MLA 2022 Session on “New Methods to Explore Digital Archives”

Modern Language Association convention 2022
SHARP session on “New Methods to Explore Digital Archives”

Online, Friday 7 January 8.30am to 9.45am (EST).

Dr Nora C. Benedict
Assistant Professor of Spanish & Digital Humanities
Department of Romance Languages, University of Georgia

Title: “Buyers versus Borrowers: A Look at the Finances of Shakespeare and Company”

Sylvia Beach is known for her “imperfect record keeping” and often indecipherable business accounts (Fitch 161). Joshua Kotin has even gone so far as to say that it would take “[a] team of forensic accountants…to reconstruct the finances of Shakespeare and Company” (121). That said, data from her lending library cards and logbooks provides key insight into Shakespeare and Company’s cash flow. While this financial information is not always presented in a systematic or exhaustive manner, it can still be used to develop a more nuanced understanding of the inner workings of Beach’s literary enterprise. To that end, in this paper I use the Shakespeare and Company Project datasets to examine the exchange of material goods in Beach’s bookshop. More specifically, my analysis centers on the details surrounding purchases and borrows of books from the events dataset. By limiting the scope of my study to only those records that contain transactional data—whether in the form of membership fees or actual book purchases—I unearth a new array of networks that were central to the daily operations of Shakespeare and Company. As a result, in contrast with the common focus on solely the most notable lending library members (or members of the Lost Generation in general), this financial approach brings to light invisible networks and underexplored figures whose monetary contributions were essential to keeping Beach’s business afloat.

Lawrence Evalyn
PhD candidate in English
University of Toronto

Title: “Random Sampling in the Digital Archive”

One of the lessons of distant reading has been that history contains many millions more books than we can actually read. Computational literary study has learned to be explicit about textual selection, but debates about method in non-computational research are often focused on the methods of analysis or rhetorical persuasion carried out by a piece of writing, rather than the work that precedes writing, namely, discovering and reading texts. As a provocation to our expectations of method, I have taken ten entirely random titles published in England between 1789 and 1799, and close-read them for an analysis of that decade’s contentious print culture. I expected this process to be an illuminating failure, but instead have found that critical interpretation is fully capable of locating important narratives about gender, war, racial difference, and religion, even when examining a prophetic pamphlet about a lunar eclipse alongside a budget report for the East India Company. In this paper I will particularly discuss how a random sample sheds new light on eighteenth-century medical misinformation. This experiment highlights the value of embracing the true scope of what is held in digital archives, and suggests that new methods of exploring digital archives could be excitingly alien.

Dr Jennifer Burek Pierce
Associate Professor
School of Library and Information Science, University of Iowa

Title: “Finding Fictional Places on Actual Maps: A Case Study of Methods for Locating Reader Responses in the Digital World”

Matt Kirschenbaum has described the archive as “unbounded” and always in the process of creation, an apt description of digital media that document reading. These media appear on multiple platforms but are otherwise uncollected and unpreserved. Research that analyzes contemporary digital reading must respond to these conditions, particularly as individuals reconsider and remove their accounts from different platforms.

Digital mapping is a distinctive mode of reader response. Google Maps and other mapping technologies allow users to annotate professionally created maps, — a practice known as folk cartography — and readers adapt this technology to their own ends by adding fictional places from favorite books to real digital maps. One example emerges from reader response to Rainbow Rowell’s best-selling Simon Snow trilogy and readers’ decision to put her fictional Watford School of Magicks on Google Maps.1 The hidden school, a parallel to J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts, gained reviews and images that reflected how readers read and envisioned places in Rowell’s narrative. Understanding this practice requires research methods that allow us to locate and study map-based media that document reading.

The Watford example is significant because selective imaginary places have been mapped to the real world. If we search for venues listed in Manguel and Guadalupi’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places on Google Maps, we find that many fictional places do not have digital correlates. This asks that we consider why fictional sites are selected for mapping, how they are realized on technology platforms, and how we locate them.

When fans add fictional places to real maps, their voices are inscribed and stored in ways that augment what Kirschenbaum characterizes as the “heterogeneity of digital data and its embodied inscriptions.”2 Simple searches of maps are not an effective way of finding these sites. Guidebooks, news stories, and social media help highlight these sites of reader response, a kind of triangulation. Crucially, affect, or readers’ feelings for stories, is an important cue to the sort of narratives that might be realized on maps.

Dr Zackary Turpin
Assistant Professor / Director of Graduate Studies
English Department, University of Idaho

Since Walt Whitman’s death, the rediscovery of his lost publications has been a surprisingly regular process, turning up everything from manifestos and travel writings to a men’s wellness guide and a serialized novel. The search for lost Whitman works has also evolved substantially, with major discoveries of the poet’s unknown publications coming increasingly through digital means, thanks to his extensive publication record (signed or unsigned) in more than one hundred known newspapers, as well as his fondness for reusing pen names and initialisms. The rediscovery of lost texts, however, formerly done by way of manuscript and bibliographic evidence alone, is today being augmented with new digital methodologies, which enhance researchers’ efficacy and extend their reach into digital newspaper and manuscript archives. In this presentation, I will enumerate the strengths and weaknesses of some of the newest digital methods aiding the recovery of lost Whitman publications, including byline searches, metadata triangulation, computational stylometry, and idiolectic analysis. Such methods may turn up any number of lost texts, including not one but two Whitman novels that may still be missing, The Sleeptalker (ca. 1850-51) and Proud Antoinette (ca. 1858-60).

