WWP The Project Newsletter Archive Volume 4,Number 1 The New Textbase

The New Textbase

Julia Flanders

This summer marks a pivotal point in the Women Writers Project's history: the "thawing" of the WWP textbase after a four-year freeze. In 1994, when the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines were released, the WWP decided that the most efficient way to bring the textbase into conformity with the new guidelines would be to freeze the textbase in its current state, convert it to match the new guidelines, and then resume textbase development, thus minimizing the work of updating. Accordingly we produced printouts of all our existing texts (with all their flaws) so that we could continue to provide copies for public use, and then began the long process of developing a modern TEI-based encoding system adapted to the needs of early modern women's writing.

Two years ago, the encoding system was sufficiently solid that we could resume encoding new texts; all that remained was to complete the conversion of the old textbase, and develop a new system of printing texts for distribution. Since then, we have encoded over 70 new texts, which we plan to make available by the end of the summer. We will also be issuing corrected, updated printouts of our previously encoded texts, to replace the ones you've all been using for so long.

More information on the new texts and how to order them will be available on our web site during the summer. Check our text order page, or send email to wwp@neu.edu.

We're grateful to all of you for your patience with this process, and we hope you'll be as excited by the new texts as we are. Thank you all!


The WWP textbase was first conceived almost in the spirit of an emergency measure. The publication of the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women had both raised expectations and frustrated them, with its scant coverage of pre-Victorian women's writing. In response, the founders of the WWP created a collection which would serve the essential purpose of putting early women's writing on the map and bringing it into the classroom - thereby reintroducing it to cultural currency.

Eight years later, when the WWP began its new phase of textbase expansion, the landscape had changed, and what clearly mattered most was to begin deepening the WWP's coverage in a number of areas. Starting with the Renaissance, we have concentrated on adding texts which extend our range of genres and topics, and on including women from outside the growing canon of better-known women authors. (For a list of new authors, see the end of this article.)

This expansion has been funded by two grants. The first, from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has funded the encoding of approximately 50 Renaissance texts. The texts were selected by a group led by Elizabeth Hageman, joined by Georgianna Ziegler, Boyd Berry, and John Lavagnino. Their primary goals in choosing texts were, first, to cover a broad range of genres, social classes, and religious or political stances, while maintaining a balance between the now "canonical" women writers such as Anne Askew and Katherine Philips, and less well-known women such as Elizabeth Lilburne and Susanna Parr. The new texts also include a substantial number of 16th-century women, who have tended to be underrepresented in new scholarship.

Our current grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities has enabled us to add approximately 50 more texts concentrated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Selecting this group was the first task of the newly formalized Text Acquisition Committee, consisting of Nancy Armstrong, Carol Barash, Elaine Beilin, Stuart Curran, Isobel Grundy, and William Keach. The committee agreed that one priority for this area of the textbase was to represent more fully the rich cultural profile of the period and the range of women's writing within it. Among the new texts are important contributions to the public discourse on sexual politics, religion, and the political landscape of the late 17th century; we have also included more drama, poetry, and fiction by a wider range of authors, and have filled some important gaps in our earlier holdings. More information about the new textbase will be appearing on our web site during the summer, including a brief synopsis of each text. If you don't have access to the web, but would like more information, please send us email or contact us via regular mail. Below is a list of some of the authors we're adding to the new textbase:

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