About the Project
The goal of the Modernist Short Story Project (MSSP) is to offer a digital corpus of early twentieth-century short fiction in order to both preserve content and present useful contextual information for scholars interested in the intersection of new modernisms, genre studies, and digital humanist research.
About the Genre
Short stories emerged popularly in the modernist period from the blend of cheapened overhead costs for mass printing and aesthetic interests in compression and ambiguity. The fleeting experience of short stories (as opposed to longer fiction) permitted writers to deliberately immerse their readers in the presentation of specific details while also limiting their access to explanatory background information. These short stories flowed from the merging of psychological interests with creative energies; both the authors’ deep attention to detail and their efforts to convey reality’s fragmentation shaped short stories of the time. While short stories are used to good effect in other ways now, the historical connection between modernist thought and the short story genre offers a beneficial context for those interested in either subject.
About the Medium
Periodicals were the common medium for short stories throughout the nineteenth century, spreading by way of relatively inexpensive monthly subscriptions. The twentieth century saw the development of the modernist magazine—publications which tended to equalize the importance of writing, editing, illustrations, layout, typography, printing, and distribution as mutually constitutive practices. Many modernist magazines were published in only dozens of copies and distributed to a limited audience. Each magazine had its own political and/or aesthetic orientation—some were liberal, others conservative; some were radical, others old-fashioned—yet regardless of thematics or reach, contacts between individual magazines were very active. Not only is it important to discern who the editor or editors of a given magazine were, it’s also important to consider their involvement in other initiatives across the continent or even continents. Readers must consider how the magazine was paid for (Did it support itself from advertisements, or from subscription fees? Was it bankrolled by a patron?), how long it ran, what its circulation was (i.e., how many copies were printed and/or sold per issue), and whether articles and reproductions were cross-published or promoted by other magazines.
Of course, the interactions of these publications with one another in anticipating or even responding to literary trends or influencing politics were somewhat tangled. The culture surrounding the popularization of the modernist magazine is as important to consider as the formal qualities of the magazines themselves. The mode of presenting original material alongside other types of content, such as advertisements and letters to the editor, is truly what makes the modernist magazine unique.
Robert Scholes and Sean Latham, among others, have cautioned against approaching magazines as containers of discrete bits of information; instead, they insist that scholars must begin to view periodicals as rich, dialogic texts which create surprising and even bewildering points of contact between disparate areas of human activity. In extrapolating the short fiction found on this site from the individual magazines in which the works were originally published, we are aware that readers may miss the coherence of the magazine as a cultural object. The goal of this project is to facilitate a specific kind of scholarly research and to enable interdisciplinary, or even multi-disciplinary, conversations. In other words, while this digital corpus does not attempt to preserve every formal quality of the magazines presented herein, the significance of the original medium should be considered when reviewing the content of these stories. Information on individual publications, their editors, and contributing authors can be found in the organization of this archive.
About the Classroom: An Exercise in Collaboration
The Modernist Short Story Project began in Dr. Jarica Watts’s classroom as a tool to involve undergraduate modernist literature students in researching original print material. Students were sent deep into the archives of Brigham Young University’s Special Collections library, where they began to examine periodical literature, and the modernist magazine more specifically, with the goal of unearthing understudied short fiction by the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, Katherine Mansfield, and their peers.
As part of Dr. Watts’s ENGL 376 course (British Literature from 1900-1950: The Modernist Period), students peruse thousands of possible short stories from the periodicals, ultimately choosing whichever one they feel deserves less dust and more attention; from there, students begin to take ownership of the piece. Facsimiles are digitized, the text is transcribed, the passages are carefully annotated, and the story is given an original introduction. After posting their work, students begin to digitally analyze the text using the Voyant software found under the “Voyant Corpora” tab on this website. Once the Voyant software generates its report based on each student’s research agenda, the student is then driven back into the text with inductive questions and attempts to synthesize any patterns or discrepancies with their prior knowledge of the text and its milieu. Their conclusions are written out in their final research paper.
Such digital textual analysis is exciting because it transforms the MSSP from a repository of information to a playground providing a gateway to new knowledge. Thus, while the site will always remain a primary research tool for students, it will simultaneously develop into a robust and dynamic corpus of early 20th century short fiction. The goal is to accommodate the exploration of text and sharing of corpora across the web. The Voyant software is not designed as an industrial-grade text analysis tool, but as a “toy” that allows students and scholars to uncover new questions and gain new appreciation of texts.
When they reflect back on their time with the MSSP, many students pinpoint their contact with the original source material as one of the most rewarding parts of the work. As one student wrote, “researching and digitizing for [Dr. Watts’s course] was the most worthwhile project I did during my undergraduate career, and I look forward to getting back into the archives and doing more research and treasure hunting throughout my graduate school experience.” This student nicely sums up the purpose of the project: to train the next generation of digital humanists—people who are trained in the humanities but see the potential of digital technology.
As Dr. Watts sees it, the MSSP—with its potential for wide dissemination and rapid accessibility—benefits both students and scholars. It helps students further their understanding of modernist print culture, especially the understudied genre of the early twentieth-century short story, while also teaching students technical skills relating to library research and web and scholarly editing; it benefits modernist scholars and those interested in new modernisms, genre studies, and digital humanist research by providing the only digital record of modernist short fiction.