Editing Modernism in Canada


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June 8, 2014

Thirty-three ways of looking at a DHSI week

dhsi_blog_image_2In 2012, after a brilliant week of taking the GIS course at DHSI, I wrote a post with twenty-two reasons to go to DHSI. I did not think it was possible, but this week has been even better than that one, in part because I am now much further in to my work with digital methods, and my comfort levels are much higher. So, herewith a followup post, two years on, with eleven further reasons to convince anyone who hasn’t yet drunk the kool-aid, or to choose a more database-appropriate metaphor, taken the red pill.

1) First of all, the feeling of being stretched and challenged in entirely unpredictable ways: of being taken way outside of my comfort zone, having my object of study taken away from me, exploded into unrecognisable pieces, conceptually reassembled, and handed back to me. It’s a cliche that DH forces us think differently about what we do and how we do it, but the generative experience of actually doing this intensely for an entire week with experts in the room is an immense privilege, in a world where the imperatives to knock out REF-able publications, achieve “impact” with our research, climb ever higher on departmental and university rankings tables and so forth–these are our UK imperatives; there are others in the north American context–militate against the deep immersion that we need to do our best work.

2) I’m going to give the Databases course its own reason to go to DHSI. Yes, really. Databases. It sounds dismal. It’s anything but. Take this course if your research involves even a moderate amount of data-gathering (hint: if you are using Excel and find yourself adding extra columns, putting in lots of null values and becoming dissatisfied with the way your tables represent whatever it is you are studying, a relational database is probably what you want instead). Harvey is hilarious, and long impromptu riffs on an eclectic medley of pop culture texts turn into serious points about the theoretical and practical exigencies of working with relational databases. The pedagogical component of this course is top-notch: he has thought very hard about how to make the material intuitively graspable by people who are not trained as computer scientists. Come for the standup, stay for the profound transformations to your thinking.

3) Almost as good as databases is … free beer! A prize for accidentally walking up to the registration table at exactly three o’clock. I didn’t think I could be happier about arriving in Victoria under deep blue skies, reconnecting with EMiC friends and starting a week of databases, but turns out free beer will do the trick.

4) An antidote to years of finding the command line intimidating. Decades, in fact: our first family computer had an MS-DOS prompt into which my brother typed arcane magic words, and the helplessness I felt watching the screen fill up with glowy green type is a visceral memory. After a 45 minute unconference session with Jonathan Martin, it is intimidating no more, and in fact to my surprise somewhat intuitive. For those who want to try, the resource we used is called Learn Code the Hard Way.

5) The vault of collective knowledge that it is possible to tap into via the #dhsi2014 hashtag. Trying to quickly clean up a data set, I sent out a plaintive cry for help with a regex to remove URLs, and three lovely people answered in under a minute with suggestions. (Happy ending: I figured it out myself! Woohoo! It is the world’s ugliest regex, but it works.)

6) Twitter, which this year was something of a different experience. There was absolutely no chance of following the #dhsi2014 backchannel, given that new tweets popped up on it roughly every three and a half seconds, and in fact the TAGS spreadsheet keeping the twitter archive broke. So, because I couldn’t follow it completely, I dipped in and out. While I know I will have missed many things, I feel like I still got something of a decent sense of many of the most interesting conversations–the conversations about gender happening in #femdh, or Susan Brown’s wisdom about managing large and long-running projects in the #cwrcshop, for instance–which could then be followed up in meatspace by collaring friends who had been sitting in those classes. I do feel marginally less tapped out brain-wise than I have in previous years, so that’s a plus. DHSI is obviously not getting any smaller in the near future, so we’re all going to have to find other ways of filtering the backchannel.

7) Serendipity, which always happens at DHSI: it is like some kind of magic fairy dust that Ray arranges to have sprinkled around the campus. Discovering that the person standing behind me in the line at the Monday night reception was a topic modelling guru who graciously let me pull out my laptop so he could show me around a topic modelling tool with a nice GUI. Finding that Emily Robins-Sharpe also teaches transnational modernisms and swapping notes on texts we put on our syllabi. Giving a paper at the colloquium and getting tweets from people working on similar areas, and meeting afterwards to share resources.

