THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

3 posts from November 2019

12 November 2019

Call for Papers -- Creative Activism Now!: Andrew Salkey and Today’s Diasporic Cultural Networks

A celebratory conference placing Andrew Salkey’s legacy in the modern moment and exploring the Caribbean diasporic networks of today will be held at The Knowledge Centre, The British Library, London on Saturday 20th June 2020.

Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Robert A. Hill, leading scholar on Marcus Garvey and Research Professor, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Professor Nadia Ellis, author of Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora, English Department, University of California, Berkeley

Writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey became a central figure in a circle of Caribbean writers, artists and intellectuals when he moved to London from Jamaica in the 1950s, later co-founding the Caribbean Artists Movement and dedicating his life to literary activism across the Caribbean diaspora. While his achievements and influence were widely acknowledged in his own lifetime, his name is less-well-known today. Twenty-five years on from Salkey’s death, this conference seeks to retrieve his legacy and to open up questions about today’s Caribbean diasporic networks. How have they changed? Are the same questions from the past still important today?

Born in Panama in 1928 and raised in Jamaica, Andrew Salkey was a novelist, poet, editor, broadcaster and academic. He embodied the Black Radical Tradition as a member of the League of Coloured Peoples and the Movement for Colonial Freedom; as an author and folklorist; and in his support for revolutionary Cuba and the freedom struggles of Guyana and Chile. Salkey was the main presenter and writer-in-residence in the Caribbean section of the BBC World Service giving a platform for a generation of writers including Sam Selvon, George Lamming and V S Naipaul through its ‘Caribbean Voices’ programme. He was influential in the British publishing industry, recommending V S Naipaul and Wilson Harris to Andre Deutsch and Faber & Faber respectively, championing women writers such as Beryl Gilroy, and supporting Bogle L'Ouverture and New Beacon Books in their pioneering roles as the first publishing houses for Black writing in Britain. In 1966, he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement alongside Kamau Brathwaite and John La Rose. From 1976 until his death in 1995, Salkey lived in the US and worked as Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst. His life and work have been seen as embodying the Black Radical Tradition.

Dubbed the unofficial archivist of the Caribbean cultural scene by his friend Sam Selvon, he preserved not only his own literary drafts, diaries and wide-ranging correspondence, but also rare printed ephemera, news cuttings, project files and sound recordings. The Andrew Salkey Archive will be open to researchers at the British Library from autumn 2020.

We are currently accepting abstracts for 15-minute papers from scholars and early career researchers with an interest in Caribbean diaspora studies. We encourage paper proposals from a wide variety of institutions. We also welcome papers from writers, artists, performers, activists and archivists.

Themes to consider:

  • The works of Andrew Salkey
  • Literary and cultural networks across the Diaspora – past and present
  • Women’s writing and activism
  • The Caribbean Artists Movement
  • Diasporic communication, languages and idioms
  • Expressions of home, belonging, exile, transnationality
  • Radical Politics, Black Radical Aesthetics, human liberation
  • The politics of the archive, memory and erasure, the ethics of dispersed and contested archives, Decolonising the Archive
  • New media, broadcasting, publishing, literary festivals

A British Library conference in collaboration with Goldsmiths Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, Goldsmiths MA in Black British Writing and The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library

Access bursaries of up to £250 will be available to delegates not in permanent employment to help with travel and/or childcare costs. Details of how to apply will be shared with applicants once paper acceptances have been circulated.  The bursaries have been made available through support from the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.  Any enquiries about the bursaries should be sent to eccles-centre@bl.uk.

Abstracts for papers and enquiries should be sent by e-mail to Eleanor Casson, Eleanor.Casson@bl.uk

Deadline for abstracts: Monday 27th January 2020

Decisions announced: March 2020

08 November 2019

Digital Literature and Emerging Media: 10 Years of the New Media Writing Prize

by Giulia Carla Rossi Curator of Digital Publications @giugimonogatari. Find out more about the New Media Writing Prize here. For more information about the Library's Emerging Formats project, click here.

On 18 July, The British Library hosted a Digital Conversations event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the New Media Writing Prize. Digital Conversations is a series of events that explores the way in which technology is changing how we experience our life and how we communicate. New media writing perfectly fits within this theme as an example of the impact innovative technologies have on how we tell stories and express ourselves.

Now in its 10th year, the if:book UK New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) started as a one-off event in a literary festival in Poole. After realising its great potential, the event was moved to Bournemouth University (where it’s based today), with the help of co-founder and organiser Jim Pope. The 2019 prize is now comprised of five strands: the if:book award is the main award and the Dot Prize is an award for project proposals connecting literature with the digital; both are sponsored by if:book founder Chris Meade. The Unicorn Training Student Award, the Journalism Award and the Skylab innovation award round out the compliment, making 2019 the first year where these groups and mediums will be explicitly and separately recognised.

