The Modernist Journals Project
by Robert Scholes
1. The MJP is a digital resource designed to assist scholars and teachers of modernism, and, in particular, to supplement the study of the major literary and artistic works produced during the first decades of the twentieth century by providing a window into the culture from which those works emerged. We began at Brown University in 1995, attempting to create a digital edition of The New Age, a weekly magazine devoted to politics, literature, and the arts, edited in London by A. R. Orage from 1907 to 1922. We chose the PDF format, which would allow us to present images of the original pages, backed up by searchable text. And, I can tell you quite frankly, we had no idea what we were getting into at that time.
A Brief History of the MJP
2. We thought that we would be able to scan microfilm editions of this magazine, put them through an OCR process and produce our PDFs. We found, however, that microfilm copies were not clear enough to produce scans that would allow for decent OCR work, so that we were driven to locate rare original copies and scan them on a primitive flatbed scanner before putting them through Adobe’s Capture software to produce our PDFs. Even doing this, we found the OCR process to be extremely arduous, often correcting over a hundred errors per page—and we had over 15,000 pages to correct. It took us years to do this work. And now we do things very differently, getting our scans done by Kirtas, and using the ABBYY FineReader for OCR processing.
3. But producing searchable PDFs was not all we did. To make this material as useful as possible for teachers and students, we produced introductions for all thirty volumes, with information on the history of the period, along with essays on key figures and concepts, and we tried to provide information on every visual artist mentioned in those pages, with links to that information and images of typical work by that artist. This, too, ended up being more laborious than we had anticipated. We now have files on over 1,000 artists, with typical images for most of them. And we linked mentions of artists in the magazine pages to this other information. To illustrate, here are a few lines from a review by Ezra Pound, writing under the pseudonym “B. H. Dias” in February of 1918:
The red boxes indicate links to the artist pages. Clicking on Philpot, for example, will lead to this page (here drastically reduced in size):
These thumbnails, in turn, will lead to larger images. As you might expect, the work on The New Age took years, finally being completed with help from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 2004.
4. At that point, two important things happened. The University of Tulsa, led by former Brown graduate student, Sean Latham, joined the MJP as a partner, enabling us to take on more projects, and a new Technical Director, Clifford Wulfman, came to Brown, where he established a connection to the Library’s Center for Digital Initiatives and worked to make the MJP TEI compliant, which meant, among other things, going back and generating metadata for the New Age Edition and providing it for all subsequent digital editions. From this point Brown and Tulsa have gone on to add full runs or significant segments of runs of ten more journals: Blast, The Blue Review, Coterie, Dana, The English Review, The Owl, Le Petit Journal des Réfusées, Rhythm, The Tyro, and Wheels, so that the top of our Journals page looks like this:
Clicking on these cover images leads to pages offering information about the journals, links to particular issues, and ultimately choices of viewing among thumbnails, page images, and full PDFs of entire issues.
Rethinking Modernism and the MJP
5. As we continued doing this work, we made a number of important discoveries, of which three deserve mention here:
- Modernism was not confined to the little magazines, but extended into magazines of large circulation. An understanding of modernism, then, required the availability of these magazines as well as those Ezra Pound called “small.”
- Everything in the little magazines of this period was not “modernist.” Traditional work, and even specifically anti-modernist works and sentiments are often there in the little magazines, along with all sorts of advertising.
- Advertising was an important aspect of modernism, and the advertisements had been removed from most copies of magazines in our libraries. They were also routinely left out of reprints of little magazines and were omitted from large scale digital reproductions of mass magazines as well.
6. These discoveries led us to change what we were doing in several important ways. We began seeking original issues of large-circulation magazines to add to our digital archive, so that, with the help of the Princeton University Library which has collected the materials, we are now (with a second grant from the NEH) working on an edition of Scribner’s from 1910 to 1922. And, with original issues from the University of Chicago Library, supplemented by those of the U. of Wisconsin/Madison, and the U. of Tulsa, we are working on an edition of Poetry from its founding in 1912 through 1922, with all the advertising and covers included.
