Digital History — Spring 2010

February 18, 2010

On the Victorian Women Writers Project, Past and Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — ths117 @ 7:16 pm

Aside from the idea that GIFs are CompuServe’s proprietary image format (who knew?), one of the most interesting aspects of Perry Willett’s article on the VWPP was a chance to see how the commitment to preserving women’s writing shaped the scope of the project. Willett says that texts written by women are among the most vulnerable, both as a result of physical degradation and because the marginality of their authors means that they have less inherent market share and therefore less chance of being reprinted through conventional means. I wonder how ~15 years of change in academia might have affected these conditions — whether the marginality of these texts and their unusual authorship might now be considered a virtue, pushing them to the “head of the line” for new models of preservation and dissemination. The VWWP itself is to some degree a historical artifact then, signifying changes in academic awareness of the importance of history at the margins, and of the potentials of digital history for de/re-centering the canon of important texts.

Of course, the VWPP is more than a historical artifact — it’s also a useful database which is being revamped and expanded to take advantages of the technical advances since 1996. I look forward to hearing about the goals of the project tomorrow! I am particularly curious about how the VWPP 2.0 will factor in some of the concerns about metadata that were raised in the readings for last week. Also, I wonder whether there will be any attempt to provide an interactive element to the new project — whether crowd-sourcing information, forums for discussion of these texts and apposite context, or a “behind-the-scenes” sort of blog for visitors to see how the project continues to evolve.

These are, of course, elements to keep in mind as I consider my own project for this class — a course website for a class on American intellectual history in the nineteenth century. Since I’d like to integrate the website into students’ experience of the class, obviously I need to make sure that there are interactive elements that guide them through the material and allow them to record their reactions, questions, and interpretations.  It would be interesting to find a way to feature user-created content, as well. Do you think a “class blog” would be useful or merely a gimmick? Alternatively (or in addition), it would be great to have them do some reading of the class texts online, using the CommentPress software that Kathleen Fitzpatrick uses for Planned Obsolescence.  This would let me pose reading questions to them “in the margins,” and to have them respond with their own marginalia. I need to think more about the benefits and drawbacks of this technology, but I think it could have distinct uses for helping the undergrads learn how to read a text in the same way that historians do — a major bottleneck identified by the History Learning Project.

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