Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for May, 2011

May 28, 2011

Proto-Modernism in The Canadian Magazine

Over the past month I have spent a great deal of time, both online and in the library, reading through old issues of The Canadian Magazine (AKA: The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature) as part of my research into war short stories for my book-in-progress, Shattered Lines: The First World War in Canadian Fiction. Some of what I’ve discovered in the magazine (beyond the war theme itself) may be of interest to scholars of Canadian modernism, especially those focused on its early development, so I thought I would provide a few observations to the EMiC blog.

The Canadian Magazine is probably not the first periodical scholars think of when they think “modernism”; the more quintessential modernist magazines like The Canadian Forum and The McGill Fortnightly Review tended to work in opposition to it. The CM‘s foundations were decidedly in the imperialist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in 1893 as a successor to earlier periodicals like The Canadian Monthly and National Review (1872-78) and The Week (1883-96), its early contributors included George Taylor Denison, George Parkin Grant, Gilbert Parker, and other old reliables of the imperialist era. It was also a major forum for the work of the Confederation poets, and both E. Pauline Johnson and L.M. Montgomery were contributors.

Where the magazine gets interesting for modernism is from around 1914-15 onwards, when the First World War appeared to shatter some of the more conservative precepts of its editorial policy. Between May and November 1916, for example, it serialized the harrowing trench narratives of the Irish author and ex-infantryman Patrick MacGill. MacGill wrote of Allied soldiers “wiped out like flies” in horrific combat, a year before Wilfrid Owen described men “who die as cattle” in his landmark antiwar poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” MacGill has no claim to being a Canadian author (he fought in the Irish Guards until being invalided out of action). Yet the fact that the CM would print his visceral war stories (quite possibly in contravention of the strict censorship rules of Canadian Chief Censor Ernest J. Chambers) is a sign that the CM had its finger on the dying pulse of civilization long before Charles Yale Harrison, Erich Maria Remarque, and other postwar antiwar writers had their say.

In 1917, the CM published a retrospective article on the recently-deceased Tom Thomson, written by his erstwhile patron, J.M. MacCallum, giving an early boost to Canadian modernist painting — and introducing Thomson, still an obscure figure at that point, to a mainstream Canadian readership.

Some interesting things happen in the 1920s as well. One finds in the issue for February 1928 a short story by Marjorie Pickthall, best known as a key proto-modernist poet; Raymond Knister, another seminal figure, contributed to the magazine before his tragic death in 1932. Also of interest to scholars of war and Atlantic Canadian writing are the many stories by Will R. Bird (best known for his war memoirs and his novels and stories of maritime life) published between the late twenties and late thirties.

I’ve found little in the CM to support a notion that it gave full-blown endorsement of modernism (though I admit not having done a systematic study of every issue since I was looking specifically for war stories). Much of what the CM published was sentimental and neo-romantic in mode, and its articles on current affairs were occasionally quite reactionary. But as a periodical on the cusp of the imperialist/ post-Conferation era and the modernist period, I’d consider it worthy of consideration for anyone interested in that transition.

– Peter Webb

POSTSCRIPT Re. ACCESSING THE CANADIAN MAGAZINE: Some angel or sage to whom I am infinitely grateful has digitized the ENTIRE run of The Canadian Magazine between 1893 and 1922 and posted it on The Internet Archive, where you can read full-text facsimiles online or download them to your desktop as PDFs. At this point the remaining issues between 1923 and 1939 (when the magazine shut down) are not digitized, but a number of good academic libraries hold them in folio format.

