STS 2007, Part I - Book History; the Modernist Material Text; Ecclesiastical Proust Archive Demonstration and Q&A

Today was the first day of panels and plenaries at the conference of the Society for Textual Scholarship, held at NYU. I attended a plenary and a panel in the morning and demonstrated the Ecclesiastical Proust Archive in the afternoon. I'll only summarize what happened here but will elaborate in more detail later on.

The plenary was titled, "Book History, Textual Criticism, and Bibliography: Relating and Distinguishing the Sub-Disciplines." Since I entered late, I can't really summarize it, but it seemed to be about defining the discplinarity of book history. Ezra Greenspan talked about how book histories tend to have a national focus -- the history of the book in China, India, the nations of Latin America, etc. -- and that there needs to be a transnational focus on geographic trends. He also mentioned that his journal was the first, during the early 90s, to use GIS to map trends in book readership and distribution.

David Greetham asked an astute question about why the term "book" in "book history" seemed to have been ignored. Given the contextualization of studying books as objects in their national, economic, political, and cultural contexts, does it matter whether the book has a substantive essence of its own? What could be the influence of the book itself on its own history?

There was also a palpable disdain of digital text and electronic editing. One audience member mentioned his project that seeks to digitize the papers, letters, notes, and other artifacts of a Canadian writer and make them accessable through a website. He raised the intensely interesting question of how his project relates to the sub-disciplines of book history. There was virtually no response from the panelists, though Katherine Harris, a digital archivist in the audience, made an attempt to further the conversation.

After the plenary I thoroughly enjoyed the panel "The Modernist Material Text: Gender, Politics, Versions," composed of four grad students from U Michigan. Russell McDonald talked about D.H. Lawrence and cross-gender collaboration. Jenny Sorenson analyzed Virginia Woolf's play on genre and material text in Flush (a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel). Olivia Bustion discussed gender and priority in versions of three early poems by Marianne Moore. And Jamie Olson focused on cosmopolitanism in Seamus Heaney. All the papers were very good, and I especially liked the Woolf one for its smart discussion of genre.

Questions of genre were prominent in the Q&A during my own panel in the afternoon. It was a fascinating mix. Karsten Kynde and Kim Ravn of the Soren Kierkegaard Research Center demonstrated their archive of Kierkegaard's papers ( Jennifer Stertzer, an archivist at UVA, addressed the issues faced during the digitization of George Washington's papers. Those two presentations contrasted nicely with this site, which archives a motif of the Recherche as opposed to the disparate materials of writer.

The moderator, Peter Robinson, at one point challenged the notion of whether this is really an archive. I thought it was a great question because this site aims to do exactly that (among other things): apply the archival model in such a way that its nature becomes exposed and directly questioned. Can this site be considered an archive if what it collects and makes available are the instances of a narrative motif and images associated with it? I think the answer is yes, as did the audience, to my delight.

After the panel finished I had a really good conversation with a junior faculty memember at my alma mater, Providence College. William Hogan made some interesting points on how this site isn't quite an archive, not quite an edition, but it's somewhere in between and more Internet native than the other resources available.

I'll have more to say on this soon. Time to get some sleep.