May 4, 2009 –As presented to the Bryn Mawr English Department
Mooring Literary Tradition to New Media: A Web Archive for Marianne Moore at Bryn Mawr
“Digital humanities represents the woven together practice of research: a triangulation of arts practice, commentary/critique, and outreach, merging scholarly inquiry, pedagogy, publication and practice.”–A Digital Humanities Manifesto, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp
Innovations such as the Kindle and digital annotation software have challenged literary scholars to find a way to embrace new media. To become an active participant in this process, I propose constructing a digital archive as my senior project. I would like to mine Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections for exchanges of poetry between Marianne Moore and her Bryn Mawr contemporaries, and curate a web-based collection that both presents and interprets one literary publication and possibly includes an epistolary cluster. Special Collections has agreed to host this archive on its site so it will have an ongoing life for audiences inside and outside Bryn Mawr.
The archive would allow for a pastiche of the literary skills that I have acquired through Bryn Mawr’s English Major. Constructing an archive would allow me to analyze literary texts as well as focus on larger questions of how to interpret new media publication forms. As an English major, I have learned to question the presentation and forms of literature. How do editors mediate material and the meanings readers draw from it? How do authors frame their writings as performances, using page layout? These are very old questions, but the burgeoning of new publication tools makes them especially necessary to explore now.
My preparation. In order to provide a focused and accessible corpus of material, I plan to focus on the early publications of Marianne Moore in Bryn Mawr’s literary magazine Tipyn O’ Bob. I would consider possible peer influences on her work, as well as an epistolary exchanges from Moore’s years at Bryn Mawr. I am prepared to engage a project involving poetry because six of the classes I have taken have emphasized the construction and analysis of poetry. A Seymour Adelman Poetry Award is supporting my research this summer: investigating the relationship between poetry and display in Amherst at the Emily Dickinson Museum. I began the Dickinson project in my freshman seminar, Bookmarks, with an essay exploring how the recent formation of the Dickinson Electronic Archives enhances narration through virtual presentation. In this summer project, I will be exploring the larger question of how new media and technology transform authority of both the author and the editor. I am also interested in understanding how the metamorphosis of this relationship affects the way in which we read and view literature. These were important questions for the participants in a recent symposium, “Digital Archivalism and the Future of the Humanities” that I was selected to attend last month, at Haverford. Lastly, I am experimenting with constructing a web-based archive this semester, for Prof. Laura McGrane’s class Spectacle and Spectatorship in the Eighteenth Century and have been challenged to think about presentation and representation of the visual as meaningful acts of interpretation.
Payoffs I hope for. This project would allow me to think about how online scholarly work can serve a wide public audience. Editorial oversight and interpretation direct readerly attention; yet the power of a web-based archive is its open, dynamic structure that is not predetermined.The challenge to the editor is to make her archive open, appealing, scholarly, and also still directed towards her sense of the key meanings in the material she collects. This question of how to translate research to web-based audience is an extension of the questions any writer faces as she constructs an essay. But new media publication requires that we learn to do so in real time with a larger breadth of heterogeneous material and for interactive audiences.
As an archive is not a traditional thesis, I have mapped out what the completed thesis will include: a curated collection of epistolary poems, with interpretive notes and annotations; my own digital manifesto addressing the conflicts of authority described above; a blog which I will update throughout the process commenting on the complications and success; and a report to the department to evaluate the process for future like-minded endeavors. I would also like upon completion of my thesis, to hold a discussion in the Bi-College community. I feel that it is important to create a dialogue where both students and professors can consider the influence of digital media in the classroom. This space would allow for collaboration which can assist us in thinking of these larger questions as scholars. I have spoken with Prof. Laura McGrane about beginning to plan for such a colloquy.
In terms of the theoretical questions that I will be asking, I see four categories emerging;
the poetry itself; the function of publication in regard to that poetry (i.e. how does the media context of poem change the reading of the poem?); how can technology enhance exploration of the authorial presentation?; and how do the tools of scholarly communication affect our reading? I have attached a bibliography of preliminary readings that I hope to explore over the summer. In addition, I will look at five models of scholarly, web-based archives: the Dickinson Electronic Archive; The Poetess Archive; Crowds (an archive produced in the Stanford Humanities Laboratory); NINES; and the Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.
Focusing on the poetry and letters of Marianne Moore will allow me to continue questioning the role of editorial and authorial intent. Moore was notorious throughout her life for constantly revising poems, including already published versions. By doing so, she challenges our notions about the permanence of publication. The Tipyn O’ Bob collection in conjunction with her personal letters invites investigation into Moore’s first contact with the publishing world and the ways it influenced her approach to revision. The open formatting of a web-based archive allows for new framing of Moore’s practice that conventional print media cannot provide.
Technical matters. I have discussed this project at length with Eric Pumroy, Head of Special Collections, who has directed the development of Bryn Mawr’s digital collections, and Vince Patone, IS Web Services Manager. They have both signed on to this project. The key criteria for the technology we choose will be sustainability, hyperlink capability, gallery formatting, and a blog template. Platforms, we have discussed include WordPress and HyperStudio.I will focus on functions that supplement (in new media formats) modes of inquiry and communication literary studies has traditionally cared about. As Vince Patone advises, the technology needs to answer to my intellectual goals for this project, and I first need to decipher what those will be. My first order of business is to research Marianne Moore’s work and formulate arguments. Then I can begin to consider what communities I want to address and engage.
As a literature lover and hopeful scholar, my ultimate purpose in pursuing this project is proving that literature is relevant and malleable to the changing face of scholarship. I hope to answer for myself the question that many raise about academic scholarship, how can literary research fuel a symbiotic relationship between the scholarly community and the greater public? I aim to investigate the possibilities of digital media becoming a conduit between the academic community and the public.