The Victorian Short Fiction Project has developed from a paper-based research assignment in an undergraduate course to a sizable digital archive of short fiction.
A Classroom Research Project
The Victorian Short Fiction Project has its roots in a research project used by Leslee Thorne-Murphy in her undergraduate Victorian literature classes at Brigham Young University (BYU). She combined her interest in short fiction and in nineteenth century periodicals to devise a project that would introduce students to research in primary source documents. Beginning in 2004, she asked students to comb through Victorian-era periodicals housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library on campus, looking for exemplary short fiction to share with class members and to analyze in a research paper. Students wrote introductions for their selections, and contributed their work to a photocopied class anthology of short fiction.1For more information on this original classroom project, see Leslee Thorne-Murphy, “Students Researching Victorian Short Fiction,” Academic Exchange Quarterly, Vol. 10, 2006, 232-36.
Students responded to the project with enthusiasm. As one student commented:
“Overall, this project was one of [the most], if not the most[,] influential educational activities I’ve taken part in as a student here at BYU. I was able to research lesser known material which contributed to the sense of accomplishment I felt. I had the sense that I was actually contributing to the discourse within literary studies and not simply churning out another banal paper or project and at the same time I also feel that the knowledge I gained from the project is valuable because it is not a topic that the whole of literary studies is familiar with, and I can therefore feel a sense of ownership for what I’ve done and feel pleased with the effort I put into it.”
As successive classes completed the assignment, however, Thorne-Murphy realized that a fair amount of their work was redundant—it had already been completed by previous students. It seemed beneficial for current students to have access to the work already completed by previous students. She also realized that she was very interested in the research her students were completing, and thought other scholars might be as well. She approached the Center for Teaching and Learning at BYU regarding the possibility of creating a digital archive where students could post their work so it could be disseminated more easily and more widely.
The Viki Wiki
A team from the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), headed by Michael Johnson, designed a wiki for the project. The site, dubbed the Viki Wiki by Johnson, was powered by MediaWiki, the same program driving Wikipedia. To accommodate the online environment, students prepared annotated transcriptions of their short fiction, wrote introductions for them, and prepared supplemental material about the journals where the fiction was published. Beginning in 2007, students posted their completed work on the wiki. The original wiki is still available here: Viki Wiki.2For more information on the wiki version of the classroom assignment, see Leslee Thorne-Murphy and Michael C. Johnson, “The Victorian Short Fiction Project: A Web-based Undergraduate Research Assignment,” Journal of Victorian Culture, Vol. 16, 2011, 101-11.
In 2013, the Office of Digital Humanities at Brigham Young University became involved with the project. Under the supervision of Jeremy Browne the wiki was transferred to a permanent home on the college server, and Browne now oversees the maintenance of the site.
Integral to making this project function well was the faculty and staff at the Special Collections Library. Maggie Kopp, curator of the library’s extensive Victoriana collection, supported the project by ensuring the periodicals were accessible, preparing a finding aid for them, giving detailed class presentations, and answering questions along the way. She eventually worked the goals of the project into her acquisitions plan and began supplementing the already rich collections with additional nineteenth century periodicals.
Over several years, the material posted on the archive became a sizeable collection of Victorian short fiction. In 2015, we began to overhaul the archive in an effort to ensure consistency of format and quality of editing. To begin, we assembled and solicited guidance from an international advisory board, and implemented their suggestions. Funded by a Mentoring Environment Grant (MEG) from the Office for Research and Creative Activities at BYU, the renovation of the site features:
- a new WordPress interface built by Jeremy Browne;
- a complete re-editing of each story, involving input from the Faculty Editing Service at BYU, MEG-funded editors, and the project’s staff;
- a new facsimile version of each short fiction text, uploaded as a PDF document;
- a scholarly apparatus, including material discussing how the archive can reshape our understanding of Victorian short fiction.
As we move forward, we will continue to refine these elements.
Though the project has grown beyond the limits of a classroom assignment, we will continue to include material selected and edited by students, as well as material selected and edited by professional scholars. All contributions to the archive go through a rigorous review and editing system to ensure accuracy and merit. As the result of collaborative effort by undergraduate and graduate students, as well as by professional literary scholars, curators, instructional designers, editors, and digital humanists, the archive benefits from multiple points of view. It is not a collection of short stories assembled solely by a professional scholar with decided opinions about the characteristics of the genre. Instead, it includes material selected by scholars with a variety of different backgrounds and levels of expertise, including novice learners, who are more easily able to question common assumptions and lead scholarship in unexpectedly rewarding directions. We plan to ensure this type of collaboration endures as we move the project forward.
The project has undergone a scholarly peer-review by NINES: Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online, “a scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first.”3“What Is NINES?,” NINES: Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online. Peer review ensures the anthology meets professional standards of scholarly editing.
We will continue adding short fiction to the archive. In addition, we plan to begin preparing nineteenth-century texts written about fiction, and in particular about short fiction, in a continuing effort to buttress our understanding of how Victorian authors conceived of the variety of genres subsumed under the idea of short fiction.
Applying the methods of topic modelling, we plan to use the material in the archive to analyze patterns in the content and composition of nineteenth century short fiction.
Eventually we will offer brief author biographies and journal introductions to provide contextual information for the short fiction.
We continue to seek ways of involving both students and professional scholars in the work. Eventually we would like to have an open submission process for scholars from various backgrounds to contribute relevant material to the archive, whether in the form of edited texts, pedagogical materials, or supplemental scholarly material.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||For more information on this original classroom project, see Leslee Thorne-Murphy, “Students Researching Victorian Short Fiction,” Academic Exchange Quarterly, Vol. 10, 2006, 232-36.|
|2.||↑||For more information on the wiki version of the classroom assignment, see Leslee Thorne-Murphy and Michael C. Johnson, “The Victorian Short Fiction Project: A Web-based Undergraduate Research Assignment,” Journal of Victorian Culture, Vol. 16, 2011, 101-11.|
|3.||↑||“What Is NINES?,” NINES: Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online.|