May 24, 2011

Turn the Page


As an MA student and research assistant fortunate enough to have received EMiC funding, I have been able to immerse myself in the extraordinary life writing of P.K. Page.  I worked with P.K. Page’s Mexican Journal for several years as a research assistant to Margaret Steffler at Trent University. My initial work with this material began during my undergraduate degree, and as the work intensified, I developed a genuine interest in both Page’s journal, and women’s life writing more generally. In this way, my work as a research assistant directly led to my own graduate work. Although my research assistantship has concluded, the experience and training remains a prominent feature of my academic career. To put it somewhat bluntly, receiving funding to work with a previously unpublished manuscript was like a dream come true. In my case, the impact of such an opportunity cannot be overstated, as it influenced many aspects of my academic and personal education. Most significantly, my MA thesis examines the journal Page kept while living in Mexico – the same journal that has been inspiring me for years, and represented my introduction to Page’s body of work. At times, I would find myself keeping two sets of notes, as I read through the manuscript with both thesis and footnoting in mind. This dual focus enriched my early reading, and certainly informs my current analysis of the journal.

A highlight for me was when I was able to visit the Library and Archives Canada to handle and read the original manuscript. Any kind of academic fatigue I had been experiencing as a hard-working student instantly vanished as I carefully examined Page’s own papers. I found myself incredibly moved as I made physical contact with the journal, rather than the word-processed reproduction I was familiar with. As I (oh so carefully!) turned the pages, I felt a real connection with the work, and the woman behind the journal. This experience, while having obvious implications for my work as a research assistant, also contributed to my thesis work, as I made connections and felt a new appreciation for the journal itself. So often, life writing is left to languish somewhere near the dusty bottom of the literary hierarchy, and bringing Page’s journal into the light (in this case, literally!) feels like a significant act. In a few short months, my formal work with P.K. Page’s Mexican journal will come to an end. However, as I am pursuing a career as a teacher of English Literature, I am confident that the knowledge and particular skills acquired with this project will remain relevant. I am looking forward to sharing my insights with future generations of students, while continuing to be a life-long student of Canadian literature.

May 23, 2011

The P.K. Page Letters

Sharing my research experiences over the course of working on the P.K. Page project seems a bit daunting. Since the spring of 2010 I have been working as an R.A. with Sandra Djwa on the Letters of P.K. Page, a subsection of the P.K. Page Editorial Project. My previous experience researching for the P.K. Page biography, Journey With No Maps, has proven helpful as I already had a working knowledge of P.K. and could decipher and understand the subject matter and in some cases even identify some of P.K.’s respondents. The process of the Letters subset has involved extensive Xeroxing and the transcribing and scanning of letters into a database, cataloging each letter by date, and identifying events and occasions alluded to (though often not clearly referenced) in the letters. This requires external research such as reviewing interviews, tracing the course of P.K.’s metaphysical and Sufism beliefs from her reading lists, finding newspaper reviews and articles, and piecing all findings together for accurate interpretation and, eventually, annotation of the letters.
I have learned a lot of mundane – but useful! – skills through of all this. (Mundane, did I just say that? I think I did.) I have been learning how to collect and organize a large body of material, including the transcription of archival notes for the purposes of establishing a context for specific letters, and for identifying people, topics or subjects mentioned in them. I have also been discovering how to index and catalogue such material through inputting the letters into FileMaker. Though not always thrilling, the process of organizing material is all for the better cause of understanding Page and her multi-faceted, aspiring, inspiring, inquisitive, and courageous talents.
Working on the P.K. Page Project has changed me in a way I did not know it had the power to, and I don’t just mean that I’ve developed a knack for filing. It has ignited in me a passion for poetry, the arts, for P.K. Page, and for Canadian culture and history. The value of the EMiC Project is not just in the facts amassed, the knowledge gained, or even the effect of the work on the project’s affiliates, but in what we can share.

And that is why I wrote this blog … daunting as it may be.

May 23, 2011

Paging P.K.

