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Author: Sarah Connell

Making (and using!) WWO:SDI

Making (and using!) WWO:SDI

Recently, we published an announcement about the release of the Women Writers Online: Scrabble Discovery Interface (WWO:SDI), which was (we hope) fairly obviously an April Fools’ Day joke. For all its silliness, however, WWO:SDI demonstrates some of the much more practical tools we have for interacting with WWO. More than that, the WWO:SDI interface itself has proved to be a remarkably effective proofing tool.

This second point may be less surprising when you note that WWO:SDI is similar to some of our existing proofing routines, which use XSLT to create HTML documents that enable us to review our data. For example, we have a proofing routine that creates a chart displaying encoded data on the page numbers and signature marks that appear in our texts, along with our idealizations of page numbers and milestones. This chart makes it much easier to see where there are mismatches between our idealized numbering and the actual contents of each page and to catch errors such as when pages might be numbered: 1, 2, 5.

Creating WWO:SDI was an interesting thought experiment for us, particularly as we considered how our markup could be used to extract words that would not be allowed in a standard Scrabble® game (we thought of the various namelike elements right away, but hadn’t considered <speaker> until we remembered that most of the contents of <speaker> labels are proper nouns—we did have to reconcile ourselves to falsely excluding some words, such as “servant,” “duke,” or “attendants”). We also had to figure out a mechanism for excluding roman numerals, which proved tricker than we first expected, precisely because they aren’t always set aside in the encoding as names and such are. And we were able to draw on some of our existing routines for regularizing original orthographies, dealing with end-of-line (“soft”) hyphens, and preferring corrections over errors.

Because WWO:SDI makes it easy to sort by word length, it also has helped us to catch some encoding errors in the texts we are preparing for publication. For example, the interface will join up the halves of words that are split by end-of-line hyphens, which we encode with a “soft hyphen” character that appears identical in most programs to the standard keyboard hyphen character we use for compound words (“hard hyphens,” as we often call them). Thus, WWO:SDI makes it very easy to spot incorrectly-encoded soft hyphens because these typically appear as extremely long words at the top of the lists when sorted by length.

Soft and hard hyphens: spot the difference

Similarly, WWO:SDI is good at uncovering the kinds of missing spaces that are much less visible in the XML files themselves, usually where words are marked with phrase-level elements, such as in:

There’s a missing space between “best” and “History” but the (in this case, artificially constructed) layers of markup make that hard to see. On the other hand, “besthistory” is much easier to spot in WWO:SDI and we may just end up developing a version that we could use in our actual proofing processes.

So, hopefully you enjoyed playing with WWO:SDI—and perhaps it even sparked your interest in using tools like XSLT to work with XML-encoded documents (possibly by joining the XSLT workshop at DHSI). We certainly have a lot of fun using XSLT to explore and proof our documents, even when it isn’t April 1st!

Announcing the Women Writers Online: Scrabble Discovery Tool!

Announcing the Women Writers Online: Scrabble Discovery Tool!

The WWP is delighted to report that we have developed a new interface that will enhance the texts in Women Writers Online by allowing users to discover the Scrabble® scores for the words in each text. The Women Writers Online: Scrabble Discovery Interface (WWO:SDI) provides sortable lists for all WWO texts, making it possible for users to determine the highest- and lowest-scoring words in the collection. The chart also denotes words that cannot be played in a single turn because they are longer than seven letters and words that could not be played using the letters provided by a standard Scrabble® set.

For example, the highest-scoring words in Harriet Cheney’s 1824 novel, A Peep at the Pilgrims, are “characterized” and “philosophically,” both with 30 points—although neither could be played on a single turn. The highest-scoring word in Ann Yearsley’s 1787 Poems on Various Subjects is “whizzing” at 33 points, but this word would only be possible if a player smuggled in an extra “z” tile from another set. The highest scoring word in the entire collection is “quizzically” at 43 points from Sarah Green’s 1810 Romance Readers and Romance Writers. The text with the highest average Scrabble® score is The Latter Examination of Anne Askew, 1547, which has words like “quyckeneth” and “excommunycate” at 31 points and “pertycypacyon” at 30 points. Archaic spelling seems to bring an advantage in this case! For sheer number of words that could be used in a Scrabble® game, the winner is Judith Murray’s 1798 The Gleaner, with 15,490 total playable words.

