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Final project proposal

3 min read

How are changing methods of producing, consuming, and interpreting novels reflected in the novel’s existence as a fictional text, a book, and an object? What do books, as material objects, communicate to their readers, and how exactly is this communication achieved? The process of collecting rich, detailed data for the END project—as well as the process of learning how to work with this data—has made evident the exciting analytical possibilities that exist for studying books, for tracing the changes and commonalities within an increasingly larger and more comprehensive corpus of works. However, I am also curious about what new meanings that these individual novels take on in this process. If the novels in the END database first began their lives when they were printed, are they necessarily reborn when they are scanned and digitized? What potential for entertainment and education from the 18th century is carried forward into the present, and what opportunities for scholarship manifest in the horizon, especially in the realm of the digital?

I would like to pursue these questions first through historical research, and then through the creative experimentation of remediating a text. I plan to draw from the theoretical and conceptual frameworks set forth in Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (for example, the relationships between reader and author; between successive and simultaneous readers; between unity and division; commonality and distinction; etc.) as well as texts in media studies regarding history and remediation, such as Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media and Gitelman’s discussion of media as historical objects. I hope to interweave a growing understanding of current media and material scholarship with research into literary and book history, especially regarding the emergence of the novel and 18th century print culture; in this aspect, I also plan to look into Catherine Gallagher on the rise of fictionality.

Following my interest in the future lives of the books in the Early Novels Database, I hope to present my research on book history and text materiality by creating a dramatically different (but meticulously designed) new version of one of the novels—my current top candidate is Love-letters between a certain late nobleman and the famous Mr. Wilson, due to its epistolary form and its short length. I am interested in epistolary novels because of how their form and fiction depend on their location in time and space. Accordingly, for the creative component of my project, I plan to create a scrapbook-like edition of Love-letters that maps and categorizes the text and paratext of the story, the text, the book copy, and the book object through both real and fictional time and space. My hope is that the decisions made in this creative process will not only mirror the value judgments we make daily as cataloguers, but will also illuminate the subjectivity of those judgments and the immense, irreducible complexity of the relationships between reader, object, truth, and fiction. By closely examining a primary source while also considering its materiality in design and its historical context moving into the present, I hope to be able to explore not only specific social and technological moments, but also larger questions of meaning in literary and cultural understanding.