Editing Modernism in Canada


November 4, 2013

Infinite Ulysses: Mechanisms for a Participatory Edition

My previous post introduced some of my research questions with the “Infinite Ulysses” project; here, I’ll outline some specific features I’ll be building into the digital edition to give it participatory capabilities—abilities I’ll be adding to the existing Modernist Commons platform through the support of an  EMiC Ph.D. Stipend.

My “Infinite Ulysses” project combines its speculative design approach with the scholarly primitive of curation (dealing with information abundance and quality and bias), imagining scholarly digital editions as popular sites of interpretation and conversation around a text. By drawing from examples of how people actually interact with text on the internet, such as on the social community Reddit and the Q&A StackExchange sites, I’m creating a digital edition interface that allows site visitors to create and interact with a potentially high number of annotations and interpretations of the text. Note that while the examples below pertain to my planned “Infinite Ulysses” site (which will be the most fully realized demonstration of my work), I’ll also be setting up an text of A.M. Klein’s at modernistcommons.ca with similar features (but without seeded annotations or methodology text), and my code work will be released with an open-source license for free reuse in others’ digital editions.


So that readers on my beta “Infinite Ulysses” site aren’t working from a blank slate, I’ll be seeding the site with annotations that offer a few broadly useful tags that mark advanced vocabulary, foreign languages, and references to Joyce’s autobiography so that the site’s ways of dealing with annotations added by other readers can be explored. Readers can also fill out optional demographic details on their account profiles that will help other readers identify people with shared interests in or levels of experience with Ulysses.

On top of a platform for adding annotations to edited texts, readers of the digital edition will be able to:

1. tag the annotations

For Stephen’s description of Haines’ raving nightmare about a black panther, a reader might add the annotation “Haines’ dream foreshadows the arrival of main character Leopold Bloom in the story; Bloom, a Jewish Dubliner, social misfit, and outcast from his own home, is often described as a sort of ‘dark horse’“. This annotation can be augmented by its writer (or any subsequent reader) with tags such as “JoyceAutobiography” (for the allusions to Joyce’s own experience in a similar tower), “DarkHorses” (to help track “outsider” imagery throughout the novel), and “dreams”.

2. toggle/filter annotations both by tags and by user accounts

Readers can either hide annotations they don’t need to see (e.g. if you know Medieval Latin, hide all annotations translating it) or bring forward annotations dealing with areas of interest (e.g. if you’re interested in Joyce and Catholicism)

Readers can hide annotations added by certain user accounts (perhaps you disagree with someone’s interpretations, or only want to see annotations by other users that are also first-time readers of the book).

3. assign weights to both other readers’ accounts and individual annotations

As with Reddit, each annotation (once added to the text) can receive either one upvote or one downvote from each reader, by which the annotation’s usefulness can be measured by the community, determining how often and high something appears in search results and browsing. Votes on annotations will also accrue to the reader account that authored those annotations, so that credibility of annotators can also be roughly assessed.

3. cycle through less-seen and lower-ranked editorial contributions

To prevent certain annotations from never being read (a real issue unless every site visitor wishes to sit and rank every annotation!)

4. track of contentious annotations

To identify and analyze material that receives an unusual amount of both up- and down-voting

5. save private and public sets of annotations

Readers can curate specific sets of annotations from the entire pool of annotations, either for personal use or for public consumption. For example, a reader might curate a set of annotations that provide clues to Ulysses‘ mysteries, or track how religion is handled in the book, or represent the combined work of an undergraduate course where Ulysses was an assigned text.

I’m expecting that the real usage of these features will not go as planned; online communities I’m studying while building this edition all have certain organic popular usages not originally intended by the site creators, and I’m excited to discover these while conducting user testing. I’ll be discussing more caveats as to how these features will be realized, as well as precedents to dealing with heavy textual annotations, in a subsequent post.

First Wireframe

In the spirit of documenting an involving project, here’s a quick and blurry glance at my very first wireframe of the site’s reading page layout from the summer (I’m currently coding the site’s actual design). I thought of this as a “kitchen sink wireframe”; that is, the point was not to create the final look of the site or to section off correct dimensions for different features, but merely to represent every feature I wanted to end up in the final design with some mark or symbol (e.g. up- and down-voting buttons). The plan for the final reading page is to have a central reading pane, a right sidebar where annotations can be authored and voted up or down, and a pull-out drawer to the left where readers can fiddle with various settings to customize their reading experience (readers also have the option of setting their default preferences for these features—e.g. that they never want to see annotations defining vocabulary—on their private profile pages).

