MSA Research Travel Grant
2017 Research Reports
Disability and Modernism in the Archive
In May of 2017 I conducted archival research at San Francisco State University with the generous aid of the Modernist Studies Association Research Grant. My current book project, Crip Modernisms: The Roots of Disability Consciousness in American Literature and Culture, examines the relationship between modernist literature and early disability culture in the US 1930s and 40s. The dominant narrative of disabled life during this time tends to emphasize veteran experience, often to the exclusion of disabled civilians. I'm specifically looking at the ways in which modernist literature and culture both reflected and facilitated a growing civilian disability consciousness. For this facet of the project, I wanted to learn more about disability protest in the 1930s. How does it align with or trouble the muscular collectivity we often associate with Depression-era protest? And how does this relate to the way modernist writers and filmmakers such as Nathanael West, Wallace Stegner, Tod Browning, and Phil Rosen represent disabled collectivity and resistance?
The San Francisco Bay Area has particularly deep roots in disability history and activism. The late Paul K. Longmore, a professor of history and disability studies, left a major imprint on the scholarly and activist life of San Francisco State University, where I conducted the majority of my research. I began in the Longmore collections at SFSU's J. Paul Leonard Library, where I encountered a rich archive of early disabled self-determination. I found valuable cultural background on the lives of women with disabilities, which I explore in a chapter on how memoirs by disabled women used experimentalism to resist pathological renderings of them in the 1930s and 40s. The collections also contain rich materials on the life and writings of disabled American modernist essayist and social critic Randolph Bourne. Most significantly, however, these collections include materials on a little-known labor organization called the League of the Physically Handicapped (LPH), which protested the Works Progress Administration’s failure to create jobs for the disabled. Longmore’s collection contains oral histories from members of the League, but also physical copies of news coverage of the League’s 1932 strike in front of New York City’s WPA office. Of particular interest was a manifesto authored by the League, which articulates the tensions between the civilian and veteran disabled in terms of governmental assistance. For instance, they write in this manifesto, “How can deterring and hindering those who are otherwise disabled be reconciled with special consideration for those who have the same problem, but are different only because they have sustained limitations because of war?” (2).
As I moved from the J. Paul Leonard Library to the small yet rich library housed inside the Paul K. Longmore Institute, I encountered surprising examples of modernist technique in early instances of disability memoir. Karsten Ohnstad’s 1942 memoir, The World at My Finger Tips, a landmark text for raising blind awareness in the 1940s, implements modernist defamiliarization to convey the experience of low vision and vision loss to his audience: “The blacks and grays of the photograph were not as easy to distinguish as the contrast of the black and orange. I held the picture close, looking at small parts of it at a time, then formulating the entire portrait in my mind. Her eyes—town oval shadows. A curl of hair darkening here forehead. A curving shadow—was she smiling?”
Modernism’s interest in disability is often described in terms of its difficult eugenic histories, or in use of non-normative bodies and minds to generate formal experimentation. In addition to these perspectives, however, I highlight modernism’s interaction with social change. By juxtaposing instances of disabled agency, such as the actions of the League of the Physically Handicapped or Randolph Bourne’s essay “The Handicapped” with modernist representations of disabled collectivity, such as Tod Browning’s sideshow revolt or the “crowds of people” with “broken hands and torn mouths” of Nathanael West’s 1932 novella Miss Lonelyhearts, we can nuance our sense of how modernism encountered disability beyond the constraints of eugenics, pity, or cultural degeneration.
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
University of Houston
Travel grant for visiting Houghton Library (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)
Research: The correspondence between George Grosz and Herbert Fiedler, 1915-1960:
The goal of the research is to edit and contextualize the correspondence between two German visual artists: George Grosz, one of the leading figures of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), and his best friend Herbert Fiedler. The correspondence gives insight into their artistic and political attitudes in a turbulent time frame that was characterized by big shifts. Both artists emigrated during National Socialism from Germany for political reasons: Grosz to the USA and Fiedler to the Netherlands.