8) Victoria and its serene beauty: the fir trees, the beach, deer grazing on the cluster lawn in the twilight, a faun trotting after its mother, a lone bunny hopping past a cluster house. #comebackbunnies

9) Meeting people, all the people, all the time. People who I have gotten to know virtually and whose work I have admired from afar – Scott Weingart, Paul Fyfe, Alex Gil – and whom it was a pleasure to finally meet in person and continue conversations that had already started online. People with whom there’s lots of common ground research-wise: Paul Barrett, for instance, who is doing some intriguing work on topic modelling the archive of Austin Clarke, and Alana Fletcher, who knows the Queen’s University archives like the back of her hand and who is, happily, willing to work on digitizing the Crawley materials. And of course picking up with everyone with whom the Atlantic ocean gets in the way of hanging out on an everyday basis: my excellent Twentieth-Century Literary Letters project collaborators; my fabulous housemates Hannah, Lee & Karis who have all three had wonderful professional successes since the last time we caught up, which make me happy to know them and to be associated with them through EMiC. Let me have a shot at doing this as a left join …

USE dhsiclub
SELECT firstname, lastname, “, “, role_name
FROM role, person_role, person, dhsi_attendees, dhsi_class
WHERE dhsi_class.class_id=dhsi_attendees.class_id, dhsi_attendees.person_id=person.person_id, person.person_id=person_role.person_id, person_role.role_id=role.role_id
AND dhsi_class.class_year=2014

10) Developing my thinking about the letter as cultural artefact, and about the work of transmission that it performs. Thinking beyond its existence within document culture (see, Harvey, I’m learning) and reimagining it within database culture, its magical power to connect not just people but places, texts and ideas comes to the fore. And tabulating those elements in a database enables us to query them, ie. relate them, in ways that we cannot if we look at them within document culture.

11) Finally, if I had to pick one overriding quality of DHSI, it would be generosity. I’ve had the privilege of participating in DHSI over the past six years because Dean was generous (farsighted? foolish?) enough to invite me, as an early-career scholar, to be a co-applicant on EMiC. The ramifications of this act of generosity will continue to ripple out for a long time for me, and I have a difficult time articulating how important my involvement in EMiC has been, especially as I write this at the end of a week in which all the words have gone because all the brain is full. Along with Dean’s generosity, there’s the generosity of other Canadian faculty and graduate students who have been welcoming to an interloper with a peculiar interest in the literature of their country. (“Why would anyone outside Canada want to study Can lit?” is the question that emerges, politely, sooner or later in most conversations. The answer, for the record, is: because awesome.)

EMiC colleagues, from the most eminent senior scholars to just-beginning graduate students, I can’t tell you how much your friendship and your intellectual company means to me, at DHSI and the other occasions when I’m fortunate enough to hang out with you physically, virtually, or on the page. Thank you all, and may we continue to be left joined connected for many years to come.

June 13, 2012

Twenty-two reasons to go to DHSI

Things you don’t even know about yet that will make your life better. PressBooks, which lets you produce beautifully formatted e-books in multiple formats: thank you @isleofvan. Free digitized historical maps from the David Rumsey collection. Visible Prices, a tool by @paigecmorgan which uses the SIMILE scripts to help render historical prices in literary texts comprehensible to modern day readers. OxGarage, a tool for converting just about anything to (lightly marked up) TEI. The beautiful Van Gogh Letters project, whose elegant interface has helped me to think through some of the design quandaries I’d been puzzling over for my own EMiC project: thank you Beth Popham. Many other resources flowed past me on presentation screens and on Twitter, too many to list here.

Things that make you think differently about how you do your own work. Using text mining in the attempt to map conceptual space alongside geographical space in Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative (a project by one of my GIS classmates, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon at Northeastern). Using tags to get students to think about the thematic content and structure of their writing (@chris_friend).

Things that will make you more literate, not just as a digital humanist but as a member of a mediated society. One unconference session taught me the basic principles behind machine translation (= statistics, not linguistics). Another drew back the curtain on the curious inefficiencies in transforming printed books into e-books, and challenged those of us in the room not just to rethink the structure behind the model, but to imagine ways to change it.

That moment when the technology you’ve been wrestling with the whole week actually works, and you manage to do the thing that you came to DHSI specifically to do. Euphoria!

Vicarious pride when @jmhuculak gives a demo of the the EMiC modernist commons and virtual flutters of delight ripple out on the tweetstream. This is completely unjustified on my part as the construction of the commons is nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the brilliant folks at Islandora, but when Matt gave the demo, being a part of EMiC made me happy. What a fabulous bunch of people, and what an awesome resource this will be.

Collegiality. The ability to explore research questions in new ways with technology might have been what initially brought me to DH, but what keeps me here is the friendliness of the community. In addition to an emphasis on mentoring, there’s also a close critical attention to questions of academic labour, and the material consequences of institutional practices, especially on early-career scholars (on edit: see Alana’s post below).

Sharing the love. Three of us got talking on the shuttle from the airport; one person had not heard of Zotero, and her eyes got rounder and rounder as we explained how it pulled bibliographic data directly from the web into a browser plugin where it could then be sorted into libraries, published to the web or dropped into a Word document where it would appear in an already-formatted output style of her choosing. @benwbrum, who I don’t think was even at DHSI, was happy to hear about the Google doc from the regular expressions session for his regex-for-humanists workshop (and actually … where can I sign up for that?). Meanwhile Neatline will be exactly the thing that a non-DH colleague of mine at Strathclyde needs for the C18th correspondence project she’s in the middle of grant-writing for, though she doesn’t yet know it.

