Textuality and Sustainability

MLA 2019 session

DateThursday, January 3, 2019
Time: 5:15–6:30 PM
Room:Hyatt Regency, Columbus H
Social Media: #MLA19 #s134

Organizer: Susan Brown (University of Guelph) for the Committee for Scholarly Editions

The following information is also available as a Google Doc, which will be used for public note-taking and sharing during the session: https://tinyurl.com/Textuality-Sustainability

Textuality and Sustainability

This session, sponsored by the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions, takes up the relationship between textuality and sustainability broadly conceived. It looks at the complexities of preserving complex and ephemeral forms of textuality such as online interactive fiction or games, whose producers may become collaborators in this process, particularly when the texts originate in vulnerable communities. Digital editions can take radically new directions thanks to the affordances of online publication that enable dynamic, interactive and responsive experiences based on a range of organizational principles, relying on structures that enable both preservation and openness to unforeseen uses. Linked Open Data, a highly structured and very granular form of textuality, offers the potential for extending the reach and the lifespan of online digital editions. The preservation of complex and multi-faceted online editions, however, is an ongoing challenge that invites multi-faceted strategies, both social and technological, for sustainability. Panel papers will be 12 minutes each, to allow for ample discussion time of these and other aspects of the topic.

Choose Your Own [Web Archiving] Adventure: On Preserving Queer Interactive Fiction

Sigrid Anderson Cordell and Meredith Kahn (University of Michigan)

This presentation takes up the question of the ethics and logistics of how we preserve ephemeral texts that are vulnerable because they are produced outside of mainstream publishing venues. In recent years, we have seen an expanding universe of independently produced queer texts that straddle the divide between gaming and literature, often created using open-source tools such as Twine, by writers and designers who are posting them for free on the web. In thinking about how we can ensure the continued availability of these texts, the question becomes, how can we preserve these texts in an ethical way that is attentive both to long-term preservation and to the artistic and economic interests of their producers? At the University of Michigan Library, we created a pilot web archiving collection of queer interactive fiction in which we approached archiving ephemeral web materials through an ethical lens, recognizing that such texts exist in a condition of double precarity: the precarity of preserving individual creative works and the precarity of their producers, many of whom have little financial support for their work. Alison Harvey has pointed to the small-scale funding measures supporting these games/texts, measures which are largely “contingent on goodwill … and [ beg] the question of sustainability and the livelihoods of these game designers” (n.p.). Activist archivists, including those involved in the Documenting the Now project, such as Bergis Jules, Jarrett Drake, Eira Tansey, and Jacqueline Wernimont, have pointed to the need to work with communities to collect social media and other digital materials responsibly. In this presentation, we argue that it is both possible and necessary to preserve these vulnerable texts in an ethical way that stays attentive to the conditions of production and the needs of the producer.

Work Cited: Alison Harvey, “Twine’s Revolution: Democratization, Depoliticization, and the Queering of Game Design.” GAME: The Italian Journal of Game Design 3 (2014): n.p.

Sigrid Anderson Cordell is the Librarian for English Language and Literature and a lecturer in American Culture at the University of Michigan. She holds a PhD in English and American Literature, and her research focuses on race and gender in print culture and new media. She is the author of Fictions of Dissent: Reclaiming Authority in Transatlantic Women’s Writing of the Late Nineteenth Century (2010), and her work has appeared in Studies in the Novel, American Periodicals, Victorian Literature and Culture, Neo-Victorian Studies, College & Research Libraries, and portal: Libraries and the Academy.

Meredith Kahn is the librarian for women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Michigan. She holds an MA in art history from the University of Colorado, Boulder and an MS in Information from the University of Michigan.

Publish|Present|Discover|Read: REED London Reconsidering the Digital Edition

Diane Jakacki (Bucknell University)

Sophisticated digital platforms and infrastructures offer scholarly editors opportunities to make textual materials accessible and negotiable online. Still, we feel pressure to reify the passive reading experience within a web browser. The challenge lies in constructing (or reconstructing) our texts to best provide for dynamic text and data analysis, making that data linkable, and anticipating publication modes that are still on the horizon.

REED London, developing from the Records of Early English Drama and in partnership with the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), is establishing an openly accessible online scholarly resource of London-centric documentary, editorial, and bibliographic materials related to performance spanning the period 1100-1642. Defying more traditional conceptions of an edition as an individual text or curated corpus of texts connected by specific generic or biographical constructs, REED London draws from archival and contemporary printed materials that have as their connective tissue references to performance in London. As the project team develops the collection we are taking the time to think more carefully about how these materials will be of best use to scholars and students beyond the field of theatre history, and how to make the most of the process of remediation.

In this paper I will use REED London as an exemplar, focusing on this moment in electronic publishing history when we can rethink what it means to publish online. Should we be content to present a constrained browser-defined text? Should we focus on the underlying text-as-data that will allow us to be more responsive to the as-yet unrealized needs of a broader audience? Or should we seek to encompass both, developing environments that are responsive to the scholarly needs of our audiences? If we choose the latter, for how long can we resist the temptation or expectation to put something “finished” online?

