Library Resource Orlando recovers neglected Feminist Literary History

The Library online resource Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present is more than a collection of biographical and critical information on British women writers. Orlando is a born-digital project designed to recover a neglected feminist literary history that takes into account women’s writing not only in poetry, fiction, and drama but in other non-literary genres.

Orlando takes its name from Virginia Woolf’s satirical fantasy Orlando, a Biography (1928) about a poet who changes from man to woman and lives centuries, meeting key figures of English literary history and opening new possibilities for women writing in England from the time of Elizabeth I up to 1928. Woolf’s title character works at composing a poem “The Oak Tree,” which the Orlando project has adopted as a metaphor representing the branches of its encoded textbase that reach into a multiplicity of relevant subject areas, allowing users to create “histories (in the plural) … of the unsung many as well as the much sung few.”

The textbase begins with the Greek poet Sappho—whose lyric verse influenced 17th century women writers—and extends to writers of the present day. It has grown from nearly 50 volumes of readable text in 2006 to nearly 80 volumes—8 million words on 1,400 authors, adding contextual material from the fields of education, politics, science, the law, and economics.

Users may browse Orlando’s textbase or find answers to precise, complex questions by taking advantage of Orlando‘s markup system formed of thousands of multiply linked and dynamic portions of text which can be navigated, retrieved, and reordered in myriad ways.

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