This presentation was given at the 12th Biennial International Margaret Cavendish Society Conference at Bates College in Lewiston, ME.
At the International Margaret Cavendish Society Conference in the summer of 2017, Cavendish scholars gathered at Bates College in Lewiston, ME to discuss Margaret Cavendish, writers in her social circle—such as her step-daughters Elizabeth and Jane and her husband William—as well as other contemporaries like Lucy Hutchinson, Hester Pulter, and Aphra Behn. Among the many insightful papers presented at the meeting, there were two main throughlines that emerged: Cavendish’s reception and afterlife, and digital approaches to Cavendish studies.
Many of the conference papers dealt with the way that Cavendish has been received over the centuries. Papers by Hilda Smith and Chris Koester and a panel organized by Mary Baine Campbell featuring Cristina Malcolmson, Marina Leslie, and Brandie Siegfried debated Cavendish’s self-presentation, the long tradition of deprecation surrounding her, and the role that scholars have played in interpreting, perpetuating, and challenging these threads. Other presenters looked at more recent creative adaptations of and allusions to Cavendish. Ruth Trego analyzed Siri Hustvedt’s novel The Blazing World (2014) and Lara Dodds traced what she calls “an alternate history of science fiction and fantasy” that has been shaped by Cavendish’s often unacknowledged influence. The conference also featured accounts of some presenters’ own efforts to adapt her life and work. James Fitzmaurice screened a filmed version of his original play Margaret Cavendish, Virginia Woolf, and the Cypriot Goddess, which was staged in Cyprus by actors from the University of Sheffield, Maria Antònia Martí Escayol reflected on the process of translating Cavendish’s Blazing World into Castilian, and Danielle Dutton gave a reading from her novel on Cavendish’s life, Margaret the First (2016). In a plenary session, Carolyn Merchant also gave a keynote address that located Cavendish’s place in the larger history of philosophy.
The other major thread of the conference highlighted the use of digitally aided methods to study Cavendish’s work. Barry Shelton shared insights from his corpus linguistics analysis of Cavendish’s writings. (He has set up a dynamically searchable version of the corpus that is now affiliated with the Digital Cavendish Project). Liza Blake presented her project on Cavendish’s Poems, and Fancies, a digital scholarly edition and a proposed “Choose Your Own Poems, and Fancies” under contract with Electric Press. Sarah Connell showcased Northeastern University’s Women Writers Online, a flagship digital humanities textual encoding project, demonstrating the kinds of questions that Cavendish scholars can ask with the aid of richly curated digital texts. These presentations demonstrated the promising opportunities for the application of digital tools to Cavendish studies.
We also presented on the Digital Cavendish Project at the conference, overviewing what currently exists on the site and our future goals. Above is the PowerPoint presentation that we shared at the meeting in which we highlighted our own pet projects: Jacob’s proposed visualization of Cavendish’s systematic scientific treatises and Shawn’s social network analysis. We also addressed the stewardship role that the DCP community has taken on in collecting, expanding, and enriching open-access, digital versions of Cavendish’s collection of writings, such as the “Crowdsourcing Cavendish” initiative. The conversations that ensued helped clarify the role that the DCP might take in better serving the needs of Cavendish scholars, supporting the work of specialists and students, and connecting the public to Margaret Cavendish’s achievements.