Editing Modernism in Canada


October 21, 2015


phonotext.ca is a project initiated to develop an open access index of sound recordings related to Canadian poets and poetry. The function of the site is simple: to organize and provide details on sound recordings related to Canadian poetry and poetics; to document the specific format(s) and relevant bibliographic information for each recording; to list where recordings can be located and listened to; and to provide links to recordings that are digitally available. Additionally, phonotext.ca will host a digital library of writings focused on the intersections of sound, performance, poetry, and poetics in Canada. It situates these writings amid a vast repository of sounds.

The primary aim of this project is to aid listeners so they may access recorded materials, while emphasizing the importance of the sonic, performative, and medial aspects of poetic works. The expansive and detailed catalogue of poetry-related audio recordings will be searchable by the name of the poet, the format of recording, and the location and year in which it was produced. In combining digital and analogue recordings, phonotext.ca will assemble both a poetic and phonographic history. We intend for the site to be of interest to those involved in the sonic arts – poets, musicians, writers, teachers, researchers – and to curious listeners. The index will also serve as a tool to assist archivists and institutions in the circulation and preservation of materials always under the threat of being lost or discarded.

I have begun to work together with an editorial collective – comprised of Deanna Fong, Lee Hannigan, Shannon Maguire, and Eric Schmaltz – who will develop, add, and curate the site. Additionally, we have an advisory board – made up of Lillian Allen, Jason Camlot, Tanya Clement, Dean Irvine, Chris Mustazza, and Karis Shearer – who will assist guiding the project’s production. Sound artist and programmer Max Stein has been and continues to be instrumental in the design of the site. We have recently completed the back-end, as well as the database notational system for phonotext.ca. We are currently developing the front-end of the site, and plan to have an initial version launched in late 2016. In the meanwhile, we are building our database of materials for the site. We currently have gathered just over 2,000 phonographic entries for the index of sound materials, and hope to add an additional 4,000 entries by launch date.

If you would like to contact phonotext.ca, please email: phonotext.ca [at] gmail [dot] com.



Michael Nardone is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University, and is currently a PennSound visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He is managing editor the journal Amodern. In 2014-15, he received an Editing Modernism in Canada doctoral stipend to support the development of phonotext.ca.

June 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Barrett

May 29, 2015

Whalley Conference Schedule

The schedule for the conference in honour of George Whalley at Queen’s University, 24-26 July 2015, is now available here. The guest speakers include Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth Hay, George Elliott Clarke, Werner Nell, and John Baxter. An impressive group of presenters has been assembled, and it includes Dean Irvine, Robert Lecker, Janet Friskney, J.A. Weingarten, and Christopher Doody, among others.

The registration form for the conference is available here.

May 29, 2015

Duo Turgeon Concert – 25 July 2015

As a tribute to George Whalley’s passion for music, Duo Turgeon, the elite piano duo, will perform a concert in the Isabel Bader Centre of Performing Arts on the evening of July 25th at 7:30 pm. Drs. Anne Louise-Turgeon and Edward Turgeon, two members of Algoma U’s Music faculty, have established themselves as one of North America’s prominent piano duos. This event is open to everyone and does not require registration for the conference. Tickets are available to the general public for $25.00. Purchase tickets here.

Duo Turgeon will perform in the Isabel Bader Centre on July 25th at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available to the general public for $25.

Duo Turgeon will perform in the Isabel Bader Centre on July 25th at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available to the general public for $25.

May 4, 2015

What’s on the Menu? Chinese Restaurants in Canadian Literature

I would like to extend my thanks to EMiC for funding my RAship and facilitating our research on Gabrielle Roy, a French Canadian modernist writer who is too often overlooked in the English-speaking academic world. What began as an analysis of the complex editorial history of Gabrielle Roy’s “Où Iras-Tu Sam Lee Wong?” developed into a broader and richer study of the Asian-Canadian literary canon. On May 30th, 2015, Nathalie Cooke and I will attend the Association of Canadian and Quebec Literature conference (ACQL) to present our findings in a presentation entitled, “What’s on the Menu? Chinese Restaurants in Canadian Literature.” On April 30th, 2015, Nathalie Cook conducted a workshop entitled, “One Lonely Chinese Restaurateur of the Canadian Prairies and a Story with Three Endings,” at the University of Holguin, Cuba. The restaurant setting and the figure of the Chinese restaurateur prove especially useful motifs in delineating the evolution of Asian-Canadian literature. For, as Sam Lee Wong remarks about his job as a restaurant keeper, Chinese immigrants “almost all […] ended up in the same occupation” (53).

