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Women Writers Project Homepage

One of the oldest and most established text encoding projects, the Brown Women Writers Project (WWP) has been active since 1988. The project’s goal is to increase the visibility and accessibility of pre-Victorian women writers by making TEI encoded versions of their texts available online. The text corpus includes fiction, poetry, and drama plus women's contributions to religious and political debates and to science, history, philosophy and medicine. Over three hundred texts that were originally published between 1526 and 1850 have now been encoded.

The Brown Women Writers project is part of the Center for Digital Scholarship at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. It has three permanent staff members, including a director, a dedicated programmer, and a project manager. WWP also has a large advisory board comprised of scholars from a variety of academic institutions. The majority of these are English professors, with a mix of digital humanists and librarians. Much of the text encoding work is done by undergraduate and graduate students. Project funding has come from a variety of sources, including major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Audience & Publications

Women Writers Online

The intended audience for the project is primarily scholarly. One of the WWP’s first major publications was a 15 volume print series entitled Women Writers in English, 1350-1850 that was published by Oxford University Press. The full text corpus is available electronically via a subscription database called Women Writers Online, which also provides search functionality and text analysis tools. University of Alberta Libraries provide the university community with access to this resource. The project web site maintains a current list of the texts and authors that are available. Approximately 15 texts per year are added to Women Writers Online.

In addition to publishing scholarly resources, the project runs a number of workshops and seminars on scholarly text encoding which are aimed at humanities researchers, librarians, archivists, students, and digital practitioners. Consulting services are also available for smaller digital humanities projects, and for individual faculty members.

Technical Details

The Brown Women Writers Project encodes text into TEI-compliant XML files. They use a customized version of the TEI schema - customized in the sense that they remove unused elements, control specific attributes, add elements for features that the TEI does not include, and alter internal element structures and names to make it better represent the text. The markup of the text tries to be as precise to the source material as possible in an effort to preserve the document as close to the original object as possible.

Rendering of the final encoded text is done with an emphasis on the readability of the new electronic version. During the encoding process, they try to keep the original punctuation and structure of the piece as much as possible. However, for some parts of the text they standardize the text according to TEI specifications. Examples of where this standardization occurs are: absolute or relative font size, font of the punctuation, absolute line spacing, running headers and footers, swash characters, and ligatures. Each text also maintains a word count that is available to be viewed on the WWO through the document itself.

Implications for the Digital Humanities

The Women Writers Project has contributed significantly to the expansion of the Digital Humanities. The project aimed to investigate the works of early women writers, giving access to a field where there hadn't been much work before the projects inception. Early on, the decision was made that in order to have the widest possible distribution, the text should be digitally encoded and catalogued. However, this meant dealing with questions that had previously not been encountered: How could large bases of text be encoded for electronic use and cataloguing? Further, the diverse range of works by the early women writers meant coming up with a system for distinguishing between prose and poetry - each of which is equally valid in the study of early women writers.

To this end, the WWP partnered with the Text Encoding Initiative in order to come up with an adequate system for the encoding and storing of text. Years of work lead to a standard for the markup of text and how to store it for electronic work and access. They led the field in the distinction between printed and electronic texts, finding uses for both and not discounting one or the other as being superior. The Women Writers Project has shared their knowledge and expertise with other institutions and makes available resources to learn how to mark up text in XML using TEI. Using their own work as a model for other establishments, they also run seminars and workshops on how to encode text and customize the TEI.

During the course of the project, over 330 texts (including 120 from the Renaissance) have been encoded and made available to subscribers via the WWP online portal, Women Writers Online. The material is available for viewing in a rendered format.

External Links

Brown Women Writers Project
Women Writers Online (via the University of Alberta)
Brown University
University of Alberta
University of Alberta Libraries

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