Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for December, 2012

December 19, 2012

Michèle Rackham and P.K. Page

Michèle, a postdoctoral fellow at Trent University, is working on an art book and digital catalogue raisonné of the works of visual art by P.K. Irwin (a.k.a. P.K. Page). Ultimately, her project will be part of the Collected Works of P.K. Page and “The Digital Page.”

Michèle’s art book will examine the development of Irwin’s career as a visual artist, including her early interest in drawing as a child, her emergence as the artist P.K. Irwin in Brazil, her debut as an exhibiting artist while living in Mexico, and her experimentation with various modes and media throughout her career, as well as the many artists, poets, and artist-poets who inspired and challenged her vision. The digital catalogue raisonné will serve as a descriptive catalogue of Irwin’s oeuvre, establishing a reliable list of authentic works, their chronology, and bibliographic, provenance, and exhibition histories.

Thanks to Zailig Pollock, who has located and arranged photography of hundreds of Irwin’s paintings, Michèle and her colleagues have already compiled a working database of artwork. Currently, Michèle is researching the provenance and exhibition histories of these paintings, and also working on the book about Irwin — right now, she is writing about Irwin’s time in Mexico from 1960 to 1964.

One of Michèle’s main challenges so far has been locating extant works of art (works that exist on paper but for which there is no known location) and filling in the provenance history of works of art. Michèle also faces the challenge of creating a logical and flexible numbering system for the works of art in the catalogue raisonné. Most catalogues are numbered, but numbering systems vary from artist to artist because they need to take into account the unique attributes of an artist’s oeuvre to be useful and to accommodate the addition of new attributions to the catalogue.

At the moment, Michèle is planning to number Irwin’s works chronologically according to year completed — because in many cases the dates are no more specific than that — and then to arrange works based on medium or series within each year. Michèle has only just started experimenting with this system using a small sample of works, and it seems to be appropriate. However, with such a large number of works (over 900), and with new works being discovered regularly, the system may have to be altered to accommodate changes and additions.

At this point in her project, Michèle is concerned about how her art book and catalogue raisonné will connect with the other digital components of the Collected Works of P.K. Page and “The Digital Page.” Because Page-Irwin truly was a poet-artist, the link between her paintings and poems is in many cases direct, with some poems being responses to her works of art and vice versa. Michèle’s goal is to ensure that these connections can be represented seamlessly in a digital environment.

December 13, 2012

Tony Tremblay, Take Two

Tony Tremblay is a busy man. Now that he has successfully launched his new digital edition, Fred Cogswell: The Many-Dimensioned Self, Tony is moving on to his next EMiC-supported digital project, The Selected Letters of New Brunswick’s Pioneering Modernists.

Tony intends to compile a collection of representative letters of upwards of a dozen pioneering New Brunswick modernists from the province’s key hotbeds of modernist ferment to highlight the various dimensions of mid-century modernism in New Brunswick. By examining the individual concerns of key writers and cultural workers in New Brunswick’s cultural community, this collection will illuminate the intellectual history of the province at mid century. Since New Brunswick is very culturally diverse, a variety of perspectives on modernism is required to get a sense of the different aspects of the movement that were present. Tony hopes The Selected Letters will be representative of the energies in New Brunswick, and democratic in the allowance it makes for a multiplicity of contributions across the province.

At this point in his project, Tony has several questions about the shape The Selected Letters will take. In particular, Tony is interested in the genesis of New Brunswick modernism — from what sources did modernism emerge? Tony is also interested in the resistances modernism found in a socially conservative province, the strategies modernists used to overcome those resistances, and the forms of modernist expression that resulted from the modifications made to popularize modernism in New Brunswick. So far, Tony’s preliminary investigations suggest that modernism took on hybrid forms in New Brunswick, and he would like to test that hypothesis against what is said about modernism in the correspondence of the province’s leading mid-century modernists.

Tony currently faces two major challenges regarding The Selected Letters. First, he must scour the literary fonds of New Brunswick’s leading mid-century modernists for epistolary evidence of the view of modernism, which is a very ambitious endeavour. The second challenge Tony faces involves technology: because this is a digital collection of letters, he will need to find the technical apparatus that will enable him to post letters in searchable format. Working with the University of New Brunswick Harriet Irving Library’s Electronic Text Centre, Tony will be exploring the capabilities of the Islandora platform to see if it will accommodate the needs of The Selected Letters.

