Julia Flanders has announced that during the month of March, access to Women Writers Online is available at http://www.wwp.brown.edu. This provides an opportunity for enriching our discussions by addressing that resource.
Many thanks to Julia for granting emob access. This is excellent news. Last fall’s EC/ASECS and the coming March ASECS panels that inspired the establishment of emob both focus on ProQuest and Gale databases and not on subscription databases such as Women Writers’ Online (WWO). This trial will afford a fine opportunity to compare a database whose texts have been created and housed within a university and whose roots are academic with those assembled and offered through a commercial outfit.
I should clarify that WWO traditionally provides free access to their database in March, in celebration of Women’s HIstory Month. We can certainly benefit from this access, but it isn’t exclusive to emob. As Eleanor rightly points out, it’s a great opportunity to contrast databases rooted in a university with those that are supported commercially. It’s also a great chance to examine the richness of WWO more closely.
Thanks for the clarification, Anna. My institution had subscribed to WWO for a number of years and, then, around the time our subscription to EEBO began, the WWO subscription was not renewed. Atypically the question of whether to keep WWO was not brought, to my knowledge, to either of the English or Women’s Studies department and thus the decision appears to have been made solely by the library.
Such decisions return us to the need discussed in the last post about collaboration and communication between library and disciplinary faculty. While the Library of Congress now has the 17th and 18th century Burney newspapers collection, it only recently acquired a subscription and only did so once patrons/users pointed out that it offered different material from that supplied by the ProQuest British perioidcals database.
To return to the library discussion, your example of a library failing to renew the WWO subscription without consulting the pertinent department seems significant. On the one hand, we can see how the work of a library is slowed by the need to consult departments before acting on such a decision. On the other hand, who would better know the merit of such a database than the department? This is a growing problem as libraries have become autonomous units, often focusing on internal values such as circulation statistics, rather than, say, preservation, or serving the needs of specific departments. There are a lot of competing criteria for making these decisions. At some point, some sort of mechanism is needed to better align these criteria or place them in a hierarchy that serves both the institution and individual departments.
Now that it’s March, we have free access to WWO, which is great. I see that individual subscriptions are $50/year, which at least makes it possible for individuals to consider access. Not one of the digitized text-bases we have been examining elsewhere on this blog offers individual subscriptions.
I like the way results for a WWO search present snippets of the keyword to give a sense of its use. By clicking a box, you can translate the results into entries with full bibliographical records.
That WWO indexes works by women only also allows for interesting reviews. In a separate thread on this blog, Eleanor and I discussed using EEBO to help students see the vituperative responses to Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. No results appear for “Absalom and Achitophel” on WWO, but searching for “Dryden” presents the often effusive praise women writers directed to him–a striking change from the frenzied fury he received from his predominantly male critics.
Making individual subscriptions available is a suggestion that frequently crops up when issues of access to EEBO and ECCO are raised. While ECCO and EEBO have thus far not pursued offering personal subscriptions, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) does. In addition to its annual indvidual rate of $295.00, the ODNB also offers a monthly rate for individuals of $29.95. Offering monthly subscriptions to ECCO and EEBO would seem to be a highly desirable option for many researchers not affiliated with a subscribing institution.
For a researcher, the price charged by WWO is more than reasonable and makes this database highly affordable. Individual student WWO subscriptions are only $25.00. Thus if one’s institution is unwilling/unable to subscribe to the WWO, the $25.00 individual student rate would enable the instructor to make a subscription a “required” text. If the course was designed to include several weeks or more in which WWO was used, requiring a subscription would be comparable to what students pay for printed works.
Anna’s example of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel illustrates how valuable adding WWO as a required text to one’s syllabus could be. For a course in the eighteenth-century, WWO features numerous texts that would be attractive to include. For example, the database includes the four volumes of Eliza Haywood’s The Female Spectator and Charlotte Lennox’s The Lady’s Museum, 1760-61. These works would augment and complement offerings found in print anthologies or selections fround in Erin Mackie’s The Commerce of Everyday Life and would also work well in novel courses.
Earlier this year WWO integrated its dtabase with the Zotero bibliographic citation manager. This is a welcome move; the more cooperation instituted across digital resources, the better environment becomes for researchers and students.
The following announcement *dated 1 April 2010 * from Julia Flanders regarding prospective work at Women Writers Online seems worth reproducing. AB
From Julia Flanders:
The Women Writers Project is pleased to announce a groundbreaking new
digital humanities initiative designed to address ongoing problems
faced by numerous text encoding projects, particularly those dealing
with early print and manuscript materials. Like many such projects,
the WWP has struggled with the challenges of dealing with special
characters (especially those not represented in Unicode) and with the
ongoing problem of overlapping hierarchies, which despite several
decades of research remains essentially unresolved. In addition, we
have been alarmed by rising server costs and increased internet
In response to these concerns, starting in summer 2010, the WWP will
begin transitioning its transcription of early women’s writing to a
new paper-based platform, and by the end of the year we expect to be
transcribing and distributing texts entirely in manuscript.
Transcription will be done, as always, by trained graduate students,
working with pen and ink from images of the source text. The script is
a modified italic hand that has been optimized for speed and
legibility, as well as for quick training. The transcription captures
all line breaks, capitalization, long s, and special characters. A
sample text (an excerpt from Mary Squire’s “A Proposal to Determine
Our Longitude”, 1731) is available at http://www.wwp.brown.edu/encoding/research/gfx/wwp_ms_sample.pdf
. We are still experimenting with paper quality standards and problems
with bleeding, as well as questions of optimal ink color.
Structural features of the text will be represented using what are
often referred to as “bibliographic codes”, through which information
about each textual unit is conveyed unobtrusively through formatting
such as indentation, font shifts, and spacing. Because these codes do
not involve explicit delimiters, unlike XML, they do not risk overlap
problems and are in many cases easier to apply than traditional TEI
tags. In addition, because each character is formed by hand,
transcribers can replicate any character exactly, without being
limited to characters represented in Unicode. These considerations are
of particular importance in the WWP textbase, where non-Unicode
characters are common (as in the sample shown) and where the familiar
generic structures represented by tagsets like the TEI are not always
Access to Women Writers Online will be somewhat more limited once this
project is complete. We will be funding student transcribers at
academic institutions regionally across the US and Europe, who will
transcribe texts on demand as needed by WWO users, and these will be
delivered by the local postal service, usually within 4-6 business
days. Although not searchable in conventional ways, these texts are
guaranteed to be durable (research suggests that if kept away from
moisture and direct sunlight, the new WWO texts may last for several
centuries) and will remain legible indefinitely. They are free from
hardware and software dependencies and can be read and used on
airplanes and in deep caves where access to wireless and power may be
This new approach still adheres to our fundamental principles of using
non-proprietary, standards-based, software- and hardware-independent
platforms for publication, while also providing other advantages as
well. We hope this effort to “put the digits back in ‘digital'” will
be of interest to other members of the digital humanities community!
Enjoy the first of April–