Our findings reveal a surge in Asian-Canadian writing after 1981 and a canon that is predominantly English with a few notable exceptions: Ook Chung, Ying Chen, and Kim Thúy (all appearing after 1981). Published six years prior to the watershed year of 1981 in Asian-Canadian literature, and likely written over a decade before, “Où Iras-Tu Sam Lee Wong?” is anomalous not only in terms of its editorial particularities, but also in its place in literary history. Written in French by a non-Asian writer, depicting Chinese settlement in the Anglo-Canadian landscape of Saskatchewan’s prairies, “Où Iras-Tu Sam Lee Wong?” is of particular interest as a story depicting cross-cultural encounter. As François Ricard also notes, the inspiration for the stories appearing in Un jardin au bout du monde (1975) came from Roy’s own experiences of such encounters. In a 1943 article published in Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs, Roy describes a Chinese restaurateur she encountered in Saskatchewan who “paraît toujour s’ennuyer et ne jamais se décorager, celui que partout on nomme Charlie: le restaurateur chinois.” The particularities of Roy’s story may be unique, but the figure of the Chinese restaurateur is an important one in Canadian history—and literature—that requires further study.

It is with EMiC’s support that we have been able to lay the groundwork for future projects on Asian-Canadian literature. I am grateful to the EMiC community and look forward to the future stages of this project.


May 3, 2015

Whalley Conference Update and Posters

Plans are coming along for the conference in honour of George Whalley to be held at Queen’s University, 24-26 July 2015. The schedules for the three days will be available soon. Much of the event will take place in the George Whalley Room in Watson Hall. The Principal of Queen’s U will host a reception on Friday, late in the afternoon. Saturday afternoon, part of the event will take place at the HMCS Cataraqui, in honour of George’s wartime service. On Saturday evening, Duo Turgeon, one of the world’s elite piano duos, will perform in the Isabel Bader Centre. The concert will include pieces by George’s favourite composers. It will be a splendid tribute. Sunday will be a shorter day, with events wrapping up in the early afternoon.

The special guests include Michael Ondaatje, Elizabeth Hay, George Elliot Clarke, John Baxter, and Werner Nell. Also, John Reeves, the CBC producer who worked with Whalley on the adaptation of Primo Levi’s “If This Is A Man” and other works for radio, will be interviewed by Michael Ondaatje.

An exhibition of sculptures by Peter Whalley, George’s brother, will be in the Media Lab in the Isabel Bader Centre. The exhibit will be open 10 to 4 on the 24th and noon to 4 on the 25th and 26th. It will also be open during the Duo Turgeon performance. Queen’s University Archives will have an exhibit of materials from the George Whalley Fonds.

A registration page is now available here.

Whalley Conference Poster

The conference posters were designed by Tiina Keranen and Joanne Nanne at Algoma University.

Duo Turgeon will perform in the Isabel Bader Centre on July 25th at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available to the general public for $25.

Concert tickets are included with conference registration. They are available to the general public for $25.

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.

April 16, 2015

Productive Failure

I have been asked to reflect on my experiences as an EMiC funded RA. This post looks at my ongoing involvement with the critical edition of Dorothy Livesay’s Right Hand Left Hand. In my previous post, I thought through my work with Canada and the Spanish Civil War (CSCW). 

In a panel last April called “What the eFs!?!: Why Our Research Matters Now,” Hannah McGregor talked about how digital humanities work taught her how to fail. If I recall correctly, she described the necessity of failing in digital work: errors in code can crash a website, or you can spend an afternoon trying to perfect a PHP script that still refuses to function, but at the end of the day its alright. You will start again tomorrow, with more help and new ideas, and move a little closer to success. In contrast, failure in the humanities is terrifying. I don’t want to write about what failure looks like in the humanities–it is the stuff of anxious dreams, and that is where it should stay.

