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It’s pretty obvious that one of the many problems in studying history by relying on the print record is that writers of books are disproportionately male.
Data can give some structure to this view. Not in the complicated, archival-silences filling way–that’s important, but hard–but just in the most basic sense. How many women were writing books? Do projects on big digital archives only answer, as Katherine Harris asks, “how do men write?” Where were gender barriers strongest, and where weakest? Once we know these sorts of things, it’s easy to do what historians do: read against the grain of archives. It doesn’t matter if they’re digital or not.
We just rolled out a new version of Bookworm (now going under the name “Bookworm Open Library”) that works on the same codebase as the ArXiv Bookworm released last month. The most noticeable changes are a cleaner and more flexible UI (mostly put together for the ArXiv by Neva Cherniavksy and Martin Camacho, and revamped by Neva to work on the OL version), couple with some behind-the-scenes tweaks that should make it easy to add new Bookworms on other sets of texts in the future. But as a little bonus, there’s an additional metadata category in the Open Library Bookworm we’re calling “author gender.”
[The American Antiquarian Society conference in Worcester last weekend had an interesting rider on the conference invitation–they wanted 500 words from each participant on the prospects for independent research libraries. I’m posting that response here.]
Here’s the basic idea:
A quick follow-up on this issue of author gender.
In my last post, I looked at first names as a rough gauge of author gender to see who is missing from libraries. This method has two obvious failings as a way of finding gender: