Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for November, 2013

November 28, 2013

Critical Edition by EMiC Scholars Hits Shelves

A critical edition of Malcolm Lowry’s novella Swinging the Maelstrom is available now from the University of Ottawa Press, and three members of the EMiC community have their names on the cover and the fruits of their research within the pages.



The text was edited by EMiC collaborator Vik Doyen, who researched Lowry throughout his graduate degrees and did a genetic study of Lowry’s works for his dissertation. Doyen previously edited an edition of Lowry’s Lunar Caustic (an alternate name for Swinging the Maelstrom). EMiC co-applicant Miguel Mota has also edited an extensive list of Lowry works and joins Doyen as introduction co-author for Swinging the Maelstrom. Chris Ackerley, another EMiC collaborator and editor of Lunar Caustic, contributed the notes to the Maelstrom edition– an edition that lays out all versions of the text that exist under all of its various titles. EMiC scholars Paul Tiessen and Patrick A. McCarthy also contributed to this critical volume.

Read more about the edition, the author, and the editors (or purchase your copy!) here:


November 17, 2013

Survey on student labour, training and collaboration in DH projects

The following letter is a message from graduate students at Simon Fraser University, asking for the EMiC community’s participation in a survey about student involvement in DH projects. A great opportunity for both students and faculty to share their experience with collaborative research, the survey closes in one week. Read below for more information:

Dear colleagues,

We are a group of graduate students from Simon Fraser University working on a collaborative essay under the supervision of Dr. Michelle Levy about the role of student labour, training and collaboration in Digital Humanities projects. To this end, we have constructed two surveys to gather anecdotal and quantitative evidence about student involvement.

There are two survey options, one for student researchers and one for grant-holding faculty researchers, which can be found below:

Students: Click here to take the student survey.

Faculty: Click here to take the faculty survey.

We welcome your participation, and invite you to circulate this survey widely amongst your students and colleagues. The survey will be available until 11:59 P.M. (PST) on Monday, November 25th, 2013.

A copy of the aggregated findings of this survey will be available to all participants.

Thanks and best,
Katrina Anderson, Lindsey Bannister, Janey Dodd, Deanna Fong and Lindsey Seatter

November 5, 2013

“The word Canada mean something like progressiveness!”: Digitally identifying Canada as a sign of modernity in Clarke’s Survivors (by Paul Barrett)

This post was written by Paul Barrett.

My project is a somewhat crazy attempt to locate Austin Clarke’s writing within the thematic and generic boundaries of Canadian modernism. Why crazy? Well, what does Clarke’s work – even his early writing – have to do with Canadian modernism?  What generic and thematic connections are there between Canadian modernism and Clarke’s work? In addition to addressing these specific questions, I am also interested in why Clarke’s writing – particularly his early work – has been largely ignored by Canadian and Caribbean critics alike. My working thesis is that the untimeliness of these works – coming too late for modernism and too early to be qualified as ‘multicultural writing’ – the generic hybridity of Clarke’s early writing, and the transnational quality of these early works has baffled critics. I focus on Clarke’s first novel, The Survivors of the Crossing, a transnational Canadian novel concerned with questions of race and nation that was written throughout the 1950s and 1960s and published in 1964 (before Klinck’s Literary History of Canada!). The transnational bent of Clarke’s early novels, the focus on representations of race and racism in pre-multicultural Canada, and the formal qualities of Clarke’s work all made it difficult for Canadian critics in the 1960s and 70s to place Clarke’s writing within a familiar framework. Thus his early novels have received virtually no critical attention despite being notable commercial successes.

To attempt to understand this gap in Canadian scholarship I’m beginning with the provocative hypothesis that Survivors may be understood as an instance of late modernism in Canada. It is perhaps an instance of what Kronfeld calls “marginal modernisms” that lie beyond “the powerful cartographic paradigm: international modernism = Europe + United States” (4). However, the question remains: what aesthetic / formal / thematic elements in Clarke’s work might locate Survivors within Canadian modernism? And if the text can be identified as a form of late modernism, how might it redefine aspects of modernist Canadian fiction? Survivors begins with a letter from Canada to plantation workers in the Caribbean. The letter writer locates Canada at the center of global modernity, insisting that “Canada is a real first-class place!” and that “the word Canada mean something like progressiveness!” (9 – 10). The novel thus seems to invert colonial modernity by recasting Canada as a sign of modernity and contemporaneity and the British system of plantation labour as the relic of a less progressive era.