Since Spring 2010, through EMiC funding, I have been working with Bronwyn Scott, an SFU student in English on a preliminary sample of Page’s letters to be edited in collaboration with Dean Irvine. The Conference on Editing Texts at the University of Toronto in Fall 2010 was of great help in my own research as it brought me together with colleagues and students working on the Page project in other universities and reminded me of how extraordinarily helpful it is to share questions and problems with other researchers. Thank you, all! And thank you, too, Zailig Pollock and Dean Irvine for organizing this. Although I had developed a Page database for the purposes of writing P.K. Page’s biography, it is not immediately suitable for use in the Page Project and needed some revision before distribution: for one thing, we required permission from the various respondents for this new use, for another, the database is incomplete and requires updating and finally, some correspondence is restricted. In general, the process of developing a database for wider use includes the transcription of handwritten letters and the inputting of all correspondence into FileMaker, a useful system for sorting by date, person and topic. In working with the letters we encountered various problems: some letters require dating and annotation before they can be entered and some respondents are not identified and require further tracking. We also worked on the transcription of some archival notes for the purposes of establishing a general time frame for specific letters and for identifying people, topics or subjects. The purpose of this work was twofold: 1.) to set up a sample database, useful to other team members, 2.) to set up a document preliminary to establishing criteria for selection of significant Page letters. One of the continued surprises – and delights – of working with Page’s correspondence is her extraordinarily wide circle of friends and acquaintances and the astonishing variety of topics that emerge from her letters: from crop circles to fractals, from heartbeats to poetry rhythms, from the psychology of consciousness to her recognition of her own imminent death.

May 23, 2011

Diary of a Digital Edition: Part Four

It’s been quite awhile since my last update on the Wilkinson project, largely because a lot of the work I’ve been doing on it has been of the brainstorming, conceptualizing, and theorizing type, and not necessarily of the doing type. Why I didn’t think of that work as bloggable, I’m not sure, but it’s probably something to do with the tendency of many academics to want to share polished work, or concrete work, or complete work—conference papers, articles, books—but not drafts, or notes, or musings. However, the thinking work I’ve been doing over the winter has made me much more able to see the edition as a finished project, and I’ll share with you where that’s gotten me.

Much of this deep-thinking work happened as I wrote an article to submit to the publications associated with last fall’s Conference on Editorial problems, and as I worked on my EMiC PhD stipend application. While my paper at the CEP was about the edition of The Mountain and the Valley that I was acting as research assistant on, I decided to submit a paper on the Wilkinson edition for publication. While the article is more generally concerned with the challenges of putting together small-scale editions like mine, and the conditions necessary for making them a feasible alternative to similarly-scaled print editions, I spent a lot of time thinking about why we would want to encourage the creation of digital editions rather than or in addition to print ones. I love real books as much as the next person, and while I’m relatively tech-savvy, I had originally planned to put together a print edition for EMiC, not a digital one. Why the switch?

Aside from the obvious and pragmatic reasons—a fantastic print edition of Wilkinson’s complete poems already exists, and I couldn’t get permission to do the edition I had earlier planned on—I have one overriding reason for taking on (perhaps foolishly, considering my current workload) the project: because creating a digital Wilkinson edition will let me share Anne Wilkinson’s poetry in all of its uncanny glory, in an accessible and user friendly form, with anyone who wants to read it, anyone who wants to analyse it, anyone who wants to place it in its larger contexts of Canadian modernism, women’s writing, and international metaphysical and mythopoeic poetry. And it can do those things significantly better than any print edition, because it’s free, image-based, infinitely expandable, and can cross-link poems within the collection and across other archives to make explicit the links between Wilkinson’s work and that of others.

Knowing what a digital edition can do naturally leads to thinking about how to design the edition so that it can do these things in the best way we currently know how. As my primary goal for the project is to make Wilkinson’s poetry fully accessible, I then decided that creating an image-based edition was the way to go. Images are easy to view and understand, and capture all sorts of bibliographic information that transcriptions don’t; it will also show people what material exists in her physical archive at the Fisher library, which will hopefully encourage more people to consider both her published and archival work in their research.

Now came a harder decision—how should I organize the hundreds (or thousands—I haven’t counted yet, as it’s a bit scary to consider) of facsimiles that represent all of the variant versions of Wilkinson’s poems? I turned to Dean’s article “Editing Archives ] Archiving Editions” and found a model that made total sense to me—a collection that was an all-encompassing repository of extant and future editions. As Dean argues,

Instead of superseding current critical editions—whether in print or online—or privileging one version or editorial practice over others,…digital archives could potentially enfold any number of critical and non-critical editions into an indexed network in which each edition is experienced as a socialized text—that is, social objects embedded in an apparatus that bears witness to the history of the edition’s production, transmission, and reception. (202-3)

Dean terms a digital archive that enacts this enfolding of editions an “archive of editions” (199), and this is the model I’ve chosen for the Wilkinson project. If my ultimate goal is to make Wilkinson’s work fully accessible, including all of it in a context that allows readers to understand its history of composition, transmission, and reception is essential. This model will allow me to do just that.

