The Victorian Sportswoman Visual Archive is a digital component of my dissertation on representations of athleticized female bodies in Victorian literature and culture. Athleticized women were figured widely in the nineteenth century, including as characters in novels, subjects of illustrations, targets of satirical cartoons, and consumers of advertisements for sportswear and athletic equipment. While critics of Victorian literature have already contributed much to our understanding of the ways in which women’s bodies were textualized, their work overlooks notions of the female body that were conveyed through methods external to the text such as images woven into the reading experience. Visualizing the Victorian Sportswoman aims to fill in some of the material gaps in this conversation by bringing back into focus those other processes by which forms of embodiment were modeled for Victorian readers.
This Omeka- powered gallery makes newly accessible images of sportswomen extracted from nineteenth- century periodicals. I apply the modes of close reading from my traditional dissertation to annotate the images and use the curatorial functionality of Omeka to recreate webs of references and associations around concepts associated with female athleticism. Exploring the Victorian Sportswoman’s iconographic development in this digital project amplifies and reframes my readings of her as a literary figure in the traditional dissertation. The fluid structure of the gallery offers several ways of interpreting the artifacts, calling a different kind of attention to themes from the dissertation. As such, it is a space for investigating how digital tools may expand the ways we read. Creating this project also allows me to rework the rigid structure of a traditional dissertation. The act of curating reshuffles and recirculates the material from the dissertation, revealing new connections between concepts and offering different trajectories than the historical chronology of the chapters. Linking items throughout the archive draws out dynamic relationships between the iconography, textual representations, and ideologies that shaped Victorian ideas about female athleticism. This component of my dissertation enables me to share my academic work with the aim that it will generate larger scholarly conversations around research methods and serve as a pedagogical tool for fostering critical thought about depictions of women. .
Integrating a digital component into my dissertation allows me to explore the interaction between the textual and visual modes of representation that shaped the meaning of female athleticism in the nineteenth century. I have two purposes in mind for the project. First is to provide access to these (neglected) materials and assemble them as a “thematic research collection”1 to create a more complete picture of the Sportswoman’s construction. Second is to facilitate analysis that enhances my dissertation work, as I employ a digital medium to ask new questions about the representation of female athletics. Examining images side-by-side and in different configurations (as exhibits), enables me to investigate how these various cultural sources interact to construct the Sportswoman as a more complicated model for the female body than has previously been acknowledged. I annotate and curate items in the archive with the goal of exploring and revealing relationships between them and relationships between this iconography and representations in literature. With each image, I include a description that interprets the representation of the athleticized female body, discusses the themes reflected in the image, and references examples of the Sportswoman from literature. Exhibits will also provide users with an analysis of how the overlaps and contrasts between the images contribute to our understanding of the subject matter. As I work with the iconography in a digital space, I am discovering new associations that complicate my thinking about the concepts from my dissertation.