As he did for Fred Cogswell: The Many-Dimensioned Self, Tony intends to write a general introduction to the collection and introductions for each of the individual writers, and to provide ample textual annotations for context and description. Thanks to EMiC funding, Tony will be taking on a graduate Research Assistant from the University of New Brunswick to help with the preparation and production of the digital edition.

December 10, 2012

Tony Tremblay’s Fred Cogswell: The Many-Dimensioned Self

On 30 November, Tony Tremblay of St. Thomas University launched his new EMiC-supported digital edition, Fred Cogswell: The Many-Dimensioned Self. Tony’s edition features the selected works of Fred Cogswell, as well as a critical appraisal of Cogswell’s creative and cultural works.

Fred Cogswell was one of New Brunswick’s best-known and beloved editors, publishers, poets, translators, and professors. In this edition, Tony provides evidence that Cogswell — whom he calls a man of “indefatigable energy for work, creation, compassion, and leadership” — was a pre-eminent cultural worker who stands as a pillar of twentieth-century Canadian modernism. Tony has organized the edition to represent the different aspects — or dimensions — of Cogswell’s life and works, beginning with a biographical chapter, and then covering Cogswell’s poetry and editorial correspondences, respectively. The final chapter of Tony’s edition provides a comprehensive and up-to-date bibliography of Cogswell’s work.

Content aside, Tony’s new edition is also exciting because of its digital format.  Working with Archives and Special Collections at the Harriet Irving Library and the University of New Brunswick’s Electronic Text Centre, Tony has designed an edition with an interface that will accommodate casual readers and scholars alike: while the ISSUU format allows readers the comfort and familiarity of viewing the text as a simulated Gutenberg book, the quick links and search feature allow scholars to locate specific parts of the text. Further, the ISSUU software provides options for visually impaired readers, making this edition truly accessible to as many readers as possible.

Tony hopes Fred Cogswell: The Many-Dimensioned Self is the first in what will be become a series of digital editions of out-of-print texts, and he intends his new edition to serve as a template for future editions of Canadian modernist texts. Tony’s work on Cogswell has laid the groundwork for the future of digital dissemination, which will provide exposure to long-neglected Canadian collections and writers.

December 6, 2012

Andrea Hasenbank and Canadian Manifestos 1910-1960

Andrea, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, is working on a critical edition of Canadian manifesto print entitled, Between Poetics and Polemics: Canadian Manifestos 1910-1960. Andrea’s project reproduces political, literary, and artistic texts that set out to assert and define the social and intellectual movements of their time, reclaiming them for study as part of the Canadian modernist period. Because Andrea’s goal is to make largely unknown or out-of-print texts available to readers and students of Canadian literature, politics, and history, this edition is intended for both classroom use and scholarly research, and will present the manifestos in a clean reading format with a brief contextual introduction and extensive annotations.

Now in her third year of working on this project, Andrea has mostly completed the transcriptions/reading copies of the manifesto texts, and is currently working on annotations. Once she has completed annotating the text, Andrea will write a general introduction for the edition and short introductions for each text section, which will include notes on the texts and her editing process.

So far in her process, Andrea has not run into many major problems. Copyright for some of the previously published texts has presented a minor issue, but most of the manifestos in Andrea’s edition are out of copyright, and many exist only in a single version. Andrea’s main challenge has been balancing landmark pieces with less familiar authors and texts, and she remains concerned about the inclusion of women and non-white writers.

The inclusion of francophone texts provides another challenge. Quebec’s twentieth-century political movements produced many valuable texts — including Refus global — which are essential to Andrea’s edition. However, this raises the issue of translation: should Andrea include francophone texts in the original French, and should she provide an English translation?

At first, Andrea was concerned about balancing the political range of the texts, but in working through a definition of the manifesto as a form and genre, she has come to focus on left-oriented texts that are revolutionary, not reactionary, in nature. The result of this focus is a rich and cohesive set of interrelated texts.

Because Andrea is also currently conducting research for her dissertation and taking part in a number of related commitments, time remains her greatest challenge. For now, she is engaged in the time-consuming but absorbing process of annotations.