What is essential about failing in digital humanities is the trying: each time you try something, you learn a little more about what doesn’t work, and inch closer to what does. When I began working as a research assistant for the critical edition of Dorothy Livesay’s Right Hand Left Hand, I experienced this failure with a great deal of frustration. A new scanner meant I had to rescan Livesay’s work. Errors in file naming meant a great deal of manual renaming, or wrestling with unreliable file naming programs. OCR readers, in all their imperfect glory, required me to carefully reread and correct text. And through it all, programs crashed, mistakes were made, equipment and files were (quite literally) stolen, and I did it all over it again. Every time I failed, I became more vigilant, until I was checking and rechecking obsessively.

As frustrating as this was, it was productive failure. By the time I advanced from RA to co-editor, I knew the material from every angle. I had read Livesay’s words again and again–I knew them so well that as I wrote my own thesis on literature of the Great Depression, I felt compelled to cite Livesay constantly, as all my research echoed her memories, poetry, and journalism. As I moved onto new DH projects, I was constantly surprised at how much all those failures had taught me about working carefully and effectively, about data management, and about digital research tools. All that failed work that had felt wasteful paid off in the long-term–at least for me, and I hope for the projects as well.

Now that I work mostly on Canada and the Spanish Civil War, I am confronted with another kind of failure: the failure of the international movement against fascism. It seems to me that this failure reverberates in the lives and work of so many Canadian modernist authors. I don’t have much to say on this yet. I know that addressing this particular failure has been the most challenging part of my thesis work. I know that failure will continue to be a challenge in every aspect of my life. But it is heartening to know that, in its own small way, DH work makes failure more familiar and less devastating.


Three years after I began my RAship, the Right Hand Left Hand text is almost ready for submission. When I look at the single document that lives in my dropbox, I think of all the documents, folders, spreadsheets, bibliographies, and files that brought this edition to life, and of all the work that was undone and redone to bring this single text to life. And, of course, building on my last post, I think of the team of people that made it happen: Bart Vautour, Dean Irvine, Emily Ballantyne, Leslie Gallagher, Karen Smith at Dalhousie Special Collections, the staff at the University of Manitoba Archives, and many others. Ultimately, their knowledge and support made this project a successful one.

April 14, 2015

Thinking Through Ethical Collaboration

I have been asked to reflect on my experiences as an EMiC funded RA. In this post, I think through my work with Canada and the Spanish Civil War (CSCW). My next post will look at my ongoing involvement with the critical edition of Dorothy Livesay’s Right Hand Left Hand. A big thank you to Emily Ballantyne for providing feedback on this piece. 

By the time I joined CSCW, I had already worked for EMiC for a couple of years. I came into EMiC when it was already well underway. In many ways, I felt I could never really catch up; there were so many acronyms to learn, so many scholars to meet, and such a range of digital and literary projects that I only ever glimpsed. I learned many technical skills, but never enough to keep pace with this rapidly evolving and expanding project. I was impressed, excited, and ultimately (necessarily) overwhelmed.

But for me, the real beauty of EMiC is that it facilitated so many smaller projects. I got involved in Canada and the Spanish Civil War fairly early, and I witnessed its development. Emily Robins Sharpe and Bart Vautour study social justice movements, and they ensure that social justice is the foundation of their project. I am grateful to see the inner workings of the project, to see how policies and communities take shape around certain collective values. There is a great deal of emphasis in the digital humanities on skill development, and for a while I focused on developing my technical skill set. Through CSCW, I saw how deliberately I needed to develop interpersonal skills. It takes a great deal of space and energy to practice effective communication, transparency, collaboration and respect. I am grateful to have all of these modelled for me through this project.

