We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Women in Cyberspace: "And then I arrived at the powerful green hill" · 6 April 06

Dear Miriam,

Thank you. I delight to come upon your letters!

I’ve been wanting to write more about sessions about women’s lives and texts at this 18th century conference, but have been so busy all day (e.g., keeping up with lists and friends for the first 2 early hours of my morning; then reading Primo Levi’s Periodic Table and making notes for a class discussion tomorrow for many hours more; late in the afternoon reading Ayala’s Angel and beginning a book on Barbara Bodichon, "Feminist, Artist, Reformer" for too little time; then devoting half an hour to my project towards putting an etext by Anne Halkett [her new abbreviated name] on my website; evening going to a piano concert with Edward at the Austrian embassy in DC where we hear brilliant and passionate playing of music by Mozart, Ullmann [gassed to death at Auschwitz], and Liszt; and finally late at night returning to friends in cyberspace and lists for an hour or so) that it’s 12:30 midnight or the next day before I have returned to my stories.

I thought therefore I’d jump ahead to describe one session on Saturday because I can be brief about it: "Eighteenth Century Women Writers After the Digital Turn," where I gave my paper. I have now put it online: "Women in Cyberspace"

The first speaker on the panel was Isobel Grundy and she gave more information and commentary on her work on the Orlando Project, a vast database of women writers, mostly in English, from the medieval era to the 20th century. It’s to be published on the Web commercially so for individuals this means to access it you will have to be a member of an institution that can afford and has chosen to purchase access. I asked her if there were any full texts in her database, and she said that she and another colleague are working to get the companies investing in this to include the 120,000 eighteenth-century texts in the Ecco database (also partly owned by the Gale Thomson corporation).

Of real interest: the tags chosen by Grundy and her team are taken from typical events and needs and outlooks from women’s lives. So we have "violence [experienced]" for a tag. Typical events and outlooks particular to women are tagged throughout.

I first became familiar with Isobel Grundy’s name and work in the early 1980s when I was trying to find, and would think I was ever so lucky every time I would find, a book or texts by Mary Wortley Montagu which Grundy and/or Halsband had edited or written. I never dreamed I would someday sit next to her. She was so warm and respectful of everyone, and from the brief conversation I had with her I could see how honest she is and how quietly open and perceptive she can be. The day before she had given an hour’s keynote address on the Orlando project and told stories of James Clifford (whom I saw once) and what it was like to be a rare woman working with a team of scholars, all of whom but one (Mary Lascelles) were men, upper middle class, European-American, and had gone to elite universities, lived privileged lives.

The second speaker also described a cyberspace project, also a vast database of information and links about women writers and their texts, this one to concentrate on non-English women writers, and the reception of their texts (as seen in reviews, essays, anthologies, histories, and translations): the NWO digitizing project The International Reception of Women’s Writing. Since she spoke in French, a good deal that she said was probably understood only in a garbled way by her audience. I tried hard to understand her by looking at her lips and listening intently, but I don’t know if she had ample funding or was seeking more. Her project appears to be open access, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure if she intends to go well outside Dutch women and Dutch audiences in order to be truly international. Did her database have more texts than Grundy’s at the present time? I can’t say and somehow didn’t dare ask. She was not that friendly, kept a certain guarded distance.

As with the Orlando Project, the way the information is arranged, presented, and framed takes into account, shows, how women are often translators (the silent but active recipients and disseminators of texts), and how their work is often marginalized, misframed, trivalized and when they are subversive (as in the cases of Sand and Stael) vilified and their reputations put at risk.

Both projects include all a given woman’s names so she is findable.

I spoke (as you will see when you have time to click on "Women in Cyberspace" and read it) of, and specified the many obstacles to, women feeling comfortable, in control, and safe in cyberspace; described their actual behavior in cyberspace insofar as we can document it; also their websites, their successes, failures, and the importance of future effective activityby women—as well as how I exemplify common behaviors among women. My paper went over very well because it was frank, and, unlike most of the papers I heard over the 3 days, discussed the real commercial outside world as it impacts on humanities scholarship, the politics of gender and class, and modern real people, including myself.

