Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for June, 2015

June 29, 2015

Codework, Carework, and EMiC 20 or 30 years from now

I spent one year as the EMiC postdoctoral fellow which I mostly spent working in the McMaster University Archives reading and writing about Austin Clarke and learning about the digital humanities. I was somewhat surprised when EMiC decided to fund my Clarke project but as I learned more about the organization I realized that there really is no strict mandate for EMiC work. Their working definitions of modernism and Canadian writing are wide and flexible and indeed part of their project is to push at the boundaries of these definitions; I think this is one of EMiC’s real strengths.

During my year as the EMiC postdoc I completed the edits on my book, published a few articles, worked on my own topic modeling software and did lots of cool and fun exploratory stuff that won’t necessarily show up on my CV but that was important nonetheless. This was all thanks to EMiC. EMiC also gave me the time, resources, and community support that I needed to get started on what has become a large project on Clarke’s writing and letters. My work with EMiC has undoubtedly provided the basis for what I hope will become my second book project. The boxes of material in Clarke’s archives span more than 23m if you laid them out on the floor so the sheer volume of material took a long time to grapple with. To begin to categorize these papers, to learn about the tools I could use to interpret them, and to develop some on my own. All of this took time as well. It’s thanks to EMiC that I had the necessary time and resources to work through all of this.

I also attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute which was by far the coolest week of my year. DHSI is summer camp for DH’ers (new and experienced) and is everything a traditional conference should be. You meet cool people, learn about their cool work, and have all kinds of cool conversations over cool drinks. I think one of EMiC’s greatest achievements is helping to build the community that grew out of the DHSI experience. It is because of EMiC that so many scholars were able to attend DHSI, meet one another, and share their ideas and experiences. We talk a lot about building community as a component of our DH work but really this has to go beyond retweets and blog links. EMiC provided a model for community building that is particularly suited to Canadianists and DH’ers. This kind of work is especially important for DH’ers who may be out of place in traditional departments and is especially urgent given everyone’s pessimism for the future of the humanities.

Lauren Klein has recently insisted on the need to practice both carework and codework in the digital humanities, arguing that DH, at its best, “can perform a double function: facilitating new digital approaches to scholarly research, and just as powerfully, calling attention to what knowledge, even with these new approaches, still remains out of reach.” Dean Irvine and the entire EMiC crew provided a model for this kind of DH work that encourages a wide range of projects alongside critical interrogations of the methods of DH itself. During my time with EMiC I repeatedly saw work that exemplified both carework and codework and serve as an example for all of our future scholarship. It will be little surprise to me if young scholars 20 or 30 years from now are studying the important role of EMiC in shaping Canadian literary scholarship.

Paul Barrett