Last Wednesday, Shafquat Towheed presented a lecture called “British readers and Italian journeys in the ‘Reading Experience Database’.” As someone who was unaware of this ongoing project, to methe title seemed confusing but I was surprised to find myself very interested in the topic, particularly because I never imagined that such a study would ever be created.
What Shafquat Towheed, the Director of the ‘Reading Experience Database’ , and his team do is a massive continous research project. It is an online database that compiles information about what people read now and have read throughout history. Anyone in the world can go in the database, and record based on historical documents (let’s say diaries, newspapers or family letters) what it is that a certain historical figure or just a normal person read throughout his life.
Why is this important? Well, as Shafquat said we in the world today very well know what a specific author has written, but do we know what they read in order to come up with the ideas that influenced their writing? Do we know what the most read book was, let’s say during World War II in Italy? No. Well, and least not for now. But this database is a start to acquiring this knowledge.
Every recorded piece is very detailed and cites evidence, so this Database can be used for complex research by linguists and literature experts. And it is something they have never had access to before. I found that great!
During his talk, Shafquat focused on Italy and Britain, especially in the time period between 1450 and 1950. He presented numerous examples of entries that explained what a certain person read in his or her life. Even thought the database is enlarging, it still has a lot of room for growth and as our speaker said, it is yet difficult to draw conclusions about the habits of readers in general. But from what the database has so far (and this could be for many different reasons), Italy is the number one recorded country when counting the entries, and from those entries nearly 2/3 are about the reading habits of women, as opposed to men. This is interesting because in the database overall, the ratio is practically reversed. This does not necessarily mean there were more readers women in Florence, but also means that for some reasons those voluneers who have been making the entries have more information about women in Florence or are more interested in their reading habits. Here are some photos I took during the talk of women who read in Florence:
Shafquat ackowledges that there is still a huge space of unrecorded readers, and the project as he mentioned is “limitless”. A good question that was also brought up by the audience is: When is the data going to be wide enough so we as reseachers can safely draw conclusions from it? And to this, the team of RED is hoping that the answer is “soon”.In any case, I thought the project was one of the most innovative and interesting I have been exposed to recently and it is aiming to accomplish something very massive. It was quite amazing to hear from the Director himself, and understand his motivations and passion.
And here is a photo of the director himself:
By: Boyana Georgieva