I’m looking forward to finessing this layout with reader feedback toward a reading space that offers just the right balance of the annotations you want handy with a relatively quiet space in which to read the text. This project builds from the HCI research into screen layout I conducted during my master’s, which produced an earlier Ulysses digital edition attempt of mine, the 2008/2009 UlyssesUlysses.com:

UlyssesUlysses does some interesting things in terms of customizing the learning experience (choose which category of annotation you want visibly highlighted!) and the reading experience (mouse over difficult words and phrases to see the annotation in the sidebar, instead of reading a text thick with highlightings and footnotes). On the downside of things, it uses the Project Gutenberg e-text of Ulysses, HTML/CSS (no TEI or PHP), and an unpleasant color scheme (orange and brown?). I’ve learned much about web design, textual encoding, and Ulysses since that project, and it’s exciting to be able to document these early steps toward a contextualized reading experience with the confidence that this next iteration will be an improvement.


Because code modules already exist that allow many of these features within other contexts (e.g. upvoting), I will be able to concentrate my efforts on applying these features to editorial use and assessing user testing of this framework. I’ll likely be building with the Modernist Commons editing framework, which will let me use both RDF and TEI to record relationships among contextualizing annotations; there’s an opportunity to filter and customize your reading experience along different trajectories of inquiry, for example by linking clues to the identity of Bloom’s female correspondent throughout the episodes. Once this initial set of features is in place, I’ll be able to move closer to the Ulysses text while users are testing and breaking my site. One of the things I hope to do at this point is some behind-the-scenes TEI conceptual encoding of the Circe episode toward visualizations to help first-time readers of the text deal with shifts between reality and various reality-fueled unrealities.

Practical Usage

Despite this project’s speculative design (what if everyone wants to chip in their own annotations to Ulysses?), I’m also building for the reality of a less intense, but still possibly wide usage by scholars, readers, teachers, and book clubs. This dissertation is very much about not just describing, but actually making tools that identify and respond to gaps I see in the field of digital textual studies, so part of this project will be testing it with various types of reader once it’s been built, and then making changes to what I’ve built to serve the unanticipated needs of these users (read more about user testing for DH here).

To sign up for a notification when the “Infinite Ulysses” site is ready for beta-testing, please visit the form here.

Amanda Visconti is an EMiC Doctoral Fellow; Dr. Dean Irvine is her research supervisor and Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum is her dissertation advisor. Amanda is a Literature Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and also works as a graduate assistant at a digital humanities center, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She blogs regularly about the digital humanities, her non-traditional digital dissertation, and digital Joyce at LiteratureGeek.com, where parts of this post previously appeared.

October 26, 2013

What if we build a digital edition and everyone shows up?: “Infinite Ulysses”, Klein, and exploring complex modernisms together through participatory editions

An update on a project supported by an EMiC Ph.D. Stipend.

Digital humanities productions (editions, archives, or other digital engagements) are increasingly sites of broader participation in textual interpretation, with how to evoke and harness “meaningful” crowdsourcing becoming an increasingly urgent question to scholars seeking a more public humanities.

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed how borrowing the HCI (human-computer interaction) idea of “participatory design” can help digital humanities practitioners and their public audiences to mutual intellectual gain. As we use the Web to open the texts we study to a wider community of discussion, bringing in diverse knowledges and interpretive biases, I’m interested in how we can usefully structure the overabundance of information proceeding from public/crowdsourced contextual annotation of literary texts (contextual annotation means notes that give a context for a word, phrase, or other chunk of text, ranging from definitions of advanced vocabulary to more interpretive annotations). That is: my “Infinite Ulysses” project (one of several code/design projects forming my literature dissertation) is conceived as a speculative experiment: what if we build an edition and everyone shows up and adds their own annotations to the text, or asks and answers questions in the textual margins? When this quantity of voices is combined with an unusually complex text such as James Joyce’s Ulysses—or works developed in response to Joyce’s writing, as with A.M. Klein—how might we create a digital edition critical experience that adeptly handles not only issues of contextual annotation quantity but also quality?

