Women Writers Online: An Evaluation and Annotated Bibliography of Web Resources
Georgianna Ziegler
Folger Shakespeare Library

Ziegler, Georgianna. "Women Writers Online: An Evaluation and Annotated Bibliography of Web Resources." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.3 (January, 2001): 8.1-7<URL:

  1. In his important study, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, Donald McKenzie broadens the notion of bibliographic study by opening out the concept of "text." Texts, he says, can comprise not only verbal, but also visual, oral, and numeric data in a whole variety of formats, not confined to ink and paper. Reprising Barthes, he notes that the origin of the word "text" itself, from the Latin texere, "to weave," emphasizes the web or texture, the process of construction, rather than any one material form (13). "What constitutes a text," he writes, "is not the presence of linguistic elements but the act of construction" (43). McKenzie's etymological uncovering is fortuitous, for it suggests an inherently feminized notion of "text" as something that is constructed like a piece of cloth woven by women. But where Barthes found the spider/author disappearing in the web, and Nancy Miller countered with her arachnologies, or feminist critical readings, to restore the female subject, McKenzie posits multiple "makers." "History simply confirms," he writes, "that quite new versions of a work which is not altogether dead, will be created, whether they are generated by its author, by its successive editors, by generations of readers, or by new writers" (37). New writers, I would add, who can now be film or video makers, electronic-text encoders, or anyone who manipulates texts on the computer screen.

  2. As the concept of "text" has broadened, then, so has the concept of "authorship," taking on the characteristics of a communal enterprise over time and space. But such notion of a joint creative subjectivity -- as we have recently been reminded by Jeffrey Masten and others -- is not new. Masten points to the collaborative nature of texts produced by the Elizabethan theatre, combining the work of several writers with revisions by copyists and others, not to mention improvisations by actors (Masten 14). But perhaps closer to our own notion of group creativity in the classroom is the evidence of an early modern communal manuscript tradition. The educated men and women at the home of Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches in Poitiers, for example, mounted a witty exchange of poems on the subject of a flea, their joint efforts in Latin, French, and Greek later published as La Puce de Madame des Roches in 1582. Or take the Aston family in seventeenth-century England whose anthologizing has been described by Margaret Ezell and Arthur Marotti. Constance Aston and her sister Gertrude compiled a manuscript collection of religious verse and of poems written by and about the family, intermixed with poems by well-known writers such as Ben Jonson and Richard Fanshawe. Their relative, Catherine Gage Aston "collected verse from the larger environment of print and manuscript." Selecting love poems by such authors as Raleigh, Shirley, Davenant, Dryden, and Katherine Philips, she arranged them anonymously among more obscure poems, giving them titles to suit their subjects, such as "Despair" or "Concealed Love," thereby creating a sort of personal Norton Anthology of English Poetry (see Marotti 51-52).

  3. What would Catherine Aston do in the twenty-first century as a student of early modern poetry with a computer? She would create a personal online library of poetry, what Paul Delany has termed a docuverse, "defined as a large collection of electronically stored and linked documents, connected to a computer network" (Delany 189). How can she use this docuverse differently from her manuscript book? A personal commonplace book allowed the compiler to choose what kinds of materials she would enter; it allowed her to select whole or partial pieces of verse, prose, pictures or music, to organize them as she saw fit, even to modify someone else's poem or compose a reply to it, and to invite friends to contribute items to the book. But once complete, there was no way to rearrange materials, other than cutting up the pages, and no way to add new items.

  4. By contrast, the docuverse allows practically unlimited manipulation of text. In the simplest exercise, Aston could compile an even larger collection of poetry online that would be searchable by any combination of words in order to retrieve just the poems she felt she needed on any given day. Feeling blue? -- put in words such as despair, sorrow, mourn, tears and voilà, a whole set of poems to weep by. But more sophisticated exercises are also available. Following the models set up by Delany, here are three ways in which an individual may interact with and enrich online texts: comparative, intertextual, literal, and oral / aural. Delany uses Joyce's Ulysses but I choose Mary Wroth's poetic sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. Some of my examples are hypothetical, since not all of these texts are yet available online, but a number of them are, including the sequence itself.

