Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year-end overview

The final quarter of the year. A good one for Mary Wollstonecraft, and not a bad one for this blog.

From October to December, we saw talks about Mary delivered (to the Women's Institute, once called "the acceptable face of feminism", and the Fawcett Society, no doubt likewise) and promised (to the London Socialist Historians). Another talkfest to look forward to is a conference in Florida, complementing the philosophers' confab in Sweden, both on the same day in February, to commemorate the 220th anniversary of the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Books have grown more expensive over the centuries: two academic ones I found were eye-wateringly so, indeed kidney-sellingly so.

More cheeringly, in the autumn we've covered artistic projects, upside down in New York and right way up in Bradford. A substantial triumph was the broadcasting of the Dutch Humanist TV programme which devoted an episode to Mary's philosophy and her impact on our times. Here's an overview with a bit about me, the amusing animated biography with translation (and great comments), and the entire half-hour episode. We had a surprise hit with the paper doll dress-up (plus image, later), and we are not short of fun distractions such as Fakebook and more zombies. I've staked my claim on Tumblr, though if I ever use it, 'twill only be with the help of that Chicago anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre (a Lost Daughter of whom I wrote half a year ago). I closed 2011 by sharing a lovingly created resource, London Remembers, which lists some of the memorials to Mary.

Of course, it cannot list the statue to her on Newington Green, because that is still in the planning stages. It has been a good few months for Mary on the Green.  I wrote up an overview early on in the autumn, but soon this had to be updated, with the big splash of the projection of her image onto the Houses of Parliament and the welcome announcement of winning more than £6000.

As for actual blogstuff:

Over October, November, and December there have been 26 posts, including this one; perhaps an average of two updates a week is sustainable. 

The pageviews in the last month are 6862; those from all time are 18 449. So a little over a third of all views have been in the last quarter. If we assume that each page is viewed for a minute (and yes, that is a number plucked from the air; I'd welcome any better analytics), then this blog is providing an hour and a quarter of amusement and edification each day. Perhaps the balance has tipped, and it is now giving as much to the world as I am giving to it, purely in terms of time. On the one hand these seem like large numbers; the vast majority of my readers are unknown to me; comments are few. (Please say hello! At the foot of a post, or by email, or on Twitter @RobertaWedge.)  On the other hand, the numbers look puny. My only real outreach is on Twitter, where @1759MaryWol1797 has over a thousand followers; I haven't tackled the blogosphere with any strategy. To do, to do. 

Top ten posts, overall:
  1. Mary's story, for those new to her - nearly 1000 views
  2. A first attempt at translation (of the Vindication) - over 500
  3. Mary on the Houses of Parliament
  4. Written on the body; or, wearing one's heart on one's epidermis - the tattoo
  5. Mary and the Slutwalk
  6. Mary in St Pancras
  7. Formal Fawcetts fall for first feminist
  8. Statues in Canada
  9. Mary on the Green
  10. Mary, molls, and modesty
Some of the search terms that people typed into Google (these are not the common ones, but they made me smile):
  • did jane austen read mary wollstonecraft 
  • statues with hats
and my favourite
  • gay cruising spots in somers town, st. pancras, uk 
To which Google responds:
Tip: These results include the word "sex". Show results that include only "cruising".
(It can only be because I described the site of Mary's first grave as holding a memorial to another Famous Dead Bisexual Woman. "Bisexual" plus "cemetery" probably triggers the algorithm.)

As for new skills, I learned how to embed video. It's tricky, because mean ol' Google-owned Blogger only allows Google-owned YouTube videos, not even uploads from files one holds, and certainly not from rival video hosting site Vimeo. Twitter provided helpful advice, and the unabridged 30 minutes was somehow transferred by the Humanists onto YT, and thus I got to embed the whole thing. I think this is a small step forward.

And a big step into the new year. What will 2012 hold for this blog, and for Mary Wollstonecraft's legacy around the world?  Her spirit stirs, and projects perculate!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

London remembers, with modesty

There's an excellent site I have not yet written about: London Remembers, with the broad brave ambition, touchingly modestly worded, of "aiming to capture all memorials in London". The page on Mary Wollstonecraft gives a brief biography, with dates, categories ("seriously famous" - love it!), a picture*, and a list of places where Our Lady is commemorated. Note: not places she is associated with, such as the church of her baptism, or, at a stretch of the imagination, the Women's Library. To populate the website with the associations of historical figures would cast the net unfeasibly wide; I quite see that. So only three memorial places appear: the newest plaque, at Newington Green; the oldest, at Somers Town; and the nearby mural on the school wall.  St Pancras Church and churchyard do not feature: graves per se don't fall within the project's purlieu, or it would become impossibly unwieldy. (It is plain gravestones that don't count as memorials: impressive memorials do, hence Soane's family tomb, and so does the St Pancras sundial-spire commemorating the churchyard's other Famous Dead Bisexual Woman, Angela Burdett-Coutts.)

