Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed August 26, 1996
Contact: Tracie Sweeney

Mellon Foundation awards $400,000 to Brown's Women Writers Project

The Women Writers Project will receive $400,000 over three years from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a project called Renaissance Women Online. The project will compare the economics of online delivery of a key group of important texts by women to the costs of delivering them by traditional means.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Trustees of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York, recently awarded $400,000 to Brown University in support of the Women Writers Project (WWP). The funds will help the WWP evaluate the impact of electronic versions of rare texts on the costs of scholarship.

The three-year award, announced June 20, 1996, supports an initiative called Renaissance Women Online (RWO), which compares the economics of online delivery of a key group of important texts by women to the costs of delivering them by traditional means. As part of the initiative, the WWP will add 55 important texts by Renaissance women in English to its textbase of pre-Victorian women's writing, thus preparing for electronic delivery a coherent set of approximately 100 texts by Renaissance women. The costs of preparation and use will be measured as the WWP works with electronic delivery over the Internet. The major goal of RWO is to evaluate the comparative economics of electronic and traditional delivery, with the two scenarios to be analyzed in detail and, where possible, compared quantitatively.

Created in 1986 as a project and funded as an electronic archive in 1988, the Women Writers Project pioneered the use of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) to create a versatile and long-lived scholarly resource. The WWP textbase currently contains 45 texts by English women writers of the Renaissance, as well as 155 other texts of pre-Victorian women writers. A spectrum of genres is represented, including sermons, poems, novels, plays and essays. The RWO initiative will concentrate on creating a group of Renaissance works which will address the needs of teachers and scholars.

The WWP has long provided printouts of its texts; upon completion of the RWO initiative, the WWP also will offer electronic delivery of the textbase or access by universities, libraries and schools. Unlike stand-alone printed books, the electronic textbase offers a whole range of texts from a given period, in this case, the English Renaissance. Along with the ability to read difficult-to-obtain texts, Renaissance Women Online will support such advanced functions as discipline-specific retrieval, navigation, viewing and analysis.

Carol DeBoer-Langworthy, RWO's project director, said, "A major impulse for the creation of the Women Writers Project was to make otherwise rare texts available at low cost to teachers and scholars. The RWO initiative will help us assess the actual costs of that enterprise and compare them with the costs of more traditional scholarship. What we learn will have great significance for the scholarly and publishing world." As director of the Women Writers Project, DeBoer-Langworthy coordinates the input from more than 60 Advisory and Research Board members around the world.

Renaissance scholar Susanne Woods, a founder of the Women Writers Project and chair of the Executive Committee of the WWP's Advisory Board, said, "This exciting initiative fulfills the promise that the founding board envisioned in putting these important texts into electronic form. Even as WWP printouts and related projects have transformed the field of early Modern cultural studies, fully functional electronic access will change what we study and how we teach and learn in ways beyond current imagining." A longtime professor of English at Brown, Woods is former dean and now professor of English at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa.

John Lavagnino, a scholar of Renaissance literature and textual criticism, is the RWO's project coordinator and will oversee day-to-day organization of the initiative and lead the preparation of electronic delivery of these texts over the Internet. Evaluation will include quantitative data analysis and economic comparisons by Walter Freiberger, professor of applied mathematics at Brown, and Elli Mylonas of Brown's Scholarly Technology Group.