But what will it look like? Even I don’t know yet, but here’s how I think of it. Please keep in mind that these imaginings don’t have a lot to do with practicalities of markup and web design, or with the realities of completing this project and a dissertation simultaneously. I might be able to accomplish all of these things, or I might only be able to accomplish a tiny fraction of what I want to. However, I’m thinking big for the moment, and I’ll revise my expectations of myself and the project as it progresses:

Imagine a bookshelf. On the bookshelf, there are five books—Wilkinson’s two published collections, and the three collected/complete editions that were published posthumously, edited by A.J.M. Smith (1968), Joan Coldwell (1990), and Dean Irvine (2003). You “pick up” (click on) her second collection, The Hangman Ties the Holly, and can examine the book’s covers (as high-res images) before opening the book and beginning to read. When you get to the Table of Contents, you have two choices—you can keep reading through, as you would a physical book, or you can click on the hyperlink that takes you to a specific poem. Either way, we have now arrived at a page that contains a poem.

At first glance, this looks like it is simply an image of a page from a book, and you can read it as printed. However, as you mouse over or click on the text, textual and descriptive annotations embedded in the image reveal additional information: explanatory notes, cross-links to other Wilkinson poems (and eventually, to her journals, letters, juvenilia, and prose writing), cross-links to related texts that have a digital presence (this feature will become richer as the writings of more modern Canadian writers are digitized), and textual notes that indicate parts of the poem that exist in variant states.

This is where things get interesting. Somewhere around the page you’re currently reading will be links or thumbnails that represent the images (or recordings) of all of the variant versions of the poem you’re currently reading—from other editions, from periodicals, from typescripts and manuscripts, from her journals, from letters, from anthologies, and from radio or musical performances. I’m not sure how this will work yet, but as a big part of understanding how her texts evolve over time is being able to compare them, you will be able to select and compare two (or possibly more) variant versions of the poem, in facsimile or transcribed form. John L. Bryant, whose fluid text theory I find very intriguing, advocates for the narrativization of textual variation—setting up editions/archives so that they tell the story of how the work changes over time. While I have some concerns about the amount of editorial intervention that narrativization involves—the story can only be told from my perspective, and readers can only trust that I’m telling a “true” story about how the text changes—I do want my edition to allow readers to easily see and understand how the variant versions of Wilkinson’s poems relate to each other and how they change over time in relation to each other. How the edition will do this is something that I still have to do some thinking about.

While this “organization by edition” will encompass many of Wilkinson’s poems, there are a number of published poems that appear only in periodical form, and a number of unpublished poems that only appear in manuscript form. I’m not sure yet how I will organize these; I may decide that The Tamarack Review and Contemporary Verse, among other periodicals Wilkinson published poems in, will have their own “books” on the “shelf” that contain the poems she published in that periodical, and I could certainly do something similar with her copy books. There are obvious issues with this idea, the major one being that periodicals are not books and representing them as such is highly problematic, but again, this is something I need to think further about, and talk to all of you about.

There will also be information coded in TEI that may not necessarily be visible to the casual reader but that will make the Wilkinson collection a rich site for search and analysis—information about the bibliographic features of the texts, formal features of the poems, language use, names and dates, etc. etc. etc. It’s those etc.s that I’m also going to have to do more thinking about—I can’t code everything, even though I might want to (and on an “everything is important” level I do, although on a “I”m on the verge of developing carpal tunnel syndrome” I certainly don’t), and I need to decide what to code based on what’s useful to my project, and what’s useful to the repository more generally when we get to the point of doing cross-collection analysis.

