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Year of Ulysses

The Digital Humanities and public scholarship and engagement come together in this fantastic initiative. 

June 21, 2012

On June 16th, my Twitter timeline lit up with news that Bloomsday 2012 was going to be a little different; a new digital project was launching, the Year of Ulysses (YoU), created and hosted by the Modernist Version Project. Between Bloomsday 2012 and Bloomsday 2013, YoU will be releasing three chapters of the original 1922 edition of James Joyce’s classic every three weeks. Coupled with the release will be lectures and Twitter chats; the first will be held today, June 22, at 2pm eastern, hosted by my fellow UVenus writer Janine Utell, #yearofulysses (be there!).

I came to know about the project primarily through Professor Jentery Sayers (who, incidentally, was just awarded the first University of Michigan/HASTAC Digital Humanities Publication Prize) and Professor Stephen Ross (both at the University of Victoria). YoU is, in my mind, a fabulous example of the Digital Humanities in action – serious scholarship paired with massive public engagement. To quote the front page, “The Modernist Versions Project’s Year of Ulysses (YoU) initiative will introduce James Joyce’s masterpiece to its widest audience ever, provoke people to read it, support them as they do so, and bring this novel of the everyday back into everyday life.” I wanted to know more about it, so I contacted the collaborators. Below is my email exchange with Professor Ross:

LS: I was just wondering if you could start by giving me a little more background and history of this project; whose idea was this?

SR: Working on Tarr [Wyndham Lewis's first novel, published initially in 1918] about 18 months ago, I was sitting in my office wondering how we could best find out what sorts of changes Lewis made between the 1918 and 1928 editions. I had no DH background and little interest really in editorial theory. I wanted to know if there were critical interpretive angles we had been precluded from arriving at because the only way to assess the nature of Lewis' changes was to enumerate them manually. Doing so was both prohibitively time-consuming and produced tepid results because they could only produce tables of variations without any real interpretive heft. I figured there had to be good computational possibilities for comparing versions, but had no idea where to start.

Fortunately, Ray Siemens is here at UVic (Jentery wasn't yet) and he suggested some points of research and trying for a grant. I wasn't successful in that round, but put the idea on the back burner until the summer, when I got together with Matt Huculak at the DHSI and we really started planning things out. We had just hired Jentery, but he wasn't at UVic yet, and knowing how good he was I actively tried to get him on board. Fortunately, we both have a theoretical turn of mind and are interested in some of the same sorts of issues. We spent the rest of the summer building up partnerships with other organizations -- NINES, EMiC, MJP, Islandora, and Fairleigh Dickinson U -- and then went for a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). In the meantime, EMiC was developing some great new tools and we had some great students doing work here at UVic as well. When the grant came through this spring we were able to push ahead with the launch, the new website, and some material support for people who had been working for us for free.

LS: How many people have been involved in the digital edition of the book and other activities?

SR: The Ulysses edition is the work of Patrick Belk and Matthew Kochis at Tulsa. We've had excellent work done here on Nostromo by Katie Tanigawa and the Humanities Computing and Media Centre at UVic has been really helpful. Then there's the board of the MVP: Tanya Clement, Susan Schreibman, Matt Huculak, Jentery Sayers, James Gifford, Dean Irvine, and me. The work on the website and the Ulysses launch was really exciting -- at times we had an undergrad, an MA student, a PhD student, and two faculty members hammering away on computers in one small office. We also have a PhD student starting at UT Austin in the fall: Daniel Carter, who will be working with Tanya Clement. There are two PhD students at UVic: Katie Tanigawa and Alex Christie, plus two post-docs: Matt Huculak and Adam Hammond, and an untold number of MA students and undergrads.

LS: I'm hoping that this develops a bit more of a conversation about it, and to maybe open the hood a little bit to talk about the specific DH tools, etc that have been used up to this point and what you want to see this project going after the year is over (if anywhere at all).

SR: Perhaps the biggest thing we are cooking up right now behind the glitz of the Ulysses release is integration of Juxta's new web-based format for collation of texts. We are working fast to create digital editions that we can process with Juxta, and working with Dana Wheeles at Juxta to get it capable of handling the kinds of collation we really want to do (i.e., ingest and collate xml mark-up rather than just text). With luck we'll have a robust collation tool that will be able to handle text comparison, xml comparison, and meta-data comparison by this time next year. And, we'll have a body of digital editions we can begin working with, in addition to Ulysses, Nostromo, and Tarr, which are already under development. The whole thing is very open, too -- we're happy to host digital editions produced elsewhere but restricted by copyright or lacking a sufficiently wide-reaching platform. Canada's copyright rules differ in some key respects from those in the US, giving us some real leeway to put documents online here in some cases that are not possible to release on US-based servers.


I’m writing about this project here, not just because it involves EMiC (which I am a part of), but also because I think it is important that this initiative be promoted as widely as possible. This, to me, is one of the biggest potential benefits (for lack of a better word) of digital humanities: the potential to bring the academics and the general public together is a collaborative way. While I was at Congress, I continually heard about how humanists need to engage more with the public, but was then dismayed by the relative media silence about YoU. Maybe because it’s the summer, when we all scatter to the wind, maybe it’s because it’s being done in Canada, thus off the larger higher education (or even mainstream media radar). Either way, I know that I will finally attempt Ulysses and participate in this absolutely fascinating experiment and experience. 


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