This interface uses cutting-edge technology to exclude words that are not allowed in standard Scrabble® games, drawing on the detailed encoding in the Women Writers Online collection. For example, excluding the contents of <name>, <persName>, <orgName>, <placeName>, and <speaker> removes many proper nouns from the results. Similarly, the interface excludes dialect and non-English words. We have also regularized some archaic letterforms, such as the long s (ſ), and regularized some spelling, such as i/j and u/v substitutions. The interface displays expanded versions of abbreviations and corrections of errors, wherever these are available.

We are confident that our readers will find WWO:SDI a valuable research tool, as well as a useful pedagogical resource. At long last, it is possible to compare texts by the important metric of their maximum and average scores in a Scrabble® game. We hope that this tool will revolutionize the study of early women writers and perhaps lead to new fields of word-game based literary scholarship.

We hope to add additional functionality to this useful resource very soon–including the option to have two authors or texts play off against each other in a simulated game. We expect to add scoring information on WWO texts’ performance in other word games, including Boggle®, Upwords®, and Bananagrams®. Finally, we are investigating the possibility of developing a WWO Edition Scrabble set, which would include extra “u” and “i” tiles (to be scored at 2 or 8 points when used in substitution for “v” and “j”). The set would also contain tiles for: ſ, æ, œ, ☉, and ☾ (these last two are essential in any serious gameplay for scholars of the seventeenth-century prophet Eleanor Davies).

We expect to have these new materials ready for release no later than one year from today, April 1, 2017.

WWO free for the month of March!

WWO free for the month of March!

We are delighted to announce that Women Writers Online will once again be free during the month of March, in celebration of Women’s History Month. This collection includes almost 400 texts written and translated by women, first published between 1526 and 1850.

We also invite you to explore our other publications, which are always open access. These include Women Writers in Review (WWiR), a collection of close to 700 reviews of and responses to works by the works in WWO, and Women Writers in Context (WWiC), a collection of essays exploring topics related to early women’s writing.

Portrait of Maria Edgeworth, 1808. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

If you haven’t visited Women Writers Online before, there are many different ways to find new texts. For instance, you can try filtering by genre or by publication year. The keyword search box is another good way to begin exploring. Or, you might want to go to WWiR or WWiC and browse the themes and topics there for subjects you’re interested in, since both collections link back to the texts in WWO. If you have worked with WWO in the past, you might want to see our recently published texts here.

As another way to help people get started with WWO, we’ve included some of our favorite texts below.

A Little Romance

There are many romances in WWO, including Mary Wroth’s Urania, which has adventure, betrayal, a lost princess, and pirates. If you enjoy reading about reformed rakes, moonlight seductions, and mistaken identities, we have the first two volumes of Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess. Or, for a bit of satire on romance, check out Sarah Green’s Romance Readers and Romance Writers, whose author exclaims:

Would that, like the monster Briareus, I could strike a hundred blows in the same instant, and that all the vampers of romance, who merit annihilation, were in my presence!—they are the vermin of literature— their spawn creep to our fire-sides, and cover our tables, our chairs, our sofas and our mantle-pieces; we find them in the bed-chambers of our daughters; nay, not unfrequently are they placed beneath their pillows, to occupy their minds at day-break, or to beguile a sleepless night.

Talking Birds and Cherry Orchards

We have several works of children’s fiction, including Sarah Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories, which has a family of talking robins, and Maria Edgeworth’s The Little Dog Trusty; the Orange Man; and the Cherry Orchard, which teaches, among other lessons, that “Cunning people, though they think themselves very wise, are almost always very silly.”

A Cook’s Guide

Maybe you’d like to try a new recipe—if so, you should check out Hannah Woolley’s Cook’s Guide. Here’s just one example of its delicious contents:

To make little Apple paſties to fry.Take pared Apples and cut them into ſmall pieces to ſtew, ſtew them to papp with claret wine and ſpice, then put in a good piece of ſweet butter, cinnamon, ginger, roſe-water, ſugar and plumped currans; then put them into the puff-paſte and fry them, ſo ſerve them in with ſugar.

A Fall River Murder

Looking for a bit of true crime? We have two texts on a local murder case: Mary Carr Clarke’s play, Sarah Maria Cornell, or the Fall River Murder and Catherine Read Arnold’s history Fall River: An Authentic Narrative.