The page has an embedded Google Map (another blogstuff thing I've been meaning to do for a year), and, perhaps the most intriguing box, "Related Subjects". It turns up both gems and puzzles -- alluring, distracting, a way to while away an hour very happily indeed. Frances Mary Buss, of Miss Beale and Miss Buss, the pioneering educators of girls, I can totally understand, but William Johnson Cory? Why -- because his name includes "Johnson"? The Royal College of Opthalmologists? Mary didn't even wear glasses. Call in the algorithm-tweaker! (Now *there's* a necromancer's modern trade!)

London Remembers has its lacunae (not all the MW plaques, for instance -- Southwark is missing) and some teething problems limitations (why are comments restricted to Facebook and Hotmail users?), but it can only grow in strength. It's another great resource for exploring one of the world's greatest cities, even if you are in the Kenyan rainforest or the Vietnamese snow, both places pulling me in this grey dim winter.

*Opie, credited only to Spartacus, which is weird.
Update, mid-January. The more I nose around this site, the more I find to fascinate. I love its sense of humour! "Caveat: Be aware that London actually has more cars, more rain and less sun than our photos show." And, as above, its humility: "we don't think we will ever achieve but we will enjoy the attempt" of trying to find all the memorials. I've tweaked the entry above, to reflect changes made, and to correct my own ignorance. London Remembers is deliberately a work in progress, "doomed to remain incomplete (where does London stop?) but certainly will grow and grow", and "so far we have found 9,744 subjects (people, events, etc.) on 2,321 memorials, at 1,815 sites." The site is not new at all, as I had originally thought, but about ten years old, with a wealth of data collected. It is newly relaunched, and I have only just discovered it.

From the page "Do we need your help?":
By now you either think we are crazy to be doing this or you're fascinated and would love to help. In the past we have thought we’d like an army of volunteers doing all the desk research, leaving us free to get out on the streets and do what we really enjoy – finding the memorials and in the process getting to know this cranky old city. But organising people, teaching the system, the house style, etc, it all takes time, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it's best for us to do the whole job. But if you can provide information for any of the war dead about whom we know nothing then we would be delighted. Pictures especially welcome.

Who are these crazy people anyway?
It probably doesn't need stating, but this website is not a commercial concern; it is a hobby. We started collecting data about London memorials in 1999, because we enjoyed walking and cycling around the city, finding out about its history, geography and architecture. We plotted them on maps because we find maps endlessly fascinating and enjoy using them.
The team behind London Remembers is a mysterious "we", but bound to be small: I am utterly in favour of amateur endeavours, and Mary values modesty. They are so much not a commercial endeavour that the site is entirely free of ads. Charming, compelling, educational, visually appealing, easy to navigate... I could go on. I am reminded of what Robert Louis Stevenson said affectionately of Modestine at the end of  his Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes - "Her faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own." The faults of London Remembers  are those quirky oddities we all recognise in a labour-of-love website; its virtues are its own.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Florida in February

23 February 2012 is the 220th anniversary of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (translation for the curious). A Scandinavian collaboration has planned a one-day philosophical symposium to be held at Lund, although the event website does not mention why the date was chosen. More explicitly to mark the occasion, our American cousins are also hosting a conference, twice as long, entitled "Mary Wollstonecraft: Legacies". Janet Todd will be giving the keynote, but all the other speakers appear to be working in the USA, with half from the University of Florida itself.

I note that the conference will be taking place in the main building of the Center for Women's Studies & Gender Research. It was designed in 1919 as the Women's Gymnasium, and I find a fitting link to the mid-nineteenth century German Gymnasium around the corner from Mary's first grave, and equidistant from it and the British Library. Have a look at the strapping young lasses at the botom of this post of Old St Pancras, and think of the Wollstonecraft words: "I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body". I like to think she would be amused.

February is an excellent time to visit Florida. The last time I ventured there was around that season: I fled a bleak northern midwinter, on a quest for academe and apple trees, in another century.

[Correction, mid Feb 2012: The building was opened in 1919 as a men's sporting venue, according to Wikipedia, and only became the women's gymnasium in 1948, when UF became co-educational. Also, it now appears that Janet Todd will not be appearing. Oh well.]
Full blurb:
The Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research will host a conference on February 23-24, 2012 to commemorate the 220th anniversary of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a text that has had profound influence on political modernity and on continuing discussions about feminist thought. This conference follows our inaugural conference on Simone de Beauvoir (February 10-11, 20111), and is the second in a series that will commemorate the re-reading of key feminist texts and the legacies of major feminist thinkers.
Professor Janet Todd of Cambridge University will deliver the keynote address. Other presenters include Anne Mellor, UCLA, Kari Lokke, UC-Davis, Wendy Gunther-Canada, UA-Birmingham, and Dan O’Neill, Sheryl Kroen, and Danaya Wright from UF.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), the Office of Research, the Levin College of Law, the Office of the Dean (CLAS), the Albert Brick Chair, and the Department of Political Science.
And a reminder of the binational co-sponsors of the Lund event: from Sweden, Understanding Agency (Conceptions of Action, Human Nature and Value in the Western Philosophic Tradition); and from Finland, the Philosophical Psychology, Morality and Politics Research Unit at the Universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä. (And speakers from Birmingham - the British one - and Bilkent.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Life grows more animated

