Editing Modernism in Canada


March 8, 2013

Nick van Orden and @Wilfred_Watson

Doctoral student Nick van Orden is part of the University of Alberta’s expansive and collaborative EMiC project (EMiC UA) focussing on the work of Wilfred Watson. Nick is working on two projects with EMiC UA, the first of which involves scanning the Wilfred Watson archive. This project is in its third year, and is estimated to consist of approximately 80,000 scans. Numerous people — including Nick — are involved in this vast endeavour to digitize Wilfred’s papers.

EMiC UA’s other project in which Nick is involved is a small — but very interesting — offshoot of the scanning project. Since December 2012, Nick has been tweeting from the @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account. As the EMiC UA team scans Wilfred’s papers, they flag particularly insightful, pithy, humorous, or poignant passages, which Nick then tweets.

The Twitter account serves two general purposes. First, it works as a marketing platform for the project, helping the team to spread awareness about Wilfred, his work, and the project. Part of EMiC UA’s motivation for increasing awareness — aside from advertising the forthcoming digital collection of Wilfred’s material — is an upcoming exhibition of Wilfred’s work at the University of Alberta Library’s Special Collections, which is set to take place in the fall of 2014. The @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account provides EMiC UA with the opportunity to network with members of the digital humanities and modernist communities.

Tweeting from @Wilfred_Watson has prompted the team to consider several interesting legal, ethical, and theoretical questions related to digitization. How, for example, does EMiC UA negotiate the legality of making public previously unpublished material, to which they have been granted access by the U of A Library, which is, in turn, beholden to Wilfred’s literary executor? To what extent should the scholars intervene in the material they tweet? Should they edit and/or correct the passages that they have select to tweet? Also, what are the ethics of tweeting as a person now dead? What does it mean to put Wilfred in conversation with other long-deceased modernist writers and thinkers? Are these scholars creating a set of false relationships, or are these avatar-based interactions a different (and new) form of what might otherwise be called intertextuality? Although the project is still developing, Nick’s work with Twitter on behalf of EMiC UA provides a unique opportunity to explore these issues, which have implications for the larger digital humanities community as a whole.

At about four months into the project, Nick and the rest of the team are just getting started. Right now, the @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account has amassed 40 tweets and collected 35 followers, and the numbers are growing steadily. Still, the team would like to increase both of these numbers a great deal; this will require more material to tweet, and more time spent monitoring the account. The EMiC UA team is also exploring the possibility of creating a “Wilfred Watson” digital brand, but is wary of the labour involved in establishing and maintaining a social media presence beyond Twitter.

For anyone interested in learning more about EMiC UA’s work on the Twitter account, Nick, Paul Hjartarson, and the rest of the EMiC UA team will be presenting a paper — entitled “Tweeting the @Wilfred_Watson Archive (or, I Tweet Dead People)” — at the CSDH/SCHN 2013 conference (part of Congress) this June in Victoria, BC.

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