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Marking Race in the Digital Archive: Explorations of Race and Representation in Early Women’s Writing

Led by Nicole Aljoe

This project asks whether and how the category of race can be made explicitly visible in documentary archival collections. Grounded in the extensive corpus of early women’s writing in the Northeastern University Women Writers Project (WWP), our goal is to bring together scholars of race to examine the fundamental problems of creating digital formalizations that do not erase, silence, or oversimplify, as well as to consider how WWP texts and data can support scholarship that historicizes and theorizes race in women’s writing before 1850.

Recent work in critical race theory has demonstrated the pervasiveness of race as a framework for knowledge production; in essence, there are no texts that do not engage with race. The urgency of long-standing scholarship on race has also recently been highlighted by investigations of race in medieval and early modern Anglophone texts and, in particular, on developing pedagogies for these texts and topics. The grant activities will contribute to these efforts by expanding both the WWP’s coverage of texts by women of color and texts that thematize race, and also enhancing the WWP’s process of digital text encoding to foreground the texts’ discussions of race that can support a historicized understanding of racialization. Finally, the project will support public engagement and further experimentation with this material by creating open-access datasets that can be used in a variety of community and educational settings.

External Collaborators

  • Patricia Akhimie, Rutgers University
  • Jacqueline Wernimont, Dartmouth
  • Project advisors:
    • Isobel Grundy, Professor Emerita of English, University of Alberta
    • Elizabeth Hageman, Professor Emerita of English, University of New Hampshire
    • Melinda Rabb, Professor of English, Brown University
    • Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts and Archivist, Folger Shakespeare Library

Student Participation

Students will work on transcribing and encoding the texts, and will also will be involved in project-level discussions about the representation and theorization of race.

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