- Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Making The Modernist Archives Publishing Project by Claire Battershill et al.
This book collects the essays of six scholars of modern, anglophone authors with the goal of bringing together the material artefacts created by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, previously dispersed among libraries and archives in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The work’s eight chapters examine a variety of themes, including pedagogy, modernism, collaboration, and a behind-the-scenes view of a new international collaborative digital project called The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP), exploring the building of a digital archive, the advantages of a team-driven approach, and the use of digital humanities in the classroom.
A recurring theme among the essays is the recent debate between yack and hack, that is the tension between theorizing about DH work and rolling up one’s sleeves and doing it. The position among these studies would seem to be that a general dismay over excessive theory has often led to a more practical hands-on approach in the field. The essays take on the task of reframing the debate to rethink its implications. Certainly some DH practitioners support a less theoretical approach and categorize the work behind a digital edition or archive as either designing or theorizing and are uncompromising in their labeling of these two approaches. However, Scholarly Adventures demonstrates that a good final result in a digital project relies on both hack and yack.
The first chapter introduces a retrospective on modernism and book history, and every chapter revisits essential elements in Woolf studies. However, the reader looking for specifics in Woolf studies might be disappointed; the most successful parts of this book relate to methods, ideas, and the process of constructing a digital archive.
The book concludes that DH is not a new medium used to represent old ideas. Apart from addressing and solving past issues, this new platform for media of all kinds also presents new challenges. One of MAPP’s aims is to redefine the concept of books, no longer considering them simply as objects but also as events “historically charged of a complex and dynamic literary, social and intellectual world” (27). Fundamentally, a digital edition can contain far more information, such as materials related to the working processes [End Page 154] of the writer and the philologist alike, allowing readers to consider textual transmission in more direct ways.
What emerges from Scholarly Adventures is the importance of the interface of a digital project and its users’ needs and expectations. Of course a single interface cannot fit the needs of disparate users. But MAPP’s team has relied heavily upon users’ experiences (76) to evaluate the utility of available software platforms used to build the digital archive. MAPP’s case is limited. Their team approach has allowed them to re-evaluate their objectives and the structure of the project. And MAPP’s team experience emphasizes how collaborative work can also benefit the field of the humanities, where — importantly — the value of collaborative work is too often undervalued and even dismissed.
Such collaboration, in fact, brought Scholarly Adventures’ six humanities scholars together to unite their experiences, whose common cause is particularly evident in their descriptions of the working conditions of the Hogarth Press in the chapter, “Reflections on collaboration”. The chapter examines how the company’s team work allows at every level of the project for a far more comprehensive pooling of the collaborators’ resources. In the press’s approach, all the team members become readers, writers, editors and consultants for each another. And such collaborative efforts find advantages also in their geographical diversity with increased access to interlibrary partnerships and funding from multiple national sources. Drawing upon comparisons between their scholarly work and their lives as parents, the authors conclude that “autonomous creation is an illusion” (59).
The final sections of Scholarly Adventures focus...