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Final conference of COST Action IS0901, "Women Writers in History".

Final conference of COST Action IS0901, "Women Writers in History"

Female Authorship in Europe: Networks and Obstacles

Huygens ING, The Hague, 19-21 June, 2013

The final conference of the COST Action IS0901 "Women Writers in History" took place from 19-21 June 2013 at the Huygens ING (grant holder of the Action) in The Hague in the Netherlands. Approximately fifty participants outlined the new knowledge that had been discovered about the role of women writers in Europe up to the beginning of the 20th century, demonstrated how the conception and development of new tools enabled researchers to analyze new data in new sources, and presented the new collaborations that had been created thanks to this COST Action. The detailed program and the corresponding abstracts upon which this report is based can be found on _Networks_and_Obstacles.

The conference was divided into seven sessions. After a welcoming address by the director of Huygens ING Lex Heerma van Voss and by the chair of the Action Suzan van Dijk, Session I focused on the topic of "dominating" languages and their "female" influence in Europe. The first panel of this session presented research outcomes on the presence of Anglophone women authors in Europe. This group of researchers, consisting of Astrid Kulsdom, Lucyna Marzec, Marie Nedregotten Sorbo, and Tanja Badalic, looked at the reception of fifty six British and Irish women authors in Europe, especially in minor languages such as Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, and at their presence in the literary culture of Slovenia. The panel further compared the reception of the prolific woman writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon with the reception of the less prolific yet canonized Charlotte Bronte.

The second panel, consisting of Katja Mihurko-Poniz, Ursula Stohler, and Zsuzsanna Varga, had German women's writing in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a topic, focusing in particular on the case of Eugenie Marlitt in smaller language communities, such as the Czech lands, Hungary, and Slovenia. These researchers discussed differences and similarities in reception patterns of Marlitt's works in these three language communities and emphasized the transcultural popularity of Marlitt during that period. The group used Franco Moretti's theories on the importance of a quantitative approach to literary history as a theoretical framework and then referred to their research results, in which they pointed out the transnational nature of the genre of popular fiction by women in Europe, and in particular in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, during that period. They referred to similarities of reception patterns of the works by other women authors of popular fiction and theatre plays in that region. Among them are the Swedish Emilie Flygare Carlen and Marie Sophie Schwartz, the English Mary Braddon, the German Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer, Luise Muhlbach, Nathaly von Eschstrutt, and E. Marlitt, and the French George Sand. They also pointed out that these research outcomes presented the point of departure for a new research project, for which several funding possibilities were being considered.

The third panel looked at French as a "female" language for queens and other women writers in the 18th and 19th century. The group of researchers consisting of Jelena Bakic, Isabel Lousada, Ramona Mihaila, Michaela Mudure, Efstratia Oktapoda, and Suzan van Dijk suggested that there existed many women authors who chose to write in French even though this was not their mother tongue. This was particularly the case of female authors who belonged to higher social classes. This group of researchers further looked at two examples of women authors who used French for their writing even though they lived far away from France, Carmen Sylva (Queen Elisabeth of Romania), and Ida Verona, who lived in Romania and Montenegro.

Session II was entitled "Circulation of Women and their Writings." The fourth panel of the conference, the group of researchers Vanda Anastacio, Nieves Baranda, and Marie-Louise Coolahan, looked at manuscript circulation of women's texts in the early modern period, in particular at the writings by English, Portuguese, and Spanish women. The researchers stressed the fact that manuscripts were important documents for the study of literary reception, as copies circulated widely and co-existed with print culture. Further, the researcher pointed to difficulties when studying manuscripts, such as the lack of the authors name on the textual production or the textual instability, i. e. variants in manuscript copies.

The fifth panel consisting of Elisa Muller-Adams, Kati Launis, and Kerstin Wiedemann had travelling women and their texts (which also "travelled" in Europe) as a topic. In particular, they looked at the case of Ida HahnHahn's travelogues and analyzed to what extent they revealed transcultural movements of both author and text. The results presented were based on extensive research of Ida Hahn-Hahn's reception in Germany, France, Britain, and Finland, which carefully observed differences in the reception patterns of her works across time and space. The panel participants further discussed Ida Hahn-Hahn's construction of Europe as a female cultural space.

Session III had the interrelations of theory and practice as a topic, discussing in particular the use of digital tools for the revision of traditional literary history. The sixth panel, consisting of Viola Capkov, Biljana Dojcinovic, and Henriette Partzsch, presented reflections on the theoretical framework of this COST Action, including Franco Moretti's suggestion of a quantitative approach to literary history or Even-Zohar's notion of poly-systems. This panel also emphasized the multinational nature of the network and the next version of the WomenWriters database, which offers, among other things, intriguing and more subtle differentiations between genres.

