The responsibility is ours: the failure of infrastructure and the limits of scholarship.
On the other hand, as the editor of Stowe in Her Own Time, I have prepared a traditional print edition--a kind of archive within itself. I have selected and edited unpublished letters as well as biographical sketches, recollections, memoirs, and articles published in a variety of contemporary books and periodicals to narrate the story of Stowe's life through the eyes of her friends, relatives, and fellow writers. My book includes a lengthy historical introduction, introductions to all of the selections I chose, notes, illustrations, a chronology of Stowe's life, and a bibliography. Both projects--one electronic and one print--involved hundreds of hours of archival work--in public and private libraries, special collections, online archives, art museums, and, in the case of Stowe, at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut. Both are also editorial projects, the kind that do not routinely receive high rewards in our profession--but more about our professional rewards system below.
Working on these two projects was an almost daily reminder of the importance of the infrastructure of scholarship--the basic tools that enable works of analysis and criticism: letters, standard editions, bibliographies, and biographies. I want to use my Whitman and Stowe projects to make what I consider to be a crucial point about the future of research on women writers. All of us have a responsibility to press harder on creating the basic tools we need to nurture and sustain work on women writers. During the past thirty or so years, we have made huge strides in recovering the work of women writers, providing editions of their works, writing an array of books and articles, and, perhaps most important, changing the syllabi of thousands of courses in the college and university curriculum. Many of our colleagues have made significant contributions to this effort--such as Frances Smith Foster's Frances E. W. Harper Reader, Helen R. Deese's editions of the diary and journal of Caroline Healey Dall, Amelia Montes's forthcoming edition of Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's Who Would Have Thought It?, Karen L. Kilcup's edition of the memoir of the Cherokee writer Narcissa Owen, and Carla L. Peterson's reconstructions of the lives of African American women speakers and writers. However, much work remains to be done, and it seems to me that the most important work is in what to some may seem the least glamorous--creating a sustainable infrastructure for future scholarship. Specifically, unless we are able to bring letters and other unpublished materials out of archives and make them available for broad use, we run the risk of making fundamental research available only to those who have travel money for archival research. We thus narrow the possibilities for continued scholarship on women writers to the privileged few.
Let me outline the problems and suggest some solutions.
Whitman scholars have access to dozens of biographies, numerous bibliographies, collections of contemporary reviews, print editions of letters, standard editions of the collected works, two journals, and, of course, a large, well-funded electronic archive. Without too much effort, I could probably determine exactly what Whitman was doing on almost any day during virtually any year of his life. On the other hand, Stowe scholars face significant challenges. On the plus side, we have Joan D. Hedrick's excellent, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, a research library at the Stowe Center, the newsletter of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society, and Steven Railton's invaluable electronic archive, Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture. But we have no standard edition of Stowe's works, no reliable bibliography, and no edition of her letters. Further, as Wesley Raabe has recently demonstrated, there are numerous discrepancies among the various current editions of Uncle Tom's Cabin that we use for teaching and research. Finally, if a scholar wants to read and study Stowe's letters, she or he has to travel to several different archives across the United States or go to the Stowe Center, where an unpublished edition of the letters is in a database, prepared by Bruce Kirkham.
The situation among other women writers of the nineteenth century is much the same, with, of course, some notable exceptions, such as Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller, and Harriet Jacobs. Each of these writers provides some possible models for how we might address the need for basic tools. Since Dickinson was for decades virtually the only woman writer in the canon of American literature, it is not surprising that we have so many print resources. But we also have the Dickinson Electronic Archives, edited by Martha Nell Smith, which, along with the work of Smith and other scholars, provides new insights into Dickinson's relationship with her sister-in-law, as well as documentary evidence about the way Dickinson wrote many of her poems. Scholarship on Margaret Fuller got a big push in the early 1980s when Robert Hudspeth, a scholar of American Transcendentalism, began to publish what would eventually be six volumes of Fuller's letters, as well as a final volume of selected letters. Other resources followed: major biographies, updated bibliographies, as well as editions of Fuller's works, some edited by members of the SSAWW, including Jeffrey Steele and me. When Columbia University Press decided that they would print an edition of only selected articles that Fuller wrote for the New-York Tribune, the editors Judith Mattson Bean and Joel Myerson were able to work with the Press to include a CD-ROM of the entire collection, which was packaged with the book. Consequently, students and scholars have access to all of Fuller's articles, rather than simply the ones selected by the editors. More recently, the study of Harriet Jacobs has benefited by the outstanding work of Jean Fagan Yellin in her 2004 biography. While working on her book, Jean uncovered hundreds of documents related to Jacobs's life and edited The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, published as a two-volume print edition of some three hundred documents (including a searchable CD-ROM) by the University of North Carolina Press. In addition, an electronic archive of over one thousand documents, The Harriet Jacobs Papers Project, has been funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As we can see, there are many-ways to create the infrastructure we need.
