Queen’s University student Alana Fletcher has recently been awarded a second EMiC doctoral stipend to continue working towards the production of scholarly digital and print editions of the works of George Whalley. Over the last year, Alana has collaborated with Michael DiSanto on a specific component of the project: the production of an open-access online database of primary materials that includes scans of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts and typescripts, related letters, personal papers, and photographs.
The database — which was adapted from the Algoma University Archive (AUA) and the Shingwauk Residential School Centre, and built by Robin Isard, the Algoma eSystems Librarian, and Rick Scott, the Library Technologies Specialist — is connected to Michael’s open-access Whalley website, where it will eventually go live. The database is RAD (Rules for Archival Description), OAI (Open Archives Initiative), and Dublin Core compliant, so the research materials collected here can be easily moved into almost any library or archival database programmatically via OAI protocols.
Alana is the person on the ground at the Queen’s University Archives and the George Whalley fonds, which contains over 10 metres of textual material, which includes notes, drafts, final copies and correspondence pertaining to Whalley’s published and unpublished book-length works, shorter essays and articles, and poetry. Also available in the fonds are notes, correspondence, scripts, and recordings of the CBC radio and television pieces which feature Whalley as narrator or author, as well as personal and professional correspondence, and professional reports produced by Whalley in his role as a university administrator, author, and editor. There are also about 100 photographs and 50 maps, as well as 51 audio reels and 4 audio discs in the fonds. Alana is primarily occupied with scanning, editing, uploading to the database, and describing relevant texts. Since Alana began to work on the project in May 2012, over 4075 pages of Whalley’s manuscripts, typescripts, journals, and letters have been processed.
In a recent colloquium presentation at Queen’s University, Alana used Whalley’s letters to his mother, Dorothy, as an interdisciplinary case study of the ongoing personal narrativization that makes drastic role changes internally coherent, and the essential role played by readers/listeners in “witnessing” the textual construction of selfhood. Alana is now updating the database with scans and transcriptions of a comprehensive selection of Whalley’s letters to Dorothy between 1927 (the date of the earliest letter in the fonds) and 1956 (the date of the latest letter and the year of Dorothy’s death).
The main challenge Alana has faced in her work on this project is the surprising lack of awareness of Whalley and his legacy in Canada. She hopes that this project will not only publicize Whalley’s work, but also recover Whalley as the remarkable force behind the mobilization of a modernist ethic in Canada, and as a prolific producer of critical and creative works, an influential professor and institutional figure, and an intriguing humanist, sportsman, spy, and aesthete.
Alana, Michael, and Robin will be presenting a paper on the database — entitled “Archiving from the Start: An Archive Database Solution for Literary Research” — at DHSI in early June. Alana will also be presenting on Whalley in June at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, where she will be giving a paper at on Whalley’s multiple-language CBC radio adaptation of Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo.
EMiC co-applicant Michael DiSanto (Assistant Professor of English at Algoma University) is working on George Whalley (1915-83), the eminent and accomplished man of letters. Michael’s work on Whalley consists of many parts, the first of which is an edition of Whalley’s complete poems for publication in 2015. A digital edition of a wide selection of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts, typescripts, and correspondence will be a counterpart to the print edition of the collected poems. Alana Fletcher, a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Queen’s University who currently has an EMiC PhD Stipend, is co-editing the digital edition with Michael. Following the digital edition, Michael plans to edit a new collection of Whalley’s essays that will likely correspond closely with Whalley’s own plans for a two-volume edition, but will include some late and unpublished writings. Michael’s work on Whalley will culminate in the biography of Whalley he plans to publish by 2022.
At the centre of Michael’s work is an online database constructed by Robin Isard, the eSystems Librarian at Algoma University, using open-source Drupal software. The database is Rules for Archival Description (RAD) compliant, and will continue to grow until Michael is finished. At the end of his work, Michael will make the database — which is proceeding in collaboration with the Queen’s University Archives — available to the public on the Internet.