Diane Jakacki is Digital Scholarship Coordinator and Affiliated Faculty in Comparative and Digital Humanities at Bucknell University. She is lead investigator of REED London, Technical Editor for Linked Early Modern Drama Online for which she is editing Henry VIII. Her research specialties include spatial analysis through text in early modern British drama and literature.

Life Beyond Life: Sustainability, Linked Open Data, and the Robert Southey Letters

Laura Mandell (Texas A&M University)

During the heyday of their development, digital editions receive attention and use as they evolve. The Collected Letters of Robert Southey is no exception. All the persons and places mentioned in the 3,775 letters of Parts 1-6 out of 9, the last three not yet published, have been tagged with unique IDs. The letters provide a wealth of information about people living during Robert Southey’s 50 or so adult, letter-writing years (b. 1774, d. 1843). Anyone interested in the Poet Laureate’s circle can go to the edition and discover this information, and, chances are, even after the project is archived in a library, anyone specifically interested in the Southey circle will be able to delve into the letters, read, and find people. If the people and place tags in these letters are assigned URIs based on authorities such as the Library of Congress, however, even someone not particularly interested in Southey, unaware of the project, or even unaware of the possibility that she or he might find information relevant to his or her particular interests in them could discover the fruit of this editorial labor via Linked Open Data. Linked Open Data not only increases the life of a digital edition at any stage of its development, but also it keeps it alive: if archived in a format that does not make use of the unique IDs in the letters, a linked data store would express relationships established by the letters, capitalizing upon the editorial work to edify future researchers.

Laura Mandell  Upon becoming Director of the Center of Digital Humanities Research (CoDHR) at Texas A&M University in June 2011, Laura Mandell launched the grant-funded Early Modern OCR Project. She has authored Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain (1999), a Longman Cultural Edition of The Castle of Otranto and Man of Feeling, and numerous articles primarily about eighteenth-century women writers. Her Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (2015) was published in the Wiley Blackwell Manifesto series. “Gendering Digital Literary History: What Counts for the Digital Humanities” came out in the New Companion to Digital Humanities (2016). She has launched a search and discovery tool called the Big Data Infrastructure Visualization Application, created a set of classes called “Programming for Humanists and a book series called “Coding for Humanists. Dr. Mandell is Director of the Advanced Research Consortium, 18thConnect.org, and General Editor of the Poetess Archive.

Livingstone Online over Time

Adrian S. Wisnicki (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), awisnicki2@unl.edu, @AdrianWisnicki

Livingstone Online is a peer-reviewed digital museum and library focused on the history of the British empire. The site uses the written and visual legacies of Victorian traveler David Livingstone (1813-1873) to engage ongoing debates about the creation of the colonial archive. The project also invites critical review of its own constructedness as a digital humanities endeavor by highlighting the complicated paths Livingstone’s words have taken from nineteenth-century manuscripts to the twenty-first century

This paper will offer an overview of Livingstone Online’s preservations and documentation strategies. These strategies have been evolving since the project launched in 2004 and, in turn, the strategies have enabled major transitions in site leadership plus the movement of the site itself between a handful of institutions. Over time, the strategies have taken on an ever more complex and multi-faceted character and now encompass not only core data development and code versioning, but visual and textual documentation in many forms. The strategies also include a significant recent effort to create site memory in order to bolster the ongoing and long-term development of the site independent of any specific set of team members.

In exploring these strategies, the paper will argue that Livingstone Online’s long-term success, its ability to survive despite the ups and downs of grant funding and staff turnover, lies in the site’s guiding ethos, which supersedes any specific preservation strategy. This ethos combines a focus on investment in collaborative relationships, intellectual transparency, and unceasing and robust self-critique. These elements have allowed the site to respond, on an ongoing basis, to the newest facets of critical debate on digital research, while building a solid community of scholars and institutions to support the site’s work. The paper will close with brief reflections on the limits of Livingstone Online’s preservation strategies and outline key areas of ongoing development.

Adrian Wisnicki is Associate Professor of English, Faculty Fellow of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, and Digital Humanities Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He specializes in the digital humanities, Victorian literature, postcolonial studies, and African studies. He directs two DH projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Livingstone Online and the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. His publications include Livingstone Online (new version, first edition, 2016; second edition 2017), critical editions of Livingstone’s Final Manuscripts (2018) and Livingstone’s Manuscripts in South Africa (2018), multispectral critical editions of Livingstone’s 1870 and 1871 Field Diaries (2011 and 2017, respectively), Fieldwork of Empire, 1840-1900: Intercultural Dynamics in the Production of British Expeditionary Literature (2019, forthcoming, https://awisnicki.github.io/fieldwork_of_empire/)Conspiracy, Revolution, and Terrorism from Victorian Fiction to the Modern Novel (2008), and articles in journals such as Victorian Studies, Studies in Travel Writing, History in Africa, and Scottish Geographical Journal.

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