Anna Menyhért: Women Writers on the Net: Cultural Memory in the Digital Age

Women writers have been poorly endowed by Hungarian literary history for a long time. The twentieth century allowed only the first half of Sándor Bródy’s prophecy of 1904 to come true, or maybe not even that: “Literary history – as it is being written by men after all – will be unpleasant to women writers, but if it wants to draw a clear picture it will have to take them into account.” (Jövendő, 1904/15.) Rarely has literary history taken women writers into account since then, not even in cases when they were definitely well known and renowned in their own era. As a consequence, schoolbooks used in our contemporary secondary education introduce only two women writers across the millennia: Sappho and Ágnes Nemes Nagy. (I wrote about this issue in depth in my monograph Women’s Literary Tradition; the Preface explores the reasons for the amnesia.)

During the last few decades the rediscovery of women writers has started in Hungary as well. Discovery and publications of unpublished texts, critical and philogical studies, essays and monographs enriched research results. The digital age has provided momentum to the process. In the framework of digital humanities the results of philological research have become easily accessible for public and educational purposes as well.

For the members of the Y generation (people born between 1980–1945) and Z genaration (those born after 1996) the natural way of keeping in touch and obtaining information is digital communication, browsing, chatting, using and following links. Staying on the net is part of everyday life as well as posting and sharing in social media. Digital selves are the organic parts of identities. Our website draws on the above characteristics when providing information aimed at these generations. Women Writers on the Net imitates a social media site: we have developed a ’Facebook’ of early twentieth century women writes, using a network of connections and acquaintances, in hypertext. Information is conveyed via multi-focused blocks in the visual space of the screen.

Digital memory as an online means of communication allows for radically novel ways of remembering comparing to those we used to be used to. Due to the shareability of personal memories the personal becomes collective and remembering becomes a social activity during which parallel, even opposing versions of history come into being. There can be official versions of the past, some of them created for ideological purposes as propaganda, and at the same time communal, or even individual versions become accessible and shareable via the internet. This diversity can result in, on the one hand, both the freedom of choice, and the livening of dialogue, and, on the other hand, in increased uncertainty and withdrawal.

Thus, when introducing women writers, our website draws attention to the diversity and of the created and to be construed character of (digital) memory. We can know about women’s literature what is conveyed to us via a medium and is consequently becomes accessible, because somebody considered that certain piece of information or that knowledge worth processing and conveying, or, later, sharing. All this implies that digital ways of remembering and commemoration presuppose work that is being done both – although at different scales – by researchers and those browsing the internet and sharing content. This collective digital activity is the means by which previously forgotten women writers become visible and women’s literature becomes part of the diverse literary traditions in the digital age.

Impressum

This website was set up in the framework of a research project funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation (NKFI) Fund (OTKA PD 104264) titled “Women Writers and Their Publishing Platforms in the Turn-Of-the-Century Hungary”, led by Anna Menyhért. The website was designed by Erika Kapus, with Eszter Balogh as assistant to the project. 

Women Writers on the Net introduces twelve Hungarian women writers, Minka Czóbel, Anna Lesznai, Renée Erdős, Irén Gulácsy, Terka Lux, Emma Ritoók, Fruzina Szalay, Szikra (Sándorné Teleki), Cecile Tormay, Anna Tutsek, Janka Wohl, and Stefánia Wohl, imitating the workings of social media sites. We digitized archival material in the following categories: Texts, Bibliography, Reviews, Excerpts, Journals, Gallery, Acquaintances, Era, Café.

We would like to thank the NKFI Fund for their support, the NKFI staff – Dr. Árvácska Sárpátki, the head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, and her collegaues, Veronika Csóti, Krisztina Mátrai, Dr. István Szigeti – for their help during the project period: whenever we encountered administrative problems we could rely on their professional problem solving skills. 

We are grateful to the NKFI Scientific Panel of Literature and Philology, led by Enikő Bollobás, for the insightful comments we received in connection with our yearly reports that helped to re-think our progress. 

We are also grateful to the members of the Trauma and Gender in Literature and Culture Research Group for their help. We would especially like to thank Zsolt Mészáros for his many ideas, documents, and information he provided. We are grateful to Edit Zsadányi for her essay on women writers, to Edit Zsadányi and Zsolt Mészáros for the bibliography. Special thanks to Anna Han for all the paintings from her collections which we used for our prezi about art in the era, and to Zsigmond Ritoók for the personal letters of Emma Ritoók. Furthermore, we owe thanks to Ferenc Marczali, who was with us for a brief period, to Bori Györe who assisted the project almost to the end, and to Károly Vajda, who helped us out in the final phase of the work.  

We are grateful to the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and to the University Library of the Eötvös Loránd University, for the institutional help and for making it possible to use their infrastucture for digitization of archival materials and old documents, with special thanks for the invaluable help of the librarians and archivists.  

We would like to thank the Faculty of Humanites of Eötvös Loránd University and the Institute of Cultural Studies and Hungarian Literature for hosting our project. Special thanks to Lóránd Scheirich at the Finance Office who was responsible for the administrative issues of our project. 

dancingmicAudio recording of the talk Anna Menyhért gave on women’s literary tradition at the Centre For Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at Cambridge University, in the framework of the seminar series Places of Amnesia in in January 2015.

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