THE DIGITAL DATABASE: A MODEL OF STUDENT, STAFF, AND FACULTY COLLABORATION

AUTHORS


boylstonSusanna Boylston
Boylston is the collection development librarian at Davidson College and oversees digital and print collections, e-resource access, and license negotiations. She’s also worked as a reference librarian and taught numerous information literacy sessions. Her current areas of interest include the development and use of digital collections to support student learning, patron-driven and curriculum-driven collections, digital humanities, and the history of book and periodical publishing.

ChurchillSuzanne W. Churchill
Churchill is professor of English at Davidson College. She is the author of The Little Magazine Others & the Renovation of Modern American Poetry and co-editor, with Adam McKible, of Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches. She has published on modernist and Harlem Renaissance magazines, poetry, and pedagogy in various journals and collections. She is also founder and editor of the website Index of Modernist Magazines (http://sites.davidson.edu/littlemagazines/).

EshlemanKristen Eshleman
Eshleman is both practitioner and director of instructional technology at Davidson College. The anthropologist in her is drawn to the intersections between technology and culture. Her current interests in digital scholarship include digital storytelling, data visualization, and text encoding. Her constant interests involve keeping up with her info-lit librarian husband, recreational running, all things Carolina, and guiding her daughter to be a responsible digital native.

ABSTRACT


With their emphasis on small classes, student-faculty relationships, interdisciplinary study, and undergraduate research, liberal arts colleges seem like ideal environments for the digital humanities. Yet these institutions often lack the resources, infrastructure, and research emphasis needed to generate and sustain digital humanities projects. Recognizing these limitations, Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis recommend that small, liberal arts colleges forge a “separate path” in digital humanities: “one based on emphasizing a distributed, socially engaged process over a focus on publicly shared products.” At Davidson College, however, we have forged a path that actually combines a collaborative learning process with a publicly shared digital product. Collaboration is the key to our success.

Since 1999, several generations of Davidson College students have built an online, open-access bibliographic database, an Index of Modernist Magazines, as part of a collaborative research seminar. The Index serves as model for how faculty, librarians, and instructional technologists can collaborate to create, support, and sustain undergraduate digital research projects that promote undergraduate learning while furthering scholarship in new areas of study. It also attests to the value and importance of bibliographic research in an era of proliferating digital information and archives. This case study discusses the pedagogical practices that make the Index of Modernist Magazines a model of sustainability (the project is ongoing and ever-expanding), scope (it is manageable for students while also requiring significant research), and impact (it allows students to contribute to a vibrant, expanding field of scholarly inquiry).

CASE STUDY


With their emphasis on small classes, student-faculty relationships, interdisciplinary study, and undergraduate research, liberal arts colleges seem like ideal environments for the digital humanities. Yet as Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis point out, liberal arts campuses often lack the resources, infrastructure, and emphasis on research needed to generate and sustain digital humanities projects. Alexander and Davis recommend that liberal arts colleges should forge a “separate path” in digital humanities: “one based on emphasizing a distributed, socially engaged process over a focus on publicly shared products.”[1] Working at Davidson College, a small, private, liberal arts college in North Carolina, we appreciate their recognition of the specific challenges we face in the field of digital humanities. Like the small colleges they discuss, we do not have a “center” or department of digital humanities and have only recently hired our first tenured faculty member specializing in the field. Our primary focus is on teaching, and the liberal arts commitment to a broad-based education means that our students are more likely to diversify their interests than to specialize: their commitment to a given topic or project may last only a semester, until the next set of courses demands their time and attention. Yet even without the benefits of a digital humanities center, department, or graduate student body, we have forged a path that combines a collaborative learning process with a publicly shared digital product. Our experience suggests that digital products need not be sacrificed in service of the learning process, but can be tailored to complement and enrich undergraduate education. Moreover, given their potential broader impact, digital projects should be afforded the same dedication to rigor that we apply to the marriage of process and product in writing instruction. The key to the successful union of process and product in digital humanities is collaboration.[2]

Since 1999, several generations of Davidson College students have contributed to an online, open-access bibliographic database, the Index of Modernist Magazines, as part of a collaborative research seminar on modernism in magazines. Working closely with a professor, a librarian, and an instructional technologist, students in the seminar identify little magazines to research and add to the database.[3] The student-authored Index now includes sixty magazines and has become a research tool used by professors, graduate students, and undergraduates in the U. S., Canada, and Great Britain. The Index offers a model of how faculty, librarians, and instructional technologists can collaborate to create, support, and sustain undergraduate digital research projects that promote student learning while furthering scholarship in new areas of study. It also attests to the value and importance of bibliographic research in an era of proliferating digital information and archives. As Jerome McGann avers, in the digital age, “textual and editorial work are once again being seen for what they are and always have been: the fundamental ground for any kind of historically-oriented intellectual work.”[4] This textual and editorial work—which McGann calls philology and which includes bibliographic research—is intellectual effort eminently suited to undergraduates and readily fitted to digital products.

