“Recovery from the Margins: An Electronic Roundtable,” a CSE session at the 2020 MLA Convention

Session 612, “Recovery from the Margins: An Electronic Roundtable”

Saturday, 11 January 2020
Chelan 2

Well-funded digital archives have energized the field of scholarly editing, yet the recovery of texts by women and people of color has suffered setbacks since the 1990s; in effect, the revitalization of marginal figures has been hampered by a canon that privileges particular genres over “messy” texts, scholarly rationales and digital encoding predicated on a model of single-author agency and the existence of multiple versions of a single text, and granting agencies that favor large-scale initiatives. At the annual MLA convention in Seattle, the Committee on Scholarly Editions is hosting an electronic roundtable on digital recovery efforts of rare or marginal texts, texts by women and people of color, texts that dislodge the single author model, and the exploration of the ways in which scholarly editions can avoid replicating colonization and marginalization. Following are their abstracts; we hope many will join us on January 11 for this interactive session, in which audience members can engage with each presenter spontaneously.


Noelle A. Baker, Independent Scholar


Tyler Babbie (University of Washington, Seattle), “Reading Along the Color Line”

In its early days in the nineteen-teens, the NAACP’s monthly magazine, The Crisis, was a multimedia, polygeneric publication containing long-form reporting, editorials, photography, fiction, poetry, and other kinds of content. One component of W.E.B. Du Bois’ journal was a monthly column that aggregated news clippings and accounts of smaller-scale events. Titled first “Along the Color Line” and later “The Horizon,” the miscellany contains events under headings ranging from “Education” to “Crime,” from “The Ghetto” to “Social Uplift,” from “Music and Arts” to “The War.” Most entries are tagged with a location or several locations, and the dates of the issues tag them in time as well.

My project, titled “Reading Along the Color Line,” took each of the hundreds of entries per month and projected them on a map. After creating a database of more than a thousand entries from “The Horizon,” I used mapping software to create an interactive visualization of each month’s entries covering a year from summer 1916 to summer 1917 (a range that may be expanded in further drafts). The University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities funded the project, which is currently hosted by the UW’s website, Mapping American Social Movements. “Reading Along the Color Line” is a micro-scale, qualitative complement to the macro-scale, quantitative history of the NAACP hosted by Mapping American Social Movements. As such, it is an attempt to bring lived experience into discussions of institutional history. “The Horizon” vividly illustrates collective and individual triumphs and tragedies. As an aggregated text, it remains understudied in comparison to Du Bois’ editorials. The mapping project renders the stories it contains accessible, and its plotting of the entries geographically allows the flex between the local and the national to become more immediately visible than it does in the magazine itself.

Emily Datskou (Loyola University Chicago), “The Lili Elbe Digital Archive: Constructing and Presenting the Life Narratives of Lili Elvenes”

The Lili Elbe Digital Archive presents the life narratives of Lili Elvenes, popularly known as Lili Elbe, considered by many scholars to be one of the first persons to undergo what was then called genital transformation surgery. A fictionalized account of her life story was published in four variant editions in three languages (Danish, German, and English) between December 1931 and September 1933. Our digital archive, published in July 2019, hosts all four primary editions and the German typescript with a collation viewer, as well as a wide range of contextual materials. The archive is also a companion to the first comparative scholarly edition of the American text, which will be published in Bloomsbury Academic’s Modernist Archives series in the spring.

I would be demonstrating and discussing the archive, highlighting the questions and challenges we encountered in producing it. As a narrative about both a gender variant character and a historical figure, Lili’s story, on its own, presents challenges on how to depict a transgender protagonist and historical figure in a digital format. When you add in the four variant editions in three different languages and take into account that Lili’s narratives were constructed by multiple authors and evidence, this digital archive becomes a particularly fascinating, illuminating, and messy project. In digitizing and encoding the materials for this archive, we’ve had to ask questions about what the text is (A biography? A memoir? A fictionalized life narrative?), to whom we should attribute the text (Lili? Hoyer, the editor?), how we should encode Lili’s transformation and fictionalized representations of historical individuals and places, and how to make the archive and its materials accessible for users. The result has been a collaborative and informative experience and one that we feel provides a model for future projects and narrative’s like Lili’s.

