PhD Fodder: Research That Needs Doing

The Readership Database.
A website that simply lists books, say, pre-1840, and under each entry we list known signatures of readers in copies of the books.

The data is supplied by collectors, booksellers, and librarians, with brief annotations, ie. 'Maud Adams, Her Book, 1785', or 'Jenny Wilkins, 1816, age 7 of Hassocks'. Each, searchably tagged (ie. F, 7, 1816, jenny, jennifer, wilkins, Hassocks, Sussex, UK).

This gives us a body of data that allows us to:

1. Determine male/female ratios of readership for any text. Not just fiction.

2. Where dated evidence is available, we can look at the re-use of texts within families and second-hand.

3. Many entries include notes on gift-giving or the age of younger readers. Some folk may wish to pursue their book owners genealogically. Each entry would have the original poster noted, and academics could follow up entries. Dispersed libraries would be traceable.

4. Scans of signatures could be included quite easily for difficult signatures and matching.

...and all linking to multiple copies of specific texts rather than to library collections.

Each book could be tagged according to subject divisions from a pull-down menu, so people could list all readers of books on optics from 1740--1770, or all readers of gothic fiction from 1790-1800, or female readers of sermons from 1660-1700. An ideal system would have a front end that allowed people to insert their own data after they signed up to join the system (avoiding e-vandalism). Once in, they can start typing in their inscriptions, uploading their scans, and we just keep an eye on them, tidying up book titles where they have gone mad with semi-colons, codifying authors so Mary Martha (Butt) Sherwood doesn't get 8 different entries, tidying images etc.

In theory XML/scripting would allow us to do clever things, ie. create a new front end to COPAC so that when you search for a book, you also get all our relevant reader signatures/dedications coming up as well.

I think there would be major value there, as it uses the net to recover a much wider amount of data than can be got from library collections. We can only work with known readers if we have much more data on them. And it distributes the workload.

The opportunities afforded by the new print culture for schoolmasters to produce educational editions and guides, and thus attain wealth and status. ie. Thomas Farnaby, Thomas Godwyn.

A chronological listing of printed sermons with contextual annotations.

Back to the homepage.