By Nicola Wilson


This year, MAPP marks its tenth anniversary.

By improving access to publishers’ archives, MAPP aims to put publishers back into the teaching and research of modernism. Its been the first DH project to try and reanimate book production by linking archival objects to the people involved in making the books. Now a decade in, we’ve reached some important milestones, and have lots of activity going on.

Next month, MAPP’s digital archivist – Helena Clarkson, based in UoR’s Special Collections – will find out if we’ve won the ‘Openness in Research’ category in the internal Research and Engagement awards for work she’s been doing with public volunteers to transcribe digitised correspondence in MAPP’s online collection. We have always worked collaboratively with different groups in building MAPP – including students, archivists, and librarians primarily – but the opportunity to work with public volunteers over this last year and get them working with research materials to ‘co-create’ the site has been really exciting for us as a research team.

One of our Graduate Research Assistants from the University of Oregon is currently in New York working with the Berg Library curator on scoping parts of their collections to include in the site. Another is working with colleagues at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin to add digitised images from the correspondence of Jenny Bradley (an important literary agent) that we’ve finally achieved permissions for from a copyright holder in France… Meanwhile, I’m exploring Follow-on Funding (our AHRC grant will finish next February), as other project directors are busy training new Undergraduate Research Assistants for summer projects with the team; experimenting with feminist data visualisations; depositing csv files in institutional data repositories and integrating our metadata with our library partners’ catalogues; proofing born-digital biographies to prepare for integration into ModsNets (our academic field’s data aggregator). Another project director is planning next year’s international conference in Edmonton, Canada. We hope to launch our new co-edited book, The Edinburgh Companion to Women in Publishing, 1900-2000 (EUP, 2024) at this too.

MAPP is always fun, rewarding, and challenging. But it’s also a lot. And a lot of the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to build and sustain an international, collaborative DH project like this still often isn’t recognised.

We like to talk about work and process on MAPP. Last year we collaborated on an open access article for Archival Science, ‘Digital Critical Archives, Copyright, and Feminist Praxis’, which explored links between research and methods: how building the site now – working in collaboration with archivists and international library partners, the challenges of complying with copyright and chasing estate clearance for unpublished archival documents – has helped us reflect on the contents of our site, and particularly the unrecognised labour of a whole host of women press workers, previously not named (and therefore, not discoverable) in the paper archive.

Laura Mandell and others working in feminist DH and bibliography have long argued that feminist digital projects must perform structural work in advancing a feminist intervention at both systemic and conceptual levels. I’ve always been inspired by Jacqueline Wernimont’s writing and we’ve seen MAPP as part of a broader shift in the contemporary landscape of book history, archival studies, library and information science, and critical digital humanities that foregrounds gender, labour and affect, as in Wermimont and Losh’s co-edited Bodies of Information (2018) and D’Ignazio and Klein’s Data Feminism (2020).

For us on MAPP, recognising the previously unknown labour of female publishing staff is an essential component of our scholarly intervention, and we’ve developed expanded metadata fields to capture the group of (almost entirely women) typists and secretaries who remain unacknowledged in the historical record. Similarly, making visible and legible the labour involved in clearing copyright in the creation of digital archives today highlights the often under-recognised labour of archivists in preparing historical materials for digital presentation (we have employed a full-time member of staff to manage copyright and permissions workflows). In this way, we’ve tried to show how our data model and scholarly foundations reflects our own investment in critical feminist praxis.

It might seem odd that we’ve focussed on writing while building MAPP (in early DH debates this used to be framed yacking while hacking). But for us the collaborative writing and thinking has helped sustain relationships and invest in our creativity. Initially we saw the writing as part of our efforts towards sustainability, and even where co-authored publications are less valuable for systems like the REF, I get so much out of thinking together that I wouldn’t give up this way of working. Even in the last five years, we’ve come a long way since we wrote a collaborative book: Scholarly Adventures in Digital Humanities: Building the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (2017).

If we had our time again, I might do things differently. Its striking how many research projects now work towards sharing metadata or communicating the research in other ways rather than trying to create or provide a ‘new’ archive of digitised research materials. This is the advice I give to ECRs and postdocs now: if you are dealing with complex archival material – C20 or later, still in copyright, or unpublished (copyright remains in unpublished documents far longer than for published records) consider why and what you want to share or make available, and will you need more people onboard to realistically achieve those goals? If not, there’s lots of other things you can do research-wise, or with other tools. On MAPP, we’ve only been able to get so far as we have done thanks to continued institutional support and investment from different funding agencies (especially the Canadian SSHRC and now the AHRC), that has helped sustain and support a big team.

MAPP is now in its second frontend iteration, following a major revamp and work with a UX team last year. Let’s see where the next decade brings us!

The Modernist Archives Publishing Project is funded by an AHRC New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions Grants (2021-4) (following a UoR REFT project award 2019-21) and a Canadian SSHRC Grant (2020-25). For a full list of sponsors and library partners see our Funders and Partners.