Author Archive

Exploring reception history in Women Writers Online

September 16, 2010

We’re delighted to have been invited to contribute to the EMOB blog. The Brown University Women Writers Project has a strong interest in the issues raised here and we hope to learn a great deal from EMOB’s readers about how scholars work with digital collections.

In this first posting, we’d like to announce an upcoming project for which we just received funding, and solicit the attention and thoughts of this community as we start planning. Once the project gets started, we’ll have more concrete things to seek feedback on and also opportunities for contribution.

Many readers of this blog will already have seen the announcement of the WWP’s most recent NEH grant, “Cultures of Reception: Transatlantic Readership and the Construction of Women’s Literary History”. This three-year project will begin in January 2011, and its overall goal is to gather and study materials that can help us grasp the reception history for texts in the WWO collection. We’ll be focusing on published reviews from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but also including other sources such as anthologies, early literary histories, and manuscript materials like diaries, letters, and commonplace books.

Our plan is to digitize reviews and contemporary critical responses to women’s writing, in a way that enables us to mark explicitly for study a set of key points for analysis: for instance, the author of the review, the text being reviewed, the evaluative language used, any other texts with which the reviewed text is being compared, the terms of the comparison, as well as information needed to enable us to trace geographical and temporal connections. These source materials will be published through an interface that allows readers of WWO to examine the reception history of a given text (or textual exchange), and also to get a broader view of the terms in which women’s writing was being read and evaluated, both publicly and privately.

There will be opportunities for participation of various kinds, including contributions of contemporary reader responses to WWP texts, and also input on the design of the interface for working with the source materials. We will also be very glad to hear from anyone who is working directly on reception history, who might be interested in working with us more closely (for instance, using the collection to prepare an article that we might publish with WWO). At the outset, though, we also have a few issues on which we’d be very glad of people’s thoughts:

  1. What does one need to know about reading and reviewing practices in order to make a meaningful study of reception history? What are the potential blind spots in this project?
  2. What opportunities for new questions and approaches might a collection like this open up? For instance, how might geographical information affect our understanding of readership and reception? What kinds of interface tools would best facilitate working with these materials?
  3. What other kinds of research questions might arise out of these materials? Are there larger purposes we should be bearing in mind for this data that might affect how much detail we capture, etc.?

We look forward to following the discussion and learning more!

best wishes,

Julia Flanders
John Melson

Women Writers Project, Brown University Center for Digital Scholarship