MSA Research Travel Grant
2019-2020 Research Reports
Ruth Lechlitner’s poetry and the Environment
Ruth Lechlitner (1901-1989) is best known (if at all) for her radio verse drama We Are The Rising Wing broadcast on WOSU in Columbus, Ohio and published in the 1938 volume of James Laughlin’s New Directions in Prose and Poetry. At the time Lechlitner was clearly, with the publication of her first volume Tomorrow’s Phoenix (1937), identified with the group of labor-left poets who were her contemporaries. Louis Untermeyer, writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review (Summer 1940) on “New Meanings in Contemporary American poetry” suggests that ‘In poetry the leading figures of a new order based on a universal moral sense begin with Carl Sandburg and Archibald MacLeish (. . . ) and embrace the younger Muriel Rukeyser, Willard Maas, James Agee, Elizabeth Bishop, Oscar Williams, Robert Fitzgerald, Joy Davidman, John Wheelwright, Ruth Lechlitner, and other warring contributors to New Masses and Partisan Review.’ Of the four women poets mentioned here (Bishop, Rukeyser, Davidman – who married C.S.Lewis – and Lechlitner) only Lechlitner fell into the footnotes of literary history. But her work bears comparison with these poets; Lechlitner is part of what Cary Nelson in The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (2012) terms a ‘collaborative critique of Depression-era capitalism and a collective call for revolutionary change.’
The MSA travel award supported essential research in the Lechlitner Archive at the University of Iowa Library. This rarely-visited archive provided some wonderful discoveries; alongside poetry manuscripts and first editions, Lechlitner’s notes and letters indicated a sustained engagement with the work of Lewis Mumford and his philosophy of technology and the pioneer of the ecology movement Murray Bookchin, and a serious interest in the genre of SF poetry. I was also able to read and research the manuscripts of Lechlitner’s unpublished documentary prose poem Through a Glass Darkly on the Sonoma State Hospital (an institution founded as the California Home for the Care and Training of the Feeble Minded in 1884) and her post-nuclear-apocalypse radio verse-drama Tale of a World’s End (broadcast in 1959).
As a result of my archival research I presented a paper on my findings at the MSA conference in Toronto entitled ‘Labour, Life and Cosmopolitics in Ruth Lechlitner’ and am currently working on an article, ‘Extinction Poetics: Ruth Lechlitner’s Apocalyptic Pastoral’ for a proposed cluster on Reading Modernism in the Sixth Extinction for the Modernism/modernity Print+ platform. In focusing on the genre of late modernist SF poetry, which Lechlitner’s work exemplifies, I intend this article to offer a new way of reading modernism, extinction and apocalypse. Engaging closely with Lechlitner’s poetic I am arguing for the ongoing need to revise our conceptions and canons of modernism, and to acknowledge the way that emergent methodologies enable us to turn to ‘extinct’ texts and regenerate their contemporary relevance. I am also continuing to research Lechlitner’s radio plays. Furthermore, given that Lechlitner remains out of print and rarely anthologised, and given the contemporary relevance of her work to both intersectional feminist and anthropocene studies, I am developing a project to edit and publish a critical edition of her poetry.
From February 10-15, I traveled to Ireland to consult the archives of Irish playwright Teresa Deevy. My goal was to find out how Deevy, as a deaf woman, composed her radio plays in the 1930s through 1950s and the kinds of institutional barriers she encountered. What I found in the archives shifted my focus slightly, but significantly, from Deevy as a radio writer to Deevy as a radio “listener.” The archives included rich correspondence detailing her visits to the radio studios, her reading of radio scripts, and her experience of observing her sisters as they listened to radio drama from their family home in Waterford, Ireland. While the project started out focused on radio institutions and accessibility, I left with a more nuanced understanding of Deevy as a media user who generated her own pathways of access.
I began at the University of Maynooth’s special collections where I was able to work through a trove of Deevy’s papers, which included typescripts of her radio plays, press clippings of criticism on her work, and personal recollections about Deevy from her nephew. From Maynooth, I went to the Trinity College archives in Dublin where I consulted twenty years of correspondence between Deevy and her close friend and fellow playwright Florence Hackett. Here I found some of the most intimate portraits of Deevy’s engagement with the radio medium, including an ecstatic account of her first visit to the BBC Belfast studio. I was also able to look at the Denis Johnston papers, which included the production notes for Johnston’s television adaptation of Deevy’s The King of Spain’s Daughter, which was produced for the BBC in 1939 before the television service was put on hold for the duration of the war. Deevy was enthusiastic about the possibilities of audio-visual broadcasting well before the medium was widely known outside of specialist circles and seemed eager for a mode of broadcasting that would be more inclusive of deaf viewers.