Since beginning to work on Whalley, Michael has discovered over 100 unpublished poems, which will more than double the number of Whalley’s extant poems. Michael and Alana have digitized no fewer than 4000 pages of poetry manuscripts, typescripts, letters, and other documents — all of these pages are being loaded into the database. Stacey Devlin, an undergraduate student who has been working with Michael since May 2012, has transcribed no fewer than 1200 transcriptions of poems, letters, journals, and other documents, all of which are being loaded into the database. Stacy has also constructed an elaborate and remarkable timeline of Whalley’s life that draws on his military records, letters, accounts published by friends, family, students, and colleagues, and many other sources.
To support this work, Michael has received funding from several sources, including EMiC, SSHRC, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, and Algoma University. With this funding, Michael has and will continue to be able to hire research assistants to work on the Whalley project. In addition to financial support, Michael has also received great help from a number of people, and especially from Whalley’s family, colleagues, students, and friends.
Michael has only run into some minor issues in his work so far. Technology has proven to be a small obstacle, but Michael has been able to rely on the expertise of Robin Isard, who has been generous in devoting much time to work on the project. Geography has also been a bit of an issue — Michael’s distance from Kingston and the Queen’s University Archives makes it difficult to visit as often as he would like. Moreover, Whalley’s private papers are in Southwold, England. Again, distance makes it difficult for Michael to visit as often or for as long as he would like — as does his heavier-than-average teaching load — but he has arranged a sabbatical for 2013-14, which will allow him to spend time in Kingston and Southwold.
For Michael, researching Whalley has raised several questions: how many more poems will be discovered, and how many more of Whalley’s letters will appear? What will the design of the digital edition be? Also, how many people will be willing to contribute to the Whalley biography? And, ultimately, will this work be successful in bringing to Whalley the attention his writing demands and deserves?
Michael has also been working on several papers on Whalley, including an essay entitled “Editing a Legend: George Whalley” for the EMiC Special Edition of “Essays in Canadian Writing.” This summer in Victoria, Michael will present four Whalley-related papers. One, on the RAD-compliant database, Michael will present with Robin Isard. He will present another paper related to the database with Robin and Alana at DHSI. The two other papers are Michael’s work alone: one is on Whalley’s poem “Lazarus,” which was written in response to Epstein’s sculpture of the same name, and the other is on Whalley’s and George Grant’s ideas regarding the university.
Zailig Pollock, Professor in the Department of English Literature at Trent University, is the principal investigator, and — alongside Dean Irvine and Sandra Djwa — one of the general editors of the Digital Page, an online digital edition of the Collected Works of P.K. Page to be housed on the Modernist Commons. The project is supported by SSHRC, and by EMiC, in the form of research assistantships and a PhD stipend, as well as through funding for conferences and DHSI. Trent University has also provided space and in-kind funding as part of its role as a partner institution.
Not unlike P.K. Page herself, the Digital Page is complex and multi-faceted. Right now, the team is working on the first half of the project, which includes designing an interface for the edition, which will serve as a template for other EMiC-affiliated editions; transcribing and encoding material for the first volumes of the edition to appear (poetry, Brazilian Journal, Mexican Journal, Visual Art); and beginning the process of identifying, acquiring, transcribing, and encoding material for the correspondence volume, which will be the last of the series to actually appear.
So far, Zailig has developed TEI and XSLT for encoding poetry and prose, and for generating a variety of HTML files for such things as representation of manuscript revisions, clean reading text, list of emendations, list of regularizations. He has focussed especially on the representation of complex revisions — some of the pages he deals with have gone through half-a-dozen or more stages of revision, sometimes over an extended period of time. Zailig is quite satisfied with the TEI/XSLT aspect of the project, which has advanced to the point that he is able to produce HTML files that do whatever he wants them to do.
