Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for September, 2011

September 29, 2011

Are the Digital Humanities Relevant?

The question of the relevance of the digital humanities came up in my Digital Romanticism class with Michelle Levy at SFU, and I’m hoping EMICites will share thoughts, particularly as it pertains to our own work.

We were reading Matthew Kirschenbaum’s piece “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments“, in which he defines DH via Wikipedia as “methodological by nature.” He continues by saying DH is “a common methodological outlook.”

A concern I raised is that, by focusing on its status as a methodology, we risk eliding the question of whether or not DH is actually a transformation of the humanities, not simply a way of doing the traditional humanities differently.

Are the end goals of DH the same as the end goals of the non-digital humanities? Or even: is DH a way of bringing a shared notion of ends back to the humanities, if we agree that this is something the humanities is missing?

My inclination is to say that DH is actually a transformation of the humanities, and one that we won’t fully understand for some years. There are two distinct paths I see now, and I would love to have a conversation about which one we want to go down (or whether, of course, there is some ‘middle way’).

One path sees DH fitting the humanities more neatly into a managerial paradigm. Because DH can more easily demonstrate that it requires and creates certain transferable, technical skill-sets, because of its work with quantitative indicators and data, etc. it is potentially more appealing to those who see a necessity for humanities work to produce those kinds of measurable outcomes.

This gets directly to the question that comes up almost every time we talk about where the humanities are going: are the humanities still relevant? I generally hear two types of answers to that question. The first is to submit to it completely, and argue that the humanities are relevant because of “critical thinking skills” that are essential in the workforce. This answer comes in the terms of managerial paradigm – I’ve heard the number of Globe and Mail journalists with English degrees cited as evidence of relevance here (and I have to say I question how good an indicator that is of the success of English programs).

The second type of answer to the question of relevance resists its terms entirely, and argues that it’s an unfair one, that it’s antithetical to the humanities to even think in those terms. This is basically the “education for education’s sake” argument.

What we discussed in class, and where I see a second path opening up, is that DH can give us a new outlook on relevance. Instead of submitting to the managerial paradigm entirely, or rejecting the question of relevance, what if we reframed the definition of relevance so that instead of meaning something like “having an effect on our value in a market economy” it meant something like “serving the public good” or even “serving the public good by refining our notion of what that means.”

In his article “Electronic Scholarly Editions” Kenneth Price tells us we should “celebrate this opportunity to democratize learning.” This is the second path opening up, one wherein DH transforms the humanities in ways that I think most DH scholars (certainly all EMICites I’ve talked with) embrace.

But sometimes (and I hope we can talk about this in future posts, and in the comments here) I think we too easily assume that DH will take this path by default. It likely won’t. If the second path is the one we want to take, we are being called upon now to be conscious of, and to clearly articulate, the ways in which our contributions democratize learning and serve the public good.

I’m really excited to hear what EMIC colleagues would say about this. How do these questions play out in your own scholarship and thinking? Have they shaped your involvement with DH or with EMIC, or even your plans for your own edition?

September 25, 2011

Tales from the Rare Books Room – on recording, organizing, and sharing

I have only dipped my toes into the waters of digital humanism. But now that I’ve spent some time thinking about how to store, organized, and share digital information – and especially after a week of learning TEI at TEMiC – I want to learn how to swim. What follows is my roundup of the EMiC-funded RA project I recently finished. I hope that by offering some of the details about my project, we can start a discussion about tools, processes, and protocols for similar projects.

In January 2010, I began working as an RA for Dean Irvine, gathering information towards the annotations for edition of FR Scott’s poetry that he is co-editing with Robert G. May (Auto-Anthology: Complete Poems and Translations, 1918-84). I am a PhD candidate at McGill, and I was hired by Dean Irvine to examine holdings in the FR Scott collection, which is housed in the Rare Books Room here. Dean wanted me to record annotations in Scott’s books of English Language poetry; this was intended to help the editors make decisions about what to annotate in the edition. I was to be his eyes for this part of the project, sifting through hundreds of books to find what was useful, thus allowing Dean to get the information he needed while staying home in Halifax. It works out that being someone else’s eyes is a serious challenge, because the two sets of eyes happen to be attached to two different brains. Before I elaborate on this challenge, though, I’d like to explain what this recording of annotations involved.

