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

Susan Fraiman in Modern Philology

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).

Susan Fraiman. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens—With Help from a New Digital Resource for Literary Scholars,” Modern Philology, August 2008, 142-48. (Available from Chicago Journals).
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    3-5 Humanities Centre,

    Department of English and Film Studies

    University of Alberta

    Edmonton, AB, Canada

    T6G 2E5