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Montserrat Prats Lopez, Suzan van Dijk

Participation as a way of creating new audiences ?


This Action, “Women Writers In History”, had the chance of being embedded in an extremely beneficial scholarly context: that of Huygens ING. All Action members have had, in different ways, the benefice of it, most particularly those (mostly) young researchers, who came here and participated in Training Schools, which took place in the Schurman room, and concerned first of all the work to be done in the WomenWriters database.

On the content level it was/is important that many links do exist between our research into transnational reception of female authors, and other projects going on at Huygens ING: transnational learned networks, for instance, are studied in the CKCC project (Circulation of Knowledge); biographies of Dutch women (writers and other) have been provided online in the DVN (Digital Lexicon of Dutch Women) and in a heavy bio-bibliographical compilation entitled 1001 vrouwen (1001 women).

New Huygens ING projects have also been inspired by our way of approaching reception: recently started CODL (Circulation of Dutch Literature) will use a digital infrastructure similar to the one of the WomenWriters database.

The Dutch “section” of the Action, entitled Dutch Women Writers (after the example of Portuguese Women Writers), has also been connected to other projects and has taken initiatives. We have provided a series of “HOVO” lectures in Utrecht (February-April 2013) about eight of “our” 18th- and 19th-century authors. And we are aware that the COST-WWIH large-scale digital approach needs to be complemented by smaller scale and “human” work – which led to the following other projects.

Concerning the small scale: some women authors need to get more attention than just a couple of records in the database: Belle van Zuylen / Isabelle de Charrière is clearly one of those. Some years ago already, we decided that her correspondence (available in paper form thanks to the Van Oorschot edition 1979-1984) should be made available online. And now indeed, a project using the Huygens ING application called eLaborate, is dedicated to this digitizing. It is done with the help of a small group of interested non-specialists who are members of the Dutch Isabelle de Charrière Association. They practice what we call “crowdsourcing”, and their activities are monitored by Montserrat Prats Lopez, who will, during the presentation, give some more details about the way of working and also about the importance of including non-specialists in this kind of projects.

This new form of collaboration might perhaps be extended. Indeed, we must not exclude that some human attention might be given also to authors (seemingly) less exceptional than Belle de Zuylen, and for whom – thanks to our collective research – we have discovered their playing a role in the literary field of their time. Those eight women authors who were presented to HOVO students earlier this year, clearly attracted their interest, and we now think about the possibility of inviting these non-specialists for collaborating in another “crowdsourcing” enterprise: suggesting that they might read – as “test readers” – those texts we “discover” and consider important for historical reasons. Are they also interesting, or even fascinating, or just intriguing for modern readers?

This would be not unlike what happens in Huygens ING project that started last year and is entitled “The Riddle of Literary Quality”, where present-day readers are invited to comment upon their reading of present-day popular literature. Our “test readers” would evaluate 19th-century female, at the time very popular texts, and in doing so would give an impression of the possibility, for some of these women, to reach a larger audience even in this 21st century – perhaps firstly a women’s audience, for whom it can be important to realize that history can be rewritten…

This idea will be further developed and discussed, as being in fact one of the final objectives of research like the one we are carrying out.

SvD, 12 June 2013

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