Let's consider what a difference such infrastructure may make. Using some raw numbers from the MLA. Bibliography for the last thirty years, we can quickly come up with a rather telling list of the peer-reviewed articles and books (exclusive of dissertations) that some women writers have prompted and quickly compare these numbers with scholarship devoted to male writers of the same period.
Readers may quickly object that a lack of infrastructure is hardly the only reason that there are striking differences between the amount of scholarship devoted to women and men writers. Certainly prejudice about projects involving women writers still exists, and the academic reward structure does not favor infrastructure projects like editions of letters and works. At the same time, feminism and the diversification of English departments during the last thirty years have brought striking changes to the profession. The nearly ten-year-old study conducted by the MLA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession suggested then that doctorate recipients and English Department faculties as a whole were over half women (McCaskill 193). More recent studies suggest that the number of women earning doctorates in English language and literature continues to rise (Steward 1). Even a cursory glance through the list of English department administrators in the MLA Directory shows that women professors increasingly occupy important administrative positions within departments. Of course, not all women faculty members do their research on women writers, and it is undeniably the case that lingering prejudice remains about work on women writers and on infrastructure projects. However, so much has changed in our profession that surely it is time for senior scholars to advocate for changes in the ways we reward certain kinds of scholarship. At the recent American Literature Association annual convention, a roundtable discussion was devoted to peer review of digital scholarship (Jewell). Among the panelists were Morris Eaves, chair of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, coeditor of MediaCommons, a digital scholarly network. When Professor Fitzpatrick was asked about how her digital work was regarded by her institution, she commented that her dean had once said to her that administrators expect departments to set the standards they wish to use for tenure and promotion. I can certainly report that such is true at my own institution, where our revised departmental documents reflect the value we place on a variety of different kinds of intellectual work.
But as Professor Eaves reminded the audience for the roundtable discussion, the recent 2006 "Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion" makes for depressing reading about the kinds of standards most departments are setting. In spite of the years of feminist scholarship, the collaborative model of much research in rhetoric and composition, and the worsening climate for university presses, the report reveals that 88.9 percent of Carnegie doctorate-granting institutions, 44.4 percent of master's institutions, and 48 percent of baccalaureate institutions view the single-authored print monograph as "very important" for tenure. Further, the number of departments rating scholarship as more important than teaching--at all institutions--has doubled in the ten years since the last MLA survey (Stanton 10). Calling this trend a "crisis," the task force urges the profession as a whole to "develop a more capacious conception of scholarship" (Stanton 11). Let me be clear: The responsibility for defining scholarship is ours. Obviously, the thirty years of gains we have made in hiring and in promoting women's literature is not leading to changes in the kinds of scholarship we value. On the contrary, the MLA survey shows that the traditional standards for tenure and promotion are, in fact, more entrenched than ever and worse--more restrictive and unimaginative than they were for an earlier generation. Our work on women writers is, quite simply, at risk if we do not defend and support the development of the basic tools for research that we need to sustain our work.
To that end, I want to offer a plan of action.
First, I suggest that we commit to providing support for--and in many cases doing--the work of creating basic tools. We can serve on advisory and personnel committees and help to ensure that our departments are creating appropriate standards for research and publication in the twenty-first century, mindful of the major changes we are facing in print culture and electronic technologies. Using our influence, we can serve on external reviews, promotion and tenure committees, and self-study panels. Those of us who are senior scholars can also use our positions to devote at least part of our research to creating tools for others to use.
Second, we can explore partnerships with libraries and digital centers to find new ways of supporting worthwhile projects. We can learn about the possibilities of digital networks such as MediaCommons and NINES, which are at once centers for scholarly work and places for obtaining peer review of electronic projects. Closer to home, we can work with librarians and digital specialists to explore what help our own institutions might be able to offer for the projects we have in mind.
Third, we can aggressively seek funding and learn to articulate our goals in a way that captures the attention of those responsible for funding. One inspiring recent example is that Sharon M. Harris received an NEH Fellowship for her forthcoming biography, Dr. Mary Walker, an American Radical Now Mary Walker is hardly a household name, but Sherry's proposal was so strong and so imaginatively written that the panel clearly voted to support it. NEH and ACLS also fund electronic projects, and more of us should be learning how to write effective proposals and seeking both external and internal grants to support our work.
Fourth, we can think outside the box and share our basic research in a variety of ways. Not every scholarly discovery has to be a part of a monograph. Think, for example, of the research about the details of Harriet Wilson's life that Gabrielle Foreman and Reginald Pitts have included in their introduction to the revised Penguin edition of Our Nig. Online resources are also key. Donna Campbell, who has long provided a website of research tools on a variety of American writers, is in the process of making discussions on the SSAWW listserv available on the website to serve as a freely available online resource. In addition, Karen Kilcup has recently posted a preliminary list of freely available archival resources on the SSAWW website, and users are invited to contribute to this important list of electronic resources. We can all contribute bibliographies and research notes and post information of interest to others through our electronic newsletters and listservs.
