Dr. Patricia Clements, founding director of the Orlando Project, has received an honorary D.Litt. from the University of Alberta. Dr. Clements, along with thirteen other outstanding individuals, will participate in celebrating and encouraging the University of Alberta graduating class of June 2015.
What is Orlando?
The Orlando Project is an experiment in the integration of text and technology. It has designed and continues to enhance digital tools to harness the power of computers for critical literary and historical research. The project's constantly expanding and improving storehouse of knowledge about women's lives and writings, the Orlando textbase itself, is rendered uniquely searchable and sortable by its encoding. Its widening of the knowledge base in cultural history goes together with the training and professional development of generations of students.
The project began when Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy, and Susan Brown proposed to research and write a much-needed literary history and to deliver it electronically. It was a bold move: such an undertaking had not previously been attempted in kind, scale, or complexity, and at this stage in the development of humanities computing – the mid 1990s – it was by no means clear either that text encoding (markup) could produce meaningful results in so complex a field as literary history or even that an extensively encoded text could be effectively deployed and accessed on the internet. Nevertheless, Brown, Clements, and Grundy, traditionally trained and hitherto non-computational professors of English, set out to create a multidisciplinary team which could both produce a major history of women’s writing in the British Isles and conceive and build this as a digital history.
The Orlando Project is collaborative and multidisciplinary. The venture at its core brings together literary scholars, digital humanists, and computing scientists, and from the beginning the team has benefited from the generous collaboration of distinguished digital humanists from across Canada and internationally. Orlando research is cross-cultural, and student colleagues – of whom the Project has trained upwards of 85, and rising – learn about both editorial and archival research, and document analysis and markup. Professors and student researchers alike are excited by the experimental environment.
The history the team built is the product of massive scholarly research, of Orlando’s tagsets (built in-house), and of the Orlando production system. Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present was published online by Cambridge University Press in 2006 at orlando.cambridge.org/. It is an unprecedented work of literary scholarship. Not a book, though in length the equivalent of about 80 scholarly books, and not a digital edition of an existing text, it is a richly searchable textbase that caters to the individual research interests of readers/users. Orlando’s unique encoding system enables users to search and recombine detailed accounts of authors’ lives and writing careers, plus extensive contextual material in a way that has never before been possible.
The Orlando Project team continues to explore ways in which the digital can enrich the textual, and its technologies have enabled other innovative projects. CWRC, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (www.cwrc.ca), led by Susan Brown and built on Orlando as a web-based service-oriented platform, combining a repository and a toolkit, empowers scholars through new ways of pursuing research into Canadian writing and culture.
Searching in Orlando
The first three entry points to Orlando are People (for author entries singly or in groups, and other names), Chronologies (timelines by word, date, or tag), and Tag Search. Tag Search offers picklists of tags, with explanatory diagrams showing relationships between tags. This starburst represents the chief tags in the Production section of the Writing schema developed by Orlando. Some of these have subtags not represented here. For example, the Mode of Publication tag can be narrowed to subtags about subscription, or limited edition, etc.
CONFERENCE NEWS: Digital Diversity 2015: Writing | Feminism | CultureWhereas the Orlando textbase was first published by Cambridge University Press in 2006, the Orlando Project itself began in 1995. This May, the conference Digital Diversity 2015: Writing | Feminism | Culture will take place in Edmonton to mark the Orlando Project’s 20th birthday and to explore ongoing advances in the fields of digital literary and cultural studies. We look forward to welcoming an international, multidisciplinary group of delegates, who will participate in workshops, panels, and poster and demo sessions. For more information about the conference, including its featured speakers, check out its website at digitaldiversity2015.org and follow its Twitter account @digdiv2015.
Orlando in the Media
Orlando’s Design Research
Explore in Orlando
24 May 1655
Hester Biddle issued her two first tracts on the same day: the almost identical Wo to thee City of Oxford and Wo to thee Towne of Cambridge.
24 May 1675
Anthony Wood, passionate collector of historical ephemera, carried off for his collection a petition to parliament which he found provided as toilet paper in a London privy.
24 May 1689
The Toleration Act (or Act of Toleration) declared that statutes against Protestant Dissenters would no longer be enforced; it did not, however, take them off the books.Dissenters, though not Catholics, were now free to worship in their own way. At the same time episcopacy was abolished in Scotland, where the established religion was Presbyterianism.
- 24 May 1655
May 21, 2015 ·
February 28, 2015 ·
The Orlando textbase was on free access for March 2015 (Women’s History Month). We hear this was much enjoyed.
January 19, 2015 ·
Dr Michelle Levy of Simon Fraser University is to use data from Orlando for The Women’s Print History Project, 1750-1830 (awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant), the first comprehensive bibliographical database of women’s contributions to print for this crucial period. This project will build on the now extensive body of qualitative historical scholarship on women’s writing to enable rigorous quantitative analysis of patterns in women’s print history and to foster better . . . Read more
November 27, 2014 ·
The Orlando Lecture series was launched on 4 November 2014 to
celebrate the feminist achievements of the University of Alberta’s
Department of English and Film Studies, including both the Orlando
Project and the Orlando textbase. The inaugural lecture was delivered
to a packed and appreciative audience by Larissa Lai and Rita Wong.
