Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Women Writers Project (Northeastern University)

Overview:Edit

           The Women Writers Project (WWP) at Northeastern University – located in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States – is a longstanding research and publication project devoted to the electronic translation, preservation and presentation of Early Modern texts composed by women writers in the English language[1]. Originally founded in 1986 by a small party of academic fellows from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island[2], this enterprise sought to illuminate the enduring, cultural significance of early women’s writing through experimentation with electronic text encoding. It has since expanded exponentially, having been supported by numerous grants from notable organisations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities[3], and as of September 2022, includes over 600 rare or difficult to obtain transcriptions of texts written or co-authored by women between the sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries[4]. Through the digital publication of their evolving collection, in addition to their organisation of other research endeavours and educational workshops, the WWP continues to successfully “bring texts by pre-Victorian women writers out of the archive and make them accessible to a wide audience”[5].

History:Edit

Formerly the Brown University Women Writers Project, the WWP began in the late 1980s as a cross-departmental group with members from two intellectual faculties: the flourishing early modern women’s studies department; and the newly-developed field of electronic text encoding[6]. The focus of this collaborative project was to improve the accessibility, preservation and longevity of the previously-neglected works of early women writers, through the formulation of an electronic archive that not only encompassed full transcriptions of these texts, but also accompanying works such as literary reviews and scholarly essays from the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In 1988, the WWP commenced their initial, five-year transcription of an electronic collection of approximately 200 texts, as well as the publication of a fifteen-volume series – Women Writers in English, 1350 – 1850 – in traditional print form, which still remains available. Since then, numerous grants and the gradual growth of the WWP team have facilitated the development of many new projects, most significant of which including

  • The commissioning of the digitalisation of the front matter of 100 texts from the Renaissance, culminating in Renaissance Women Online (funded by endowments from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation from 1997 – 2000);
  • The production of In Her Own Words, a one-woman show based on the life and literary achievements of Queen Elizabeth I; and
  • The 1999 electronic publication of Women Writers Online, the corpus of works from English-transcribed, women writers of the Renaissance[7].

           Following the release of Women Writers Online, this enterprise has begun several new ventures centralised around research and education regarding scholarly text encoding, with the publication of a guidebook, introduction of curricular documentation and seminars, as well as hosting of an occasional symposium, Women in the Archives. To further their pursuit of textual and digital education, the WWP and its staff moved to join the Digital Scholarly Group of Northeastern University in 2013[8].

People:Edit

The WWP was first established by personnel from the English Faculty of Brown University. Since the late 1980s, this cross-departmental enterprise has continued to expand. As of September 2022, the project employs four permanent staff members:

Director: Julia Flanders;

Senior XML Programmer/Analyst: Syd Bauman;

XML Applications Programmer: Ash Clark; and

Assistant Director: Sarah Connell.

Additionally, the WWP also consists of thirteen Current Research and Encoding Specialists, as well as an Advisory Board underpinned by an Executive Committee and a Research Board, alongside Collaborators incorporating Pedagogical Development Consultants and Research Partners[9].

A full list of former and current staff, affiliates and alumni can be located on the WWP website: https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/about/people.html.

Works and Initiatives:Edit

In addition to their frequent publications and annual seminar, Women in the Archives, the Women Writers Project has developed and frequently updates four web platforms as outlined below:

Women Writers OnlineEdit

First published in August 1999, Women Writers Online (WWO) is a diverse, detailed and digitalised collection of women’s writing in the English language originating from 1450 to 1850[10]. Meticulously transcribed and encoded in the XML-based language, TEI, this vast catalogue encompasses a plethora of political, religious, philosophical and scientific texts that encapsulate the early culture of women’s literature and writing. Some notable inclusions within this platform include the writings of Anne Askew, Anne Cooke Bacon, Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Phillips, with approximately 25 new texts also added to the collection annually[11].

WWO is currently available by institutional and individual subscriptions, with many major universities, research centres and libraries across the world already utilising this accessible, reliable and insightful platform. As of September 2022, individual subscriptions cost $50 per year, with discounted student rates starting at $25 per annum. It is also important to note that WWP offer a free one-month trial subscription for new members, as well as free access to the platform for the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month[12].

Women Writers in ContextEdit

Women Writers in Context is an engaging, experimental and digitalised exhibition that seeks to offer those new to early women’s writing with opportunities to explore contextual knowledge, historical texts and research related to early women’s writing, as well as the prevalence of women in other fields such as music, art, medicine and education[13].

Women Writers in ReviewEdit

Women Writers in Review is an electronic catalogue of texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that complement those available in Women Writers Online, such as published reviews, historical accounts and other works that comment on early women’s writing[14].

