From Quill to Mouse: Digitizing the ‘Woman of Letters’ 1861-1922


  • Ombretta Frau Mount Holyoke College
  • Cristina Gragnani Temple University



Abstract: This article describes a project in Italian Digital Women’s Studies,, which is currently being developed in collaboration with our two universities, and consists of an interpretive, thematic website on the material culture of Italian female intellectuals between 1861 and 1922. We envision as a tool that allows to investigate women’s agency in promoting social change and the interconnections between women writers’ material culture, their private space, their access to the public sphere and the impact of the new media revolution on women’s social status. Unlike the majority of existing digital projects on women writers, ours is not only a digitized text-bank or a mere collection of bio-bibliographical data. Rather, it will be a multi-layered, interpretive platform stemming from the expert contribution of scholars in the field. Our time boundaries comprise the period between Italian unification (1861) and the beginning of the fascist era (1922). Compared to other historical periods (the Renaissance and the fascist and post-fascist decades, for example) this highly transformative era for women’s cultural production and consumption has inexplicably generated less scholarly attention.

Using a commissioned oil painting representing a late nineteenth century woman writer’s virtual study as interface, this project will be the first of its kind in the field of Italian Women Studies. Each object in this ideal study (pen, ink bottle, letters, magazines etc.) will be clickable and will lead to an encyclopedia-type entry. Through the painting, users will be able to access two searchable databases organized hierarchically and interconnected through tagging: a themes database, and an authors database.

Author Biographies

Ombretta Frau, Mount Holyoke College

Associate Professor of Italian Department of Classics and Italian

Cristina Gragnani, Temple University

Assistant Professor of Italian Department of French, German, Italian and Slavic