Yesterday afternoon I was honored to launch my exhibition, “John Temple Papers: Tracing Poetic Revision in The Ridge,” at a lunch hosted and indeed supplied by the Department of English. I had the opportunity to introduce audience members to the poetry of John Temple with some wonderful readings by colleagues, to discuss the genesis of the project, and to outline some features of the Omeka site. I emphasized the theoretical grounding of the exhibition in notions of textual fluidity i.e. an understanding of texts as existing through and across many material instances or versions. The presentation was followed by a chance for discussion and I was really excited by the questions raised by the audience members.
We began by exploring why exactly I am so wedded to this notion of textual fluidity and multiplicity, and I was pleased to be able to gesture to so many colleagues in the room who work on primary archival materials, and whose favorite writers have complex publishing and revision histories, such as Marianne Moore. We also spent some time thinking about textual histories that extend beyond the death of the author—including Professor Thomas Recchio’s work on Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell—and the possibilities for digitization of other relevant collections. I was able to emphasize the multiple agencies involved in the production of any writer’s work and we also touched upon the multiple audiences for my own exhibition. The audience were increasingly focused on thinking about the labor implications of digital projects: what investments of time, money, and expertise are needed for projects like mine?
Unfortunately I don’t think I had the most encouraging response to that question. While I’ve been very grateful for all the support I’ve received while working on the exhibition, the reality is that my ambitions have been limited by the infrastructure available to me. I’m aware, however, that this is a complaint even Franco Moretti of Stanford’s Literary Lab has! However, ultimately, I’ve really loved working on the John Temple Papers and I’m excited, now that it’s live, to hear feedback from users. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to think about digital tools and platforms that enable me to undertake the practical and theoretical work I’d like to continue with texts.