Digitizing Women Writers: Part Two

Mary Russell Mitford by John Lucas, after Benjamin Robert Haydon.  Image Courtesy the National Portrait Gallery.

Mary Russell Mitford by John Lucas, after Benjamin Robert Haydon. Image Courtesy the National Portrait Gallery.

Last fall, I posted about two projects that take different approaches to digitizing women’s writing:  one on Charlotte Yonge, and one on Oliver Schreiner.  This spring, I was lucky to participate as an editor in the second annual meeting of the Digital Mitford Project.

Around 15 of us gathered on the beautiful University of Pittsburg at Greensburg campus in the first week of June to talk about digitizing the literature and letters of popular nineteenth-century woman writer, Mary Russell Mitford.  Led by Elisa Beshero-Bondar, the project is currently in a testbed phase to digitize the works of Mitford from 1821 to 1826, a fruitful period for Mitford, who wrote several plays and innumerable letters during this time.  Continue reading

On Forgotten Paragraphs

We’ve stalled on The Floating Academy of late, for a variety of reasons. But there’s still life in this floating collective, so I’m hoping to resurrect the not-yet-dead a little bit. I thus offer to readers the following paragraph, which I hope will be the first of an ongoing series of excised, deleted, or forgotten paragraphs from scholars in Victorian studies. Without giving away too much context, I should say that this was an almost-deleted paragraph from the introduction of a book project on Victorian narratives of stuttering and speech disfluency that I’ve been working slowly on for a few years now. We all have such forgotten words that don’t fit or no longer seem to make sense. If you’re a Victorian scholar and you have similar paragraphs somewhere in a lonely file on your desktop, please feel free to send them my way and I’ll see if we can revitalize them a little bit in the near future. Here’s my forgotten paragraph:

While sifting through vast amounts of material, and often lacking a narrative to unite the archaeological messiness of stuttering research from the 18th to the 21st centuries, I came to one fundamental conclusion (of course, one that not-coincidentally corresponds with my literary training in nineteenth-century British literature): the Victorians were intensely preoccupied with the psycho-physiological phenomenology of the stutterer in ways that current popular discourse is not. More particularly, Victorian medical, elocutionary, and literary knowledge of stuttered speech introduced an “incitement to discourse” (to use Foucault’s words) that would make the stutterer speak, and be spoken about, and would ensure that the stutterer confess his most melancholic, traumatic, and private sufferings, even while maintaining a sensitivity to the stutterer’s melancholic, inward-turning, and lonely disposition. My research project thus introduces a cultural criticism of stuttering that resists the self-help bias of much current thinking about stuttering as a speech disorder.

Digitizing Nineteenth-Century Women: All or Nothing?

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Over the past couple of years, my attention has been caught by new projects that digitize the letters of Victorian women writers.   I’d like to share two of them here, The Olive Schreiner Letters Project and the Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge.  To me, these projects fulfill the best promises of the digital humanities, to make texts by marginalized writers freely and widely available.

The Olive Schreiner Letters project makes almost 5000 letters of the feminist and socialist writer, best known for the novel, The Story of an African Farm, freely available online.  The letters, held in 16 archives across three continents, have been transcribed, double-checked, and marked up in TEI.  The editors describe their impressive workflow here. (For more on the technical aspects of editing a digital edition of letters, see Miriam Posner’s helpful blog post, How Did they Make That?). Similarly, Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan, and Helen Schinske have collaborated to offer for the first time the unpublished letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge, carefully transcribed and double-checked, as an antidote to the partial information we have had about this popular mid-Victorian woman writer.  I wish this archive had been available a few years ago while I was writing a chapter on Yonge, and can only say that it has already proven helpful to me in contextualizing women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century marketplace.

Continue reading

Wondering at Then-New Media

Phenakistoscope

Phenakistoscope

The countdown is on, the ball is dropping—I am almost ready to holler “Happy New (School) Year!” and head into the classroom. I am teaching a Reading Popular Culture course this semester, and, so between rounds of rubric and syllabus design have been wracking my brains to figure out how to get my students engaged not only with new media, but also with old media.

Alan’s most recent post got me wondering how to get my students to engage with Victorian and twentieth-century media in a way that helps them see a medium as new, cutting edge, the Google glasses of its time (or indeed, perhaps more exciting than Google glasses. The glasses seem, by and large, to be met with a world weariness: “Another gadget? They look so terribly uncool”). Alan, quite rightly, warns against being sucked in by nineteenth-century newspapers’ celebratory accounts of then-new media. That said, while I would Continue reading

How to write (and how not to write) a scholarly book review

I’m sure I speak for all of us at the Floating Academy when I say how grateful I am to those academics who commit their time and energy to the various volunteer roles of editors, advisory board members, and manuscript readers, and thereby help create the forums where we can read the work of other scholars and publish our own research. In recent conversations with friends and colleagues in editorial roles, however, I have detected a pattern that concerns me and it relates to all the ways that we scholars, the very ones who benefit from this volunteer labor, make an editor’s role more challenging than it needs to be. Whether through missing deadlines, not responding to queries in a timely way, or not being as careful as we might be in our writing and documentation, many of us add untold hours and stress to our colleagues working in editorial roles. Continue reading

The Victorian new media demo as a performance genre

As I’ve been finishing off the manuscript for my book The Shakespearean Archive: Experiments in New Media from the Renaissance to Postmodernity, I’ve been realizing that a spin-off project could explore the new media demo as an emergent performance genre with a cultural history of its own. This should be a familiar genre thanks in part to Steve Jobs’s sense of theatricality in his Apple rollout presentations, which serve as a kind of technology theatre. Another famous tech demo from the era of modern computing is Douglas Englebart’s so-called “Mother of All Demos,” which gave the world its first look at now-commonplace features like a windowed GUI, a computer mouse and pointer, word processing, hypertext, real-time collaborative document editing (think GoogleDocs), and teleconferencing — and this was in 1968 (!!). (There’s plenty of surviving video of this particular demo, which is worth a look.) Considering this kind of event as a cultural and social phenomenon — and as a performance susceptible to critical interpretation — is something I often do with my students, and someday I’d like to teach a course on the cultural history of the tech demo at U Toronto’s iSchool. Continue reading

Useful, Beautiful, Toxic

Jesse Oak Taylor’s recent article in Novel makes a bold claim about modelling, realism, and the project of representation. He suggests that Dickens’ novel “performs a kind of fictional ‘greenhouse effect’ in which the real is severed from its stabilizing lifeline to the natural, giving way to the paradoxically artificial nature of the Anthropocene” (1). Among the things I learned from reading it was the range of Victorian attitudes to urban pollution, including the belief “that coal smoke could be beneficial in combating [the] noxious vapours…killing off the organic components of miasma, sterilizing the fog” emanating from the natural marshes upon which London sat (13). I’m skeptical that very many Victorians held this view—every era has its fringe theorists—but Taylor’s article supports the view that Victorians were deeply aware of and interested in the effects of their industrial lives upon the landscape. Continue reading