I took a side-trip to Limerick on February 13th where I was hosted by the Irish Women’s Writing Network and gave a talk at the University of Limerick on my work in progress. In attendance was Deevy’s grand-niece Jackie Deevy. I had a chance to talk with her after the lecture and briefly discuss the family history. She provided additional insights into the culture around deafness and disability within the Deevy household. Teresa Deevy had twelve siblings, two of whom were also deaf and of these two sisters, one was blind as well. Ms. Deevy relayed to me that all the family members knew how to use manual fingerspelling to communicate. After speaking with her and reading through the archives, I feel more convinced that previous critics have over-inflated claims that Deevy relied exclusively on lip-reading and that her deafness was incidental to her work.
My last day in Dublin, I met with the co-organizer of the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, Lianne Quigley, and discussed the company’s 2017 adaptation of Deevy’s The King of Spain’s Daughter, which was performed in Irish Sign Language. The Dublin Theatre of the Deaf’s performance was titled Talk Real Fine, Just Like a Lady and was created in collaboration with performance artist Amanda Coogan for the Dublin Fringe Festival. It was a loose adaptation—what Coogan calls an “appropriation” of the source material— that put Deevy’s script in conversation with issues affecting the Deaf in Ireland. The performance emphasized the relationship in Deevy’s script between a young, rebellious woman and an older woman circumscribing what is possible for the younger generation. The Dublin Theatre of the Deaf drew out this element to tell the story of oralism in Ireland when young Deaf women were told by the nuns that ran St. Mary’s School for the Deaf that they were not allowed to communicate by sign. This production shows the ongoing relevance of Deevy’s work for the Deaf community in Ireland and the potential of performance art to bridge the gap between historical plays like Deevy’s and contemporary audiences.
I want to thank the board of the Modernist Studies Association for this generous travel grant. As a contingent faculty member, I cannot overstate the difference it made in allowing me to pursue my research.
The MSA grant supported a research trip to New York, where I gathered rare research materials pertaining to the U.S. Justice Department’s monitoring of the New Negro movement in Harlem. My original plan was to focus predominantly on the original criminal case files from the 1923 legal trial of the United States of America v. Marcus Garvey. Unforeseen political events, however, caused me to sharpen my original research plans. My trip served as a good reminder that history is never static and sometimes the best evidence-based research can only occur by accounting for this fact.
Written correspondence with the National Archives and Records Administration commenced three months prior to travel. A meticulous list was developed to determine which physical records still exist nearly 100 years after the original SDNY court case. Although court transcripts of the legal trial’s original opening and closing statements were sadly discarded, either when the case was consolidated or moved into archival storage, over 1400 pages of the proceedings were on site at the federal building in lower Manhattan. I requested all key witness testimony and volumes related to the court case, as well as additional materials on the government surveillance of Marcus Garvey, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. It was not without a certain amount of political irony, then, that just before I was scheduled to fly out to conduct research on the federal government that the U.S. government was swiftly shut down, throwing my research trip into jeopardy. On the eve of the shutdown, I received an apologetic message from a NARA research librarian indicating that my visit was in jeopardy. Federal employees would soon be locked out of the building until further notice and not permitted to access their email to confirm or cancel appointments.
Although the government shutdown was the longest in history, causing insurmountable financial hardship for many federal employees, the impact on my own research was unusually productive. My flight was non-refundable, which caused me to sharpen my role of researcher-as-detective. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture held the only known microfiche copies of the 1923 SDNY court records. A week was spent digitally scanning over 1000 microfiche records. The process was tedious but faster and more accurate than handling the original documents in poor condition at NARA. The time saved allowed me to focus additional attention on locating now-declassified federal surveillance records on members of the New Negro movement. I probed the Schomburg’s extensive records on Garvey’s political rivals including Cyril Briggs, founder of the African Blood Brotherhood and editor of The Crusader. Rare documents were also scanned from the John Edward Bruce papers, Claude McKay’s writings, and the photographs, portraits, and prints of the UNIA movement. I recorded important street addresses while researching in order to tour on foot Harlem landmarks significant to the New Negro movement. Walking from the original location of the UNIA’s Liberty Hall down to the pier where the Black Star Line’s flagship S.S. Yarmouth was once moored allowed me to piece together and reimagine the urban physiognomy that gave rise to New Negro calls to make the potential for freedom visible. While many of the neighborhoods have been gentrified, and sliced up, segmenting the Harlem community into different groups, the project of archival recovery functions to catalogue the material history that features so centrally in the fiction, poetry, and art of black modernists from the turbulent period of the twenties.