Boylston_et_al_Figure1

Figure 1: The Index of Modernist Magazines (2012 – present),
http://littlemagazines.davidson.edu>

PARTNERS

The success of our project is due to the innovative design of the seminar and the ways in which a librarian (Susanna Boylston), an instructional technologist (Kristen Eshleman), and a professor (Suzanne Churchill) partner to support it.  We each draw upon our respective areas of expertise to help students learn how to conduct primary research, organize bibliographic data, and use new digital media to share their findings. In this paper, we discuss pedagogical practices that make the Index of Modernist Magazines a model of sustainability (the project is ongoing and ever-expanding), scope (it is manageable for students while also requiring significant research), impact (it allows students to contribute original work to a vibrant, expanding field of scholarly inquiry), and rigor (it sets high standards for scholarly accuracy, stylistic consistency, and visual design). But the success of this project may be less instructive than the obstacles encountered along the way. Research in positive psychology shows that if you only see a successful outcome, you are likely to conclude that the venture is unattainable for you. But according to psychologist Ellen Langer, “[b]y investigating how someone got somewhere, we are more likely to see the achievement as hard-won and our own chances as more plausible.”[5] This paper recounts the story behind the Index, including mistakes made and lessons learned along the way. By demonstrating that our achievement has been hard-won, we hope you will see your own chances of success as more plausible.

DESIGN

In his manifesto for “Post-Artifact Books and Publishing,” Craig Mod observes that, “Everyone asks, ‘How do we change books to read them digitally?’ But the more interesting question is, ‘How does digital change books?’”[6] The Index of Modernist Magazines was born out of Churchill’s desire to see how digital could change one particular book—Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich’s The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography. Cary Nelson asserts that this 1946 volume “remains the single most useful source for the study of modern literary magazines,” and Mark Morrisson hails it as “an indispensable resource for anyone delving into the sometimes arcane world of modernist magazine publication.”[7] Conscious of the book’s strengths (so much information in one compact, searchable volume), as well as its weaknesses (the neglect or exclusion of women, African Americans, and political radicals), Churchill envisioned an on-line, expandable, hypertext version that would not only fill these gaps, but also supply color illustrations of the rich visual culture contained in these magazines and include hyperlinks between magazines, digitally mapping the intricate web of modernism. Like the celebrated Homer Multi-Text, this digital project originated in a revered work of print scholarship, seeking to use digital tools to overcome the limitations of a print reference and teach undergraduates that they can make genuine contributions to scholarship.

IMPLEMENTATION

Phase 1: “On Lines: The Web of Modernism” (1999)

Churchill did not have much technological expertise at this point, and she knew she could not realize her vision on her own. She sought out Susanna Boylston for help locating and getting access to little magazines, and Kristen Eshleman for advice and assistance with the website construction. To recruit a team of student workers, she designed a new seminar called, “On-Lines: The Web of Modernism,” with a focus on poetry and the goal of using little magazines to recover links between Anglo-American modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, and leftist political poetry of the same period. The course was a fairly traditional seminar, with a strong literary focus and a large packet of readings. Although the seminar thematically linked the construction of the website to the goal of tracing lines of connection between disparate modernist movements, structurally, the digital database was an add-on to a traditional course design.

In this first attempt, Churchill did not have a clear vision of what the website would look like. She conceived it as a repository of factual information, but thought the students should have freedom to express the styles and personalities of the individual magazines in the designs of their respective web pages. At the outset, she required each class member to be responsible for composing two informational web pages: one about a little magazine and one about a related writer. Once they created these pages, they would collaborate to establish “links” between them. To provide students with necessary technical training, she set aside one three-hour seminar meeting for a workshop on “introduction to web-authoring.”