In ten years of the prize, words have always been at the centre of these works, combined with all sorts of new media, in constantly changing and innovative ways. New media writing is not identifiable with a single practice: it’s a whole range of forms that happens across disciplines and cultures. Genres have also been extremely varied since the beginning of the award: journalism, poetry, games, fiction, non-fiction, digital connected to non-digital. The constant element throughout the years has been the different way of writing (and reading) which this combination of digital and literature creates, giving the reader new agency and allowing for things that cannot happen in print. 

New media writing to engage diverse audiences and preserve obsolete technologies

The event kicked off with a presentation by Andy Campbell, Co-Director of arts organisation One-to-One Development Trust, and judge of the NMWP since its inception. Andy talked about working with technology and people from a variety of backgrounds to tell stories both fictionally and factually. One-to-One Development Trust is involved in a range of different projects – some of the most ambitious ones are created in their in-house digital fiction studio, Dreaming Methods

The studio began as a personal exploration on writing and new media; with the rapid changes in technology, Dreaming Methods has now shifted into the realm of playable narratives and immersive experiences. The studio produces works that use game mechanics to improve readers’ engagement and draw them to new forms of storytelling. One example of this is Wallpaper (2015), a VR sci-fi ghost story that explores reading and immersion. Following game dynamics, readers will get a score once they finished the story, depending on how much of the narrative they managed to uncover – this encourages readers/players to come back to the narrative to try and improve their score. Another example is All the Delicate Duplicates (2016): defined as literary videogame, it explores family relationships and mental health. 

1All the Delicate Duplicates. © One to One Development Trust - Dreaming Methods and Mez Breeze

New media writing, like any discipline dealing with emerging technologies, is closely linked to the question of digital preservation. Some of the submissions entered in the first years of the NMWP have been successfully preserved by the Internet Archive thanks to their Wayback Machine, while others have now vanished. The latest Dreaming Methods project stems from this very issue: Digital Fiction Curious is a virtual museum created to house and preserve Flash works in VR. Flash will disappear in 2020, which makes the risk of loss very real for a great number of interactive narratives. Digital Fiction Curious uses three early Flash literary works created by the founders of One-to-One Development Trust and Dreaming Methods as a proof of concept. The access to all source code made possible to retain all the original Flash features and interaction patterns in VR. 

The virtual museum was conceived as an archive, but it has become more of an artwork in its own right. It gives its audience the possibility to not just experience obsolete works in their originality, but to also explore them in new ways: Digital Fiction Curious includes a VR-within-VR function, which allows us to imagine the different shape these work could have taken had VR technology been available at the development stage. 

2Digital Fiction Curious © One to One Development Trust – Dreaming Methods in association with Sheffield Hallam University

This project has proven that a VR environment can successfully support Flash technology – the aim is now to create a comprehensive archive of different authors. Flash appears quite frequently among the submissions to the NMWP, especially in the early years – in 2010, 70% of the entries were created using this tool, and they’re now at risk of becoming inaccessible. 

New media writing to represent the multitude of our emotional landscape 

One example of new media writing that uses Flash, is the very first winner of the NMWP, Underbelly, by Christine Wilks. Underbelly revolves around a woman sculptor working on the site of a former colliery in the North of England. The work mixes audio and video, overlapping the inner dialogue of the sculptor (expressing her most hidden desires and fears) with the sepulchral voices of 19th century women who used to mine on the site. The result is a haunting of voices, reflecting on womanhood and on how much control can women have over their own lives.

Revealing what is hidden under the surface is one of the main concerns of Underbelly – there is a variety of themes and historical remnants buried within the work, as layers for the reader to excavate, mirroring the mining process as well as the sculpting itself. Readers search the map for elements that trigger narrative events: historical images of mine workers inhabit the same space of old anatomical drawings of dissected bodies. Gynaecological imagery is also recurring as yet another example of excavation, in the anatomical sense of cavity in the human body. The map itself is reminiscent of a anatomical drawing, an adaptation of the medieval Hereford Mappa Mundi, with the colliery tunnels and cavities taking the shape of the womb of Mother Earth.

3Underbelly © Christine Wilks

Christine also discussed a few of her new projects.Writing New Bodies is an international research project on bibliotherapy, currently in the process of being developed. It’s a work of interactive digital fiction which aims to address body-image issues, where her own  text-driven game engine works to develop interactive narratives focused on the characters' psychology through a rich vocabulary of emotional states.

New media writing to democratise language and escape censorship 

Amira Hanafi won the main prize in 2018 with A Dictionary of the Revolution. This work was driven by Amira’s desire to understand the language that was developing around her in Cairo during the Arab Spring: people were talking politics in the streets, openly expressing themselves in a way that hadn’t been possible before they took control of public spaces in 2011. Originally conceived as a book, A Dictionary of the Revolution took almost 5 years to reach its current form.

