Women of paper: digitising and accessing Gezelle’s correspondence with women
Multi-talented Flemish priest, Guide Gezelle, in addition to his poetry and teaching, also maintained active correspondence with many people, for example exchanging letters with 200 women both at home and abroad. In their often candid messages, they sought advice on personal matters or contributed to Gezelle’s literary work. This unexplored female heritage is now being digitised and made accessible, thanks to an initiative by the Guido Gezelle Archive (which belongs to our content partner, Bruges Public Library). This is primarily taking place via the GezelleBrOn online platform, on gezelle.be (link in Dutch), and also in an exhibition and publication in Guido Gezelle Year 2024.
Gezelle kept no fewer than 7000 of these letters, which don’t only provide fascinating insights into his life and work, but also offer a profile of a cross-section of society in the second half of the 19th century. The Guido Gezelle Archive, where the majority of this extensive correspondence is kept, is aiming to create a complete online text edition of this corpus in collaboration with partners and volunteers. This is a considerable task, which is why we ran several participatory sub-projects to take care of it.
Following Gezelle’s correspondence with members of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature (KANTL), teachers from the Bruges Sint-Lodewijks College and Bruges printers, we’re now dealing with his correspondence with female contemporaries. We’re aiming here to address the lack of gender-historical sources and help restore some balance between men and women in biographical databases and sources.
PHASE 1 (October 2022 - September 2023)
The first phase primarily involves uploading data to Wikidata and writing Wikipedia pages. We’re contributing to adding data about:
numerous women – find the overview here (link in Dutch);
additionally, also a smaller number of men (link in Dutch). This was necessary because the records for the women often contain names of male family members or teachers, for example. We were only able to add this information in Wikidata by linking it to records of men that we either enriched or created.
We also took this opportunity to upload data about some of Gezelle’s other correspondents at the same time:
correspondents who were members of KANTL (link in Dutch)
correspondents who were teachers at Sint-Lodewijks College (link in Dutch)
correspondents who were printers in Bruges (link in Dutch)
Uploading data about individuals to Wikidata means it becomes linked, open and available to a wide range of users, who in turn can then enrich it further. We often use data about individuals from Wikidata ourselves, such as for the Public Domain Tool (in the DO IT! project) and our projects on facial recognition (such as FAME and GIVE metadata).
With a view to the digitisation process in the next phase, we have also provided advice on naming the digitised files.
PHASE 2 (October 2023 - September 2024)
This phase is still subject to approval of funding.
There is a large group of partners involved in this Flanders-funded project. The main partners are:
The Guido Gezelle Archive, Bruges Public Library
The Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature (KANTL)
The Guido Gezelle Society
Gezelle expert Prof. Dr. Piet Couttenier (ISLN University of Antwerp)
We also regularly consult with Wikimedia Belgium.