In addition to improving the ability of EMiC scholars to share their editions of Canadian Modernists with a wider, more participatory audience, I will test the scholarly use of this interface with two specific texts—a short work by Canadian author A. M. Klein subsequent to his introduction to the works of James Joyce, and Joyce’s Ulysses. This dual testing will let me trace resonances and dissimilarities between the two writings, developing a better understanding of how Klein’s Modernism built on and diverged from his readings in Joyce. Juxtaposing these two works allows me to apply the wealth of existing theorizations and questions about a digital Ulysses to the work of a far-less-often digitally theorized Canadian author—an extremely useful knowledge transfer packaged with a reusable participatory editing interface. EMiC’s generous support of a year of my dissertational work (through one of its Ph.D. stipends) has not only made this scholarly work possible in a practical sense, it has pushed me to look beyond my comfort zone of discussing the Joycean hypertextual to think about how such theorizing can extend to similar works that link back to the node of Ulysses.

I’ve previously blogged about the overarching plans for my digital dissertation: about how I’ll be empirically user-testing both current and personal theories about textuality through code and design, and how I’m designing this building-as-scholarship towards helping everyone—textual scholars and the lay person—participate in our love for the nuances of a text’s materiality, history, and meaning. This post is about the first of my dissertation’s three coding projects: designing and coding an interface that allows a participatory, vibrant, contextualizing conversation around complex Modernist texts, with Ulysses being my main focus. Packed into one sentence, my research question for this first project is: What might we learn from crafting an interface to usefully curate quantity and quality of contextual annotation for complex Modernist digital editions (such as Ulysses), where the critical conversation is opened to the public? That’s a long sentence covering both more abstract and more concrete critical work, and I’ll be breaking it into manageable chunks with the rest of this post and those to follow.

“Infinite” annotations.

While there isn’t a complete scholarly digital edition of Ulysses yet published, that hasn’t kept Joycean scholars from anticipating issues that might arise with the eventual migration to digital space. Where the limitations of print space have in the past kept annotations of the text in check, what will happen when a digital platform allows the addition and navigation of infinite annotations? Can we migrate complex print hypertexts such as Ulysses to a digital space with socially multiplied annotations without, as Mark Marino wonders, “diminish[ing] the force of the book”:

Assuming it were possible, would the creation of a system that automatically makes available all the allusions, unravels all the riddles, and translates foreign languages normalize Joyce’s text? (Mark C. Marino, “Ulysses on Web 2.0: Towards a Hypermedia Parallax Engine”)

In Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History, Derek Attridge similarly sees a risk in Ulysses‘ hypertextualization:

[Ulysses'] cultural supremacy, and the scholarly efforts which reflect and promote that supremacy, have turned it into a text that confirms us in our satisfied certainties instead of one that startles and defies is and thus opens new avenues for thought and pleasure. It now reassures us of our place in what might otherwise seem a chaotic universe, or it provides a model of coherence to take a refuge in, a satisfying structure where the details all make sense… a spurious sense of rich complexity by reducing differences and distinctions (Derek Attridge, Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History, 185)

Yet Attridge sees space for promise in the digital development of the text as well:

The very magnitude of the encyclopedic Joycean hypertext can itself be unsettling… and it may be possible to produce a hypermedia version of Ulysses that is anything but reassuring—one that revives, in new ways, the provocations and disturbances of the original publication… The best teachers (like the best critics) are those who find ways to sustain the disruptive force of Ulysses even while they do their necessary work of explaining and demystifying (Derek Attridge, Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History, 186-188)

Despite there being no full digital edition of Ulysses against which to test these fears and assumptions, we already have some questions about what happens to a complex Modernist text when “everyone shows up”, and I’m hoping that by creating a site that experiments with allowing “infinite” contextual annotation of Ulysses (that’s where the “Infinite Ulysses” title of my project comes from), we can get a more realistic picture of what extreme annotation actually does to our experience of the text. When even someone as familiar with the text(s) as Ulysses editor Hans Walter Gabler can still learn new things about Ulysses (as he marveled during a class at the University of Victoria this summer), I’m confident that Ulysses will persist as always partially unfixed, always giving back more—and the Joycean digital theoretical work of Michael Groden and other digital humanists is ripe for carrying over to similarly complex Canadian texts.

Quantity and quality, signal and noise.

