from science and technology studies and the digital humanities.

Jakob received both his MA and BA from the University of Oslo. His MA explored the effects of the diversification and universalization of the written word on the reading practices of common readers in nineteenth-century Norway. He was the recipient of the UiO:Norden and Foreningen Norden’s Master thesis scholarship and the Master thesis scholarship of the LO (Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions) for studies in labor history.

Publications & Presentations


Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (forthcoming). “Kan nasjonen føles?” In Introduksjon til emosjonshistorie, edited by Eirinn Larsen and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (2021) “The Pious, the Obstinate, and the Fickle: Common Readers in 19th-Century Norway.” Master’s thesis, Universitetet i Oslo.

Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (2020) “Steder uten mørke.” Molo 11: 61–68.

Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (2020) “Ubehaget i nasjonen.” Fortid 17, no. 2: 64–73.

Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby, Sigurd Bækkelund, and Magne Klasson (2020). “Historikeren: Kristin Asdal.” Fortid 18, no. 3: 4–8.



Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (2020). “I skyggen av folkeopprøret,” review of La guerre des pauvres, by Éric Vuillard. Fortid.

Hellstenius, Jakob Kaaby (2019). Review of Tilbake til Lemberg, by Phillip Sands. Molo Tidsskrift



April 2018: “Foucault og historien.” As part of Kulturutvalget’s autumn program at Chateau Neuf, Oslo. Presented with Ellen Krefting, Fredrik Engelstad, and Svein Atle Skålevåg.

September 2017: “Hva er historisk sannhet?” As part of Kulturutvalget’s spring program at Chateau Neuf, Oslo. Presented with Erling Sandmo and Tor Egil Førland.

Image 1: Dic Aberdaron (Richard Robert Jones) (1780–1843) was a Welsh traveller and polyglot. (© Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales)

Image 2: An elderly man is depicted reading for leisure in Saturday night by Erskine Nicol. (© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow)

Image 3: In 'A Dame's School' (1887) photographer Peter Henry Emerson staged a lesson on reading in East Anglia, England. (© Peter Henry Emerson, Collection of National Media Museum/The Royal Photographic Society)