Mary Grover is Chair of ‘Reading Sheffield’, a community oral history project exploring reading in Sheffield since 1770. Founded in 2011, the aim of the group has been to deepen understanding of Sheffield literary cultures in the past and to engage with readers in the present.
The first project was funded by the oldest local charity in Sheffield, Sheffield Town Trust. Over the last two years the project recruited over sixty readers, now over 70 and resident in Sheffield during the 1940s and ‘50s to talk about their reading histories.
A group of twelve volunteers were trained and equipped to collect audio records of archival quality. The key aims of the project were to get a sense of how the reading habit was formed, what was read and to identify the main source of reading material. Each interviewer was briefed as to the main sources of reading material in the 1940s and ‘50s, a list of popular titles and authors at this period and a set of prompts, some of which were not used if the interviewer thought they would baffle or intimidate. Interviewers were encouraged to explore areas which were significant to the reader rather than to collect quantitatively significant information in a way that could be tabulated.
All the audio recordings are lodged with Sheffield Archives.
Other outcomes include conference papers (eg. at the Modernist Studies Association conference), annual celebratory events for interviewees (the first of which was filmed by award winning documentary film maker, Mikey Watts, funded by SHU), talks to local groups about the findings of the project, the Reading Sheffield Blog created by two volunteer undergraduates on work placement with Reading Sheffield, and community workshops in schools (funded by Sheffield Town Trust).