Movement is also a central theme of the novel as it is the movement of Caribbean people to Canada that leads the characters to see the plantation system anew. Clarke’s novel thus accords with Glenn Willmott’s argument that “The grounding of experience of modernity … in modern Canadian fiction is, therefore, not that of the dichotomy between or movement from the country to the town or city – the dichotomy of rural versus urban – but the deconstruction of that dichotomy or movement … the subtle ‘urbanization’ of the countryside itself”  (152). In this case, however, it is the Caribbean countryside that is urbanized with Canada figured as a sign of global modernity. In what ways, then, does Clarke’s reimagining of Canada as a sign of modernity transform the manner in which he engages with the themes and motifs of Canadian modernism?

I am using topic modeling and Vocabulary Management Profiling software to try and answer these numerous questions. Topic modeling is a digital method of textual analysis that identifies recurring ‘topics’ or themes in a text and the relations between various topics within a single text or across multiple texts. I investigate the ways that topic modeling can help us understand the relationship between depictions of movement and space in Clarke’s novel. I am working in the William Ready Archives at McMaster University where Clarke’s archives (more than 22m of material!) are stored. I am also using Vocabulary Management Profiling software, which identifies marked shifts in an author’s use of language; I use this tool to assess the relationship between Clarke’s use of nation language and conventional English. I am particularly interested in tracing how Clarke’s use of nation language changes across drafts of the novel and may be affected by editorial intervention.



I’m still in the beginning stages of my project – scanning the multiple drafts of Clarke’s novel, converting the images into documents, and exploring the different methods for topic modeling. However, I hope that these methods will provide insight into the relationship between Clarke’s first novel and Canadian modernism and that Clarke’s work will provide a useful case study for understanding the implications of these digital methods of textual analysis.

November 4, 2013

Infinite Ulysses: Mechanisms for a Participatory Edition

My previous post introduced some of my research questions with the “Infinite Ulysses” project; here, I’ll outline some specific features I’ll be building into the digital edition to give it participatory capabilities—abilities I’ll be adding to the existing Modernist Commons platform through the support of an  EMiC Ph.D. Stipend.

My “Infinite Ulysses” project combines its speculative design approach with the scholarly primitive of curation (dealing with information abundance and quality and bias), imagining scholarly digital editions as popular sites of interpretation and conversation around a text. By drawing from examples of how people actually interact with text on the internet, such as on the social community Reddit and the Q&A StackExchange sites, I’m creating a digital edition interface that allows site visitors to create and interact with a potentially high number of annotations and interpretations of the text. Note that while the examples below pertain to my planned “Infinite Ulysses” site (which will be the most fully realized demonstration of my work), I’ll also be setting up an text of A.M. Klein’s at modernistcommons.ca with similar features (but without seeded annotations or methodology text), and my code work will be released with an open-source license for free reuse in others’ digital editions.


So that readers on my beta “Infinite Ulysses” site aren’t working from a blank slate, I’ll be seeding the site with annotations that offer a few broadly useful tags that mark advanced vocabulary, foreign languages, and references to Joyce’s autobiography so that the site’s ways of dealing with annotations added by other readers can be explored. Readers can also fill out optional demographic details on their account profiles that will help other readers identify people with shared interests in or levels of experience with Ulysses.

On top of a platform for adding annotations to edited texts, readers of the digital edition will be able to:

1. tag the annotations

For Stephen’s description of Haines’ raving nightmare about a black panther, a reader might add the annotation “Haines’ dream foreshadows the arrival of main character Leopold Bloom in the story; Bloom, a Jewish Dubliner, social misfit, and outcast from his own home, is often described as a sort of ‘dark horse’“. This annotation can be augmented by its writer (or any subsequent reader) with tags such as “JoyceAutobiography” (for the allusions to Joyce’s own experience in a similar tower), “DarkHorses” (to help track “outsider” imagery throughout the novel), and “dreams”.

2. toggle/filter annotations both by tags and by user accounts

Readers can either hide annotations they don’t need to see (e.g. if you know Medieval Latin, hide all annotations translating it) or bring forward annotations dealing with areas of interest (e.g. if you’re interested in Joyce and Catholicism)

Readers can hide annotations added by certain user accounts (perhaps you disagree with someone’s interpretations, or only want to see annotations by other users that are also first-time readers of the book).

