Particularly for undergraduate readers and instructors, establishing Mary Moody Emerson within the Women Writers Online collection means situating her Almanacks temporally among Romantic women writers like Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson; historians like Hannah Adams; feminist theorists such as Mary Wollstonecraft; periodical authors such as Judith Sargent Murray; and meditative and spiritual writers and poets such as Jarena Lee, Elizabeth Singer Rowe, and Phillis Wheatley. Word searches on key terms in the Almanacks will reveal commonalities between Emerson and her female contemporaries and predecessors, yielding a variety of subjects and concerns of mutual interest; in addition to discussions of religion and spirituality, for instance, readers will discover connections between Emerson and other women writers in their conceptions of “career” (vocation) and “property,” both of which were significant concerns for her.
One might, for example, produce a web of associations comparing Emerson’s discussion of Cicero in an early Almanack with mentions of Cicero throughout WWO, a search that generates hits in writings by Margaret Cavendish, Mercy Otis Warren, Lydia Maria Child, Ann Plato, and Judith Sargent Murray, among others. Students who discover Cicero to be a common subject for these women might follow up with additional readings, producing further interpretative discoveries about these 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century women.
As an intriguing example, comparative word analyses of an Almanack fascicle from 1827 and African American writer Ann Plato’s essay “Decision of Character” (Essays, 1841) reveal that “mind” and “man” are similarly prominent concepts for each author. Should a researcher be drawn to conduct a closer reading, she will realize that unlike more proto-feminist American contemporaries such as Lydia Maria Child, Emerson and Plato associate force of mind primarily with male figures even as they also nonetheless identify it with themselves. As this cursory example suggests, search tools in WWO will enable readers to generate completely fresh points of comparison between Emerson and other women in its textbase, contributing in this particular example to a more nuanced understanding of gender in early American women’s self-expression, self-cultivation, and identity formulation. Such text manipulation and analysis tools will offer accessible and vivid points of entry to a complex manuscript; these tempting avenues can then prompt closer readings of the Almanacks and their eclectic subjects.
One example of comparative Word Clouds generated from Mary Moody Emerson and Ann Plato’s texts follow. Click on the image below to enlarge it, and then hit the “back” button on your web browser to return to this page.