Generosity. This time last year @mbtimney graciously gave up a lunch hour to do a WordPress install on my server. And I’m particularly happy to have been invited to bring the data from my map of Memoirs of Montparnasse to the Paris map app that Paul Hjartarson, @hquamen and others at UoA are developing for the Sheila and Wilfrid Watson letters. It’s a great example of the connections between editorial projects that EMiC has helped to facilitate.

The fact that there’s a decent chance that the person teaching your class, chatting to you in the coffee queue or retweeting your observation is at the top of their field. I had the chance to learn humanities GIS from Ian Gregory. The Omeka demo at the unconference was given by @clioweb who (I think) helped to develop Omeka. And I didn’t realise in my first year at DHSI that one of the people out the front of the class, Julia Flanders, was a world expert in TEI, because she was so approachable and no question was too basic for her to answer.

And leading on from the two points above: an emphasis that we are all learning. Expertise in this field can only ever be in process, and those with that expertise are almost always more than happy to share it.

Things you’ve been longing to learn which someone volunteers to teach during the lunchtime unconference. Regular expressions. QGIS. Python. While an hour or so isn’t enough to learn these in any systematic way, it is still amazing how much easier it is to figure something else out on your own once you’ve had a quick introduction and the chance to ask questions.

The serendipitous possibilities that open up when you move outside the orderly conventions of regular academic conferences and ask people to organise themselves into sessions based on what interests them right at that moment, rather than nine months earlier when everyone wrote abstracts based on what they imagined their findings would be. There is a place for carefully written conference papers and formally structured sessions, of course. But when you take a group comprised of, say, librarians, publishing interns, university press employees, TEI devotees, TEI sceptics and academics, and give them a chance to debate the ideas raised in a colloquium session about academic publishing and shifts in the infrastructure of book production and distribution, you create the conditions for all sorts of intriguing insights to arise from the meeting of different disciplinary viewpoints and different forms of practical expertise.

Twitter. This post is a testament to the many useful things I’ve discovered through Twitter, and indeed for many people it needs no introduction. If you are yet to use it for scholarly purposes, though, then there are two reasons to start. First, as one participant pointed out – on where else but Twitter – having conversations with other people on the #DHSI2012 backchannel makes it a fair bit easier to talk to them in person. (And also convenient: someone I was exchanging messages with turned out to be sitting behind me, and quickly walked me through the tool we’d been discussing when the colloquium session was over.) Second, for those who feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of projects, clever tools, programming languages etc that it feels like you have to keep a handle on, Twitter can function as a useful filter. Once you are following enough of the right people, you can more easily keep track of which resources are being used and are generating excitement, and you can prioritise those.

Using your brain in a different way. Attending non-DH conferences now feels to me like a curiously one-dimensional affair. Following three threads of a lunchtime unconference on the backchannel while sitting in a fourth, with part of my head trying to figure out a problem that came up with my data that will need to be fixed that afternoon, I emerge feeling like I’ve been to not one but multiple DHSIs. It can be draining, and requires a different form of attention to the kind one gives to a task such as immersive reading, but given that travel and time are both expensive, I very much appreciate the way that DHSI packs a great deal into a short space of time.

Excellent, inspiring presentations, many of them by talented graduate students. Digital humanists think hard about the way they present information, whether it is part of a Prezi slideshow or a digital edition. (And even when what is being presented is inspired silliness, the production values are still high). I learned much this week about how to engage an audience without compromising the substantive content of the message.

Access to tools you might not have at home. ArcGIS is proprietary software, and expensive, but with a little bit of running between sessions on the final day, I got it to crunch through a massive dataset of Paris roads, polygons and points and extract the bits I needed. Seven minutes before my shuttle to the airport was due to leave on the other side of campus, it finished its export and now I have a set of shape files I can work with in the open-source program QGIS. Result.

Twice-in-a-lifetime astronomical events, conveniently-placed telescopes on top of the astronomy building through which to view them, and charming UVic astronomy profs and grad students to explain in lay terms what is going on. (OK, so the transit of Venus may not happen every year …)

The joy of building. Lots has been written about the ethos of building in DH, and this is amply in evidence at DHSI. Of the apps that were showcased in the final session, my favourite came from @mchlstvns: in a few days he built an app for walking around Dublin in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom. And the #digiped folks didn’t just talk about digital pedagogy for a week, they built a resource for the rest of us.

A chance to make your own work meaningful.I had fun building a SIMILE map as a sandbox for other lit folks to use if they wanted to explore the geographical dimension of a text without going to the bother of constructing a map interface themselves. After various conversations at Monday’s reception, it will now have a few more users, including some at Algoma who I may never meet, but I’m happy if they can make use of it.

