Midterm: Women Writers Project

Describe and evaluate the significance of the scholarship for the humanities.

This project exemplifies the importance of early writings that contributed to to the development of modern literature, but with a sole emphasis on contributions made by women. This type of site will always be imperative for as long as the fight for gender equality continues. Even after gender equality is achieved (hopefully), this digital humanities project will continue to be relevant because it highlights notable contributions to literature dating all the way back to the 16th century. Distinguished universities like Brown and Northeastern are continuing to show the importance of the humanities by funding projects like this.  This project also receives funding from the National Endowment of Humanities. The aforementioned universities continue to value the humanities not only because of their academic value, but also the value in what can be learned outside of the academic setting. This site also provides workshops in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) and other data seminars, which speak to the direction in which the humanities are going. With the rapid increase and constant change in technology, developing these tools are important for the future.

How does the project push forward (or fail to push forward) the state of knowledge of a discipline?

On the homepage of the Women Writers Project, viewers immediately learn about the site’s purpose, “Our goal is to bring texts by pre-Victorian women writers out of the archive and make them accessible to a wide audience of teachers, students, scholars, and the general reader. We support research on women’s writing, text encoding, and the role of electronic texts in teaching and scholarship.” The site achieves both of its goals because it archived nearly 400 texts spanning three centuries in the pre-Victorian era, all of which were written by women. Viewers can readily learn about the history and further development of literature while also subsequently learning about parts of women’s history. It also pushed forward the knowledge of coding and other crucial aspects of the digital humanities because as it was previously mentioned, the site offers seminars and workshops. Women Writers Project certainly succeeds at teaching its viewers about the technology behind the site and the texts it provides.

Can you identify the project’s primary research question? What is it? A series of questions?

While the site is dedicated to the digitally archiving women’s writing between the 16th and 19th centuries, there is also an obvious emphasis on the use of text encoding and the presence of using electronic texts in the humanities. Therefore, it can be surmised that the Women Writers Project looks to answer two primary research questions, along with smaller questions that relate back to the two main points. The first question that is being answered is, “Why is it important the public has access to early women’s’ writings?” Some residual questions that pertain to this question are, “How have these texts affected more modern literature? Why is it important for this site to recognize only female writers?” The second essential question that is being answered is, “Why is it important to not only adapt to the growing popularity of digital humanities, but also learn how to encode text and properly utilize electronic texts?” Offshoot questions for this question are, “Why use pre-Victorian women’s writing to teach people TEI and other digital humanities tools? Is this type of scholarship becoming more universal?”

Describe and evaluate the project’s design and interface. Evaluate the interactivity and modes of navigation of the project.

The Women Writers Project is simply designed but still maintains a sense of aesthetic appeal to the user. The easy navigation of the site allows users to not get overwhelmed by the substantial amount of accessible information. In other words, this site is filled with information between the hundreds of pre-Victorian texts and the information pertaining to encoding and other technological ideas. The layout properly separates all materials into respective categories that can be found in a banner across the top of the home page. Similar to the navigability, the interactivity of the Women Writers Project exemplifies the successful functionality of the site. Users are able to work with a timeline that allows them to isolate specific texts based on the date they selected. Furthermore, the website provides definitions, links, templates, and other resources for those who want to learn more about text encoding. The one complaint we had is the lack of visuals on the website. While it is understandable that this site is to teach its users about women’s texts and text encoding, it would be helpful and more enjoyable if there was a better balance between text and visuals.

What technologies does the project employ (both front-end and back-end) and how does the scholarship make use of these technologies?

The Women Writers Online collection used XML with documented Text Encoding Initiative extensions to build the database for encoding the transcriptions of women writers. The XML documents are easily extendible and have a clear coding structure. This allows easy implementations of a search panel, filters of different tags and  modifying the electronic texts. Since the nature of XML as a coding language does not require strict coding manners, the encoding can be easily maintained by several different programmers. This interface with a search pane, a results pane and a text pane provides users with the fluent experience of searching, filtering and reading at the same time.

What do you consider to be the successes and failures of the project?

Two main purposes of a project are to answer its research questions and to delivery the results efficiently. The Women Writers Project archived the texts by women writers between the 16th and 19th centuries electronically and made it easily accessible to users online. Compared with the information we can get from the whole site of the Women Writers Project, the Women Writers Online textbase is just a single page from the drop down menu of the homepage. The site has a easy and clear navigation and has also shown an emphasis on education purpose. Although using pure text to deliver the information may limit the degree of creativity, it seems to be the most efficient way for users to search for the resource they need. One subtle improvement could be that to let users personalize the color, background and size of borders of the text they read.

Consider the role of the project director (listed in parentheses). What influence does the project director have on the project’s success (or failure)?

Julia Flanders is currently a professor of the practice in English and the director of Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University.  The Women Writers Project matches her personal research interests on “data modeling, text scholarship, and humanities data curations” according to her page of Northeastern University library. This digital humanity project not just does the electronic encoding of a textbase, but also spreads the knowledge of new technology and expands to push forward the development of scholarly text encoding. Since the project is funded by university, it will certainly have an emphasis on educational purposes. Professor Julia Flanders also holds the workshops of learning TEI and other modern text encoding techniques. The education background of Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern could also increase the credibility of the archives.

Consider using your rubric and applying whatever form of evaluation from that assignment that might work best with the project you are examining.

Contents: The Women Writers Project has clear research questions. Contents are closely related to the research questions and are reasonably catalogued with a navigation bar and drop-down lists. Citations and contact information are provided as links and at the footer location of the site.

Visualizations and Organizations: The main contents of the site are large amount of pure texts. The whole site is lack of using of images maybe because of the nature of the textbase project. However, it may provide users with better experiences if the project could make use of multimedia. Although the site covers a wide range of topics, the sections are clearly defined with individual navigation page. it does a good job on showing the connections between different topics on the site using relative article links and navigation pages. In general, the project is easily navigated, interactive and well-organized.

Accessibility and Extensibility: Technology used for text encoding is easy to maintain and extend. Provide users with a specific and clear guide about how to report an error in a text. The website is up-to-date and is still positively maintained and extended by the project directors.

Contribution and Academic importance: The Women Writers Project does an excellent job on showing the contributions by women writers to the general readers and pushing forward the education of modern text encoding techniques.
Ramsay, Stephen. “Databases.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.


Chenchen Zhao & Matt Golding