MAPP Visits Literature and DH Graduate Seminar at California State University, Fresno

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On April 5, 2018, Drs. Claire Battershill and Helen Southworth used Zoom (a video conferencing software) to join the Literature & Digital Humanities (DH) English department graduate seminar taught by Dr. J. Ashley Foster at California State University, Fresno, and share the creation and production of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP). The following is a collaboratively-written account of their contribution to the class.


In our Literature and Digital Humanities course, we surveyed a variety of aspects of the intersection between literary studies and DH, including: an introduction to computer science, DH and oral histories, text mining, archiving, mapping, social justice, pedagogy, deep machine learning, and archive theory. Throughout the semester, six esteemed colleagues visited our class in person and virtually by Zoom to model digital projects and various applications and tools. We were also fortunate to have Dr. Safiya Noble, from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication, as a guest speaker hosted by the Library. Since we, as DH students, aspire to create digital projects of our own to solve critical questions within the humanities, MAPP fit well with our study of archive theory and digital special collections and exhibitions. This project permitted us to delve deeper into content management systems (CMS) and to experience a variety of platforms to expand our understanding of digital archives and, in a larger scope, how literary collections call for a DH rendering.  

It was fascinating to hear Drs. Battershill and Southworth elaborate on the work the MAPP team undertook in the development of their project and the amount of thought that went into curating the digital space for all the information displayed. A majority of the content concerns early twentieth-century publishers, beginning with Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, but MAPP is now in the process of expanding to include other presses, such as Grove Press and Chatto & Windus. MAPP helped our class understand how to conceive of a digital humanities project and to consider aspects such as what should be included and how to narrow one’s scope when building such a project. It showed us how to dissect digital projects by understanding the different ways to navigate them, as well as how they can be used in contribution towards literary studies. Furthermore, it showcased for us a way in which people who find a passion can collaborate and create an extensive project that contributes to the scholarly community. For example, the MAPP team’s collaboration achieved its goal to render viewers the ability to kinetically interact with the networks of the Hogarth Press.

Drs. Battershill and Southworth’s discussion of their approach to how previously untold stories about books were made and published was meaningful, as it inspired the class to discuss methods to preserve textual materiality in DH archival projects. MAPP added a practical application to our class reading on archival theory and the way in which DH and archives intersect to create new avenues of knowledge comprised of both material and conceptual associations—a feat that MAPP achieves through its data model. In class we discussed the significance of having an underlying theoretical framework for our projects. Drs. Battershill and Southworth demonstrated this principle to us by revealing how MAPP creates the channels that illuminate many of the written histories and interconnected networks of twentieth-century publishing culture. The “theoretical backing” that governs their project confers the “critical” (Scholarly Adventures 73) aspect to MAPP as a “critical digital archive” (72), an archive that offers itself as a resource for an “epistemological reinvention” (9) by providing “a platform for much larger-scale networked analysis within individual presses, and crucially across them” (5). The emphasis on networks, nodal relations, and interconnections illuminated by MAPP situates archival elements and their authors in a complex web of connections unveiled by the site—interrelations that allow us, in the legacy of Michel Foucault and Ann Cvetkovich, to view the book itself as a node, a form of archive and field of relations.   

Before the presentation, the class was assigned selections from the monograph written by the six co-founders of MAPP, Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Making The Modernist Archives Publishing Project. In this text, Battershill and Southworth quote Jerome McGann, creator of the Rossetti Archive, saying that “the apparitions of a text—its paratexts, bibliographic codes, and all visual features—are as important in the text’s signifying programs as the linguistic elements” and “that the social intercourse of texts—the context of their relations—must be conceived an essential part of the ‘text itself’ if one means to gain an adequate critical grasp of the textual situation” (emphasis in original; 2004, pp.11-12)” (71-72). McGann’s quote conveys the idea that a ‘text’ itself is a signifying network; hence, in order to invoke the contextualization of a text, it must be ensconced into a larger signifying network. Exploring this network is precisely what the MAPP site allows one to do. 

MAPP’s network operates according to the “nodalistic trope”—the sense of which we borrow here from Phillip Gochenour, which he describes as “an object or process in terms of the connection of discrete units by an open network system that has no hierarchical structure. Michel Foucault, for example, uses the nodalist trope to describe the inter-textual nature of books [...]” (“Nodalism” 4). Gochenour quotes Ian Bogost in order to further explains the “nodalistc trope”: “Unit operations articulate connections between nodes in networks: they build relations [Bogost, 8]” (4). In her demonstration of the site through screen sharing over Zoom, Dr. Battershill explained that conceiving of items in the site as nodes in a complex network of relations was key to MAPP’s choice of content management system; utilizing Drupal, the team was able to connect the archival items to other items in their network, showing an infinite set of relations. For example, clicking on the dust jacket of First Poems by Edwin Muir opens the possibility for choosing a number of links; clicking on his name brings one to his author page, which then leads one to more links; following his relationship to his spouse brings one to Willa Muir’s page, which then allows one to visit the BBC’s “Writing Scotland” page or follow the traces to other nodes in the MAPP network.