Connections. A grant call crossed my desk the other day for bringing people together for expert meetings, and I couldn’t quite see how to use it at the time. After the mapping and visualisation session, though, I now know exactly how it could be used not just to drive forward my own EMiC project, but also support the research agendas of several other people and projects.

Old-school face-to-face conversations. Learning that another EMiC project needs to investigate the same archive I do, and that we can perhaps team up and save some time and labour. Comparing notes on how to keep on top of an ever-shifting array of technologies alongside the research and teaching and service we’re expected to do as part of our jobs. If I’m lucky I’ll see EMiC folks here and there throughout the year at conferences, and exchange the odd email with a few people, but DHSI brings home to me that nothing substitutes for the sustained conversations and relationships that are made possible when people come together in the same physical space. (Which is entirely appropriate for a project which is interested in the social networks and geographical placedness of Canadian modernism.)

New friends as well as old. Hello, fellow Aussie Anya, fellow Londoner Bo, and fellow Canadianist-outside-Canada @readywriting. Hello, Georgia Tech librarians in my GIS class who were surprised to learn that their Vertically Integrated Projects had been exported to Strathclyde as one of the ways we teach DH. Hello, talented literary folks scattered across the US and the Pacific who are pursuing the same kinds of research questions I am with maps, networks, visualization and modernism. I am so happy to have made your acquaintance!

And this is not even to begin on the breathtaking beauty of Victoria, tame deer grazing casually outside the student residences, local BC beers, and the impressive quality of EMiC’s collective karaoke chops.

Thank you, Dean, and thank you, EMiC colleagues and friends. It’s been a fabulous, invigorating, beyond exhausting week. And now I’m going to crash.

February 11, 2012

CFP: Women’s Fiction, New Modernist Studies, and Feminism (deadline 1 Mar 2012)

Call for Papers: Upcoming Special issue of Modern Fiction Studies
Women’s Fiction, New Modernist Studies, and Feminism

Editor: Anne Fernald
Deadline for Submission: 1 March 2012

The editors of MFS solicit new feminist scholarship on neglected women writers from the first half of the twentieth century. Feminist readings of single texts, essays on groups and/or movements, and overviews of a single woman’s career are equally welcomed. We are particularly interested in new theoretical approaches to modernism emerging out of feminist theory, imbued with what Sianne Ngai calls “a feminist attentiveness to the persistence of sexual hierarchies” (2). How can a feminist approach to women writers shape the conversation at a time when New Modernist studies have largely shifted the focus away from gender toward history and nation? How do recent developments in transnational modernism, urban theory, material, textual, and cultural history affect our readings of texts by women? Most of all, this issue’s double focus on neglected women writers and feminist theory seeks to make a critical intervention: What might new theory of modernism, taking as its foundation a feminist approach to a woman writer, look like?

This issue seeks to represent the full range of womanhood in the early twentieth century: conservatives and radicals, feminists and anti-feminists, lesbians, mothers, professionals, urban and rural women, women of color, white colonialists. Most importantly, it hopes to offer readings of texts by women through new feminist theoretical approaches with continuing resonances for all scholars in the field.

Essays should be 6000-8000 words and should follow the MLA Style Manual for internal citation and works cited. Queries should be addressed to Anne Fernald (fernald@fordham.edu). Online submission is at http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/mfs/special_issues/

August 21, 2011

Making meaning through digital design

I feel very fortunate in having been able to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria for a second time with EMiC colleagues, and in having had the opportunity to take part in the first iteration of Meagan Timney’s Digital Editions course as part of DEMiC. Other EMiC-ites have written eloquently about the various DHSI workshops and how awesome they are, so although I share their enthusiasm, I won’t recapitulate that subject here. Instead, I thought  it might be worth drawing attention to a recent article in Literary and Linguistic Computing which resonates with much of what we were talking about at DHSI: Alan Galey and Stan Ruecker’s “How a Prototype Argues”, LLC25.4 (Dec 2010): 405-424.

Galey & Ruecker’s basic proposition is that a digital object can be understood as a form of argument, and indeed that it is essential to start thinking of them in this way if they are to get the recognition they are entitled to as forms of scholarship. Interpreting scholarly digital objects – especially experimental prototypes – in terms of the arguments they are advancing can be the basis on which to peer review them, without the need to rely on articles that describe these prototypes (413). They set out a checklist of areas which could be used by peer reviewers, and also consider the conditions under which peer review can happen – that a prototype reifies an argument, for example, rather than simply acting as a production system.