Recently I was able to share with you the two-minute animation of Mary Wollstonecraft's life that begins the Dutch humanist TV programme on her philosophy and legacy. Only this brief clip was available, because Blogger restricts video uploads to YouTube, and YourTube restricts uploads to 15 minutes - or so we thought. Twitter sprang to the rescue with a work-around, and now the whole thing can be viewed here:

I am delighted to report that Dutch humanists are so egalitarian that they do not fob off the petty tasks by job rank. Instead, I have it on excellent authority that the head of the whole "Dare to Think" endeavour,  Eveline van Dijck, took upon herself the tedium of uploading the episode to YouTube. So yes, dear reader, the entire half hour of Mary Wollstonecraft can now be seen on the web's favourite video-sharing site: the charming animated biography, my Twitter conversation with Leon Heuts the philosopher-journalist, the animated-in-the-other-sense studio discussion, the day-in-the-life-of  two contemporary feminists,  Marieke Bax, a high-powered executive in a chauffeured car,  and Maruja Remijn Bobo, a gender studies lecturer on a classic bicycle with toddler accessories.  

The video is also available on Vimeo, where I can see captions (kindly explained in Marjorie's comments on my blogpost). And in case you'd forgotten, we've tracked the progress of this project from April's first contact to June's Twitter conversation, from September's press release to October's broadcast, from November's partial translation to December's partial animation. So count today's post, and the successful upload, as a winter solstice present to us all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Portraits & quotes on Tumblr

In trying to get to grips with Tumblr, I came across a compilation of images of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter. If you like portraiture, have a look. That is one person's curation. Another place offers a list of posts, mostly quotes, tagged with "Mary Wollstonecraft". Someone else has written about the Mary on the Green Parliamentary projection. And oh look, now I have a Tumblr too. But do I really want one? What is it all for? That is the question.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Touch Mary, virtually

The Shelley-Godwin Archive, which we looked at six months ago when they won $300 000 from the US National Endowment for the Humanities, is now hiring two part-time text encoders to get to grips with all that lovely raw text, some of it presumably Mary Wollstonecraft's. The money has been channelled via the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities ("an applied think tank for the digital humanities"), and the work can be done virtually, according to the job description:
The Text Encoders will be responsible for producing XML-encoded transcription of materials from The New York Public Library (NYPL), the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and the British Library according to the widely-adopted Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard.
David Brookshire writes on the MITH blog:
As we continue to think through the kinds of features we want to incorporate into the Archive, we would welcome your thoughts about what you would find most useful when working with manuscript sources in a digital environment.
(Thanks to Marjorie Burghart for bringing this to my attention; she is up to her paleographic elbows in the TEI: more here.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life grows animated

Hurray! Here at last is the charming animated biography, just a couple of minutes long, prepared by the Humanist TV station for their episode on Mary Wollstonecraft, part of a series of twelve great philosophers from Socrates to Sartre. An unofficial translation is available, but trust me, you don't need any Dutch to understand and enjoy the whiz through Our Lady's life from abusive childhood to literary triumph, from Newington Green to Paris and always back to London. All the crucial names are there: Fanny Blood, Joseph Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gilbert Imlay, William Godwin, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

(Blogstuff: I mentioned that the episode was available on Vimeo, but as Blogger only allows YouTube videos -- not even uploads from one's own computer -- I thought I would not be able to provide the clip. Trusty researcher Josephine Krikke came to the rescue, emailing me the link to the YouTube version. So far only this short segment of the broadcast is on YT, but if the production team does decide to put the whole episode there, I'll be happy to host it here, and hope to pull in a few more viewers to their excellent project. If TV in your country isn't doing thought-provoking programmes like this, ask the powers that be why not.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Journalist or socialist? A talk

I have been invited by Keith Flett, of the Beard Liberation Front, to address the London Socialist Historians Group, and have chosen as my subject "Mary Wollstonecraft: Journalist, socialist, or somewhere else on the political spectrum?" This is based on a hand-written commendation solicited from Melvyn Bragg: it took some cryptography to crack the inky code, and we got stuck on the phrase "she was an inspirational <squiggle>". One faction held to the view that <squiggle> was a journalist, whilst the other maintained it was a socialist. Meanwhile, on Twitter I have people telling me they see her as a libertarian.  It seems a good opportunity to explore the issues.

So, a date for your diary: Monday 19 March 2012 at 5.30pm. The talk is at the Institute of Historical Research, in Senate House on Malet Street WC1. It's all part of the University of London.