    The comparative model allows us to set the 1621 printed version of the poems from Wroth's prose romance, the Urania, side-by-side with an earlier manuscript version from the Folger (V.a.104). Presently, the 1621 version of the poems themselves is available in html markup from Renasence Editions at the University of Oregon http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/mary.html Full-text versions of the Folger manuscript and the Urania would allow comparison of textual variants as well as the effects of contextualization within the larger romance.

    The intertextual model links Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus with other contemporary sonnets by sixteenth and seventeenth-century writers, male and female, and with "the record of annotation and criticism" (Delany 196). The sequences of Daniel, Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Vittoria Colonna, Petrarch, Veronica Franco (selections), Louise Labé, Du Bellay, Ronsard, etc. are now available on the web. Our student, Catherine Aston, might select poems on similar themes and bring them together in one document where she could compare treatment of those themes by male and female, French, Italian and English poets. She could experiment herself, modernizing any of the sonnets or trying to write some of her own. She could provide a ready-glossary by links to the Early Modern English Dictionary site: http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/english/emed/emedd.html as well as to French and Italian dictionaries through AWeb of On-line Dictionaries: http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/rbeard/diction.html

    She could also annotate by linking to a Dictionary of Symbolism: http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/ and to a site with information on mythological figures: http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/ Finally, she could offer commentary of her own together with at least two online essays about Wroth's sonnet sequence by scholars Mary Moore and Jennifer Law : http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/sevenessay.htm#wroth

    The literal / aural model places Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus within the context of its time and place, as a product of English courtly society in the Stuart period. I am collapsing two of Delany's models into one here, because I feel strongly that the way a period looks and sounds is part of the social context offered by the literal model. Catherine, our student, might begin with the section on Mary Wroth in Luminarium, a site that provides information on Wroth and her works, as well as extensive information on James I and his milieu: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/wroth/ ; http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/james/index.html She could add more excellent information on the Stuart line, including portraits, from the British government's official Monarchy site: http://www.royal.gov.uk/history/scotland/stewart.htm#JAMESVI

    A site with English Baroque music allows her to hear the sounds of the period: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~davcooke/abbey.htm while Art History Resources on the Web provides a number of links to the visual arts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: http://witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHLinks2.html#Northern16, including embroidery: http://www.advancenet.net/~jscole/medembro.html

  5. In short, the web allows our student to collect texts, to intervene and modify them, to compare them with texts in other languages, to combine all of them with glossaries, notes, criticism, historical background, and the other arts into a personalized docuverse. She can share this docuverse with her friends, inviting them to visit her web site, just as the seventeenth-century Catherine Aston shared in a family project commonplace book. The web may even permit our student to view images of some of her chosen texts in the "original." Sites such as the Library of Congress, the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale, as well as many university libraries here and abroad are digitizing more of their rare and ephemeral items so that thousands of people can see them.

  6. I would like to end with a few words of caution, however. Computers may allow us to weave a richer and different kind of text than before, but such text-making is at present still very time consuming, requiring hours of searching on the web, where we are often frustrated by not finding exactly what we want. Many large repositories of rare materials such as the Folger, Huntington and Morgan libraries are moving slowly into digitization because such projects are very costly and their shelf-life is limited, requiring an on-going program for image-renewal. These institutions also realize that focus and depth are important to create digitized archives that will be useful to scholars. Good examples of what can be done are the electronic edition of Alciato's Book of Emblems and the site on "Shakespeare and the English Renaissance" at the University of Pennsylvania (see EMLS Jan. 2000). Even the docuverse created by an individual, however, needs constant tending to update web connections, and it is only as portable as a computer and an electrical outlet. We can't read it as easily in bed, or in the bath, or on the beach. We can't even share it easily in the company of friends -- have you ever tried to read off of someone else's computer screen while they are moving the cursor?

  7. Finally, there is something very personal about a book or manuscript that has actually been through people's hands. As Robert Darnton reminds us, "texts shape the response of readers." Referring to Walter Ong, he notes, "The opening pages of The Canterbury Tales and A Farewell to Arms create a frame and cast the reader in a role, which he cannot avoid no matter what he thinks of pilgrimages and civil wars." We need to remember that reading Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus in our docuverse is a different experience from reading it in Josephine Roberts' modern edition or seeing it in the pages of the 1621 original edition of the Urania. Many students will not have access to original seventeenth-century books, but whenever possible we need to take them into libraries and show them whatever early materials are available so that yet another dimension will be added to their experience of text-as-screen. Roger Chartier rightly reminds us how much "the book has been one of the most powerful metaphors used for conceiving of the cosmos, nature, and the human body" (49). If our students lose the notion of the book as codex, they will read only imperfectly the book on screen.

    Early Modern Women Online: An Annotated Bibliography

The following bibliography does not pretend to be exhaustive, but it will give scholars and interested students points of access to the vast resources of the web.

1. General Sites on Women Writers

2. Sites for Individual Women Writers

3. Sites for Women in Art and Music

4. Literary Mega-sites

5. Cultural Background Sites

1. General Sites on Women Writers

— A Celebration of Women Writers


A cross-cultural site -- including English, French, Italian and Spanish writers --with some nice features, maintained by Mary Mark Ockerbloom at the University of Pennsylvania. It offers multiple references to the same author under variant names and allows browsing by century. The site attempts to provide "a comprehensive listing of links to biographical and bibliographical information about women writers, and complete published books written by women," but you will probably find other online materials on some of these writers that are not linked to this site. Nevertheless, its list of writers’ names is impressive.

Brown Women Writers’ Project


This important project has created an online, searchable textbase of writings in English by women, 1400-1850. Known as Women Writers Online, the textbase is available by modest subscription to individuals or institutions. A subset of the textbase, Renaissance Women Online, still in development, will provide 100 texts with scholarly introductions and contextual essays. Printed paper copies of many of these texts may be ordered for classroom use. The related WWP-L Listserv is a discussion group of about 300 scholars that fields questions about teaching and researching women writers, offers information on conferences, calls for papers, new books and articles, and updates WWP’s latest projects. Instructions for joining may be found on the web site.

Early Modern French Women Writers' Project


This project at the University of Minnesota offers e-texts of writings by Christine de Pizan, Diane de Poitiers, Louise Labé, Marguerite de Navarre, Marie de Gournay, and Pernette du Guillet.

Emory Women Writers’ Project


Directed by Sheila Cavanagh, the site mounts edited and unedited texts by women writing in English from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. There is good coverage of seventeenth-century works by such writers as Aphra Behn, Judith Boulbie, Margaret Cavendish, Eleanor Douglas, Elizabeth I, Mary Evelyn, Margaret Fell Fox, Sarah Jinner, Anna Trapnell, Mary Waite, and Hannah Wolley.



Anniina Jokinen designed this beautiful site that features English writers with texts, images and music from the Middle Ages, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Women writers included are: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Elizabeth I, Mary Sidney, Aemilia Lanyer, and Lady Mary Wroth. There are useful links to other early modern sites.

Mateo – U of Mannheim


This German site has beautifully digitized books by and about women, including: a German 1544 ed. of Vives; Orationes, dialogi, epistolae... (1562) by Olympia Fulvia Morata; Solennia Hymni (1601) by Lorenza Strozzi; Epistolae et orationes (1636) by Cassandra Fedele; Epistolae (1640) by Laura Cereta; Opuscula Hebraea (1652) by Anna Maria van Schurman. Many of these editions include author portraits, and Morata’s book has a dedication to Elizabeth I.

Medieval Feminist Index


This excellent site, maintained at Haverford College, indexes "journal articles, book reviews, and essays in books about women, sexuality, and gender during the Middle Ages." Subjects indexed cover all aspects of medieval life from art and architecture to iconography, politics, religious life, sexuality, and women in literature. A special feature is "Article of the Month," highlighting an especially well-written and significant piece that would be useful for course readings.