So that’s where I’m at right now; the scanning is done (for the moment–there is more material in the Wilkinson archive at Fisher that I haven’t scanned, but as I don’t have immediate plans to include it in the digital collection, it can wait), the files are almost completely renamed (which is a much more onerous and time-consuming task than I would have thought), and so I’m mostly having fun teaching myself how to use the IMT and waiting to head to Victoria and start the Digital Editions class to figure out where to go from here. I can’t wait!


May 16, 2011

Dictionaries, Translations, and the Indigenous Archive

I have spent a good part of the last two years thinking about, seeking out, and infiltrating archives. It would be pretty futile to produce an edition of Marius Barbeau’s The Downfall of Temlaham without stepping into at least one physical archive, or two, or three … well, you get the point – the process has been far more intensive than just searching through Barbeau’s papers to look at earlier manuscripts of the text. I have had to negotiate an immense amount of information spread across many dozens of archival sites (both physical and digital) in order to even begin charting the production of the novel and the resources that surround it. In having spent so much time working within and considering the nature of the archive I have become fascinated with a problem related to archival resources in relation to First Nations cultures in Canada. Specifically, in attempting to translate the words Barbeau uses to express the Gitxsan language, I have noticed the gap in the historical and cultural archives of Canadian First Nations communities.  After spending most of my time thinking about large-scale problems of linking massive amounts of information in online digital archives, I have turned towards the issues of language, translation, and what the archive means for cultural groups in which there are no archival resources. In thinking this through, I have been negotiating the problematic representation of language groups and their presence, or absence, in archives based on settler-driven desires for preservation, and anthropologically based projects of language recording. In the end, the problem of looking back at First Nations languages in Canada, especially in regards to having stories recorded in a particular cultural group’s own language, is that one typically has to look back to representations of such languages and stories through translated accounts filled with lacunae, where there is no access to “original” documents, and where they are typically filtered through political, colonial, and anthropological lenses.

Apparently the first transcription of the Gitxsan language by a settler was published in 1881 by The Colonist Steam Presses in Victoria. Bishop William Ridley, one of the first missionaries to ascend the Skeena, produced A Selection of Prayers Translated from The Book of Common Prayer in the Giatikshan Language for Use at the Public Services. A “Zimshian” version (Tsimshian or, more likely, Sm’algyax) was published in 1882 by Ridley through the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. As an example of the first phonetic dictation of these two closely related languages, one can see the beginnings of the mapping of the historical lexical changes within the dialects of two distinct cultural communities that shared a common language system that had never been recorded before. One can also chart the cultural and political forces that marked the symbolic growth of these two languages, as one can imagine from the fact that these languages were recorded for the first time for the purposes of Christian missionary work.

Because Pacific Northwest Coast communities such as the Gitxsan were colonized late in the nineteenth century (compared to other communities in contact zones throughout the Americas), things begin to blur very quickly from the first recordings of the languages and their present-day use. Franz Boas, and then Marius Barbeau, arrived shortly after Ridley’s transcription, and both produced different phonetic and graphic interpretations of the languages. In The Downfall of Temlaham, it seems that Barbeau mostly used a Sm’algyax lexicon, even though the principle figures in the novel are Gitxsan. Despite the fact that I have access to about a dozen resources from which to translate the novel, there is simply no individual resource which would allow me to discover closer connections to the words Barbeau used.  Searching for the exact spelling of Barbeau’s translations in online Gitxsan and Sm’algyax dictionaries suggests to me that Barbeau was confusing Gitxsan with Sm’algyax, but, of course, the lexical interpretations of these languages have changed since Barbeau wrote his novel, which could mean that he was simply producing his own interpretation of what he perceived as a general Tsimshianic language group. In some cases, I have found more than a dozen variants of a single word or name, often similar, but in some cases the graphemes are completely different despite similar phonemes. Searching through newspapers, maps, books, and recordings, both online and offline, produces various frustrating results when a suggested spelling using the phoneme “K’” is later changed to a hard “G.” Entire words have been changed to more fully represent the languages as they are seen by their users today, which effectively erased most of Ridley and Barbeau’s interpretations of the Gitxsan and Sm’algyax.