December 6, 2012

Oh, the Irony!

This is a relatively short note about something that has been nagging at me for some time. Over the course of the first part of my EMiC-funded project – to digitize and create a database of the poetry, prose, essays and life writings of George Whalley – I have learned a great deal about editing for an edition, and specifically about the ways in which the digital environment facilitates versioning. It has occurred to me over the course of my work and while attending various conference panels on digital editing that perhaps we, as digital editors, are less attuned than we should be to recording the genesis of our own projects for institutional memory. The process of putting together a digital edition seems potentially endless. Whalley’s writings could easily take a lifetime to collect, digitize, and describe, let alone tag in TEI, explicate and annotate, and visualize using visualization tools. I wonder whether there is any sort of protocol for recording our editorial choices for the next person who takes up work on the author we are working on, or whether siloing and/or lack of such protocol dictates that scholars newly approaching the subject lose out on all justifications of the hard work done before, and have only the finished product from which to infer method. I think the issue of erasure of the “versions” of a digital versioning project is immediately relevant in light of the rapidity with which digital technologies are changing; if versions of a project could be saved as the project advances, it might be easier for future scholars to decipher (and repeat or diverge from) the modus operandi of their predecessors when attempting to migrate the final version to an updated information management platform.
What do people think of this? Is there a way to record the steps of digital production as there are on paper? Or are we stuck with the final product? Are we at risk of losing the justification of our work due to the erasure of genesis markers online?

December 6, 2012

Tales from the Archives

I spent last week in Winnipeg, working in the U of M Archives and the Archives of Manitoba. During my brief, frantic visit, I was able to scan material for three digital projects: the digital edition of Dorothy Livesay’s Right Hand Left Hand: A True Life of the Thirties, Bart Vautour and Emily Robins Sharpe’s project Canada and the Spanish Civil War: A Digital Research Environment, and Anouk Lang’s work on Alan Crawley and Contemporary Verse.

I spent my time scanning, the true grunt work of DH. I have spent most of the past four months scanning–an unbelievable amount of time. I want to remind everyone, especially those embarking on digital projects, just how time consuming they can be. No matter how many shortcuts you come up with, you (or your greatly appreciated RA) will still have to go through the processes of creating, organizing, editing, backing up, and ingesting files.

This trip was also a reminded of how vulnerable digital projects are to technical difficulties. This week, I negotiated with no less than four different scanners. Scanners are the very worst coworkers: they are slow, they lose things, they make mistakes, and sometimes they refuse to work altogether. Now that I am back home, I am discovering what irreversible mistakes my scanner and I made, and cursing the imperfect nature of this technology.

Scanning aside, the trip gave me a chance to thoroughly examine Dorothy Livesay’s papers, specifically her documentation of the Thirties. I found some great material and noticed some interesting rifts in memory from one document to the next. She wrote many times about her job in New Jersey, a job she was forced to leave due to illness. The nature of this illness varies: in one version it is an ulcer, in another it is chronic appendicitis (for the record, I had appendicitis, and I don’t think it can even be chronic–it’s really a one time thing). In another version she attributes her illness to high blood pressure, and in another she admits it may have been “a slight nervous breakdown.” She is clearly an unreliable narrator, even concerning her own experiences.

It is only because she left behind such an extensive physical archive that I can notice these discrepancies. Deep in archival work, I began to think about how much personal records have changed with the digital turn. Now, the majority of correspondence takes place in email, text messages, facebook, even twitter. We are documenting our own lives more than ever, but is this documentation durable? Will the kind of archival research I am performing be possible if the subject of study is the so-called digital native? To me, the digital file feels far more ephemeral than the physical photograph, letter, newspaper. Maybe this has more to do with my inherent digital clumsiness–I delete when I mean to save, name files incoherently, and so on. But I still worry that 80 years from now, when I am a fascinating famous person, archivist and researchers will know little about my relationships, experiences, or actions because so much of this information is stored in networks and servers, not boxes.

Of course, we at EMiC are (hopefully) creating sustainable digital projects. Personally, I am far more cautious when it comes to archival scans. Multiple versions of each file ensure that mistakes are minimal and reversible. After all, I know how much work goes into creating each file, and I don’t intend on repeating all those processes.