Cover of volume 5 of The Yellow Book
Volume 5 of The Yellow Book by Patten Wilson. Courtesy of The Yellow Nineties Online

Years ago (yes, years!) Jennifer asked if I’d like to write up a brief intro to The Yellow Nineties Online, a site dedicated to a fin-de-siècle periodicals, the project on which I cut my digital and project-management teeth. My pearly whites have been in for quite a while now and so it is with a smile of pleasure that I write about the project.

The Yellow Nineties‘ editors, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff, are among the Victorianists who have embraced the potential of both digital texts and online resources. They belong to a fine tradition: digital editing expanded through the 1980s as the result of what Matthew Kirschenbaum calls “the pitch-perfect convergence between the intense conversations around editorial theory and method … and the widespread means to implement electronic archives and editions.” As a result, students and scholars are blessed with the Victorian Web (which, having just celebrated its 25th year, pre-dates the commercial internet) and the many sites (among others) federated by Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES).

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff originally conceived of The Yellow Nineties Online as a cross between a digital edition and a hypermedia archive. Having watched their editorial work, I’m inclined to think of the site as a fin-de-siècle periodical research environment, an edition wreathed in critical apparatuses: its houses facsimile editions of late 19thc aesthetic periodicals, text, period reviews, peer-reviewed essays by Victorian Studies scholars, scholarly introductions to each periodical and issue, and biographies of the authors, artists, publishers, and engravers behind the periodicals — all marked up in the archival XML specification of the digital humanities, TEI. The site, which has been peer reviewed by NINES, continues to grow. The team is currently marking up The Evergreen for publication after the completion of The Yellow Book.

A design for The Yellow Book by Aubrey Beardsley.
A design for The Yellow Book by Aubrey Beardsley.

The Yellow Nineties Online brings the editorial culture of the 1890s to life. It houses the most scathing reviews of The Pagan Review, whose entire and sole volume was edited and filled pseudonymously by William Sharp (from The Saturday Review, “A certain canniness presides over the Pagan Review, which requests ‘subscriptions in advance,’ and a certain honesty may be admired, as the Pagan Review, if it dies very young, will remit ‘unexhausted subscriptions'” and from Lippincott’s, “‘The Pagan Review’ is the alarming title of a new British magazine, which entered on its career of devastation in September”). It offers the first account that I’ve seen of John Lane and Ella Darcy‘s hasty efforts to remove traces of Aubrey Beardsley‘s work from the fifth volume following Oscar Wilde‘s arrest. With John Lane and Richard Le Gallienne in New York “the skeleton staff [who were] left to deal with the crisis neglected to replace Beardsley’s pre-formatted designs for the spine and back cover, so the issue went to press branded with the art editor’s signature style after all. Inside the covers, trace evidence of association remained as well. One of Dauphin Meunier’s poems, ‘Chapelle Dissident,’ was dedicated ‘Pour Mr. Aubrey Beardsley’ (102), and his name appeared frequently in the advertising supplement at the back of the volume, in both John Lane’s Belles Lettres list, and, of course, in the advertised contents of the four previous Yellow Book volumes.” Every editor and publisher knows what it is to carefully prepare only to scramble in the days before publication, whether it be at the hands of scandal, late contributions, or server meltdowns.

I am now off on my own editorial and encoding adventures. I hope never to have to duck and cover as Lane and Le Gallienne did, but if I do, I will be sure to leave a trail behind. As I review my work, I can see the evidence of Dennis and Lorraine’s editorial principles — traces of their pitch-perfect blend of theory and method.

11 thoughts on “Editorial Traces: The Yellow Nineties Online

  1. Thanks for this Connie! I got to sit in on a meeting of a branch of the team at Western this Spring. The meeting included two recent Ryerson grads now working on master’s of library science at UWO, as well as PhD candidates in English specializing in the 1890s, and of course, Chris Keep, who kindly invited me. I loved hearing about the various types of expertise people can bring to a collaborative digital project like this. As someone with a newer and smaller DH project, I also liked hearing about some of the challenges along the way from the inside of a more established project–made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who had to face them on occasion!

