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The Reading Experience Database (RED), 1450–1945

RED Letter: The Newsletter of the Reading Experience Database


Edited by Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey

As this month (July) marks the end of three years of funding for RED from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, it seemed appropriate to use this issue of REDLetter to reflect on the achievements of the past three years and to outline our plans for the future.

As many of you know, RED was launched in 1996 at the Open University (UK). In this early phase, several dedicated individuals, including Bob Owens, Simon Eliot, Stephen Colclough, Caroline Sumpter, Alexis Weedon and Mary Hammond, supported by generous internal funding, worked hard defining the parameters of the project and collecting data to demonstrate its viability. In 2005, their efforts were rewarded with a substantial award from the AHRC, which enabled the appointment of ourselves as Research Fellows to work full-time on the project.

When we arrived at the beginning of July 2006, we were presented with a number of ambitious targets for the project which were necessary to ensure RED’s success, usability and international presence. We are delighted to announce that we have achieved all of these targets. In June, we released version 3.0 of RED. Visitors to the site can now:

  • search for any keyword in text fields across the whole database by using the ‘basic search’ option;
  • find records by using specific search fields, in any combination by using the ‘advanced search’ option (fields now include: century of experience; name, gender, age, socio-economic group, occupation, religion, and country of origin of the reader; author, title, genre, form (print or manuscript), publication details, and provenance of the text being read; the time and place of the experience);
  • create a marked list of entries to print in a reader-friendly format or to export to a specified email address;
  • browse through the contents of the database by author or reader. Choose the ‘browse’ option on the homepage;
  • abandon general searches to follow specific authors or readers through the database by following the hyperlinks within individual records;
  • contribute entries to the database, in order to help further studies in readership history.

Over the course of the three years we have worked closely with our technical team at the Open University in order to produce this database, and they have proved to be nothing short of marvellous. In particular, we would like to thank David Wong for his hard work and especially for his patience.

Moreover, the mass of data we have now accumulated in RED will mean that searches by most researches should reveal some surprising and unexpected results. In May 2009 we exceeded 25,000 entries, a target originally set with a view towards usability and impact. We hope that the collection of such a mass of data in one location will begin to help shape the field, to give us a better understanding of reading across the longue durée in Britain. We would not have been able to achieve this substantial milestone without the contributions of a large number of dedicated volunteers, the tireless input of our research assistants, Jenny McAuley and Sarah Johnson, and the pertinent suggestions made by members of the academic community. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work, and we hope that RED will prove to be a useful resource for teaching and research for you all.

This is not to say, however, that the RED project is at an end. We have barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sources of reading in the British Isles and of the reading of British subjects abroad during the period 1450-1945. And as we have always said, RED will only ever be as good as the material which goes into it. The contribution form continues to be an important part of the database, and we make this appeal to you: if, in the course of your own research, you come across a description of reading from any historical period between 1450 and 1945 (this can be as cursory as, for example, finding a simple record of an identifiable reader having read a particular book, or as extensive as finding a whole page of comments by an identifiable reader on the practice of reading, or a whole diary which records a person’s thoughts on what they read every day), please make a note of it, and fill in one of our forms. Similarly, if you are interested in working on a particular reader who lived in (or visited) Britain, or who was a British subject living in another country, during the period 1450–1945, and who left letters, diaries, annotated books, autobiographies etc. which contain references to their reading, you should also get in touch with us: RED is looking for volunteers to work their way systematically through such materials in order to catalogue the evidence of reading for posterity.

Finally, as RED will continue to have a presence at international events, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of the many conferences and seminars we were fortunate enough to attend over the past three years. And many thanks to the editors and publishers who have helped to disseminate research from the database in written form. Look out for the following publications!

  • Rosalind Crone, Katie Halsey and Shafquat Towheed (eds), The History of Reading (Routledge, forthcoming 2010)
  • Katie Halsey, Jane Austen and her readers (Anthem, forthcoming 2010)
  • Rosalind Crone, Katie Halsey and Shafquat Towheed, Examining the evidence of reading: three examples from the Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945’ in Bonnie Gunzenhauser (ed), Reading in History: New Methodologies from the Anglo-American Tradition (Pickering & Chatto, forthcoming 2010)
  • Chapters from Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey in Adelene Buckland and Beth Palmer, A Return to the Common Reader (Ashgate, forthcoming, 2010)

Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey.


As Rosalind and Katie have said in their article above, the AHRC-funded period of development of RED ends this month, and with the end of this funding their contracts also come to an end. I wanted to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to both of them for the extraordinary work they have done over the past three years. That we have managed to meet, and indeed surpass all the targets we set ourselves, is due very largely to their efforts. No Director of a research project could have wished for more dedicated, hardworking, creative, congenial and productive Research Fellows. It has been a privilege to work with them both – and I’m happy to say that in the midst of all the work we have had a lot of fun together too!

At meetings of the RED Management Group and of the RED project team, warm tributes were paid to Katie and Rosalind by myself and my RED colleagues Simon Eliot, Shaf Towheed, Stephen Colclough, Mary Hammond and Alexis Weedon. Not the least important of the things Rosalind and Katie did over the past three years was producing this Newsletter. I know that many readers have appreciated hearing about the project through this medium, and have valued the information circulated by its means. I’m sure that you will also want to join me in thanking Katie and Rosalind for the marvellous work they have done.

I’m very happy to report that RED will by no means come to a standstill, but will continue to develop and expand, building on the work Rosalind and Katie have done. We have recently been successful in a funding bid to the Open University’s Strategic Investment Fund, which will mean that we can appoint a Research Associate to work full-time with us for a further eighteen months or so. During this period, research activity will be concentrated on the theme of ‘Transnational Reading during the First World War’, with an initial focus on Britain and Australia, but with the intention also of extending the project to encompass other combatant nations. We look forward to working closely with Professor Patrick Buckridge and his colleagues at Griffith University, Brisbane, on this new project, and warmly invite other institutions with an interest in the project to get in touch. We would be delighted to hear from you.

Bob Owens, RED Project Director, The Open University


Contact Details:
The RED Team can be contacted at this email address:
Any postal inquiries should be addressed to:
Dr Shafquat Towheed
RED Project
Department of English
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
MK7 6AA.
from: William Hone, ‘The Yearbook’, 1832
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