3. assign weights to both other readers’ accounts and individual annotations

As with Reddit, each annotation (once added to the text) can receive either one upvote or one downvote from each reader, by which the annotation’s usefulness can be measured by the community, determining how often and high something appears in search results and browsing. Votes on annotations will also accrue to the reader account that authored those annotations, so that credibility of annotators can also be roughly assessed.

3. cycle through less-seen and lower-ranked editorial contributions

To prevent certain annotations from never being read (a real issue unless every site visitor wishes to sit and rank every annotation!)

4. track of contentious annotations

To identify and analyze material that receives an unusual amount of both up- and down-voting

5. save private and public sets of annotations

Readers can curate specific sets of annotations from the entire pool of annotations, either for personal use or for public consumption. For example, a reader might curate a set of annotations that provide clues to Ulysses‘ mysteries, or track how religion is handled in the book, or represent the combined work of an undergraduate course where Ulysses was an assigned text.

I’m expecting that the real usage of these features will not go as planned; online communities I’m studying while building this edition all have certain organic popular usages not originally intended by the site creators, and I’m excited to discover these while conducting user testing. I’ll be discussing more caveats as to how these features will be realized, as well as precedents to dealing with heavy textual annotations, in a subsequent post.

First Wireframe

In the spirit of documenting an involving project, here’s a quick and blurry glance at my very first wireframe of the site’s reading page layout from the summer (I’m currently coding the site’s actual design). I thought of this as a “kitchen sink wireframe”; that is, the point was not to create the final look of the site or to section off correct dimensions for different features, but merely to represent every feature I wanted to end up in the final design with some mark or symbol (e.g. up- and down-voting buttons). The plan for the final reading page is to have a central reading pane, a right sidebar where annotations can be authored and voted up or down, and a pull-out drawer to the left where readers can fiddle with various settings to customize their reading experience (readers also have the option of setting their default preferences for these features—e.g. that they never want to see annotations defining vocabulary—on their private profile pages).

I’m looking forward to finessing this layout with reader feedback toward a reading space that offers just the right balance of the annotations you want handy with a relatively quiet space in which to read the text. This project builds from the HCI research into screen layout I conducted during my master’s, which produced an earlier Ulysses digital edition attempt of mine, the 2008/2009 UlyssesUlysses.com:

UlyssesUlysses does some interesting things in terms of customizing the learning experience (choose which category of annotation you want visibly highlighted!) and the reading experience (mouse over difficult words and phrases to see the annotation in the sidebar, instead of reading a text thick with highlightings and footnotes). On the downside of things, it uses the Project Gutenberg e-text of Ulysses, HTML/CSS (no TEI or PHP), and an unpleasant color scheme (orange and brown?). I’ve learned much about web design, textual encoding, and Ulysses since that project, and it’s exciting to be able to document these early steps toward a contextualized reading experience with the confidence that this next iteration will be an improvement.


Because code modules already exist that allow many of these features within other contexts (e.g. upvoting), I will be able to concentrate my efforts on applying these features to editorial use and assessing user testing of this framework. I’ll likely be building with the Modernist Commons editing framework, which will let me use both RDF and TEI to record relationships among contextualizing annotations; there’s an opportunity to filter and customize your reading experience along different trajectories of inquiry, for example by linking clues to the identity of Bloom’s female correspondent throughout the episodes. Once this initial set of features is in place, I’ll be able to move closer to the Ulysses text while users are testing and breaking my site. One of the things I hope to do at this point is some behind-the-scenes TEI conceptual encoding of the Circe episode toward visualizations to help first-time readers of the text deal with shifts between reality and various reality-fueled unrealities.

Practical Usage

Despite this project’s speculative design (what if everyone wants to chip in their own annotations to Ulysses?), I’m also building for the reality of a less intense, but still possibly wide usage by scholars, readers, teachers, and book clubs. This dissertation is very much about not just describing, but actually making tools that identify and respond to gaps I see in the field of digital textual studies, so part of this project will be testing it with various types of reader once it’s been built, and then making changes to what I’ve built to serve the unanticipated needs of these users (read more about user testing for DH here).

To sign up for a notification when the “Infinite Ulysses” site is ready for beta-testing, please visit the form here.

Amanda Visconti is an EMiC Doctoral Fellow; Dr. Dean Irvine is her research supervisor and Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum is her dissertation advisor. Amanda is a Literature Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and also works as a graduate assistant at a digital humanities center, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She blogs regularly about the digital humanities, her non-traditional digital dissertation, and digital Joyce at LiteratureGeek.com, where parts of this post previously appeared.