Teaching and Learning (also known as WWP Curricular Materials)Edit

The ‘Teaching and Learning’ platform offers a plethora of materials and tools to support educators in planning for and utilising the digital and collaborative spaces, exhibitions and texts available on Women Writers Online. Some examples of the valuable resources accessible include: lesson plans and assessment exemplars relevant to the collaborative exploration of women literate culture; university-level syllabi aligned with early modern literary traditions and women’s studies; citation and encoding guides; and a collaborative consultation program on pedagogy and curriculum[15].

Reputation & Legacy:Edit

The WWP and its staff have collaboratively addressed many prevailing obstacles related to the inaccessibility, invisibility and scarcity of the early historical writings by women in the English language, as their digitalised archives, curricular materials and contemporary publications have facilitated the revitalisation of such scholarship and research into this once marginalised field.

Enduring public engagement in the ventures of the WWP is exemplified by the grants and incentives that they have and continue to receive to fund their archival research, academic publications and collaborative encoding of hundreds of texts and educational resources. In particular, the unwavering contributions of the National Endowment for the Humanities to the WWP since their first endowment in 1988 is evidence of the significance of the project’s work to the history of feminine literature and the digitalisation of archival material.

The vast breadth of the origins, genres and topics available within the online catalogue, Women Writers Online, ensures that this multi-disciplinary project continues to be an engaging and indispensable resource for teaching, learning and research, as well as an “unparalleled view of women’s literate culture in the early modern period”[16].

Further Reading:Edit

For additional information and resources on the Women Writers Project at Northeastern University, visit the Research & Publications segment on the official WWP website [https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/research/], which offers access to full listings and details of all published works and endeavours developed by this enterprise, most notably of which including Women Writers Online, Women Writers in Review, Women Writers in Context, Early Modern Women’s Manuscript and the WWP Lab, as well as their educational syllabi and scholarly guides to women’s literature and electronic textual encoding.

Additionally, the published works of the current and founding director of the WWP, Julia Flanders, may offer valuable insights into the synergy between electronic encoding and early women’s writing, as well as the origins of this project. A full list of her scholarly publications is available at https://juliaflanders.wordpress.com/about/cv/  . A few outstanding examples of her work include:

           Wernimont, Jacqueline, and Julia Flanders. “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives: The Women Writers Project.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 29, no. 2, 2010, pp. 425–35. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41337287.

           Flanders, Julia. “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online.” Pedagogy, vol. 2, no. 1, 2002, pp. 49–60. doi: https://doi- org.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/10.1215/15314200-2-1-49.

References:Edit

Flanders, Julia. “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online.” Pedagogy, vol. 2, no. 1, 2002, pp. 49–60. doi: https://doi-org.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/10.1215/15314200-2-1-49.

Wernimont, Jacqueline, and Julia Flanders. “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives: The Women Writers Project.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 29, no. 2, 2010, pp. 425–35. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41337287.

Women Writers Project. “WWP.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/.

Women Writers Project. “About the WWP.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/about/.

Women Writers Project. “History of Grants.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/about/grants.html.

Women Writers Project. “Pricing Information.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/wwo/license/pricing.html.

Women Writers Project. “Teaching and Learning.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/wwo/teaching/.

Women Writers Project. “Texts Included in Women Writers Online, Sorted by Title.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/wwo/texts/textlist.title.html.

Women Writers Project. “The Texts in Women Writers Online.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/wwo/texts/.

Women Writers Project. “Women Writers in Context.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/context/index.html.

Women Writers Project. “Women Writers in Review.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://wwp.northeastern.edu/review/.

Women Writers Project. “Women Writers Online.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/wwo/.

Women Writers Project. “Women Writers Project History.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/about/history/.

Women Writers Project. “WWP People.” Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. https://www.wwp.northeastern.edu/about/people.html.


[1] Women Writers Project, WWP.

[2] Women Writers Project, Women Writers Project History.

[3] Women Writers Project, History of Grants.

[4] Women Writers Project, Texts Included in Women Writers Online, Sorted by Title

[5] Women Writers Project, WWP.

[6] Women Writers Project, Women Writers Project History.

[7] Women Writers Project, Women Writers Project History.

[8] Women Writers Project, About the WWP.

[9] Women Writers Project, WWP People.

[10] Women Writers Project, Women Writers Online.

[11] Women Writers Project, The Texts in Women Writers Online

[12] Women Writers Project, Pricing Information.

[13] Women Writers Project, Women Writers in Context.

[14] Women Writers Project, Women Writers in Review

[15] Women Writers Project, Teaching and Learning

[16] Women Writers Project, Women Writers Online