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Women writers at the push of a button: The Orlando Project

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Research is now easy with The Orlando Project, an academic project established at the University of Alberta that enables students to access hundreds of literary works by female and some male writers at the touch of a button.

The Orlando Project, a digital database established at the University of Alberta 20 years ago, provides students and faculty with access to a wide variety of literary works by feminist writers from the early days to the present from the British Isles. The text base includes a list of over 1,400 British women writers – from Charlotte Bronte to Mary Wollstonecraft – as well as some non-British and male writers. The Orlando Project is free to use through the library for U of A students, and students can also participate in the Orlando Project by submitting an idea for an entry.

Isobel Grundy, Professor Emeritus of English and Principal Investigator for the Orlando Project, is working on the database with Susan Brown, Professor at the University of Guelph, and Patricia Clements, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta.

While some may argue that the Orlando Project is a database, Grundy made it clear that it is much more than that.

“It’s not really a database because it’s very angled, less geared towards number crunching and proving statements about things that are more nuanced overall,” she said.

The database focuses mainly on the British Isles because “it is the longest English-speaking tradition”, but the database still contains various international women writers.

“We have a pinch of American women, we have very few North American writers, we have a pinch of European writers read in translation by Anglophone writers, and we have a pinch of writers in Africa, Australia, Asia and other places that either Have written English or was important for the translation. “

In addition to focusing on the written work of women writers, the Orlando Project’s databases also examine the social context in which the writer lived, which Grundy said may have important influences on her work.

“We tried to have entries that talk about a writer, her circumstances and her productions,” she explained. “One of the core beliefs of the Orlando Project was that the material conditions of what is being produced are very difficult and that even the most brilliant and creative writer will be very much shaped by the circumstances of her time and place in her life – that is a relationship that is always of interest. “

According to Grundy, the Orlando Project team is preparing to release the second version of the Textbase, The Orlando Project 2.0. The newer version includes more graphics, gives each author entry its own illustration, and includes an updated search engine that allows users to refine their search using tags.

For Grundy, women’s writing is important because she sees her job as eye-opening.

“I grew up on a canon that was 99 percent male, and I loved a lot of those writers,” she said. “I know a chunk by heart and think the Guidelines and Excellence give them a place for anyone richer to read them. But there are just as many women writers who, if I had chosen and memorized them at the same age, would only have been an important part of my life, and I think literature students are richer to become both sexes of voices to listen and remember. “

Owning this database and maintaining women writers is particularly important to Grundy as women are often noticed in society.

“Most of the world’s cultures have viewed women as secondary,” she said.

“Many of them actually viewed women as inferior. Some see women as the property of men and women’s voices resist or just try to be heard. [The database] Seems interesting to those who are interested in women’s struggles becoming equal, as well as anyone interested in other groups’ struggles for equality. I think that the social gender issue is very much related to the race issue and the general kind of acceptance of the other. “

Grundy hopes that more students will benefit from and have access to the text base.

“We are happy when it is used by interested parties and other professional fields who want to know something about women writers or even history in relation to literature, as well as those whose courses deal with it. ”

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Janet Smith