I wish to express my gratitude to the MSA and its membership for this invaluable research opportunity. It will enable my transition from doctoral candidate to junior scholar, allowing me to supplement my dissertation with additional materials to revise it into a monograph, and ultimately to advance the field of black modernist studies in new directions
The Margins of the Lyric: Gwendolyn Brooks Annotating Modernism
Gwendolyn Brooks read with pen in hand. Annotating in bold strokes, she lacked hesitation in pointing out where texts succeeded and where they did not. While it may seem to be an unexpected source, Brooks annotated an edition of Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading published in 1951 and housed in Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. Underlining and writing in the margins, Brooks assessed Pound’s theories and proposed new interpretations of his work. Brooks’s marginalia throughout her library indicate that her voice as an annotator and as a poet developed in tandem. Ultimately, she contributes to what Sonya Posmentier in Cultivation and Catastrophe: The Lyric Ecology of Modern Black Literature (2017) calls “a different history of the lyric generated on the margins of American and European modernity” (4). Marginalia add another layer to interpretation of the lyric, particularly as they are, as Derrida put it, “parasitic and grafted” to the page (Annotation and Its Texts, Ed. Barney, 204). The books in Brooks’s library document her crafting of a critical voice, one that becomes increasingly more direct over time, attracting attention to what has been overlooked and why it matters.
A Modernist Studies Association Research Travel Grant supported travel to Brooks’s archive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since the archive’s acquisition in 2013, the volumes in Brooks’s library have not been fully explored and are not available online. I was also able to work with Brooks’s teaching materials, which often address the books in her library. Preparing to teach poetry workshops at Columbia College, Chicago and subsequent courses at other institutions in the early and mid-sixties, Brooks read T. S. Eliot scholar Elizabeth Drew’s Poetry: A Modern Guide to Its Understanding and Enjoyment, Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle, and Oscar Williams’s Pocket Book of Modern Verse, referring to each in her teaching notes. Williams’s and Louis Untermeyer’s Modern American Poetry and Modern British Poetry anthologies and David Daiches’s Poetry and the Modern World remain when Brooks drafts a more expansive recommended reading list for an American literature course in the early seventies, including Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps’s Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970, James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
Taken together, Brooks’s library and teaching materials preserve the physicality of her engagement with modernism. As a teacher, she contributes to and redefines modernism’s midcentury institutional presence, her classes adding to those addressed in the work of Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan and Mark McGurl. Brooks’s pedagogical reading of modernism invites her to pose new questions for herself and her students. Contemplating Eliot’s Waste Land, she notes in her copy of Axel’s Castle that while the current world may exist in a state of decay, “at least it is not rigid.” In such a world, the lyric presents a malleable form, one to which Brooks and her students could bring new life.
Nicholls State University
With the support of an MSA Research Travel Grant, I traveled to Reading, England, in June 2019 to complete archival research in the BBC Written Archives Centre on the BBC colonial service radio programs of the 1940s – 1960s. I examined roughly two thousand pages of scripts, memoranda, letters, and other documents from Calling the West Indies, Calling the Caribbean, and Calling West Africa, and collected information on a variety of radio shows, from the well-known Caribbean Voices to little-explored programs such as Ten-Minute Talks, West Indian Diary, Behind the News, and We See Britain. I also examined extensive archival records relating to the development of the BBC pamphlet Going to Britain?, published in 1959 and first conceived and produced as a series of radio broadcasts.
In my research, I identified a genre of “London stroll” broadcasts, in which Caribbean and West African writers engaged with traditions of urban flânerie, mapping, and cultural memory. In news bulletins, creative works, and personal essays, on a variety of BBC programs, I located dozens of texts that aimed to create a rich map of the English landscape for colonial audiences. Using GIS mapping software, I then traced the representations of England in these radio transmissions, highlighting the specificity of location in these aural “maps.”
To create my maps, I used QGIS, an open-source geographic information system mapping software. I first digitized specific scripts I identified during my research trip, identified sites referenced by the authors, and then located the coordinates of the place-names using Google Maps. In the resulting database table, I also tagged additional features: whether the writer had visited the site mentioned, the type of or reason for the visit, and the forms of transportation referenced. Finally, I created a GIS layer for each script, which I placed on an ordnance survey of Great Britain from 1937 – 1961, a georeferenced historical base map archived by the National Library of Scotland.
