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MSA Research Travel Grant

2018 Research Reports

Andy Oler

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

With the generous support of an MSA Research Grant, I was able to complete two research trips: to Wauseon, Ohio and to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. These trips have allowed me to complete research on the introduction to my book, Old-Fashioned Modernism: Masculinity and Midwestern Literature, which is forthcoming in 2019 from Louisiana State University Press.

Old-Fashioned Modernism offers a theory of rural modernity that is informed by national narratives of masculinity and rurality. By examining Midwestern literature, artwork, and material texts, it shows how regional modernism both opposes and absorbs the prevailing models of twentieth-century manhood. In so doing, it rethinks one of the dominant narratives of twentieth-century America: the simplistic opposition between the cosmopolitan city and the parochial, backwards countryside. In the introduction, I study a mural that hangs in the Wauseon Post Office. Painted by Jack J. Greitzer in 1938, Cooperative Planning and Development of Wauseon was created as part of a New Deal initiative, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). It portrays both conflict and cooperation between local farmers and industrialists, featuring a farmer tending cabbages and three men engaged in building some kind of concrete structure. In the background there is a railroad depot, water tower, and several houses.

In the National Archives, I accessed the correspondence between Greitzer and Edward B. Rowan, Superintendent of the Section of Painting and Sculpture in the Treasury Department’s Public Buildings Branch. The National Archives file on Wauseon includes the critical feedback of the PWAP, Greitzer’s defense of his choices, and several letters of praise from Wauseon community members. I also found images of two sketches, the full-size cartoon, and the completed mural, as well as a technical questionnaire detailing the paint colors, canvas quality, and hanging specifications. I will cite many of these documents in my introduction. From the letters at the National Archives, I was able to determine Greitzer’s models for the images in the mural, including the Wauseon Water Works Pumping Station and Filtration Plant and the freight depot for the Detroit, Toledo, & Ironton Railway (DT&I).

When I visited Wauseon, I viewed the mural (while I have been writing about it, this grant allowed me to see it in person for the first time) and was given a tour of the post office, which was built in 1937 with Treasury Department funding. At the public library, I did research on the mural and the railroad in local newspapers, and when I visited the Fulton County Historical Museum, I looked through their archives for images of the mural’s main structures. A local historian gave me a tour of the town, helping me find many of the mural’s main sites, including the former location of the DT&I depot and the likely location of a farm co-op. We also took a quick, illicit ride down the DT&I tracks.

Thanks again to the Modernist Studies Association for their support, which will measurably strengthen my manuscript.

Carey Snyder

Ohio University

With the generous support of an MSA Travel Grant, I was able to complete a research trip to the Women’s Library of the London School of Economics to examine their extensive and rare archival materials on prostitution and human trafficking. This research is integral to a book chapter I am writing on the response to white slavery (forced prostitution) in A.R. Orage’s New Age magazine. Tales of girls duped, drugged, and abducted to brothels circulated widely in Britain in the years leading up to the passage of the 1912 White Slave Act, as part of the international crusade against involuntary sex trafficking; such narratives also played a key role in women’s suffrage propaganda, providing a sensational rationale for enfranchisement. Although there was scant evidence of systematic entrapment of British girls into prostitution, the image of the white slave was a powerful tool to galvanize women for the cause. The New Age writers that I am investigating—Ibsenite actress Florence Farr, militant suffragette Teresa Billington-Greig, provocateur Beatrice Hastings, and emerging modernist Katherine Mansfield—express diverse views on the subject, while generally challenging the rhetoric of victimhood that surrounds the figure of the white slave. This research spotlights debates on women’s suffrage that were central to women’s modernity, yet remain marginal to the field of modernist studies; and it enriches our knowledge of the complex sexual politics of the period.

Among the LSE’s rich holdings, I examined several white slavery periodicals (The Awakener, The Vigilance Record, and The Shield), as well as the executive minutes and other materials from two Social Purity Organizations, the National Vigilance Association (NVA) and the Travelers’ Aid Society (TAS), in order to better familiarize myself with the rhetoric surrounding the figure of the white slave and the tropes of white slave narratives. I was able to locate and scan or save a wide range of white slave narratives (The Awakener, in particular, was replete with fiction as well as pertinent reviews), handbills warning young girls about the danger of solitary travel, court case summaries, and commentary on the White Slave Bill. I also located several published and unpublished responses to Billington-Greig’s highly critical article on the white slave panic, which will figure directly in my chapter. Social Purity Organizations are easy to caricature for their puritanical work promoting censorship, cloaking nude statues, and combatting “indecency” in music halls. Yet I came away with a more nuanced understanding of their day to day work: the NVA provided legal counsel to victims of sexual assault and the TSA assisted solitary female travelers who were genuinely in distress (as letters from these women and their families attest). The Awakener, likewise, is more complex than I could have appreciated without spending many hours browsing its pages: avidly pro-suffrage as well as active in the campaign against white slavery, its first issue featured a biting analysis of the economic causes of prostitution by George Bernard Shaw, which prompted animated discussion in the magazine’s correspondence, setting the tone for a magazine that did not eschew controversy. This research will significantly enrich my chapter on the New Age response to the white slave panic of 1912-1913.