What I found especially useful in Galey & Ruecker’s piece was the idea of understanding digital artefacts in terms of process. As they point out, this is a point of commonality for book historians and designers, as both are interested in “the intimate and profound connections between how things work and what they mean” (408). Book historians, for instance, situate authoring in the context of multiple meaning-making activities – designing, manufacturing, modifying, reading and so forth – so that it becomes only one process among a plethora of others which together act to shape the meanings that readers take away. Similarly, a range of processes shape the semiotic potential of digital objects. One thing the Digital Editions course did was to force us to think about these processes, and how our editions (and the online furniture surrounding them) would be traversed by different kinds of users. This involves asking yourself who those people will be: see Emily’s fabulous taxonomy of user personas.

However, the act of designing a digital edition is not just about the process of creating an artifact. It’s also a process of critical interpretation (though cf. Willard McCarty’s gloss on Lev Manovich’s aphorism that “a prototype is a theory”). For Galey & Ruecker, digital editions not only embody theories but make them contestable:

By recognizing that digital objects – such as interfaces, games, tools, electronic literature, and text visualizations – may contain arguments subjectable to peer review, digital humanities scholars are assuming a perspective similar to that of book historians, who study the sociology of texts. In this sense, the concept of design has developed beyond pure utilitarianism or creative expressiveness to take on a status equal to critical inquiry, albeit with a more complicated relation to materiality and authorship. (412)

Having spent the week at DHSI getting my head around the intersection of scholarly inquiry, design, and useability, and discovering how exhilarating it was to think about the texts and authors I work with using a completely different conceptual vocabulary, I couldn’t agree more with this: this is intellectual labour on a par with critical inquiry. Thinking about how a user will proceed through a digital edition is every bit as crucial as planning how to construct a conventional piece of scholarship such as a journal article: both involve understanding how to lead your reader through the argument you have built. It’s also daunting, of course, when you have no training in design (and run the risk of getting it spectacularly wrong, as in this salutary warning that Meg & Matt put up in the Digital Editions course). And where the time to learn and think about this fits onto already crowded professional plates I’m yet to figure out, though this is something of a perennial question for DH research. But, I’m also delighted that at this point in my career I have the opportunity to bring in a whole new realm – design – as part of the process of constructing an edition.

One of the reasons it’s important to pay attention to the design of an artifact, Galey & Ruecker assert, is that it has something to tell us about that artifact’s role in the world. While I have certainly thought about the audience for my own digital edition, and the uses to which users might put it, I had not really considered this in terms of my edition’s “role in the world”. The mere act of building a digital edition is an assertion that the material being presented is worth paying attention to, but beyond this there are three further aspects of a digital artifact that Galey & Ruecker suggest as criteria for peer review, which they take from Booth et al.’s (2008) three key components of a thesis topic: being contestable, defensible, and substantive. So, I also have to ask myself: What, exactly, is my edition of correspondence contesting? How am I defending the choices I have made about its content, its form and every other element? And how is it substantive? (These could be useful questions with which to structure the “rationale” part of a book or grant proposal.)

If it’s clear, then, that interfaces and visualization tools “contain arguments that advance knowledge about the world” (406), then the helpful leap that Galey & Ruecker make is to connect this observation to peer-reviewing practices, and to suggest that part of the peer review process should be to ask what argument a design, or a prototype is making. “How can design become a process of critical inquiry itself, not just the embodiment of the results?” (406), they ask, and this seems to me to be a question that goes to the heart not just of our various EMiC editions, print as well as digital, but also of the DEMiC Digital Editions course itself. A great deal of time and effort will go into our editions, and if print-centric scholarly appraisal frameworks aren’t necessarily adequate to all digital purposes then it’s important that we take the initiative in beginning the conversations which will determine the standards by which our digital projects will be reviewed, which is precisely what Galey & Ruecker are concerned to do. As they point out, digital objects challenge hermeneutic assumptions which are anchored in the print culture and bibliographic scholarship of the past century (411). One of the difficulties DH scholars face is when our work (and our worth) is assessed by scholars whose own experiences, training, practices and so forth are grounded in print culture, and who see these challenges not as challenges but as shortcomings, errors, and inadequacies when compared to conventional print formats. The onus, then, is on us to be clear about the arguments our digital objects are making.

I am left to wonder: What argument is my digital edition putting forward? What about those of other EMiC-ites: What arguments are your editions advancing? And how can we be more explicit about what these are, both in our own projects, and across the work of EMiC as a whole?

April 14, 2011

Reading between the lines: The Crawley and Livesay archives

Over the past few days I’ve been ensconced in the Queen’s University archives, looking at the papers of Alan Crawley and Dorothy Livesay for my EMiC edition. This is a volume of correspondence between various figures involved in modernism – authors, critics, editors – with the working title Enduring Traces: Correspondence from Canadian Modernism’s Archives.