Boylston_et_al_Figure2

Figure 2: The Index of Modernist Magazines (1999 – 2004)


Phase 1: Lessons learned

1) Collaborate with librarians to gather relevant resources. Boylston was able to acquire microfilm collections of little magazines that expanded our library’s holdings exponentially, allowing students to select from a broad range of magazines. Today, searchable digital archives such as the Modernist Journals Project, the Modernist Magazines Project, and the Blue Mountain Project provide access to more and better quality reproductions of little magazines, but librarians are still valuable partners for researching new digital resources. In fact, the sheer proliferation of digital information available today makes partnering with librarians more essential than ever.

2) Budget more time for repeated sessions dedicated to technical training and support. Although students are catching on faster every year and some now come with experience in web-authoring, their skill levels are inconsistent. They may also have technological fluency, yet lack crucial digital literacy skills in evaluating and designing online resources.

3) Scale back on literary content to allow time to discuss and theorize web content: teaching three branches of literary modernism, poetry reading skills, methods of periodical studies, and digital writing was simply too much to cover in a single seminar. The problem of syllabus overload is articulated by Alexander and Davis when they ask, “How can digital humanists assemble the combination of skills and technology infrastructure needed to conduct digital humanities work such as coding, media production and aggregation, and the creation and development of information architecture, not to mention conducting the essential work within a humanities subject?” Their answer involves scaling back in order to “limit the scope and scaffold the learning process.” For Alexander and Davis, that means establishing a “process-over-product focus,” [8] but we were able to balance process and product by limiting the humanities content and scaffolding the technology learning curve. Having well-designed information architecture in place allows students to contribute to a digital humanities product, as they gradually acquire understanding of its infrastructure.

4) Establish a clear rubric and set manageable technological goals. To be useful and legible, an online, multi-authored database requires consistent formatting, style, and content. When students tried to reflect the individual aesthetics and ethos of their respective magazines in their web pages, the result was visual chaos in the collective website. Churchill also had to drop the idea of author pages, because getting the magazine pages created, written concisely, and formatted consistently was sufficiently challenging. Making and maintaining links between pages proved too complicated and served a function more easily fulfilled by a search engine.

5) Rather than trying to anticipate and prevent such “mistakes,” expect them and welcome them as part of the discovery process.

Phase 2: The Web of Modernism (2004)

In the second version of the seminar, Churchill moved little magazines front and center, reducing the emphasis on poetry. In an attempt to recreate the tangible pleasures of reading and handling little magazines, she made spiral-bound photocopies of single issues of selected little magazines. For example, students read Mina Loy in The Little Review, Claude McKay in the Liberator, and Langston Hughes in the Crisis. In this second attempt, Churchill had a clearer vision of the website as a bibliographic database, called “Housing Modernism: A Bibliography of Selected Little Magazines.”

Boylston_et_al_Figure3

Figure 3: The Index of Modernist Magazines (2004 – 2007)

 The college hired local freelance web designers to re-design the site on a Dreamweaver platform, and they came up with what at the time was a sophisticated, professional-looking layout. To develop students’ digital literacy skills, Churchill and Eshleman scheduled a “design workshop,” a “training workshop,” a “computer lab session and conference,” as well as several optional lab sessions. Hoping to link the work on the website more closely to their students’ research papers, they also added a journal of undergraduate research to the website, where students would publish their final research papers.

Phase 2: Lessons learned

1) A professor teaching full-time should not try to run a small press. The spiral-bound, photocopied magazines failed to capture the thrill of reading little magazines. The print quality was poor, aesthetically unappealing, and difficult to read. The increasing availability of full-color digital facsimiles only heightens the inadequacy of bound photocopies for capturing the aesthetics of little magazines.

2) A professor teaching full-time should not try to edit a journal of undergraduate research single-handedly.  ELM (Essays on Little Magazines) was attractive and functional but lacked necessary peer review mechanisms. Churchill did not have the time to edit and fact-check the students’ research papers. When a respected colleague complained that a student had misrepresented his work, she decided to take the journal down and focus the site exclusively on bibliographic data about the magazines. Although misrepresentation of scholarship may be endemic to the humanities profession, the potential for gross misinterpretations is greater among amateurs. Christopher Blackwell and Thomas R. Martin recommend that, instead of asking our students to “a diluted version of professional scholarship,” we are better off having them “undertake the too often ignored task of ascertaining and explaining primary evidence”[9]—or in our case, the tasks of locating, researching, interpreting, describing, and presenting print artifacts. Instead of trying to turn undergraduates, most of whom will not go on for Ph.D.s, into miniature professional scholars, we can set them to work on information gathering, analysis, and synthesis—tasks well within their ken, yet still intellectually challenging.