There are two separate finding aids for the Scott collection. I only found out about the second because while working in the Rare Books Room one afternoon, I happened to ask to see a hardcopy of the finding aid I’d been working with (I had a scan, but it was not entirely legible). Scott’s books were donated to McGill in two groups: the contents of his Law Faculty office, which were given to the library shortly after his death; and his personal library from his home, which his widow donated in 1988. The first finding aid – the one I had from the beginning, which seems to correspond to  Scott’s personal library — was drawn up in 1990, and there is a manuscript note on its title page, indicating that the list needs revision but is complete. For reasons that remain obscure, a second finding aid was drawn up in 1994; it, too, appears to contain books from the second donation, and makes no reference to a third donation (which would easily explain the new finding aid, but which I have no reason to believe occurred). There does not appear to be a finding aid for the  Law office books; they are now sitting in boxes, uncatalogued, in the Rare Books room, because the Law Library decided they weren’t interested in them.

I have offered this detailed account of the collection’s provenance because it is the clearest way to explain the organizational challenges I was facing. Both finding aids contained material that I was being asked to examine, but they were organized differently: the first was grouped by genre and language, and organized alphabetically within those groups, making it relatively easy to pick out the English-language poetry. The second was strictly alphabetical, so that unless I was familiar with the author or title, it was difficult to know whether a work was poetry or prose. To complicate the matter further, Dean had requested that poetry from before 1880 be excluded from my search – this narrowed the field, but made it a bit difficult to spot unfamiliar early works which Scott owned in modern editions. Before I could even begin looking at the books, this data had to be sorted and organized. No mean feat, particularly when I began with documents that had been scanned – OCR, as we’re all aware, is imperfect enough to cause serious aggravation.

And this is where I learned that I have a lot to learn about being a digital humanist. I recorded my findings in Word, because that is what I am used to using to do my work. Not only was it difficult to turn the scanned document into a pretty Word document – it was also tough to organize the entries in Word. In hindsight, it would have been much better to work in Excel. Doing so would have prompted me to think harder about how the data would be used and could be sorted: in retrospect, I envision columns indicating whether there are annotations, ephemera, Scott’s signature, inscriptions from others, and so on, in addition to the kind of discursive analysis that I provided. This raises the important matter of considering, from the get-go, the best tools for the job and the best ways to use those tools.

A related problem, as I mentioned above, is the difficulty of being another person’s eyes. Although I knew the purpose of the information I was gathering, it was difficult for me to know what was important information, so I took note of almost everything. Again, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure that taking note of the inscriptions to Scott, particularly in books that were otherwise un-annotated, was not an effective use of my time. Ultimately, I spent 10 hours this summer creating an Excel sheet that contained almost everything but the inscriptions. Such retrospective claims are intended as a reminder to me—and I hope to you—of the importance of thinking through what information we really want to gather, and how it should be organized. (I do, however, have a complete record of who wrote what in Scott’s books of poetry… you know, just in case.) Naturally, there are also things I might have taken note of that I didn’t: I did not regularly take note of the condition of the book, but only noted particularly interesting cases. I can imagine that know whether a book looked read or not might, in the end, be helpful in deciding whether a perceived allusion to something in that book was real.

A final point about data sharing: though I was sometimes able to provide a discursive account of an annotation, often it was necessary to have the pertinent page (or the ephemera) scanned. McGill’s Rare Books room does not have self-service scanning; each scan costs 25 cents, there is a limit of 10 scans per book, and a detailed scan form had to be completed to order the scan. Each image is returned as its own unique jpg with an incomprehensible numeric file name. So, when I had multiple scans from the same book, I needed to convert them to pdfs, combine them, and re-name the file so that it could be clearly associated with the book which it represented. Then, I had to upload those files to google docs, so they could be shared with Dean. All of this made for a really cumbersome process – one which I hope it might be possible to streamline should a similar case arise in the future. Perhaps it’s even possible to do this better now, but I’m just not aware of the tools to do it.

