Authored By: Michelle Levy and Kandice Sharren 

Edited By: Brenna Duperron and Sara Penn

Submitted By: 25/11/2020

Citation: Levy, Michelle, and Kandice Sharren. "Aims and Objectives." The Women's Print History Project, 25 November 2020,


The Women’s Print History Project gathers detailed bibliographical data about female involvement in British print culture during one of its most tumultuous periods, as print production exploded, print authorship expanded, and new forms of publication and new genres of writing emerged. Over the past five decades, feminist scholarship about the period has been centered on recovering the writing of a number of important female authors, including Jane Austen, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Sarah Fielding, Felicia Hemans, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Smith. But these women remain an exceptional minority—exceptional because they continue to be read and studied now. We know that during the period under examination, many other women also entered the print marketplace as authors and some of them achieved literary reputations and fortunes equivalent to the well-known female and male authors of the day, but we do not know how many of them there were, what kinds of books they wrote, how often their books were reprinted, and what kind of an impact they had on the output of the printing press. Beyond a few dozen female writers, we know little about the numerous successful and prolific female authors, whose works are no longer read today. We know even less about the hundreds of women who made brief appearances in print, let alone the many women involved in avenues of book production other than authorship. We are invested in recovering information about women active in the book trades; a search of our current female firms may be found here. We also lack a clear sense of women’s longevity in print. The data we have collected begins the work of bringing these women and their titles to light.

In tracking women’s involvement in the making and circulation of books, this project seeks to acknowledge the distributive and collaborative nature of bookmaking itself. By expanding our understanding of women’s engagement with print culture, we look beyond authorship to collect data about women’s involvement as editors, translators, engravers, publishers, booksellers and printers. Although much of this information is hard to recover, we have found that by using existing resources and by looking for evidence of women in the making of books systematically, we have been able to find far more women and far more women's books that we ever thought we would. By creating this bibliography, we uncover a much more quantitatively significant history of women's engagement with books, and construct a much wider conception of women’s books. 

The WPHP remediates and augments existing bibliographical sources to create new bibliographical data. As Michael Suarez notes in the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain 1695–1830, scholars of the long eighteenth-century “are fortunate in the wealth of bibliographical and book-historical scholarship at their disposal” (Suarez, 2009). However, much of this data has not been aggregated and is not accessible in computational form. Rather, it exists scattered across many resources, collected to different standards: in printed bibliographies, online catalogues, full-text databases (both public and commercial), as well as in the printed books and related materials located in libraries across the UK and North America. To date, there has been no effort to bring together the information that does exist across these different resources, and, by augmenting and verifying it, to bring it within a single resource that can be used by scholars. 

With this data, we anticipate that many hitherto unanswered (and in some cases unasked) questions about women’s contributions to print can be resolved. While we will never uncover every instance of female authorship, existing research on anonymity in the novel and poetry (Erikson, 2002; Feldman, 2002) suggest that it was a genre-specific phenomenon and far less likely for women whose work received even a modicum of popularity. With extant bibliographies of the novel (Garside and Raven) and poetry (Jackson), moreover, many puzzles about anonymous authorship have been resolved. As such, we can now present a reasonably broad and accurate portrait of women's extensive engagements with book culture, such that we can now ask and offer more than tentative answers to questions such as: how many female authors published more than one book in their lifetimes? How often their books reached second editions or more. How common it was for female authors to change publishers over the course of their careers? With the exception of the novel, about which the most work has been done, we have no clear sense of patterns in women’s printed output over time, but with our data, answers to these questions come within reach.

Much of the historical work that has been done on women’s involvement in the book trade points to a decrease in activity after the start of the eighteenth century, accompanied by an increase in women entering print as authors (Bracken and Silver, 1995; Grundy, 2009; Maruca, 2001; McDowell, 1998, 2000; Mitchell, 1995). The one exception to this scholarly trend, which our data so far has confirmed, is Hannah Barker, who in a 1997 essay contests the assumption that “middle-class women … were increasingly likely to dissociate themselves from the world of business as time progressed,” and the belief that women who did engage in the book trades over the course of the century worked only “temporar[ily and were] and atypical” (90). Thus far, we have found considerable evidence for women's involvement in book making and distribution, with WPHP beginning the work of systematically identifying and collecting bibliographical information about these women and their books. For us, the imprint field, as well as colophons and publisher catalogues (to date, we have not found a single extant archive of a female publisher, bookseller or printer) contain rich sources of information about the women who made and sold books. We of course wish we had more archival information and acknowledge that many of the activities of women in the book trades will remain unrecoverable. Nevertheless, the hundreds of women we have found active in the trades, and the thousands of books they had a hand in printing, publishing and selling, offer a fertile beginning for reconstructing their contributions to the history of print and their involvement in commercial networks. The WPHP can thus serve as a potential act of feminist recovery by drawing attention to activities beyond authorship, a more inclusive procedure that captures women of lower class status and who, thus far, have been overlooked in narratives of the professionalizing women writer.

Our aim in creating and making public this bibliography is to make it pliant to quantitative analysis on larger and smaller scales—to enable a detailed account of “bookmaking humanity” (Eliot 284) that is inclusive of women.


Works Cited

Barker, Hannah. “Women, Work and the Industrial Revolution: Female Involvement in the English Printing Trades, c. 1700-1840.” Gender in Eighteenth-Century England. London, 1997, pp. 81-99.

Bracken, J.K., and Joel Silver, eds. "The British Literary Book Trade, 1700-1820." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Gale, 1995, pp. 154.

Eliot, Simon. “Very Necessary but Not Quite Sufficient: A Personal View of Quantitative Analysis in Book History.” Book History, vol. 5, 2002, pp. 283-93 (284). 

Erikson, Lee. “‘Unboastful Bard’: Originally Anonymous English Romantic Poetry Book Publication, 1770-1835.” New Literary History, vol. 33, no. 2, Spring 2002, pp. 247-78.

Feldman, Paula R. “Women Poets and Anonymity in the Romantic Era.” New Literary History, vol. 33, no. 2, 2002, pp. 279-89.

Garside, P., Mandal, A., Ebbes, V., Schöwerling, R. “The English Novel 1830-1836 A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in Britain and Ireland.” 

Garside, P., Raven, J and Schöwerling, R., eds. The English novel, 1770-1829: a Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2000. 

Grundy, Isobel. “Women and Print: Readers, Writers and the Market.” The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain 1695–1830. Edited by S.J. Suarez, F. Michael, and M. L. Turner. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 146-60.

Jackson, J. R. de J. Annals of English Verse, 1770-1835: A Preliminary Survey of the Volumes Published. New York, Garland, 1985.

Jackson, J. R. de J. Romantic Poetry by Women: a Bibliography, 1770-1835. Oxford, Clarendon Press; New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Jackson, J. R. de J. Jackson Bibliography of Romantic Poetry. 2016. http://jacksonbibliography.

Maruca, Lisa. “Political Propriety and Feminine Property: Women in the Eighteenth-Century Text Trades.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, vol. 34, no. 1, 2001, pp. 79-99.

McDowell, Paula. The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998.

McDowell, Paula. “Women and the Business of Print.” Women and Literature in Britain. Edited by Vivien Jones. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 135-54.

Mitchell, C. J. “Women in the Eighteenth-Century Book Trades.” Writers, Books, and Trade: An Eighteenth-Century Miscellany for William B. Todd. Edited by O. M. Black, Jr.,  New York, AMS Press, 1995.

Suarez S. J., Michael F., “Mining the archive: a guide to present and future book-historical research resources.” The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain 1695–1830. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 849-59.