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Third NEWW November meeting

On Friday 20 November 2009, the international networking programme NEWW "New approaches to European Women’s Writing" together with the recently started COST Action "Women Writers in History" organised a workshop in collaboration with the Dutch doctoral school in cultural history Huizinga Instituut (Amsterdam) and Huygens Institute (The Hague). The theme of this workshop was:

Quantitative methods in cultural history.

This was the third of a long term series of meetings that allow researchers and graduate students to discuss their work, together and with invited experts. These discussions also inaugurated the scholarly activities of the COST Action "Women Writers in History": on Saturday 21 November took place the first Working Groups meeting (program below).

Keynote speaker of the workshop:

Franco Moretti (Stanford University):


10.00 Henk Wals (director of Huygens Institute)

  • Opening

and Suzan van Dijk

10.15 Madeleine Jeay (McMaster University, Hamilton Canada):

10.45 Charles van den Heuvel (Virtual Knowledge Studio, Amsterdam) and Henk Wals:

  • Circulation of knowledge in the 17th-century Dutch Republic. A web based Humanities’ collaboratory for analyses of correspondences

11.15 Coffee break

11.30 Franco Moretti :

12.15 Discussion

12.45 Lunch

14.00 Agnese Fidecaro (University of Genève; moderator)

  • Presentations by PhD-students

14.00 Daphne Hoogenboezem (University of Groningen):

14.45 Tea break

15.15 Birgit Van Puymbroeck (Ghent University):

16.00 Els Biesemans (Ghent University):

16.45 Conclusions for the near and distant future

17.15 Drinks

For further information, contact
Suzan van Dijk or
Anne Hilde van Baal.

Meeting place:
The Hague, Huygens Institute; 10.00 - 17.00

About the theme of the day
In the research and networking projects NEWW has been formulating and submitting lately, frequent references have been made to Franco Moretti’s work, in particular Graphs, maps, trees. Abstract models for a literary history (2005). Without being at the origin of our feeling that large-scale approaches are necessary in order to understand in particular women’s position in literary history and discuss the place they should be given in literary historiography, his work appears to be based on similar starting points.

Within NEWW activities, we need IT-technology because of the decision that had been taken to start our analyses not at the sending, but at the receiving end of the literary communication where women did engage themselves as authors, addressing male and/or female readers. Many of these authors are absent from current literary canons. This is why the reception by contemporaries of the authors – those who these women may be supposed to have addressed – is to be taken into account. They can inform us about the relevance of these women’s works. But again, traces of the reading of women authors are often impossible to be found, disappearing as they are behind the "screen" created by 19th-century canon-formation. However, earlier reception documents although obscured are to be discovered in large-scale sources such as 18th-century press, library catalogues, correspondences and so on. Large-scale sources need to be pursued and manipulated as such, that is to say: by electronic tools. This is how the database WomenWriters came to be developed, and has been filled with a large quantity of information (over 13.000 records) about (for the moment, principally the Dutch) reception of 18th and 19th-century women’s writing.

This insistence on empirical data and on large scale is also one of Moretti’s specialties. In the sense that he does quite a lot more than putting them into databases, which allow generating listings, that produce incentives for textual and/or comparative analysis. For example, he manipulates them into "graphs, maps, trees", which in some cases is particularly relevant for NEWW preoccupations.

His presentation of "British novelistic genres, 1740-1900" forms a challenge for our own research, given the gender aspects implied in the differences between novelistic (sub)genres such as (for example) the Epistolary novel, the Sentimental novel, the Evangelical novel, the Domestic novel, and the New Woman novel on one side, and on the other the Military novel, the Bildungsroman and the Naturalist novel – differences located probably not only at the production, but also at the reception side (2005, p.19).

Another interesting graph is the one showing that "Gender Shifts" (disappearance and reappearance of women as authors of novels) have been rather frequent between 1740 and 1870, undermining in fact suppositions which might have been our own about relative absence or rather domination of female novelists (2005, p.28). Of course it still is possible to discuss the value of the inventories which had been used for the establishment of the graphs, given the frequency with which we have found in the early documents names of women who are not figuring in any modern list, but anyway this is creating an empirical context where it becomes more useful to study women’s place and role.