In my own research, I ask what productive collective action looks like in Canadian fiction from the Great Depression. One chapter of my thesis looks at the Canadian Spanish Civil War novel This Time a Better Earth, and the different forms of antifascist work that it portrays. This project has asked a lot of challenging questions about what labour looks like, how we value different forms of labour, how women and people of colour become sidelined or exploited in collective work, why this happens, and how to model more sustainable and equitable movements. It is fairly easy to apply these critiques to literature of the 1930s, but much harder to critique and remake the projects, movements and institutions that I am a part of. This is time-consuming work, and it can be daunting. I am a privileged individual completing my second, well-funded degree in an increasingly neoliberal university system; I am already complicit in and benefiting from a broken system. But when I scale down, to the small-but–growing projects and communities I get to be a part of, I start to feel more hopeful and more prepared.

One of the reasons I am writing about the interpersonal outcomes of my RA work and not the digital outcomes is because all of that digital and editorial work feels incomplete, though I recognize the necessity of sharing ongoing work. But ultimately, I feel like those tangible things – the Canada and the Spanish Civil War website, the growing bibliography of Canadian writing on Spain, the forthcoming (and already underway) book series, even my own thesis – are not mine to claim. They are inherently collaborative, and as such their success hinges on healthy community. In an earlier EMiC post, Andrea Hasenbank wrote: “The work I have detailed here is one throughline of the work always being done by many, many people. You do not work alone, you should not work alone, and if you are not acknowledging those who work with you, your scholarship is unsustainable and unethical.” This, to me, is the real unfinished work that is giving me pause. How do I ensure that my work is always in line with my values? How do I respect my collaborators, academic and otherwise, my research subjects, my supporters, and my audience? I am grateful to EMiC and Canada and the Spanish Civil War for giving me the opportunity to apply these questions. In her farewell to EMiC, Hannah McGregor wrote, “communities preserve and support us; they give us perspective on what really matters, back us in our struggles, keep us sane and human in the face of systems that threaten to break us down.” Looking forward, I am confident in the excellent communities EMiC has produced, and in the productive and supportive thinking that it has fostered in so many of us.

March 31, 2015

Community and Precarity

“Also, happy last day of EMiC.”

This message just appeared on a Facebook chat I’m having with three other EMiCites, as we discuss exactly how much social time we can fit into the upcoming Digital Diversity conference in Edmonton. Many of us are not attending DHSI this year — our normal summer meet-up spot — and so we’re treating DigDiv as a mini reunion.

It’s not really the last day of EMiC. A simple fiscal end-date will not spell the end of the projects and collaborations we began over the past seven years, many of which will continue in various forms and reverberate through our institutions and disciplines.

I have benefitted from tremendous research and training opportunities through my affiliation with EMiC. Since the first day that co-applicant Paul Hjartarson invited me, an utterly overwhelmed new MA student, for a coffee in HUB mall at the U of A and asked if I’d be interested in joining a project that would send me to Victoria to learn something about computers, EMiC has shaped my academic trajectory. The connections I made in that first year led directly to my current position as a SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellow, back at the U of A and working with Paul again, now with five DHSIs under my belt and a somewhat more robust sense of what computers do. I am hugely grateful for having been in the right place at the right time.

But what I will value, more than the conferences and seminars and publications, is the community.

It will be news to absolutely no one that it’s a scary time to be an emerging academic right now. The discourse is positively apocalyptic. Many of us are leaving academia altogether, seeking out rewarding careers in different fields. Others hold on, trying to stay committed to the values of our teaching and research while experiencing the real costs of our precarity. I don’t use the word precarity lightly — we should never forget that our “shared precariouness” is not shared equally — but I use it here to underline how powerful communities can be in the face of this affective burden.

Professional opportunities can help to pave the way to exciting careers. Interdisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations produce innovation and new knowledge. But communities preserve and support us; they give us perspective on what really matters, back us in our struggles, keep us sane and human in the face of systems that threaten to break us down.

I often talk about the collaborations that make my work possible, but I rarely talk about the communities that make it possible for me to do my work. As important as the days spent in DHSI courses, struggling with TEI and databases, were the nights at karaoke bars, bonding over nostalgic 90s alt-rock. And while I can’t say where my career will take me in the next five or ten or twenty years, I take comfort in knowing that I’ll always have a bunch of nerds to make #canlit jokes with me.

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