Thus far, I have created multiple representative maps reflecting routes, frequency of types of site mentioned, and other factors for several Caribbean writers, including Andrew Salkey, George Lamming, and Carlisle Chang. I presented some of these findings at MSA 2019 in Toronto, and I am currently completing an article on these three writers. Through the various digital landscapes I create using QGIS, I delineate a complex cultural politics in which metropolitan England is produced for colonial listeners even as its aesthetic properties and cultural centrality are called into question.
I am grateful to the Modernist Studies Association for providing substantial material assistance for me to complete this research trip. In the coming year, I anticipate digitizing a decade of West Indian Diary site references in order to consider how Caribbean immigrants from a variety of fields and geographic locations represented their experiences in Great Britain for their Caribbean audiences. Using digital mapping to represent the substantial body of archival material available for the BBC colonial programs will help produce a more complete accounting of the period and make this significant archive more accessible to a wider body of scholars.
The MSA Research Travel Grant funded research for my new book project, on the history of modern fiction and mental health. I spent a week working in the archives at London’s British Psychoanalytical Society (BPS), the Wellcome Library, and the Freud Museum. This archival study centered on the transatlantic scientific discourses of psychopathology in the first half of the twentieth century. This research will generatively shape and enrich my new book, which explores how narrative form unsettles clinical definitions of mental illness. Each chapter considers an emergent psychiatric diagnosis and examines this model of personhood in period fiction as well as scientific writing. Engaging recent debates in the medical humanities and ongoing studies of gender, race, and disability, this project rethinks the cultural politics at work in biological schemas of health and illness and highlights the vexations of interpretive practices shared by the sciences and the arts.
My London research primarily focused on the unpublished and non-digitized writings of understudied British female psychoanalysts with diverse medical training and varied contributions to popular discourse. At the BPS, where I spent the majority of my time, I reviewed the papers of Marjorie Franklin (also a psychiatrist), Sylvia Payne (also a physician), Karin Stephen (also a physician and the sister-in-law of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell), Joan Rivière (an early English translator of Freud), Susan Isaacs (also an “agony aunt” advice columnist who wrote under the pseudonym of Ursula Wise), and Marion Milner (also a best- selling writer who spent two years in the US, from 1927-1929). I also spent time at the Wellcome Library, reviewing the papers of better-known figures like Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott and exploring doctors’ notes related to several of my diagnostic focuses. Finally, I spent a day at the Freud Museum reviewing materials related to the BPS’s “Controversial Discussions” of the 1940s, about the evolving scientific methods of psychoanalytic practice. Franklin, Payne, Stephen, Rivière, Isaacs, Milner, Klein, and Winnicott all participated in these heated and well-documented discussions. At the Freud Museum, I also reviewed the 200+ letters written to Anna Freud upon her father’s death in 1939.
This fruitful archival study will allow me to diversify understandings of modernist-era scientific networks (the archives included many letters between the understudied figures and their famous counterparts). The research will further elucidate the uneven gendering and other identitarian dynamics of the standardizing cultures of modern mental health (Franklin was Jewish, like many figures in this history, and I’m considering how to address this through-line in the project). All of this work will help me to illuminate the exchanges between early twentieth- century scientific logic and the narratives of health and illness developing in modern novels. The MSA grant will thus be instrumental in helping me to think through our evolving efforts to interpret consciousness and corporeality.
With the generous support of an MSA Travel Grant, I was able to visit Dominica, in the Caribbean, to consult the National Archives and locate a number of sites related to Jean Rhys—a writer central to my new book project, Writing the “Way Out”: Language, Technology, and Anticolonial Modernism. Though Rhys’s personal papers are housed at the University of Tulsa, the National Archives in Roseau contain an extraordinary body of material relevant to her family history, the period of her residence on the island (1890-1907), and the time of her brief return (in 1936). These materials include records illuminating the formation of her social consciousness (e.g., registers of slaves and manumissions: Rhys was descended from a prominent slave-owning family on her mother’s side); the historical circumstances that inform her work (e.g., the 1844 uprising known as the “Census Riots,” which her grandfather’s actions precipitated); and public opinion concerning members of her immediate family (e.g., newspaper articles on her father’s efforts to revive the plantocracy under Crown Colony rule: Crown Colony status deprived Dominicans of representative government in exchange for £15,000 for roadworks—funding intended to “open” the mountainous interior of the island to cultivation by means of the “Imperial Road”). These documents suggest the degree to which Rhys, on both sides of her family, was implicated in the apparatus of British imperialism—and the extent to which this apparatus was often a literal one: a form of power imposed through imperial technologies (e.g., roads).
