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The MVP is coming to the MSA in a big way this year! MVPers are presenting on panels and round tables, in seminars, in the poster session, and even organizing panels and seminars. Please see below for abstracts and outlines of what we’ll be bringing to the show – and if you’ll be in Pittsburgh for the conference, please check out some of the work on offer.


Modernist Studies Association Conference 2014 (Pittsburgh, PA) Nov. 6-9.


Participating MVPers: Adèle Barclay, Alex Christie, James Gifford, Adam Hammond, J. Matthew Huculak, Stephen Ross, Katie Tanigawa.


I. Panel:

Title: “Modernism and Big Data”

Organizer: Adam Hammond

Presenters: Adam Hammond, Jeff Drouin, Clifford Wulfman, Stephen Ross


Under the aegis of the Digital Humanities, “Big Data” approaches are increasingly moving from commercial and security applications — think Google and the NSA — to impact the way we study literature and the arts. In his groundbreaking Macroanalysis (2013), Matthew Jockers advocates for what Franco Moretti earlier termed “distant reading,” arguing that “today’s literary-historical scholar can no longer risk being just a close reader” since “the sheer quantity of available data” makes “close reading untenable as an exhaustive or definitive method of evidence gathering.” Ted Underwood similarly holds that Big Data techniques like topic modeling promise to “enrich […] literary scholarship” by “revealing trends that are presently invisible.” While Big Data analysis is providing new insights into humanities materials, few of these have come in the field of modernist studies; tellingly, Moretti, Jockers, and Underwood are all Victorianists. Yet modernism presents rich ground for Big Data analysis: not only is there a growing archive of digitized modernist materials to draw on, but modernity itself — which gave us the electronic computer and advanced statistics — is the period that laid the technological groundwork for the Big Data revolution. Our panel imagines, in theoretical and practical terms, how Big Data both continues elements of modernist cultural production and practice, and might yet transform modernist studies.

Stephen Ross’s paper argues that Big Data promises to realize the dream of a genuinely decentred modernist studies — one that is truly trans-disciplinary and global in its outlook without demanding impossible linguistic and scholarly competences from its practitioners. The goal of his Linked Modernisms — which employs machine learning, topic modeling, and expert/crowd sourced metadata — is to know “the mind of modernism”: what it thinks, how it makes associations, and what networks govern its emergence wherever, whenever, and in whatever form it took. Jeff Drouin uses a combination of natural language processing and visualization techniques to uncover surprising patterns that emerge in the corpus of the Modernist Journals Project. Reading these patterns against some of the actual works that comprise them allows him to challenge received biases in modernism studies, presenting theoretical questions not only about modernism but about literary history itself. Clifford Wulfman, Director of the Blue Mountain digitization project, argues the potential of Big Data approaches to fruitfully reorient modernist studies toward “big questions” whose answers are sufficiently valuable, intellectually and practically, to drive research, collaboration, and funding. His paper imagines how a machine-readable corpus containing the collective textual remnants of the modernist period (not yet extant, but within the realm of possibility) could assist us in answering the massive question, “What was Modernism?” Adam Hammond, co-author of the first volume of Modernism: Keywords (Wiley, 2014), lays out his plans for a second volume that will derive its list of keywords automatically from a large modernist corpus using topic modeling. Like the other panelists, he asks what new understandings will result when, rather than approaching modernism with existing ideas of what it is and was, we use Big Data techniques to let modernism speak for itself.


II. Panel:

Title: “The Politics of Print: Late Modernist Little Magazines”

MVP Presenter: J. Matthew Huculak

Paper Title: “Modernist Paper: Technology, Periodicals, and Printing Modernity in the London Mercury.”


For the modernists, little magazines served as the public forum for various coteries of writers, artists, critics, and thinkers, but the economic and political upheavals of the 1930s threatened that magazine culture. By 1939, most of the magazines that celebrated modernist writing in the heyday of the 1920s were unable to continue printing. One of the most enduring magazines of late modernism, Life and Letters Today (1935-1950), was able to survive the trials of both global depression and global war because it not only supported its own coterie of writers but expanded to include a coterie of former magazines as well. The magazine built its networks upon the framework of the former Life and Letters by somewhat sacrilegiously infusing the editors and contributors of the earlier Close Up film magazine. Later, it acquired both London Mercury and the Bookman (of London), while also fostering the work of Wales, The Welsh Review, and Indian Writing, among others.

