Edited by Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey
Since the last newsletter (SUMMER 2007), when we announced the online launch of the Reading Experience Database (www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading), much of the RED team’s energy has been devoted to consolidating, maintaining and improving the resource, as well as keeping the RED website (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED) updated with relevant publications, useful links and forthcoming events in the field of the history of reading. We have also been attending conferences, writing papers, beginning the preparations for the RED conference, and preparing for the new academic year, when we hope that RED will begin to be used more widely as a scholarly and teaching resource.
This edition of the newsletter heralds a new departure: the inclusion of a brief article by one of our volunteer researchers. A-level student Laura Lambert joined the RED project on work experience this August, reading through the memoirs of Flora Thompson, chronicler of English village life, and the autobiography of Hannah Mitchell, suffragette and rebel. Her essay, ‘“How fared the growth of this child’s mind?”: Childhood Reading in the Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945’, the result of this research, discusses the topic of childhood reading, and can be found here. We are very grateful to Laura for all her contributions.
I would also like to say a special word of thanks to Lindsey Eckert, who joined us as a volunteer Research Assistant over the summer. She took on the considerable project of transcribing the letters and commonplace books of Lady Caroline Lamb, and other material in the John Murray Archives in the National Library of Scotland. The Lamb material is a delight – Lady Caroline is one of the database’s most spirited readers, and it is fascinating to trace her relationship with Byron through her comments on his work. Take, for example, this criticism of Byron’s verses ‘She walks in beauty like the night’, written to his cousin, Mrs. Wilmot after the end of his affair with Lady Caroline:
‘She walks in beauty like the night,’ for example – if Mr. Twiss had written it how we should have laughed! Now we can only weep to see how little just judgement there is on earth, for I make no doubt the name of Byron will give even these lines a grace. I who read his loftier lay with transport will not admire his flaws and nonsense. You will say it is only a song, yet a song should have sense.
Lady Caroline is clearly piqued by Byron’s interest in another woman, and her anger with him renders her incapable of objective criticism. And yet she has her finger on the pulse of the fashionable world – by 1815, the date of this extract, Byron-mania was at its height, and Byron’s name really could sell anything. Entries such as this one are therefore not only interesting in themselves, but can help to enrich our understanding of the cultural life of the past. Other highlights of the database include the marginalia from the books of Dunimarle Library, kindly entered by Sandra Cumming, and John Cole’s manuscript diaries, contributed by Gill Buckle, as well as the wealth of information about ordinary readers during the Second World War from the Mass Observation Archives at Sussex, now online as Mass Observation Online. Thanks to Bill Pidduck at Adam Matthew Digital, and Dorothy Sheridan of the Mass Observation Archive for permission to make this material available to users of RED.
At this point I would also like to acknowledge the tireless work of Jenny McAuley and Sarah Johnson, RED’s Research Associates. Jenny and Sarah joined the RED team in January, and have been responsible for entering almost half of the material currently in the database, and for helping us to reach our target of 10,000 entries in the first year of our funding. We are very grateful to them both. And, of course, we are also, as always, enormously grateful to all our volunteers for contributing material, and helping us to make the Reading Experience Database into a really useful resource for everyone.
We continue to encourage contributions – if you have not yet become a RED volunteer but have any material on reading that you would like to contribute to the database, please do get in touch. We are also keen to receive your comments on your experience of using the database. You can either email us directly, at the e-mail addresses given below, or use the Contact Us button on the database website (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/contacts.php)
Finally, the RED Team would like to remind you about our project conference, ‘Evidence of Reading, Reading the Evidence’, to be held at the Institute of English Studies in London on 21-23 July 2008. We hope that you will join us for an exploration of reading in the past and the present. We have included the Call for Papers on the last page of this newsletter and more information is available online: http://ies.sas.ac.uk/events/conferences/2008/RED/index.htm and related links. The deadline for abstracts is 31 January, 2008.
Newsflash: Thanks to the generosity of The Bibliographical Society, we can now offer several student bursaries to cover registration costs for students registered on either undergraduate or postgraduate courses. Follow this link for further details!