Editing Modernism in Canada


April 26, 2013

Marc Fortin and The Downfall of Temlaham

EMiC co-applicant Marc André Fortin, Assistant Professor of Canadian Literature at Université de Sherbrooke, is currently researching and editing a scholarly edition of Marius Barbeau’s 1928 novel The Downfall of Temlaham. Barbeau’s novel was originally published in 1928, with a second edition published by Hurtig Press in 1973. Because both of these editions are out of print and difficult to find, Marc’s project will help to fill a gap in a very important moment for Canadian modernism in the literary and visual arts, cultural production in Canada, and in the historical understand of colonial and indigenous contact and its present-day effects with regard to land rights and indigenous self-representation.

Marc has been working on this edition of The Downfall of Temlaham since joining EMiC as a doctoral fellow in 2009. Initially, he intended to produce a text that incorporates the rich ethnographic sources Barbeau collected during his many field trips to the Skeena River, the traditional and present home of the Gitxsan. The Marius Barbeau Fonds at the archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec offers access to more than 30 meters of ethnographic notes, 2,000 artifacts, original Gitxsan stories, translations of those stories, over 1,000 books and articles, and sound recordings of songs and legends that Barbeau collected over his lifetime, many of which are directly related to The Downfall of Temlaham and those who are represented in it.

However, Marc has since changed his approach: this work has led him into a number of different areas that have changed and shaped his opinions on modernism, indigenous studies, editing, ethnography, and the digital humanities, among others. In particular, Marc has come to realize that this is a far more complicated and complex project than he originally thought, as the stories are owned not by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but by the Gitxsan community — even if Canadian copyright law does not necessarily acknowledge such ownership. With that in mind, Marc needs to think critically about the ethics of publishing the text in the format he originally desired.

Marc sees this project as a wide-ranging learning experience that has led him to branch out in a number of different directions. Since beginning his research into The Downfall of Temlaham, he has been able to explore many different facets of the editing process, modernist literature, indigenous/settler relations, copyright law, land rights claims, indigenous politics, database structures, institutional ownership of Canadian history, museum and archival holdings, and a number of other related areas of studies. The challenges Marc has faced in his work have led him to reconsiderations and refocused interpretations of scholarly editing, working with indigenous communities, governmental institutions, and the collaborative environment of large-scale digital humanities projects.

As the need to create an ethical, collaborative, and shared dialogue between educational institutions and indigenous communities is still ongoing, Marc feels that his project could both benefit from and help produce such a dialogue. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done, and with the Gitxsan faced with neo-colonial intrusions into their land by the government and business, there is an obvious barrier to getting their approval to publish a text that could be said to have helped produce a certain stereotype of the Indigene in Canada.

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