While the final effect of unlimited space to discuss and interpret the text remains to be seen, the “Infinite Ulysses” project will also tackle two more immediate problems: quality and quantity of annotation. If everyone is submitting annotations to a digital edition, how can we automate the massive task of curation and moderation of these annotations so that it occurs in a timely and unbiased manner? And once we’ve separated the wheat of critical yet diverse annotations from the chaff of repetitions, spam, and under-substantiated suggestions, how do we make the still-plentiful remaining material accessible to the users it would best serve? That is, how do we separate the signal from the noise when the “signal” of pertinent contextual annotations means different things for different reader needs?

So: what happens to a complex Modernist text when we allow “infinite” annotations on it, and how do we work with “infinite” annotations to filter, order, and display those annotations best suited to a given reader? In a future post on this blog, I will explain the specific features I’m coding into my digital edition interface to approach these questions.

To sign up for a notification when the “Infinite Ulysses” site is ready for beta-testing, please visit the form here.

Amanda Visconti is an EMiC Doctoral Fellow; Dr. Dean Irvine is her research supervisor and Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum is her dissertation advisor. Amanda is a Literature Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland and also works as a graduate assistant at a digital humanities center, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She blogs regularly about the digital humanities, her non-traditional digital dissertation, and digital Joyce at LiteratureGeek.com, where parts of this post previously appeared.

October 15, 2013

Canadian Modernism Call for Proposal (ACCUTE/Congress)

Not Belated: Canadian Late Modernism Organizers: Gregory Betts (Brock U), Paul Hjartarson (U of Alberta), and Kristine Smitka (U of Alberta) Contact: gbetts@brocku.ca

Late modernism begins after the spirit of revolt against 19th Century/Victorian values dissipated and ends with the arrival of postmodernism. It begins, as Tyrus Miller argues, with the recognition of a much bleaker future than the initial wave of modernists had envisioned. Robert Genter counters that late modernists broke from earlier models in pursuit of less esoteric concerns, more playfulness, and greater connection to wider publics. Theories of late modernism are beginning to proliferate and it is time to extend the discussion to Canadian writers from the 1930s-60s who have too often been awkwardly and inappropriately situated with the first wave of international literary modernism. Writers such as A.J.M. Klein, Sheila Watson, Wilfred Watson, Elizabeth Smart, Dorothy Livesay, Anne Marriot, and many more, refer to Eliot, Pound, Joyce, and Lewis in their work, but mark themselves as different from the initial efforts of the so-called “titans of modernism” by this reference. One aspect of this group of particular interest is the increased awareness of writing in the age of mass media, within McLuhan’s electric age, or as part of diverse global networks of competing modernisms as per Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel’s notion of geomodernisms.

We invite papers that consider how late modernist awareness infiltrates writing in the period. Please send a proposal with no identifying marks (300-500 words), an abstract (100 words), a brief biographical statement (50 words), and a Proposal Submissions Information Sheet to gbetts@brocku.ca by November 1.

Association: ACCUTE

Congress of the Humanities, Brock University

24-30 May 2014

October 8, 2013

Freeda Wilson Adds Another Dimension to Versioning Research

This post was collaboratively written by Freeda Wilson and Katherine Wooler

Freeda Wilson is currently completing an EMiC-funded project, which she anticipates will form part of her doctoral dissertation—supervised by Dr. Karis Shearer and Dr. Grisel Maria Garcia Pérez—to fulfill the requirements of her degree at UBC Okanagan. Her dissertation “Translating Bonheur d’occasion: Reinventing French-Canadian Culture in English, Spanish, and French” probes several editions and translations of Bonheur d’occasion [French 1945, 1947, 1947 (France), 1965, 1977, 1993, Spanish 1948, English 1947, 1980] and investigates variances between the texts, such as omissions and modifications. Freeda will determine the extent to which these variances affect the text, including aspects such as the representation of characters, religion, and culture. The main goal of her research is to examine the extent to which revision and translation affect the conceptual cohesion of the narrative of the 1945 edition of Bonheur d’occasion in the subsequent editions/translations. Furthermore, she will explore how digital humanities’ methodologies might compensate for conceptual variances between the original text and subsequent versions and translations, particularly in terms of the 1965 French edition, the Spanish translation, and the two English translations.

Freeda’s main challenge is how to best bridge the various editions in a manner which informs the reader but does not alter or take away from any of the individual editions. Another obstacle was copyright; however, she was fortunate to obtain permission from the Gabrielle Fonds to access and use materials for research purposes. While Freeda has experimented with Juxta (open source versioning/collation software), she will not be using it for her examination of variations of Bonheur d’occasion because uploading text to Juxta online would be a copyright infringement. Also, the software is not yet equipped to adequately support multiple languages.