The main challenge Zailig has faced is a lack of technical expertise — both his own lack, and the lack at Trent University in general. Because no one editor has the all of the expertise required to produce a digital edition, collaboration is essential. Without the support of EMiC, this project would be much more difficult, perhaps impossible. In terms of interface design, Zailig is working with the Modernist Commons to develop an interface for the Digital Page which will include such things as a timeline to serve as the spine of the edition linking all of Page’s written and visual work and events of her life, collations, fully integrated text and images, and textual apparatus, among other things. There are three other aspects of the edition which are under way but not yet settled: text/image interface, collation tools, and a search engine. For all of these, Zailig is depending on the developers at the Modernist Commons.
Zailig’s main overall concern is that he is the only EMiC-affiliated editor working with XSLT, even though TEI files cannot be integrated into a digital edition without XSLT. Although Zailig took the XSLT course at DHSI, he found it to be very challenging for someone without a background in programming. Further, the course did not really focus on the needs of editors, who are never going to master the enormous complexity of XSLT as a whole, but who need to be familiar enough with it to do basic coding and to discuss more complex needs intelligently with a developer. To encourage a basic and adequate familiarity with XSLT rather than actual expertise, Zailig hopes to offer a course on XSLT for EMiC with his son, who is an expert in XSLT.
Zailig is also representing EMiC in a joint project with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to digitize Canadian modernist literary manuscripts in their collection. In addition to Page, the first phase of digitization will include Robertson Davies (diaries), F.R. Scott, Louis Dudek, and Elizabeth Smart.
EMiC co-applicant Marc André Fortin, Assistant Professor of Canadian Literature at Université de Sherbrooke, is currently researching and editing a scholarly edition of Marius Barbeau’s 1928 novel The Downfall of Temlaham. Barbeau’s novel was originally published in 1928, with a second edition published by Hurtig Press in 1973. Because both of these editions are out of print and difficult to find, Marc’s project will help to fill a gap in a very important moment for Canadian modernism in the literary and visual arts, cultural production in Canada, and in the historical understand of colonial and indigenous contact and its present-day effects with regard to land rights and indigenous self-representation.
Marc has been working on this edition of The Downfall of Temlaham since joining EMiC as a doctoral fellow in 2009. Initially, he intended to produce a text that incorporates the rich ethnographic sources Barbeau collected during his many field trips to the Skeena River, the traditional and present home of the Gitxsan. The Marius Barbeau Fonds at the archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Québec offers access to more than 30 meters of ethnographic notes, 2,000 artifacts, original Gitxsan stories, translations of those stories, over 1,000 books and articles, and sound recordings of songs and legends that Barbeau collected over his lifetime, many of which are directly related to The Downfall of Temlaham and those who are represented in it.
However, Marc has since changed his approach: this work has led him into a number of different areas that have changed and shaped his opinions on modernism, indigenous studies, editing, ethnography, and the digital humanities, among others. In particular, Marc has come to realize that this is a far more complicated and complex project than he originally thought, as the stories are owned not by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but by the Gitxsan community — even if Canadian copyright law does not necessarily acknowledge such ownership. With that in mind, Marc needs to think critically about the ethics of publishing the text in the format he originally desired.
Marc sees this project as a wide-ranging learning experience that has led him to branch out in a number of different directions. Since beginning his research into The Downfall of Temlaham, he has been able to explore many different facets of the editing process, modernist literature, indigenous/settler relations, copyright law, land rights claims, indigenous politics, database structures, institutional ownership of Canadian history, museum and archival holdings, and a number of other related areas of studies. The challenges Marc has faced in his work have led him to reconsiderations and refocused interpretations of scholarly editing, working with indigenous communities, governmental institutions, and the collaborative environment of large-scale digital humanities projects.
As the need to create an ethical, collaborative, and shared dialogue between educational institutions and indigenous communities is still ongoing, Marc feels that his project could both benefit from and help produce such a dialogue. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done, and with the Gitxsan faced with neo-colonial intrusions into their land by the government and business, there is an obvious barrier to getting their approval to publish a text that could be said to have helped produce a certain stereotype of the Indigene in Canada.
