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The WomenWriters programme

For some decades there has been a rise in interest in the texts and lives of women writers who wrote before our time, and some of these women have found a new reading audience after a long period of cultural and historiographical neglect. Their texts are often considered to be surprisingly "modern".

However, familiarity with the works of women writers varies greatly from one country to another, and the resources that are available to assess their historical significance are often insufficient. Because we know so little about how women writers were received in their own day, it is nearly impossible to estimate the importance they may have had. What roles did these women play in their time, in the shaping of the literary field, and for later generations? What kind of audience read their works? In order to answer these questions it is necessary to gain a view of the different dialogues women authors initiated or were involved in. This is among the primary interests of the group of researchers collaborating around the database WomenWriters and in particular in the current international project entitled NEWW: New approaches to European Women’s Writing (before 1900).

The questions concerning historical position and influence of women writers transcend the national boundaries. Given the large geographical and historical scope of the project, an enormous amount of data must be brought to light. To this effect a flexible database entitled WomenWriters, the Reception of their Works has been created: It functions as a "virtual collaboratory" and has been conceived to contain all sorts of references to contemporary reception documents and other material recollecting women’s work. The database allows a completely new approach to the question of women’s place in European literary history. International collaboration is presently being set up in order to have the full benefit of this tool.

The database WomenWriters:
WomenWriters makes it possible to study the contemporary reception of women authors and allows researchers to focus on various issues:

  • the creation of networks,
  • the influence of intermediaries, male and female: literary critics, artistic patrons, editors, colleagues etc.,
  • the role of institutions.

These questions are not limited to the traditional national perspective, but can be followed across national and linguistic borders, creating the possibility of a transnational and thus more complete view.

This publishing site Women Writers' Networks:
This website was conceived in order to illustrate the research possibilities created by the database, to which it is directly related. The site contains (and invites) short articles that result from research using the database and investigating into the relationship between women authors and their (more or less) contemporary readers.
A short explanation of the navigation (see red square on the left) may be useful.

  • "Writing side" focusses on the author herself and her intervention in the literary field. "Reading side" concentrates on the readers in the broadest sense: which attitudes were adopted by whom toward the women's works? In many of the cases to be discussed readers are also writers: this is how virtual "networks" have been created.
  • "Sources" presents listings generated by the database structure; the sources are briefly commented in order to serve also as examples for colleagues.
  • The database WomenWriters can be directly accessed from here.
  • Temporary exhibitions are being prepared.
  • The item "E-conference" will, soon, correspond to a possibility for direct comments and online discussion.
  • "Conferences and other activities" are being announced and, afterwards, commented.

We invite researchers in women's literary history to contact us in view of possible collaboration in the near future. Suzan van Dijk, Utrecht University
Alicia Montoya, University of Groningen
Anke Gilleir, Catholic University of Leuven
(Executive Committee to the project NEWW)

SvD, January 2008

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