Finally, if we want to nurture the field of women writers, we cannot wait for or leave it to others to support and develop our basic tools of research. If we ignore our infrastructure, we risk limiting our scholarship for ourselves and for those who come after us. In the end, the responsibility is indeed ours.
Belasco, Susan, ed. Stowe in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2009.
--, ed. Summer on the Lakes, in 1843. By Margaret Fuller. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991.
--, ed. Whitman's Poems in Periodicals. The Walt Whitman Archive. <http://whitman archive.org>.
Belasco, Susan, and Larry J. Reynolds, eds. "These Sad but Glorious Days": Dispatches from Europe, 1846-1850. By Margaret Fuller. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.
Bean, Judith Mattson, and Joel Myerson, eds. Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846. New York: Columbia UP, 2000. (Includes CD-ROM).
Campbell, Donna. American Authors. Timeline. Literary Movements. American Literature Sites. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/>.
Deese, Helen R., ed. Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth-century Woman, Caroline Healey Dall. Boston: Beacon, 2006.
--, ed. Selected Journals of Caroline Healey Dall, 1838-1855. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2006.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, and Avi Santo, eds. MediaCommons: A Digital Scholarly Network. <http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/>.
Foreman, P. Gabrielle, and Reginald Pitts, eds. Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black. By Harriet E. Wilson. New York: Penguin, 2009.
Foster, Frances Smith, ed. A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader. New York: Feminist, 1990.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Society, <http://www.stowesociety.org/>.
Harris, Sharon M. Dr. Mary Walker, an American Radical, 1825-1919. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2009.
Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Hudspeth, Robert N., ed. The Letters of Margaret Fuller. New York: Cornell UP, 1983-1994. 6 vols.
--, ed. My Heart is a Large Kingdom: Selected Letters of Margaret Fuller. New York: Cornell UP, 2001.
Jewell, Andrew, Andrew Stauffer, Morris Eaves, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Patricia Okker. "Peer Review of Digital Scholarship." ALA Annual Convention. Westin Copley Place, Boston. 23 May 2009. Roundtable discussion.
Kilcup, Karen L., "Archival resources for study in American women's writing (open-source only)." Society for the Study of American Women Writers, <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/ssaww/archivelist.htm>.
--, ed. A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2005.
Kirkham, E. Bruce, ed. The Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe. E. Bruce Kirkham Collection, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT.
McCaskill, Barbara, et al. "Women in the Profession, 2000: MLA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. Profession 2000,191-217.
Montes, Amelia Maria De La Luz. Who Would Have Though It? By Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton. 1872. New York: Penguin, 2009.
NINES: Nineteenth-Century Scholarship on Line. <http://www.nines.org/>.
Peterson, Carla L. "Doers of the Word": African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880). New York: Oxford UP, 1995.
Raabe, Wesley. "The Uncorrected States of Jewett's Uncle Tom's Cabin: The 1852 Edition, Paperback Reprints, and Digital Texts." ALA Annual Convention. Westin Copley Place, Boston. 26 May 2007.
Railton, Steven, dir. Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture. <http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/>.
Smith, Martha Nell, ed. Dickinson Electronic Archives. <http://www.emilydickinson.org/>.
Stanton, Domna C, et al. "Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion." Profession 2007 9-71.
Steele, Jeffrey, ed. The Essential Margaret Fuller. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1992. Steward, Doug. "Report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2006." Association of Departments of English, Modern Language Association. <http://www.ade.org/>.
Yellin, Jean Pagan. Harriet Jacobs: A Life. New York: Basic, 2004.
--. The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2008. 2 vols.
--, ed. The Harriet Jacobs Papers Project. <http://www.harrietjacobspapers.org/>.
MLA BIBLIOGRAPHY Raw number of peer-reviewed articles and books on individual writers Writer 1998-2008 1978-2008 Dickinson 390 864 Stowe 109 210 Alcott 70 132 Fuller 45 88 Sedgwick 36 52 Child 30 40 Davis 19 44 Jacobs 12 24 Fern 14 20 Wilson 7 19 Harper 7 9 Melville 438 1512 Hawthorne 260 1010 Poe 409 976 Whitman 309 730 Thoreau 235 643 Emerson 217 581 Douglass 87 152 C. B. Brown 53 143 Irving 52 131 Longfellow 38 98 W. W. Brown 17 26
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Article Type:||Viewpoint essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2009|
|Previous Article:||Embodied pedagogies: femininity, diversity, and community in anthologies of women's writing, 1836-2009.|