James Neufeld, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Trent University and EMiC co-applicant, is editor in chief of the digital edition of the diaries of Robertson Davies — the Davies Diaries. Davies, a prominent Canadian novelist and man of letters, was a prolific writer. Dating from 1935 to 1995, the entries — which Davies divided into categories such as Personal Diaries, Theatre Diaries, Travel Diaries, Massey College Diaries, and day books — contain approximately three million words.
The Davies Diaries project has been included in the manuscript digitization project being jointly undertaken by EMiC and Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This means that the final edition will include digitized images of every page of the diaries, linked to the LAC catalogue. Although Neufeld and the team are still in the initial phases of the project, they have already completed considerable preparatory work. In particular, they have developed the TEI and XSLT for the project, and have generated sample pages in HTML. Currently, them team is transcribing and coding all diary files that have not yet been transcribed, and also proofreading and coding computer files of transcriptions that have already been done by Davies’s daughter and literary executor. Once these two tasks are completed, all the diaries will have been transcribed, proofed and coded, ready for editing for online presentation.
Neufeld and the team have faced several issues in their work so far. A particular challenge has been annotating Davies’s numerous and sometimes cryptic historical, cultural, and biographical allusions. Another challenge the team faces centres on how to present the diaries as chronologically continuous while also preserving Davies’s division into separate volumes and separate categories. On the technical side, Neufeld’s team are developing a timeline and an interface for the edition, both of which will be done in conjunction with work on the Digital Page currently in progress at the Modernist Commons. The team is continuing to explore the possibilities and requirements of TEI and XSLT, which will be used in the final online presentation of the diaries.
For Neufeld, while the breadth of Davies’s interests and of his circle of acquaintance provides a challenge to anyone who presumes to annotate this material, it also stands testament to the broad social and historical value of these documents. Davies himself touched on this idea when he said, “my diaries are the stuff of which social history is made, and I cannot imagine that Canada has an embarrassment of such material.”
Neufeld hopes to interest Canadian cultural institutions — such as the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival — in participating in the online presentation of the diaries through links from their archival websites to relevant passages in the diaries. This seems a logical step as the Davies Diaries project has recently received from the Davies estate Davies’s collection of his theatre programs, reaching back to 1938.
Neufeld sees the possibilities for hyperlink material — textual, graphic, audio and video — in the final edition as both endless and endlessly exciting. A considerable body of this material is included in the Davies fond at LAC, and will be incorporated into the digital edition. For now, Neufeld and the team are focussed on the next steps of the project, one of which is the preparation of applications for major funding.
EMiC co-applicant Kate Hennessy, an Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, is the producer and designer of the collaboratively developed Inuvialuit Living History Project. As a digital exhibit and living archive, the project re-presents Inuvialuit ethnographic objects from an Inuvialuit perspective, while also engaging issues relating to ownership, repatriation, and digital cultural heritage.
The Inuvialuit Living History Project features artifacts collected by Hudson Bay Company trader Roderick MacFarlane in the 1860s on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution. The MacFarlane Collection — which, at over 5 000 items, is perhaps the most significant collection of Inuvialuit ethnographic artifacts — was split primarily between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the McCord Museum in Montreal, and National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. Thus, the MacFarlane Collection has never been exhibited in its entirety. Further, because of geographic distance and the limited digitization of the collection, for Inuvialuit peoples the collection remained largely inaccessible.
In 2009, Kate travelled with a delegation of Inuvialuit elders and youth, and a team of filmmakers, archaeologists, and educators to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. After viewing the MacFarlane Collection and making a documentary called A Case of Access (produced by the Inuvialuit Communications Society), the team decided to create a digital exhibit and archive – Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutiat: Inuvialuit Living History.