The seventh panel consisting of Elke Brems, Hester Meuleman, Ton van Kalmthout, and Orsi Rethelyi presented another research project on questions of literary reception, the International Network Studying the Circulation of Dutch Literature (CODL), funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and running from 2012 to 2015. The panel compared CODL with the COST Action "Women Writers in History" and highlighted their common transnational approaches to the study of literary history.

The eighth panel consisting of Jenny Bergenmar, Lucyna Marzec, and Amelia Sanz reported about experiences in research and teaching in the digital humanities. They suggested that research involving large scale data should be connected to the development of students' e-skills. This process should include getting aware of possible resources, using them and then contributing content or conduct investigations. The panel discussed these points by referring to experiences in Spain, Sweden, and Poland, focusing in particular on newspaper digitization processes.

After these panels the members of the Management Committee core group met to discuss their presentations for the following day while the other conference delegates visited the Museum of Dutch Literary History and in particular the Writers' Gallery there. After that, the participants of the conference went to listen to a lecture given by Anne-Birgitte Ronning entitled "Female Robinsonades: Adventures of Shipwreck and Good Behaviour." After a welcoming address by Aad Meinderts, the director Museum of Dutch Literary History, she talked about the role of women as authors of robinsonades, about female protagonists in this genre and explained why women in particular, both as writers and as readers, were attracted to robinsonades.

The conference participants then listened to texts by Dutch women authors read by the actress Tessa du Mee. Even though most texts were in Dutch (which most participants did not understand) and only a few in English the reading of these texts made these works and their female authors come alive in our minds and thus contributed to their entering our cultural memory. Then Arno Kuipers, the collection specialist of the National Library of the Netherlands, spoke about books by 19th- and early 20th-century women that were being added to the library collection. He mentioned that until 1974 the focus of acquisitions of foreign literary works was mostly on works in the original language rather than on translations. This was about to change now, when considerable amounts of translations into Dutch were added to the catalogue regularly. Many of these works or their translations are by women. The first day concluded with a drinks and a buffet that gave the participants a pleasant occasion to socialize.

The second day of the conference started with Session IV, which was entitled "Nations, Cultures, Women Authors." Its goal was to outline the geographical scope of the research network with a particular focus on the inclusion of various European countries. Case studies of connections between women writers from western and eastern part of Europe showcased this effort. The ninth panel of the conference, which consisted of Nadezhda Alexandrova, Katerina Dalakoura, Efstratia Oktapoda, and Senem Timuroglu, explored the concepts of "East/Orient" and "West" in the works of the eastern European women writers Elisaveta Karaminkova (1849-1920), Sappho Leontias (1830-1900), Fatma Aliye (1862-1936) and Elena Ghika (1828-1888), for whom Istanbul played an important part in their literary career. The researchers further suggested that these women authors had different responses to conceptions of the Orient, be it that they dissociated themselves from western imaginations of it, or that they advocated its difference.

Panel ten consisting of Alenka Jensterle-Dolezalova, Corinne Fournier Kiss, and Zofia Tarajlo-Lipowska looked at Prague as a cultural center for Slav women writers. They discussed the Polish woman writer and social activist Honorataz Wisniowskich Zapov (1825-1856), who lived in Prague and who championed solidarity among Slav women, which was to take place with the help of education. Other Slav women authors who received a lot of attention in the Czech literary culture during the second half of the 19th century were Polish Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910) and Maria Konopnicka (1842-1910) as well the Slovene Zofka Kveder (1878-1926).

Session V was entitled "Big Corpora and Networks (Including Male and Female Authors)" and discussed the possibilities of visualizing the networks of European women's writing as well as future possibilities of adding their connections to male writing. Panel eleven consisting of Toos Streng and Ton van Kalmthout presented the "Database Streng" (DAST) on Dutch novels, its conversion into the open access database "Literature in Operation" (LION) and compared these with the WomenWriters database.

In panel twelve Gertjan Filarski talked about plurality in humanities research infrastructures. He argued that the shifting definitions of various factors within a comprehensive international research network required adequate solutions for the technical design of research data infrastructure.

Session VI had the evaluation of the COST Action "Women Writers in History" as a topic. Panel thirteen consisting of Monica Bolufer, Annette Keilhauer, Hendrik Schlieper, Lieselotte Steinbrugge, and Rotraud von Kulessa presented eight theses for a renewal of literary historiography. These allowed to reflect on the long-term objectives of the Action, which, as they suggested, had to be a gendered historiography of literature. They further recommended that philological limitations of literary history have to be challenged in the future to reflect the transcultural nature of literary production.