Panelists in “The Politics of Print” will explore the acts of preservation and destruction among the little magazines of late modernism by centering on the networks of writers and magazines that came together around Life and Letters Today. Panelists will interrogate the function of these networks from a range of perspectives: materially in the role of paper (especially rationed paper) in London Mercury and Life and Letters Today, aesthetically and culturally in the late-modernist group of Welsh nationalist and Welsh-language writers, and politically and archaeologically in Robert Herring’s self-reflexive editorials about the function of little magazines in this turbulent time. In uniting so many disparate threads of modernism, Life and Letters Today and the constellation of magazines to which it belonged effectively map the modernism of global Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. This panel aims to chart those lines of intersection and to theorize the material and cultural conditions that led to the survival of some, but not other late modernist magazines.


III. Panel: 

Title: “Modernism as Archive”

Presenters: James McNaughton, Rebecca Strauss

MVP Presenter: James Gifford

Paper Title: “Correspondence Counter-Narratives: The Growth of English Post-Surrealism in Unpublished and Pre-Published Distribution.”


IV. Roundtable Participation:

Roundtable Title: “Problems and Solutions for Modernist Digital Humanities”

MVP Presenters: Alex Christie and Katie Tanigawa


This presentation will discuss the problem of moving from visualization to interpretation. In particular, it considers how visualization methods, which rely on realist modes of representation, can express the embodied, subjective, and political experiences of modernist literature. In response to this problem, the presentation will demonstrate warped three-dimensional maps of the modern city as described by Joyce’s Ulysses, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, and Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight and Quartet. These maps warp and deform modern maps of Paris and Dublin in 3D according to each section of the city described by a given novel. This approach blends the digital practice of Johanna Drucker, Bethany Nowviskie, and Jerome McGann, which emphasizes warping and deformance as a mode of non-realist graphical display, with the theory of Henri Lefebvre, Marc Augé, and Foucault, which considers the social and political construction of urban space. The 3D maps visualize how modernist literature (re)writes the modern city through cultural and political accounts of its geography, including imaginary spaces. Each individual map expresses the modern city as mediated by a given modernist novel. At the same time, the three warped maps of Paris, when considered alongside each other, show the modernist novel as it is situated in the modern city, versioning multiple literary accounts of the same historical geography. To this end, the presentation will touch on the differences between Barnes’s and Rhys’s Paris as revealed by the maps. This form of comparative geospatial analysis extends the modernist history of versioned literary works to visualize novels as they represent changing versions of the modern city.


V. Seminar (Organized):

Title: “Coherent Fragments and the “Big Books” of Modernism.”

Leaders: James Gifford (Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vancouver) and James Clawson

Seminar Description:

The serial publication of modernist “big books”—chapter-by-chapter (Ulysses), poem-by-poem (“A”), volume-by-volume (Alexandria Quartet), piece-by-piece (Interim and Pilgrimage)—provokes readers to understand divided works as confluent. Modernist aesthetic and formal innovations responded to material pressures through new book forms, including “big books” in little magazines, short stories in sequence, and slim volumes in series. This calls for materialist understandings of fragmentation as the aesthetic manifestation of the conditions of modernity but also the vital commercial pressures running from Mudie’s Lending Library to the paperback pulp trilogy. Focusing from 1919 to 1962, we will have significant latitude for temporal extensions.

James is also contributing a paper on “Correspondence Counter-Narratives: The Growth of English Post-Surrealism in Unpublished and Pre-Published Distribution.”