The experiment is unquestionably a successful one. Orlando‘s most obvious utility, as with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, involves the ability to turn to its entries on more than 800 individual British women writers for specific biographical or bibliographical information. For example, Orlando‘s entry on Jane Austen or Frances Burney is in many ways more useful than the ODNB’s: it supplies more specific dates and employs a hierarchical structure that enables the reader to jump easily to specific portions of each entry. . . . Orlando, in that sense, offers one-stop biographical and book-historical shopping. Orlando’s unique value is in providing ‘materials [that] are capable of a high degree of interaction.’ To be sure, one can do a full-text search in the ODNB for the word ‘antiquarian’ or ‘bluestocking’ and come up with some surprising and valuable results, but in Orlando, the ability to quickly investigate not only such keywords but also circles of writers—particularly by tracing connections among individual writers (male and female)—is unprecedented. One can learn not only about interpersonal connections and literary influences but also about locations, events, occupations, genres, birth position, and other categories that link British women writers (and a smaller selection of male or non-British women writers) to each other.
Two books under review in this essay: William McCarthy’s Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment and Nicholas D. Smith’s The Literary Manuscripts and Letters of Hannah More.
Devoney Looser, “Enlightenment Women’s Voices”, Huntington Library Quarterly 73:2 (June 2010), 295-302. (Available from JSTOR).
Orlando features not only British women writers but rather a wide range of male and female writers in some way related to literature associated with the British Isles. As a modernist, I welcomed entries on American writers H. D., Djuna Barnes, and Marianne Moore (Hickman 181).
It is inspiring to see such richly collaborative work in action in the humanities, enabled and encouraged by the Orlando framework; this reads as a real example of what Vera John Steiner calls the ‘co construction of knowledge.’ . . . I soon realized that the ground breaking (I should say pathfinding) nature of the project’s set up lay in how its structure allows one to navigate such pages [individual entries] in aggregate. . . . What Orlando allows you to do, in a spirit nicely faithful to the agility implied by Woolf’s Orlando, is to choose your own adventure. . . . When one departs from the usual technique of shuttling immediately to an individual writer’s entry, one appreciates more fully the mercurial quality of the information, uniquely susceptible of rearrangement thanks to the intricate electronic encoding system. This system of electronic tagging both indicates and enables theoretical savvy (Hickman 182).
The rich corpus of information the Orlando team has managed to build in the project’s brief lifespan is nothing short of astonishing. In both theoretical and practical terms, this exciting project makes superb use of the implications of new technologies, and like Woolf’s Orlando, it points to the future. Like Woolf’s oak tree, may it flourish and ramify (Hickman 184).
… each Orlando Project entry serves the beginning student and advanced researcher alike; it provides an introductory survey of a particular author, but can also function as a source of the latest critical understandings of the author and an encouragement for further advanced research on the themes, influences, and cultural contexts radiating out from that author (377).
[…] Orlando‘s most innovative contribution to humanities scholarship is the modelling of more interpretive, open-ended, thematic database research. The database encourages what it terms “Tag Searches,” in which entries have been tagged to highlight key terms relating to topics unique to literary history; searches can return information relating to biographical details, literary production, literary reception, textual features, and essential or “core tag” details such as dates and names. Orlando allows searches for topics that are not part of a “typical” database search—such as editions, circulation, anthologization, and type of press—but are of keen interest to researchers of reading and writing culture. Orlando thus captures some of the most recent trends in history of the book and material culture studies and translates those interests into research queries that can be performed quickly and efficiently (377).
[…] Orlando enacts exciting new approaches to women’s history, literary history, and the history of the book by translating those approaches into an equally exciting database organization. The textbase features authoritative summaries of women’s lives and writing, new cultural and thematic topics for “tagged” investigations, and innovative processes for performing searches across disciplines and time periods. Perhaps most importantly, Orlando encourages the researcher to see new patterns, new connections, and new traditions—and thus to think in new ways. The transformative effect of women’s writing is keenly felt by the Orlando researcher. With its ability to encourage new thinking in both the entry-level student and the advanced researcher, Orlando deserves a prominent place in the electronic database collection of every research library (378).
Because of the ways in which the extensive data can be mined or formulated, Orlando offers the best access to information on British women writers and serves as a model for similar databases that will supplant printed literary dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks (187).
Opening up Orlando reminds me of first seeing Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party (a work likewise remarkable in form as much as content)—three decades later, it is still thrilling and affirming to have women’s countless contributions to Western culture and society made visible. What is new in the twenty-first century, however, is that now the guest list of history-making women is electronic—and there are always more seats at the table. In this sense, Orlando goes beyond earlier constructions of alternative canons, whose printed form tended to reproduce hierarchies of “major” and “minor” writers, not to mention the naturalization of a fixed tradition (143).
We might say, then, that Orlando’s narrative is grand not in its seamless hegemony but rather in its tireless productivity. Ceding narratorial agency to each user, this is a women’s history intrinsically committed to a process of continual revision and multiplication of variants (144).
Flexible, practical, and worldly in its approach to identity politics, Orlando is a good example of what I have optimistically begun to call the New Women’s Studies: feminist scholarship willing once again to proceed under the sign of “women”—not in defiance of theoretical work disaggregating “women” and destabilizing “identity” but precisely through having engaged with and processed this work to the point of making it our common sense (146).