Editing Modernism in Canada


Author Archive

April 28, 2015

A Portrait of the CMMP as a Young Project

I’ve been asked to briefly reflect on my work as the Principal Investigator for the EMiC PhD Stipend-funded Canadian Modernist Magazines Project (CMMP). Before outlining a few of my activities over the past year, though, I’d like to echo recent posts—by Kaarina Mikalson, Hannah McGregor, Carl Watts, and Alix Shield, among others—in thanking EMiC for facilitating so many exciting projects and productive, energizing, and fun conversations. EMiC has changed the way I think about academic communities, collaboration, and my own field(s) of research.

My goal with the CMMP has always been pretty straightforward: digitize full runs of Preview (1942-44) and First Statement (1942-45) so that they can be read and analyzed online. But there is more than one way to skin a cat (apparently), and, as I’ve learned, there is certainly more than one way to digitize a text (none of which involve violence against animals, unless we’re talking vellum). This is an obvious point to make, perhaps; I mention it only because this reality—that there is no single way to scan, transcribe, and display texts online—has been both incredibly overwhelming and incredibly liberating as I think about the crucial next steps for the project. I want to save time and money by adapting the best practices and workflows of similar digitization projects, but I also want to find ways to set the CMMP apart, making it as user-friendly and powerful a resource as possible. How does one follow in others’ (giant) footsteps and still leave a mark?

So far, much of my work has involved laying important groundwork that, in the end, will be invisible to end-users of the CMMP website. For example, I have spent many hours researching the best ways to record, host, and display metadata, and many more communicating with various scholars, librarians, and institutions. My biggest job, however, has been tracking down contributors’ surviving family members or literary executors, a process which has been surprisingly difficult. Even so, the challenge of securing permissions has also been a rewarding one: one of the great perks of this project has been learning more about all of the magazines’ contributors as human beings, not just as names attached to poems or essays. In the course of my slow, sometimes fruitless detective work, I have unearthed many fascinating stories about who these writers were and what kinds of amazing things they did with their lives. The 60 or so contributors to First Statement and Preview went on to become poets, professors, Members of the Order of the British Empire, Members of the Order of Canada, founders of some of Canada’s most prestigious literary journals, actors, lawyers, psychologists, and proud parents. Some are still familiar names in the Canadian literary community, but many are not.

Although it’s still unclear when I will be able to launch the CMMP, I feel good about the progress that’s been made, and I’ve already been thinking ahead to the future of the project for some time. As far as I’m concerned, the CMMP’s digitization of Preview and First Statement is only a starting point: in fact, I’ve already begun to eye up other magazines worthy of digitization and to consider how I can keep the project alive and well through new partnerships or funding opportunities. In any case, I’ve received enough encouragement—from fellow EMiC-ites, from colleagues, and from patient friends—to believe that my optimism about the potential value of the project has not been ill-founded. Indeed, one highlight from this past year was talking about the CMMP with other modernists at the Modernist Studies Association’s annual conference in Pittsburgh. While running a digital exhibit with Dean Irvine on the CMMP and the Modernist Commons, I was fortunate enough to meet Sean Latham, Jeff Drouin, Cliff Wulfman, and Kent Emerson of the Modernist Journals Project (MJP), and their positive feedback about my own still-nascent project was tremendously encouraging. Since then, I have received further advice and encouragement from the MJP’s Kent Emerson and Mark Gaipa, not to mention the invaluable advice of my lovely EMiC friends (and, on that note, I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in the project in any way).

I’m not sure what the CMMP will look like in another year, but I remain excited about its possible futures—and grateful to EMiC and the EMiC community for making my project possible in the first place.

June 12, 2014

“Agile Development” and the Digital Humanities

Since returning from my second DHSI, I’ve had a little time to reflect on my experience and to bask in the glory of my new—but still fledgling—programming skills.  Like Chris, Emily, James, and Mathieu, I spent last week happily enrolled in Josh and Zailig Pollock’s course on “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT.”  And, like my classmates, I was encouraged to embrace aspects of what the instructors referred to as an “Agile development method” (in essence, an iterative and adaptive approach to coding and project management).  As we worked through exercises to reinforce each of the day’s lessons, we learned to test and tweak our code obsessively, and in this small way we began to see how an “agile” approach to DH projects might prove valuable on a larger scale.

For the benefit of those who haven’t read it, the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” reads as follows:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
(Source: agilemanifesto.org; emphasis added)

As one can see, the agile method offers a number of practical, even common-sense suggestions that can be usefully incorporated into most collaborative DH projects.  In terms of my own DH work—and I’m thinking specifically here of my role in getting the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project up and running—an agile workflow or development approach will likely benefit the project in several ways.  For example, I hope to successfully model the agile method’s emphasis on openness (to collaboration, to changing tools and conditions in the digital landscape, or even to the overall direction of the project).  Perhaps even more importantly, however, I want to avoid being paralyzed by obsessive over-planning or inflexible long-term projections; instead, I want to work incrementally, letting each small step or misstep guide the next.  The reality is that any new DH project is the product of innumerable blunders and misgivings, just as any “polished” essay is (in my experience) the product of multiple drafts and, initially, ill-conceived thoughts or malformed sentences.

Finally, I think it’s important for institutions that wish to support DH projects to recognize, and perhaps to help mitigate in some small way, the institutional pressures that confront English literary critics qua DH scholars in their work as DH scholars.  But I guess what I really mean to advocate is an understanding of the similarities between literary critics and programmers or DHers, not the differences that make collaboration between them a potentially overwhelming undertaking.  As those of us who have been lucky enough to participate in DHSI are well aware, the literary critic and the technogeek no longer occupy mutually exclusive domains. While I acknowledge the dangers of getting entirely immersed in the DH world and thus neglecting to hone one’s unique skills as a literary critic, I also acknowledge the need to constantly re-think my own research in light of rapidly changing disciplines, departmental practices, and institutional exigencies.  So thank you for the education, Josh and Zailig—and thank you, EMiC, for another great week at DHSI.