Working in the archive can

be a peculiarly seductive pleasure: no need to rehearse Derrida’s admonition about its “conservative production of memory” to a crowd who also no doubt feels the pull of the archive’s promise to clarify literary history, to pin down what really happened once and for all. Fortunately, reminders are constantly to hand about the contingency of the stories it tells. Livesay, for example, writes the script of a portrait of Crawley for broadcast on the CBC, which begins by calling attention to his blindness. Crawley writes to her, mentioning that he is uncomfortable with this emphasis, and asking for some other changes. From Livesay’s other drafts it’s clear that she revised the document based on his wishes. A print version of this portrait is then rejected by Maclean’s because it does not contain enough “lively anecdotes illustrating the character of Mr. Crawley”. This sequence of documents offers a tiny glimpse of some of the pressures Livesay was under as she put together a narrative about Crawley’s contribution to Canadian poetry (and this is to say nothing of the intriguing ways she narrativises various other aspects of the story of the founding of Contemporary Verse, such as eliding the gender of the poets who suggested him as editor).

Crawley’s letters also present some interesting editorial conundrums (conundra?) which have led me to reflect on the materiality of the technology he was using to write them. Some of the letters were typed by him, while others have been typed by his wife, Jean, and those typed by Crawley have the occasional line break in unexpected places. Wondering whether to reproduce these idiosyncratic line breaks, I found myself coming up with all sorts of hypotheses about what might have led him to make them, which I suddenly realised were all dependent on having actually used one of these clunky manual typewriters myself as a kid. (And no, I’m not that old – this thing was a dinosaur even back in the 80s, when other families were splurging on such sleek and speedy creatures as Apple IIes). While a sighted typist would have been able to see how much space remained until the end of the line, Crawley would only have had the aural reminder of the typewriter’s bell a few spaces from the end of the line, and his own memory of how long the line had gone on (something which it would be easy to lose track of if one paused to think in the middle of a line) to tell him when to hit the carriage return. Perhaps, I wondered, if he paused mid-line and forgot whether the bell had gone, it was simply easier to start a new line, which is something different to the intention to start a new paragraph.

My reasoning may well be wrong here, but one thing’s for sure: I’ve gained a fresh appreciation for that ugly old typewriter. It’s one thing to hear the ding of a typewriter’s bell and to see its carriage return being used to move the paper down in the background of a scene from Mad Men; it’s quite another to have actually had to wrangle one of these machines yourself, and to know how the carriage return could not be relied on to produce perfectly even gaps between all the lines. Will editors in fifty years’ time find themselves needing this kind of knowledge about the vagaries of auto-correct on iPhone keypads, and haptic feedback on tablet computers?

December 20, 2010

CFP: “Print Modernities, 1845–1945”: Graduate Conference at UBC, 2-3 May 2011 (deadline Jan 30, 2011)

“Print Modernities, 1845–1945”
A Graduate Conference at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2-3 May 2011

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Professor Mark Morrisson, Pennsylvania State University; author of Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory (2007) and The Public Face of Modernism: Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception 1905-1920 (2001)

This graduate conference will be concerned with the relationships between “modernity” and print production. “Modernity” and “print” should be understood in the broadest sense, and interdisciplinary papers are especially encouraged. We are interested in the commercialization of literary modernism, in the visual representations of modernity, and in the social impact of technical innovations in the printing industry from 1845 to 1945.

Possible considerations are:

  • Little magazines and the publication of modern literature
  • Periodicals and international networks of modernism
  • Modern writings in mass-market magazines
  • Commercial publishers and the mainstreaming of modernism
  • Modernist women writers and publishing
  • Posters, advertisements and the visual culture of modernity
  • Walter Benjamin and the mechanized reproduction of modern art
  • Technical innovations and modern typography
  • Illustrations and representations of the natural world in scholarly journals
  • Scientific communication in manuscript and printed forms
  • Non-Western modernities — print and digital revolutions in Asia, the Middle East, and beyond
  • The complex relationships between printed text and printed image in modern media
  • The proliferation of artists’ biographies, changing the relationship between artists and their audiences

The committee also welcomes proposals on any aspect of Victorian and early twentieth-century print culture.
The conference will be held at University of British Columbia on May 2-3, 2011.

If you are interested in giving a paper, send a proposal (250 words) and a short biography to printmodernities2011@gmail.com. Presentations should be limited to 20 minutes delivery time.

August 27, 2010

British Academy funding for UK/Canada collaborations

The British Academy has a small amount of funding (£5000) for collaborations between UK researchers and those in Commonwealth countries.

Would any EMiC participants of postdoctoral standing or above be interested in putting together an application with me for one of these awards, to collaborate on a joint publication or two? I’ve put details of the scheme below.


Special Joint Project Programmes: Commonwealth Countries

Funds are available to support joint projects between UK-based academics and those based in Commonwealth institutions. The scheme is administered in partnership with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), and information may be sought from either the ACU or the International Relations Department at the British Academy.

