Editing Modernism in Canada


February 17, 2011

Editing Le Nigog, Part One: Planning a Digital Periodical Project

As we all know, the little magazine is a fundamental part of the production of modernist culture in Canada and across the globe.  Various seminal texts, including Ken Norris’ The little magazine in Canada, 1925-80, Louis Dudek’s The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada and Dean Irvine’s Editing Modernity: women and little-magazine cultures in Canada, 1916-1956 have argued for the little magazine as the site at which multiple modernisms have emerged across Canada.  While little magazine production is (arguably) at its highest in the 1940s and 50s, we are hoping to look backward, identifying for English audiences what could be the first French Canadian avant-garde periodical, Le Nigog, which ran for twelve issues in 1918.  While this work is widely known in French Canadian circles, its place in English Canada is completely obscure.

For the last six months, EMiC Post-doctoral fellow Matt Huculak has been working on the early stages of the EMiC commons and co-operative spaces that he describes in an earlier post here.  As a self-confessed luddite, I happily have enjoyed skirting the edges of this technology. While he has been working on the back end, I have been responsible for developing content for the site, so that it is immediately operational once the actual programming has been figured out.  It is through this role that I began work on Le Nigog, and first began to explore the material reality of periodical preservation and began to actively cultivate its future as a digital edition.

This is the first of  a number of posts that chart the progress of this project, beginning today with an examination of the project management side of DH work, focusing largely on hunting down information and allocating resources.  Before the magazine hits the scanner, myself, as well as several new EMiC volunteers, Dancy, Katherine and Adrien, have been conducting detective work to 1) locate the magazine, 2) identify the contributors, and 3) begin the process of creating biographies and confirming copyright using death dates.

Le Nigog had only a limited circulation (approx 500 readers, according to Patricia Merivale), and therefore one of our most difficult tasks has been locating copies of the work in their original, unbound form.  We are interested in preserving the complete texts, including advertisements.  Since it was common practice to bind this type of text, the advertisement pages, which were on a different paper and numbered differently, were often torn out and not included in the final text.  In order to fully socialize the text, it is integral to our project to include these advertisements as a part of the material condition of the magazine’s production.

I have only been able to locate nine copies of the magazine in libraries and archives across the country.  Of those nine, only one complete, original set existed, and this copy was not available for viewing, except on-site in the archives.  It definitely would not be available for a project of our kind.  The copy we were able to procure was held privately, and while in excellent condition, we still currently only have the first ten issues.  Numbers 11 and 12 remain elusive, and none of the libraries across the country have these two issues in their original form.  So, the search for the actual magazine will continue on, though this is no longer our priority.

Using the issues we have, as well as a facsimile print edition of the text, I compiled a list of all the contributors, and then began the arduous task of tracking them down.  With the copyright legislation in mind, I needed to determine which articles are now in the public domain, and which estates we would need permission from to reprint their work.

Because the periodical spanned literature, architecture, music and visual art, we have had to approach locating different contributors within their own discipline and its method of documenting its past.  Starting with the literary biography, music encyclopedia, and history of Montréal architecture, we have begun to piece together the various lives of the contributors.  Once we have been through these normal avenues, we have cast the net wider, and are now chasing down fragments, hunches, false leads and passing references to find the contributors and start their biographical sketches.  Currently, of the thirty or so contributors, nine are in copyright.  Three have no confirmed death dates, and continue to be on the run.

I am going to save copyright reflections for a later post. The last thing I want to talk about is our project management tools.  To help the five of us share information, we have been highly dependent on one central spreadsheet.  Early on, we decided that this document should be virtual, so that all information is shared to all participants and can be accessed from any location.  We use google docs, and so far have been quite happy with that tool to span the whole project.  We distribute tasks, track our hours and maintain a working bibliography all using these tools.  That way, the moment one person discovers something, all records are updated.  We have also started to download and save the documents onto our computers regularly as a form of additional backup.  Once we start scanning and manipulating the images, they will have to be held in a central location with a backup until the co-op comes online.  With the co-op we should be able to store images at various stages centrally, mimicking the research stage of our work while expanding its capacity and possibilities threefold.

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