As it’s now 1:30 am and I have to rise early enough to be teaching tomorrow at 10:30 am, I’ll end this letter now with a poem that I came across on Tuesday morning when I was seeking one to put on WWTTA. It’s by Muriel Rukeyser:

Then I Saw What the Calling Was

All the voices of the wood called ‘Muriel!’
but it was soon solved, it was nothing, it was not for me.
The words were a little like Mortal and More and Endure
and a word like Real, a sound like Health or Hell.
Then I saw what the calling was: it was the road I traveled,
                    the clear
time and these colors of orchards, gold behind gold and the full
shadow behind each tree and behind each slope. Not to me
the calling, but to anyone, and at last I saw: where
the road lay through sunlight and many voices and the marvel
orchards, not for me, not for me, not for me.
I came into my clear being: uncalled, alive, and sure.
Nothing was speaking to me, but I offered and all was well.

And then I arrived at the powerful green hill.

The above seemed to me to capture something of the unexpected life I’ve lived over the past few years in cyberspace and real local and far away spaces—and at moments in this and other conferences.

I was once told that scholarship was not for me —by my mother explicitly and I think by my father’s attitudes implicitly. My mother said "how dare you?" and "you should be at work." Like her, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at useless occupations surrounded by petty office politics? My father resented that Jim and I didn’t go into debt for furniture, live like others (i.e, him).

I did feel this was so because I know I could never do what has to be done to get tenure. I do not share the apparent sincerity and identification with the hierarchical capitalist system of some of the people I talked to at the conference who themselves also teach in institutions that work to uphold and reinforce these. I am fundamentally alienated, apart, a result of my temperament as much as my background—I can see this also in the way I react to poems on Wompo where the speaker at the end suddenly turns around to declare how much she loves so-and-so (parents), how grateful she is to so-and-so, how much she believes life or this particular group of people is good.

Nonetheless I went for the Ph.d. Did not throw my life down a drain, did not put myself out to rent.

And here am I now.

So this is my road too, for there is much more inside the world of the humanities than the cant. The outer rotten systems are (but not merely) its hollow shell.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. What a lovely day, and so beautifully concluded!
    R J Keefe    Apr 6, 1:21pm    #
  2. Leslie R made a perceptive comment in her answer to "Women in Cyberspace" offblog:


    I wanted to thank you for sending me the paper on women in cyberspace. I realised as I read that much of what you say there matches my own experience of life on the net. I listen in on a number of discussion groups, but participate actively and post regularly only to a few, and those few are moderated by women (yours, in particular) or dominated by them. In daily life, as opposed to net life, I am very comfortable with men. I tend to have more male than female friends, for example. But in groups the dynamics are different, and I find myself less willing to venture forward, more easily silenced than I am elsewhere. Interesting.

    On the version of your talk that you post on your website, there is a map of North America (and Australia) on the bottom covered with smiley faces. I saw no explanation of the map. Are these places that visits to your website are coming from? If so, the smiley face in the middle of Alberta is me in Edmonton!


    I replied:

    "Dear Leslie,

    You bring up the reality that experience in cyberspace is also different from experience in physical space. I think there is the problem of our words being put in front of people we don’t know as documents they can examine. We are also forced to be in public forums in ways we are not when we are in face-to-face encounters or with a very few people in a room.

    Unfortunately, this allows some of the worst impulses of people and also densenesses and blindness (we are missing so much clues too) to sometimes dominate.

    And then sexism comes out strongly. There is so much more to be said than I could get in a short paper.

    chava    Apr 8, 1:11am    #
  3. From Maureen E Mulvihill:

    Ellen, I so enjoyed your essay. Thanks, indeed, for bringing attention to it. It’s full of superb information, which I can use in my Global Literatures seminar at St John’s University, Manhattan, where I’ve been a visiting professor since ‘05. (Next wk., e.g., we’re delving into early-modern women writers.)