3) Bibliographic research is just as valuable as critical essays. To embrace the value of bibliographic research, we must, as D. F. McKenzie argues, broaden our definition: “bibliography is the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception.”[10] Bibliography thus involves the study of not only print objects, but also their history and the cultures that produce and consume them. Bibliography is increasingly important in the digital age, when the sheer volume of data available at our fingertips makes the task of curating and organizing information more crucial than ever. Undergraduates have the ability to gather, organize, and present such data, and in the process, they acquire skills in digital literacy, including the importance of metadata. By undertaking bibliographic research, students can contribute to scholarship while learning practical, portable skills that can be applied outside academia.

4) Collaboration with instructional technologists is essential. The extra technical support paid off doubly, because Kristen Eshleman taught both the students and the professor to use Dreamweaver, to understand metadata, and to write appropriately for web publication.

5) A well-designed, well-researched, and well-organized database is a valuable resource, and investment yields surprising dividends. The professional-looking website attracted notice across the country. Out of the blue, Churchill received an email message, flagged “important,” from a man who had original copies of Close Up and The Mask from 1927-30. The magazines had belonged to his deceased father, and he was looking for a library to donate them to. He was even willing to pay shipping expenses. Alexander and Davis assert that “undergraduates can play an important role translating our digital humanities work to the general public”;[11] in this case, their digital project also allowed the public to give resources back to humanities research.

6) Communication and collaboration with librarians is essential. As much as these magazines seemed like manna from heaven, libraries cannot accept unsolicited donations without considering the costs, maintenance, and storage needs to house the acquisitions. Fortunately, our library was willing and enthusiastic. This unexpected donation sparked the beginning of a growing collection of original issues of little magazines, an effort driven by Boylston (see below), which proved to be a far better way to ignite student interest in the materiality of little magazines.

Phase 3: Modernism in Black & White (2007)

In the third iteration, Churchill redesigned the course completely, based on a model developed by John Wertheimer, a history professor at Davidson College. Wertheimer taught a collaborative research seminar on legal history and had published a collection of essays based on his collaborative research with undergraduates. He generously supplied his syllabus and accrued wisdom, which Churchill adapted to the topic of modernist little magazines.  Perhaps it was the excitement of thinking that her own research interests might dovetail with her students’ investigations, but she forgot the lesson about the need to scale back on literary content. She designed her most ambitious seminar yet: “Modernism in Black & White,” a course investigating both the print culture and the race issues that shaped modernism. Utilizing modernist magazines to challenge the “color line” dividing modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, the seminar had four main components:

  1. critical reading and student-led discussion of modernist texts, periodicals, and criticism;
  2. a collaborative research paper written jointly by members of the seminar;
  3. an individual research paper;
  4. expansion of the student-authored web-site, “Little Magazines and Modernism: a select bibliography.”

The collaborative paper(s) were to be submitted for presentation at an aptly timed scholarly symposium on “Modernism Beyond Little Magazines,” hosted at the University of Delaware later that semester. The ultimate aim, after further collaboration with the professor, was to generate a publishable article.

The weekly, three-hour seminar meetings were divided into two parts: the first half focused on masterworks of modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and the second half was devoted to the collaborative research project, with carefully sequenced assignments, including a topic proposal, an exploratory “think piece,” primary and secondary source note cards, a scholarship review essay, section drafts, a full draft, and a final paper. Each week, students would read the assigned texts and complete the next step in the research paper. In theory, the two halves of the course would fuse into a harmonious whole, with the readings providing a foundation in modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and the collaborative research unearthing connections between the two movements. In practice, the two parts often competed for attention. Scarcely had the class begun to scratch the surface of Souls of Black Folks or Jacob’s Room, when it would be time to turn their attention to periodical studies and collaborative research. The digital component also was not sufficiently integrated into the course. The students did not choose research projects related to their work on the website, so here again the two enterprises competed with one another. Although the seminar ultimately met its goal of producing a published, multi-authored article, it was splitting at the seams, straining under the weight of its own ambitions.

