As a doctoral Research Assistant for Stephen Ross and the Modernist Versions Project at the University of Victoria, Katie Tanigawa is neck-deep in Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Katie is versioning two witnesses of Nostromo — the 1904 T. P.’s Weekly serial edition and the 1904 Harper & Brothers edition — with the goal of using digital technology to gain insights into the text. In particular, Katie is looking for variants in the naming of central characters in the two versions.
At this point in her project, Katie is in the process of completing markup of Part 3 of the text. She is also using Mandala and Juxta to reveal meaningful differences related to her research interests — namely, the variants in character names and the location of the variants within the two versions of the text. Katie’s work so far has led her to wonder how a Rich Prospect Browsing Interface (RPBI) like Mandala can best be used in tandem with markup to reveal meaningful connections within a single text, as well as differences between multiple witness texts.
Many of the challenges Katie faces with this project centre on the ethics of markup as a critical practice. She is very aware that structural markup and semantic markup serve both performative and descriptive purposes, and that the decisions she makes in marking up the text are interpretive. Through her process, Katie has come to question who counts as a character and what counts as a place. Further, she must decide whether to use the <persName> tag, which is used to indicate a proper name (i.e. “Barack Obama”), or the <rs> (referencing string) tag, which is used to indicate a general-purpose name or character epithet (i.e. “the president”). These distinctions can be highly insightful, as they indicate relationships between characters, and also social and political hierarchies within the text.
Another challenge Katie continues to encounter in her work on Nostromo is workflow. One of her goals is to establish a versioning method that allows for both broad inquiry and specific, research-oriented inquiry, and her workflow is a key factor in determining that method. This has led Katie to question the interoperability and flexibility of this type of research-specific semantic markup.
Katie’s work on Nostromo has raised several questions about the role of digital or computational approaches in enabling critical insights into modernist texts — which is the central mission of the Modernist Versions Project — and as her work progresses, she will be well positioned to begin to answer those questions.
Three-quarters of the way through the Year of Ulysses, the Modernist Versions Project (MVP) is going strong. With the support of partners such as EMiC, the MVP is working on versioning a selection of modernist texts, as well as providing content, hosting chats, and featuring lectures for the Year of Ulysses.
The MVP is a large, collaborative project involving scholars and digital humanists from Canada, Ireland, and the United States, which aims to enable new critical insights into modernist texts that are difficult without digital or computational approaches. Right now, MVP scholars are working on several concurrent projects, including work on James Joyce’s Ulysses, Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr, and Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, and plans for versioning other texts are in the works for the near future.
Perhaps the most visible and accessible aspect of the MVP at this time is the Year of Ulysses project, which launched on June 15, 2012 with a photo contest. The Year of Ulysses operates on a recurring three-week cycle of digital text releases, Twitter chats, and lectures presented by internationally renowned Joyceans. Every three weeks, the MVP posts one of 18 episodes of the 1922 first edition of Ulysses — which has been digitized by Matthew Kochis and Patrick Belk at the University of Tulsa — on the MVP website. Each text is prefaced with a brief synopsis to situate the reader, and is presented in PDF — a scanned version of the original — and searchable TXT format. This coming Friday will see the release of “Oxen of the Sun,” Episode 14 of Part II of the novel. Check out the MVP’s most recent text release, “Nausicaa.”
Second in the cycle comes the Twitter chat, which is moderated by a Joycean with a particular affinity for that episode. All Joyce fans — from casual readers to graduate students to international experts — are invited to participate in the chats. So far, in addition to seeing participants from Canada, the United States, Ireland, and the UK, the chats have seen participants from as far away as continental Europe and Fiji. Tweeters and viewers can follow the chats using the hashtag “yearofulysses” (#yearofulysses). Other information pertaining to the Year of Ulysses is also featured on Twitter using that same hashtag. Since June 2012, the #yearofulysses tag has amassed over 3 000 tweets, all of which are being archived for future use.
The final element of the Year of Ulysses cycle is the lecture or podcast. Since June 2012, the MVP has posted lectures from Joyce scholars who include Robert Spoo (University of Tulsa), Terence Killeen (James Joyce Centre, Dublin), and Hans Walter Gabler (Munich University). For more information on past and future MVP lectures, please visit the Year of Ulysses schedule.