    I was disappointed, though, that you failed to mention my multimedia archive on the ‘Ephelia’ / Lady Mary Villiers subject, at www.millersville.edu/~resound/ephelia/, which many scholars have found quite useful & even extraordinary (I recently heard from Melinda Zook, e.g., a scholar whose research you would know; Elizabeth Skerpan-Wheeler, a 17thC specialist, and also Linde Brocato now at the U of Illinois Library, Urbana, have used the site, inter alia). The NYPL Berg Collection reviewed my recent ‘Ephelia’ edition, which foregrounds Villiers, in Seventeenth-Century News (that review is posted in the archive). In any case, there are many opportunities, I see, for you to mention the site in your essay, perhaps as a late-addition amendment or addendum, commenting on its breadth of coverage (not just my work on the subject, but the work of virtually all commentators) & esp its multimedia treatment (text, image, sound). To date, this multimedia approach is a bit unique in online representations of l7thC English women writers. (The sound clip is in the ‘English Song’ chapter, and the Technical Mgr of the site at the U of Millersville, will eventually be adding a Purcell sound track as background music for the entire site. There’s much new content, & images, added since you last saw it, I imagine.) So, give it a thought, won’t you? (Do reply off-List, of course.)

    This recent webpage of mine on Lady Gregory, with Irish background music & 2 color images, you may enjoy, commissioned by the NY Yeats Society,

    Boston College Library just posted its new online exhibition of Irish women writers, which may interest you, for various reasons:

    I’ve been deep into Irishwomen’s political writings, pre-1800, these last several yrs.; am now active on the Irish Stds circuit & hoping to ferret out enough material to justify a book on the subject. O, wish me luck!

    Best wishes to you & Jim and your dtr., and take good care, Ellen,

    chava    Apr 8, 9:50am    #
  4. I think a woman has to be brave in order to deal with cyberspace. I frequent both political blogs and literary blogs. Women who are active participants on political blogs have to be tough. I find the left-leaning blogs are less of a problem than right-wing blogs.

    Here’s a point I just thought about: when you post on the internet, nobody knows what you look like unless you choose to post your picture. This eliminates "lookism." The non-visual clues are missing. It’s liberating.

    Women-run blogs are the most gratifying in that you can eliminate another barrier. I find myself qualifying on male dominated blogs. This is something I am ashamed of doing as I think it is dishonest.

    I am looking forward to reading the paper on Women in Cyberspace.

    Off-topic: I highly recommend the cover story in today’s NY Times Magazine Section about the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador where women are put in jail for having abortions. A woman can’t have an abortion even if she has an ectopic pregnancy until her fallopian tube ruptures.

    Arabella Trefoil    Apr 9, 10:07am    #
  5. Posted to WMST-l:

    "In the past several years, philosophers have begun dozens of group and individual blogs covering a range of philosophical areas of research. See http://www.epistemelinks.com/Main/MainBlog.aspx ,
    http://consc.net/weblogs.html; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5457020/site/newsweek/). Most of the contributors on these blogs are men. For those of you in other disciplines, are women virtually absent from the blogs in your discipline? Is blogging becoming a significant avenue to publication (either for pre-publication feedback or as an alternative to conventional publication) and, if so, how will this affect women in academia if we don’t get involved? Alternatively, is blogging just a time drain and a distraction from the kind of publishing that counts?

    In philosophy, blogging is becoming a significant way to draw attention to one’s research by posting online papers for discussion, and networking with other philosophers. Here again, in my field, the large majority of scholars who are circulating drafts of papers online are men. (see http://consc.net/people.html; http://phonline.org/ ). When mainstream journals and publishers would not publish feminist work, we set up our own journals and published with alternative presses.

    But the blogosphere seems more democratic and porous—anyone can set up a blog, comment on an existing blog, post a paper online, and bloggers can cross-post and link to other blogs so that conversations move from one blog to another. In short, if feminist and women scholars are not present in the blogosphere, it seems more a matter of choice and I’m wondering why women scholars may be choosing not to take advantage of this new medium. I’ve recently joined a philosophy group blog (Pea Soup) and set up another blog, but is blogging something we should be recommending to our junior female colleagues?"

    chava    Apr 16, 12:19am    #
  6. I’m delighted to be able to say that Joan Korenman is going to include "Women in Cyberspace" in the annotated list of "Women-Related Cyberspace and Internet Information" resources she maintains at

    She wrote me offblog to ask permission, and said:

    "Especially because the article is so extensively documented, I think it’s a very useful resource, as well as being very interesting. Joan Korenman"

    chava    Apr 16, 11:00pm    #
  7. Another one from WMST-l which contains links to good blogs, academic papers on blogging, and women and men bloggers:

    "One of the best known blog theorists is a woman – Torill Mortensen – and she does put her work about blogs online. Academic credit varies by field, but even in the humanities, schools are now starting to give "extra credit" to those instructors who have some sort of web-component for their classes. Here at the U of Minnesota, some instructors have bypassed the school’s online instruction program interface (we have webCT), choosing instead to start class blogs and wikis. And some humanities departments are appreciating those efforts, although it’s still on a case-by-case basis.

    If you’re trying to make the case to your administration that they should include credit for blogs, this site contains links to academic articles on blogging: http://huminf.uib.no/%7Ejill/archives/blog_theorising/research_on_blogs.html

    I’ve taught a class on blogs and cams a few times, and the female students did not express that they were having challenges any more than the male students did. In the blogs that they chose to highlight in their papers, I’m remembering that women gravitated towards blogs by women and men towards blogs by men …

    chava    Apr 17, 1:01pm    #
  8. A qualification and reinforcement from WMST-l:

    "I think we should be careful not to assume too quickly that 1) women are ‘absent’ from the (academic) blogosphere; and 2) that this apparent ‘absence’ is a mere issue of ‘choice’. Feminists (and others) have argued for some time now that the absence of women’s (and other Others’) voices from main(male)/stream knowledge production (both inside and outside academia) has more to do with the silencing and/or co-opting of these voices than with women’s and others’ ‘choice’ of remaining ‘silent’. While the blogosphere might appear more ‘democratic’ and less subject to censorship than otherforms of publication, I think that we must not forget that the power/ knowledge nexus runs deeper than in its most obvious institutionalized forms.

    I also think that the notion of what constitutes an ‘academic’ blog needs to be problematized. Here again, feminists have been quite successful at revealing how academia re-produces and legitimizes itself and the knowledge it creates by excluding and silencing the voices, perspectives, and realities of women and other marginalized and oppressed people by presenting the knowledge they produce as ‘non- scientific’, ‘anecdotal’, ‘subjective’, etc. In this sense, I would suggest that the problem is not that women are absent from the academic blogosphere, but rather that women’s blogs are often excluded from what is commonly understood as ‘academic’ blogs.

    There have been many discussions on these issues in the feminist blogosphere. As a starter, I would suggest a visit to the two following blogs (a look at their blogroll will provide even more suggestions): BitchPhD and Blac(K) ademic .

    chava    Apr 18, 1:18am    #
  9. From Joan Korenman:

    "I’d like to believe that you’re right, that things are changing in academe, but I haven’t seen much sign of that. I know of only one person who received tenure at a research university primarily for his truly extraordinary and groundbreaking work online, but I’ve seen MANY people whose extensive online work did not help them get tenure. As early as ten years ago, I heard people claim that things were changing, but they didn’t then, and I’m not sure that they are now. (I hope I’m wrong, since I think the current publication demands in academia are insane. I frankly do not advise any of my students, nor my exceptionally talented niece, to pursue an academic career. Between the absurd job market and the ludicrous hoops one has to jump through if one somehow GETS a good job…. )

    In some ways, of course, things have changed dramatically. When I first started using email (1990), women made up an extremely small percentage of the online population. Well under 5%. Now, most surveys agree that women outnumber men online in the US and perhaps in a few other countries as well. In 1997, I developed a course entitled "The Internet and the Humanities" to try to help more Humanities majors, male as well as female, understand the importance of the Internet and learn how to use its major tools and resources. Back then, only a minority of my English major advisees used the Internet. Now, just about all of them do, men and women alike.

    Of course, it’s one thing to use information technology and quite another to be in a position to develop and control that technology. That’s where the most dramatic gender gap occurs today, I think: relatively few women are studying computer science or information systems and going into IT careers.

    [I had said 'Thank you for including the article among your Internet resources.']

    Thank YOU!"
    chava    Apr 20, 12:50am    #

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