After that the management committee core group members gave short presentations to the COST evaluation panel about the goals they had achieved within each of the workgroups and other responsibilities. These included "Models and Theories" (Viola Capkov), "Tools and Interconnectivity" (Marie-Louise Coolahan), "Selection and Use of Relevant Sources" (Marie Nedregotten Serbe), "Dissemination and Extension of the Research Network" (Katja Mihurko Poniz), "Early Stage Researchers" (Henriette Partzsch), "Training Schools" (Lucyna Marzec), "International projects generated" (Vanda Anastacio: Iberian collaboration), "National projects generated" (Biljana Dojcinovic: Knjizenstvo), and "Collaboration with Huygens ING" (Suzan van Dijk).

The conference delegates also had the possibility to visit the "Ladies' Reading Museum" (Damesleesmuseum), which played an important role for the reception of late 19th- and early 20th-century Dutch and foreign women's writing. The day concluded with the conference dinner in a restaurant that served delicious typical Dutch pancakes.

The third day of the conference opened with Session VII on the use of large-scale approaches to understand women's merits as authors and their place in literary history. Panel fourteen consisting of Janouk de Groot, Hilde Hoogenboom, Caterina Nosdeo, and Mojca Sauperl was entitled "Italy and France Compete for Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century: Bio-Bibliographic Compilations, National Literary Histories, and Alternative Transnational Narrative." The panel looked at bio-bibliographical compilations, which can be regarded as a kind of antecessor to present IT tools. The presenters discussed the function of this particular genre in relation to the national literatures of France and Italy.

In panel fifteen Jan Rybicki presented his research outcomes on the question if the gender of the translator could be identified in the French translations of the works by 18th-century English authors. While it was fairly easy for the English originals to detect gender signals, the same could not be said about the French translations, where only the group of works by men and translated by men gave clear results. The situation with the other possibilities (text by women translated by men, text by men translated by women, text by women translated by women) turned out to be more complex.

Session VIII had the WomenWriters Database as a topic. In panel sixteen Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner discussed the tension between traditional scholarship in the humanities and the challenges of using a digital database to which various researcher contribute. He explained how one of the problems of using a digital database was that the data input was a time-consuming activity that conflicts with the requirements of traditional humanities scholarship, where academic merit is measured almost exclusively by publications. Another challenge that the database presented was that many scholars expected it to be a traditional source of empirical information, whereas in reality the form and content of the database are constantly evolving.

Panel seventeen consisted of Paul Wouters and Andrea Scharnhorst, who provided further reflections on the topic of digital humanities and its challenges. In particular, they looked back on the beginnings of this COST Action from the point of view of science and technology studies.

Session IX had questions around reception documents as a topic. Panel eighteen consisting of Soo Downe and Francesca Scott presented outcome of their research on the topic of childbirth and midwifery, for which they had made use of the database after having studied women's novels from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also referred to collaborations with other COST Actions on similar topics (COST Action IS0907, Childbirth Cultures, Concerns, and Consequences: Creating a Dynamic EU Framework for Optimal Maternity Care).

Panel nineteen consisting of Nancy Isenberg, Magdalena Koch, and Adriana Kovacheva explored the interplay between female writers' reputations as women and their professional reception as writers. Taking Giustiniana Wynne, an 18th century Anglo-Venetian writer, Isidora Sekulic, a Serbian modernist writer, and Mara Belcheva, a Bulgarian poet and translator as case studies, they argued that these women authors had to cope with negative reputations regarding their private lives; a fact that had an impact on their literary reception.

In panel twenty Montserrat Prats Lopez and Suzan van Dijk referred to several projects that are being conducted at the Huygens ING and from which this COST Action benefited in various ways. Among these are the CKCC project (Circulation of Knowledge), the DVN (Digital Lexicon of Dutch Women), or the bio-bibliographical compilation entitled 1001 vrouwen (1001 women). Further, a digitizing project on the correspondence of the Dutch woman author Belle van Zuylen / Isabelle de Charriere uses "crowdsourcing" as a means of involving non-specialists into projects on women's writing.

Finally the conference delegates had the pleasure of listening to a literary-musical performance based on the original letters of Belle van Zuylen and James Boswell presented by Crissman Taylor (mezzo-soprano, performing musician and educator HKU), Maaike Peters (cello), and Robert Hoving (baritone). This performance was a pleasant way of complementing our image of Belle van Zuylen / Isabelle de Charriere, whose recently re-discovered manuscript text and letter (thanks to Hein Jongbloed, National Archives) were on display during the conference. In addition, the participants of the conference had the chance of looking at new portraits of Dutch women writers for the gallery of the Museum of Dutch Literary History presented to them in a booklet.

Ursula Stohler

Department of Czech Literature, Pedagogical Faculty, Charles University, Prague
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Author:Stohler, Ursula
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Conference news
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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