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Research Projects – University of Reading

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Research Projects

Book History

Book and publishing history has been a long-standing and distinctive research focus of the department, with active collaborations in Modern Languages and the University Library, as well as national and international partnerships. The University houses the Archive of British Publishing and Printing, which has been designated an 'Outstanding Collection' by the Museums, Library and Archives Council. The archive supports the research of members of the department as well as postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers. The archive is also used for undergraduate projects. 

The University Library also houses the prize-winning 'Location Register of Twentieth-Century English Literary Manuscripts' and 'Writers, Artists, and their Copyright Holders' (WATCH), run in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin. 

Led by Dr David Sutton, these archival and database resources have been important drivers for major research projects and collaborations by colleagues including the AHRC project 'The Impact of Distribution and Reading Patterns on the History of the Novel in Britain, 1880-1940' run by Andrew Nash, Patrick Parrinder and Nicola Wilson. 

A new project which also exploits the archival holdings and database projects is the Leverhulme International Network on Diasporic Literary Archives run by Alison Donnell, Andrew Nash, David Sutton and colleagues in Modern Languages.

The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP): The Hogarth Press Archive Online

Claire Battershill and Nicola Wilson are co-investigators on an international digital humanities project with colleagues Dr Alice Staveley (Stanford, US), Dr Helen Southworth (University of Oregon, US) and Dr Elizabeth Willson Gordon (King's University, Canada).

The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) brings together digital scholarship on twentieth-century publishing and aims to provide new ways of analysing and communicating the production networks of texts. Linking disparate archival holdings through a digital resource, MAPP will capture the processes of textual production, dissemination, and reception from the author's initial solicitation or submission to the publishing house, through editorial and production processes, to dust jackets and book design, readership and reviews, and catalogued sales figures. A case study of Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, a well-known but under-researched modernist publisher with a famous in-house writer, a varied list, strategic marketing, and international reach, offers an ideal pilot study. A user will be able to search the publisher's output according to genre, or author, or book designer, and organize material temporally; to see, for instance, what other Hogarth books were being produced alongside Virginia Woolf's modernist break-through, Jacob's Room, in 1922, or what books Woolf herself was reading for prospective Hogarth publication when she was actively theorizing the reinvention of the novel form.

Participating libraries and institutions include the University of Reading's Special Collections; Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta; Washington State University Libraries; the E.J. Pratt Library at the University of Toronto; Stanford University's Literary Lab and Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).


The Book Society: The influence of Britain's first mail-order book club on authors, publishers and readers, 1929-60

Nicola Wilson, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship award

This project examines the literary and cultural impact of the Book Society from 1929-60 and how it shaped the production of the novel and mid-twentieth century reading patterns. Established in 1929 by the novelists Arnold Bennett and Hugh Walpole, it was modelled on the influential American Book-of-the-Month Club. Book Society Choices meant mass sales and great publicity, ensuring the bestselling success of novels as diverse as South Riding (1936), Rebecca (1938), and A Kind of Loving (1960). Whereas the impact of the American Book-of-the-Month Club is well-known, the British Book Society is under-researched and rarely features in histories of reading or literary and cultural analysis of the twentieth century. This project uses records in the Archive of British Publishing and Printing at Reading to demonstrate how this powerful distributor transformed literary culture, the literary marketplace and multi-national reading communities.

Caribbean Queer AHRC Fellowshipell-caribbean-queer

Alison Donnell, Professor of Modern Literatures in English, has been awarded one of only seven 'research leader' fellowships by the AHRC to develop her work on Anglophone Caribbean sexualities and literary representation. The awarded fellows will undertake focused individual research projects alongside research leadership development, training and engagement activities which have the potential to generate impact within academia and beyond. Professor Donnell's fellowship allows time for the completion of her monograph, Caribbean Queer: desire, dissidence and constructions of literary subjectivity. In addition, she will be running workshops with activists, writers and the general public in Trinidad and Jamaica, with a final workshop event in Reading in December 2013.

Her fellowship work follows on from a successful British Academy/ACU Grant for International Collaboration on with Professor O'Callaghan from the University of the West Indies. This project 'Breaking sexual silences: literature and the re-imagination of Caribbean sexualities,' organised two seminars for postgraduates and early researchers, as well as two public lectures and readings by leading writers. It generated a special issue of The Journal of West Indian Literature. For further details see:

Diasporic Literary Archives Leverhulme Trust Projectdiasporic literary archives logo

Working with colleagues in Modern Languages and Research Projects, members of the English Department have secured funding from the Leverhulme Trust to undertake a three year project to promote the preservation of, and access to, literary archives held worldwide. A network involving partners from around the world will give the project an international relevance. More information about the project can be found at

The Gathered Text AHRC Project

Rebecca Bullard is co-ordinator of this ongoing research project in the history of the book, (initial funds provided by the British Academy). This project focuses on gatherings -- the folded pieces of paper or parchment that form the basis of all early modern printed books. Gatherings have received almost no scholarly attention in their own right until now, in spite of the rapid development of scholarship on the history of the book over recent decades. The project began in 2010 when a group of internationally recognized scholars, conservators, and librarians came together for two days of workshops and papers at the Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book, Oxford. Rebecca Bullard (University of Reading) is now coordinating the publication of a volume of essays on 'The Gathered Text', which will be published as a special issue of The Huntington Library Quarterly. Ongoing work includes the development of a workshop on rare books for local schools.

