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WomenWriters and NEWW

For some decades now, there has been a rise in interest in the texts and lives of women writers who wrote before our time. 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. They can be documented by juxtaposing women's written (published!) production and the different categories of reception documents which can be considered as "answers". This documenting is among the primary interests of the group of researchers collaborating around the database WomenWriters and in particular in the current networking project entitled NEWW: New approaches to European Women’s Writing (before 1900). The NEWW project has been instrumental in preparing a European-wide COST Action entitled: Women Writers in History: Toward a New Understanding of European Literary Culture.

We consider that questions concerning historical position and influence of women writers transcend national boundaries. Given the, therefore, 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: www.databasewomenwriters.nl. 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. In this way, the database allows a completely new approach to the question of women’s place in European literary history. International collaborative research is presently being set up in order to have the full benefit of this tool.

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

  • the creation of networks between women authors and their readers, often authors themselves,
  • the role and influence of intermediaries, male and female: literary critics, artistic patrons, editors, colleagues etc.,
  • the - positive or negative - role played by institutions.

Questions considered in this context are not limited to the traditional national perspective, but can be followed across national and linguistic borders, thus accomodating a transnational and thus more complete view.

The Women Writers' Networks website:
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 will contain) 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.

  • The production side focusses on authors - taken as individuals or as groups - and their ways of intervening in the literary field (under reconstruction at the moment).
  • The reception 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 (under reconstruction at the moment).
  • Sources provides an overview of listings generated by the database structure. The sources named here are supplied with a brief clarification so that they can serve as examples for colleagues.
  • Database WomenWriters offers information about the database, which can be accessed directly from here.
  • A bibliography is being prepared; NEWW members are invited to collaborate.
  • Conferences and other activities are being announced; abstracts of papers are also presented here.
  • Portraits of Authors is presenting the outcome of an ongoing subproject within this collboration.
  • Participants of the collaborative network are listed and presented here.
  • Project publications are mentioned, with tables of contents and in some cases abstracts, or pdf-files of full text.
  • Project news presents different kinds of relevant information.
  • NEWWsletters issued 4 times a year.
  • NEWW List: for all interested colleagues and students
  • and finally: Quoting "our" authors

We invite researchers in women's literary history to contact us in view of possible collaboration in the near future.

Suzan van Dijk, Huygens Institute The Hague
Kerstin Wiedemann, Université de Nancy 2
Lizet Duyvendak, Open University Heerlen
(editorial board of this NEWWsite)

SvD, December 2010

  • Presentation >

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