Solving Relationship Problems with Cross-dressing

Playwright Hannah Cowley answers the relationship questions you never knew you had—how to use cross-dressing to add a little spice to your life, how to manipulate your father into ordering you to marry the man of your dreams, how to get that man to want to marry you in the first place, and much more. Husband have a wandering eye? Victoria demonstrates how to dress like a man and seduce hubby’s mistress in A Bold Stroke for a Husband. If he won’t disguise himself as your dressmaker, it’s not true love. Just ask Elizabeth from Who’s the Dupe?

Science Fiction

Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World is sometimes called the first science fiction novel; it describes a woman’s journey, by way of the north pole, to a world with Fish-men, Bear-men, and Worm-men—among quite a few others. We also have many other works by Cavendish—including her plays, historical and scientific writings, and letters.

Elizabeth I

If you’re looking for something inspirational, we have several of Elizabeth I’s speeches, including two versions of the Tilbury Speech, which was featured in one of our favorite Kate Beaton comics.

Portrait of Jarena Lee, 1849. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.


If you’d like to read a memoir, there are quite a few in WWO, including several by and about women of color. We have: A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, and the Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear.

Please feel free to suggest your own favorite texts in the comments—and we hope you enjoy the collection!

New Publications to WWO and Women Writers in Context!

New Publications to WWO and Women Writers in Context!

We are so delighted to report that we’ve added four new texts to Women Writers Online. These are: Aphra Behn’s 1689 The History of the Nun, Emily Clark’s 1819 The Esquimaux (vol. 2), Frances Sheridan’s 1791 Eugenia and Adelaide (vol. 2), and Lydia Howard Sigourney’s 1824 Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since. These texts span three centuries in the WWO collection—and their geographic scope is equally wide, representing settings in Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and New England, among many others. For more information on these texts, and the WWP’s other recent publications, please see this list of new additions to WWO.

We have also published a new folder from the Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson, created in partnership with the editors of The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition. Dated c. 23 July 1812–November 1813, this long folder reflects Emerson’s reading of John Foxe’s Lives of the Martyrs and Edward Taylor’s Rule and Exercises of Holy Living; the folder also includes Emerson’s discussions of the writings of moral philosopher Joseph Butler and a new biography of Martin Luther, whom Emerson reveres for his courage and faith. As the editors’ introduction to this folder explains, “Emerson’s attention at this turbulent political time is drawn to multiple scenes—from the local, where she notes the public execution of two criminals in Boston; to the national, as the continued war of 1812 raises fears for a potential military invasion of the city and many residents prepare to flee; to the global, as she laments Napoleon’s recent invasion of Russia.”

Accompanying the publication of these early texts by women, we have added three new exhibits to Women Writers in Context, an experimental publication series designed to engage readers in exploration and discovery of topics related to early women’s writing. The first of these, “Mary Moody Emerson as Reader and Reviewer,” discusses Emerson’s “extensive, experimental, and eclectic” reading and writing practices, showing that the “wealth of her literary and philosophical milieu, her engagement with the public intellectual marketplace, and her generic experiments represent a significant example of textual reception and circulation in antebellum America.” The second, “Maria Edgeworth in Review,” introduces several key topics from early transatlantic literary culture—textual constructions of national identities, gender and authorship, publication and review practices, and the development of the novel—as they are evident in periodical responses to Edgeworth’s works in the recently-published collection, Women Writers in Review. The third, “Women, Mathematics, and the Periodical Tradition in Britain: or a History of Women Rocking Math from the Beginning,” is the first in a new series of exhibits considering early women writers and mathematics, edited by Jacqueline Wernimont. These exhibits were created as part of the NEH-funded Cultures of Reception research initiative, which studied the reception and readership of early women’s writing.

We hope that these new publications will complement each other, inviting readers to explore works by women in various contexts and from multiple angles—and that our readers find these texts as interesting & enjoyable as we do!

A (semi-)Serious Proposal to the Linguists

A (semi-)Serious Proposal to the Linguists

God, Vertue, Ladies, and Souls

A few days ago, I came across this really interesting Language Log post, which talks about capitalization in one of our Women Writers Online texts—Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694). In the post, Mark Liberman asks the question: “Why did authors from Astell’s time distribute initial capital letters in the apparently erratic way that they did?” Liberman looks at sentences like this one, which describes the purpose of Astell’s proposal:

It’s aim is to fix that Beauty, to make it laſting and permanent, which Nature with all the helps of Art, cannot ſecure: And to place it out of the reach of Sickneſs and Old Age, by transferring it from a corruptible Body to an immortal Mind.

