Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Emory Women Writers Resource Project

Emory Women Writers Resource ProjectEdit

The Emory Women Writers Resource Project (“EWWRP”) is an online database of unedited, digitised works of women’s writing from the 17th through to the early 20th centuries. The project was created through a collaboration between the Emory University Department of English, the Lewis H. Beck Centre of Woodruff Library, and the Virtual Library Project. The project began in 1994 and was initially offered as a graduate-level English course through Emory University. In this, students were required to select a text and create a critical, digitised edition, including an introduction, annotations, and bibliography.[1]

The texts are predominantly from the western literature canon, mostly authored in Great Britain and America between 1860 and 1920. The database contains a number of prolific, well known works from this time period.

The ERWWP later merged with the externally funded Women’s Genre Fiction Project.

People:Edit

The EWWRP was directed by Dr. Sheila Cavanagh and Dr. Charles Spornick (now deceased). Dr. Cavanagh is a Professor of English with Emory University, editor of the Spenser Review, and founder and ongoing director of the World Shakespeare Project.    

The project also included three project managers; Erika L. Farr, now the Director of the Lewis H Beck Centre,[2] Alice Hickcox, former Director of the Beck Centre and current Electronic Texts Specialist,[2] and Lillian E Craton, Professor of English for Lander University.

In addition, the project lists nine Woodruff Fellows and Graduate Fellows involved in the project, as well as an extensive list of further staff which can be found on the credits page.

The project continues to be moderated by Dr. Cavanagh and graduate students of the Emory Department of English.

Works:Edit

The EWWRP database is split into seven sections and includes:

  • 244 digitised works of Genre Fiction between 1860 and 1920.
  • 36 digitised works from the Early Modern era through the 18th Century, including works by Aphra Behn and Delarivier Manley.
  • 37 digitised works of Early 20th Century Literature.
  • 3 digitised works of World War I Poetry.
  • 11 digitised works by Native American writers.
  • 23 digitised works categorised as “Abolition, Freedom, and Rights”.
  • 18 digitised works categorised as “Women’s Advocacy”.

Texts are selected and digitised by graduate students of the Emory English Department, under the supervision of Dr. Cavanagh.[3]

Notably, the database includes a digitised edition of the 1932 critical text Cultural Interest of Women in England from 1524 to 1640 Indicated in the Writing of the Women by Ruth Willard Hughey. This text is one of the first large scale investigations of women’s writing within this period and includes a discussion of writings by several women within this Social Reference including Anne Askew, Lucy Harrington Russell, and Isabella Whitney.[4]

In addition to this extensive digitisation of works, the EWWRP website includes seven critical editions of works produced by graduate students of the Emory English Department.

The Genre Fiction Project:Edit

The Genre Fiction Project was initially an individual project within the EWWRP, funded by a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The collection includes 244 digitised novels written by, or about women from 1860 to 1920. The project is now included as a section within the EWWRP database.

Lillian E Craton, one of three project managers, created A Guided Tour of the EWWRP Women's Genre Fiction Project which outlines the purpose, functions, and drawbacks of the collection. She asserts that the purpose of this project is to demonstrate, through literature, the cultural change in Britain and America between 1860 and 1920, particularly pertaining to the rights and roles of women.[5]

Reputation / Legacy:Edit

Outside Emory University and associated institutions, there is little scholarship which attests to the long-lasting significance of the EWWRP.

Nevertheless, the website acknowledges two specific goals in creating the project: firstly, to provide greater access to an underexplored area of British and American culture through works of women’s writing, and secondly, to ensure the preservation of such texts.[3]

Indeed, the database, particularly the Genre Fiction Project, provides open access to texts which were previously unavailable to the public.[3] The Genre Fiction database’s collection was unprecedented, and at the time, was the “largest searchable database of digitized genre fiction.”[6]

Further, Dr. Charles Spornick, in an issue of Library Hi Tech, discussed that the EWWRP was intended to follow the lead of Brown’s Women’s Writers Project in creating a “grassroots collection” of women’s writings as both a resource and a pedagogical tool.[1]