Orlando Project


A Canadian initiative that complements the Brown Women Writers’ Project. They are developing a comprehensive scholarly history of British women’s writing that will appear in five printed volumes, divided chronologically: vol. 1 will cover writers to 1830. In addition, a searchable electronic textbase "will include all of the material in the printed volumes."

Perdita Project


Another initiative that complements the Brown WWP, Perdita is organized by Elizabeth Clarke, Martyn Bennett, and Victoria Burke at Nottingham Trent University. This project is producing a database guide to about 400 manuscript miscellanies and commonplace books by British women from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will offer bibliographic information and detailed descriptions of contents.

Renaissance Women Writers


The site of an online graduate seminar led by Janet Smarr of the U of Illinois. It offers galleries of images of holy women, noble patrons, writers, and women at work.

Renascence Editions


This site provides works printed in English from 1477 to 1799, including pieces by Elizabeth I, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Mary Sidney, Esther Sowernam, Rachel Speght, Phillis Wheatley, and Lady Mary Wroth.

2. Sites for Individual Women Writers

Margaret Cavendish


This is the site of the Margaret Cavendish Society with bibliographies, images, conference information, available online texts, etc.


This is the site of the journal Women's Writing. Through the index you can find full-text archives for the articles in their special issue on Margaret Cavendish, Vol. 4, no. 3, 1997.

Veronica Gambara


An Italian site with links to Ellen Moody’s translation of her Stanze and a discussion of her family, with a fine reproduction of a portrait attributed as her.

Elizabeth I


"The Life and Times of Queen Elizabeth I" is an attractive site with biographical information and a whole section on portraits, including other links. It is maintained by Heather Thomas, a graduate student in Elizabethan history. The bibliographies include biographies and fiction about Elizabeth.

See also Portraits of Elizabeth I under 3 below, and Tudor England under 5, below.

Louise Labé


This French site gives the full text of Labé's sonnets, with translations into English and several other languages of selected sonnets. It includes several other pieces by Labé as well. Twenty-seven poems by Labé and two by Catherine des Roches are also available at "Poésie Française": http://www.poesie.webnet.fr/

Aemilia Lanyer


Includes biography, bibliography, and the text of Salve Rex Judaeorum. The site is designed by Kari Boyd McBride at the University of Arizona.

Bathsua Makin


Provides the text of Makin’s An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen.

Gaspara Stampa, Rime


An Italian site with the text of Stampa’s Rime d’Amore.

International Marie de France Society


The site includes a bibliography listing both manuscripts and printed books of Marie de France’s works, and links to texts available online.

— Mary, Queen of Scots


Not a scholarly site, but it does have some good portraits and links.

— Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz


The site has a splendid colour portrait of Sor Juana in her library, as well as bibliography, exegesis, contextual background, and a link to a site in Bielefeld with a digitized version of her book, Fama y Obras.

Isabella Whitney


An online edition of Whitney’s A Sweet Nosegay made by the senior English students of Sara Jayne Steen at the University of Montana.

3. Sites for Women in Art and Music

The art sites are useful for finding works by women artists and for finding portraits of early women.

— Women Artists of Early Modern Europe,


A Women’s Studies project from the University of Arizona that has papers with biographical information on a number of early women artists.

— Women Artists in History


This web site is creating a listing of women artists with links to other sites for reproductions of their works; searching by century is available, and there are a number of links to such online resources as Illustrations of Historical Women Artists, and Portraits of Women by Women from Cal State at Pomona. The site also includes the responses of modern women artists to earlier artists, so make sure you are clear about what you are viewing!