Since this is a WWO text, I decided to try a bit of experimentation and see what I might be able to uncover using not just the text itself, but also the markup. For just a bit of background, the texts in WWO are encoded according to the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative. You do need a subscription to access the collection, but we are always happy to offer free trials, so if you don’t have institutional access or an individual subscription and are interested in reading the texts in WWO, you can find instructions for how to set up a month-long trial here. If you’re curious about the details of our markup, those are covered in our internal documentation.

The first thing I did was enlist some help from Syd Bauman and Ashley Clark, our XML developers. Syd generated a list of all the capitalized words in Astell’s Proposal, along with their immediate ancestry (i.e., the local elements around each word). We found 2,491 capitalized words in total. Reviewing the elements in this list, I could see that it was likely many words were capitalized for reasons reflected in their markup. For example, there were proper nouns (tagged with <name>, <persName>, and <placeName>), titles of other texts (tagged with <title>), and the document’s own headings (tagged with <head>). There were also some words that were simply appearing at the starts of sentences.

So, I asked Ashley and Syd to help me come up with a new list of the capitalized words in Proposal, excluding those in proper nouns, titles, headings, and at the start of sentences. That list is here (original spellings preserved). The top results are: “God” with 31 instances; “Vertue” with 31; “Ladies” with 24; and “Souls” with 21 (in case you’re wondering, the WWP does not encode “God” with <persName>; see here for more details). The rest of the top fifteen—Women, World, Good, Nature, Piety, Religious, Religion, Soul, Beauty, Education, Glory—are all the sorts of word I’d expect to see capitalized in a seventeenth-century text. Reading through the whole list, I was also struck by how much it does feel like an inventory of the text’s core concerns.

Beauty and Death

Having looked at the capitalized words in an individual file, I thought it would be worth investigating all of the occurrences of those words across our corpus. So, since “Beauty” was a commonly capitalized word for Astell (in addition to being relatively short and without too many potential spelling variations), I started with that.

I first wanted to determine if I should be concerned with weeding out the capitalized cases of “Beauty” in sentence-initial positions. A bit of exploration showed me that there weren’t many such cases, and most of these came from texts that also had instances of “beauty” capitalized in the middle of sentences. I found only a handful of clear cases where “beauty” was being capitalized just because it was at the start of the sentence, so I decided not to worry about sentence position. I did find several texts that capitalized “beauty” only some of the time—in a few cases, this seemed to indicate a distinction between personified beauty and a more general usage (e.g., contrast “Soft Beauty’s timid smile serene” with “youth and the bloom of beauty,” both from the 1824 Poetical Works of the Late Mrs. Mary Robinson); in other cases the pattern was less clear. These instances, presumably would be one place I might start if I were investigating this phenomenon in earnest.

So, armed with the power of XPath, I set out to investigate the beauties of WWO. Here’s what I found. There are:
1577 total instances of Capital-B “Beauty” and
1863 cases of lowercase-b “beauty”
Looking across the whole corpus, that’s about 46% capitalized instances.

I repeated the search with “beautie” (to catch both “beauties” and the alternate spelling of “beautie”) and while there were fewer hits, the results were similar in terms of percent capitalized:
438 Beautie; 580 beautie (43% capitalized)

For “beautiful” I saw a different distribution:
71 Beautiful; 1619 beautiful (4% capitalized)

Since I suspected that this kind of capitalization would be more common in our earlier set of texts, I decided to narrow down the results. That just meant adding a bit of XPath before my search to look only in texts with publication dates before 1701 (198 out of 388 texts total).

Here’s what I found:
872 Beauty; 415 beauty (68% capitalized)
270 Beautie; 235 beautie (53% capitalized)
36 Beautiful; 212 beautiful (16% capitalized)

For this term at least (and with all appropriate acknowledgement of the highly rudimentary nature of this search), there does seem to be a bit more capitalization in the earlier half of the collection. Next, I wanted to see what else I could do with our markup. In my review of the tags we used for capitalized words in Astell’s Proposal, I had noticed that there were quite a few occurrences of <mcr>; this is a WWP-created element for a “meaningful change in rendition.” We use it where there are changes in rendition (such as between upright and italicized text) that are neither a printer’s error nor a merely decorative shift and that we can’t encode with more specific elements (such as <emph>, <name>, &c.). It’s essentially an element that says: “we think something semantically significant is happening with rendition here, but we’re not able to say exactly what.” Liberman alluded to this sort of thing when he wrote: “[And never mind, for now, Astell’s italicization choices…]”

Thinking that there might be interesting links between capitalization and these meaningful-but-unspecified changes in rendition, I tried my “beauty” search again, but restricted my results to text inside of <mcr>.

