Editing Modernism in Canada


January 24, 2011

EMiC CEP Introduction

EMiC started not with one person, nor with many. It started with two. In many ways, it started at a little neighbourhood bar on the plateau in Montreal. Some of you will have been to Else’s, and if you spent any time there in the late 90s, you would have been likely to find me and Colin sitting alone in the bar, oblivious to the departure of the rest of the world, while the bartender hovered at a distance, waiting for us to finally exhaust ourselves and head home. Those conversations didn’t end as we departed ways at Saint Laurent, Colin heading south and I north; nor did they end when we graduated from McGill and took up positions at our respective universities.

No, those conversations were reprised for years, often when I was visiting Toronto, and at conferences like The Canadian Modernists Meet in Ottawa in 2003, where many of us in this room gathered for the first time in decades to ask a simple question that F.R. Scott first posed in 1927: no, not shall we have a cup of tea? but O Canada, O Canada can a day go by? That is, can another day go by before we acknowledge that the modernists in Canada no longer hold a position of canonical centrality in our national literature and that in the span of a few decades following their deaths many of them have fallen out of print, been dropped from syllabi, and disappeared from anthologies? To answer this question, EMiC has for the past two years facilitated collaboration among a transnational network of researchers and institutions to produce new print and digital editions of Canadian modernist texts from the early to mid-twentieth century.

EMiC’s mission statement, which appeared in the application that we collectively signed and sent to SSHRC in 2007, and now appears blazoned upon the first page of our website—in a design by Angelsea Saby indebted to typographic experiments initiated by the expressionists, vorticists, and surrealists—is decidedly un-modernist in its simplicity: “If we are to continue scholarship and teaching in the field of Canadian modernist studies, there is no more than ever before an urgent need to produce editions and to regenerate public interest in this formative period of Canadian literature whose visibility has been fading as fast as ink on foolscap.” That rallying call initially attracted 32 participants, with representatives from regions across Canada and from France, the UK, and US, from 20 partner institutions. We’ve grown significantly since: our transnational network now extends to New Zealand and Belgium, and has reached at last count over 90 participants—at the faculty, postdoctoral, doctoral, master’s, and undergraduate levels—from 33 partner institutions. Our original partnerships with five of Canada’s top university presses have expanded to include one of Canada’s finest small presses, the Porcupine’s Quill and two academic journals. Our affiliations with research centres and institutes have multiplied exponentially from a handful at our partner institutions in Canada to a collaborative research network whose rhizomatic growth is burrowing under our feet as I speak: its fascicles reach not just sea to sea, so to speak, but across borders and oceans. Modernism in Canada is now a global phenomenon. Or, better, it’s always been global—no, not just global, but all at once local, regional, national, and global.

Where we’ve made the most decisive changes have been in our migration toward digital technologies, repositories, and edition production. Much of our growth has involved the development of partnerships with technologists and researchers working in the digital humanities in Canada, the US, UK, and Europe. The motivation to grow in these digital directions has very much been local and particular to the desires of our participants, especially our emerging scholars. EMiC has always been concerned with the training and networking of students, postdocs, and new faculty, and with providing opportunities for these folks to learn from and collaborate with established mid-career and senior scholars. To this end, we have offered two annual summer institutes: one in textual editing at Trent, and another in digital editing at UVic. Over 60 students, postdocs, and faculty have attended these institutes in their first two years. More to the point: this is why we’re all here, today, for our first EMiC conference.

People often ask how I came up with the idea of EMiC: I didn’t; all of us here already had the idea. I came up with an acronym. To put it another way, I’d say that I came up with the idea because we know that Colin and I weren’t the only two modernists meeting at Elsa’s—or, rather, we know that there were for decades Canadian modernists meeting all over the place, but never in one place. It would be foolish to think that we’d ever occupy the same place. That’s why EMiC isn’t located in any one a place. You trip over stacks of it in an office at Dalhousie and retrieve it from a server in the basement of the Clearihue Building at UVic. You scan it at Library and Archives Canada, OCR it at Brock, and add metadata to it at McGill. You make tools for it at Maryland. You encode it at UVic, collate it at Queen’s, ILL it at Penn State, and visualize it at UBC. You devise skeleton keys for it at Otago. You annotate it at Miami, draw up placeographies for it at Birmingham, and add appendices to it in Leuven. You stare up up up to the ceiling looking for it in the reading room at the Thomas Fisher. You compile stemma for it at York, chart its word distributions at Guelph, and create a cascading style sheet for it at UNB. You draw up timelines for it at Alberta. You theorize it at Trent. Or maybe you avoid it altogether until 2012 when the next EMiC conference is held, when suddenly it’s all you can think about, not because you’ve contracted archive fever, been bitten by a TEI tick, or come down with an incurable case of variantitis. No, it’s probably because when we next meet, it won’t be in a bar on the plateau, but in Paris, at l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Bienvenue à EMiC

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