Because many of the documents in the National Archives (especially nineteenth-century newspapers) are now too delicate to handle, the archivists created digital copies for me—a service that gave me permanent access to rare materials and saved me several days’ work on the ground. I was thus able to spend much of my time on the island visiting sites important to Rhys: I located her childhood home (now occupied by a tailor’s shop), the Botanical Gardens, the Public Library, and the Protestant Cemetery (where her father is buried) in Roseau; the ruins of the Geneva plantation (once belonging to her mother’s family) on the south coast, with its cast-iron waterwheel and crushing apparatus; the town of Massacre (which appears in Wide Sargasso Sea just below “Granbois”—a fictionalized version of her father’s estate, Amelia); the industrial remains of the Hampstead plantation, where Rhys stayed during her return journey to Dominica in 1936; the Kalinago Territory (the last settlement of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean), which figures in the story “Temps Perdi”; and the Perdu Temps mountain trail. I was also able to drive the sixteen extant miles of the Imperial Road and hike to a number of sites in the interior of the island, including Middleham Falls. Once a portion of Middleham Estate, the Falls are part of the plantation responsible both for the “illogical” route of the Imperial Road and its inevitable failure. (Consisting of mountainous terrain obviously uncongenial to cultivation, the estate was defunct by the First World War, and the Imperial Road—which had been diverted to access it—had failed along with it.) Given that Rhys, in her work, frequently aligns European imperialism with the technology used to subdue colonial landscapes and peoples, such traces are of double significance: a sign of imperial conquest and an index of the island’s natural resistance to instrumental domination.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to MSA for materially assisting my research, and especially for the timely support of my work in what is likely an increasingly vulnerable archive. Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, and though the National Archives survived intact, they were directly affected: email connectivity, for example, was only restored in November 2018. In light of these circumstances—and given ongoing climatic threats to the region—I am grateful for the funding that made it possible to visit the island and its archives this year.
With the support of Research and Travel Grant from the Modernist Studies Association, I conducted research at the British Film Institute on the films of Lotte Reiniger and Julius Pinschewer, two of German cinema’s most important practitioners of experimental film animation. This work forms part of my current book project, Beyond the Border: Transnational Film Culture between Germany and Great Britain, which challenges conventional film histories by focusing on transnational networks of “useful film” production in the inter- and postwar period. With studies of two countries whose cinema histories are typically considered separately, the project pursues a research program outside the respective national spheres of Germany and Great Britain through chapters on propaganda, documentary, advertising, and travel films. Below, I give an overview of the research I pursued at the British Film Institute in London.
Pinschewer was the pioneer of advertising films in Germany. In addition to establishing a nationwide distribution network for advertising films, he fostered experimental trick animation both in Germany and later in Switzerland. My research focuses on Pinschewer’s British films. With support from the MSA, I was able to travel to London to use the BFI’s extensive print collections, from back issues of well-known journals to more obscure trade publications like Look and Listen, in order to understand better Pinschewer’s place in the British film industry. I supplemented my readings with viewings of films only available at the BFI like, for example, the 1948 film Willie Comes to Life.
Pinschewer was an impresario, a businessman as much as a filmmaker. Reiniger was an animator who collaborated with some of the most important filmmakers in Weimar Germany. As early as 1926, the year Reiniger released her most important film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, we see the first points of contact between Reiniger and British culture. 1926 was the year Reiniger created a series of animated films based on the Dr. Dolittle books, which were written by the Englishman Hugh Lofting. My research in London concentrated on Reiniger’s role in British cinema after she emigrated to Great Britain in 1935. For example, the film Galathea was featured in a lecture series and film program that showcased Reiniger’s work shortly after she arrived in Britain. I therefore tracked down the archival history, both visual and textual, surrounding Galathea. During my research, I also discovered a film, previously unknown to me, by the British animator Peter King that was dedicated to Reiniger and her husband Peter Koch. Produced by the British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund and titled 13 Cantos of Hell, this work reveals that Reiniger had students and imitators within Britain, thereby demonstrating the extent of her influence on British animators and the cultural landscape of the country after the war.
I would like to conclude by thanking the Modernist Studies Association and its members for supporting my research.