The 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition marked both the peak and demise of English Surrealism, or so the accepted narrative runs, with the Socialists refuting the ideological paucity of the movement (Hynes), the war bringing Surrealism to the streets (Mellors), and its intellectual adherents moving to the Mass-Observation project (Hinton; Davis). This masks, however, a vital movement of anarchist post-Surrealism distributed across Britain, Europe, North Africa, North America, and Asia across the 1930s and war years in correspondences, shared notebooks, typescripts, and proofs that would never (or only much later) go on to print production. The anti-authoritarian form of post-Surrealism emerged as a distinct ideological movement and creative praxis primarily through these unpublished materials. As a result of the unpublished status of these works at the time or their very limited subsequent production, the post-Surrealist literary products they went on to publish were, for contemporary readers (and later scholars), largely decontextualized or misleadingly marked “quietist,” “defeatist,” “mystical,” “bourgeois,” or simply “personal.” I consider how Late Modernist and Thirties poets used their unpublished journals and manuscripts as a communicative media with their peers, shaping their poetic responses to each other and transforming their critical paradigm to an antiauthoritarian view that, during the war years, typically elided the term “anarchism.” That is, personal materials migrated across continents in manuscript and typescript prior to and across the Second World War carrying ideological persuasions in content, praxis, and form—and these materials radically transform our understanding of subsequent publications that could not in public venues employ the same discourses. I begin with correspondence networks of the mid-1930s but move to include David Gascoyne’s journals, Henry Miller’s proofs, Lawrence Durrell’s wartime distribution to California of manuscripts by Egyptian anarchists, Denise Levertov’s 1940s correspondences with the anarchist press that contextualize her later conflict with Robert Duncan, Duncan’s failed print productions in the 1930s and 40s of the European anarchist avant-garde, the pre-City Lights Books networks in Big Sur and dalia’s, and the small print-run periodicals and hand-written student journals interwoven by personal networks running from San Francisco, New York, Oxford, London, Paris, Athens, Cairo, and Shanghai.


VI. Poster Presentation

Title: “Z-Axis Modernism: Mapping literary accounts of the modern city in 3D”

Presenting: Alex Christie, Katie Tanigawa, Stephen Ross, and Adèle Barclay (University of Victoria)

Supporting Projects

Modernist Versions Project (MVP), Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE)

“Z-Axis Modernism” is an interdisciplinary research project that brings modernist studies to bear on geospatial humanities and desktop fabrication (3D printing). Combining 3D modeling and text markup techniques with geocritical readings of modernist novels, the project expresses the geospatial narratives of modernist novels by geo-referencing them and then using that geo-data to transform historical maps from the modernist period. The product of this research includes warped, three-dimensional maps of Paris and Dublin, as narrated by Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, and James Joyce. These maps can be viewed as screen-based 3D models or as printed physical objects. Ultimately, they enable comparative readings of how different modernist novels represent the same modern city, emphasizing the social and constructed nature of space. The maps invite comparative cartographic inquiry into the versioned literary representation of urban space, as made readable through georeferenced versions of each novel marked-up in TEI. Additionally, the project demonstrates the extent to which realist forms of geospatial representation (GIS) do not correspond with historical and literary texts which detail the constructed, mediated and subjective nature of space. Rather than anachronistically mapping contemporary, top-down, understandings of space onto literature that resists such forms of representation, this project expresses modernist understandings of space via warping and transformance to challenge existing geospatial techniques in the digital humanities.

This project advances modernist studies in three ways. First, it produces digital resources that enable interpretive attention to the geographic specificities of modernist novels.  The warped maps and corresponding geo-referenced modernist novels aid critical inquiry across multiple novels of the same period, reading how contemporary accounts of shared geographic space correspond or diverge meaningfully. Second, and related to the first point, the maps express the situated and constructed nature of urban space (as theorized by Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and Marc Augé, among others) through the methods of warping and transformance. In the instance of Paris, areas occupied by the marginal characters of Barnes and Rhys warp and expand quarters that are reduced in the Nouveau Paris Monumental Map, an everyday tourist map that emphasizes wealthy and profit-generating sections of the city. The friction between these literary and cartographic representations of Paris is materialized through the warped maps, making a visual argument that prompts further inquiry into specific sections of the novels, themselves. Third, the project brings modernist understandings of space to bear on contemporary mapping practices, which tend to emphasize totalizing, realist depictions of geography over subjective and situated experience. It extends modernist theory into the realm of digital practice, demonstrating the need for modernist scholarship to challenge digital methods by remaking them anew.


VII. Seminar Participation:

  • Adele Barclay
  • James Gifford
  • Stephen Ross
  • J. Matthew Huculak


Associate Professor | English | CSPT | U. of Victoria

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