Launched in May 2012, the project website presents objects in the MacFarlane Collection and multimedia documentation of the Inuvialuit delegation’s first experience with the objects in 2009 (including A Case of Access). The website has been designed to allow for archiving user contributions, ongoing research, and community projects, and to change as priorities and interests change. Right now, the team is working to add more content from the Smithsonian collections. In particular, they are working to add a representative sample of the natural history collection, and to connect it to the ethnographic collection already on the Inuvialuit Living History site. The team is developing follow-up projects — including a sewing project that is based on clothing patterns traced during their research at the Smithsonian — that will facilitate community engagement with the project.
The Inuvialuit Living History Project is produced in collaboration with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center (see the list of team members). Consequently, maintaining relationships has been a central focus for Kate and the team. In addition to working with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the Arctic Studies Center, the team is also committed to developing and maintaining relationships with Inuvialuit communities through consultation and outreach. As with many digital projects, funding and preservation are the project’s major challenges. However, the strong relationships that the team has made with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, Parks Canada, and Inuvialuit communities make the team optimistic that they will be able to overcome those challenges, and to make the Inuvialuit Living History Project a dynamic and representative living archive of Inuvialuit cultural heritage.
Margaret Steffler, an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at Trent University and EMiC co-applicant, is editor of P.K. Page’s Mexican Journal. During the early 1960s, Page’s husband served as Canada’s ambassador to Mexico, and during that time, Page recorded her experiences and reflections in her journal. Unpublished during her lifetime, the Mexican Journal features Page’s entries from March 1960 to January 1964.
Right now, Margaret is in the final stages of the preparation of the Mexican Journal for Porcupine’s Quill Press. She is currently working on the index for the edition, which will be published in the fall of 2013. So far, Porcupine’s Quill Press has published two volumes in a series of volumes of Page’s work — the Mexican Journal will be the third. These print volumes will serve as a complement to the upcoming digital edition of The Collected Works of P.K. Page.
The largest challenge Margaret faced in editing the Mexican Journal was deciding what to include and what to cut from the manuscript for the print publication. In the end, Margaret had to cut a great deal of material from the edition. Another major challenge in this project was cutting down the explanatory notes for the print edition. Margaret and her team were only able to include a fraction of the research and notes they prepared in the process of creating this edition. All of this cut material will, however, be available in the future digital edition.
In addition, the Porcupine’s Quill Press print edition will include illustrations. Once again, as with the entries and notes, Margaret was forced to select a representative sample of illustrations, and this involved cutting material. Nonetheless, she found the process of bringing together the journal and the illustrations to be very exciting and rewarding.
The next step for Page’s Mexican Journal will be to move towards digital publication. Thankfully, all of the work Margaret and her team have done for the print edition will be used for the digital edition. In the process of preparing the print edition, Margaret has been well aware of the next stage of the digital edition, so she and her team have worked carefully to ensure that they have all of the material they need to start on the digital edition as soon as the print edition is published.
For more information about Page’s Mexican Journal, visit Porcupine’s Quill Press.
Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia and EMiC co-applicant Mary Chapman has her hands full with the work of Edith Eaton, who has been called “the mother of Asian-American literature.” Eaton, who wrote under the pseudonym Sui Sin Far, is a remarkably complex individual: she had two racial identities and three national identities, wrote under multiple pseudonyms and in multiple genres, and published in multiple venues. All of this complexity makes Eaton an intriguing figure, but also a difficult author to edit.
While researching for her anthology of American suffrage literature, Treacherous Texts: US Suffrage Literature 1846-1946 (Rutgers UP 2011), Chapman came across several stories in which Eaton provides somewhat critical views of middle-class white American suffragists. Chapman then discovered a racy story published by Eaton in a 1909 issue of New York’s Bohemian Magazine which led her to suspect that more of Eaton’s works were buried in non-indexed periodicals and newspapers.