Freeda found DHSI a very useful arena for generating ideas, especially since a major part of her process involves the digital/technical aspects of her project. Her project focuses on developing a 3D rendering of the variances in one chapter (Chapter XXX of the 1945 Pascal edition) across eight subsequent editions/translations of the text. This 3D visualization of Freeda’s research will present data on three axes simultaneously and coordinate which planes can be viewed at any given moment, revealing various sets of relationships depending on the view. The visible data and consequent themes will be determined by the researcher who is viewing the data. The different visual perspectives that are provided by this 3D model replicate how an object is viewed when held and rotated in the hand. Depending on the angle, various combinations of components will be visible at once.

Freeda is currently migrating the data from her research to her 3D model prototype in order to create the final 3D version, which in turn will integrate with its written counterpart in the dissertation. Her next step will be to create a website, which will house the various digital components relevant to her dissertation and to the various editions of Bonheur d’occasion, including the 3D model. These other digital components include timelines, charts, networks, frequency graphs, collation/versioning, data modeling/topic modeling, text manipulation tools, and multimedia materials. She is building the website herself, and her coursework at DHSI has significantly developed her vision. This portion of her work (the digitized components) will become available as she completes each item.










September 17, 2013

An EMiC Update for the New Academic Year

The temperature is dropping and the piles of books are rising as we start another academic year, and I wanted to take this opportunity to make a few announcements for the EMiC community. First—after keeping us organized, answering our questions, and making sure our funding was waiting for us in our bank accounts for the past two years, in addition to contributing countless hours to EMiC since 2009—Emily Ballantyne is stepping down as project administrator and handing over the position to recent MA graduate Alix Shield. Emily’s dedication has been an invaluable asset to the project, and she has kindly shared her administrator know-how with Alix to ensure that the project continues to run smoothly.

Alix completed her Master’s at Dalhousie University and wrote her thesis on a selection of early twentieth-century First Nations collaborations with non-aboriginal authors, anthropologists, and ethnographers. She framed her thesis within versioning theory, and some of you may have seen her at this past spring’s DHSI in the versioning class. She has also worked as an RA collecting and digitizing versions of the texts she studied in her thesis, focusing particularly on Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver, which she hopes to present in a digital edition as part of her continuing work with Dean Irvine.

Second, my name is Katherine Wooler, and I am taking over Amanda Hansen’s role in writing and coordinating the EMiC blog. I’m hoping to keep tabs on everyone’s projects as well as she has over the past year. I have also just completed my MA at Dalhousie University and have previously worked as an EMiC RA and held an EMiC MA stipend. I am currently developing a digital edition of bpNichol’s concrete poetry, which was the topic of my thesis. I am looking forward to getting to know each of you and your projects better as I organize blog posts over the next year and profile the great work being done by our ever-growing community of scholars and researchers.

I encourage all of you to share your thoughts, plans, struggles and triumphs in your own blog posts, as this is a great forum for initiating collaborations, generating feedback, and finding inspiration. These blog posts serve as a comforting reminder that we’re not all slaving away at out projects in complete isolation, but that we’re part of a diverse support system in which all of us are making similar discoveries in our own unique ways. The blog archives are full of exciting and though-provoking writing by many talented academics, and I am eager to see this archive grow in the coming year.

My third order of business is to mention our stipend holders, as well as our newest postdoctoral fellow. While there are no MA stipend holders this year, I am pleased to list three PhD stipend recipients: Alana Fletcher, Christopher Doody, and Amanda Visconti. Alana (Queen’s University) is continuing with her compilation of the George Whalley database with Michael DiSanto of Algoma University, while Christopher continues at Carleton University working with Zailig Pollock (Trent University) on the P.K. Page Brazilian materials. Amanda’s project is called “Joyce, Klein, and Transferring Digital Knowledge to Canadian Texts,” and she will be working with Dean Irvine and Matthew Kirschenbaum while pursuing her degree at the University of Maryland. Paul Barrett of McMaster University now holds the EMiC postdoctoral fellowship and is working with Daniel Coleman to study Austin Clarke’s Survivors of the Crossing.