Here’s what I found, first looking across the corpus as a whole:
102 Beauty; 16 beauty (86% capitalized)

And then just the pre-1701 texts:
83 Beauty; 5 beauty (94% capitalized)

Admittedly, the corpus is small enough that narrowing down this far means you have fairly few results. (I also tried “beautie” and “beautiful,” but there really weren’t that many once I narrowed to the contents of <mcr>; for what it’s worth, 35 out of 37 instances of “beautie” in <mcr> are capitalized.) Still, there does seem to be something potentially interesting here. Most of the time, the rendition doesn’t change with capitalization (there are, after all, 1475 instances of “Beauty” in the collection that are not in <mcr>), but when the rendition does change, there is a higher percentage of capitalization. I decided to try another keyword and see what came up. I went with “death” this time, using the same criteria that it’s short, fairly common in the corpus, and without many spelling variations (there is “deathe,” which had 5 capitalized and 138 lowercase instances overall, none in <mcr>, all from texts published before 1701). Here’s what I found:

2578 Death; 4759 death (35% capitalized)
239 Dead; 2381 dead (9% capitalized)

1226 Death; 2115 death (37% capitalized)
110 Dead; 1313 dead (8% capitalized)

Contents of <mcr>
251 Death; 54 death (82% capitalized)
218 Death; 34 death (87% capitalized)

These are just two specific keywords, of course; if I were pursuing this seriously, I’d want to refine the search itself and try quite a few more terms as well as other XPath variations: looking at headings and titles, checking for items in lists, perhaps comparing verse and prose, and so on.

“Friendship Cheese”

Finally, I decided to take a look at the contents of <mcr> itself, using an XQuery that Ashley Clark wrote for the WWP (affectionately nicknamed “The Counting Robot” and available here). I normalized punctuation, long s (ſ) characters, and whitespace, but preserved capitalization. I got 21,741 different strings inside of <mcr>; of those, 16,832 were unique. Many of the unique cases are not single words or short phrases, but entire sentences or clauses where the renditional shifts cannot be attributed to emphasis or quotation. The top term on the list was “God,” with 1237 results; rounding out the top-five for the corpus are: Lord, I, Love, and Author.

Of the 127 cases with 30 or more hits, all but ten are capitalized—the exceptions are: “life,” “death,” “lying,” “they,” “she,” “love,” “one,” “her,” “he,” and “royal paper.” (This last item serves as a small caveat regarding the size of our corpus: all 204 instances of “royal paper” appear in a single text, Mary Jones’s 1750 Miscellanies in Prose and Verse.) Nevertheless, I do think that these exploratory results show that there is a great deal of potential for more serious research into these features using the WWO corpus—and if anyone is interested in a project along these lines, I’d be delighted to help set that up. In fact, this is my semi-serious proposal to anyone in the research community (linguists or otherwise) who might want to take this kind of work up.

One of my favorite things about this sort of exploration is that it brings me into contact with our texts in unpredictable ways, usually emphasizing how interesting and genuinely fun our corpus is. This was no exception and I’ll end here with my personal Top Ten results from the contents of <mcr>:

  • Wretched productions! inspired by hunger and dictated by stupidity and a disposition to lying! &c &c
  • As Irish ladies pass in jaunting cars
  • Confounded Harlot!
  • Effemenate Cat
  • For Gad Madam I don’t love being baulk’d thus
  • Friendship Cheese
  • Great Cuttle’s gland
  • Hedges of the Eyebrows
  • His lisping children hail their sire’s return!
  • Julius Cesar when he was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell


Announcing: Women Writers in Review

Announcing: Women Writers in Review

We are delighted to announce the publication of Women Writers in Review, a collection of more than 600 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reviews, publication notices, literary histories, and other texts responding to works by early women writers, transcribed and encoded in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) markup language. The Women Writers in Review interface offers sorting by the reviews’ sources, by the authors and works that they reference, by their genres and formats, and by tracked tags such as the topics they discuss and their evaluations of reviewed texts. We have also published an API, so that researchers can query and access the Women Writers in Review data and resources in JSON or HTML.

