Christine de Pizan Website Comparison Project
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Christine de Pizan (1363-c.1434) was a medieval writer, poet and political analyst: in scholarly circles, she is commonly referred to as the first professional woman writer in Europe. Christine’s father was Charles V of France’s personal astrologer, so as a young girl, she enjoyed not only proximity to the king’s favor, but access to the scholars of the king’s court. She married the royal secretary at 15, and was widowed at 24 when her husband, off fighting in the king’s retinue, died in a fever epidemic.

Left with 3 children and confronted with her husband’s debts, Christine attempted to support her family and pay off her husband’s debts by writing ballads and love songs. But in 1401-1402, incensed by Jean de Meun’s contribution to a famous medieval French love poem, the Roman de la Rose, Christine channeled her literary bent and philosophy towards a most remarkable, and for a woman, unprecedented avenue: participation in a famous and extensive debate, “Querelle du Roman de la Rose,” over the merits of this male author’s depiction of women in a literary text. The Roman de la Rose is presented as a dream allegory, and is compI had studied Christine’s writings very briefly as an undergraduate, and I have since wondered if there were any comprehensive site on the Internet that effectively contextualized her work and did justice to the unique nature of her work and the extent of her influence on other writers, whether female or no. I had anticipated that the Christine de Pizan Society based in the University of Auckland, New Zealand would have arrived to fill that void with an substantive web site devoted to. The discovery that the Society only offered a timeline and list of Christine-related links was, alas, merely the first of many disappointments I encountered in my quest for a website that would do justice to Christine’s oeuvre and influence.osed of two sections: Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first part around 1230; de Muen’s additions to the allegorical poem courted far more controversy for their bawdiness, and its sexually-charged personification of female characters.

In 1405, Christine completed and released her Book of the City of Ladies, which contended with de Muen’s physical and lusty depiction of women by presented three allegorical female role models: Reason, Justice and Rectitude. She establishes a dialogue among these three allegorical figures and herself, affirming the power and wisdom of the female perspective and feminine accomplishments. Moreover, she sought out other influential female collaborators in constructing and publicizing her work.

I had studied Christine’s writings very briefly as an undergraduate, and I have since wondered if there were any comprehensive site on the Internet that effectively contextualized her work and did justice to the unique nature of her work and the extent of her influence on other writers, whether female or no. I had anticipated that the Christine de Pizan Society based in the University of Auckland, New Zealand would have arrived to fill that void with an substantive web site devoted to. The discovery that the Society only offered a timeline and list of Christine-related links was, alas, merely the first of many disappointments I encountered in my quest for a website that would do justice to Christine’s oeuvre and influence.


I will compare three sites here:

  • The Christine de Pizan page at OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES: Translations of women's writing before 1700: an extensive section on Christine de Pizan within a site devoted to offering excerpts and primary and secondary sources relating to pre-1700 women writers. The site was created and is maintained by Dorothy Disse, a retired university teacher of writing who acknowledges the assistance of the staff of the Bierce Library at the University of Akron, Ohio. Visit OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES _here_.
  • Christine de Pizan Web Page: This page offers a brief bibliography, a timeline and a short list of books about Christine. Visit the Christine de Pizan Web Page _here_.
  • Christine de Pizan and Establishing Female Literary Authority: a section on the syllabus of an art history course, “History of Northern Renaissance Art,” at SUNY Oenonta, which discusses Christine de Pizan’s gift of a “lavishly illustrated copy” of her own works to Queen Isabeau de Bavière of France in the context of recent scholarship demonstrating that Christine was intimately involved in the design and production of the pictoral cycles for her texts. The author maintains that Christine deliberately selected the iconography accompanying this presentation gift to her monarch to underscore the possibility—nay, existence—of an alternate center of literary patronage and intellectual authority: that of the Queen’s own circle. This site is hosted on the SUNY Oneonta server, and is the only site of the three associated with a university. Visit Christine de Pizan and Establishing Female Literary Authority _here_.

Site goals

OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES appears primarily interested in introducing users to the achievements of, quote, "women who produced a substantial amount of work before 1700" across several cultures. To that end, each author's page offers a range of links to primary and secondary source material, scholarship, and miscellaneous offerings. The mission statement, range, organization and presentation of materials, and signal that this website serves most effectively as a portal,that is, as a means of facilitating access to information about these personages and equipping users to conduct further research, rather than a definitive encyclopedia or research tool about these authors.

It is difficult to gauge the site goals for the Christine de Pizan Web Page, but it is likely safe to say that it is a cursory (in every sense) introduction to Christine de Pizan. Given that there are several factual errors and misspellings in the biographical information, but also some quite interesting material on overlooked texts, I wonder if this was intended to be merely the homepage or introduction to a more comprehensive site about Christine, and if further expansion and refining of the site never happened, and that this page was simply abandoned.

The section of the SUNY Oneonta art history syllabus entitled Christine de Pizan and Establishing Female Literary Authority presents an interesting case. There is a substantive amount of information involving and regarding Christine on this page, but it would not prove very straightforward for a user who wants detailed background information on Christine. The middle of this essay even declares, "The details of Christine's biography are well known." The author of this syllabus effectively contextualizes the publication of Christine's seminal work, Book of the City of Ladies, and draws on contemporary scholarship, textual analysis of Christine's writings, and the nuances of translations of her work to support the thesis in this section: namely,

Range of materials offered

OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES offers an impressively diverse range of materials: links to full-text versions of Christine's books, lyric poetry, love ballads and political essays, links to primary and secondary sources, scholarship on Christine in French and English, anthologies, and translations of Christine's works.

