New Digital Humanities Project Showcases Virginia Woolf

When Professor of English Language and Literature Michael Thurston wanted students in his course on the English literary tradition to understand the context in which Virginia Woolf wrote To The Lighthouse, he knew exactly where to turn.

woolf.bookjacketAccording to Thurston, visiting woolfonline.com—a digital archive containing drafts, proofs and a wealth of other material related to To The Lighthouse—“provided ways to frame Virginia Woolf’s writing and significantly enriched classroom discussion. The next time I teach this course, I will build a writing assignment using the Woolf Online site.”

Planned and begun by the late Professor Julia Briggs of the Centre for Textual Scholarship at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, the new website devoted to Virginia Woolf—Woolf Online —draws heavily upon materials from the Smith College Libraries’ special collections, providing a valuable resource for research and study related to Woolf’s modernist classic.

“While our undergraduates can study Virginia Woolf’s original violet-ink corrections on page proofs of To the Lighthouse in the Mortimer Rare Book Room,” says Karen Kukil, associate curator for special collections at the Smith College Libraries, “our friends in Tunisia or Hungary can now do the same with beautifully scanned surrogates made by our digital services department in Neilson Library.”

Woolf’s corrected page proofs of To the Lighthouse, from the Frances Hooper (class of 1914) Collection of Virginia Woolf Books and Manuscripts at Smith, were scanned by Hanae Jonas ’14 under the direction of Marlene Znoy in the Smith libraries. Kristen De Lancey ’15 also collated the 1932 Albatross edition of the novel from the Mortimer Rare Book Room’s collection for the website.

It was during a 2003 conference at Smith, Kukil says, that Briggs began her research for the site, which began as an educational website focused on the “Time Passes” section of To the Lighthouse.

“With a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, the digitization project got underway in October 2006,” Kukil said, “and the first phase was unveiled on March 16, 2007, at the Society for Textual Scholarship conference by Nick Hayward from De Montfort University, where Julia was now a research professor.”

After Briggs’s death from cancer later that year, the pilot project was managed by co-directors professors Marilyn Deegan of King’s College London and Peter Shillingsburg of Loyola University Chicago, and designed and engineered by Dr. Nick Hayward of Loyola University Chicago.

While the pilot project focused on the central “Time Passes” section of the novel, Woolf Online has now been expanded through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to encompass the entire work and contains more than 4,150 records, including the same kinds of material (typescripts, proofs, revisions, editions, collations, diary entries, letters) that expand the number of early editions involved, and adding early reviews of the novel. Editors have also added a map of Talland House, family photographs, an advertisement for the novel from The Dial, the contract for the Albatross edition, and originals with translations of a French review by Jean-Jacques Mayoux and of an interview with Woolf by Jacques-Emile Blanche.

Professor Pamela Caughie of Loyola University in Chicago is involved with planning the next steps for Woolf Online.

“What I see as ongoing work is first, making any corrections or simple additions to the site that users can suggest to us,” Caughie says. “We also want to invite essays to post on the site, essays about the site (for example, pedagogical uses) but also original essays that might be of interest in users.”

According to Caughie, the site is also being prepared for incorporation into Modernist Networks (ModNets), which is the modernist “node” in the Advanced Research Consortium, which includes NINES, 18thConnect, MESA (Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance), and ModNets, a federation of digital projects in modernist literature and culture. Woolf Online will be one of the first sites in ModNets when it launches later this year, Caughie says, which will allow it to be searched along with other digital projects in the field.

For Kukil, helping to build and sustain the Woolf Online site is both an academic endeavor and a labor of love. “Fresh new insights about Virginia Woolf and modernist literature will undoubtedly emerge from this sophisticated resource now hosted by the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at Loyola University,” she says. “I expect Woolf Online will continue to grow and serve as a stellar model for other digital humanities projects in the coming years. As a scholar-librarian-educator, there can be no greater reward than nurturing a colleague’s dream and help bring her scholarly project to fruition.”