WWP The Project Newsletter Archive Volume 2, Number 3 From the Director

From the Director

Carol DeBoer-Langworthy

A Sense of Proportion

The Women Writers Project is that strange beast, a "grant-funded project." As such, we can live or die by the vagaries of political winds, and those winds are often buffeted by political forces and agendas that seem to have little connection with the writings of early modern women in English.

But since this newsletter is not funded by our current NEH grant, I take this opportunity to trumpet the importance of an understanding of women´s texts as a component of our cultural heritage. Often, it is a challenge for us to justify our desire to preserve and make accessible these writings, which, after all, are something that the world has functioned well without knowing too much about in the past. Or so it thinks. Particularly as the WWP is dedicated to proving the importance of our materials to a fuller understanding of our cultural heritage, as well as providing those materials, we often can sound defensive about what we do.

It is important for the world to understand why we do what we do. Our WWP scholars have noted a remarkable trend: there seems to be a recurring pattern within the history of women´s writing, in which each new generation of women writers believes itself to be the first. As stated in our pending proposal to NEH: "Women, in other words, contribute substantially to their contemporary culture but are subsequently dropped from the literary tradition and from the cultural memory."

Therefore, study of early women´s writing can provide new perspectives on received knowledge of the history of publishing and reception of English texts. Over time, women´s contributions have been gradually forgotten. The Women Writers Project is dedicated to providing access to those now-rare texts­and within two years, in electronic form­so that scholars can have, in combination with the other texts they have traditionally taught, a fuller repository of texts for teaching and scholarship. Women´s texts were part of the landscape of publishing at any given time, and any course that purports to provide a snapshot of an era should attempt to provide, so far as possible, an accurate reflection of that era.

In fact, women´s writing represents all genres and forms, not just the "literary" modes that many people associate with women´s sphere. Perhaps akin to current modern novels, women have been popular and successful writers, from publishing time immemorial, and their works sold widely upon production. For one thing, reading texts from our textbase will indicate that women have often had to fight for their political rights, and for the right to a hearing. Which brings us back to the recent election. In the runup to November 5, many political spinsters (note new usage of this word) said the results would turn on the voting patterns of women­specifically, the working mom. Whether the results did, in fact, reflect the concerns of that segment of the voting public, will be the justification for some of those spinsters´ consulting fees in the future.

There are some small signs of encouragement: the 104th Congress allocated $110 million for the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities in fiscal year 1997 (which began in October). This amount exceeded that recommended by either the House or the Senate and perhaps reflects a renewed awareness of the need to support our cultural heritage with dollars. But the debates and horsetrading for Federal dollars begins anew in January, and the need to keep our elected officials apprised of our belief in funding for culture is still urgent.

Even though the election is over, it´s important that we keep Congress alert to the contributions of women. Texts from our textbase reflect the concerns and issues of women who, 500 years ago, were the equivalent of the women who comprised the "gender gap" so interesting in this past election.


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