“On or About 2020”: Modernist Studies Association Digital Exhibition

MSA Exhibits
6 min readNov 9, 2020
Detail from Painting Triptych by Suzanne Bellamy, 1999
Exhibited at the Virginia Woolf Conference,
University of Delaware

The following postings comprise a virtual exhibition, which is part of the Modernist Studies Association’s “On or About 2020” online programming. As this year’s circumstances have made it more difficult to linger in exhibition halls, scholars have contributed a series of overviews of their digital projects, featuring aspects of interest to scholars and teachers of modernism. In the sections below, readers will find introductions to three such research projects, including links to their online homes. Three more such installments of this digital exhibition will be published over the next two weeks.

The assembled resources reflect the degree to which scholarship and teaching have become increasingly informed by digital resources and tools, particularly during the pandemic. Gabriel Hankins has argued in “We Are All Digital Modernists Now” that “[t]he new modernist studies is now always already digital . . . because it is mediated by our contemporary digital culture.” As culture continues to change alongside the role of technology within it, the resources below (and those to be featured in forthcoming posts) can contribute to our reconsiderations of modernist studies.

In its title, the MSA’s online program, “On or About 2020,” alludes to Virginia Woolf’s well-known statement in her essay, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” published in 1924, that “on or about December 1910, human character changed.” Woolf was being provocative and satirical, but she was also referring to the Post-Impressionist Exhibition that had taken place in London. In 2020, we are living in a different cultural moment, one that is altering our perception of the world. As an exhibition, the following pieces invite viewers to encounter that world anew, through new and familiar writers, texts, and artifacts. An exhibition draws us together, presenting the opportunity to momentarily shift our gaze to the vitality of modernist scholarship, its interpretations of the past and present, and its attention to the ongoing creative evolution of literature, art, and culture at large.

Thank you to Matthew Hart, Rebecca Walsh, William Maxwell, Amy E. Elkins, and Matthew Eatough

Amanda Golden, New York Institute of Technology

New York 1920: 100 Years Ago Today

Twitter @NY_1920; Instagram @ny_1920

Overall Parade, April 24, 1920. Bain News Service. Library of Congress.

New York 1920: 100 Years Ago Today showcases archival materials related to 1920 New York City, posted throughout the year 2020 (and to continue), representing events that correspond to the 1920 calendar. It includes print materials as well as sound, photograph, and video files, which together tell the story of a pivotal year for modernist culture in one of its capitals. Near-daily posts (connections among them highlighted) bring 1920 New York City to life for students, scholars, and non-academic enthusiasts, enabling a reconceived relationship between that moment and our own. The materials address issues that remain contested today: immigration and deportations, ethnicity, whiteness, civil rights, racism, marriage, celebrity, unions, state surveillance, the political process, law enforcement, narcotics, labor, etc.

Marcus Garvey at Liberty Hall, 1920. Keystone View Co. Inc. of N.Y. Library of Congress.

Roughly 240 entries have been posted so far, on topics ranging from the obvious (prohibition, women’s suffrage, Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A. Conference) to the arcane (the Overalls Parade, an all-women jazz band, plus menus, recipes, passports, patents, and movie posters).

Adolph Levitt’s design for a mass-producing doughnut machine. Courtesy University of Southern California archive.

We portray under-documented historical figures and marginalized groups, stories pertinent to lgbtq history, women’s history, and the histories of New York’s Black, Italian, Irish, Latinx, Jewish, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese communities. Famous figures appear in surprising ways: Helen Keller’s vaudeville career, Luis Muñoz’s poems, Dorothy Parker getting fired.

The site features guest posts by a variety of modernist and New York scholars.

Introductory video for “New York 1920, 100 Years Ago Today (When We Became Modern)”

Jonathan Goldman, Director, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT)

Micah Rimando, Web Designer & Research Assistant, NYIT

Brandon Treston, Social Media & Research Assistant, NYIT

MJ Santema, Research Assistant, NYIT

Natalia Chancafe, Social Media & Outreach Officer, NYIT

Shakespeare and Company Project

Twitter @ShakesCoProject; Instagram @shakespeareandcoproject

The Shakespeare and Company Project presents a new portrait of the Lost Generation and life in interwar Paris by illuminating the daily operations of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop and lending library. Founded in 1919 by American expatriate Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company counted among its members James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Walter Benjamin, Katherine Mansfield, and many other influential writers. In 1922, Beach published Joyce’s Ulysses under the Shakespeare and Company imprint — a feat that made her and the bookshop and lending library famous around the world. In 1941, Beach closed Shakespeare and Company during the Nazi occupation of France.

The Shakespeare and Company Project uses lending library cards, logbooks, and address books from the Beach Papers at Princeton to reveal what lending library members read and where they lived, and how expatriate Paris changed between the wars.

Sylvia Beach (right) with Stephen Vincent Benét (center) at Shakespeare and Company, circa 1920 [Princeton University Special Collections]
Katherine Mansfield’s lending card, from autumn 1922, shows she borrowed Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives (1909) on October 16. There is no record of Stein borrowing Mansfield’s work!

Joshua Kotin, Project Director, Princeton University

Rebecca Sutton Koeser, Technical Lead, Princeton

Camey VanSant, Project Manager, Princeton

Ian Davis, Senior Researcher, Princeton

Rebecca Munson, Project Coordinator, Princeton

Gissoo Doroudian, User Experience Designer, Princeton

Nick Budak, Web Developer, Princeton

For full team, see here

Black Book Interactive Project

Twitter @ProjectHBW; Instagram @projecthbw

The Black Book Interactive Project (BBIP) is the collaborative, digital research component for The Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) based in the English Department at the University of Kansas. Initially composed of recovered works from the HBW novel corpus, it seeks to fill a prominent void in the digital landscape. As a continually evolving archive, BBIP is quickly becoming the largest archive of African American fiction in existence with broad access for research and teaching. The development of a targeted metadata schema that accounts for race and difference using Philologic, the search-user-interface developed through a partnership with the Chicago Text Lab based at the University of Chicago, will allow for simple and complex search functionality focusing on the content, language, and stylistic differences within texts. Currently, BBIP includes more than 3000 scanned and identified texts, published since 1853, expanding the canon of early and modern literature. The important inclusion of marginalized texts and lesser-known authors in the literary canon ensures that the African American experience is not only present but visible and intentional in humanities research.

As part of our commitment to diversify the digital humanities as a field of study, the BBIP Scholars program offers an interdisciplinary learning community for teachers, scholars, students, and practitioners interested in connecting black literature and culture to technology in campus and community settings. The Project on the History of Black Writing was founded in 1983 at the University of Mississippi, Oxford and is committed to inclusive, innovative scholarship and public literacy programming.

Sarah Arbuthnot Lendt, BBIP-ER Scholar Program Coordinator, University of Kansas

Arnab Chakraborty, BBIP Project Manager, Kansas

Maryemma Graham, Director, Kansas

Jade Harrison, BBIP Graduate Research Assistant, Kansas

Nia Morrison, Research Assistant, University of Chicago

Hamza Rehman, BBIP Specialist, Kansas