The degree of "femininity", "femaleness", "feminism", may probably be discussed in a more concrete way thanks to "trees" and diagrams comparable to those Moretti presented for detective fiction (2005, p.73, 75). Presence or absence of clues in detective fiction resembles what he names narrative "turning points" in the article entitled "Serious century" (The Novel, 2006, I, p.366ss) and might well be comparable to narrative topoi studied in the context of SATOR (Société pour l’Analyse de la Topique Romanesque). In the SATOR-NEWW collaboration discussion is going on about how to use the gender-specific-ness of (some of these) topoi for the analysis of the dialogues between women authors and their readers/critics.

Most "simple" to understand and to accept will of course be the use of maps for the illustration of international dissemination and reception of women’s writing. What we are "discovering" (in NEWW) is in fact something like a "virtual network" avant la lettre, linking together women authors influencing each other and exerting influences on their readers, certainly not only their compatriots – as has been abundantly proven for George Sand, who in France until quite recently was considered a prolific, but clearly minor novelist, until it appeared (to those organizing the "Année George Sand" for the bicentennial of her birth) in how many countries she had been read and translated (cf. a quite provisional and incomplete list).

All this provided many questions which have been presented and discussed during this 3rd NEWW November Meeting. And it also constituted an introduction for the meeting held the next day.

For this first Working Groups meeting of the COST Action IS0901, participants came together from 16 countries at Huygens Institute, The Hague. On Saturday 21 November they have been laying the foundations for the 4-years collaboration, that will, for the first time, approach women's literary history from a really transnational perspective - without relying on what 19th-century canon formation had prepared us.

Participants were invited to read beforehand:

  • Ina Schabert, "Narrative and Gender in Literary Histories", in Comparative Critical Studies (2009), here online in a shortened version (useful for WG 1).
  • Franco Moretti, "Style, inc. Reflections on 7,000 titles [British novels, 1740-1850]", in the most recent issue of Critical Inquiry (Autumn 2009): here in a shortened version, somewhat mutilated: without the (essential) figures (useful for WG 2).
  • Hilde Hoogenboom, "From Bibliography to Canon: Classifying Women in France, England, Germany, and Russia from the Eighteenth Century to the Present". Here she discusses the particular source constituted by bio-bibliographical compilations. The article is presently under review, here online in a shortened version (first and second part) (useful for WG 3).
  • Suzan van Dijk, "George Sand in the Netherlands", shortened version of an article to be published in Dutch in De negentiende eeuw (specifically useful for WG 4).


9.15 Suzan van Dijk and Vanda Anastacio (Chair and Vice-Chair)

  • Short meeting of the Management Committee [MC-members or substitute members only, two per country; agenda, minutes etc. have been sent to all MC members]

10.00 Ton van Kalmthout (Huygens Institute):

  • Opening of the first Working Groups meeting of this COST Action [Working Group members, invited experts, Early Stage Researchers, trainees]

10.15 Vanda Anastacio (Vice-Chair):

  • Discussion of objectives, global working programmes and ways of collaborating (as in the Memorandum of Understanding), and of the Work Plan for the first year

11.00 Coffee break

11.15 Suzan van Dijk (Chair):

  • Presentation and discussion of current version of database WomenWriters, which is the “virtual collaboratory” where the cooperation will be located; to be itself adapted and further developed during the course of the COST Action. Using as an example the case of George Sand's reception in the Netherlands, compared to those in other countries.

12.30 Lunch at Belle-van-Zuylen-plein (named after Isabelle de Charriere)

13.30 Separate meetings, with identical agenda, of the 4 Working Groups

  • WG 1 “Models and Theories”
  • Agnese Fidecaro (provisional Working Group leader)

Theories and possible research models to be converted into electronic tools
Dekenzaal (named after Agatha Deken)

Using collaboratories and connecting databases
Schurmanzaal (named after Anna Maria van Schurman)

  • WG 3 “Selection and Use of Relevant Sources”
  • Tovi Bibring (provisional Working Group leader)

What kind of information to be put into the database/collaboratory
Tesselschadezaal (named after Tesselschade Roemers Visscher)

  • WG 4 “Dissemination and Extension of the Research Network”
  • Suzan van Dijk (provisional Working Group leader)

Informing each other / others about objectives, project and outcome
Wolffzaal (named after Betje Wolff)

16.00 Tea break

16.15 Common meeting: decisions to be taken for the near future

16.45 Closure

Image: IMG_5291_WGmeeting_21-11-09.jpg

Image: IMG_5298_WG_meeting_21-11-09.jpg

AsK, September 2010

  • Conferences > NEWW November meetings > 2009

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