So… that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope that this narrative will be useful in helping other members of this community think about how we gather, organize, store, and share information. If there are tools out there that would have helped with this work, I’d love to hear about them… and I’d really like to hear your ideas about how we can plan a project so that we are using the available tools to their best advantage from the get-go. And in the meantime, I’m looking forward to signing up for more swimming lessons.

September 14, 2011

Integrated Digital Humanities Environments: A Commonwealth of Modernist Studies

I have been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Editing Modernism in Canada for just over a year now, so it gives me great pleasure at this midpoint in my position to announce two major partnership agreements signed last week. First, EMiC has finalized it contract with Islandora at the University of Prince Edward Island to build our very own Digital Humanities module. Second, EMiC has partnered with another DH project with which I am involved: The Modernist Versions Project. Both partnerships promise to provide resources, training, and infrastructure not only EMiC scholars, but to the DH community as a whole.

1. Integrated Digital Humanities Environments: Islandora

Anyone who has been in DH for a while knows that there is a long history of tool-creation for our scholarly endeavours. Some of these projects have been successful (The Versioning Machine, Omeka, etc.), and some, unfortunately, have not. One “problem” we face as DH’ers is that there is simply so much to do. Some of us are interested in visualization software and network relations  (Proust Archive), some are interested in preserving disintegrating archives (Modernist Journals Project), and others of us are firmly rooted in TEI and textual markup. Moreover, with the growth of GIS software, mapping texts has become a great way to have students interact with texts in spatial terms and to communicate with a non-academic public using a language most of us are familiar with: maps.

But what happens in DH when we move into the classroom?

I recently read a stunning syllabus created by Brian Croxall at Emory University, in which he provides his students with a solid (and diverse) introduction to the Digital Humanities. But one thing researchers and teachers like Brian, or any other DH’er faces, is providing students integrated learning environments where they can edit texts in a common repository AND have all the tools they need at their disposal in the browser. If you want to teach TEI right now, you have to buy Oxygen (a life-saving program when it comes to XML markup); For versioning, you must install Juxta or The Versioning Machine. For publication/exhibition you must install Omeka. But what if we had ALL of those things in one learning environment, in one common and open system? This is what we’re trying to accomplish with the EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout.

EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout

An issue EMiC faces in providing tools for our researchers is the sheer diversity of work being undertaken right now by EMiC scholars who have varying levels of experience with digital environments. EMiC needed to find a way to allow its members to preserve, edit, and publish digital editions of archival material in an intuitive way; moreover, we wanted to make to sure our archival practices conformed to international standards. Moreover, most of us are teachers too. How do we teach our students what we are doing in our research? Enter Islandora.


Nine months ago, I Googled the phrase “TEI, ABBYY, XSLT” on a whim (actually, I was being lazy: I was looking for an XSLT sheet that would transform ABBYY HTML to simple TEI). The first result listed was a page from the University of Prince Edward Island—just down the road so-to-speak. Not knowing much about Prince Edward Island outside of L. M. Montgomery, I keep browsing, and to my amazement, found that the library at UPEI had created a project called “Island Lives,” a resource developed using the home-grown Islandora digital repository. Mark Leggott, Donald Moses, and others, had built precisely what I was looking for: a digital asset management system using a Fedora Commons repository wrapped in Drupal shell. Islandora allows users to easily upload an image of text to its database, edit that image (TEI), and then “publish” a complete text (book, pamphlet, etc.) to the web. Dean Irvine and I realized that if we could expand this system to fit EMiC’s needs, we could create a Digital Humanities module that would serve our members perfectly. We decided to focus on the core issues facing EMiC editors: Ingestion (including OCR based on Tesseract), Image Markup, TEI editing, Versioning, and Publication (for the full list of what we’re building, see below*). Moreover, Islandora is tested and true and is being used by NASA, the Smithsonian, among many other institutions.