Phase 3: Lessons learned

1) Collaboration remains essential, and works even better when students are involved and collaborating with each other. They can do so much more. The research topics this semester were original and ground-breaking: youth culture in Crisis and Fire!!, and the rise and fall of Japan as an influence on American modernism. Although the study of youth culture in Crisis and Fire!! eventually got published, at the end of the semester, everyone was exhausted, and the course evaluations were cranky.[12]

2) You cannot simply add on periodical studies to a traditional great books course on modernism. You cannot build a modernist canon and break it down with the magazines, all in one semester. Set realistic goals, especially when forging new territory.

3) IT staff and librarians are not just technical support; they are intellectual partners. Churchill would have given up on the Index if it were not for Kristen Eshleman, the director of instructional technology. She provided vital intellectual energy when Churchill felt most depleted. Eshleman introduced Churchill to the bourgeoning field of digital studies and helped her see that the project was not marginal, isolated, or futile, but part of a growing trend in humanities.  On a small campus, it is easy for professors to feel as though they are lone practitioners of digital humanities. Instructional technologists bring important professional knowledge to the table that can help link professors to a broad, interdisciplinary community of educators. And of course, instructional technologists also provide practical expertise and knowledge of new platforms and tools in a rapidly changing digital environment. Eshleman suggested simplifying the website design and title, and migrating it to a blog platform, which made the work of expanding and maintaining the site much more manageable. It also enabled us to scaffold the technology side of the learning process: with a WordPress platform, students can learn to post without needing to know how to code.  Finally, Eshleman also supported Churchill’s effort to get funding for a summer research assistant to fact-check and edit the site for accuracy and stylistic consistency.

Boylston_et_al_Figure4

Figure 4: The Index of Modernist Magazines (2007 – 2012)

Susanna Boylston was also a crucial ally, trolling eBay and “winning” originals of the Liberator, and forming contacts with rare booksellers who notified her when they came across magazines that might be of interest to us. The original issues she acquired, now preserved in Davidson’s Special Collections, offer students the tactile pleasures of handling individual little magazines, as they turn to ever expanding digital archives to examine the full runs. We are fortunate because the Davidson College library is not organized like many research libraries, with separate budgets or line items for acquisitions of periodicals. Instead, we have one big budget that enables us to take advantage of acquisition opportunities. The opportunity cost for acquiring original copies of little magazines is quite small.  It typically costs $100 – $250 for a single issue, which is comparable to the cost of an academic book or a video with public performance rights. Acquiring original print copies requires no investment in equipment for reading it (and relieves us of the misery of poring over microfilm). The magazines can be digitized but do not have to be. As a small library, we are also not burdened by the expectation that we acquire complete runs. In fact, we are more interested in individual copies and are developing a collection with samples of a broad range of modernist magazines. We want students to get their hands on originals—to have a tangible access to history. Working with originals also encourages students to think about differences between the print and digital forms when they turn to digital archives to further their research. Using digital archives thus does not have to mean losing touch with print artifacts, but can actually emphasize their value.

Working Model: “Modernism, Magazines, and Media” (2012)

In the most recent iteration, we think that we have arrived on a model that works. Migrating the entire seminar to WordPress was an important move, because it enabled us to successfully integrate the website expansion into the coursework, all of which is now conducted on a WordPress website. Churchill used to dismiss blogs as “blah, blah, blog”—vehicles for self-indulgent blather—but prodded by Eshleman, she came to recognize the intellectual potential of blogging. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick points out, “the blog is not a form but a platform… [It is a] stage on which material of many different varieties—different lengths, different time signatures, different modes of mediation—might be performed.”[13] The blog has become the stage not only for the retitled, redesigned Index of Modernist Magazines, but also for the course work leading to the collaborative research project.

The seminar, now called “Modernism, Magazines & Media,” begins with a six-week mini-course on modernist periodicals and digital media, in which students post short assignments to a website (http://sites.davidson.edu/modmags/), and add a new journal to the Index of Modernist Magazines (http://sites.davidson.edu/littlemagazines/).

