Editing Modernism in Canada


October 25, 2010

Openness, Sustainability, and New Forms of Scholarship

I have just returned from EMiC’s fantastic  Conference on Editorial problems at the University of Toronto, where the subjects of openness and sustainability, especially as they connect to new forms of scholarship, were a recurring point of conversation.

First, a note on the form of the conference. This was a two-day all-plenary conference with organized group meals, as many round tables as panels, and a strong presence of emerging as well as established scholars. Everything about the conference promoted openness in the simple sense of free dialogue in a stimulating and accepting space between like-minded (but not too like-minded) academic folk. In many ways it reflected the ethos of EMiC itself, which focuses on collaboration between emerging and established scholars, experiential learning pedagogies, and the new possibilities for editorial practice embodied in the digital.

At the same time, my work with Susan Brown on Sustaining Digital Scholarship for Sustainable Culture (a project funded by SSHRC’s President’s Fund for Knowledge Synthesis Grants on the Digital Economy) has made sustainability a word that I can’t stop noticing cropping up all over the place. This conference was no exception.

The trend among the different digital editorial projects discussed this weekend was definitely towards the open: open-access, crowd-sourcing research, bridging the gaps between academic and public sectors, radically expanding the possibilities for engaging with modernist texts in a digital environment. But in the midst of all this excitement, practical questions did arise. Of particular concern to me were Pericles Lewis’ question about the sustainability of digital editions and archives, and Dean Irvine’s question to a panel of emerging scholars about the professional repercussions of working on “unfinishable” projects in an academic environment that privileges a very different mode of knowledge production.

It seems to me, having had a little time to reflect at this point, that the answers to both questions ultimately touched on the same theme, a theme that was carried through in the form of the conference itself: the importance of institutional support for new forms of scholarship. Digital editors such as Tanya Clement and Sophie Marcotte are able to push the boundaries with their digital editions because they have the institutional support of libraries and/or archives that agree to house their projects. Emerging scholars are able to spend their limited time and energy on unsual and often unfinishable projects because they have the institutional support of a large project that supports and encourages such work both by pairing emerging scholars with more experienced mentors and by providing them with stipends, RAships and internships. My own ongoing collaborative work with a group of scholars at the University of Alberta is sustained by the university’s willingness to support what we’re doing through resources and infrastructure.

I did not begin my graduate studies as a digital humanist (or as an editor or a modernist, for that matter). My work has been pushed to become more daring, more experimental, and much more open through the support of established academics and the institutions that fund their research. This includes Paul Hjartarson’s and Dean Irvine’s support through EMiC (which has included sending me to the DHSI twice now) and Susan Brown’s ongoing belief in drawing emerging scholars into her work, both through our ongoing Knowledge Synthesis project and, on a larger scale, in the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory.

What I wonder, then, is how we can help to sustain these sorts of funding initiatives, how we can encourage institutions and granting agencies to support openness, experimentation, and unfinishedness as qualities of value, and how we can push academia further in this direction, by showing that interesting and valuable scholarship happens in environments that privilege this sort of work.

(Cross-posted on HASTAC)

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