The writing of this work can be divided into two main steps: the first step consisted of collecting the words people used when discussing politics into 320 cards. Cards allowed for a fluid narrative that could be shuffled and recombined and were the perfect tool to spark conversation around how the meaning of words can change after great social and political events. The second step was to interview people interacting with the cards, and then use these recordings (of almost 200 interviews) to form a dictionary of language as a process – the aim was not to define terms, but to represent language as something that’s alive, pliable material that we revise and remake as collective. Amira’s process involved listening to interviews by term, not by interviewee, so that different voices could mix and provide multiple perspectives.

The final step was to assemble the text to understand the collective language, and find a way to organise the data and show the hidden patterns. Amira wanted her work to be available in Egypt first, but by the time she finished transcribing her audio archive the political atmosphere had changed, and it was hard to imagine the text would make it through censorship unchanged (if at all). Online publishing began to seem the best option, especially in terms of making the book accessible. Digital tools also opened up new possibilities for analysing the text and organising the narrative. She chose to visualise data through a core diagram, which represents connections between nodes (words) in a circular layout, using line weight to indicate the closeness of the relationship.

4A Dictionary of the Revolution © Amira Hanafi

Machine reading found connections between words that weren’t obvious in print, and the website structure allows readers to explore the dictionary in a non-linear way, through a web of connected concepts, events, and characters. Although analytics tools for one-page websites tend to not be precise, it looks like people only spend a short amount of time on the website. This seems to suggest that most users are interacting with the diagram more than reading the full text. The project has translated into its visualisation; it has ‘gamified’. With the shift to visualisation as the main narrative, the act of reading has also transformed into navigating the web of relationships between words.

New media writing to own your narrative and renew civic identity

The 2018 Dot Award for a digital literature project proposal was won by Kayt Lackie (Burgess) for her VESSEL Project, a transmedia storytelling project and pervasive game set in her hometown of Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada. The project is supported by the Vessel Transmedia Storytelling Lab, an initiative that uses new media storytelling to explore the history and culture of a community.

Elliot Lake was hit by a tragedy in 2012 when the roof of the local shopping mall collapsed causing a number of casualties. Suddenly the town jumped to the front of the news, with this story ending up defining the community to a national audience (and to the town itself), as well as negatively impacting its economy. Kayt’s project seeks to use counter narratives to re-appropriate media representation and progress community renewal and civic identities through multimedia writing and storytelling.

The VESSEL Project (Virtual Experience & Superimposed StoryWorld in Elliot Lake) is a transmedia story set in a fictionalised version of Elliot Lake, mixing folklore, science and environmental conservation. It draws upon the town history, as well as the cultures and languages of its community, bringing people together in a unified story world. The transmedia story will represent the first act of the VESSEL Project, created by a collective of writers through a series of new media and digital writing workshops (like the Ephemera Storytelling Box) and further developed by other participants to the project (artists, creators, schools, etc.) The transmedia story will be hosted online and unfold through a variety of art pieces, such as social media accounts, photos, blogs, art installations, videos and audio file.

5The VESSEL Ephemera Storytelling Box © The VESSEL Transmedia Storytelling Lab

The transmedia story will culminate in an alternate-reality festival weekend (scheduled for summer 2021), which will introduce the project to a wider audience. Elliot Lake will become the physical setting of a real world video game, where people can solve puzzles and overcome challenges while experiencing the story created and performed by the local community. A location-based app will also be developed as part of the festival, and hopefully help to preserve it and give it a long afterlife after the festival is over.

This pervasive form of new media storytelling is effective in bringing people together to create counter narratives and tell the story of a place and a community. It allows participants to recognise that powerful stories are all around them and not just controlled by the media – people feel seen through storytelling, which strengthens their sense of civic identity.

The Emerging Formats Project

The British Library, together with the other five Legal Deposit Libraries, is currently researching how to manage collections of innovative digital publications. For this purpose, the Emerging Formats Project was set up, looking at collection management requirements for complex new media.

Many of these publications present challenges linked to their software and hardware dependencies, which might affect long-term preservation as well as access to content. The rapid pace at which new technologies emerge and become obsolete also presents a risk to born-digital publications with no print counterpart. 

The British Library is looking into different collection methods for different formats: we have recently collected files for inkle’s 80 Days, including contextual information that could aid preservation and future access. We are also testing web archiving tools for capturing online interactive narratives: Rhizome’s Webrecorder has proven effective in capturing some examples of early Flash works, and the British Library’s own Annotation and Curation Tool (ACT) has allowed us to create an Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive, with the option of nominating yours or someone else's work for inclusion.

 

05 November 2019

Middlemarch on display to celebrate George Eliot’s Bicentenary

By Laura Walker, Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1851-1950. ‘Exploring Eliot’s Coventry’ is a free exhibition now open at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry. The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery is a free exhibition space at the British Library, which will feature a one case display on George Eliot opening on 5 November 2019.

