Reading Experience Database 1450-1945


The Reading Experience Database (RED) was launched in 1996 at the UK Open University. Its mission was to accumulate as much data as possible about the reading experiences of British subjects from 1450 to 1945. For the purposes of the database, we define a 'reading experience' as a recorded engagement with a written or printed text - beyond the mere fact of possession.

Following a major three-year grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, RED then entered a new phase of development, focusing on the period 1800-1945.

The aim was, over three years, to build up a collection of more than 25,000 records of reading experience. RED has no 'literary' bias and the project emphasised the importance of gathering evidence of all sorts of reading, not only books but also newspapers, journals, posters, advertisements, magazines, letters, scripts, playbills, tickets, chapbooks and almanacs. We include the compilation of scrapbooks, commonplace books, and autograph albums of the sort that include quotations and excerpts, and the experience of reading aloud or being read to. Over time, we believe this collected information will be weighty enough and significant enough to push the study of texts and reading in new directions. It will certainly enable the study of readership to progress beyond the anecdotal and speculative.

On 27 June 2007, the RED database was launched. It is open access, and anyone is free to search the database or contribute entries of reading experience. 

The project is a partnership between the Open University and the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The project is directed by Professor Bob Owens of the Open University, and supervised by Dr Shafquat Towheed (The Open University). Other members of the RED Project Management team are Professor Simon Eliot (Institute of English Studies, University of London), Dr Mary Hammond (Southampton University), Dr Stephen Colclough (University of Wales) and Dr Alexis Weedon (University of Luton ). There are two research fellows, Dr Katie Halsey ( Institute of English Studies , University of London) and Dr Rosalind Crone (The Open University).
For further information about RED, visit our website