The Learning Space where you can access short on-line courses available to the general public without cost. They can be in any subject, range across the various undergraduate levels and for the most part they are expected to take between one and twenty hours of study. Whenever they add to these courses they publish the fact on their Open Learn page and I regularly check in on a Saturday morning to see if there's anything new that might appeal. Well, this morning I hit pay dirt. There had been not one, but four attractive courses posted during the week, all to do with the history of the reader.
The courses are all related to a database the OU maintains about which I previously knew nothing, the Reading Experience Database 1450 - 1945. The site explains better than I could what its purpose is:
UK RED is an open-access database housed at The Open University containing over 30,000 easily searchable records documenting the history of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945. Evidence of reading presented in RED is drawn from published and unpublished sources as diverse as diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, sociological surveys, and criminal court and prison records. In January 2010 the RED project received generous AHRC funding to develop an international digital network for researching the history of reading across borders, in collaboration with partners in Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, and New Zealand.
Each of the four new courses is designed to help the student understand the nature of the material stored on the databased and the potential for its use.
The first course, History of Reading: An introduction to reading in the past, consists of a series of essays, drawn from material referenced in the database, designed to illustrate aspects of reading in the UK during the period from 1450 to 1945. It contains essays relating to, amongst others, Dickens, Austen, Pepys and Stevenson.
The second, History of Reading Tutorial 1: Finding evidence of reading in the past, is designed to help researchers search, browse and use the resource, exploring the types of evidence historians have uncovered about the history of reading. It has in it, for example, a unit about the way in which material has been drawn from diaries, letters and journals - some of my favourite type of reading.
The third and fourth courses are each illustrative of ways in which researchers might use the database to compile a substantial body of evidence either about the way in which a specific book has been received by readers over the ages or the reading habits of a particular individual. History of Reading Tutorial 2: The reading and reception of literary texts - a case study of Robinson Crusoe, does just what it says on the tin, it looks at the history of the readers response to Defoe's novel,while History of Reading Tutorial 3: Famous Writers and their Reading: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Vernon Lee explores the way in which the reading habits of a writer can then be seen to feed into their own writing.
I've only just begun to look at the first of these and have done little more than scratch the surface of what is actually available in RED itself. I put in Ben Jonson and discovered that when Virginia Woolf was reading plays from this period she commented:
Tomorrow I go onto Ben Jonson, but I shan't like him as much as Marlowe.
Not exactly groundbreaking information, but it does show the potential.
I hope you enjoy playing with this as much as I know I'm going to. The trouble is it's something else to take up my time when I ought to be doing the reading myself rather than exploring other people's reading habits. Oh well!