On 22 November 2019 one of the most renowned Victorian novelists celebrates her 200th birthday. She was born Mary Anne Evans near Nuneaton, Warwickshire and is now more commonly known under her pseudonym George Eliot. Eliot is best known for her novels, including Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1871-1872) which remain as popular as ever.

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George Eliot, by Paul Adolphe Rajon, after Sir Frederic Burton, 1865, from George Eliot's life as related in her letters and journals. Arranged and edited by her husband, J. W. Cross. (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1886), 10854.e.14, Vol 1.

To celebrate Eliot’s bicentenary two volumes of Middlemarch will be on display from November 2019 until January 2020, one volume at the British Library in London and the other at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.

Middlemarch, took Eliot four years to complete and is subtitled ‘A Study of Provincial Life’. The story follows the lives of the inhabitants of a small Midlands town in the early 1830s. It is thought that Eliot’s time living in Coventry inspired aspects of the fictional town and its characters. Marital relations form a key part of the narrative of the novel, which adhered to the idea of realism and the importance of the ‘ordinary’. Central to the novel are two relationships, one between the intelligent and idealistic heroine Dorothea Brooke and the insecure and ineffectual scholar Mr Casaubon. The other is between the talented and naive doctor, Tertius Lydgate and the spoiled and wilful Rosamond Vincy.

Middlemarch was published in eight ‘half volumes’ over 12 months, starting in December 1871. The final manuscript of the novel, which was sent to the printers was initially given by George Eliot to her partner George Henry Lewes along with manuscript copies of nine of her other works including Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda. After Lewes’s death Eliot bequeathed the ten manuscripts to the Department of Manuscripts, which at that time was part of the British Museum. The manuscripts now form part of the British Library’s collections (Add MS 34034-34037).

The original loose leaves of Middlemarch are now bound into four volumes. The second volume of which is currently on display at the Herbert from Friday, 1 November until Sunday, 5 January 2020, when it will move to Nuneaton Museum to be displayed for a further eight weeks. The loan of Middlemarch forms part of the British Library’s Treasures on Tour programme, working with partners across the UK to share its collection of over 170 million treasures, inspiring the next great idea or moment of joyful discovery. The programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The British Library will be announcing additional loans as part of this programme in early 2020.

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George Eliot, Middlemarch, Add MS 34035 f.185 on display at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

To highlight the famous author’s connection to Coventry, the Herbert will be exhibiting this work alongside other artefacts in a new display, ‘Exploring Eliot’s Coventry’.  The opening of Middlemarch on display features prominent manufacturer and mayor of Middlemarch, Walter Vincy and his daughter Rosamond. Walter Vincy expresses concern that his daughter wishes to ‘marry a poor man’.

"Nonsense, my dear!" said Mr. Vincy. "What has he got to marry on? You'd much better give up the engagement. I've told you so pretty plainly before this. What have you had such an education for, if you are to go and marry a poor man? It's a cruel thing for a father to see."

Vincy goes on to reveal that he won’t give any money to Rosamond’s potential husband.

"I hope he knows I shan't give anything—with this disappointment about Fred, and Parliament going to be dissolved, and machine-breaking everywhere, and an election coming on—"

This extract is one of the few in the novel that mention national events beyond the town of Middlemarch and places the story in the context of the 1830s. It is thought that Vincy may have been based on Eliot’s Coventry neighbour, Abijah Pears, who was mayor of Coventry in 1842 and a ribbon manufacturer.

Eliot New Display Image

George Eliot, Middlemarch, Add MS 34036 f.73 on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at The British Library.

Complicated marital relations feature heavily in Middlemarch and the manuscript on display at the British Library will be open at a disagreement between the other key couple in the story. In this extract Casaubon attempts to persuade Dorothea to fulfil his wishes without first knowing what they are.

"No, I do not yet refuse," said Dorothea, in a clear voice, the need of freedom asserting itself within her; "but it is too solemn—I think it is not right—to make a promise when I am ignorant what it will bind me to. Whatever affection prompted I would do without promising."

Dorothea assumes that her husband is asking her to promise to complete his life’s work, Key to all Mythologies; a hopelessly wide-ranging work which first draws her to Casaubon, but which she comes to doubt as it progresses. This work forms part of her husband’s wishes but he also writes into his will that she will not inherit his fortune and property if she marries his cousin the artist and radical Will Ladislaw. Casaubon, however, dies before Dorothea can make the promise and it is only after his death that the codicil attempting to prevent her marriage to Will becomes known.

The third volume of Middlemarch will feature in a one case display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, which opens on Tuesday 5 November 2019 and runs until Sunday 26 January 2020. The display will also feature amongst other items one volume of Mill on the Floss and letters by George Eliot.