Since joining EMiC as a co-applicant in 2010, Chapman has worked tirelessly with her graduate research assistant and EMiC stipend-holder Reilly Yeo, as well as other graduate research assistants, to collect these previously uncollected works. So far, Chapman and her team have located almost 90 unknown works by Eaton, which were published in over 50 magazines in both Canada and the United States between 1883 and 1929 — fifteen years after Eaton’s death. Amongst the Canadian finds are a follow-up to Eaton’s well-known September 1896 letter to the editor, “Plea for the Chinaman,” published a week later in the Montreal Star, as well as a reprinting of Eaton’s signature story “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” in a Toronto illustrated magazine. Chapman has also uncovered some anonymous reportage filed from Fort William, Ontario in the 1890s that she thinks were written by Eaton.
Over 100 years ago, Eaton took full advantage of a mediamorphosis to forge her career writing for mass-circulating magazines. Now, approaching the centenary of Eaton’s death (2014), Chapman thinks it fitting that she publish Eaton’s works at another moment of mediamorphosis — that is, when digitization projects offer scholars a new way to present new findings to larger groups of readers.
Chapman has encountered a bit of difficulty in her digital project because some previously digitized magazines are incomplete or misrepresent their degree of completeness. Also, Eaton’s pseudonym, Sui Sin Far, is not easily recognized as a name in the English searches of some of the digitized magazines, making Chapman’s work more labour intensive. Nevertheless, at this point in the project, Chapman and her team have scanned and proofread all of the found texts.
In addition to writing the introduction for her collection this summer, Chapman will be attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute TEI workshop at the University of Victoria. She is looking forward to learning more about the digital humanities opportunities for sharing more of Eaton’s work. Chapman has also found many American-published texts that she wants to make available to the public, and she will begin to interest American presses after her EMiC project is complete.
Vanessa Lent has just begun the second year of a two-year postdoctoral EMiC fellowship at the University of Alberta (EMiC UA). As part of the larger EMiC UA efforts to digitize the fonds of Sheila Watson and the fonds of Wilfred Watson, led by Paul Hjartarson, Vanessa is creating a hybrid print-digital edition of Wilfred’s 1962 play, Cockcrow and the Gulls.
Wilfred was a dynamic artist, critic, and teacher whose work evolved over four decades. He began to work on Cockcrow as early as 1949, and was awarded a Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship with which he funded a yearlong trip to Paris to work on the play within an environment steeped in avant-garde and absurdist theatrical production. When it premiered at Edmonton’s Studio Theatre in 1962, Cockcrow caused a stir in the theatre circles and academic communities of Edmonton and beyond.
Projected as a multi-phase project, Vanessa’s postdoctoral work asks how the database can serve the humanities scholar to interpret, organize, and present archival material. In “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,” Ed Folsom argues that the “[d]atabase facilitates access, immediacy, and the ability to juxtapose items that in real space might be far removed from each other” (Folsom 1577). A database of Cockcrow will take advantage of such “virtuality, endless ordering and reordering, and wholeness” to create a new space for scholarly work. Vanessa’s project will entail the creation of a database for the Cockcrow material to construct a composition history of the play, allowing the textual multiplicity of the journals, play drafts, letters, and interviews to connect in ways unrestrained by traditional notions of linearity.
Wilfred’s archive contains a multitude of documents, which include drafts of his creative works, correspondence, and a series of personal journals and notebooks. These notebooks are, as Paul Tiessen calls them, “private intellectual journals” that serve as commentary on the massive amount of draft manuscripts (106). The Finding Aid for the Wilfred Watson Fonds demonstrates that the composition of Cockcrow occurred not only within the multiple drafts of the play, but also within Wilfred’s personal journals. At times, his meditations on Cockcrow are recorded in journals of a more personal nature alongside day-to-day observances, lists of letters written, short reviews of books, ruminations on art of various media, and long treatises on literary and artistic theories. Other times, these meditations are recorded in journals reserved exclusively for creative rumination (sometimes on Cockcrow and sometimes on other projects).