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Figure 5: The Index of Modernist Magazines (2012 – present), http://littlemagazines.davidson.edu

 The first half of the course introduces students to modernism, methodologies of periodical studies, digital media, and bibliographic research. That is still a tall order, but Churchill is no longer teaching a modernist canon and then asking students to subvert it. Instead she lets them discover and define modernism on their own. Students purchase buy copies of the magazines currently available in reprint editions: Blast, Fire!! and Survey Graphic. They also work with the originals in our library collection and use digital magazine archives.

The second half of the course is devoted solely to the collaborative research projects. Students propose research paper topics, vote on them, form teams, and embark on a collaborative research project on modernist magazines. With this arrangement, the bibliographic work on the Index lays a foundation of research, writing, and technology skills that they continue to develop through their collaborative research projects. Although students may aim to collaborate with Churchill to produce a publishable article, they can also seek out online publication venues that do not require the same level of research, revision, and professional peer review. Indeed, students may use their heightened digital literacy skills to discover publication opportunities and platforms that their professors are not aware of.  They may also be discovered by other scholars, as when an undergraduate in the seminar received an invitation to submit an essay she had published on the course blog for inclusion in a scholarly volume.

Boylston_et_al_Figure6

Figure 6: ENG473 companion course hub (2012), http://sites.davidson.edu/modmags/

Working Model: Lessons Learned

1) Let go of the controls. Entering the world of modernist magazines requires you to go into unchartered territory, where you are no longer the expert. One group wrote about the pulp magazine, Ranch Romances, which was way out of Churchill’s field. The bourgeoning field of modern periodical studies is also new and vast enough that an undergraduate has the capacity to contribute original research. In entering this field, the students not only produced “popularizing” scholarship—what Blackwell and Martin describe as work “aimed at bringing a topic to the less-informed masses”[14]—but also investigated popular cultural forms that have historically been denigrated and neglected by scholars.

2) Allow digital tools to transform what you do. Instead of simply asking, “How do we change our scholarship to publish it digitally,” we should follow Mod’s lead and ask the more interesting question: “How does digital change scholarship?”[15] In this case, Churchill realized that going digital meant letting go of the “hierarchies of expertise” that limited the path to publication to collaboration with her.[16]  It was Kristen Eshleman who prodded her to let go of her academic and print cultural biases, asking: “Why do students have to seek publication through collaboration with you?” In attempting to answer this question, Churchill realized that she wanted control over the students’ final product in order to guarantee a certain level of expertise before their work would be made public. But once students started publishing their research findings on the course blog, Churchill was contacted by a professor who was editing a volume on pulp magazines and wanted include a student’s essay on Ranch Romances.  By delving into the rich but understudied realm of the pulps, this student had acquired knowledge and expertise Churchill and many other academics lack—and her research was publication worthy without professional intervention.

CONCLUSION

Digital platforms are changing the nature and process of scholarly publication, opening up new possibilities. Reflecting the networked structure of the Internet, digital scholarship moves education toward “connectivist” learning.  As George Siemens argues, “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”[17] As digital networks alter consumption of information and creation of knowledge, the roles of educators and students change as well. Siemens describes this as “blending the concept of educator expertise with learner construction.”[18]  The blending of the roles of teacher and student transforms a once hierarchical relationship into a more collaborative one. Cathy Davidson and David Goldberg observe that, “the relative horizontality of access to the Web has …flattened out contributions to knowledge making, …making them much less the function of a credentialed elite and increasingly collaboratively created.”[19] Scholarship in a digital age is no longer a hierarchical enterprise governed by experts with Ph.D.s and institutional titles, but a democratic, open exchange of ideas, in which all creative, intellectual minds are welcome, regardless of reputation or credentials. Come to think of it, the digital age of modernist studies is starting to resemble the print culture of modernist little magazines.  Then, as now, collaboration across disciplines stimulated creative production and generated hundreds of new publication platforms of all shapes, sizes, and dispositions. These public platforms fostered artistic alliances and intellectual networks, generated new forms and genres, and transformed processes of knowledge production.

