About

Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present is a highly dynamic textbase. It is a rich resource for researchers, for students, and for readers with an interest in literature, women’s writing, or cultural history more generally. With about 8 million words of text, it is full of interpretive information on women, writing, and culture. It includes documents on the lives and writing careers of over 1,305 writers, together with a great deal of contextual historical material on relevant subjects, such as the law, economics, science, writing by men, education, medicine, politics.

The Orlando Project has for the last decade been conducting research for a major project in literary history and an experiment in humanities computing. It has produced the first full scholarly history of women’s writing in the British Isles – but this is history with a difference. The Orlando textbase is designed to exploit the possibilities of computing for humanities scholarship. The Orlando team has developed computing technologies to meet the needs of its researchers and readers, who are able to manipulate in creative ways the information in the textbase.

Orlando‘s content and the means of its delivery are inseparable and essential elements of the one thing. They were built together, with the result that Orlando is highly responsive to questions its readers ask. The unique structure and searchability of Orlando allows readers to examine the information in a wide range of configurations. The textbase is open to the serendipities of productive browsing, but is also designed for searchers with a specific agenda —that is, for answering precise, complex questions.

The Orlando Project is based in the Department of English and Film Studies and Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, with a major site in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. Other members of the team are at universities in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia. Funding for The Orlando Project has been given by the University of Alberta, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the University of Guelph, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Reviews of Orlando

Miranda Hickman in Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

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).

Miranda Hickman. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 27:1 (Spring 2008), 180-86. (Available from Project MUSE).
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    3-5 Humanities Centre,

    Department of English and Film Studies

    University of Alberta

    Edmonton, AB, Canada

    T6G 2E5