Kaarina Mikalson is a Research Assistant for “Canada and the Spanish Civil War,” under the supervision of Bart Vautour of Mount Allison University. For this project, Kaarina’s main objective is to compile bibliographic data of all Canadian literature about the Spanish Civil War, which she then enters into the Canadian Writing and Research Collaboratory (CWRC) Repository. In order to do this work, Kaarina travelled to Winnipeg to scan material in the William Kardash Fonds, and subsequently ingested this material into the Modernist Commons. In addition, she just finished creating a clean text version of Charles Yale Harrison’s Spanish Civil War novel Meet Me on the Barricades.
In working on “Canada and the Spanish Civil War,” Kaarina has run into both practical and technical issues. When she arrived at the Archives of Manitoba to access the William Kardash Fonds, she learned that the rules and restrictions governing scanning had changed earlier that week. Kaarina had only one day to work there, and she spent half of it waiting around for archivists to make decisions according to guidelines they were not yet familiar with themselves. As a result, she was not able to scan all the material she set out to scan, and left somewhat frustrated.
Another of Kaarina’s challenges involves the technical side of working on such a large digital project as “Canada and the Spanish Civil War.” Much of the literature on the Spanish Civil War is obscure, so finding accurate information has been challenging. Also, both the CWRC Repository and the Modernist Commons are still under development, which means that Kaarina is limited in what she can do and encounters occasional errors that delay her work. These challenges, however, are not without their positives. Being involved with the Mods Repository and the Modernist Commons at an early stage means that Kaarina can give feedback to the developers, allowing her to influence — at least to some degree — how these repositories take shape. Plus, Kaarina has already seen amazing developments in the Modernist Commons since she started working with it last spring.
Kaarina will continue to be involved with this fast-moving project throughout the spring and summer. Because Bart Vautour and Emily Robins Sharpe have such a clear plan and keep Kaarina well informed of any developments, she finds her work to be very engaging and rewarding — she can see where the project is going, and how her work fits into the bigger picture.
“Canada and the Spanish Civil War” has taught Kaarina a lot about Canadian history, and she anticipates that the project will have a strong influence on her future academic work. Further, Kaarina sees this project as fulfilling an important role in Canadian society by illuminating this fascinating but underrepresented event in Canadian history.
While formal Canadian involvement in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and multiple peace-keeping assignments is common knowledge, the voluntary enlistment of nearly seventeen hundred Canadians to fight in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is arguably less commonly known. Further, although Spain figured prominently in the creative works produced by modern Canadian artists – who range from Patrick Anderson to Dorothy Livesay to Malcolm Lowry – these works are scattered, inaccessible, or even undocumented. By creating “Canada and the Spanish Civil War: A Digital Research Environment,” an accessible repository of Canadian material, co-directors Bart Vautour (Mount Allison University) and Emily Robins Sharpe (University of Guelph) hope to remedy that issue.
“Canada and the Spanish Civil War” is a three-phase project that aims to collate Canadian material for public consumption in a systematic way as part of The Canadian Writing and Research Collaboratory (CWRC). Right now, Vautour and Robins Sharpe are in the first phase of the project, which requires conducting archival research and gaining digital skills, as well as scholarly consultation and project development. The second phase of the project will build upon the first to prepare and publish a clean-text print anthology, Selected Canadian Writing on the Spanish Civil War, with a scholarly apparatus housed in the Digital Research Environment (DRE). The third phase of the project – which is perhaps the most logistically challenging – will culminate in the creation of a digital collection within the DRE, and will require a massive collation and digitization effort.
At Guelph, Robins Sharpe has been busy co-directing a digital humanities reading group with Dr. Susan Brown, one of her co-supervisors. She is also working hard on skills acquisition for the next phases of “Canada and the Spanish Civil War,” as well as researching and writing an introduction for the project website.
Robins Sharpe also organized and chaired a panel on the Spanish Civil War, “The Spectacle of War,” at the Modernist Studies Association conference in Las Vegas last October. The panel had three presenters – one of whom was Vautour – each speaking on a different genre and national/international grouping of writers. Overall, the panel was well received and led to some interesting intersections and conclusions. Robins Sharpe also presented a paper, “The Wartime Mosaic: Canadian Jewish Literature and the Spanish Civil War,” at the Modern Languages Association convention held in Boston this January.
At Mount Allison, Vautour is working on building a bibliography, doing some archival research, and working with designers to get a start on building a website for “Canada and the Spanish Civil War.” Vautour has hired a Research Assistant, Kaarina Mikalson, to help with some initial digitization.