Here is the third installment from our new series featuring stories from people who have helped shaped the Women Writers Project. Ceillie Clark-Keane (Encoder, 2014–2015) shares some memories from her time at the WWP.
During the first semester of my Master’s program, Dr. Julia Flanders visited my class to discuss digital humanities, the Women Writers Project, and, specifically, TEI. We spent the class learning text encoding and beginning a mark-up project that we had to complete for the following week. I loved the assignment so much—too much, maybe. I decided to mark up the section of text with sentence structure in mind, which meant that I was tagging almost every word. I ended up writing an analysis about prepositions that I was thrilled to write, but I can’t say that anyone was quite as excited to read.
When the WWP was hiring graduate student research assistants the next semester, I applied right away. During my interview, I told Julia that I was at the time interested in researching didactic novels by 19th-century women writers, and we talked about engaging with language through TEI, which had clearly sparked my interest. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all we talked about: I told Julia that I was terrible with computers—with technology—and was ambivalent about reading texts online. Why did I feel compelled to share that? I’m still not sure. Luckily, I got the position anyway, and it was one of the highlights of my time at Northeastern.
Working on Women Writers in Review was the most fun. The material that we were reading and encoding was so different from the longer, denser texts in Women Writers Online. The format of the reviews ranged significantly—some were short mentions, others lengthy excerpts—and the responses were surprising. I remember coming across accusations of plagiarism and dismissals of the writing, both based on the fact that the book was authored by a woman. Reading through those was a great reminder about the driving purpose behind the WWP. Even better, the group working on this project was smaller, and the staff meetings were so much fun.
Working on the WWP was an excellent experience in understanding how databases work. With publications—whether those are online news sites, magazines, journals, or even books—there’s an acknowledged layer of choice in coverage. As a student, or even just an individual who uses databases for research or reading, I didn’t interact with databases with that same understanding; it seemed like they should simply have everything topically related, like this content existed in the database objectively. But it’s still an editorial process that involves curation, that involves translation. Obviously I know the people and the ethos behind Women Writers Online, and I trust that these curations and decisions are always thoughtful. But that doesn’t discount the fact that it’s a step in the process.
On a completely practical level, the skills I learned at the WWP were a huge. Working with the rest of the WWP team, meeting regularly to go over challenges and track progress, and the technical skills (and overcoming any related aversions)—all of these came up in job interviews. I am now the managing editor at a software company here in Boston. More than most of my background in classrooms and writing centers, my experience as a staff encoder and research assistant for a digital publication was preparation for working in publishing and technology.