These letters reveal an exciting image of the artistic developments in the Weimar Republic, the Netherlands and New York. Grosz and Fiedler wrote open-heartedly about their understanding of art and their sources of inspiration. They reveal surprising insights about the art world at the time, e.g. that already in the 1930s European artists considered New York to be a leading center of modern art, and that they perceived abstract Expressionism as an important movement much earlier than European museums and art critics did.
Most of the letters were written during National Socialism. The period between 1933 and 1937 is of special interest because the Nazis did not yet have an unambiguous position in relation to the visual arts. The observations of both artists nuance the black-and-white perception of that period, revealing contradictions as well. Although the artists were opposed against Nazi Germany, they still felt attached to Germany and did not succeed to integrate completely in the Netherlands or the USA.
These letters demonstrate how artists react under extreme and changing circumstances, showing the effect this can have on the artistic production. It is important that these letters should be annotated, and provided with an introduction placing them in the right context. The Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD, The Hague) will publish the correspondence in its RKD-Bronnenreeks (‘source series’).
The approximately 150 letters that will be edited are in the possession of the Netherlands Institute for Art History, but many of these letters are photocopies of the originals. About half of the original letters are in the collection of the Houghton Library (Cambridge, MA). The research trip to the Houghton Library was necessary in order to check whether the correspondence was complete, to determine which archives possess the original letters, and if there are any other documents relevant to the edition. During my research I found 12 new letters, so that now I can consider the correspondence as complete. I was able to determine which archives possess the originals, or in other cases duplicates (sometimes the authors kept duplicates of typed letters, but without the handwritten additions they sent to the addressees). Furthermore, I was able to photograph letters from and to other authors, and publications that will enable me to understand and contextualize the correspondence of the two artists. All in all it was a necessary and very valuable research trip.
The Modernist Studies Association travel grant allowed me to visit the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and work closely in the Ezra Pound archives. My book project, Ezra Pound and the Matter of Troy, situates Pound’s modernism within 19th century medieval philology and comparative anthropology. I argue that The Cantos is a modernist take on “the Matter of Troy,” a term used by medieval authors to designate the cycle of texts based on the Trojan war and its aftereffects. My project requires extensive genetic analysis of fifteen cantos, as well as analysis of Pound’s notebooks and drafts of his essays on medieval and classical topics. Pound redacted many Homeric allusions as he revised The Cantos, partly fearing that his long poem would be compared unfavorably to Joyce’s Ulysses. Understanding Pound’s Homeric architectonics offers new insight into the epic ambitions of The Cantos.
I had the pleasure of working closely with Nancy Kuhl. John Monahan, Dianne Ducharme, and Moira Fitzgerald at the Beinecke Library, who helped me decipher Pound’s handwriting, navigate the archive, and offered me guidance and suggestions. They also helped me find important documents that were in less obvious places, such as the Sherri Martinelli papers, the H. D. Papers, and the uncatalogued collections.
Some of the most important documents I consulted included Pound’s typescript for the ABC of Reading; “Lie bel Chasteus”; “Agamemnon”; “Notes on Aristotle”; “The Music of Beowulf”; “The Difficulties of Translation”; “Dust Upon Hellas”; “Early Translations of Homer”; “Leo Frobenius” and “Significato di Leo Frobenius”; the proofs of The Spirit of Romance and Pound’s notes on the reviews; “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris”; “Living Paideuma”; “Medieval Music”; Pound’s copy of Pervigilium Veneris; “Religion”; “The Seafarer”; “Surrealism”; “Three Roman Poets”; “Tristan (Play)”; “Troubadours, their sorts and Conditions”; Pound’s other Greek translations; “Ulysses”; “Francois Villon”; and Pound’s notes transcripts of Women of Trachis. I inspected the Pound/Rouse correspondence and the “Tristan of Bedier” folder. I also inspected the uncatalogued and unpublished collections recently acquired by the Beinecke, including Pound’s letters to Rene Taupin, Jackson Mac Low, and Allan Seaton, as well as the Robert Furniss collection of Pound papers (1946-59). These papers, which cover Pound’s prolific period at St. Elisabeth’s Hospital, are especially pertinent to my forth chapter, which analyzes Pound’s scattered translations of the Leucothea episode in the late Cantos.
