Reading is such a fundamental part of modern life that the ability to read and the act of reading are highly valued in all developed societies. The practice of reading, however, is not a uniform or unchanging one: it has a history, like any other human activity. RED is a collection of open-access databases whose aim is to accumulate and make available as much evidence as possible about the practice of reading across the world. These databases have been designed as resources not only for historians of the book and of reading, but for social historians, local and family historians, literary scholars, biographers, book collectors, librarians, archivists, and anyone interested in the readership and reception of particular books or authors, and in the activities of specific readers or groups of readers.
The RED project was initiated at The Open University in the UK, which now houses, maintains and develops 'The Reading Experience Database (RED), 1450–1945'. Thanks to a generous grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) which led to the appointment of two researchers to work full-time on the project for three years, UK RED now contains over 30,000 records of reading by British subjects, at home and abroad, from the invention of the printing press in 1450 up to the end of the Second World War (see http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading).
In January 2010 the UK RED project received a second AHRC grant to develop an international digital network in the history of reading. The successful bid was prepared in collaboration with partners in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. The new project arose from the recognition that reading is not confined within national boundaries, but is a transnational phenomenon. Readers travel across borders, and books and other publications may be circulated internationally. In studying the history of reading, researchers need to be able to collect and analyze evidence from different countries. To facilitate this, it is essential that national REDs are designed to be compatible with each other, so that users of any one RED can search across all of them.
The first phase of the international RED project was completed in February 2011. The UK RED has now been joined by national REDs in Australia (AusRED); Canada (CanRED); and New Zealand (NZ RED). Planning is well advanced for a RED in the Netherlands (NL RED). Colleagues in other countries have expressed interest in the project, and we expect other partners to join us in due course.