I just returned from London where I was pleased to deliver talks about revising scholarly editions in the digital realm and my work on literary annuals, Gothic short stories, and 19th-century book history/print culture. The two talks share some of the same topics, even the same prose, but they each have a distinct tone and audience

  • one focuses on opening out the conversations about Digital Humanities and scholarly editions
  • the other focuses squarely on literary topics and is peppered with some talk about Digital Humanities (but not much).

While the first talk is specifically intended for scholarly editors and DHers, the second talk is intended as a bridge between DH and Humanities for a circumspect audience.  Both sets of audiences brought engaging questions to all of the projects and in fact have inspired me to revise articles about both topics. And, both talks and ensuing conversations got me thinking about the efficacy of scholarly communication. I use conferences and talks to elicit feedback on my work. There’s gotta be a better, more effective way of doing this, right? (Read on….my snark has a point.)

Before the start of the second talk, “Buried in the Archives,” I received word from the publisher of my print collection, Gothic Short Stories in British Literary Annuals 1823-1831, that he was working diligently to complete the edition but was somewhat behind and wouldn’t have the volumes done by our March deadline when I deliver a keynote for the Gothic Studies conference.

I know this publisher/editor well and went with this press because I was impressed with the freedom they allowed. The collection contains 100 short stories totaling over 700 typed pages with more than 20 engravings. A critical introduction accompanies the collection but no scholarly annotations will appear. The collection was just too voluminous to fully annotate — and after taking 3 years to transcribe all of the stories from the 28 volumes, annotation would have taken much longer. The editor/publisher allowed all of the short stories and engravings as well as writing into the contract that it would be published in 2 volumes and cost no more than $50. This means that the project would be accessible to all kinds of students and scholars of Gothic short stories!  We also negotiated that I could use the transcriptions for a digital project once the volumes were printed.  Huzzah!

At the moment that the editor notified me about the delay, though, I panicked. Only after some thought did I realize why: some of my colleagues have intimated that I will not receive promotion unless the printed version was delivered (as promised) prior to September 2012. “But, but, but…I don’t have control over the publisher’s timeline,” I remarked to one colleague.

In my dissertation prologue, I wrote something along the lines of being committed to open access publishing and have tried to stay the course throughout my career.  My blog has received more hits (not necessarily readers) than my 2005 article in PBSA. That article, in a long-standing, well-respected journal, is difficult to access and, for some, not available even through JStor. These comparatively brief blog posts demonstrate a record of participation in multiple fields and have received more hits in a single year than I think will ever happen with any print book or article that I have or will publish. Even click-throughs on my blog posts to related DH materials have occurred in more quantity than any readership for my scholarly print writings.

I began to think about getting this Gothic short stories print version done in time for the department’s demands. I was immediately drawn to the schedule and expectations of a tenure and promotion committee that attempted to deny me tenure in 2010-2011 and ignored every single one of my digital endeavors (see Greetham’s essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities). Long story, not very interesting, but with a good outcome: I got tenure! The department committee in the Fall will consist of a different membership, most assuredly. Nonetheless, with this news from the editor/publisher, I fell back into the anxiety of getting something out just to get it out.

After I calmed down, I realized that what I really wanted to do was create a critical digital archive of these Gothic short stories — one where contributors could annotate the stories and engravings to amplify the collection’s value. On the same day that I received this news about delay, the Dickens Journal Online announced its launch after reaching its goal to crowd-source the transcriptions of Dickens’ magazines, open access and all! The Transcribe Bentham Project has also been overwhelmingly successful in this type of crowd-sourced open-access project. And, the NYPL Menu Transcription project has been, well, downright fun for a foodie like me.

I want that — the crowd-sourced, open-access digital annotated critical archive of Gothic short stories from British literary annuals 1823-1831. And I want to answer these questions & more:

  • Do the engravings mirror the gothic-ness of each short story? Why or why not?
  • Is the topic of each engraving representative of each literary annual’s overall tone?
  • Are there differences in the types of short stories each literary annual published?
  • Why the dip in percentage of pages dedicated to Gothic short stories?
  • Why does the Friendship’s Offering have the lowest number of Gothic short stories?
  • Who is the hero/heroine in these stories across all 4 titles (man? Woman?)
  • Are the stories set in foreign lands?
  • What is the role of women in these stories?
  • Do male authors construct stories differently from female authors?
  • How do these short stories compare to Gothic novels?

and added from the Q&A after the Studies in Gothic Fiction talk:

  • How do these short stories compare to those translated in Latin America, especially those exported in No Me Olvides by Ackermann?
  • Are Latin American “fantastic” stories related to Gothic short stories in the literary annuals? are they translations (either)? do they have the same literary construction?
  • Do the American literary annual Gothic short stories follow the same trajectory based on British annuals or do the American versions develop in their own way? (NB: see Meredith McGill’s work on American gift books)
  • How often do supernatural beings appear in the British versions & are they explained away or just accepted?

Since the transcriptions have been completed for the print volume, we don’t need a transcription platform. We (I!) might have to return to scan the pages  — ok, doable. In the end, this project would represent a collective knowledge about stuff Gothic, Romantic, Victorian, book history, print culture, literature.  And, the short stories show evidence of contributing to the development of the short story genre, in addition to changing the British Gothic imperative to focus on home rather than foreign lands — and this brings these short stories closer to the American Gothic short story construction.

See!

So, what platform? Omeka? WordPress? MediaCommons? How do I display the stories so the annotations appear alongside and a community can contribute and guide each other? To be included in the NINES collection, the project would need to be marked up in TEI. I could use something like Scripto or peruse the other tools available (thanks Jim Mussell).

…and here’s where I stop abruptly. TEI mark-up calls for an incredibly labor-intensive foundation to the project. Time. I don’t have time in that magnitude. Likely, I will continue to teach 4-4 each year. Students come to me for interesting projects, but they do it for free. I’ve committed to cease writing in the grant application genre because it became too time consuming and, quite frankly, my department didn’t/doesn’t count it towards my scholarly work.

This brings me back to the perceived pressures of getting it out there, perhaps too quickly and too sloppily for a project such as this one. I very much heed the call of Kathleen Fitzpatrick to do the risky thing and have been reading Planned Obsolescence. I’m no longer a junior scholar. But, my department (without any written tenure/promotion expectations) can decide that it doesn’t like any of my digital endeavors again. If so, I would remain a tenured Assistant Professor until the culture shifts. Or, I could just do the work, do it right, and ignore those pressures. After all, what I want to create is an enduring project that demonstrates the value of these almost completely inaccessible groupings of short stories — a dynamic, social edition (a la Ray Siemens, Martha Nell Smith and the like). And, then, I want to run some semantic network analysis on it. Coolness abounds.

I’m inclined, as a diligent and dedicated scholarly editor, to do it right instead of doing it right now.

But, I could use your input on making these decisions: not only on the project management side (tools, platforms, etc.) but also in the commitment to foregoing the usual institutional pressures and work towards a viable open access project that results in public scholarship.

Thoughts?

Updated 3/16/12: I think I’m ready to do this work with Ted’s help. First, we’ll work through some of the above questions within this corpora. Then, Ted has offered to help me open out to do some comparisons with other Gothic literature of the time period. I’m still thinking about the fact that I operate outside the institution and this potential silence in the archives.

Advertisements