Women Writers in Review was created as part of the Cultures of Reception project, which was designed to investigate the discourse of reception in connection with the changing transatlantic literary landscape from 1770 to 1830. The Cultures of Reception project was generously funded by a Collaborative Research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We hope that Women Writers in Review will enable researchers to address a wide range of questions, which might include: how do periodical reviews in this period imagine the relationship between the local and transnational writing spaces? How do reviews work to constitute for women authors a sense of a reading public? What are the differences that mark reading and reviewing practices across various regions and localities? To what extent does geography affect patterns of reference to women’s writing during this period? How do reviews, anthologies, and other similar sources gender particular spaces or locations of reading? And, we hope, many others!

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-8-13-19-pmOver the next few months, we’ll be posting on some of our favorite reviews, as well as some of the research we’ve been doing with the collection. For now, we can share a tip about the site: you’ll find some of the liveliest and most humorous reviews among those that have been marked as offering very negative evaluations of their subject matter.

We are also looking for faculty and graduate students who are interested in using Women Writers in Review in their classrooms to develop sample assignments using the collection. If you would like to learn more about becoming a pedagogical development consultant for the Women Writers Project, please contact us at wwp[at]neu[dot]edu.

To begin exploring the collection, please visit the main page or read this explanation of the site’s features.

The Women Writers Project staff at the official launch of the
The Women Writers Project staff at the official launch of Women Writers in Review. Photo Credit: Jennie Robbiano.
Nine new exhibits are now in Women Writers in Context

Nine new exhibits are now in Women Writers in Context

We’re happy to report that we just added nine new exhibits to Women Writers in Context, an experimental publication series designed to engage readers in exploration and discovery of topics related to early women’s writing. Exhibits are brief essays that combine critical arguments, images and media objects, visualizations, and links to the primary sources in Women Writers Online.

The newly released exhibits, written by scholars of literary and historical studies, offer introductions to works by Margaret Roper, Anne Bradstreet, Hannah Wolley, Eleanor Davies, Katharine Evans, Sarah Chevers, Rachel Speght, Elizabeth Melville, Eliza Haywood, and Elizabeth Clinton. May of these exhibits discuss women’s responses to questions of religion and education and thus provide context to the religious and instructional texts that we have recently published in Women Writers Online.

The Women Writers in Context platform is designed to serve as a point of entry for the materials in Women Writers Online, highlighting connections among the texts and their authors. Exhibits have several reading and display options, with contextual details for the persons and texts discussed, a timeline view showing significant events, and links to additional readings and information.

Here are the new exhibits:


Explore these exhibits and others here. See more on the content and goals of Women Writers in Context here. Interested in contributing an exhibit? A guide for authors is available here.
The WWP Receives Funding for Intertextual Networks Project

The WWP Receives Funding for Intertextual Networks Project

The WWP is delighted to report that we have received funding for a three-year, $290,000, project from the National Endowment for the Humanities, focusing on intertextuality in early women’s writing. Starting in October 2016, the WWP will begin work on Intertextual Networks, a collaborative research initiative that will examine the citation and quotation practices of the authors represented in Women Writers Online (WWO) to explore and theorize the representation of intertextuality.

For this project, the WWP will assemble a collaborative research team that includes faculty, graduate students, and members of the WWP staff, representing a diverse set of perspectives and expertise. Each member of the collaborative group will pursue a research project engaging with materials from WWO, to be published in Women Writers in Context, the WWP’s open-access publication series. We will also be developing interface tools for exploring intertextual connections and patterns. As part of this work, we will be undertaking a broad encoding of quotations and citations across the entire WWO collection, linking textual references to a comprehensive bibliography of sources, which we will make openly available at the WWO Lab. We will also make a deeper exploration of subtler kinds of intertextual reference (such as allusion and parody) in a subset of the collection, to reveal the many ways in which the textual space reverberates with echoes and referential gestures. This deeper exploration will be strongly informed by the research of our scholarly collaborators and the particular projects they undertake.

Our initial research has already found several promising ways that text encoding can support research into citation and quotation practices. For example, we can trace the increased secularization of writing over time by tracking biblical references in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Biblical quotations make up a dramatically higher percentage of citations in seventeenth-century texts (about 1,600 out of 2,100) when compared with eighteenth-century ones (about 200 out of 1,700). We have found this same pattern in the titles that are named by WWO authors—in the seventeenth century, books of the Bible are most frequently named, while in the eighteenth there is a broader spread of writers and genres. The expanded markup we will be performing as part of this project will enable us to make much more precise and detailed analyses of reference patterns and practices in early women’s texts.