Level of award: Up to £5,000
Period of award: Up to one year
Closing date: 13 October 2010
Further information: Please view the Notes for Applicants.
Method of application: Applications must be submitted via e-GAP2, the Academy’s electronic grant application system.

Details of past awards made under the scheme can be seen here.

August 23, 2010

TEI & the bigger picture: an interview with Julia Flanders

I thought those of us who had been to DHSI and who were fortunate enough to take the TEI course with Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman might be interested in a recent interview with Julia, in which she puts the TEI Guidelines and the digital humanities into the wider context of scholarship, pedagogy and the direction of the humanities more generally. (I also thought others might be reassured, as I was, to see someone who is now one of the foremost authorities on TEI describing herself as being baffled by the technology when she first began as a graduate student with the Women Writers Project …)

Here are a few excerpts to give you a sense of the piece:

[on how her interest in DH developed] I think that the fundamental question I had in my mind had to do with how we can understand the relationship between the surfaces of things – how they make meaning and how they operate culturally, how cultural artefacts speak to us. And the sort of deeper questions about materiality and this artefactual nature of things: the structure of the aesthetic, the politics of the aesthetic; all of that had interested me for a while, and I didn’t immediately see the connections. But once I started working with what was then what would still be called humanities computing and with text encoding, I could suddenly see these longer-standing interests being revitalized or reformulated or something like that in a way that showed me that I hadn’t really made a departure. I was just taking up a new set of questions, a new set of ways of asking the same kinds of questions I’d been interested in all along.

I sometimes encounter a sense of resistance or suspicion when explaining the digital elements of my research, and this is such a good response to it: to point out that DH methodologies don’t erase considerations of materiality but rather can foreground them by offering new and provocative optics, and thereby force us to think about them, and how to represent them, with a set of tools and a vocabulary that we haven’t had to use before. Bart’s thoughts on versioning and hierarchies are one example of this; Vanessa’s on Project[ive] Verse are another.

[discussing how one might define DH] the digital humanities represents a kind of critical method. It’s an application of critical analysis to a set of digital methods. In other words, it’s not simply the deployment of technology in the study of humanities, but it’s an expressed interest in how the relationship between the surface and the method or the surface and the various technological underpinnings and back stories — how that relationship can be probed and understood and critiqued. And I think that that is the hallmark of the best work in digital humanities, that it carries with it a kind of self-reflective interest in what is happening both at a technological level – and it’s what is the effect of these digital methods on our practice – and also at a discursive level. In other words, what is happening to the rhetoric of scholarship as a result of these changes in the way we think of media and the ways that we express ourselves and the ways that we share and consume and store and interpret digital artefacts.

Again, I’m struck by the lucidity of this, perhaps because I’ve found myself having to do a fair bit of explaining of DH in recent weeks to people who, while they seem open to the idea of using technology to help push forward the frontiers of knowledge in the humanities, have had little, if any, exposure to the kind of methodological bewilderment that its use can entail. So the fact that a TEI digital edition, rather than being some kind of whizzy way to make bits of text pop up on the screen, is itself an embodiment of a kind of editorial transparency, is a very nice illustration.

[on the role of TEI within DH] the TEI also serves a more critical purpose which is to state and demonstrate the importance of methodological transparency in the creation of digital objects. So, what the TEI, not uniquely, but by its nature brings to digital humanities is the commitment to thinking through one’s digital methods and demonstrating them as methods, making them accessible to other people, exposing them to critique and to inquiry and to emulation. So, not hiding them inside of a black box but rather saying: look this, this encoding that I have done is an integral part of my representation of the text. And I think that the — I said that the TEI isn’t the only place to do that, but it models it interestingly, and it provides for it at a number of levels that I think are too detailed to go into here but are really worth studying and emulating.

I’d like to think that this is a good description of what we’re doing with the EMiC editions: exposing the texts, and our editorial treatement of them, to critique and to inquiry. In the case of my own project involving correspondence, this involves using the texts to look at the construction of the ideas of modernism and modernity. I also think the discussions we’ve begun to have as a group about how our editions might, and should, talk to each other (eg. by trying to agree on the meaning of particular tags, or by standardising the information that goes into our personographies) is part of the process of taking our own personal critical approaches out of the black box, and holding them up to the scrutiny of others.

The entire interview – in plain text, podcast and, of course, TEI format – can be found on the TEI website here.

June 28, 2010

TEI, one letter at a time

The project I was working on at DEMiC was a body of correspondence between various figures active in the middle years of the century within Canadian modernism: not only authors but editors, publishers and other figures who participated in the dissemination of modernist aesthetics and artefacts. The letters form part of a volume which currently has the working title Enduring Traces: Correspondence from Canadian Modernism’s Archives, and which I’m still gathering the archival material for. (So if anyone comes across some intriguing correspondence tucked away in an archive somewhere that deserves to come to light, I would be glad to hear about it …)

Below is a little section from one of the letters I was working on, which is from Earle Birney to Alan Crawley:

And here is what it looked like once I’d tweaked the style sheet to work with the letter format:

[If the size is too small to see, click on the images to view them at full size. I haven’t posted them as large images in this post because they crash into the menu at the right.]

