Category: Literary Networks

A sabbatical to study literary networks

I’ll soon start on my first sabbatical at Washington and Lee. As library faculty on a 12-month contract, we take our sabbaticals during the summer months (June – August). I’ll be taking a week out of this period at the beginning of August to attend ILiADS but the rest of my summer will be focused on my research into literary networks. The following is the proposal I submitted when requesting research leave. I thought I would share it so that others know what I’m working on and also as a public way of committing me to my plans. I’m expecting to post updates about my research to this blog. I’ll also be updating the companion website for my research though I’m not sure yet which directions that site will take. I thought about blogging from that site but decided that I should keep my blogging efforts consolidated here as much as possible. If you have questions or comments about my research, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @jeffbarry

During leave I will pursue my research into literary networks at a deeper level. This research is directly tied to advancing the digital humanities initiatives at W&L as well as exploring connections with social science disciplines that utilize social network analysis. My research agenda on the networks within literary publishing examines the evolution of “little magazines” during the 20th century. The patterns uncovered through this study can potentially impact the current generation of literary outlets that bring new voices to the public.

A description of the background of this initiative, which stemmed from the acquisition of the letters that Ezra Pound wrote to a W&L student in the 1950s on the development of the Shenandoah literary magazine, is on my literary networks website. The specific focus during the leave period is to model a social network analysis methodology that is suitable for the analysis of literary journals. The framework for this initiative is the evolving nature of literary journals, especially the type known as “little magazines” that function as the places where most poetry and short stories are first published.

My starting point in this project is Shenandoah, published since 1950 by W&L. Individual editors are important to the quality of a literary journal through setting the tone, direction, and selection of material for publishing. An editor does not exist in isolation but depends upon a network of writers and, often, “consulting editors” to advise and recommend authors as well as to market and promote the publication to potential readers. These connections, rather than the individual editor, form the essential pattern that determines the extent of a publication’s reach. Through examining the networks within literary publishing, we learn about the evolution of literary journals to help understand the historical and sociological attributes that permit cultural initiatives to flourish.

Shenandoah presents several characteristics that make it an interesting case study for the evolution of literary journals in the mid-century. For the first decade of publication, Shenandoah was edited and produced by undergraduate students. But the roster was not typical of a student literary magazine. Seldom were students published in the pages of Shenandoah during the early years. Authors published in Shenandoah during the 1950s included William Carlos Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Wyndham Lewis, and many other notable literary figures. An initial question is how did a young magazine with a staff of young men barely beyond their teens produce such a high-quality publication in a matter of few years. Equally interesting is how did the same magazine, just a few years later, falter so significantly that it almost ceased publication. The faculty stepped in to rescue the publication, which at the same time almost destroyed it. Shenandoah went through several years where a new editor rotated in for almost every issue. This practice is usually a sign of an underlying structural problem. The publication finally stabilized in 1962 when James Boatwright took over and remained editor until his death in 1988. This study will focus on the first twenty years of Shenandoah, which can be defined by three phrases: 1950-57, 58-61, 62-70. An editor or a set of editors defines each of these periods. The pattern of Shenandoah demonstrates the impact of a network of authors on a literary magazine.

My research during the leave period will result in two companion articles tentatively titled “The Formation of Shenandoah: A Network Analysis of a Literary Magazine” and “The Social Network of a Literary Editor in the 1950s”.

The second article will focus on important data that is not in the list of authors and editors of Shenandoah, and on material that was not initially in the archive. The second article also will highlight the importance of searching for holes in the archive as part of the research process. The W&L Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the correspondence of Thomas H. Carter (C’54) who was instrumental in the early success of Shenandoah. Carter was advised in his editorial role through an “anonymous encourager”: Ezra Pound. The two men exchanged over one hundred letters, which the W&L library acquired in 2015 from the Patrick Henry Community College. Only one scholar, in 1980, has ever examined that correspondence. These letters were digitized during Spring Term 2015 by the Introduction to Digital Humanities class that I co-taught with Digital Humanities Librarian Mackenzie Brooks. I am currently in the process of editing those letters. Lesley Wheeler’s Modern American Poetry class in Fall 2016 provided annotations to those letters. Pound repeatedly stressed that his advice to Carter be kept strictly anonymous. Carter also exchanged letters with a broad range of authors. Those letters also are in Archives and Special Collections.