Sydney Lines (University of British Columbia) and Joey Takeda (University of British Columbia), “The Winnifred Eaton Archive

The Winnifred Eaton Archive is a digital repository of over 150 texts written by one of the first Chinese North American authors, Winnifred Eaton. Unlike her sister, Edith Eaton, who expressed her identity as a Chinese-Canadian by publishing under the pseudonym Sui Sin Far, Winnifred Eaton adopted a pseudonym that situated her not as Chinese-Canadian but as Japanese. Writing as Onoto Watanna, Eaton published a wealth of materials that not only spanned various genres (novels, short stories, film scripts, poems, autobiographical prose, and a cookbook), but also cut across subject positions, geographies, and ideological stances that shift with her own adopted identities. In digitizing, transcribing, and archiving Eaton’s “messy” oeuvre, the project has thus been forced to grapple with Eaton’s multiplicity: both as a writer of color whose work traverses genres and forms and as an author whose subjectivity fluctuates across space and time, disrupting the single author model. Indeed, her texts resists simple encoding approaches and digitization technologies, demanding more flexible and adaptable ontologies to attend to the complexities of Winnifred Eaton and her fractured identity, both as a biracial, non-canonical author and as a Chinese-Canadian woman masquerading as Japanese.

Our presentation will outline how The Winnifred Eaton Archive—both in its content and its construction—demonstrates new approaches to studying, digitizing, and encoding texts written by figures that have been and continue to be relegated to the margins of scholarship. Built using “minimal computing” principles—low cost, lightweight infrastructure, minimal dependencies—but without sacrificing the maximalist encoding and textual approaches demanded by the texts, The Winnifred Eaton Archive is a powerful research tool and pedagogical resource that has been constructed on a solid basis of archival principles with sustainability at the forefront. Our project ultimately demonstrates both the exigency and the feasibility of creating long-lasting digital resources centered on marginalized figures.

Denise MacNeil (University of Redlands), with the technical assistance of Steven Moore, Ph.D. (University of Redlands), “An Interactive Model of Sally S.B.K. Wood and Her Circle: Using GIS to Map Genre and Thought of an Early American Writer’s World”

This project explores the ability of geographic information systems (GIS) mapping technology to construct analyses of marginalized writers, texts, and intellectual/artistic communities. The project uses Sally S.B.K. Wood’s 1804 novel Ferdinand and Elmira: A Russian Story as its locus, pairing it with Judith Sargent Murray’s “On Equality” (1793). We believe this technology can be adapted for use in literary analysis. Our intent is to examine possible applications of this tool as a method to respond more productively to “messy” texts, challenges to individuality in authorship, and other concerns that privilege a narrow band of authors and texts, while silencing and ultimately erasing countless others. Our goal is to revitalize our understanding of and attention to these marginalized figures and their worlds.

GIS technology was originally developed to create interactive maps of real-world data based on multi-faceted, geographically inflected, analytic frameworks. We believe GIS technology can also provide an innovative, three-dimensional, and interactive picture framing a writer, her work, and her thought and social communities. Such a representation provides an alternative to linear, single-author, multiple-edition models that “replicat[e] colonization/marginalization” by employing confining rationales regarding genre verity, single-author theory, and the like (Baker). We believe GIS mapping will prove a powerful method for expressing and analyzing the richness and complexity of peripheral literary works and their surrounding communities. We hope that our application of GIS mapping will reframe our criteria for recuperation of texts and writers that have been undeservedly neglected as a result of limits in our current vision, frameworks, and tools.

As way of an example, this interactive model employs GIS mapping technology to create a three-dimensional, interactive, thought- and narrative-map. Wood is a good candidate for such a GIS project because literary strictures have pressed hard on her and her work. In spite of her designation as one of the most prolific novelists of her era, and her acknowledged contribution to the development of the Gothic novel and to American literature, most material by, about, or related to Wood – including considerable ancillary and familial material, dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds – exists as individual, archival, hard copies only, in danger of being lost to the effects of aging. The dynamics affecting Wood, her work, and her world are pressures commonly affecting marginalized writers. Our project combines geography, plot chronology, narrative elements, and philosophical concepts from Ferdinand and Elmira and from “On Equality.” Using graphic, three-dimensional, interactive representation, it posits the trans-genre nature of the novel within a field that presents a multi-genre, multi-author/thinker approach to literary analysis. Our goal is to evade the reduction of literary analysis to linear, single-author, canonically authorized models that can constrict our vision of writers on the perimeters. While this digital project attempts illumination of a discreet instance of the artistic and intellectual paths of Wood’s work, as understood through aspects of Ferdinand and Elmira, we hope the project will provide a template that can serve as a starting point for use of GIS in this manner in the recovery of marginalized writers generally.

Works Cited

Baker, Noelle A. “CFP: Recovery from the Margins: A Digital Poster Session.” https://scholarlyeditions.mla.hcommons.org/cfp-recovery-from-the-margins-a-digital-poster-session/ retrieved Marcy 14, 2019)

Ashley Reed (Virginia Tech), “Literary Recovery as Digital Pedagogy: The Virginia Lucas Scrapbook Digital Edition”

For this digital session I propose to present and discuss the Virginia Lucas Scrapbook Digital Edition (http://scalar.usc.edu/works/lucas-collection-poetry-scrapbook/index), a digital pedagogy project that recovers the work of a minor nineteenth-century woman poet who was best known in the region around (what is now) Halltown, West Virginia. Students in American literature courses at Virginia Tech study the Virginia Lucas Scrapbook, an artifact held in Virginia Tech’s Special Collections, and collaboratively produce a digital edition using the open-source online publishing platform Scalar.