I’d like to congratulate EMiC’s latest stipend recipients and postdoctoral fellow, thank Emily and Amanda for all their hard work with the project, and welcome Alix to her new position. Please feel welcome to make your own introductions and announcements on this blog, as well as keep fellow EMiC-ers updated on your experiences with the project. Facebook and Twitter are also a great way to keep in contact with your EMiC colleagues, so please don’t hesitate to keep those channels of communication active as well. If you haven’t already, you can join the Facebook group by searching Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC) and keep up with EMiC tweets by following @emic_project. I am looking forward to talking with you all more in the upcoming semesters. Happy September!

September 4, 2013

“A More Platonic James Bond”

Over the past few months, some wonderful recordings of George Whalley have come to light. When I visited with his daughter Katharine in June, I discovered two cassette tapes that she had been given 30 years ago. The recordings had survived and the audio is excellent. In the last two months, Jen Hardwick, a PhD candidate in English at Queen’s University, has been making digital copies of recordings on reel-to-reel tapes that Whalley once owned and donated to the Queen’s University Archives. On many of these the sound quality is excellent. Several of the recordings have been edited and added to the website: http://georgewhalley.algomau.ca/drupal6/node/76.

There is a fascinating autobiographical fragment that Whalley recorded on March 21, 1977. The reflections on his childhood and the lively conversations he heard at home are remarkable.

Long before Elizabeth Hay wrote Late Nights On Air – a novel deeply rooted in Whalley’s The Legend of John Hornby and his radio drama Death in the Barren Ground – and received the Giller prize, she lived in Yellowknife and was friends with Katharine. In April 1976 Whalley visited Yellowknife, having been there a few years back to after driving a VW Beetle from Edmonton for his daughter and her husband. Elizabeth interviewed Whalley about Hornby, a book she read years before and admired very much.

On February 23, 1967, F.R. Scott gave a poetry reading in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University. Whalley made the introduction that evening. They had known each other for many years: they co-organized the Writing in Canada conference at Queen’s University in July 1955 and Scott contributed an essay to A Place of Liberty, a collected of essays on university governance that Whalley edited. Whalley’s introduction is unlike any other Scott was given, I suspect: http://georgewhalley.algomau.ca/drupal6/node/1885.

The selection of readings of Whalley’s poems, taken from two tapes recorded about a decade apart, allows us to hear the pieces differently than we will when reading them for ourselves.The laughter raised by “A Minor Poet is Visited by the Muse” is well worth hearing: http://georgewhalley.algomau.ca/drupal6/node/1781. The reading of “Pig” resonates for me: http://georgewhalley.algomau.ca/drupal6/node/1786. I saw the pig in Southwold (it made the trip back to England many years before).

The pig that travelled under Whalley's arm "from London by air / In gay defiance of all airline and government regulations."

The pig, purchased at Herrods, that travelled under Whalley’s arm from London in “defiance of all airline and government regulations.”

Doug Jones and Whalley gave a joint reading at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on March 10, 1966. Jones introduces Whalley as “a more platonic James Bond,” which raises great laughter from the audience. What was the expression on Whalley’s face at that moment? And how many in the audience had any sense of the truth behind the remark, any knowledge of Whalley’s secret intelligence work for the Royal Navy in World War II?

Whalley much admired the poetry of Donne, Hopkins, and Yeats. Of Yeats, Whalley wrote “He has been my greatest despair & encouragement” in a 1945 letter to Arnold Banfill. Whalley’s deep attachment to the writers can be heard in his readings of Donne’s “The Relic,” Hopkins’ “The Windhover,” Yeats “The Second Coming,” and the others published here. Listening to Whalley read the poems, as if he can effortlessly voice the styles and the rhythms, makes me realize how difficult it is to read poetry well.

The website will be slowly updated and revised over the next several months. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to draw attention to the recordings now published.

