Alison: The original bibliography, with annotations, grew too large for publication within a printed book; the press balked; and I had always known that a computer file was far better than hard copy for searching around within a bibliography, so the advantages of the online platform were obvious. An XML file (TEI encoding standards) not only is easy to move around in and collate information, but also readily expanded, corrected, enhanced with new functions as the project evolves or software becomes available. I was also influenced by other literary projects to begin to think of making the texts of these collections of women's lives available in digital editions; and I could see that networks of subjects lend themselves to the kinds of biographical databases that have already been created or might be invented.
Bridget: What is the value of making humanities scholarship accessible outside the university?
Alison: Biography has always had a wide public beyond scholarship, and studies of women's history likewise have an appeal to students at all levels and general readers. Web access means that research is now accessible to anyone who can get at a computer terminal. The flip side is that the content online should be as authoritative, imaginative, aesthetically pleasing as possible, and expertise and training help scholars supply this improved knowledge rather than just the most democratic, crowd-sourced information.
Bridget: How do you see your database facilitating more cooperative, collaborative humanities research?
Alison: I've begun to include short biographies by students and assistants, and I'd like to "farm out" the creation of short studies of individual subjects: my Featured Subject pages. I already invite submissions of new entries to the bibliography. I want to have peer-reviewed biographical projects linked directly to CBW. So far this is more planned than actual. But CBW includes links to electronic texts of the books, to library catalogues, and to other biographical sources on Features Subjects, so I design it as a portal rather than a sealed archive; and of course it's open sourced and open access.
Bridget: How do you envision the future of humanities scholarship?
Alison: This question is better answered by many others. I do think the editing of literary texts is now best conducted online (textual variants so easily "layered"), and that the tools of research have already created very excited boom times for new-ish fields: periodical studies; publishing history. Genre studies and stylistic studies have been transformed: you can now collated ALL of a genre within a period and confidently generalize about all kinds of data, including geographical, economic, etc. (see Franco Moretti's team on the novel). You can also confidently describe a history of word usage and ideas, e.g. metaphors for the mind in 18th c. literature, as my colleague Brad Pasanek is doing. Obviously there's most excitement about visualization and geo-spatial studies as well as timelines; what can be shown about archeological sites, cities, events, patterns of communication or travel. Drama, dance, material culture (e.g. studies of costume, ceramics), and of course visual arts all can share the substance of their arts and scholarship about them in ways that really reach a broad audience.