Women Writers in Review is a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reviews, publication notices, literary histories, and other texts responding to works by early women writers. Women Writers in Review is published by the Women Writers Project at Northeastern University and was created as part of the Cultures of Reception initiative, which fosters research into the transatlantic reception and circulation of early women’s texts.
Visualizations courtesy of Steven Braun. The reviews in Cultures of Reception are tagged by their evaluations, running from “very positive” to “very negative.” These visualizations show variations in individual authors’ reception over time by representing positive evaluations with dark green circles and negative evaluations with dark red circles. 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.
Women Writers in Review, an initiative of the Women Writers Project, is a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reviews, publication notices, literary histories, and other texts responding to works by early women writers. 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.
Women Writers in Review collects more than 600 reviews that were encoded in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) markup language to record their structures, rhetorical features, and intertextual moves (such as quotation from other texts). 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 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?
Women Writers in Review 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.
Because Women Writers in Review is a collection of texts that were chosen
for their responses to other texts, the layers of bibliographic information at stake
can become quite complex. To maintain consistency in our identifications of textual features, we
are defining several bibliographic terms in ways that are particular
to this project. For example, we have adopted an intentionally broad usage of
encompassing not only literary and theatrical reviews but also publication notices,
republished textual extracts, literary histories, and a range of documents that discuss other texts. Essentially, we use the term
in reference to all of the varied individual texts that are published on this platform. To keep the intertextual layers
of Women Writers in Review distinct, we have also defined several terms, such as
work, in ways that are quite precise. Below are more details on the terms that we use to identify
textual information in Women Writers in Review.
Women Writers in Review seeks to place women’s writing in its context as a product of—and influence on—a growing literary culture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. To that end, we have collected several types of bibliographic information:
Women Writers in Review subdivides each “work” into the following bibliographic entities:
These roughly correspond to Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records (FRBR) entities. A work can have multiple expressions, and an expression can have multiple manifestations.
For example, Hannah Adams wrote A Summary History of New England, which she later reinterpreted for a younger audience (An Abridgement of the History of New England for the Use of Young Persons). We have grouped these two texts as expressions of the same work (see here). In this case, there is no need to distinguish manifestations. An expression might have more than one manifestation if it was printed in multiple countries, or republished with minor corrections—neither of which applies to A Summary History of New England or An Abridgement of the History of New England for the Use of Young Persons.
It is worth noting that Women Writers in Review should not be considered a comprehensive resource for works’ publication histories. Editions are listed only if referenced by particular reviews.
Here are a few activities to introduce Women Writers in Review in the classroom. These will provide a framework for students to begin exploring reviews and thinking about the ways they might use the collection. The activities below were developed in collaboration with pedagogical development consultants Jason Payton of Sam Houston State University and Paschalina Minou, independent scholar. You can find more assignments involving WWiR, and more information on our pedagogical development consultant program, here.
The activities below can be completed by small groups during class or by individual students outside of class. For all of these activities, we recommend that you first ask students to review WWiR’s terminology and navigation pages.
Ask students to complete a scavenger hunt in WWiR. Below are a few suggestions for items that students could search for in the collection:
Once students have completed their search, discuss their results in the class as a whole. Some questions for consideration might be: How did students locate their results? Were any items particularly easy or difficult to find? How representative do the examples that each student or group found found seem to be? Were there interesting differences in the results that students found for any items on the list?
This activity provides an introduction to some prominent topics in the collection, while asking students to gain proficiency in navigating the site and encouraging consideration of early transatlantic review culture more broadly.
Ask students to read through several reviews and track all of the adjectives applied to authors and their works. You may wish to assign a group of reviews or ask students to look at different subsets of the collection—for example, students could compare “Very positive” and “Very negative” reviews, or filter by different formats and genres, or look at North American and British reviews.
Ask students to compile two lists: one with the adjectives applied to women writers and another with the adjectives applied to their writing (you may also want to ask students to observe descriptions of male writers and male-authored texts that appear in the reviews). Ask students to report their findings in a collaborative online document, through a class site, on whiteboards in the classroom, or however you prefer to share content in your class. Once the results are collected, ask students to identify the kinds of descriptors they have found (e.g., describing age, physical appearance, genre, gender, class, literary quality). You might ask: How do the descriptors break down into positive and negative categorizations? Are any adjectives being used to describe both the authors and their works? Are there any differences between the subsets of reviews? What do you think these results might indicate about the ways that women writers were represented in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century periodicals?
This activity can begin a discussion about the reception—and representation—of women writers in transatlantic periodical culture while asking students to navigate and filter results in WWiR and encouraging them to pay careful attention to the language of individual reviews.
This activity also asks students to collect and categorize examples from WWiR, focusing on evaluative criteria more broadly. As with the survey of adjectives, this activity can be usefully applied to subsets of the collection to enable comparison and introduce filtering by evaluation, location, theme, and so on. Ask students to look through different sets of reviews and collect examples of the language these use to evaluate the reviewed texts. A few examples will likely be helpful here:
“These various pieces abound in beauties, while they are by no means free from inaccuracies and blemiſhes. The beauties, however, greatly preponderate, and diſcover marks of genius, ſentiment, and pathos, which give fair promiſe of future excellence. The defects in theſe ſketches are principally to be attributed to precipitancy, and an imperfect acquaintance with the rules of Engliſh versification.”
“Many of the lines being redundant, and others deficient, as may be ſeen in the above quotations, and in hundreds more that we could give, were it worth while to detain the reader longer on this abortive effort. We do not mean to ſay that the chief merit of a dramatic piece conſifts in the metre; but we do ſay there is ſuch a high indecorum in ſoliciting the notice of the public to a piece, in which the moſt common and eaſy rules of compoſition are not attended to.”
“The Engliſh blank verſe is of very eaſy conſtruction, and requires only a tolerable ear for its compoſition; but the blank verſe of this lady is a mere buſineſs of typography; the ear has nothing to do with it; to turn it into proſe you need only print it differently.”
Ask the students to collect as many examples as they can find and then begin identifying the categories of evaluative criteria being applied; for example, the three quotes above all evaluate the works they discuss according to their fidelity to, or mastery of, some expected principles for writing verse. Other evaluative criteria might be: appropriateness of subject matter for a female author, readerly pleasure, grammatical correctness, or originality.
Once students have located quotes and categorized their evaluative criteria, ask them to share both quotes and categorizations with the class as a whole (because these will be longer than individual adjectives, electronic sharing is recommended). Then ask the students if they want to revise their taxonomies, having seen their classmates’ results. You may want to have the group consider the existing evaluative categories in WWiR, structured broadly around positive and negative evaluations, to lead into a discussion of how digital collections like this one can frame readers’ engagements with their materials.
This activity can help to introduce larger questions of collection design, while asking students to think about more challenging aspects of categorization and practice recognizing patterns in the rhetoric used in reviews of women’s writing.
These materials are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license; copyright for all materials remains with their authors.