Project

A History of Women’s Writing
Since the 1970s, feminist scholarship has produced a wealth of new knowledge about women’s writing in every period, in every kind, in many countries. In spite of the richness of contemporary scholarship, however, there has been no comprehensive literary history of writing by British women (or indeed by women writing in many other national traditions). That is partly because literary history was, during the last third of the twentieth century, under a disapproving cloud. Charges against “traditional” literary history were paralysing in their impact: no single history could be an accurate account of the whole; traditional, single-voiced narrative obliterated the multiple narratives of ‘minority’ groups (including women); traditional narrative history served the ideology of the nation-state.

Arriving powerfully on the intellectual scene just when women’s writing needed a history, those serious, valid, and undermining criticisms ensured that for too long the traditions of women’s writing would remain without a history. But students of women’s writing have for years expressed a need for a broad literary history centred in women’s production and capable of building on the wealth of new knowledge modern scholarship has produced. That need motivates the Orlando history.

While mindful of the charges against traditional literary history, Orlando aims to avoid these pitfalls, partly through its use of a new structure which guards it against the monolithic or hegemonic. Its extensive micro-history, or very large textbase of accounts of individuals in their time, is the product of many different writing voices conjoined in a uniquely structured system of electronic text. Use of the searching facility can compress narrative history into selected chronological milestones, or open up into exploration of the complexities of detail. Sets of results in either category embrace more than any one contributor to the textbase has foreseen.

The Orlando history focuses on gender and other aspects of cultural formation, and it emphasises the intellectual, material, political, and social conditions, including writing by men, that have, over time, helped to shape writing by women. These, and many other considerations, have determined the Orlando Project’s tagsets (or DTDs). These are the encoding systems that are the fundamental link between the textbase content and its digital delivery.

Reviews of Orlando

Alison Booth in Biography

[H]igh standard of biographical and historiographical interpretation and writing . . . an irrefutable confirmation that any one life (and life writing) is always a network of relations, locations, events, and categories (Booth 728).

Orlando isn’t just all about any woman writer who ever had anything to do with the British Isles, and some affiliated writers, or about the historical context for these longstanding traditions. It’s also all about markup. It’s about demystifying digital research for the scholar who might secretly still believe technology belongs to non-humanists or to nerdy men. On the contrary, markup is man-womanly in a Woolfian sense, some sort of cross-dressing of logic, poetry, sewing, and architecture. No longer romanticizing infinite possibilities, the digital community acknowledges that coding is interpretive (729).

Alison Booth. Biography 31: 4 (Fall 2008), 725-34.(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