It becomes even more confusing when these words take on political and cultural significance. Of course all words are political and cultural, but for the Gitxsan and the Tsimshian words are a part of an inherited ability to map geographical boundaries, kin relationships, and an individual’s history across multiple living bodies. Recording such a language takes on a different cultural significance than if it is passed down orally, or told through a totem pole, marking a distinction between the cultural heritage of the communities that use it and the ethnologists that attempt to preserve it. Barbeau most likely was sincere in his desire to understand and record the Gitxsan language, but his work forces us to ask questions about how and why we produce archives, what we can do with them, and what they tell us about the past, present, and future.  I need to reconsider the issue of indigenous modernity in regards to the role of linguistic archival preservation, and what role ethnology plays in the politics of indigenous rights in relation to the archiving of cultures, and as I will be talking about this at the MLA conference this coming January, I would appreciate hearing back from anyone who has any thoughts about the role of textual and archival materialism in relation to indigenous cultures.

May 13, 2011

What I learned as a Research Assistant…

For the last year, I have been an EMiC-funded research assistant on a number of the P.K. Page projects been worked on at Trent University. Primarily, I have been working on Page’s Brazilian Journal, edited by Suzanne Bailey—due out in print in the fall of 2011, published by Porcupine’s Quill—as well as Page’s Mexican Journal, edited by Margaret Steffler. My responsibilities have included: transcribing typescript manuscripts into a digital file, proofreading, fact-checking, and creating annotations. Now that the Brazilian Journal is in the hands of the publisher, I thought I’d share some of the knowledge I have gained over the last year.

The joys and problems of manuscripts! For the Brazilian Journal, we were lucky to find a copy of the manuscript in LAC. The manuscript was a typescript—most likely the actual journal Page kept while in Brazil (1957-1959). This journal was then later edited by Page, and published in 1987 by Lester & Orphen Dennys. Therefore, with this typescript manuscript, we were able to identify what changes—alterations, deletions, re-wording—that Page had made to the journal before it was originally published. This was useful for a number of reasons. Primarily, it gave insight into Page’s creative process. By looking at what passages Page deleted and speculating on the reasons for the deletions—was she censoring herself, removing private issues, or trying to prevent herself from embarrassing friends—it is possible to see how Page wrote for herself, as well as how she wanted to be seen by the public. As the copy-text for the new edition of the Brazilian Journal is the 1987 published version, and not the manuscript, few of the changes between the two text will be mentioned in the new edition. These changes, however, will all be made available when the digital edition of Page’s work goes live. While one version of the manuscript was incredibly useful, recently a number of other copies have been discovered. Some of these manuscripts have marginalia, and other notes, which will be incredibly useful. The numerous manuscripts also present potential problems—trying to organize them chronologically, discover when they were written, for what purpose they were created, etc. Thankfully the new print version of the text did not use the manuscript as a copy text, so these problems can be addressed between now and when the digital edition goes live.

Publisher and editor relationship. While my studies are in book history, and I have read numerous accounts of how the relationship between publisher and author can affect the final appearance of a text, it is still interesting (frustrating?) to experience these discussions first-hand. Due to a limitation on page count, numerous discussions were had over what to include in the final text, and what to exclude. How long should the index be? Are all the terms in the index necessary? Can we make the annotations shorter, without losing valuable information? Etc. This experience has only made me question the editorial practice of every book I read even more—what was excluded? Why? On whose request? Was it for financial reasons? Practical reasons? I strongly believe that this sort of critical approach to any critical edition is both appropriate and responsible. Yet, it took being involved in these types of discussions myself before this opinion became solidified.