August 23, 2013

A Year of Whalley

Since May of 2012, Michael DiSanto (Algoma University) and I have been collaborating on 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, built by Robin Isard, the eSystems Librarian, and Rick Scott, the Library Technologies Specialist, is connected to the open access website Michael edits and manages, www.georgewhalley.ca. The database is RAD (Rules for Archival Description), OAI (Open Archives Initiative), and Dublin Core compliant. This means the materials collected by the project can be easily moved into almost any library or archival database via OAI protocols. With the cooperation of the Queen’s University Archives (QUA) and the Whalley estate, the database is used to collect Whalley materials together in one location and make them accessible from anywhere on the internet. This database will serve as the foundation for subsequent digital and print editions of Whalley’s works, the first of which is a digital edition of selected materials that will provide rich insights into George Whalley’s creative process as a poet. This digital collection will serve as the counterpart to the scholarly print edition of Whalley’s collected poems that Michael is editing for McGill-Queen’s University Press (MQUP), with an expected publication date of 2015. The digital edition will be comprised of manuscripts and typescripts, as well as private papers such as the composition calendar in which Whalley recorded the dates and locations he composed and revised many of his poems between 1937 and 1947. Whalley’s letters from his correspondence with Ryerson Press for the chapbook Poems 1939-1944 (1946) and selections from his wartime correspondence will also be included, and transcriptions for each digital image will also be presented.
My work on the Whalley project has provided me with valuable experience working first-hand with the very rich collection of published and unpublished materials in the QUA’s George Whalley Fonds. I spent much of my time during the last year scanning letters and poetry and prose manuscripts and typescripts located in the QUA to digital archival standards (between 400 and 600dpi) in TIFF format, editing them, converting them to JPEGs, and uploading them into the database with RAD-compliant descriptions. At the same time, Michael has scanned, edited, converted, and uploaded documents in the private papers kept by the Whalley family in Southwold, England, and by various other people connected to Whalley. Between the time I joined the project in May 2012 and the end of March 2013, we made 1711 records describing 4888 files, including no less than 4075 pages of manuscripts, typescripts, journals, and letters. Both Michael and I have also produced public works on Whalley. I presented a conference paper at Trinity College Dublin in mid-June of this year on Whalley’s multi-linguistic radio adaptation of Primo Levi’s memoir, Se questo è un uomo, and made a colloquium presentation at Queen’s University which compared the self-presentational modes of Whalley’s pre-war, wartime, and post-war letters to his mother. Michael, Robin, and I also gave a talk on our approach to the Whalley project entitled “Archiving from the Start: An Archive Database Solution for Literary Research” at DHSI this past June.
Currently, we are working with Robin on a major refresh of www.georgewhalley.ca and on formulating the technical and aesthetic design elements of the edition. Some of the editorial decisions we have made concerning the edition include the choice to use a “Related Materials” sidebar to direct users to documents connected to the one they are currently viewing. My work has shifted in the last month to focus on editing the database’s records for various typescripts and manuscripts into a more granular format, to enable users to search quite specifically among records.

August 14, 2013

Stacey Devlin: Research Assistant Extraordinaire

Today is Stacey Devlin’s last working day on the George Whalley project. Having been very successful in her undergraduate studies as a double major in English and History at Algoma University, she has won a SSHRC graduate scholarship and will pursue a MA in Public History at Western University in September. The great contribution she’s made to the Whalley project deserves public recognition.

Since coming aboard in May, 2012, Stacey has completed an extraordinary amount of work: thousands of pages of transcriptions of letters, diaries, poems, and other documents; a spreadsheet that records all of Whalley’s extant poems, their textual sources, and their dates and locations of composition; significant historical and bibliographical research, and much else. She has made many of the processes that are now taught to new research assistants. During her time, the Whalley database has grown significantly.

Stacey’s most impressive accomplishment is a timeline of Whalley’s life. As of today, there are well over 2000 entries that draw together details from Whalley’s letters, diaries and logs, poetry manuscripts and typescripts, military records, and other sources. With it, we can track where Whalley was and what he was doing week to week and, quite often, day to day. For every entry the source of the information is cited. Before too long, digital scans of the various documents will be linked to the timeline. It is already a remarkable scholarly resource and will become the foundation upon which much else is built.

Stacey has left an indelible mark on the whole project. Working with her has been a great pleasure. Though I am happy to see her set off for London, I am sad to lose her. Perhaps one day her journey in life will lead her back to Whalley. She will always be welcome.



July 3, 2013

DHSI 2013: Visual Design for Digital Humanists

This post is written by Melissa Dalgleish, Katie Wooler, and Kaarina Mikalson.

We’ve been back from DHSI for a few weeks, and it’s only now that I feel like I’ve properly processed what I learned there. This year, I decided to take a less code-heavy course then I did the last few times I attended, and embark upon Visual Design for Digital Humanists. The broadest interpretation of digital humanist applies here, because anyone who works in the humanities and uses a computer (i.e. anyone) would find this course useful.

