The corpus and the development of the database


The books recorded in the database are a representative selection of those used for the teaching of reading to young children between 1860 and 1960. These books are usually described as primers or infant readers.

As well as intended age group, a number of other factors influenced their inclusion: publication by a key educational publisher (such as Chambers, Blackie, Nelson, Collins and Simpkin Marshall), or being listed in a publication that would have influenced the purchase of books for use in schools (such as the London County Council’s ‘List of books, maps, music and diagrams approved for use in London schools maintained by the Council’. which was published in numerous editions from the early 1900s until the 1950s).

The material to be included was selected from an initial review of over 30 primers and readers from each decade between 1860 and 1960. The project drew primarily on collections at the University of Reading, the British Library, the Renier Collection at the V&A, the Parker Collection at Birmingham City Reference Library, and Sue Walker’s own collection. The starting date was chosen because publishers began to take notice of classroom requirements after the introduction of the Revised Code in 1862; the end date of 1960 was chosen because around this time there was general consensus that sanserif typefaces should be used for young children learning to read.

Information about each book was recorded using a checklist developed for the project:

  • overview
  • size, format, materials
  • prelims, end matter etc
  • navigation
  • main text typography
  • headings
  • key words in text
  • information clumping
  • colour in text
  • picture attributes

data relating to each of these was collected in one of a number of formats :

  • presence of a particular feature
  • a feature that is one of a series of options
  • adding a number (eg height in mm)
  • free text response eg ‘book title’ but also option for expandable fields for ‘notes’
  • .