Thank You, DH.

We have years of successful work to emulate for this DH module. And just as the DH community has given to us, we expect the give back to the DH community by keeping the DH module open to use. Yes, we plan on creating an EMiC/Islandora DH install that you can download and use in your classrooms.

If you’re interested in what we’re building, please email Dean Irvine or Matt Huculak with your questions.

As part of this initiative, I have moved to Prince Edward Island to work with the Islandora crew as we develop this module. There’s some other news about what I’ll be digitizing there to “test” our system—but you’ll have to wait to hear about that. In the meantime, we are planning unveiling our functioning module at DHSI2012.

2. Modernist Versions Project

If you haven’t been to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute hosted by Ray Seimens at the University of Victoria, do plan on going! It is an incredible week of DH training, and it is one of the most memorable “unconferences” I have ever attended. One wonderful result of this year’s camp was the creation of the Modernist Versions Project (MVP), an international initiative to provide online resources for the editing and display of multiple witnesses of modernist texts. In what was truly a conversation over coffee, Stephen Ross shared with me his desire to create the MVP. Having served the Modernist Journals Project (MJP) at the University of Tulsa and Brown University for over six years, I said, “Stephen, let’s do this!” And we did. With the help of James Gifford, Jentery Sayers, and Tanya Clement (who along with Stephen and I serve as the Board of the MVP), we have secured tremendous support for a major SSHRC application this fall. The MVP promises to be an important project in the field of Digital Humanities and modernism.

But what does this have to do with EMiC?

I am impressed by two aspects of EMiC. First, the recovery of modernist Canadian texts in our project is truly spectacular. Second, the training EMiC facilitates at the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, The University of Victoria, and Trent University (among many other institutions) is edifying. Just look at our graduate student editors who are engaged in serious textual editing projects across Canada: http://editingmodernism.ca/about-us/. We are really building the future of Canadian studies here.

As an international scholar, I am concerned, like many of you, with the networking of Canadian modernism across the globe. How does Canadian modernism fit into the greater narrative of modernity across the world? (this is a topic we’ll be exploring in Paris 2012: http://editingmodernism.ca/events/sorbonne-nouvelle/).

The Modernist Versions Project is one way of creating networks of modernist textual criticism and production across the world; that is, the MVP is interested in the editing and visualization of multiple textual witnesses no matter where those witnesses were created. Though located in Canada, the MVP’s scope is much larger, and EMiC’s partnership with the MVP will allow EMiC scholars interested in “versioning” to use MVP resources as they are developed. The MVP has already developed partnerships with the Modernism Lab at Yale University, Modernist Networks at Chicago, and NINES, which is letting us use and develop their Juxta software for periodicals and books.

Dean Irvine has been very generous in allocating my Postdoctoral hours towards the formation of the MVP. Once again, EMiC is nurturing young projects and helping create a truly global network of digital modernist studies. And I think I’ll end on this note: EMiC’s primary focus has been collaboration: collaboration among peers, and now collaboration among projects. And by collaborating with other projects around the world, we hope to create tools that will last, be useful, and really change the face of modernist studies.

Welcome to EMiC. Let’s go build something.


*Details of the EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout

Existing Islandora Code

1. Islandora Core
a. Integration with the Fedora repository and Drupal CMS
b. Islandora Book Workflow
c. Islandora Audio/Video
d. Islandora Scholarly Citations

New/Enhanced Functionality for the EMiC Module

1. Smart Ingest

a. Use open source Tesseract OCR engine
b. Integration of TIKA

2. Image Markup Tool

Proofs of concept and models:

Image Markup Tool (IMT)

Text-Image Linking Environment (TILE)


3. TEI Editor

Proofs of concept and models:

Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) – CWRC Writer

Humanities Research Infrastructure and Tools (HRIT) – Editor

4. Collation Tool

Proofs of concept and models for development:


The Versioning Machine

InContext tool

5. Version Visualization Tool

Proofs of concept and models:

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces

Sea Dragon

6. Dynamic Version Viewer


Internet Archive Viewer

Hypercities database: Transparent layers interface

7. Digital Collection Visualization Tool

Proof of concept:

The Visible Archive

September 6, 2011

My week at TEMiC

I received a travel subvention to attend the first week of TEMiC on editorial theory, taught by Professor Zailig Pollock during the first week of August 2011 at Trent University. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about editing from an instructor and editor with so much experience, alongside a group of graduate students who are doing such interesting work, and with input from other Canadian editors and scholars working with EMiC.

The readings and our discussions were very relevant to the work that i have been doing for the past year with Neil Besner on the Laurier Poetry Series. I regret that i could not have taken the course at the beginning of my year of RA funding through EMiC (i think EMiC has adjusted the TEMiC schedule to correct this problem). I was especially interested to read Dean Irvine’s essay on editing F.R. Scott; the F.R. Scott volume for the Laurier Poetry Series, edited by Laura Moss, is forthcoming.

It was great to hear from Melissa Dalgleish about her experiences working on the digital edition of Anne Wilkinson’s poems, and from Catherine Hobbs on archives and archival studies. All of the presenters were really fantastic!

This was my first time meeting other people working on EMiC projects. Getting to know EMiC-affiliated grad students from other Canadian universities was one of the best parts of participating in TEMiC. I have recently completed my work on the Laurier Poetry Series and i will graduate with my MA this fall. After TEMiC, i am looking for ways to stay connected with EMiC and i hope to work on an EMiC project again.

I will report back to Neil Besner on my experience at TEMiC, with a recommendation that Laurier Poetry Series editors and future RAs might benefit from attending TEMiC.

Thanks to Zailig and Chris Doody for your warm welcome and hospitality!

September 4, 2011

CFP: Essay Collection on Canadian Postwar Literatures (1940’s and beyond)

Contributors are sought for a critical essay collection on Canadian postwar literatures for submission to an internationally distributed British academic press in 2012. Besides war itself the book will address themes relevant to postwar social and cultural conditions. A key aim for the volume is to extend criticism of Canada’s postwar literature beyond the often discussed First World War (without necessarily ignoring it) to consider how the Second World War, the Vietnam War, recent wars in Africa/ Bosnia/ the Middle East, and other conflicts have influenced postwar themes in Canadian literature. Recoveries of forgotten/ underappreciated works are especially welcome, as are considerations of recent works worthy of greater critical attention. Contributions on more critically established works (The Wars, Obasan, The English Patient, etc.) are welcome, provided they offer new insights. Literature in any genre may be discussed, and interdisciplinary approaches that combine literature with historiography, film, visual art, digital humanities, etc. will also be considered.

Possible approaches include (but are not limited to):

– Historically situated studies of forgotten or recent authors/ texts
– Postwar literature and poetics
– Modernism in postwar Canada
– Postwar narratives and the history of the book
– Trauma and recovery
– Diaspora and exile in postwar narratives
– Persecution and crimes against humanity
– Ecocritical or ecofeminist readings of postwar works
– Femininity/ masculity/ gender in postwar texts
– Existential or other philosophical dimensions in postwar literature
– Postwar drama and performance
– Postwar literature and other media or art forms

Please email proposals consisting of a 500-word abstract, a 100-word bio, and a brief cover message to the editor, Dr. Peter Webb, at peter.webb@gmx.com, by December 1, 2011.

Attach Word or Rich Text files and avoid fixed formats like PDF. If the proposal derives from a completed or nearly completed paper, please indicate in the email. Submissions will be assessed according to critical significance and the potential to complement others in forming a coherent volume. Accepted proposals will need to be expanded to manuscripts of 6000 – 8000 words by summer, 2012. All finished papers will be subject to final acceptance and peer review.