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ICCC/IFIP Conference: Electronic Publishing '97
New Models and Opportunities

14-16 April 1997 - University of Kent at Canterbury

Conference Paper Abstract

Putting Renaissance Women Online

Paul Caton, Brown University Women Writers Project.

Since its inception in 1986 the aim of Brown University's Women Writers Project (WWP) has been to bring to much wider attention the extensive body of pre-Victorian women's writing in English. In an initiative funded by a grant from the Andrew W.Mellon Foundation, the WWP is creating "Renaissance Women Online" (RWO), a collection of SGML-encoded transcriptions of works in English by women writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This full-text database or "textbase" will be integrated into a Web site designed to help teachers and students access and appreciate these long-neglected works.

This undertaking has three main aspects: preparing the electronic texts, organizing access to them, and presenting them in a way appropriate to the target audience. Preparing the texts involves both transcribing them and encoding them in a manner conformant with Standard Generalized Markup Language. The WWP has a close association with the work of the Text Encoding Initiative and has adopted its Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange as the Project's encoding scheme. The advantages of the TEI scheme for the WWP lie in its breadth of application, its flexibility, and its widespread adoption among other humanities text-encoding projects. To offer wide access to the RWO materials, the WWP will publish them on a dedicated Web site. In preferring this option over CD-ROM, flexibility is again a prime consideration. A textbase like RWO gets revised and updated with a frequency which would make the timely distribution of update discs burdensome and impractical. Also, RWO has some material which is available to anyone, and some which can only be accessed with the payment of a licence fee. A Web server can easily offer different levels of access to different users of a single site.

The RWO site will not be simply a passive resource. While it does have archival value, it aims to be pedagogically useful and proactive. The design of the site must help students read the works, literally and critically. For the first, RWO uses the DynaWeb interface. Its ability to exploit documents' SGML encoding while serving them to a Web browser offers readers easy navigation through, and searching of, the textbase. To help students and non-specialist readers understand and critically approach what they read, supplementary materials specially written by scholars in the field introduce the works and explain the ideas and issues of concern to the women writers represented in the textbase.

Publishing the Renaissance Women Online electronic resource is a crucial step for the Women Writers Project progress in fulfilling its aim, and not just because a Web site offers the chance of truly widespread distribution. For the WWP to continue its work it must move from grant-dependency towards financial self-sufficiency. RWO represents the Projects's first large-scale effort to market its most valuable product, its textbase.

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