In particular, it was intended that the EWWRP would become a valuable scholarly resource for both research and teaching for many disciplines including literature, history, 19th Century British and American culture, and gender studies.[3] Spornick, further, suggested that the project could be used as a tool to develop students’ technological capabilities.[1]

The project is particularly significant as the process of digitisation is now being applied to many other projects, particularly within the Emory sphere. The EWWRP was one of many manuscript digitisation projects conducted by the Lewis H Beck Centre in the early 2000s.[7] Similar projects include the W. B. Yeats Collection and the T. S. Elliot Collection. The success of such projects led to the creation of the Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship within the Woodruff Library. The centre was established in 2013 and is dedicated to incorporating digital tools and methodologies into humanities scholarship.[8] The Centre has been involved in over 60 digital scholarship projects including open-access literary and manuscript databases, historical source databases, historical mapping, and augmented reality programs.[9]

Despite this, the EWWRP’s long-lasting significance is substantially diminished by its failure to remain updated. The website asserts that the project is ongoing.[10] However, there is little evidence of any updates since 2007. In particular, although the section “Navigating the Site” asserts that users can search the entire collection by keyword, this function is no longer available. This diminishes the databases’ usefulness as a scholarly resource as locating texts appropriate to a particular task becomes more time-consuming.[11] There is an A-Z list of themes, however, a search function would be more effective and time-efficient. Similarly, some links are no longer active, and the interface could be updated to suit modern standards of user-friendliness.

Further to this, as of 2022, the project database is only available on request, and is not available for the general public on an internet search. This means its reputation is limited to research papers as it is not widely accessible online.

There is a “bookshelf” function by which users can select a text-based purely upon the spine of the book. This is a unique feature, which the EWWRP could capitalise upon to engage a wider audience. Currently, there are only 20 books to choose from in this way, and the feature is virtually hidden within the website. However, if expanded, updated, and promoted, this feature could be a valuable tool by which to engage audiences outside the academic field, with women’s writing.

Further Reading:Edit

Spornick, Charles D. Emory Electronic Text Projects: The Role of the Full-Text Centre in Building Partnerships”, Library Hi Tech, vol. 16, no. 3-4, issue 63, 1998, pp. 57-62.  

Cultural Interest of Women in England from 1524 to 1640 Indicated in the Writing of the Women, an electronic edition. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/content.php?level=div&id=hughey_03&document=hughey.

A Guided Tour of the EWWRP Women's Genre Fiction Project. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/genrefiction/essay.php?level=div&id=lcguidedtour.001.

To browse Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship projects: https://digitalscholarship.emory.edu/expertise/project-list.html

To browse Lewis H Beck Centre projects: http://www.womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/projects.php?mode=full.

References:Edit

  1. a b c Spornick, Charles D. Emory Electronic Text Projects: The Role of the Full-Text Centre in Building Partnerships”, Library Hi Tech, vol. 16, no. 3-4, issue 63, 1998, pp. 58-9; https://doi-org.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/10.1108/07378839810305837.
  2. a b Staff. The Beck Centre, http://www.womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/staff.php. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  3. a b c d About the Emory Women Writers Resource Project. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/about.php. Accessed 4 June 2021.  
  4. Cultural Interest of Women in England from 1524 to 1640 Indicated in the Writing of the Women, an electronic edition. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/content.php?level=div&id=hughey_03&document=hughey. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  5. A Guided Tour of the EWWRP Women's Genre Fiction Project. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/genrefiction/essay.php?level=div&id=lcguidedtour.001. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  6. Women’s Genre Fiction Project. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/genrefiction/about.php. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  7. Beck Centre Programs and Projects. The Beck Centre, http://www.womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/projects.php?mode=full. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  8. About. Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship, https://digitalscholarship.emory.edu/about/index.html. Accessed 4 June 2021.  
  9. ECDS Project List. Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship, https://digitalscholarship.emory.edu/expertise/project-list.html. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  10. Emory Women Writers Resource Project. Emory Women Writers Resource Project, http://womenwriters.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/. Accessed 4 June 2021.
  11. Jaffary, Nora. Emory Women Writers Resource Project. World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/emory-women-writers-resource-project. Accessed 4 June 2021.