Creating annotations is an incredibly humbling experience. When I first started making annotations, I naïvely assumed that I would know most of the things that needed annotation, and would be able to write annotations for them easily. Once I began, however, I quickly realized that I was dead wrong. As I began reading the text extremely closely, underlining anything that I did not understand, or that I thought others wouldn’t understand, I quickly developed a very long list, with most of the entries coming from the former. I started to worry—clearly I am an ignorant fool, if there are so many allusions and references that I don’t understand. After a few moments of self-deprivation, I decided that the only way to continue was to assume that I wasn’t a ignorant fool, but that Page was brilliant—therefore, including references that the average joe would not recognize. As well, the journal was written in the late 50s, thirty-years before I was born. After accepting my ignorance, the job of annotating actually became thrilling, and incredibly rewarding. Tracking down obscure references was fun, and often illuminating. I quickly discovered that I was right about Page—she was brilliant. While writing her journal in Brazil, surely without a large library of texts, she is able to quote from a vast array of sources, presumably all from memory. Even with the help of Google, tracking down some of these sources was difficult, and yet Page knew them by heart. Despite having read the journal half-a-dozen times by this point, I learned more about Brazil through creating the annotations than I did by reading the journal. I also learned a lot about Page, and also about how I read (apparently I often skip allusions and references I don’t understand). And most importantly, I gained a new appreciation for annotations found in critical editions that are done well, and an even greater disdain for ones that are done poorly.

I wanted to share one example of how rewarding and important annotations can be to a critical edition of a text. In the Brazilian Journal, Page writes of “the Ricketts-blue bay” (128). It took me a while to track down what Page was referring to, despite the fact that I knew it had to be something blue, when eventually, I stumbled across these images–image 1, image 2. As soon as I saw these images, I knew I had discovered the proper allusion—and that feeling of epiphany is reward in itself. I was then able to write my annotation: “Reckitt’s Blue was an early laundry whitener, manufactured by Reckitt & Sons in Hull, England. The product was a dark, rich blue in colour.” I also quickly realized that the text contained a typo, it should read “Rickitt’s” and not “Ricketts.” The work on this annotation forced us to create an emendation to the text—of which they are not many.

In conclusion, my job as a research assistant has been fun and challenging, but most importantly, it has given me a “hands-on” education that is invaluable.


May 12, 2011

Social Networking and Academia: Your Opinion Requested

In a few weeks I will be participating in a roundtable discussion on social networking and its impact on academic collaboration and networking, with questions relating to what has changed, what has been added, and what has been lost in the digital environment. This is for the ESC Roundtable at the ACCUTE conference in Fredericton, where I will be participating as a graduate student discussing the concerns and issues related to all of us interested in the digital humanities. I thought it would be a good idea, considering the theme of the discussion, to ask you all what you think about this, and for you to offer some feedback so that I can approach this with a more engaged (and networked) perspective. Here is the question I was asked to deal with:

“Humanities researchers and educators have long recognized the value of social networking: conferences, disciplinary associations, and face-to-face collaborative enterprise of all sorts have given shape to a field of knowledge production and dissemination that relies heavily on forms of exchange that exceed the limited boundaries of the journal article or monograph. Sociability, furthermore, is recognized as an important counterpoint to the often solitary life of scholarly endeavour. In recent years, digital technologies have made way for a new range of practices (such as blogs, wikis, crowd-sourced review, open access journals, self-archiving, podcasting, remote conferencing, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Academia.edu, Linkedin, and more localized online research consortiums) that might be seen to have dramatically altered the dynamics of intellectual activity in the humanities. For better or for worse, the social parameters of scholarship have shifted, and that shift invites us to consider not only the personal and professional benefits and costs of such technological innovations, but also the fundamental principles that inform how we interact with each other and to what end. How do digital technologies re-imagine the social dimension of academic relationships, and how do conventional practices find their analogues in an online environment? What have we gained, and what might we happily anticipate? What have we lost, and what are we in danger of losing?”

I would be great to hear back from as many of you as possible to get an idea of what the general consensus is from the point of view of graduate students who are actively engaged in a project that is founded on social networking and the digital humanities. Hopefully you will all be able to make it out to the discussion in Fredericton as well. Thanks in advance!