The nodes in MAPP allow us to imagine a net of relations among human beings, literary works, and publishing communities as an "intersubjective field of relations [Flusser, 325]” (“Nodalism” 4). Because there exists a potentially infinite number of associations, as the network increases the items allow for an infinite degree of relations. In light of these nodal network theoretics, it becomes clear that the act of curating an archive is itself a form of scholarship that can generate new modes of scholarly thought and writing. Succinctly put, MAPP accomplishes this opening by illuminating and allowing scholars to trace the relationship between and among the various nodes; in the team’s words, it “uncovers the inextricable interrelatedness of authors, publishers, editors, printers, and audiences manifested in the physical book and its bibliographic codes” (Scholarly Adventures 76).  

In addition to having a rigorous theoretical underpinning, the MAPP project showed us the importance of having a user-friendly, accessible interface that links items within the network to help readers continually find new information and critical associations. The “Browse” feature permits the visitor to navigate the site without having to run a particular query. Pedagogical resources are also available and include syllabuses, articles, and student work, to help generate ideas for instructors to further educate students on modernist authors and publishing. Several students in our class were inspired by this and added a similar feature to their own sites, thinking about how to close the distance between digital scholarship and digital pedagogy, as Margaret Konkol fiercely argues is necessary. For users who are casually browsing the website, there’s an option to keep refreshing the works gallery, which allows one to see the available publications in the archive. We found MAPP a useful and intriguing archive that is not only aesthetically pleasing in design, but also informative. It is a remarkably detailed resource for both seasoned researchers and those new to the field of modernism. MAPP demonstrated to us one way of establishing meaningful connections with and within authors and their work, authors that might otherwise be overlooked. The goals of the MAPP project are ambitious, but we were impressed by how it does and will continue to fulfill the project’s ambition and, perhaps, far exceed it.

Discovering how MAPP began, as well as some of the struggles and dreams the team still negotiates, was valuable to our class as we navigate and consider our own current and future projects. While the experience of creating such a project was, and is, doubtlessly rewarding, we are the beneficiaries of this extraordinary undertaking. It is incredibly inspiring to see the ongoing process of digital humanists currently working within the field. Furthermore, the MAPP presentation helped generate discussions, particularly regarding the importance and even the necessity of archives receiving a DH rendering. After the presentation, the class continued to discuss how digital archives can represent the materiality of a special collections document; what kind of choices need to be made around the inclusion and exclusion of materials and metadata, and how DH projects can open new lines of research and thinking in textual studies. Such a DH rendering potentiates the infinite nature of literary scholarship. One of the biggest and most beneficial conversations to occur inspired by the presentation was the importance of data models and informative metadata for building a DH project, and a discussion of structured versus unstructured data caused students to think through how they planned  to present information in their own undertakings.

We deeply appreciate Drs. Battershill and Southworth for the opportunity to meet them via Zoom. Their presentation was well organized and it kept the audience engaged throughout the entire demonstration. We loved the tour of the site, as they remarkably modeled both the public-facing and the administrator elements of the site for us. Hearing and seeing them explain their project made the experience personal and allowed us to witness the passion they have for their project. We were impressed upon hearing about the intentionality of the design and the careful decisions the team had to make through the process. It was also interesting to learn about Drupal Content Management System as one of the different platforms for digital projects, along with Dr. Battershill explaining how Drupal differed from Omeka and was selected because of its ability to contextualize the items in MAPP. This was fruitful in helping us to understand and further consider the attributes that lead to an effective archive—assistance many of us applied to our own projects at the end of the semester.

 

Works Cited:  

Battershill, Claire, Helen Southworth, Alice Staveley, Michael Widner, Elizabeth Wilson Gordon, Nicola Wilson. Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Making the Modernist Archives Publishing Project. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
Gochenour, Phillip H. “Nodalism.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, Vol. 5. No. 3 (2011).

 

Works Referenced:

Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2003.
Konkol, Margaret. “Public Archives, New Knowledge, and Moving Beyond the Digital Humanities/Digital Pedagogy Distinction.” Hybrid Pedagogy, 08 September, 2015.
Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge: And the Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.

 

Collaboratively written by: 
Josiah D. Hillner
Jennifer Alonzo
Robert J. Breuer
Megan Day Evans
Emily Froese
J. Ashley Foster
Esmeralda Gamez
Anna Marie Gonzalez
Emanuell Hernandez
Leean Lewis-Ramirez
Ahlam Khadra
Isabella Lo
Kaitlin C. Meier
Michael Reynoso
Riley Thomas