Taking Canadian Modernism online ‑ and international

- August 29, 2012

Emily Ballantyne in the EMiC office. (Katherine Wooler photo)
Emily Ballantyne in the EMiC office. (Katherine Wooler photo)

“Texts aren’t stagnant, but full of other people’s decisions,” explains Emily Ballantyne, PhD student and project administrator for Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC).

EMiC is part of that decision-making process: it’s a project focused on creating critical editions of Modernist Canadian texts.

It’s the sort of work that’s becoming even more important as texts move digital in the era of Kindles, Kobos and iPads.

“The kind of work we do is completely grounded in the texts,” says Ms. Ballantyne, wishing to dispel the myth that digital editions will be the death of books.

“We’re not eliminating them, but recovering lost texts. Digital Humanities envisions a new way to keep the book rather than lose it.”

Digital editing allows professors to not only teach students new skills, but also discuss important writers in new ways, often dusting off authors that have been placed on the back shelf. This reintroduction is especially the case for Canadian Modernists.

Cross-Atlantic, cross-cultural research

Now in the second year of her PhD in English, Ms. Ballantyne has been with EMiC since its beginnings, starting as a research assistant for The Collected Works of P.K. Page in 2008.

Most recently, she was colloquium administrator for an international conference hosted by EmiC at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris.  The colloquium, called “Exile’s Return,” ran from June 28 to 30 and featured presenters from various North American and European institutions.

“A lot of people who came didn’t know anything about our project,” says Ms. Ballantyne, “and they get to take back information to not only their home institutions but also their home countries.”

Canadians aren’t the only ones who care about our national literature. There are also EMiC affiliated scholars who study Canadian literature in the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and the United States – most recently in connection to EMiC Director Dean Irvine’s visiting professorship at Yale.

“Everywhere that EMiC goes Dalhousie goes, as EMiC inserts itself in international discussions of editorial principles,” says Ms. Ballantyne. 

Ms. Ballantyne represented Dalhousie at the Paris conference along with Dr. Irvine, Erin Wunker, Travis Mason and Matthew Huculak.

Also present in Paris were Dalhousie alumni continuing their academic careers at other institutions.

“The big thing about an international conference is that it gives you the opportunity to meet and interact face-to-face,” says Ms. Ballantyne. “Even if you’ve corresponded with someone in Belgium for years, you then get to put the name to a face.”

Common ground for scholars

EMiC is currently developing an online system that will help to further bridge the distance between researchers. The system, named the Modernist Commons, is a digital repository where scholars can upload scanned texts, make them searchable, prepare them for viewing on a website and add editorial annotations.  
Ms. Ballantyne believes that the collaborative nature of the commons will be an important asset to humanities studies.

“It allows communities to form around scholarship,” she says.

EMiC debuted a test phase of the Modernist Commons at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria earlier in June. It sent a record number of 30 EMiC scholars to the institute this year, six of which were from Dalhousie. The UVic event encompassed Digital Editing and Modernism in Canada (DEMiC), an EMiC-hosted training initiative.

EMiC encourages students to actively contribute to publications and collaborate with professors, and the Modernist Commons provide the online forum and the free tools to support such collaborations.

“The project is not just for big established researchers, but also for young junior scholars,” explains Ms. Ballantyne.

EMiC also offers stipends for graduate students who wish to integrate digital humanities into their studies. Research assistantships and volunteer positions are other options, with both undergraduate and grad students engaged in these roles at Dalhousie. 

Not an end, but a new beginning

With many of the original undergraduate fellows and masters students who started out in the program now pursuing their PhDs, EMiC is midway through its project timeline, with an end date of 2015.

Although EMiC will not last forever, the Modernist Commons will remain, providing a central location for the work of many scholars, and Ms. Ballantyne is confident of the project’s lasting impact.

“Future projects will be informed by the EMiC model,” she says.


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