Learning from the Past: The Women Writers Project and Thirty Years of Humanities Text Encoding


In recent years, intensified attention in the humanities has been paid to data: to data modeling, data visualization, “big data”. The Women Writers Project has dedicated significant effort over the past thirty years to creating what Christoph Schöch calls “smart clean data”: a moderate-sized collection of early modern women’s writing, carefully transcribed and corrected, with detailed digital text encoding that has evolved in response to research and changing standards for text representation. But that data—whether considered as a publication through Women Writers Online, or as a proof of the viability of text encoding approaches like those expressed in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines—is only the most visible part of a much larger ecology. That ecology includes complex human systems, evolving sets of tools, and a massive apparatus of documentation and organizational memory that have made it possible for the project to work coherently over such a long period of time. In this article we examine the WWP’s information systems in relation to the project’s larger scholarly goals, with the aim of showing where they may generalize to the needs of other projects.


digital humanities; XML-TEI; Women Writers Project; women’s writing; documentation: English literature; early modern texts; eighteenth century


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