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  6. Chris Hopkins and Erica Brown – English popular fiction 1900–1950 and the reading public

Chris Hopkins and Erica Brown – English popular fiction 1900–1950 and the reading public

Our Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900–1950 Special Collection has achieved considerable impact in the region and beyond. This collection of 1,000 early editions of popular novels was started by English academics and information specialists in 2009. It stemmed from research into popular fiction, readerships and hierarchies of literary taste.

The research programme brought together an interdisciplinary group of researchers at Sheffield Hallam University who shared an innovative focus on the operations of literary hierarchies in British culture 1900–1950. The researchers were all active in the Middlebrow Network, an AHRC–funded project that provides a focus for research on the disreputable term 'middlebrow' and the areas of cultural production it purports to represent.

The special collection itself was first envisaged as a further outcome of the network, providing a permanent and physical collection of middlebrow and popular fiction so that work could continue on cultural and textual issues and the book as object in formations of literary taste.

The decision to build public engagement into special collection activity was a result of research findings about the ways in which many kinds of widely experienced, popular and middlebrow texts have been excluded from being studied, valued and preserved.

The special collection aimed to create a scholarly and community forum where such material would be researched, co–researched and become a legitimately recognised focus for cultural and personal development.

We run regular public events about collection authors, and hold monthly reading groups at the University. The reading groups discuss the novels and gather particular sets of data (such as references to taste, popular or 'highbrow' authorship) from collection novels, which are then added to the library catalogue records.

Reading group members also write book reviews which are posted on the Reading 1900–1950 blog, widening the project's reach to a national and international audience. A fellow blogger wrote of the project: ''Light is thrown onto the past, books are unearthed and read once more, a community that would never seek to identify itself as one is created and flourishes. The contributors to Reading 1900–1950 should be congratulated with the drinking of tea and the eating of cake for all that they have achieved to give good books (and some less good too) the chance to shine once more!'

The Special Collection also supports the Reading Sheffield oral history group, which has recorded 60 oral reading–histories from a systematic sample of Sheffield citizens who became adults in the city between 1945 and 1960.

Media coverage

Reports on the Special Collection: Yorkshire Post 3/12/2010 and Yorkshire Post 10/12/2011.

The Special Collection event on 'Yorkshire Writers' in the Yorkshire Post, 12 October 2013.

Reading Sheffield in the Yorkshire Post, 5 February 2013.

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