To document the full range and diversity of modernist little magazines, we look forward to collaborating with other colleges and universities, allowing their students to work with their own professors, librarians, instructional technologists, and archives—and with us—to expand to the Index. In this way, we might extend what Davidson and Goldberg call “participatory learning”[20] beyond the borders of our small college campus. Partnering with other institutions would allow us to grow the Index at a faster pace than we can with a single biannual seminar that adds, on average, six magazines per year. It also opens up possibilities for undergraduate peer review and exchange across institutional borders. While Davidson and Goldberg argue that academic institutions should be rethought of as “mobilizing networks” that stress “flexibility, interactivity, and outcome,”[21] if we want our digital scholarly products to have credibility, we must balance openness and flexibility with a commitment to scholarly rigor and consistency. While it is tempting to reimagine the Index as a Wikipedia-like public collective, such a model has limitations for an undergraduate digital humanities product. An undergraduate project has greater chance of success if its scope is limited, but a narrow focus reduces the number of participants likely to provide quality checks and corrections. The Index is currently designed to give individual authors ownership of their pages, with a by-line at the bottom of each page. This by-line not only holds individual students accountable for upholding the scholarly standards of the Index, but also allows them to get academic credit for their work and to showcase that work to future employers, fellowship providers, and graduate programs. In the future, we may want to let go of this system of acknowledging individual authors and instead embrace a self-regulating network of anonymous collaborators. We proceed with cautious optimism, however, because, just as we seek to marry a sustainable digital product with the undergraduate learning process, so we seek to balance our desire to innovate and expand our horizons with a commitment to preserving academic rigor and integrity.

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NOTES


[1] Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis, “Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2012), chap. 21, http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/25.

[2] We would like to thank Kathryn Tomasek for joining the collaboration by reviewing this essay and providing excellent insights and suggestions, and Amanda Hagood for facilitating the exchange. This special issue of Transformations is itself a model of innovative collaboration in digital humanities scholarship, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

[3] Suzanne Churchill and Adam McKible define little magazines as: “non-commercial enterprises founded by individuals or small groups intent upon publishing the experimental works or radical opinions of untried, unpopular, or under-represented writers. Defying mainstream tastes and conventions, some little magazines aim to uphold higher artistic and intellectual standards than their commercial counterparts, while others seek to challenge conventional political wisdom and practice.” Churchill, Suzanne W., and Adam McKible, eds. Little Magazines and Modernism: New Approaches. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, p. 6.

[4] Jerome McGann, “Radiant Textuality,” Victorian Studies, 39, no. 3 (Spring 1996), 381. More recently, McGann argues that, “the emergence of digital media in the late twentieth century is forcing a shift back to the view of traditional philology, where textual scholarship was understood as the foundation of every aspect of literary and cultural studies” (A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 20).

[5] Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1989), 76.

[6] Craig Mod, “Post-Artifact Books and Publishing,” last modified June 2011, http://craigmod.com/journal/post_artifact/.

[7] Cary Nelson, Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 316; Mark Morrisson, preface to Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches, ed. Suzanne W. Churchill and Adam McKible (Burlington, VT: Ashgate  2007), xv.

[8] Alexander and Davis “Should Liberal Arts Campuses.”

[9] Christopher Blackwell and Thomas R. Martin, “Technology, Collaboration, and Undergraduate Research,” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly 3, no. 1 (2009), par. 5, 13, http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/1/000024/000024.html.

[10] D. F. McKenzie, “The Book as an Expressive Form,” in The Book History Reader, ed. by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (New York: Routledge, 2002), 29.

[11] Alexander and Davis, “Should Liberal Arts Campuses.”

[12] For more detailed discussion of this seminar (including some cranky remarks from the course evaluations), see Suzanne W. Churchill, “Modernist Periodicals & Pedagogy: An Experiment in Collaboration,” in Transatlantic Print Culture, 1880-1940: Emerging Media, Emerging Modernisms, ed. Ann Ardis and Patrick Collier (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[13] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Networking the Field,” last modified January 10, 2012, http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/blog/networking-the-field/.

[14] Blackwell and Martin, “Technology, Collaboration, and Undergraduate Research,” par. 16.

[15] Mod, “Post-Artifact Books.”

[16] Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, “The Future of Learning in a Digital Age,” John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 11.

[17]  George Siemens, “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for a Digital Age”, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2, no. 1 (2005), http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm .

[18] George Siemens, “Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing Roles for Educators and Designers”, (paper presented to the Instructional Technology Forum, Department of Instructional Technology, University of Georgia, January 27, 2008), http://www.ingedewaard.net/papers/connectivism/2008_siemens_Learning_Knowing_in_Networks_changingRolesForEducatorsAndDesigners.pdf.

[19] Davidson and Goldberg, “Future of Learning,” 25.

[20] Ibid., 12-13.

[21] Ibid., 33-34.

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