Creating an interactive history of modernist publishing

Helen Southworth, associate professor of literature in the Robert D. Clark Honors College, is part of an international team of researchers recently awarded an Insight Development Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada to develop a new open-access resource that will trace the influence of publishing companies on the Helen Southworthdevelopment and distribution of modernist literature throughout the 20th century.

Southworth is collaborating with Claire Battershill, University of Reading (United Kingdom); Elizabeth Gordon, King’s University College (Canada); Alice Staveley, Stanford University (United States); Nicola Wilson, University of Reading (United Kingdom) and Mike Widner, Stanford University (United States).

The team is developing the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP), an online, interactive resource that will present research on 20th century publishing in order to promote new ways of organizing, interacting with, and using historical information about book culture. The site is designed to appeal to teachers, students and researchers as well as to a general public interested in 20th century literature and culture.

According to Southworth, MAPP’s strength comes from its incorporation of not only literary studies, but also book history, art history and even business and economics to understand the influence of publishing houses.

The first phase will focus on The Hogarth Press, a modernist publishing house founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917. The Press, which is best known as Virginia Woolf’s self-publishing operation for her experimental works of fiction, was at the heart of a movement to reshape the publishing landscape of interwar Britain.

In addition to fiction by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, The Hogarth Press produced important works of literature and culture including the early poems and stories of T.S. Eliot, Nancy Cunard and Katherine Mansfield, the colonial novels of Laurens van der Post, and the English translations of Sigmund Freud.

During the almost thirty years they operated The Hogarth Press, the Woolfs published more than 525 editions of works by established and emerging authors before selling the company to Chatto & Windus of London. The Press, recently relaunched as an imprint of Random House, continues in the spirit of the original company to target new and emerging talent in fiction.

MAPP’s ambitious goal is to eventually draw connections across an array of publishing houses in operation since 1900. To accomplish this, Southworth and her collaborators will be working with several libraries, including Washington State University Pullman, which holds the Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and the Stanford Digital Humanities Group to create a website where users can access digitized letters, books, pamphlets, sketches, business records, and drafts to understand the process of producing books.

By bringing together materials from library special collections and archives in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, MAPP hopes to demonstrate how the practices of individual publishers influenced the development and discourse of modernist literature and culture.

Southworth’s group will stage their first exhibitions on their website starting in September 2014. The full project is scheduled to go online sometime in 2017. Southworth and her colleagues recently published an article about the project in Virginia Woolf and the Common(wealth) Reader.