Alexandra J. Gold

Boston University

The recent death of Robert Indiana (May 2018) – one of the last great remaining visual artists of a generation that included Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Ellsworth Kelly – was especially poignant for me. For the past few years, I’ve delighted in learning about the late painter’s work while researching him for my dissertation, in which I dedicated a chapter to his 1968 collaboration, Numbers, with Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley. Second only to his iconic “Love” painting and its many iterations, Indiana’s numeral works are among his defining themes. For him, every number had a personal resonance: the number 6, for instance, he often associated with his father, 8 with his mother. In their collaboration, Robert Creeley’s poems respond in kind. Each poem – a meditation on a single digit 0-9 provoked by Indiana’s screenprints – examines the various meanings we ascribe to these figures. Together in the volume, Creeley and Indiana probe the ways in which numbers pervade our individual and collective consciousness: how they become measures of our human lives.

Though never studied in its original form – in part because most of the 2500 copies now reside in special or private collections where access to them is limited – Numbers is a remarkable visual-verbal collaboration. Not only is it a beautifully printed and sumptuously colored book, but it is a deeply affective exploration (in both verse and print) of what might otherwise seem the most routine or mundane of forms. My goal in writing about the volume has therefore been twofold: first, to bring greater recognition to the project and, second, to afford a protracted account of its creation and message. With access to one of the copies from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a few other available resources, I could offer a preliminary account in my dissertation. Missing from it, however, was vital information about how the collaboration came about and the relationships between its key players: Creeley, Indiana, and perhaps most crucially, the artist, designer, and sometime Indiana assistant, Bill Katz, who came up with the idea for the book in the first place.

Thanks to the MSA’s generous support, I have been able to fill in those gaps. With my research grant, I travelled to Stanford University, home of Robert Creeley’s collected papers and archive. While there, I was able to access dozens of letters exchanged between Creeley and Indiana and Creeley and Katz that shed light on Numbers generation and the artists’ sense of the project. The long letters I found from Katz to Creeley proved especially revealing, offering insight into his studio work with Indiana (a sometimes inscrutable artist) and displaying his relentless enthusiasm for Numbers, in particular. I also got to peruse Creeley’s proofs for his ten poems, a hard to find copy of 5 Numbers (a trade edition of the poems published by the Poets Press), and other project-related ephemera. The collaboration came to life for me in a totally new way, even though I’ve already been studying it for some time.

Most important, the research I completed at Stanford will help me revise my existing chapter on Numbers for my new book project: Reckless, Beautiful Things: Contemporary American Poetry and the Artist’s Book. Alongside Numbers, the book will feature three other contemporary poet-painter collaborations: Frank O’Hara and Michael Goldberg’s Odes, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Kiki Smith’s Concordance, and Anne Waldman and George Schneeman’s Homage to Allen G (based on Allen Ginsberg’s photographs). Fortunately, Stanford holds one of 145 folio copies of Homage, and being able to study and photograph while I was there will allow me to begin writing a chapter on it. The book aims not just to further enliven the visual-verbal relationships that galvanized postmodern artistic innovation but to demonstrate how the collaborative artist’s book after 1945, a seemingly peripheral form, indices major advancements in both visual art and poetry, including the use of serial forms, the advent of photography as a significant book medium, and the proliferation of concrete and other “anti-lyric” verse. Indeed it is “Here” in these collaborative works – as Creeley writes in “Three” – that “forms have possibility.”

Katherine Fusco

Black Extras and Performances of the Real

I applied to the MSA to support research for a new chapter of my manuscript Cruel Modernism. Pulling from fan magazines, film performances, and Hollywood novels, Cruel Modernism argues that celebrity served a pedagogical function, as difficult characters appeared alongside the rise of more traditional Hollywood star culture in the 1920s-1930s, thereby providing Americans spectacular test cases for empathy’s limits. Attending to oddball as well as marginal cases of celebrity (and non-celebrity) allows us to see how celebrity is constructed and also how certain identity groups are able to make only partial claims on the privileges that come with such spectacular subjectivity. To index celebrity’s pedagogical function for ethical and affective modes such as empathy and aversion, the book considers contested, problematic, and unlikely sites for audience identification across three sections: The Babies, The Nobodies, and The Unhappy.