— CGFA - Carol Gerton Fine Arts


These two mega art sites provide access to thousands of reproductions by artists available on the web. ArtCyclopedia allows browsing of 6,000 artists by subject, medium or nationality. Under subject/ portraits, for example, artists are listed chronologically. Portraits of women may be found, but only by choosing individual artists to see which of their paintings are available. Two examples are the portrait of Lady Harington (1592) by Marcus Gheeraerts, and the portrait of Lady Kytson (1573) by by George Gower, both at the Tate. Carol Gerton’s terrific site allows searching by nationality and date.

Portraits of Elizabeth I


Features a large collection of excellent portraits of Elizabeth in various media and from different periods.

A whole page of portraits of Elizabeth, along with Mary Tudor and Henry VIII.


Portrait of Elizabeth I at fourteen.


Miniature of Elizabeth with the seven Graces, attributed to Hilliard, the Dover Museum.


Portrait of Elizabeth by Hilliard, c1584, British Museum

Early Music Women Composers

This excellent site includes a Tour of Women’s Early Music History, a Chronology of Composers and Annotated CD Discography, recommended CDs, and parallel paintings by women artists. It is also possible to listen to some of the music.

4. Literary Mega-Sites

These sites provide links to a wide range of literary and background materials on the web, including information on women writers.

Ceres: Cambridge English Renaissance Electronic Service


Sponsored by the English Faculty at Cambridge University, this site offers links to other related sites, an online newsletter and publication projects.

Literary Resources on the Net


Maintained by Jack Lynch at Rutgers University, this is one of the top sites providing access to a rich variety of web resources covering periods from antiquity to the modern, in English and other languages. There is a special section on "Women’s Literature and Feminism."

Electronic Text Collections in Western European Literature


Designed by the Western European Specialists of the Assoc. of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), this site provides links to online literary texts in western languages other than English.

Gallica Classique


A site from the Bibliothèque Nationale providing full-text editions published in the nineteenth century of French writers, searchable by period. Early women writers represented are: Pernette du Guillet, Marguerite d’Angoulême (de Navarre), Marie de Gournay, Madame de Lafayette, and Mme de Sévigné.

The Voice of the Shuttle


The major site for resources in the Humanities, maintained by Alan Liu. It provides hundreds of links to sites for everything from architecture, cultural studies and history, to literature, music and dance and women’s studies. Because the site is so large, not all of the connecting addresses are up-to-date, but Liu is glad to know about any that do not work.

5. Cultural Background Sites

— Art History Resources on the Web


Maintained by Bruce Witcombe, Prof. of Art History at Sweet Briar College, this site offers sections on Renaissance and Baroque art with links to other sites, including museums.

— The British Monarchy


An official site of the British government, providing biographical information as well as portraits.

— Early Modern Italian Renaissance


A site offering art, history, literature, and cartography of the Italian Renaissance, as well as links to other sources.

Early Music FAQ


Advertised as "the largest reference for Medieval and Renaissance music on the web," this site provides good introductions to the music of various nationalities, as well as information on CDs and concerts.

Elizabethan Costume Page


This excellent site contains information on the construction of garments, British and European dress, sumptuary laws, embroidery,

English Baroque Composers


The site allows you to listen to a sampling of music by eleven composers from Blow to Purcell.

Medieval/Renaissance Embroidery


An amateur but good site for information and images of early embroidery styles.

— New Advent


A major site for Catholic studies, providing the full text of the Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as the Church Fathers, and the Summa Theologica. One can search, for example, Catherine de Medici, Catherine of Siena, and Maria de Agreda, seventeenth-century author of La mística ciudad de Dios.

Resources de la Civilisation Française


A site providing a number of links to online resources on French history and literature, divided by period.

Tudor England


A handsome site maintained by Lara Eakin, providing information on rulers from Henry VII through Mary Tudor, Jane Grey, and Elizabeth I, as well as information on Tudor history and daily life, and a selection of historic documents. The many portraits make this site an especially important pictorial source.


Another site by a Tudor history fanatic, with all sorts of useful information and excellent pictures. It includes material on Mary, Queen of Scots, which tudor.simplenet does not. Among the primary sources are speeches by Ann Boleyn, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth, as well as poems and a few letters by Elizabeth.


Works Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2001-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).