The Virginia Lucas Scrapbook contains hundreds of printed and handwritten poems by Lucas’s favorite poets, collected or copied from magazines, newspapers, schoolbooks, and other print media. Interspersed with these poems are Lucas’s original compositions, which she occasionally published under the pseudonym “Eglantine.” After Lucas died at age 29, her brother, Daniel Bedinger Lucas, collected several of her published and unpublished poems, added his own creations, and released them together in a volume titled The Wreath of Eglantine (1869). The first “recovery” required by the project was the recovery of Virginia Lucas as the creator of the poetry scrapbook; because it had been deposited in Special Collections with her more famous brother’s papers, librarians had assumed the scrapbook was his.

Studying the Virginia Lucas Scrapbook offers students a window onto the nineteenth-century print public sphere, in which poetry was ubiquitous and beloved but the creators of poetry were often anonymous and uncompensated. The wide range of poets included in the scrapbook—from Shakespeare to Hannah Gould to Lucas herself—defies the temporal, national, and prestige boundaries insisted upon by modern literary historians. Creating the online edition engages students in processes of selection, preservation, and arrangement that are similar to those that Virginia Lucas herself performed and enables them to recognize the continuities between Virginia Lucas’s media-rich era and our own. They also engage in a work of literary recovery that brings greater visibility to a little-known woman poet and adds to our critical understanding of poetry in the nineteenth-century United States.

Jordan L. Von Cannon (Florida Gulf Coast University) and Alyssa Prosper (Independent Scholar), “Recovery through Innovation: Reimagining Digital Scholarship on Catharine Sedgwick’s Letters from Abroad”

Digital humanities scholarship intends, by its very nature, to be innovate; however, scholars often replicate familiar modes of publishing on digital humanities platforms, creating rather conservative digital editions with annotations and footnotes embedded as hyperlinks in a static e-text. Overwhelmingly, DH literature scholarship—including these digital editions— feature canonical male authors, in part because writers like Shakespeare and Whitman more easily secure financial and institutional support than would most female writers, especially those considered minor.

With all the digital humanities has to offer, scholars working to recover marginal texts have an opportunity not only to reintroduce these works to a larger audience, but also to reshape the way readers experience a text online. Our project on Catharine Sedgwick’s Letters from Abroad (1841), seeks to recover Sedgwick’s work in a way that could not be accomplished on paper. We visualize a digital map alongside the text in order to give readers a window into Sedgwick’s trip abroad. We mine the text’s narrative architecture in order to create a timeline and location map of her journey and situate the places she visits alongside the letters. While our project helps users “see” Sedgwick’s journey and consider how 19th-century U.S. authors perceive of their national identity in relation to Europe, we also explore how interactive maps inform readers’ engagement with the text. Over time, our core questions shifted. We began by asking how we could create a digital edition; we ended by wondering what we could accomplish digitally that could not be accomplished with a traditional, scholarly print edition.

With this renewed focus on the possibility online tools present for scholarly editing, we imagine our project, and others like it, will become part of a collective move within the digital humanities to think about innovation and inclusion as prerequisites for future work.

Christine Woody (Widener University), “Encoding Pseudonymity: Romantic Literary Magazines and the Digital Archive

In this presentation, I will outline the challenges and critical questions that are raised by my recently-launched text encoding project. In my project, I am working to produce TEI-compliant digital editions of Romantic magazine writing, focusing in particular on pseudonymous writing that appeared in the London Magazine and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. In encoding these works, I am building a navigable archive that makes it possible to map and analyze the recurrence of different authorial personae—among them, the Ettrick Shepherd and Janus Weathercock—without privileging a single-author model that would ignore or discount unauthorized use of these personae. While such magazine personae are often considered marginal from a scholarly perspective, they are an integral part of Romantic public culture, with many authors being best known by the personae they most frequently used. Recovery work thus far has focused on authors who are already established as book authors—the collected editions of Leigh Hunt’s or William Hazlitt’s periodical contributions for instance. In assembling a digital archive that organizes around the persona rather than the hand that may have created it, I aim to offer Romanticist a way to engage with Romantic periodical writing according to its own logic, as well as to preserve the voices of writers who may have contributed more fleetingly to the periodical sphere. Some questions that I am already confronting include: How to tag different personae, especially when produced at different times by different writers; how deeply to tag the intensely allusive world of Romantic gossip; to what extent to preserve the typographical innovations and illustrations that accompany Romantic periodical writing. The periodical is a messy genre that shares much with our contemporary experiences of the digital realm, and I think that this project can offer exciting points of articulation for other scholars who are working beyond the bounds of named, canonical, book authorship.


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