Editing Modernism in Canada


March 31, 2015

The Dove and the DH Guru of Indiana: The Carl Watts Story

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since I was given the go-ahead to begin my digital edition of Laura Goodman Salverson’s The Dove. When I got this opportunity, I knew very little about the Digital Humanities. It often feels like this is still the case; nevertheless, in the past year I’ve attained some practical skills, made some new CanLit discoveries, and embarked on a mission to help people who also feel incompetent as they take their first steps in the world of DH.

Although I had for some time been thinking about the relevance (or at least peculiarity) of The Dove, last spring I was suddenly overwhelmed with practical questions that needed answering. Scanning pages was easy enough, but some other basic steps were bound up with a slew of large and poorly formed queries: Is this the Tesseract I’ve heard about? How do I make it work? Can a lone man indeed create a digital edition on his laptop? Where does it go? During those early days in Kingston it seemed like there was nowhere to turn.

With the help of two fabulous colleagues (Google and Emily Murphy), however, I was eventually able to crack the code. The first colleague taught me how to generate reams of .txt files in which each gross stain on the pages of the novel was transcribed as a * or a Q. The second colleague solved my schema problem and pointed out some errors I had made in my TEI markup. This eleventh-hour save notwithstanding, I would describe myself as a master of DIY TEI. And while my basic TEI/XML markup is functional, my CSS skills are currently both DIY and LOL.

As I’ve been messing around with CSS, I’ve also continued researching the text’s history. I’ve always felt strange using the word “research” to describe my academic work; all this word ever really meant to me (as a graduate student) was frantically reading articles and then synthesizing them into either a term paper or an attempted publication. In contrast, having an entire funded year to read around a topic allowed me to make some actual discoveries. For instance, on my trip to view the typescript of the novel at Library and Archives Canada, I learned that Salverson made corrections with a green pen and that government employees enjoy eating lunch in food courts. As far as The Dove is concerned, I managed to uncover a consistent error in the small amount of writing that has mentioned the novel. These sources usually describe the text as based on an Icelandic saga, but my readings in this area revealed that this word usually refers to other, much earlier sources. Meanwhile, Salverson seems to have based her novel on one particular, somewhat different text: a seventeenth-century memoir entitled The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson. Much of the background research that led to this discovery has found its way into my introduction to the edition. This introduction is only about half finished, but when I mutter things to myself I definitely describe it as “masterful.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of the memoir, which was conveniently translated into English for the first time in 2008:


I’m also fresh off delivering a grotesque Frankenstein’s Monster of a conference presentation at the annual meeting of the College English Association in Indianapolis. I started by describing my edition and discoveries, moved on to some practical tips regarding getting a digital-editing project off the ground, and concluded with a state-of-the-discipline rumination on textual communities and critical contexts in our early- or mid-DH epoch. Some audience members looked bewildered (in one case, disgusted), but when the session ended I was greeted by a lineup of people who either had technical questions of their own or were offering their thanks for being provided with a basic plan for getting started on a similar project. After having spent my early days struggling to answer such basic questions, I felt good knowing that I was now able to help people in similar situations. Perhaps some of the horrified looks I got during the presentation were merely reactions to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed just as I arrived in the city. On that note, I took this picture of the Indiana Death Star shortly after I dubbed myself the DH Guru of the state:


As I move on to the next stages of the project, I want to thank Glenn Willmott, Emily Murphy, and Google for their advice. Also, obviously, a big thank you goes out to Dean and EMiC for allowing me to make progress on the edition and encouraging me to share my research and experiences.

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