Like basically every course at DHSI, VDDH suffers from the problem of trying to cram a vast amount of material into five days, and trying to gear that material to people with a wide range of backgrounds and expectations of the course. That, however, is also a strength, since we got an introduction to the principles of design, gestalt theory, color theory, the vocabulary and  practice of critique, user experience and interaction, web design, typography and font design, and Adobe design software. But for those who already have a strong background in design theory and Adobe’s Creative Suite software, the class would likely be boring, as the course material is geared towards beginners.

Despite our obviously brilliant and experienced instructors, the course often simultaneously felt like too much and not enough: too much to learn, too much emphasis on some topics and not others, too little time to put what we’d learned into practice. As Kaarina notes, she didn’t like the over emphasis on critique and communication with designers. Too often, class time veered off course into a discussion between the three instructors as experienced designers, and she easily lost track of the conversation.

But despite its shortcomings, in the weeks after DHSI I realized just how much I’d learned. I submitted my personal blog for a professional critique, and when opinion came back, realized that it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. I reformatted my dissertation, and recognized while I was doing it that I was applying principles of communicative design I’d learned at DHSI. And I returned to the splash page for my digital edition with fresh eyes and a new sense of what it should look like and what its aesthetics and layout could do. For Kaarina, the course got her thinking about her user personas and what design will best suit their needs. The course also was useful for thinking beyond the material and into the navigation/organization aspects of her digital project, and for giving her some tools and theory for dealing with that shift.

The class is slightly better suited for people who have a designer working for them rather than people who are trying to do the design work themselves, since the course started out with lectures that provided tools for communication with designers and took a little while to get to teaching practical skills. However, the lectures were still a great starting point for DIY-designers as far as gleaning inspiration and being forced to think critically about the purpose of design. In the digital humanities–in all of the humanities–form and function create meaning hand in hand. If you’re interested in enhancing your awareness of how that works on the visual level, or improving your visual vocabulary, VDDH is the course for you.

June 24, 2013

Hacking and Engineering: Notes from DHSI

A few weeks ago, at DHSI, I was giving a demo of a prototype I had built and talking to a class on versioning about TEI, standoff markup and the place of building in scholarship. Someone in the audience said I seemed to exhibit a kind of hacker ethos and asked what I thought about that idea. My on-the-spot answer dealt with standards and the solidity of TEI, but I thought I might use this space to take another approach to that question.

The “more hack less yack” line that runs through digital humanities discussions seems to often stand in for the perceived division between practice and theory, with those scholars who would have more of the latter arguing that DH doesn’t do cultural (among other forms of) criticism. That’s certainly a worthwhile discussion, but what of the division, among those who are making, between those who hack and those who do something else?

I take hacker to connote a kind of flexibility, especially in regards to tools and methods, coupled with a self-reliance that rejects larger, and potentially more stable, organizations. Zines. The command line. Looking over someone’s shoulder to steal a PIN. Knowing a hundred little tricks that can be put together in different ways. There’s also this little graphic that’s been going around recently (and a version that’s a bit more fun) that puts hacking skills in the context of subject expertise and stats knowledge. Here, what’s largely being talked about is the ability to munge some data together into the proper format or to maybe run a few lines of Python.

This kind of making might be contrasted with engineering—Claude Lévi-Strauss has already drawn the distinction between the bricoleur and the engineer, and I think it might roughly hold for the hacker as well. In short, the bricoleur works with what she has at hand, puts materials (and methods?) together in new ways. The engineer sees all (or more) possibilities and can work toward a more optimal solution.

Both the bricoleur and the engineer are present in digital humanities work. The pedagogical benefits of having to work with imperfect materials are cited, and many projects do tend to have the improvised quality of the bricoleur—or the hacker described above. But many other projects optimize. Standards like the TEI, I would argue, survey what is possible and then attempt to create an optimal solution. Similarly, applications and systems, once they reach a certain size, drive developers to ask not what do I know that might solve this problem but what exists that I could learn in order to best solve this problem.

My point here has little to do with either of these modes of building. It’s just that the term “hack” seems to get simplified sometimes in a way that might hide useful distinctions. Digital humanists do a lot of different things when they build, and the rhetorical pressure on building to this point seems to have perhaps shifted attention away from those differences. For scholars interested in the epistemological and pedagogical aspects of practice, I think these differences might be productive sites for future work.