The most fruitful of my findings included the unpublished and uncatalogued Paradiso notebooks; the Sherri Martinelli papers which contain a draft of Cantos 90-95; Pound’s own “Notes to the Cantos” which highlight his structural architectonics; and the notebooks for the “Thrones” cantos rife with Homeric references and Greek notes. I was able to photograph many of the most pertinent documents for future use.
Literary Radio Programs on the BBC’s African Service
During the Second World War and throughout the decolonization era, literary radio broadcasting was an important tool as Britain sought to maintain or establish influence in the West Indies, Africa, and South Asia. In my book project, Broadcasting Friendship: Decolonization, Literature, and the BBC, I argue that the BBC attempted to use radio to create broadcast friendships between geographically dispersed audiences and to maintain Britain’s political, economic, and cultural influence during the decolonization era. Broadcasts of literary texts, along with authors discussing their own or others’ work, created affective ties between colonial/postcolonial and British writers and audiences and fostered literary communities within emerging nation-states. I argue that colonial and postcolonial writers working within metropolitan broadcasting institutions believed friendship to be a productive political and aesthetic concept even as liberal models of friendship were being strategically used as tools of British soft power. Radio, often considered a quintessentially modernist technology, was in fact an important tool in the circulation of late modernist and early postcolonial literature.
In a previous research trip, I studied the BBC’s programming to South Asia and the Caribbean. In May 2017, with the generous support of a Modernist Studies Association Research Grant, I returned to the BBC Written Archive Center in Caversham, U.K. to examine the BBC’s literary programming for Africa in the 1960s. I primarily focused on the African Writers’ Club, a program of literature, criticism, and interviews. The BBC written archives include scripts, policy documents, internal correspondence, personal files, and listener letters. My research focuses particularly on reading individual broadcast scripts for information on how literary pieces were framed and contextualized and how individual programs operate as part of larger series. I was also pleased to find broadcasts discussing the development of the African Writers’ Club and how the program aims had developed and changed.
I also visited the British Library to listen to an episode of the African Writers’ Club. There are few remaining sound recordings of BBC Overseas’ broadcasts from this era, and most are only accessible from the British Library’s reading rooms. In listening to this recorded broadcast, I realized that excerpts from earlier interviews were used to create a retrospective program; I want to further study such seemingly synchronous discussions created from recordings collected over time. Finally, I consulted the Archive of British Publishing and Printing at the University of Reading. This archive includes correspondence, press clippings, and reviews for multiple early and mid-twentieth-century publishers. I consulted the papers of George Allen and Unwin, Bodley Head, Routledge, and Chatto and Windus for material relating to the publication of work by the South Asian writers Mulk Raj Anand and Attia Hosain, the subjects of another section of my book.
This research has helped me begin to consider how the BBC’s literary programming for the African service fits into the institution’s wider broadcasting aims in the decolonization era. I found many similarities of form between African Writers’ Club and other programs such as Caribbean Voices, but many differences in audience and influence. I also found more technologically innovative strategies in programs from the late 1960s and early 70s including the reuse and repackaging of earlier broadcast material.
Melanie Masterton Sherazi
A Modernist Studies Association Research Travel Grant supported my travel to Italy this summer, where I continued research for my book project, Black American Cultural Workers in Cold War Rome: Reading Resistance in Transnational Literatures and Multimedia Forms (1947-65). Scholarship about postwar African American expatriate culture has focused largely on Paris, while the transnational flows of cultural capital generated by African American writers and artists working in Rome remain largely unexplored. My book argues that transnational collaborations between African American writers, performers, and artists, and the Italian leftist avant-garde in 1950s and 1960s Rome gave rise to innovative, hybrid aesthetic forms. This creative work was galvanized by and contributed to the freedom struggle at home while also playing a vital role in the refashioning of modern Italian culture, as Italy turned from fascism and its colonial ambitions to face the rival forces of democracy and communism.