We have recruited an initial set of collaborators and we are currently soliciting proposals for additional scholars interested in joining the project. For more details and to submit a proposal, see here. We will be posting updates on our progress and discoveries, as well as guest posts from our collaborators, here at the WWP’s blog so follow this space for more news.  

Intertextual Networks has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Loanwords, Macrons, and Orientalism: Encoding an Eighteenth-Century Fictional Translation

Loanwords, Macrons, and Orientalism: Encoding an Eighteenth-Century Fictional Translation

By Elizabeth Polcha, WWP Encoder and Ph.D. Candidate in English

Since late last fall, I’ve been encoding a text that poses some interesting markup challenges because of its use of Orientalist language: Scottish author Eliza Hamilton’s 1796 epistolary novel, Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah. While I was excited to encode Translation because my own research considers eighteenth-century colonial literature, I focus on Caribbean and American literature. So, as an encoder, I approached Translation with an interest in how Hamilton is using distinct language to construct colonial notions of race and gender, but with only a limited familiarity with Orientalist print culture and history.

Before I lay out the details of how I’ve been encoding linguistically distinct language in Translation, it is necessary to explain just how Orientalist (and orientalist, to use Edward Said’s version of the term) this novel is. And no, Translation is not actually a collection of letters that Hamilton translated from Hindi.1 The “translated” letters of Hamilton’s text are fictional, mostly authored by the titular character and protagonist, Zāārmilla, the Rajah of Almora. Hamilton supplements the letters with a “preliminary dissertation,” lengthy footnotes, and a glossary of terms. She strategically includes these textual addendums as a way of demonstrating her expertise in the Orientalist scholarship of her time. Also, as you can see from the macrons included on “Zāārmilla” and on another major character’s name, “Māāndāāra,” Hamilton is a fan of using diacritical marks as a kind of typographic flourish. In writing Translation, Hamilton participated in a scholarly discourse rooted in a Western imperialist fascination with Eastern Asia, citing British colonial scholarship like Nathaniel Halhed’s A Code of Gentoo Laws Or, Ordinations of the Pundits and Orientalist groups like The Asiatic Society.2

Part of our encoding process at the Women Writers Project is to begin with a preliminary document analysis. This means that once we’ve acquired a text to encode, we look through the text carefully to take note of its structure and textual features before opening up an XML file and marking up our text in TEI. During my preliminary document analysis of Translation, aside from noticing the epistolary structure and Hamilton’s unusual diacritical marks I’ve described above, I also noticed quite a few Hindi and Sanskrit terms and phrases that seemed to be roughly transliterated into English (such as “Poojah” or Pūjā, पूजा, a Sanskrit-derived word for Hindu ritual prayer). From my document analysis I knew that it would be important to look up the etymology and meaning of Hamilton’s transliterated terms in order to decide how to most accurately describe them using the TEI. My encoding practice for Translation so far has involved occasionally switching between my XML file, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and Google Books in determining the best way to tag specific terms and phrases.

The WWP follows the TEI Guidelines for capturing specialized language with the element <distinct>, which means that we use <distinct> to tag language that is “archaic, technical, dialectal, non-preferred.” In addition to <distinct>, <foreign> and <term> were also particularly important in my encoding of Translation. The WWP also uses the @xml:lang attribute with a value from the IANA language registry to provide standardized identifications for non-English words and phrases.3 This means that my encoding process involves paying attention to the etymology of distinct words and phrases in order to assign each <distinct> or <foreign> element an IANA language code.

For example, in the first letter in Translation, Zāārmilla refers to a character’s “Ayammi Shadee,” which Hamilton defines in a footnote as “the present made to a young woman by her relations during the period of her betrothment” (58). In determining how to encode this term, I first searched for it in the OED—which returned no results. I then searched in Google Books, which brought me to Halhed’s A Code of Gentoo Laws, Hamilton’s original source. Eventually, I determined that “Shadee” must be Hamilton’s (and Halhed’s) version of the Hindi word, shadi, or, marriage.

Example encoding of “Ayammi Shadee.”
Example encoding of “Ayammi Shadee.”

