In celebration of early modern women, their letters, and the scholars who work with them — WEMLO

In the midst of the season of awards and new appointments to recognise and reward scholarly achievement, we have been truly thrilled to receive news of significant successes for a treasured group of talented partners and contributors. We could not be more delighted to announce that Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO] has won the ‘Best Digital Scholarship, New Media, and/or Art of 2016’ Award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women [SSEMW]. As many of EMLO’s and WEMLO’s users and followers will be aware, WEMLO was created in 2013 — initially with British Academy/Leverhulme funding and with support from the Cultures of Knowledge research project — as a scholarly resource for the early modern women’s correspondence held within the EMLO union catalogue and as a discussion forum and meeting place for scholars of early modern women letter writers.

Woman reading a letter, by Johannes Vermeer. c. 1663. Oil on canvas, 46.5 by 39 cm. (Source of image: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; obj. no. SK-C-251)

Co-directed by Professor James Daybell of Plymouth University, and Dr Kim McLean-Fiander of the University of Victoria, B.C. [UVic], WEMLO set out with a mission to ensure that the epistolary voices and trails of early modern women became more easily discoverable. On the back of a series of workshops convened around scholars who work on women’s correspondence (during which the views of participants were solicited and discussed), WEMLO’s dynamic duo concluded that a distinct scholarly meeting space was required to meet the needs of researchers of early modern women. However, they recognized also that, while the unanimous wish was for female letter writers to be more discoverable in the historical record, it would do early modern women no favours and be of little help to today’s scholars were they to be confined to a female-only resource. What these scholars wanted was to have the means to search for female writers of letters alone as well as to search for them alongside their fellow male letter writers. In response to WEMLO’s findings, EMLO worked with James and Kim to made a number of key changes in the union catalogue’s discovery interface. And thanks to this inspiring trans-Atlantic collaboration, we’re particularly proud that W/EMLO’s users are able now to browse in the union catalogue by gender (in any combination of sender, recipient, and person mentioned), to search for specific women’s correspondence, and to pull up just the rapidly expanding list of women’s catalogues. We’re also extremely glad to witness WEMLO’s accomplishments being recognized and honoured with this award. The Society for the Study of Early Modern Women is a network of scholars who meet annually, sponsor sessions at conferences, maintain a listserv and a website, give awards for outstanding scholarship, and support one another’s work in the field. Both EMLO and Cultures of Knowledge extend hearty congratulations to James and Kim for their vision and foresight, and collectively we’d all like to thank W/EMLO’s developer Mat Wilcoxson for his hard work to bring into being the technical solutions that meet so well the needs of WEMLO’s scholarly community and make the initial vision a reality.

On a related note, we’re equally delighted to be drawing to the attention of W/EMLO’s users the cluster of correspondence catalogues for the six Dutch seventeenth-century Stadholders’ Wives, and in particular that of Albertine Agnes van Oranje-Nassau. Albertine Agnes was the wife of Willem Frederik van Nassau-Dietz (1634–1696) and she has the distinction of being the first female ruler to assume the stadtholdership as Regent. Her catalogue has expanded this week by an additional 357 letters and you will find now a current total of 781 letters (many of which are linked to images of the manuscripts hosted at the Royal Collections [Koninklijke Verzamelingen] in The Hague). Collated by Dr Ineke Huysman of the Huygens ING, and assisted ably by Bettina Heyder, who has recently completed an internship at the Frsyke Akademy under the direction of Dr Hans Cools as part of her work with these letters, this catalogue contains a correspondence that diplays the diplomatic skills of Albertine Agnes and is characteristic of the qualities of many of the extraordinary letters to be found in WEMLO. Dr Huysman has just taken up an appointment to the Committee of the Society of Court History in richly deserved recognition of her achievements and proof (if proof were needed, which of course it is not!) of the relevance of the work of today’s scholars who focus on the lesser-known yet rewarding voices of early modern women.

Congratulations to all!

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