The MSA grant supported research for a chapter in “The Nobodies” section that focuses on the use of black extras and supporting characters following the collapse of black independent film production after the coming of sound. In particular, I narrow in on filmic treatments of black singing as, on the one hand, a signifier of the real in plantation pictures and, on the other, as spectacle. To do so, I am analyzing the production history of King Vidor’s 1929 all-black cast musical Hallelujah and the 1934 John Stahl-directed Imitation of Life, which features significant scenes of black vocal performance framed around the death of the black maid Delilah, as well as a lesser known film which also features a deathbed sequence—the relatively late black independent production Spencer William’s 1941 The Blood of Jesus. I am arguing that while mainstream (white) productions featured black vocal performance as alternatively realistic background detail—a kind of local color—or a two-dimensional spectacle, the black independent productions that survived into the sound era deployed song as a mode of exploring individual subjectivity.

With the MSA research travel grant, I visited two libraries to support research on the different reactions to these films in both race papers and in Hollywood industry publications. First, I visited the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library at Cornell, where I met with librarians. Together, Together, we were able to pinpoint a number of black periodicals with reviews and cultural commentary about white Hollywood’s investment in black actors and storylines. The reactions ranged from hopes for improved employment for African-American performers to complaints of stereotype. Most interesting for my purposes was the fact that the terms of the debate often appeared relative to questions of “realism.” Next, I visited the George Eastman house, where I was able to work with the holdings in films studies, including materials on posters for black cast films, and to tour the Moving Images department, which includes studio production stills I plan to use in the chapter. I am very grateful to the MSA for supporting this work.

Amanda Niedfeldt

University of Minnesota

The MSA research travel grant supported a research trip to Germany enabling me to complete necessary archival work for my doctoral dissertation. My dissertation focuses on the Ford Foundation’s cultural programs in Berlin between 1963-1965. It examines the cooperation of Ford with the German and American governments while focusing on the work and involvement of W.H. Auden, Ingeborg Bachmann, Witold Gombrowicz, and Piers Paul Read. Through institutional records, personal writings, and literary works, I explore a range of motivations for the writers’ participation and assess the impacts of involvement. In so doing, I establish that this new philanthropic patron held both economic and intellectual weight, shaping careers and complicating questions of how and where political engagement took place both physically and on the page.

The MSA grant helped me carry out a substantial portion of the German language research. During the trip I was able to visit three archives in Germany that hold institutional and personal records. The documents I reviewed provided an understanding of the early organization of the program along with insights into personal experiences. Each archive I visited proved to be valuable and held essential material for my dissertation./p>

The first archive I visited was the Literature Archive Sulzbach-Rosenberg. This archive holds the records of the Literary Colloquium Berlin, one of the three institutions established with Ford funding, and Walter Höllerer, the first director of the Colloquium and an important figure in mid-century German language literature and culture. This archive provided a wealth of insights into how the Ford grant was allocated for the Colloquium, how literary events were organized in Berlin during the program’s running, and how authors and writers became involved, including letters related to the involvement of Gombrowicz, Read, Bachmann, and Auden.

The second archive I visited was the German Literature Archive. This archive provided essential contextual information on the key Ford consultant, Shepard Stone. Stone had a long history of working with academics, publishers, and the press in post-WWII Germany both with the U.S. government and the Ford Foundation. The literature archive holds exchanges related to these activities, which provided fascinating insight into the thinking and motivations of Stone and Ford officials. The archive also holds records related to Auden and Bachmann’s publishing history and arrangements. Both series of records enabled me to better understand the writers’ publishing focus, motivations, and activities while involved in the program.

The final archive I visited was the German National Archive, which holds the records of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). The DAAD cooperated with Ford during the first years of the Berlin project, providing administrative support for certain aspects. They then took over the Artists-in-Residence Program, which they still run today. Visiting the National Archive enabled me to see the records of the main administrator involved in the early years of the program, Peter Nestler, along with other early program records. These provided insight into the DAAD’s perspective and the challenges the organizations faced in working together. In short, the research trip was highly productive and provided me with a wealth of information to support my dissertation.