1 @rainbowrowell, “What do you do … Penny’s mom is going to be so PISSED” Twitter (15 Sept. 2019); @rainbowrowell, “I guess I should leave a review” Twitter (15 Sept. 2019): n

2 Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms, 6.

CfP: Reading for/and Escape: an online conference

17-18 March 2022
Organised by The History of Books and Reading (HOBAR) Research Collaboration, English & Creative Writing, The Open Universityand supported by SHARP (The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing)

The ability of books to mentally transport their readers away from the problems and challenges of everyday life is well established. And yet, reading for escape (rather than self-improvement) has often attracted moral censure for being self-indulgent and wasteful. Despite the plethora of influencers on social media with their lists of ‘10 escapist books to take your mind off the madness‘, in academia, reading for escape (and escapist fiction) has often been derided for being beneath serious intellectual enquiry: the main questions around how, why, where, and when people read for escape and to escape remain critically underexamined. Does reading for escape allow for temporary mental respite and therefore offer a safety valve, a way or normalising profoundly abnormal or traumatic circumstances? Or is reading for escape actually a way of re-engaging with the world around us? This conference will encourage participants to interrogate both reading for escape as an instrumental practice, as well as reading and escape as a series of cultural or personal associations.

Call for Papers, deadline: 7 January 2022

Please see flyer for details.

Dr Shafquat Towheed (organiser),
Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels (co-organiser),

Call for Applications for Coordinator of Communications

SHARP seeks an energetic US citizen or permanent resident scholar to serve an initial 3-year term as Coordinator of Communications for the Society. You will work largely independently under the general guidance of the Executive Council and Board to ensure effective communications and assist in delivering SHARP’s events. You will have the support of the Society’s Executive Assistant to manage web content and will work closely with that person to support one another’s tasks. Institutional affiliation is not required, but if you are not an independent scholar you will need to demonstrate the backing of your institution to permit you to dedicate approximately 10 hrs/week to SHARP’s activities.

Main duties will include oversight of the Society’s communications and assisting the Director of Conferences in planning and managing SHARP gatherings. You should be comfortable with social media, Twitter, WordPress and email protocols, write clearly, and know how to manage image files. Experience managing conferences is also desirable. Prior involvement with SHARP leadership roles would be helpful, but not essential.

SHARP would negotiate total combined compensation for the coordinator of communications and the partnering institution (if any) in the range of US$10,000-US$20,000. The Society aims to fill this role from 1 November 2021 or as soon as practicable thereafter. Please send expressions of interest or questions to the president, Shef Rogers ( All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Call for Expressions of Interest in Promoting Pedagogy

The SHARP Executive Council seeks expressions of interest to join the EC in the role of Member-at-Large with a focus on Pedagogy. This role was left vacant by the election of Sarah Werner to the role of Director of Electronic Resources and the EC does not wish to leave the position vacant until the 2022 elections. A selection panel consisting of three EC representatives and two Board members will make the appointment.

The member-at-large position is a full voting member of the EC, participating in all aspects of SHARP’s organisation and planning. The focus of the member-at-large is determined by the EC’s sense of areas to develop, and the EC has determined that the position should continue to focus on pedagogy for this two-year term. Responsibilities of the role include sourcing contributions to a bi-annual section of SHARP News called “SHARP in the Classroom,” as well as encouraging recognition of the importance of teaching book history in all aspects of SHARP’s work. The position, like all EC roles, is a volunteer role and involves 4–5 meetings per year and participation in the EC’s activities between meetings to further developments within the Society. Sarah Werner is happy to consult with anyone interested in applying (email: sarah@earlyprintedbooks).

The selection panel would welcome a statement of 300–500 words on why the applicant wishes to apply and what talents and experience the applicant brings to the role. All expressions of interest should be sent to the president, Shef Rogers (, by 15 October 2021; the position will be filled as soon as practicable thereafter.


BYOB Launch Party, vol. 3

We will be running a third iteration of the SHARP BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) launch party in the coming weeks! For those of you who were not able to attend a SHARP BYOB yet, here is a brief description of the idea: In succinct, 1-2 minute launch slots, authors showcase publications from our field of research that have been published since the last physical BYOB launch event, i.e. between November 2020 and September 2021. All of the books will be listed on SHARP News on the “New publications by members” page. All are welcome to help us celebrate these new publications!

We have scheduled this event for TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, from 8:30-9:30pm CET. Please save the date, and please double-check your time zone on

If you would like to launch your book, please register here and send us an email at to receive the template for the launch PPT, which we will ask you to fill out and return. We have about a dozen slots, and we look forward to hearing from you. Authors who would like to launch books are asked to sign up by September 14, 2021.

All others are welcome to register for the event here.