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RECIRC Report Summary

Project ID: 615545
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Ireland

Mid-Term Report Summary - RECIRC (The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern’s Women’s Writing, 1550-1700)

Broadly speaking, the project’s work can be broken into two main phases: database design and data-gathering; and analysis. Data, in this context, means primary evidence regarding the reception and circulation of women’s writing, in the English-speaking world (and therefore including non-Anglophone authors), between 1550 and 1700. The project’s main objective – to produce a large-scale quantitative analysis of the ways in which women’s writing was received and circulated in the early modern period – is tackled via four distinct approaches (or work packages). WP1 focuses on the Catholic religious orders as mechanisms for textual transmission; WP2 concentrates on correspondence networks; WP3 on a category of manuscript known as the miscellany; and WP4 on book ownership. Each WP has tested and refined methodologies for identifying female-authored works in large-scale primary sources.

The objective of facilitating quantitative analysis – moving beyond case studies to attain a ‘big picture’, identify patterns, test qualitative ideas against quantitative perspectives – required a structure for the storing, classifying and sharing of these data. There have been three dimensions to this work: thesaurus, database, taxonomy. First, the compilation of what we believe to be the most comprehensive thesaurus in existence of female authors and their works up to the early modern period. In the process, we have discovered hitherto unknown writers and works. At the time of writing, this comprises 1,844 authors and 6,759 female-authored works. This thesaurus is essential for RECIRC researchers, checking and seeking women’s writing. Second, this thesaurus is built into an online database, where primary evidence is shared, stored and classified. Third, in order to facilitate comparison and quantitative analysis across a wide range of categories, this data is organised according to a new set of taxonomies devised for understanding reception, circulation and the modes of textual engagement. No existing resource had developed a linked-data vocabulary sufficient for our needs, necessitating our creation of a tailormade data classification structure. Currently password-protected, it has always been the intention to share RECIRC data with the open-access NEWW WomenWriters VRE ( at the project’s close; we now additionally intend to publish the RECIRC database as an open-access resource.

To date, the RECIRC team has entered data relating to 4,231 instances of reception/circulation. Processing and analysis has begun, but the intensive analysis phase will occur in the project’s second half. As an indicative baseline (not exhaustive) of archival research conducted, WP1 has consulted the convent archives of the Augustinians (Louvain), Brigettines (Syon), Benedictines (Brussels, Dunkirk), Poor Clares (Aire, Dunkirk, Gravelines, Rouen), Sepulchrines (Liège); WP2 has searched and assessed the entire collection of 25,000 folios’ correspondence in the Hartlib Papers Online; WP3 has consulted over 300 manuscripts in the Folger and Huntington Libraries, all priority materials in the Bodleian and British Libraries, and inventorized 126 manuscript miscellanies; WP4’s survey of print auction catalogues yielded 35 collectors of female-authored works, in the years 1678-1700.

The most fundamental questions to be asked of this material during the second phase include: Which women were most widely circulated? Which genres of women’s writing gained traction? What kind of book collector acquired what kinds of female-authored works? Did the author’s gender matter? How were female-authored works attributed? How were social networks exploited as a means to build reputation?

By December 2016, this research had been disseminated via 49 national/international conference presentations, 1 co-edited journal special issue (2016), 1 peer-reviewed journal article (2016), and 3 peer-reviewed book chapters (2016, 2014). A further 2 peer-reviewed journal articles and a second co-edited journal special issue are in press. Another 5 peer-reviewed articles/chapters have been submitted, and 3 are in progress.

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