Editing Modernism in Canada


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.

June 13, 2013

Every Batman Needs a Robin



As a result of numerous discussions I have had this year at DHSI with EMiC scholars at all levels of experience—MA students, PhD students, postdocs, and profs from assistant to full, I have put together a proposal for a DHSI course next year. It has not been officially approved, but Ray and Dean are very interested in it and I will be discussing it with them next week.

I thought it would make sense to outline what the aim of this course—actually its double aim—is, and why I think it would be useful for many EMiC-scholars. It would be useful for my discussions with Ray and Dean if I had some sense of whether there is real interest in such a course.

The course would deal with 2 problems simultaneously:

  • If you can’t do XSLT you can’t display your TEI documents—and you probably can’t do XSLT
  • It is impossible to achieve mastery of XSLT or any other tool without spending so much time on it that you may have a negative impact on your career, especially if you are at the beginning of it.

The answers to these problems are 1) to develop enough basic familiarity with the tool you are interested in (such as XSLT, for example) so that you can discuss what you need with a developer partner—a week-long course at DHSI should be enough to do this—and 2) to develop a long-term working relationship with such a partner.

Some background first. I took the XSLT course from Syd and Martin and got a very good grounding in the basics. However, I was able to move on to the point where I can actually use XSLT in my project only because I happen to have a close working and personal relationship with an expert in the field, who happens to be my son. I know enough to write very basic XSLT, but, much more importantly ,I am familiar enough with the concepts and terminology that I can speak to my son and he can speak to me—and together we have produced some pretty sophisticated XSLT which does everything I want it to do. Because of my unusual situation I believe I am the only editor associated with EMiC who actually can work in XSLT—that is, who can turn my TEI files into web pages that people can actually read.

I have been aware of this very troubling situation for some time now. However, I became aware of something else at DHSI this year: everyone I know who is making real progress on their projects has a relationship between a humanist and a developer which is similar to my own. In each case the humanist/developer pair have enough of an understanding of each other’s fields to talk to each other and work together productively. Some examples: Dean Irvine & Alan Stanley and the Modernist Commons, Paul Hjartarson & Harvey Quamen and the Wilfred Watson project, Michael DiSanto & Robin Isard and the George Whalley project. Scholars who do not have such a working relationship seem to me to be in a high state of anxiety, especially graduate students and junior faculty. They feel that they have to acquire mastery of a range of tools while at the same time pursuing their research—when in fact what they really need to do is to acquire a basic understanding of their tools—such as a week-long course at DHSI can provide—PLUS a relationship with someone they can talk to and work with on an ongoing and well-informed basis concerning their plans and needs.

The course I am proposing would have as its aims to model the dynamics of such a relationship—with specific reference to XSLT—and to provide advice on how to develop it. You might compare the NetSquared project which has similar aims in relationship to social-benefit projects. We would begin by outlining the basics of XSLT; we would then go through in detail some of the XSLT we developed for use in the Digital Page project, while at the same time modelling the collaborative process that led to this development; finally we would help the students in the course to create their own XSLT to transform TEI files which they bring to the class. The takeaway for each student would be (1) XSLT files that would generate real HTML files for use in their editions and (2) guidance on how to establish the kind of ongoing working relationship that would result in the development of a wide range of more sophisticated XSLT files. We would invite other successful working partners to speak to (2) with regard to their own projects, and, indeed, in later years a course with a similar focus on collaborative digital humanities work could focus on entirely different aspects of digital humanities, such as databases, or interface design, for example. Taking our cue from Michael DiSanto & Robin Isard I am thinking of calling the course Every Batman Needs a Robin: A Collaborative Approach to XSLT.

A course of this sort will by necessity have limited enrolment—maybe 15—to allow for intensive hands-on mentoring. Because of the heavy emphasis on mentoring, we need to ensure that everyone has the appropriate basic skill set and has given serious thought to what they want their XSLT to produce. Therefore, everyone will be required to submit, before the course begins,  1) a text which they have already marked up in TEI and 2) a clear idea of how they would like it presented, perhaps in the form of a mock-up in Word. The more preparation the instructors can make leading up to the course the better.