7. We also decided that scholars and students needed to be able to see sample issues of a wide range of magazines from this period. To give some coherence to this project we sought original issues of journals published within a year of December, 1910, the moment when, as Virginia Woolf claimed, “human character changed.” We now offer single issues of more than twenty different magazines, large and small, from this period, so that teachers can direct students to this resource for projects and general background on the world in which modernism arose. We plan, in time, to offer a similar set from around December, 1920 as well, so that projects comparing the culture of 1910 with that of 1920 will be possible. To the extent that modernism developed during this decade, it should be visible in the different contents—including advertising—of the magazines published at the beginning and the end of the decade.
Above, drastically reduced in size, is a portion of our December, 1910 page. Each of those images leads to a complete issue of one of these magazines in PDF. We are in the process, currently, of developing ideas for student projects using this new resource.
Teaching Modernism with the MJP
8. Which brings me to our final innovation. As more faculty are using the resources of the MJP in courses, we are inviting them to share ideas on our site. At the moment, we have contributions from college faculty, ranging from full professor to graduate teaching assistant. In the future, we hope to add more material from teachers at this level and from secondary school teachers as well. Here is an image of the top of our teaching page.
9. Our teaching pages are just beginning, but it is our hope that this resource will encourage teachers of modernism to exchange pedagogical ideas as well as scholarly information and criticism. And we plan on offering summer seminars for teachers that will help them develop courses, or units within courses, in which students are encouraged to use these resources for individual projects. When Poetry is added to our archive in 2008, for example, students will be able to see how modern poets writing in English presented their poems and debated the proper form and content for modernist poetry. They will also see how these poets were aware of poetry in other languages and how their poems appeared among translations of native American poetry and even cowboy poems. And they will see famous poems in their original form, like this one:
The spacing of the word groups tells us how the poem should sound, giving it a rhythm it doesn’t have in most anthologized reprints. And they will read it among debates over vers libre (free verse) and Imagism, and reprints of Chinese poetry that provide a context for Pound’s poem.
10. One might ask, “Why not just take the students to the library and look at the magazine there?” The answer is not simple. But it begins by noting that most libraries will not have original issues of this magazine with covers and advertising intact. Our digital edition is based on works in three different libraries, creating a collection that exists nowhere else. And the advertising is important. It is important to see a book on the art of versification offered for sale in Poetry, and to find ads offering dogs for poets and a chocolate drink, as well as for magazines like Blast, and The Egoist, which were major forces in the rise of modernism. Finally, it is better for students to feel the lure of the library, to want to go there, rather than to take or send them. By bringing the library to their personal computers, we open its doors to them, invitingly. But we also offer an archive that no single library can match.
11. Another feature of the digital archive of modernist magazines is the ability to search it—which again is a unique feature of this medium. The ability to look for key words or expressions through the texts of a whole archive of modernist journals facilitates research projects that would be much more difficult without such a resource. Our hope is that teachers, as they explore this resource, will generate more and more interesting projects for their students to pursue. The field of modernist periodical studies is just opening up, offering new possibilities for study and research for faculty and students. The MJP teaching pages are designed to help us all realize the potential of this field.
The Future of the MJP
12. Our digital resources currently all end with 1922, because works published though that year are in the public domain in this country. It is also a significant year in the history of modernism, marked by the publication of Ulysses, Jacob’s Room, and The Waste Land. At that point, we may say, modernism had arrived in the English-speaking world, though it was far from finished. But our site is devoted to this rise, and we intend to reach back as far as 1890, or even further, in documenting it. To that end, we also provide a list of over 500 periodicals of literary or artistic interest published during this period. Ultimately, we hope to add information about the availability of original issues with cover-to-cover contents to this list.
Reflections on Digital and Physical Archives
13. Digital resources do not replace the physical archives they draw upon. They make the materials in the archives widely available, framed with editorial assistance and links to other significant resources. But they will also lead scholars to the archives themselves, once we have described these resources in a way that distinguishes holdings in original form from bound copies that are incomplete—which our current library catalogues, including the WorldCat, rarely do.
Robert Scholes is the current director of the Modernist Journals Project and Professor Emeritus of English, Comparative literature, and Modern Culture and Media (MCM) at Brown University.