How does a researcher approach the complexity of such an archive? Kim Sawchuck encourages an understanding of archive as media because it “emphasizes its character as a complex organizational tool that facilitates or impedes individual and social communication with future generations about past events, through the instantiation of specific protocols and rules of access” (Sawchuck, n.p.). Understanding the archive as not only a collection of documents, but also as an “organizational tool” that can be interpreted as a media in itself opens up possibilities for approaching Wilfred’s fonds.
For Vanessa, the Cockcrow project opens up and explores many questions: What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a relationship between archive and database? Further, how does the researcher best use the interface to present the material to an audience? How can the scholar expand the audience for such a project from the academic to the public? How does the database serve the literary form of drama in particular? How does the co-existence of text on the page and text as performance manifest within a database? Are there visualization tools that allow the researcher to extend the interpretive possibilities of drama in new ways?
The Cockcrow project will be built as a relational database comprised of five potential phases. While “phase one” of the project consists of Vanessa’s post-doctoral work, the subsequent phases are suggestions of where the project could potentially be taken. Phase one will serve as a proof-of-concept of the strength of the database as an organizational tool for archival material, and will see the contents of the database limited to the first act of Cockcrow.
Doctoral student Nick van Orden is part of the University of Alberta’s expansive and collaborative EMiC project (EMiC UA) focussing on the work of Wilfred Watson. Nick is working on two projects with EMiC UA, the first of which involves scanning the Wilfred Watson archive. This project is in its third year, and is estimated to consist of approximately 80,000 scans. Numerous people — including Nick — are involved in this vast endeavour to digitize Wilfred’s papers.
EMiC UA’s other project in which Nick is involved is a small — but very interesting — offshoot of the scanning project. Since December 2012, Nick has been tweeting from the @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account. As the EMiC UA team scans Wilfred’s papers, they flag particularly insightful, pithy, humorous, or poignant passages, which Nick then tweets.
The Twitter account serves two general purposes. First, it works as a marketing platform for the project, helping the team to spread awareness about Wilfred, his work, and the project. Part of EMiC UA’s motivation for increasing awareness — aside from advertising the forthcoming digital collection of Wilfred’s material — is an upcoming exhibition of Wilfred’s work at the University of Alberta Library’s Special Collections, which is set to take place in the fall of 2014. The @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account provides EMiC UA with the opportunity to network with members of the digital humanities and modernist communities.
Tweeting from @Wilfred_Watson has prompted the team to consider several interesting legal, ethical, and theoretical questions related to digitization. How, for example, does EMiC UA negotiate the legality of making public previously unpublished material, to which they have been granted access by the U of A Library, which is, in turn, beholden to Wilfred’s literary executor? To what extent should the scholars intervene in the material they tweet? Should they edit and/or correct the passages that they have select to tweet? Also, what are the ethics of tweeting as a person now dead? What does it mean to put Wilfred in conversation with other long-deceased modernist writers and thinkers? Are these scholars creating a set of false relationships, or are these avatar-based interactions a different (and new) form of what might otherwise be called intertextuality? Although the project is still developing, Nick’s work with Twitter on behalf of EMiC UA provides a unique opportunity to explore these issues, which have implications for the larger digital humanities community as a whole.
At about four months into the project, Nick and the rest of the team are just getting started. Right now, the @Wilfred_Watson Twitter account has amassed 40 tweets and collected 35 followers, and the numbers are growing steadily. Still, the team would like to increase both of these numbers a great deal; this will require more material to tweet, and more time spent monitoring the account. The EMiC UA team is also exploring the possibility of creating a “Wilfred Watson” digital brand, but is wary of the labour involved in establishing and maintaining a social media presence beyond Twitter.
For anyone interested in learning more about EMiC UA’s work on the Twitter account, Nick, Paul Hjartarson, and the rest of the EMiC UA team will be presenting a paper — entitled “Tweeting the @Wilfred_Watson Archive (or, I Tweet Dead People)” — at the CSDH/SCHN 2013 conference (part of Congress) this June in Victoria, BC.