If you think you would be interested in such a course, or if you have any suggestions please contact me at zpollock@trentu.ca. If you have a Robin, feel free to bring him or her along.

June 13, 2013

Reflections on DHSI 2013: Or How I Learned to Love Databases and Acronyms (“RoDHSIoHILLDA”)

Ramping up in the wake of Congress, this year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute, or “DHSI” for the acronym-inclined, gathered an unprecedented number of scholars, students, and researchers for training in, you guessed it, the digital humanities. Thanks to support from the Editing Modernism in Canada project (“EMiC”), a course on Digital Humanities Databases was my home for the intensive five-day summer institute that punctuates class time with colloquium and unconference sessions.

Taught by Harvey Quamen, Jon Bath, and John Yobb, the Digital Databases class led us through project planning, MySQL coding (Structured Query Language), database building, and finally, database queries that enable you to ask specific research questions. In short, I mapped out and built a database on Canadian literary adaptations in five days (however minimally populated it may be). When organizing the structure of my database and its multiple tables, I found it very helpful to think of the connected tables as a sentence: there is usually a subject (e.g. person), verb (e.g. adapting), and object (e.g. source). As with literary work, I learned that too much repetition is a bad sign and that spelling counts; the latter was quite horrifying for someone like me who is codependent on autocorrect because there is no autocorrect or red underline to aid in spelling or typos. I also made sure to take advantage of the one-on-one help from Harvey and the Jo(h)ns.

Andrea Hasenbank—an EMiC Doctoral Fellow—introduced the class to a free, online website called “SQL Designer” that not only enabled me to map out nine inter-related tables but also created the MySQL commands. Although seemingly sent from the digital gods, it still requires a background in MySQL in order to understand how to use, navigate, and implement the Designer, but the first three days of the Digital Databases course covers many of the database-specific commands and related structures. For those interested in taking the course and/or trying out SQL Designer, I have a few tips from a novice’s perspective:

-       Be sure to save the database design often; I saved mine in my browser under a unique name.

-       There is a button that will create foreign keys for you (which link two tables together). At first, I typed in all the foreign keys myself before discovering that the Designer will create and appropriately name foreign keys in junction tables. (For those unfamiliar with databases yet, fret not, this jargon will be all too clear by the end of the course’s first day.)

-       There were some glitches for me in the MySQL Code, such as the repetition of the “null” command and the addition of “primary key” commands in junction tables that included no primary keys. Also, be sure to erase the last comma in a list of commands before the closing bracket and/or semicolon.

-       I needed to edit the generated MySQL commands in a text editor (such as Text Wrangler) before inputting it into Terminal.

Here is a sample draft of my database design in SQL Designer:

Sample Database design

Kailin Wright Database Design in SQL Designer

You will notice that the SQL Designer can also encode the column type (primary id, date, foreign key, etc.).

My research investigates how Canadian literature rewrites popular narratives—Greek myth, Shakespearean plays, colonial legend, national histories—by changing the identities of marginalized characters. I examine Canadian revisionist plays that critique cultural figures like Philomela, Othello, and Pocahontas as reductive emblems of layered racial, sexual, and gendered identities. The digital Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, or if you haven’t had enough exciting acronyms, “CASP,” features an online database that has been integral to my research (Daniel Fischlin). Building on CASP, I am interested in creating a database that encompasses multiple sources and enables researchers or students to search Canadian adaptations of Greek mythology, the Bible, and Native mythology, to name a few. You could also, for instance, limit your search by author, date, and/or location that would list all the Canadian adaptations of Ovid, during post-WWI Canada, and/or in Nova Scotia. This database would help establish a wider field of Canadian adaptation studies.

The Digital Humanities Databases course cemented my appreciation of digital tools for literary scholarship . . . as well as my reliance on acronyms. Last but not least, thanks to the Databases course, I now understand why this is funny:

Database comic

“Exploits of a Mom” comic strip is courtesy of xkcd.