International Women’s Day 2024 Feature: Dr. Susan Brown | College of Arts

International Women’s Day 2024 Feature: Dr. Susan Brown

Posted on Friday, March 1st, 2024

International Women's Day. Dr. Susan Brown.
Dr. Susan Brown

Dr. Susan Brown is a professor teaching in both English in the School of English and Theatre Studies (SETS) and in the interdisciplinary Culture and Technology Studies program in the College of Arts at the University of Guelph. Well-renowned for her work in the field of Digital Humanities, Brown holds the Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Collaborative Digital Scholarship which sponsors The Humanities Interdisciplinary Collaboration (THINC) Lab, home to DH@Guelph and the Intersectional Feminism/Interdisciplinary Feminism (IF) Series.

During an interview with the College of Arts’ Marketing and Communications team, Brown explained that Digital Humanities is “about both using technology to solve problems and do research and teaching in the humanities in new ways using digital tools, but also very much about turning a critical lens on those tools and thinking about how they shape the way we do our work [and what] we need as Humanities scholars to do the work that we want to do.” Brown has pioneered many projects which are reshaping literary history by leveraging technological tools. Brown explained that these projects were conceived through her work on the connection between First-Wave Feminism and women’s writing and trying to articulate the ways in which new ways of thinking about identity and new ways of being a political subject emerged from 19th-century literature and writing by women in particular.

Upon embarking on her academic journey to pursue an English Literature degree and remarking that there were very few women professors, Brown resolved to strive for change and aim to improve representation for women in literary criticism and history. Reflecting on a pivotal point for her in university, Brown stated, “There were a lot of women writers out there. They published a lot. Sometimes they sold a lot more than men did, but they were not in the curriculum. They were not in the textbooks. [It was a time] when Second-Wave Feminism was starting [to question] a lot of the ways the discipline operated, and it was exciting to be part of that.”

Brown recalled a milestone period in her extensive career when she received a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to create a generalized version of the next generation of infrastructure that became Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC). Brown explained that CWRC was a virtual research environment. She continued, “[the underlying software for CWRC] was normally used for repositories [for libraries] to take big volumes of digitized texts and make them available online, and we customized that to make it into a much more interactive environment where researchers could create projects, upload content, edit their content and collaborate on working on projects.” Brown stated that CWRC was not only about providing a space where research using semantic technologies could take place but also helped projects focused on women’s writing interlink with one another.

Brown also shared insights into other impactful projects in which she has been actively engaged, such as the Orlando Project, a born-digital textbase which she explained was named after Orlando, the main character in and the title of one of the first novels of Virginia Woolf, a prominent early feminist critic and author. In honour of Women’s History Month, the Orlando Project will be Open Access on the Cambridge University Press website during the month of March, Brown mentioned. Individuals can visit the University of Alberta's Orlando Project web page to learn more about how to access the Orlando Project this month. Brown was recently awarded the Roberto Busa Prize for her innumerable contributions to the field of Digital Humanities, including the Orlando Project, which she noted is “one of the longest running Digital Humanities projects in the world”. According to the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations website, "the Roberto Busa Prize is named in honour of Roberto Busa and is given to recognize outstanding lifetime/career achievement in the application of information and communications technologies to humanities research.” Read the blog post that Brown published in response to winning the prize.

Brown explained that a major part of the Orlando Project involves encoding semantic tags in literary texts, enabling efficient analysis of patterns of various elements within the texts. She shared that a tag for the destruction of literary works is one of her favorite examples of the insights this project provides. Brown elaborated that she helped to develop a way to analyze behavioural patterns over the span of literary history from the Middle Ages to the present in the context of the destruction of literary works of women writers. Brown remarked that upon analysis of these patterns over this time period, it became clear that women writers were increasingly destroying their own works, whereas their works were predominantly destroyed by male figures in earlier years. She highlighted that this change demonstrates a rising sense of agency and power among women throughout history.

Ever devoted to advancing collaborative digital scholarship, Brown has recently played a leadership role in the creation of the Linked Infrastructure for Networked Cultural Scholarship (LINCS). According to Brown, LINCS is “an extensive suite of tools and workflows for creating what's often called linked open data to contribute to the semantic web [and empower] researchers to experiment with these technologies because the infrastructure required is [too complex for most people] to manage on their own.” Described by Brown as “an infrastructure for creating linked open data across an even broader range of disciplines than CWRC,” this project tackles diversity and equity issues existing in the realm of information systems.

Exuding resilience and dedication to her work, Brown reflected that the Orlando, CWRC, and LINCS projects formed the core of her journey towards receiving the Roberto Busa Prize, sharing that the challenges she encountered with these projects were at the heart of much of her research. Brown’s contributions to literary history scholarship and to Digital Humanities are innumerable. She stands as a trailblazer in her areas of research, advocating for inclusive digital spaces and recognizing the invaluable contributions of women in academia.