University of Colorado, Boulder
Thanks to the MSA Research Travel Grant, I was able to conduct research at the Victoria and Albert’s Blythe House archive (located in Olympia, west London). At Blythe House I examined selective issues of the strikingly designed trade journal, International Textiles, from 1933-1945 in order to contextualize my discussion of propaganda textiles during the interwar period. This research will inform part of my current book project, Fashioning Bloomsbury, specifically the fourth chapter titled “Wearing Propaganda.” This chapter examines the representation of service and work uniforms in two political polemics: Leonard Woolf’s Quack, Quack (1935) and Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938). Here I focus upon the uniform as exemplary of Bloomsbury’s distinctively modern preoccupation with materiality and its relation to forms of embodiment within the context of war.
Blythe House is one of the only archives that hold an almost complete set of the little-known multi-lingual journal, International Textiles, whose glossy and colorful pages look much more like a high-end fashion magazine than a trade publication. This influential trade paper was founded in Amsterdam in March 1933 by Jewish émigrés: businessman and writer Hans Juda; his wife Elsbeth (a photographer); and Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, who served as the journal’s art director. The magazine was initially published monthly in four languages (English, Dutch, French and German), and at the height of its success it had subscribers in ninety countries. In May 1940 production in Amsterdam was suspended due to the war, but the journal continued to be published in London with support from the British government and not an issue was missed during this period. In March 1946, just one year after the end of WWII, the journal was re-launched by Hans Juda as The Ambassador: The British export Journal for Textiles and Fashions, with a fervent nationalistic focus that sought to address the post-war needs of British infrastructure, export, and morale.
What was particularly useful for me was seeing how The Ambassador harnessed a sense of British patriotism without abandoning the internationalism that had fueled its values during its incarnation as International Textiles. In the issues that I examined, I witnessed the incredible range of the British textile and garment industries during the interwar period, particularly how they fared on the world stage. I learned that International Textiles was regarded as an asset to the British textile industry as well as a useful propaganda vehicle. Several of the articles that I unearthed, such as “New Cotton Designs Have British Fashion Appeal” (No. 4, 1941, p. 24) and “Creative Sights Will Promote British Skill” (International Textiles, No. 5, 1941, pp. 25-30), illustrated how Hans Juda used the magazine to promote positive publicity for Britain both at home and abroad while still making editorial space for world trade and culture. My archival research also enabled me to see how during the early 1940s the focus of the magazine shifted from its more explicitly international focus to a promotion of “British creative ability and craftsmanship” (as the March 1946 editorial regarding the magazine’s re-launch put it).
The invaluable research that I conducted at Blythe House will be useful to my overall monograph in progress, but it will be of particular use to my chapter on war and propaganda clothing. I am extremely grateful to the MSA for this support, particularly because International Textiles has not been digitized. I also learned that the Archive & Library Study Room at Blythe House will close on December 18, 2020 and all of its collections and artifacts will be moved to east London. This new facility, the Collections and Research Centre in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will reopen in Spring/Summer 2023.
2018 Research Reports
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was very grateful to secure a $500 MSA Travel Grant in 2018 to fund an archival trip to the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. I undertook this trip in January 2019.
Yale University holds part of Ernst Toller’s (1893-1939) archives. I have been fascinated by German playwright Toller’s work since completing my PhD in 2007. While writing my first book, British Avant-Garde Theatre (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), I became increasingly interested in Toller as a transnational figure, particularly his remarkable influence over British theatre. Productions of his plays reappear frequently in British theatre historiography from the early ‘20s onwards; companies with explicit leftist political positions were particularly enamored with his work. His plays combine the experimental fragmentation of the German Expressionist movement with committed socialist politics. He was a fascinating figure – a short-lived President of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, political prisoner, poet, émigré artist, and dedicated fighter of fascism – and was admired by many British creatives from Stephen Spender to H.G. Wells, Rebecca West to Compton Mackenzie. His untimely death from apparent suicide in a NY hotel in 1939 was lamented by many.
After a decade of interest in Toller, I finally have space and opportunity to study Toller’s profound influence over British theatre in detail. Accordingly, I am spending the next year engaging with his archives and British theatre companies’ archives that contain material relating to productions of his plays. My MSA-funded trip to Yale was the first part of this research. The Yale archive is particularly important as it contains most of Toller’s writings in English and all of the material (as far as I can find) about a 1933 production of his Draw the Fires, which he personally directed in Manchester. The prompt copy and various other manuscripts pertaining to Draw the Fires that I read during my trip illustrated Toller’s working methods and his fascinating responses to the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship. In addition, the archive contained reviews about his British productions unavailable elsewhere, prompt copies and translated versions of other plays, and numerous letters illustrating his impact on the British theatre scene. The archive also contained unexpected gifts: correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt which showed his unheralded influence over the US response to the Spanish Civil War, for example, letters from Wells, and numerous articles which have not been quoted elsewhere detailing his political values and his theatrical processes.
