Oct 18

Lo-Fi Modernism: NETWORK

My keyword for this roundtable is NETWORK.

When I chose it back in the early spring, I had two different meanings in mind: the digital and the professional. And I will return to those versions momentarily. But the more that, I thought about it, the more different versions spawned: mathematical, computational, social, electrical, neural, political . . .  not to mention television networks, at least two films, a comic strip, at least one band, and a group of professional wrestlers.

But what do any of these have to do with modernism?

The short answer: nothing. And everything.

When Shawna Ross and I were brainstorming about this roundtable in the wake of last year’s MSA, I wasn’t sure that I would have much to contribute. I’ve been very fortunate in my own modernist projects. But the more I considered, the more I began to realize that in some ways, I have managed to build a career out of lo-fi modernism. In what follows, I’m not suggesting that you try to follow in my footsteps–even if that was something that you wanted to do (A BIG IF), it would be very hard to replicate. But I will offer a few suggestions.

First things first. While I was trained as a modernist in graduate school, and the majority of my writing concerns modernist figures like T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, my job until this summer was as an American literature generalist. I work at a small college that you have likely never heard of (unless we are friends). Our library is still catalogued according to the Dewey Decimal system and does not have the resources that spoiled me in graduate school. 

So how does one “do” Modernism on a shoestring in 2019? It’s all about the network (noun).

In the most analog sense, it’s about people: us, your colleagues from your home institution, your colleagues from other campuses in the area, your friends from graduate school who have since dispersed to places around North America and beyond: Los Angeles, New York City, Knoxville, Columbia SC, Columbia MO, Columbus OH, San Francisco, Washington DC., Austin TX., Pittsburgh, Philly . . . . 

Sharing resources has never been easier, and someone you know probably has access unless you need the archive (and sometimes, let’s be honest, you do need the archive). With more and more journals digitizing their back catalogs, Google Books and Hathi Trust, Humanities Commons, we–the collective we–have access to more information and more scholarship than ever before. A brief word of caution about Academia.ed–just don’t (we can talk about why later if you want). 

Let me shift gears to the verb version: here we are–together. Take advantage of the connections to be made at sessions, in seminars, over coffee. Seminars, in particular, have been useful to me over the years both as organizer and participant. 

Find the money. There isn’t always a lot of it, but there is usually some assistance. If you’re interested in DH, for example, apply for one of the MSA scholarship spots to attend DHSI. If you have a project that requires travel, apply for an MSA research grant, and see if the archive itself might have funding opportunities. See if there’s a way to get to your destination of choice–maybe your institution offers faculty the chance to travel with students? Maybe there are grants for supervising student research. Maybe the dean’s office or the faculty development committee has summer funding opportunities. If you are a contingent faculty member, things get more difficult. Are there ways to get conference fees reduced or waived? Could joining your alma mater’s alumni association get you access to their library resources? 

What about the digital version of networking? 

The internet has not only made it easier to share pdfs or essays and collaborate on writing projects, but it also has brought resources like the MJP, which should be common knowledge to this crowd, but which is still a tremendously valuable resource to anyone working with early 20thC periodicals. MAPP, ModPo, the open anthology project . . . and check out the digital exhibit while you’re here to see all the other terrific projects online (or going online).

And that brings me finally to the best and worst version of networking: social networking. Facebook. Twitter. List-servs. I’m not going to talk about FB because I’m trying to extricate myself from it, but as one of the moderators of the MSA FB group, you should know that it exists and often can be a good source of information about CFPs, collections, book releases (often with publisher discounts), awards and the like. MSA list-servs. Twitter. And here’s my provocation: You should be on Twitter.  You don’t necessarily need to participate in #AcademicTwitter (though it seems like a useful resource), but follow @MSATweet and other modernists. Author Societies. Libraries. Archives. Other modernists at various stages of their careers. And many of them are incredibly generous with their time and their expertise.

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