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Dr Shafquat Towheed

Profile summary

  • Senior Lecturer in English
  • Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
  • School of Art His, Class St, Eng&CW, Mus
  • English & Creative Writing
  • shafquat.towheed

Professional biography

I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1973, and grew up in Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, and England. I received my first two degrees from University College London (BA English, 1995; MA English, 1996), and my PhD, which examined the relationship between copyright law and literature in England between 1880 and 1914, from Cambridge University. I have taught at Nottingham University, the Institute of English Studies (University of London), and since 2006, as an Associate Lecturer with the Open University. I was appointed to a lectureship in Book History in June 2007, and I am currently a Senior Lecturer in the department.

Research interests

The main thrust of my research is in nineteenth and twentieth century British and American literature, with a particular interest in the history of the book. Within this broad and inclusive subject, I have three specific areas of interest: (1) the history of reading; (2) the relationship between authors and publishers; and (3) the relationship between copyright law and literature. In addition, I also work on South Asian writing in English.

I am Director of one of the Open University’s most inclusive research projects, ‘The Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945’ (RED). A recipient of two rounds of Arts and Humanities Research Council funding, RED records experiences of reading in the British Isles (or by British subjects abroad) over five centuries. The database is constantly growing, and there are currently over 30,000 entries. Partner projects have been established in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Follow this link for more details of RED, and how you could contribute to it.

I am Director of the Open University’s Book History Research Group, one of the main research groups in the English Department. You can find more about the Book History Research Group’s activities by following this link. The group’s seminar series meets regularly at the Institute of English Studies.


I have written, edited, and co-edited 8 books, and my articles have appeared in leading scholarly journals, such as Victorian Studies, Book History, Publishing History, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Journal of Victorian Culture, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, Primerjalna Književnost (Comparative Literature) and The Yearbook of English Studies. I regularly review for a number of peer-reviewed journals. Follow this link for a list of my publications.


I have supervised four PhD students to completion, and am currently supervising three more:  Isabelle Parsons, who is working on women and silence in the works of Edith Wharton; Sally Anne Spong, who is working on the reading of T.E. Lawrence; and Sophie Montebello, who is working on the literary representation and self-representation of the Anglo-Indian community. I have served as an external PhD examiner at the University of St Andrews and at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and have been an internal PhD examiner for 3 PhD theses at the Open University.

I am willing to supervise PhD students wishing to work on any aspect of the history of reading; in book history in Britain, America or South Asia after 1800; on Edith Wharton, Vernon Lee, Robert Louis Stevenson or Joseph Conrad; or more generally on 19th and early 20th century literature and culture.


Teaching interests

Most of my teaching has been in 19th and 20th century British, American and South Asian literature, with a particular interest in the history of the book and the history of reading. Currently am a member of the module team in production for our new Level 2 module A233 (first presentation October 2019). I was chair in production (2012-2015) and am the current deputy chair in presentation for our new Level 3 module, A334 English Literature from Shakespeare to Austen (first presentation October 2015), and I have previously chaired another Level 3 module in presentation - AA316, The Nineteenth-Century Novel (2009-2013). You can find out more about A334 English Literature from Shakespeare to Austen and watch a promotional video by following this link.

I have written teaching material for a number of other modules, including A815, The MA in English, Part 1 and A230 Reading and Studying Literature.  Outside of the Open University, I also teach the ‘The Historical Reader’ seminar series, part of the MA in the History of the Book, and the newly launched ‘The History of Readers and Reading, 1770-2010’ option for the London Rare Book School. Follow this link for further information.

Impact and engagement

I have given a number of public lectures and interviews in different media. These include:
A talk about the RED project on YouTube

A public lecture on the history of reading at Acadia University, Canada, 22 October 2010

A public lecture on Vernon Lee’s reading at the British Institute of Florence, Italy, 6 March 2012

Interviewed for ‘The Secret Lives of Readers’, Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 December 2012

A public lecture on RED and the history of reading at Haverford College, Philadelphia, USA, 15 April 2014

A public lecture on British readers in Italy at the British Institute of Florence, Italy, 14 May 2014

External collaborations

I am an active member of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP), having served as a jury member and chair for the DeLong Book History Prize (2006-2009). I was a working group member of the European COST-Action funded ‘Women Writers in History’ project (2009-2013) and am a founder member of the International Vernon Lee Society. I am currently a member of the Advisory Group for the AHRC funded project, Memories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers’ Life Stories (2014-17) and lead Working Group 5 for the French National Research Council network, 'Reading in Europe: Contemporary Issues in Historical and Comparative Perspectives' (2015-2017). I am co-editor of Palgrave's New Directions in Book History series and an editorial board member for the peer-reviewed, open access journal, Palgrave Communications.

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Book History and Bibliography Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts


Externally funded projects

Reading the Middle East: examining the reading culture of Freya Stark, 1919-1945

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Oct/201830/Sep/2020BRITAC British Academy
Reading the Middle East: examining the reading culture of Freya Stark, 1919-1945 ‘Reading the Middle East’ is the first detailed examination of the reading culture of Dame Freya Madeline Stark (1893-1993). Stark was only the second woman (after Gertrude Bell) to receive the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (1942) for her Middle East explorations. An explorer, Orientalist scholar and diplomat, Stark was a prodigious reader and a highly knowledgeable informant about the reading cultures (print, manuscript and oral) she encountered. Stark's reading directly informed her political actions as a diplomat and civil servant. Despite considerable biographical interest and publications in area studies, geography, travel writing and international relations, there has to date been no systematic examination of Stark’s reading that shaped her thinking and resulted in political action (e.g. British Arabic language propaganda during WW2). Using archival sources, in this project I closely examine Stark's reading (1919-1945), asking what, where, how and why she read, and also illuminate her detailed observations about the reading practices of communities and individuals across the Middle East. As part of the research, I will be examining the extensive Freya Stark archive at the Harry Ransom Center (Austin, Texas), as well as the Stark bequest at the Middle East Centre Archive (St Anthony’s College, Oxford). ‘Reading the Middle East’ will aim to answer the following key questions by drawing upon information recoverable from recorded textual evidence and visual (photographic) material. 1. To what extent did Stark's reading in this period lead directly to action, whether political, diplomatic, creative, or journalistic? 2. Based on the evidence from unpublished and published sources, what did Stark read between 1919 and 1945? 3. How, where and when did Stark’s reading in this period take place? What where the contingencies and habitual practices that emerge from investigating the evidence? 4. What observations did Stark record about the extant reading cultures, practices and preferences she encountered while travelling in the Middle East from 1927 to 1945? How did she engage with (for example) the oral culture of Arabic praise poetry composition, or with storytelling? 5. What is the relationship (if any) between sites of reading and sites of literary composition in Stark’s travel writing?

Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and Present

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Dec/201530/Nov/2016AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council
‘Reading Communities: Connecting the Past and Present’ addresses the AHRC 10th-Anniversary Follow-On Scheme Highlight Notice, which invites proposals that will ‘enhance engagement with, and impact from, research funded by the AHRC during the first two years after its establishment in 2005’. This project is intended as a follow on from the ‘Reading Experience Database 1800–1945’ (2006–2009), which was funded by a £292,108 Resource Enhancement grant awarded by the AHRC in 2006. This one-year project builds on the success of the Reading Experience Database (RED) to create a series of city-focused reading outreach events. These will include lectures, oral history interviews and community workshops focused on crowdsourcing from participants' diaries or other documents. Activities will take place in Belfast, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London.