This material will form the basis for a new chapter on Toller’s legacy in Britain, which begins in the ‘20s, before considering his continued (and entirely unresearched) influence on the contemporary British stage through figures such as Katie Mitchell, Mark Ravenhill and recent productions such as Women of Aktion by Bent Architect, which performs the meeting of Toller and Joan Littlewood during the production of Draw the Fires. This long-length chapter will be included in a book I am co-editing with Adrian Curtin entitled Modernism in Contemporary Theatre: Re-imagining Drama, Reconsidering Influence, Replaying History, which we hope will be published in 2021. However, this archival trip has also illustrated the amount of work still to be done on Toller so I hope to conduct future research, particularly into Toller’s important role in countering fascism in Spain and encouraging world leaders and influential figures to support the starving Spanish populace.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank MSA for supporting this work.
Thanks to the support of an MSA Research Travel Grant, I was able to visit the Rare and Manuscript Collections at the Cornell University Library in order to examine a host of materials from the Wyndham Lewis Collection, particularly those notes, manuscripts, and letters related to Lewis’s work on what became The Human Age trilogy. That work forms the center of a chapter on Lewis in my new book project, on modernism and the novel series. In this book, I argue that the form of the novel series, typically understood in commercial rather than formal terms, afforded a range of twentieth-century authors an opportunity to manipulate readers’ expectations and experiences of characterization, plot, and narrative time in ways that powerfully shaped modernism’s experimental aesthetics. The book is thus an attempt to position the novel series more firmly within the inventory of modernist forms, and to demonstrate how seriality functions as a means of extending narratives past their apparent endpoints in order to produce new understandings of character, setting, and temporality within an extended and extensive plot (or, in some cases, within a work that seems not to value plot at all). Moreover, I also explore the commercial benefits and complications of modernist novel series, since seriality is at once a formal phenomenon manifested through a connected set of works and the material result of a set of publishing practices that audiences receive in specific ways.
Like so many trips to the archives, this particular visit reminded me that the documents that prove most absorbing are often those one least expects. After examining Lewis’s notes for and drafts of The Childermass, Monstre Gai, and Malign Fiesta, as well as the opening chapters Lewis drafted for the abandoned Trial of Man (the proposed fourth volume of The Human Age), I quickly became engrossed in Lewis’s correspondence with D.G. Bridson, the Assistant Head of Features for the BBC, with whom Lewis adapted The Childermass for the Third Programme in 1951, and in the materials produced for and around that adaptation and those of Lewis’s novels that followed (including audience reports, drafts of dialogue inserted into the radio adaptations, and queries about censorship, among other things). The radio version of The Childermass is what prompted the BBC to support Lewis’s revival of The Human Age in the 1950s, many years after Lewis had dropped his plans (and violated the terms of his contract with publisher Chatto and Windus) for writing these projected sequels. In his exchanges with Bridson and editor J. Alan White at Methuen, one sees Lewis thinking through serial form across multiple media, and considering how the serial affordances of fiction might inform those of radio, and vice versa. Indeed, he adapts Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta for radio at the same time that he writes them as novels, so Lewis’s understanding of his series is, by nature of that dual effort, bound up in the specificities of each medium. What this means for my chapter is that any discussion of The Human Age and seriality must speak to both the published novels and the radio broadcasts, and the material available in Cornell’s collections provides ample evidence of how both sets of works were developed, produced, revised, and received.
As my time in Ithaca demonstrates, even a short period of archival work can produce immense benefits for one’s research, and I am grateful to the MSA for the support of this Research Travel Grant, which enabled me to shape my thinking and writing on Lewis in ways that will continue to benefit me in the short and the long term.
University of Minnesota
The MSA travel award supported research for my book project “A Queer Progress: The Naturalization of Christopher Isherwood.” The project investigates the diasporic journey of the queer British writer Christopher Isherwood, known best for Goodbye to Berlin and A Single Man, as he transits from privileged positions of class, education, and birthright, first, to the demimonde of a tumultuous 1930s’ Berlin, and, thereafter in 1939, to America. There, on the brink of WWII, assailed in England for desertion, he settles in Los Angeles to become a naturalized citizen in 1946. Isherwood’s naturalization occurs in the fraught period of both Red and Lavender scares and alongside the emergence of a distinct homophile community, viz. The Mattachine Society and One, Incorporated. One goal of the project is to gauge how Isherwood navigated the scrutiny of the former and related to the latter in order to evaluate the impact these opposing forces might have exercised on his writing.