Marc Fortin

May 4, 2011

Postdoctoral Fellow in the History and Future of the Book (2011-12, renewable)

The Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) project, funded by
a Major Collaborative Research Initiative grant from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), seeks a
post-doctoral fellow in the History and Future of the Book, with
expertise in Textual Studies and Digital Humanities. This position is
based in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. The
successful candidate is anticipated to work closely with team members
at U Toronto, Acadia U, U Saskatchewan, U Victoria, U Western Ontario,
and beyond. The postdoctoral fellow’s work will bridge between digital
humanities and the history of books and reading, collaborating with
INKE’s Textual Studies team, consulting with project stakeholders and
potential stakeholders, and liaising with other INKE researchers
located in North America and the UK. The fellow will be expected teach
a light course load in the Faculty of Information and the
collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture, to be
remunerated in addition to the fellowship’s salary.

The successful candidate will have skills and aptitudes in
humanities-oriented research, textual studies and book
history/bibliography, including training or demonstrated experience
working with a variety of digital humanities resources, including
digital archives, scholarly editions, journals and monographs, and
text analysis and visualization tools. Organizational skills are
essential. Interest and aptitude in research planning and management
would be an asset. The ability to work in concert with our existing
team is a critical requirement. The successful candidate should also
have first-hand experience with , XML/HTML (and related technologies),
PHP, and MySQL. Familiarity with TEI P5 and JavaScript would also be
considered assets.

Our current team members pride themselves on a passionate interest in
both the history and future of books and reading. Our ideal candidate
is someone with similar passions who can introduce the team to new
ideas and provide new perspectives on existing digital humanities
issues. The salary for this position is competitive in the Canadian
context, and is governed in part by SSHRC practices. Applications
comprising a brief cover letter, CV, and the names and contact
information for three referees may be sent electronically to
inke.ischool@utoronto.ca. The contract can begin as early as 1
September 2011; it is for a one-year term, with the possibility of
renewal. The position is subject to budgetary approval.

Interviews may be conducted via Skype, or in person at the Congress of
the Humanities and Social Sciences (Fredericton) and other venues at
which INKE team members are present. Applications will be reviewed
until the position is filled.


May 3, 2011

Internet Lost and Found

“Write a blog post,” a fellow EMiC-er said to me an embarrassingly long time ago. Convinced that I had nothing of interest to write about, I mumbled something incoherent, and whoever was asking me about the blog interpreted my mutterings as “Yes, great, I’ll get right on that.” After months of avoiding the topic and agonizing about what this Blog Post would say, I came to the (probably unsurprising) realization that I did, in fact, have something to write about.

Thus far, my EMIC experience has been volunteer-based, and most of that time has been spent using my overly developed Google skills to try and find out if one or another author is still in copyright. I have been searching out the whereabouts of contributors to Le Nigog, in the hopes that we will be able to find everyone and put out a digital edition of the journal. While this may sound like a spectacularly insensitive way to spend my time (Oh, he’s dead? Died 60 years ago? That’s GREAT!), it has actually been a bit of a Moment for me about this kind of research.

There is something sad and poetic about searching for information about someone when all you have is a poem they wrote decades ago, and I think it speaks to the overall importance of this kind of project. The words “lost” and “forgotten” get tossed around about literary figures quite often, but this was my first direct experience with what those words could mean. As a child of an increasingly digital age, I went into this work with the expectation that writing such short biographies would be the matter of a few hours of computer work, but I was surprised at how difficult it is to find information on many of these people. Birth and death records are far from completely digitized, and in many cases the few scraps of information we can find about contributors only adds to the sense of incompleteness. In one case, all we have are dates and this fact: “spent most of their life in the Amazonian rainforest.” With fragments of information as enticing as that, it is a consistently frustrating experience to hit dead end after dead end searching for the rest of the story, and even more rewarding when another piece of information appears. I spent hours searching for two contributors, only to find them mentioned in a French article about chemistry research in Montreal, of all things.

While I can hold in my hands the products of their creative and critical work, the people who contributed to Le Nigog would actually be lost in an academic sense without the attention of a project like EMiC. This kind of work only speaks to the importance of bringing together these scraps of information into a digital humanities project, which draws together these scattered facts into a more coherent story about Le Nigog and the history that surrounds its production.