Rebecca Bowler

I am General Editor, with Suzanne Raitt and Claire Drewery, on the Edinburgh Critical Editions of the Works of May Sinclair (under contract). We are publishing Sinclair’s prose in themed tranches: ‘Philosophy and Mysticism’ (2020), ‘Psychology and Genius’ (2022), ‘Women, War and Feminism’ (2024), ‘Social Satire’ (2026) and ‘Social Realism’ (2028). I applied for the MSA Research Travel Grant to collect materials for these critical editions. The textual apparatus of each volume will feature a textual history of May Sinclair’s novels, philosophy and short fiction: the Critical Introduction (c.10-12,000 words) comprising a) composition history of the work, b) history of its reception, c) cultural contexts; the Textual Introduction, comprising a) history of the text, b) genesis, c) manuscripts, d) editions; e) table of textual variants.

The Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvannia holds galleys of the first editions of Sinclair’s novels, page proofs (with authorial emendations), typescripts, manuscripts and workbooks.

I set out to UPenn with the aim of collecting materials for the first tranche of publication, Philosophy and Mysticism: Collected Shorter Fiction Vol I (1895-1912), A Defence of Idealism (1917), Mary Olivier: A Life (1919), The New Idealism (1922), Arnold Waterlow: A Life (1924). I found that I had time to collect material for all subsequent tranches too. Sinclair’s fiction and her non-fiction were often written in tandem, and there are cross-references to be traced between each. The workbooks are important artefacts because they are where she first sketched out ideas: notes for articles or reviews appear in between scraps of novels and drafts of philosophical and political writing. I now have copies of all of the workbooks and am beginning to trace the cross-currents between Sinclair’s drafts of her fiction and her non-fiction.

I found that Sinclair’s philosophy was an ongoing concern to her, even while she was drafting novels that we have not classified as among her philosophical novels. Many of her workbooks contain sketches of four-dimensional time, often alongside sketches of the houses in which her family novels are set. The back pages of workbooks then have floor plans of ‘the family house’, a sketch of conceptual time, and a row of sums indicated how many pages she was writing per day and thus how long each novel should take to complete. Scraps of paper, too, included in the archive, are significant. A flyer from The English Review, asking Sinclair to renew her subscription, is covered with pencil notes about time and consciousness. An advertisement for a tailor has notes about psychology and psychoanalysis. The editions will publish her fiction and non-fiction side by side and will position Sinclair as a public intellectual. Consultation of her writing in different genres at different times, and concurrent cross-genre writing will enable us to position Sinclair as philosopher, psychologist, and cultural historian as well as novelist, and thus as an important modernist thinker.

Gemma Sharpe

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Support from the MSA Travel Grant helped to facilitate my travel to South Asia in 2018 to research my doctoral dissertation on changing attitudes to artistic medium in post-independence Pakistan and pre-1971 Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. While canvas painting represents the backbone of modern art in Pakistan, I examine how the medium remained encumbered by its colonial inheritances, its tendency to slide into cultural jingoism, and by its status as a “major” form that demands pictorial coherence and material autonomy. Alternatively, paper-based mediums such as printmaking, drawing, and miniature painting provided contiguities with South Asian folk and Islamic traditions, which became particularly important during the late-colonial period, particularly in Bengal and as I argue in my dissertation, during Zia ul Haq’s dictatorship in Pakistan during the 1980s. My research examines how artists took a decolonial approach to oil painting during the first decades of independence (1950s and 1960s) and includes case studies on how artists such as Iqbal Geoffrey (b. 1939) and Sadequain Naqvi (1930-1987) also deployed peripheral mediums such as collage and book publishing in their work during this period. My dissertation then traces a critical revaluation of oil painting during the 1980s, particularly among feminist artists and an emerging community of printmakers at the National College of Arts in Lahore, whose work set a precedent for the revival of Indo-Persian miniature as a contemporary form during the 1990s.

Broad multi-decade research projects such as mine still characterize the study of modern art in South Asia and are extremely demanding in terms of archival research, particularly given the scarcity and informality of archives available in the region. My research in Bangladesh was assisted by non-profit contemporary art organization Britto Arts Trust, which helped me meet scholars and artists including Syed Jehangir (b. 1935) and Murtaja Baseer (b.1932), and to undertake archival research on artist and pedagogue Zainul Abedin (1914-1976). In Pakistan I undertook archival research at the National College of Arts and the Punjab Library (newspaper collections) in Lahore, and the National Documentation Centre in Islamabad. Of particular value to my research were documents at the NCA related to teaching staff, pedagogical methods, and correspondences pertaining to mundane but immensely useful historical details such as price of oil paint in 1961 and the difficulties attached to importing art materials into the school over time. Alongside this archival research I was able to visit various private and public art collections in Pakistan and Bangladesh; to establish relationships necessary for future research visits; to collect and scan published works (in English, Urdu, and Bengali) relevant to my research; and to meet with artists included in my dissertation in order to obtain high quality images of their work and to refine my conceptual frameworks with their help and collaboration.