Earlier research conducted at The Huntington Library and at USC’s ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive shows Isherwood’s initial interest in the 1950s of the burgeoning Los Angeles gay community but with no certain commitment. His diaries, prolific on many issues, are virtually silent on any affiliation. Yet two decades later, ONE’s archive documents Isherwood’s subsequent activism and, in the 1980s, hail him as a respected pioneer, advanced partly by the publication of his frank 1976 memoir Christopher and his Kind. The question I wished to answer was what commitment if any did Isherwood have with these emergent homophile organizations.
With the generous help of the MSA award, I researched materials archived at the New York Public Library’s International Gay Center Records, 1974-1989, and International Gay Information Center Collection, 1951-1994. Crucial were historian John D’Emilio’s invaluable taped interviews of the 1970s and 1980s with the principals of the underground network that would become the vanguard for the gay community on the West Coast and beyond: The Mattachine Society and One, Incorporated. What emerges is the complexity of being gay and leftist in post-war L.A. D’Emilio’s interviews reveal the considerable bravery such organizers as Harry Hay and W. Dorr Legg displayed in simply gathering as a group and then in recruiting like-minded men and women to join them. This bravery is especially impressive given the routine intimidation and persecution they faced, heightened by the passage of the Smith and McCarran Acts and exacerbated by the McCarthy witch hunts for leftists and for gays.
Among those Mattachine recruited was Isherwood. In his interview, Konrad Stevens, a founding Mattachine member, details his invitation to Isherwood to join the Mattachine board in spring 1952 in the decisive moment of the Dale Jennings trial for entrapment. The founders thought that recruiting professionals and artists would lend greater gravitas to the fledgling organization in the midst of this groundbreaking legal test. Isherwood, however, declines, though he would contribute $100 to Jennings’ defense. As James Kepler, another key figure, succinctly put it in his interview, when it came to this vanguard movement, “Isherwood was living in the back of the bus.” While Isherwood’s motives may not yet be clear, his inaction during the 1950s and into the 1960s with these groups is.
My MSA Research Travel Grant allowed me to spend two weeks (August 5-18) in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, where I worked on an edition of Amy Lowell’s selected letters. No representative collection of her letters exists, though she was a significant figure in twentieth- century American poetry, corresponding with virtually all the most prominent poets, editors, and magazine publishers of her time.
I initially planned to spend my time at the Houghton selecting, scanning, and transcribing enough letters from Lowell to create a robust sampling for a manuscript proposal and in order to strengthen my grant applications to secure the substantial funding necessary to complete this project. Two things happened in between receiving news of MSA’s travel award and my arrival in Cambridge, however, that changed the work I was able to do there for the better.
First, shortly before my visit I found out that the Houghton had recently scanned all correspondence from Lowell. This meant I was able to use my time in the archive reading through Lowell’s incoming correspondence while I had scans of her outgoing letters open on my laptop, allowing me to follow epistolary conversations in real time. So in addition to identifying a critical mass of Lowell’s letters for my volume, I was also able to spend time scanning letters she was responding to. This has been critical to the work I’m doing now, as I contextualize and annotate Lowell’s letters.
Second, I received a last-minute research grant from Loyola University Chicago’s Office of Research Services. I was able to use that grant to pay for my housing in Cambridge, MA entirely. This left the funds from MSA to cover meals, airfare from Chicago to Boston, as well as airfare and lodging for a quick trip from Boston to D.C. where I spent two days working in the Library of Congress, working in the papers of Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Hall Wheelock, and the Louis Untermeyer-Robert Frost collection to fill in gaps in Lowell’s incoming correspondence.
One of the most important results of my research travel this summer is that it helped me reconceive the scope and range of my project. In addition to a print volume of Amy Lowell’s selected letters, I am developing a digital scholarly edition that will cover a broader range of letters. To that end, I applied for and received project support through Loyola’s Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities, applied for and received a scholarship from MSA to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria this summer, where I will take an immersive course in the Textual Encoding Initiative. And finally, because of the work the MSA grant allowed me to do this past summer, I am scheduled to teach a graduate course in digital humanities Fall 2019 where a group of students and I will begin the work of developing and building the digital scholarly edition.