Through the Carter letters, I intend to employ computational techniques that demonstrate and weigh the influence of various actors (i.e., literary figures) on what was actually published in Shenandoah. The Carter/Pound correspondence adds another dimension to the network analysis of the authors published in Shenandoah: which authors did Pound recommend that were never published in Shenandoah? Why were those authors not published? Carter and Pound intended to create their own journal. Based on their correspondence, which authors would they have included in that new publication? Pound viewed his relationship with Carter as part of a mid-century international literary network that include the journals Nine and The European in London, Meanjin in Australia, Merlin in Paris, Delta in Montreal, and The Hudson Review in New York City. Pound (in his idiosyncratic style) advised that the aim of a literary magazine is to foster “a means of communication between INDIVIDUALS, that is all yu can do” and stressed the importance of editors and writers of different publications connecting with each other: “why don’t you buzzards EVER communicate with each other”.

Linked Open Data & Literary Networks

We had the first meeting today of what we’re calling our Linked Open Data Working Group. In addition to myself, group members are Mackenzie Brooks (Digital Humanities Librarian), Jeff Knudson (Senior Technology Architect/ITS), and Brandon Walsh (Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow).

What is it we want to accomplish through this group?

  • Develop a better understanding of Linked Open Data (LOD) and how it might apply to projects at W&L.

We want to think about LOD in the context of our specific DH projects in order to avoid talking about it in the abstract. But we also want to make sure that we clearly identify what we want to accomplish with those projects instead of having a solution (e.g., LOD) that is looking for a problem to solve. In other words, we’re going to develop the vision for the project and then work backwards.

We have several potential projects but the easiest to get started on is literary networks. This project evolved out of archival research relating to the Shenandoah literary magazine published by W&L. While Shenandoah is partially indexed in MLA, a full index of Shenandoah has never been produced. (Also, the contents are not in JSTOR.)  A student worker in the library has compiled an index as part of her job in Special Collections and Archives. Our DH Librarian (previously our Metadata Librarian) identified the necessary fields and created the spreadsheet for the data entry. The Shenandoah index has over 6,400 entries.

Our first task in this project doesn’t actually involve LOD: creating a web-based index to Shenandoah. But we want to keep LOD principles in mind as we develop the index. The Shenandoah data set provides research material that goes far beyond merely an index to a journal.

While the research agenda of the literary networks project is the topic of a future post, the essence is that I want to examine the relationships and connections among authors and editors.


Top-level functionality

Here are primary features involved in a LOD approach to this data set. Each feature is a different stage, or layer, of the project. A use case scenario describes functionality enabled by each stage.

  • a web-based index to Shenandoah

Use case: Queries based on editor. From these queries we can form network graphs based on relationships among authors and editors and issues.

  • expose the index/relationship data as LOD

Use case: Exposing this data set as a LOD triple store (with possibilities of generating query results in json & csv) allows for the data to be analyzed in a variety of tools such as Palladio, R, Gephi. Plus, it provides the ability for other projects to integrate this data.

  • the web index incorporates additional data about authors

Use case: the web interface shows brief biographical information and publishing history about each author. Instead of gathering this data manually and entering it directly into the data set, we want to explore creating a process that connects external information about these authors with this data by consuming LOD.

  • expanding the Shenandoah data set by including relationship information identified by archival research

Use case: literary networks are influenced by friendships and social contacts. Publishing decisions are often made by brokers (e.g., Ezra Pound), whose influence is not formally represented in the index data. There’s a complex challenge in figuring out how to represent this information.

  • expanding the data set with data of other literary journals in order to create a broader data set of authors publishing in the mid-century

Use case: While the data set starts with one specific literary journal (Shenandoah), it’s the connections among authors and editors publishing in a larger set of journals during the same time period that is more interesting. Authors do not simply write for one publication. Ultimately, the literary networks project will create a data set of authors (and editors) who published in mid-century literary journals.

From originating with the Shenandoah data set we gain experience with the process of utilizing LOD. What we learn through this initiative can be applied to other projects, particularly those with biographical data.

Process of the LOD working group

As a group we will meet once a month. We will use a Slack channel in the W&L DHAT team for communication.