This term stood out to me in the text not only because it was capitalized and footnoted, but also because I did not recognize it. If Hamilton had simply used the word “Marriage” there would be no need to tag it with a more descriptive element, but because the WWP is interested in tagging non-English and linguistically distinct language, I needed to figure out the best way to encode the term. I ended up encoding “Ayammi Shadee” using the element <foreign>, which is used to tag non-English words in cases where there is not another more appropriate element, such as <name>, <persName>, or <placeName>. I also used the @xml:lang attribute with a value of “hi” for Hindi.

As in the example above, one of the challenges of marking up non-English and linguistically distinct terminology in texts like Hamilton’s Translation is that it is sometimes difficult to know when a word is being referenced in the text as a foreign language term, or when the text is using a term that has been adapted into English as a loanword. For example, the English word “pundit” is a loanword from the Sanskrit term “pandit” meaning knowledge owner, or, according to the OED, “a person with knowledge of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy, religion, and law.” So, when Halhed includes “Ordinations of the Pundits” in the title of his text, he is referring to a “pundit” as an intermediary who could clarify Indian law for colonial authorities.

It is also difficult to distinguish when a term can accurately be tagged “foreign” or “distinct” (<distinct> is the element we use for linguistically or dialectically distinct terms that are not distinct enough to constitute a ‘foreign” language), since what is considered foreign or distinct to me may not have been foreign or distinct to an eighteenth-century reader. The WWP aims to best represent the documents we encode within the context in which they were written and published, which is part of the reason why the OED is so often a valuable resource for encoders—we wouldn’t want to mark an early modern spelling of a particular word as a typographical error using the elements <sic> and <corr>, for example. But it is also important to recognize that each encoder approaches the encoding process with her own understanding of the text. My choices in marking up the term “Ayammi Shadee” are based on my understanding of the WWP’s encoding practices and my analysis of the text—and these choices will be reviewed by other encoders and may change as Translation moves through our proofing process and into final publication on Women Writers Online.

What I love about working for the WWP is the endlessly evolving way we think about markup, and the collaborative nature of the encoding process. From the many discussions I’ve had in encoding meetings with my WWP colleagues about Hamilton’s Translation, we’ve shifted slightly in our thinking about elements like <distinct>. Ultimately, the complicated way Hamilton uses Hindi- and Sanskrit-derived terms has helped me to think more critically about the linguistic complexity of eighteenth-century colonial writing.


Prototype Visualizations for Cultures of Reception

Prototype Visualizations for Cultures of Reception

We will soon be publishing an exploratory interface for the more than 600 reviews, advertisements, and other periodical items that we’ve encoded for our Cultures of Reception project—which explores how the authors in Women Writers Online were discussed in periodicals from 1770 to 1830. In preparation for that interface, we’re also working with Steven Braun, the Data Analytics and Visualization Specialist in the Northeastern University Library’s Digital Scholarship Group, to set up some visualizations that will help to highlight patterns across the texts in the collection.

Steven recently sent a few prototype visualizations to us and we wanted to share those here, since we’re really excited about them. Essentially, the reviews in Cultures of Reception are tagged by their evaluations, running from “very positive” to “very negative.” The visualizations Steven designed show variations in individual authors’ reception over time by mapping each possible evaluation to an integer value and plotting those evaluations over the course of each author’s lifetime. Positive evaluations are represented by dark green circles (on the upper y-axis), negative evaluations are represented by dark red circles (on the lower y-axis), and partial gradations are colored accordingly in between. Each circle represents a cluster of reception evaluations at that point in time and the size of each circle is proportional to the number of evaluations.

For example, here’s Maria Edgeworth, who was very widely reviewed over a fairly long period of time; her reviews are usually positive, but there are a few negative responses:m_edgeworth-evals

And here’s Charlotte Smith, who received more positive responses overall: c_smith-evals

Mary Darby Robinson, by contrast, has a narrower timeframe, with a particularly notable dip in review positivity around 1800 (in responses to The Natural Daughter):


Finally, here’s the collection as a whole:


When we publish the exploratory interface (which should be very soon!), we’ll be including more evaluation visualizations like these, along with others that will show the geographic ranges of periodicals and reviewed texts, the topics covered in the collection, the circulation of reviews and editions—and quite a few more. So, if you’re interested in the reception of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century women’s texts (or in transatlantic periodical cultures, publication practices, literary circulation, &c.), watch for the publication announcement here and on our website—and, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy these visualizations!