Edited by Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey
As a result of the large grant awarded by the AHRC to this project in December 2005, the Reading Experience Database has entered a new phase, opening with the appointment of two new research fellows, Rosalind Crone, at the Open University, and Katie Halsey, at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London, this summer. We (Rosalind and Katie) would like to use this issue of RED Letter to introduce ourselves to you and to tell you about our exciting plans for the development of RED, particularly during the next twelve months, but also over the course of the next three years. In light of current interest in the history and practice of reading, RED has the potential to grow into a vital tool for researchers. We hope that through our work, and the contributions of others, RED will challenge and push the boundaries of the history of reading as we know it. Ranging from the early modern period through 1945, this database will provide new insight into the reading experiences not only of ‘famous readers’ in history, but also of the ordinary reader, a figure, until now, largely lost in time. As RED will be used by a large number of scholars from such a wide range of disciplines the development of this database offers a unique opportunity to identify real trends and patterns in the history of reading. At present, RED contains a substantial number of records relating to reading practices from c1450 to c1830. Thus, we intend to focus our energy on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For some time we have both been researching and writing about this period in history, and we hope that we can use our different fields of expertise to get RED on the web for your use as soon as possible.
And this marks an ideal moment to tell you a little about ourselves and our research interests. Rosalind moved to England from Australia some years ago to undertake further study in history at St John’s College, Cambridge. She has recently completed her doctoral thesis, in which she examined representations of violence in entertainments such as popular theatre, street shows, crime reporting and cheap fiction in London during the nineteenth century. During this research she developed a particular interest in responses to various texts, such as penny bloods, street broadsides, newspapers and playbills, especially among lower-class readers.
Katie wrote her PhD thesis on Jane Austen’s readers at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She has just moved from St Andrews, where she was working as a Teaching Fellow in Romantic Literature. She has a particular research interest in female readers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is also interested in many aspects of Romantic period literature and culture. She is currently co-editing a volume of essays on the subject of conversation in the long eighteenth century.
The other members of the RED team are Mary Hammond and Bob Owens at the Open University, Simon Eliot at the Institute of English Studies, Stephen Colclough at the University of Wales, Bangor, and Alexis Weedon at the University of Luton.
Since our recent appointment, we have already set down plans to help relaunch RED and have some substantial targets that we hope to meet over the coming year. Most importantly, we are aiming to collect enough records to be able to launch the database in the public domain (on the World Wide Web) in summer 2007. We envisage that when we release it, RED will contain approximately 10,000 examples of reading experiences from 1450 to 1945, a number which we hope will continue to grow significantly to around 25,000 entries over the next three years. Scholars currently working in the field of reading and book history will be pleased to hear that after RED’s launch we pledge to update the database as frequently as possible with new material we have found. Thus, regular searches by interested users should produce new and exciting results every month.
These are some considerable objectives, but we do not think they are unrealistic. We already feel greatly encouraged by the tremendous enthusiasm shown by so many towards this project and especially by the many offers of assistance we have had from those in the academy and kind volunteers. Now is an excellent opportunity for us to thank all those who have contributed to the database in the past. And we believe that if we are to achieve a truly diverse and valuable database we will continue to need your help. If, in your research, you come across a reading experience as defined on our website, we ask that you make a note of it and contribute it to the database. Although in our own work we will be focusing intensively on the period 1800 to 1945, we welcome any references to reading experiences across the whole period covered by the database, 1450 to 1945. Ideally, we need as much detail as possible. However, we are also aware of your time constraints and pressures, and therefore have kept the option of filling in a short form electronically on our website. Moreover, we understand that you may not have access to the internet. For your convenience, we are happy to send a hard copy of the long form to you. You might like to take this form with you to the library or archives and simply fill in the relevant information if you happen to find something of interest. We can have data from hard copy forms keyed into the database. It is only with your help that we can make RED a wonderful research tool for scholars and indeed anyone with an interest in how texts were read and thought about in the past.
We also plan to continue to build the RED website as a public forum for those interested in the history of reading to facilitate conversation between us all. We invite you to submit announcements for new publications and conferences, seminars or workshops in this general field, which we will happily advertise on the site and in future issues of this newsletter. Finally, we will place regular updates on the RED website to keep you in touch with our progress on the database and to inform you of any extra bits of news that we think might be of interest for you. We will also be producing this newsletter quarterly, which will appear online. At present, we have a growing list of subscribers to whom we send RED Letter and relevant updates by email. Please send us an email if you would like to be included on this list. We are also happy to post hard copies of RED Letter: please get in touch with either Katie at the Institute of English Studies or Rosalind at the Open University. And if you would be interested in displaying a poster in your workplace, please also let us know. We are both only too happy to help!