  2. When I first visited the Victorian Disability Reader site I sent your URL on to Dennis and Lorraine (I believe it was the Ear Trumpet in Mourning that made me sit upright), as I think all of us are interested in the contexts that Victorian materials offer scholars. Ryerson’s Centre for Digital Humanities, which houses The Yellow Nineties Online, is also testing out Omeka. You converge on both content and archival responsibility.

    To anyone following along, you really must see this trumpet:

    1. Thanks Connie–that’s really kind. Bringing it all back to the Floating Academy, it was Jennifer Esmail who suggested the perfect person, Jaipreet Virdi, to annotate that item. She’s since done an entry on an early hearing aid that includes a dragon, and is pretty awesome:
      I think there is a lot of overlap between disability and new technologies from the 19th C onwards, from the typewriter being invented for the blind to Dragon Audio today–speech recognition software that I first heard of being marketed to university students with learning disabilities…

  3. I just love the mix of primary and secondary scholarship in the VDR’s annotations. You really are offering proper scholarly editions of objects.

    There’s a fascinating book to be written about the cultural life of these assistive devices — from the university and back again….

  4. Thanks so much, Connie, for giving us this overview of the project! I really like your description of it as “a research environment,” a term that seems to cover the expansiveness of the project.

    One thing that strikes me in your post and in the comments following is the collaborative nature of these digital undertakings. This is so very obvious in one sense but it is something that I don’t want to take for granted: it seems to me that in bringing together people with a range of expertise, at various career stages, and from different institutional locations, these digital projects in the humanities allow us to collaborate on our research in a way that is fundamentally different than, say, those who work together on an edited collection or an edited edition on paper. Even the notion of a project team, or project management more generally, might be somewhat foreign to many of us writing traditional articles and monographs.

    Connie, is this collaborative aspect something you have taken with you to your next DH projects? And, Karen, how would you describe the collaborative elements of your Disability Reader? (In one sense, you are, of course bringing together contributions from many scholars, but in another sense, you are the lone project manager and make many of the editorial decisions yourself.) And, to all of you working on collaborative digital projects — what is it like managing (or working as) a research team in the Humanities? Must you have finely-developed cat herding abilities?

    (I often think about these kinds of questions in relation to Dino Felluga’s massive BRANCH project []. I can’t even imagine the scope of the logistical and organizational investments that must be required for this kind of undertaking).

    1. The collaborative aspect of a DH project (including the Floating Academy!) has been one of the most interesting parts, and as you point out Jen, one of the most different from traditional research in the humanities. Working with graduate students has been one of my favourite parts of the 19th C disability project, and one that I didn’t totally anticipate. I’ve loved finding out what different things people are working on so early in their careers, and I think that the format of the reader has proved to be a good fit as an early or even first publication for several PhD candidates just starting their programs. When I first formulated the project, I had imagined entries from established scholars reworking their published work for a more general audience, and there are certainly many of those. It has been a lovely surprise to get to see what scholars are working on before it’s been published in any other format, and I think it’s also a boon to junior scholars to get their name out there more quickly than traditional publishing would allow. As a result of being at the helm of a digital project like this, I think I’m much more aware of up-and-coming research in the field. And I’ve gotten to work with scholars in Australia and the UK as well as North America, which is so much fun!

      You are also so right to point out the managerial aspects that are outside a typical humanities faculty skill set. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that people actually appreciate deadlines rather than feeling that they are an imposition. Digital Humanities projects can be so completely open-ended–there’s not even a publisher asking for anything to go to the printer at a specific time, as was the case when I edited a special issue of Women’s Writing. At first I was reluctant to impose deadlines on others, but this just put me in a position of wondering when it would be okay to email and follow up. Now, I ask contributors to give me a date by which they will submit their contribution that fits with their schedule, which I think helps move things along and gives me a concrete time to check in on progress.

      1. Thanks, Karen! I had never thought about the fact that the shorter publication timeline with digital projects might be particularly helpful for graduate students eager to get their research circulating in the world. I’m glad to hear that the collaborative elements of your Digital Reader have been such a positive part of the experience! And I’m as surprised as you to hear that people want to have deadlines!

  5. Pingback: Karen Bourrier

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