Early Modern Digitisation Project - British Academy Research Development Award

Michelle O'Callaghan is producing a digital edition and accompanying study of the early printed poetry miscellanies, from Tottel's Miscellany ( 1557) to A Poetical Rhapsody, which first appeared in 1602, but continued to be published until 1621. The study will assess the extent to which practices of anthologising were shaped through the commercial development of the book trade and the role early printed poetry anthologies played in the formation of the English literary canon. The digital edition will offer the user enhanced access to these texts through the 'Commonplacer', a software tool that will enable users to create their own miscellanies and reflect critically on the editorial processes involved. 

'Charlemagne in England: The Matter of France in Middle English and Anglo-Norman Literature' AHRC Project

Phillipa Hardman is Principal Investigator, with Co-Investigator Dr Marianne Ailes of Bristol University, on a three-year AHRC funded research project: 'Charlemagne in England: The Matter of France in Middle English and Anglo-Norman Literature' (2009-2012), with two doctoral research students attached to the project. The research project was launched at the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies annual Symposium at Reading in 2009, when both investigators presented papers. All four team members presented papers at the Conference of the Societe Rencesvals (British branch) in 2010, and again in April 2011, and all spoke in a special session at the International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo, in May 2011.

Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project Henslowe Project Orlando

Grace Ioppolo is the founder and director of this project, which makes widely available in digital form The Archive of Dulwich College in London, England, which holds thousands of pages of manuscripts left to the College by its founder, the eminent actor Edward Alleyn (1566-1626). This archive includes his personal and professional papers and those he inherited from his father-in-law Philip Henslowe (d. 1616). As a group, these manuscripts comprise the largest and most important single extant archive of material on the professional theatre and dramatic performance in early modern England, the age of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, Heywood, Dekker, Chettle, and so many of their contemporaries and colleagues.

Henslowe and Alleyn built and expanded several London public playhouses, including the Rose, the Fortune, and the Hope, the foundations of some of which have recently been discovered or excavated by Museum of London staff. The sole surviving actor's 'part' (or script) from the period, for the play Orlando Furioso, is in the Dulwich archive, as is the 'plot' (or prompter's outline) of the play The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins, one of only six plots from this period known to survive in part or in whole. In fact, most of what modern scholars know about the early modern English theatre, both as financial enterprise and artistic endeavour, comes from the study of the Henslowe and Alleyn papers at Dulwich College.

The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project has made the archive's contents much more widely available in a free electronic archive and website. Since its launch in November, 2009 the website and archive have been used by actors, directors, dramaturgs and other theatre personnel, as well as librarians, archivists, archaeologists, journalists, secondary school teachers and students and a wide-ranging and ever-changing community of readers in a variety of ways. It has also featured prominently in scholarly publications, lectures, conference papers and PhD and MA theses. It was also the foundation for an international conference held at the University of Reading in November, 2012.

The project website can be found here:

The Impact of Distribution and Reading Patterns on the Novel in Britain, 1880-1940 AHRC Project

Members of the Department received funding from the AHRC to pursue an exciting research project entitled The Impact of Distribution and Reading Patterns on the Novel in Britain, 1880-1940

Professor Patrick Parrinder, Dr Andrew Nash and Dr Nicola Wilson are researchers on this AHRC-funded project (2008-2012). The project examines the relationship between book history and literary history by investigating whether and to what extent the novel as a literary and cultural form has been affected by changing patterns of the distribution and readership of texts.

The period 1880-1940 is framed by two pivotal moments in literary and publishing history - the decline and eventual disappearance of the three-volume novel and the full emergence of the paperback. Categories such as the best-seller and subgenres such as detective fiction became increasingly distinct from 'mainstream' fiction. The impact of the public library movement, the rise of cheap subscription libraries, new retail outlets, and book clubs exemplify the changes in the circulation of fiction during this period.

How far were publishers and authors consciously seeking to produce fiction that would be acceptable to the market, and what constraints did this involve? To what extent did changes in reading patterns and in the cultural status of fiction influence what was written and published? And what contribution can the analysis of changes in distribution and reading patterns make to a new understanding of one of the most revolutionary periods in the history of English fiction?

'The Value of the Literary and Historical Study of Biology to Biologists', AHRC Scoping Studycultivating-common-ground

What, if anything, can science learn from the humanities?

That is the question that a team of biologists, literary critics and historians at the University of Reading set out to answer in an AHRC-funded project that has generated new insights into the hoary old question of the 'two cultures'.

In the scoping study, 'The Value of the Literary and Historical Study of Biology to Biologists', the team draw upon the workshop experience and their respective specialisms to argue that the humanities can play an important role in transforming future biological research. To realize this ambition the team is now working together with colleagues from other universities on a pioneering co-disciplinary training programme for young academics as the next step towards bringing biology and the humanities together.'

You can view the report ell-biology-to-biologists

( Further information about this is on the web-page: and at the blog:

Room to Rhyme

Room to Rhyme is a British Academy funded research project investigating literature, crisis, arts policy and the public sphere, with special attention to poetry in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1978.

Visit the Room to Rhyme website.

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