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. 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.