Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Women's Writing, 1550–1700

“RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Women’s Writing, 1550–1700” was a collaborative digital humanities project that sought to create the first large-scale, quantitative account of the reception of women’s writing in the English-speaking world. The project sought to evaluate the existence and circulation of women's writing, and how women writers' built their legacies in a patriarchal world. The project was led by Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan and hosted by the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies at the National University of Ireland Galway. It was funded by the European Research Council from 2014 to 2020.[1]

PeopleEdit

In its earliest stages, the project was divided into four “work packages” reflecting four different areas of study. Each work package was the remit of one or two postdoctoral researchers: transnational religious networks (Dr Emilie Murphy), the international republic of letters (Dr Felicity Maxwell), the manuscript miscellany (Dr Sajed Chowdhury and Dr Erin McCarthy), and book ownership (Dr Mark Empey). A PhD student, Evan Bourke, also contributed to the work on letters. David Kelly developed the team’s database system.[2]

Over time, the project received additional funding to expand into additional areas. Dr Wes Hamrick joined the team to research Irish-language women’s writing. Dr Bronagh McShane was hired initially as a research assistant but took over the work on religious networks when Murphy secured a permanent lectureship at the University of York. Ioanna Kyvernitou began doctoral research on women philosophers, and Bourke transitioned into a postdoctoral post after completing his PhD in 2018.[3]

WorksEdit

Researchers visited libraries and archives around the world in order to find examples of the reception and circulation of women’s writing.[4] These examples were recorded in a password-protected database. In total, the team identified 1,878 female authors from classical to early modern times; 7,319 works authored by these women; and 4,845 examples of their reception.

Between 2014 and 2019, the project team produced an impressive array of traditional research outputs discussing their findings:

  • eleven sole-authored, peer-reviewed articles
  • four sole-authored, peer-reviewed chapters
  • four joint-authored, peer-reviewed essays
  • three peer-reviewed journal special issues
  • one sole-authored monograph
  • one PhD thesis

The team hosted an international conference, “Reception, Reputation, and Circulation in the Early Modern World” in March 2017. Team members also gave eighty-eight conference presentations, seven keynotes, and one invited lecture in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[5] The project blog included fifty-nine entries on a wide range of topics.

In January 2020, the team released an open-access version of their database designed and developed by Kelly.[6] The database provides an interface for users to explore the data online, but it also permits them to export search results as .csv files and in tables formatted to be imported into the network analysis application Gephi to conduct their own analyses. The database launch was hosted by the Moore Institute on 16 January 2020.[7] An exhibition introducing the project’s findings along relevant documents was mounted in the library in conjunction with the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture program. Though Galway 2020 was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, the abrupt closure of the Hardiman Library meant that the RECIRC exhibition has not yet been taken down, making it the library’s longest-running exhibition to date.

Reputation and LegacyEdit

Although the project is no longer funded, members of the team continue to conduct related research. Coolahan has returned to teaching at NUIG; other team members have moved into full-time roles at other universities and humanities organizations.[8] Additional research outputs are under review or forthcoming. It is expected that members of the team will continue to publish related work for several years.

Though developed for early modern women’s writing, RECIRC’s quantitative methodology can be usefully extended to other areas of literary study. Additionally, the data available in the open-access version of the database may be the basis of future research projects and can also be used in tertiary teaching.

Several team members are active on social media, and the project Twitter account, now managed by Coolahan alone, can be found @recirc_. Additional collaborations have grown out of the project; McCarthy and Empey both contribute to the blog “Early Modern Female Book Ownership: #HerBook,” which was awarded an Honorable Mention for the 2020 Digital Scholarship Award by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.[9]

ReferencesEdit

National University of Ireland Galway. “Readers and Reputations: A New Exhibition from the RECIRC Research Project.” Accessed 22 April 2021. https://www.nuigalway.ie/recircexhibition/#

“RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550–1700.” Accessed 22 April 2021. https://recirc.nuigalway.ie

van Elk, Martine, Mark Empey, Sarah Lindenbaum, Tara Lyons, Erin McCarthy, Micheline White, and Georgianna Ziegler. “About This Blog.” Early Modern Female Book Ownership. Accessed 22 April 2021. https://earlymodernfemalebookownership.wordpress.com/contact

Further readingEdit

Coolahan, Marie-Louise. “‘One of the Finest Poems of that Nature I ever Read’: Quantitative Methodologies and the Reception of Early Modern Women’s Writing.” In Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing, edited by Patricia Pender and Rosalind Smith, 174–93. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

———. “The Cultural Dynamics of Reception.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 50 (2020): 1–12.

Guénette, Marie-France. “The Reception & Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550–1700.” Early Modern Digital Review 2 (2019): 169–76.


[1] “The RECIRC Project,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/about, accessed 22 April 2021.

[2] “The RECIRC Project,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/about, accessed 22 April 2021.

[3] “Our People,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/team, accessed 22 April 2021.

[4] “About the Data,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/about-data/data, 22 April 2021.

[5] “Presentations and Publications,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/presentations-and-publications, accessed 22 April 2021.

[6] “Technical Overview,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/about-data/technical-overview, 22 April 2021.

[7] National University of Ireland Galway, “Readers and Reputations: A New Exhibition from the RECIRC Research Project,” https://www.nuigalway.ie/recircexhibition/#, accessed 22 April 2021.

[8] “Our People,” RECIRC, https://recirc.nuigalway.ie/team, accessed 22 April 2021.

[9] “About This Blog,” Early Modern Female Book Ownership, https://earlymodernfemalebookownership.wordpress.com/contact/, accessed 22 April 2021.