This is not a particularly complex document to encode, but all the same, a number of issues came up during the coding, including the following:

– How do you code the date of a letter when its year of composition is unclear, given that TEI insists that you supply at least a year? (In this case it isn’t difficult to figure out what year the letter is written from other contextual evidence, but that isn’t always the case. In a print edition you could presumably just put [1945?] or something similar, and move on, but TEI demands a year.)

– Would readers prefer a text in which wasnt and wont are silently corrected to wasn’t and won’t?  Should I bother giving readers the option of toggling errors such as these on and off? (I rather like the way Birney wrote it, but if the original is supplied then it might cause difficulties when text mining down the line, when wasnt and wasn’t might be treated as different words.)

– If some authors italicise or underline titles of books and journals and others don’t, how should this be standardised across different authors? What do readers of an edition value more: the ability to see at a glance which publications are under discussion, or an individual author’s bibliographic habits?

– The xxxx that is used to cross something out after the word moods a few lines from the bottom was a problem that neither Julia nor Martin could solve without the use of XLST. I wanted to be able to include the word that was obliterated in the XML, so that it could if necessary be retrieved, but TEI could not manage it. The compromise was to represent the xxxx as it appears in Birney’s letter, but the way I’ve done it means that the bit of information about what exactly was crossed out has been lost.

As you can see, these are questions which are not just about the mechanics of digital editing but also about the theory of textual editing. I have the feeling historians rather than lit scholars are the ones to ask about conventions for editing documents such as the ones I’m working on … but then they will also see the significance of these letters in quite a different way, so perhaps I should not be seeking their advice …?

Looking at the XML now, I see so many things still to code – there’s not yet an entry in the personography for Jean Crawley; the ‘two letters’ Birney refers to should have a reference, as should the issue number of Q’s Q under discussion, etc etc (and these are quite straightforward and easily tracked-down things, compared to the palimpsest of allusions in the excerpt Vanessa quotes from By Grand Central Station, or the question of how to evade the hierarchical nature of TEI that Bart poses). Much more to do, and this is just one section of one letter!

June 11, 2010

Standardisation & its (dis)contents

At lunch today a few of us met to talk with Meagan about strategies for standardising our projects, including personographies and placeographies, so as to make our various editions as interoperable as possible and to avoid duplicating each others’ labour. By happy chance we were joined by Susan Brown, who mentioned that CWRC is also working towards a standardised personography template which it might make sense for us to use too, given that EMiC will be one of the projects swimming around in the CWRC ‘fishtank’ (or whatever the term was that Susan used in her keynote).

One outcome of doing this is that our EMiC editions and authors could then be more easily connected by researchers to literatures outside Canada – eg. through the NINES project – which would be brilliant in terms of bringing them to the attention of wider modernist studies.

Meagan and Martin are, unsurprisingly, way ahead of TEI newbies such as me to whom this standardisation issue has only just occurred, and they are already working on it, in the form of a wiki. But, as Meagan said, they would like to hear from us, the user community, about what we would like to see included. Some things will be obvious, like birth and death dates, but might we also want to spend time, for example, encoding all the places where someone lived at all the different points in their life? That particular example seems to me simultaneously extremely useful, and also incredibly time-consuming. It also seems important to encode people’s roles – poet, editor, collaborator, literary critic, anthologist etc – but we need to have discussions about what that list looks like, and how we define each of the terms. Then there are the terms used to describe the relationships between people. What does it mean that two people were ‘collaborators’, for instance? (New Provinces has six people’s names on the cover but the archive makes it very clear that two of them had much more editorial sway than the others.) And how granular do we want to get with our descriptions?

As for placeographies: as I’ve already said on the #emic twitterfeed, one very easy way to standardise these is to ensure we all use the same gazetteer for determining the latitude and longitude of a place when we put in our <geo> codes. I suggest this one at The Atlas of Canada. Once you have the latitude and longitude, there are plenty of sites that will convert them to decimals for you (one example is here).

As Paul pointed out, it’s worth making the most of times when we meet face-to-face, because as we go along, our projects will change and our analytical interests will be clarified, and the things we need to encode will only make themselves clear gradually. So let’s take advantage of the summer institues and conferences to talk about the changing needs of our projects, and our evolving research questions, because it’s often quicker to have these conversations in person.

Perhaps others who were around the table could chime in with things I’ve forgotten or misrepresented. And for everyone: what are your wish lists of things that you’d like to see included in our -ographies?