The Christine de Pizan Web Page contains a short biographical sketch of Christine, most of which does not encompass anything not covered by Wikipedia or OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES but which does offer a few unique details, a timeline, links to four web pages—an English translation, an excerpt from Charity Cannon Willard's canonical work, Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works, and two biographical links, which are both dead.

Creators and audience

The creator and maintainer of the OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES site, while a retired teacher of writing and affiliated with a university, presents the materials in a low-key, accessible, straightforward (in terms of context, that is, not navigation), and really does come across as striving for accessibility to a broad range of audiences. For example, where the site creator lists primary and secondary books about Christine and her life, a brief but helpful abstract summarizes the content and argument that the author or critic puts forward in their work. However, the "About this site" section of the website does presume an interest in learning more about women's historical experiences, so the language used there does appear more geared towards a well-read, scholarly demographic, with an inclination to read and learn about female authors, and even more so, to learn about non-Western authors (though, of course, the biographical information for Christine is in English, the page for her links to French and German scholarship. However, one of the criteria for inclusion on the site appears to be that of the work of these authors, quote "some or all of it has been translated into modern English." This site really strives to introduce these authors to an English-reading audience.

I could not locate any information about the creator of the Christine de Pizan Web Page, other then that they have a mindspring.com email address (certainly not an institutional or university address!). This page was created on June 10, 2002, and was last updated on June 16, 2002, so it is unlikely that this site will ever be updated to attract and serve the needs of any user who would like to utilize this site for research. As I suggested above, there are signs which possibly indicate that this page was meant to be integrated into a more comprehensive unit.

Not surprisingly, the SUNY Oneonta page is primarily geared towards the students of a particular art history class as well as, I would argue, students interested in the nexus of art and literary criticism, for **Establishing Female Literary Authority", (aside from having "literary" in the title!), delves into the nuances of the courtly phrases with which she inscribed the gift of her collected works to the Queen of France. The tone of the information presented is engaging and knowledgeable, but yet quite accessible to a person not well-versed in art history (say, myself). Even though Christine de Pizan's life and works are subsumed into the larger argument presented in this piece, the author does acknowledge her unique position in the cultural and political milieu of her time.

How Documents are Treated

OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES does not host, transcribe, edit or annotate any of Christine de Pizan's works.

The Christine de Pizan Web Page: N/A

For a site linked to a art history class, the images on the SUNY Oneonta were not highlighted to their best advantage. As all of the text appears in one long block, and the thumbnail images are sandwiched among multiple paragraphs, thereby reducing their usefulness and aesthetic value. However, one can click on the thumbnails and bring up a higher-resolution image (373x359 pixels), which is a nice touch.

Searchability

OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES does not permit any search of either primary or secondary texts. It offers an index of authors on the site arranged either chronologically or alphabetically.

The Christine de Pizan Web Page does not have a search function. However, in light of the site's confusing layout and the dearth of non-link information, the lack of a search engine is the least of this site's failings.

The SUNY Oneonta page does not have a search function—in all fairness, it is intended as a class syallbus, not a stand-alone website on Christine de Pizan.

Rating the Sites

OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES is certainly the most comprehensive and useful site of the three visited. The introduction and site history come across as very accessible, and it does not make any pretensions of serving as a scholarly source for information about Christine de Pizan. Along with the aforementioned introductions to traditional scholarly titles about Christine, her page on the OTHER WOMEN'S VOICES website links to the table of contents of several of her works in both French and English, which could prove and convenient for a user only casually interested in the content of her writing, and nicely supplements the emphasis on context in several of the other categories on the OWV site. However, the linear layout of the links, the bland, outdated format, and, above all, the lack of a search tool would likely significantly deter users from utilizing it. Moreover, given the extensive list of links to diverse sources, I was unpleasantly surprised that there was no indication of which, if any, repositories might contain any part of her works. Though Christine's page indicates that it was updated a few weeks ago, when I tried to present this site in class, the link was down, which raises questions as to the extent of the commitment of time and effort that the site's creator can afford this project; likewise, as there appears to be only a single person maintaining the site, the migration capabilities of this site are questionable. As this was the second English-language search result returned for Christine de Pizan as of April 2008 (after her Wikipedia entry, which also links to this site), these hindrances materially affect the accessibility of English-language Internet resources for Christine de Pizan.

The Christine de Pizan Web Page, despite the error-ridden format and unprofessional, practically flourescent background, is useful in a slight number of ways. The sole image on the page has an informative caption, there is a fair amount of information about Christine's sons, including their names and rank at court, and the biography information includes some fascinating details about her Book of Deeds of Arms, about which I could not find information anywhere else. However, the design of website itself is so outdated and unprofessional, and contains relatively little substantive information (a quarter of the page is devoted to outside links, many of which are dead), that it is unlikely it could serve any useful purpose for a user truly interested in gleaning more about Christine de Pizan.

Christine de Pizan and Establishing Female Literary Authority was a very enlightening and refreshing perspective on the author and philosopher. However, as evidenced by the URL, the focus of the site, again, really a section of a class syllabus, primarily remains on the details and symbolism of the iconography of presentation images. Christine's background and accomplishments are brought forward solely to advance portions of the author's thesis, that her presentation of the gift with the presentation image constructs an alternative focal point of literary patronage within the Queen's court, and, as mentioned above, the discussion of Christine here takes for granted that the user is familiar with her biography. It is a sorry comment on the state of Christine de Pizan resources that a website which would seem only tangentially related to her, and is itself tangentially related to an unrelated online resource, actually substantively contributes to the information about her available online.

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