In particular, this grant allowed me to continue my archival research into the papers of the late African American expatriate author William Demby. These papers, which I began inventorying in 2014 in a historical residence near Florence, detail Demby’s transnational modernist work as a novelist, journalist, and writer in the Italian cinema from 1947-65. I also spent time at the national film archive in Rome at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, which houses an incredible range of rare titles. There, I met with film archivists and conducted repeat viewings, for instance, of Congo Vivo (1962), an anticolonial film co-written by Demby and his wife Italian writer Lucia Drudi Demby, as well as Anna’s Sin (1953), a retelling of Othello set in 1950s Rome, in which Demby acted. I visited cultural sites around the city, such as the neighborhood near Piazza del Popolo, that are key to my project’s mapping of the spaces frequented by postwar Rome’s creative left. I also met with faculty at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, and Roma Tre to discuss our plans for an international symposium in 2018 to celebrate William Demby’s achievements in modernist literature and Italian cinema and to mark the posthumous publication of his final novel King Comus, which is forthcoming in November 2017 from the Ishmael Reed Publishing Company.
This research trip afforded new insights gleaned from time spent doing archival work, as well as exceptional opportunities to interview at length two artists who experienced life in postwar Rome firsthand. Importantly, I also returned from Italy with copies of published texts written by Lucia Drudi Demby, which were all but unavailable in the United States, but will now be processed at a research library, thanks to UCLA Italian department faculty. The trip was vital to my continued task of documenting the creative affiliations in Rome in these years and situating these collaborative ties in relation to and against literary modernism being used as a tool of the nation-state to contain communism. I returned home with a great deal of new material and primary sources that evidence Rome’s role as an under-recognized leftist hub of black modernist culture and interracial sociality.
Melanie Masterton Sherazi
Postdoctoral Instructor in the Humanities
California Institute of Technology
Pamela L. Caughie, Loyola University Chicago
With the assistance of an MSA research grant, I was able to travel to two archives in Copenhagen, Denmark and Huddinge, Sweden, outside of Stockholm, to take digital images of materials for a scholarly digital edition and archive.
With Sabine Meyer (Berlin) and Nikolaus Wasmoen (Buffalo), I am co-editing the first comparative scholarly edition of Man into Woman, the first full-length narrative of a subject who undergoes a surgical change in sex. This memoir, produced collaboratively by multiple agents, was published in Denmark in 1931 (Fra Mand til Kvinde), then re-edited and published in German in 1932 (Ein Mensch wechselt sein Geschlecht), with English-language translations in Britain and the U.S. in 1933 (Man into Woman: An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex). What's fascinating about this work is that the narrative of the 1931 Danish first edition differs significantly from the 1932 German edition and both from the 1933 British and American editions translated from the German.
The print edition will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in their Modernist Archives series and will include six new essays on this work by American, British and European scholars of modernism and transgender. A digital edition and archive, hosted by Loyola University Chicago, will complement the print edition. The digital version will bring together on a single interactive site the full range of materials comprising the compositional and early publication history of this narrative and the four early editions, with the first full-length English translation of the Danish edition by Marianne Ølholm. These documents will be represented using transcribed and annotated facsimiles of each text, which will be linked at the paragraph level to enable detailed on-screen comparison of the different versions and translations. The variants between the German typescript and the print editions will be linked through marked-up scans, transcriptions, and annotations.
In August I travelled from the MSA conference in Amsterdam, where I organized a panel on this project, to the Royal Library in Copenhagen. There I photographed three letters by Lili Elbe that were used in the creation of the narrative, and a scandalous article about the proposed book that appeared in a Danish magazine in December 1930. I then travelled to archives of Ernst Harthern, the editor of this narrative (under the pseudonym Niels Hoyer), that are housed in the Library of the Swedish Labour Movement in Huddinge, Sweden. I photograph letters by Elbe to the editor, the editor’s correspondence with the German publisher, a four-issue series in Voila magazine by Niels Hoyer, and other supporting materials to be included in the digital archive. Being on site was crucial since the materials we needed were scattered throughout several boxes and not clearly labeled. Without the assistance of an MSA Research Award, which was matched by my University, I would not have been able to acquire these documents. I am grateful to the MSA for offering these awards and thereby recognizing the importance of archival research to modernist studies and enabling scholars to do this crucial work.