I think it was Peter Shillingsburg who once emphasised that scholarly editing projects are positioned along a wide spectrum of financial support: at the high-end are those with significant financial support and large numbers of employees, able to complete large projects in a short period of time; at the the low-end are solitary scholars with little-to-no financial support, requiring a long period of time to complete their project. It looks like I’m in this business for the long haul.
My interest in Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life extends back to 2001. After completing my PhD (a textual history and scholarly edition of Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes), I knew Furphy’s Australian classic was in need of a scholarly edition, and so I wrote several postdoctoral proposals. None found a place in the research programs of Australian universities. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship studying Australian magazine culture, I joined the ranks of the academic precariat, and have since held a number of short-term, fractional positions, all the time maintaining a strong research record in book history and textual scholarship. In 2013, Cambridge University Press published my edition of Under Western Eyes, an edition I co-edited with Paul Eggert.
In 2011, I was awarded the Nancy Keesing Fellowship, which enabled me to undertake preliminary research on Joseph Furphy’s manuscript and typescript material in the Mitchell Library. I completed a first-run transcription and began plans for a digital scholarly edition while I worked part-time as a project manager on the Aus-e-Lit Project, continuing my long association with AustLit, a bibliographical database devoted to the study of Australian creative writing in all its forms. Furphy’s Such is Life then served as a case-study for AustESE, the Australian Electronic Editing Project, which is currently marking time on GitHub while waiting for further development funding. I had pushed the Furphy project further towards my goal of an independent electronic scholarly edition, but was stymied by problems associated with the support and sustainability of large digital projects.
In 2014, AustLit completed a period of redevelopment that included an open-contribution platform similar to the one I’m writing on now. While working in the AustESE Project, I had theorised the idea of a scholarly edition (print or electronic) as an assembly of constituent parts, and AustLit now provided a platform to put this into practice on the stable foundation of an extensive national bibliographical record. I could draw together work I had done on Juxta Commons, Google Maps, and Timeline JS, and publish it in exhibition form on a digital resource devoted to Australian writing. The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive had found a home.
The Joseph Furphy Digital Archive aims to provide greater access for more people to the material archive that lies behind Furphy’s fiction and poetry. The modular nature of AustLit’s exhibitions platform provides a suitable space to publish transcriptions, timelines, maps, and associated essays as they become available.The first module to be published is Such is Life Typescript (1898).This module includes a transcription of the typescript, colour-coded to identify deletions and additions, and visualisations of textual variation with the Bulletin Library first edition. Images of typescript pages can be viewed by clicking on the page numbers in the transcription. An essay on the composition, revision, and publication describes the textual transmission and the unique properties of the typescript that resulted from these processes. This module aims to provide unprecedented access to the pre-publication material for scholars, critics, teachers, and students. It is hoped that this access will encourage new and innovative readings of Furphy’s work and facilitate a greater appreciation of the impact that book production can have on literary works.
The second, third, and fourth modules will produce critical editions of Furphy’s three main works for distribution in both print and digital formats. These editions will include a critically established text and an essay that describes the textual and cultural history of each of Furphy’s works down to the present day. The fifth module will deliver a digital edition of the abridged English edition of Such is Life, including an essay on Vance and Nettie Palmer’s role in editing the text for the London publisher Jonathan Cape, particularly the ways in which the original work was changed for English readers of the 1930s. Digital editions of the abridged Such is Life and the unabridged Rigby’s Romance will be published here for the first time.
The first module was published on 23 July 2015. The next three modules will be delivered by the end of 2016, and the final module is to be delivered in 2017. Throughout this time, the Furphy Digital Archive will provide enhanced timelines and maps, and access to innovative text analysis tools. This will help to prepare Furphy’s work for the next generation of scholars and critics.
But, for now, I happily launch the first iteration of the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive into the fertile field of Australian literary and book history.
[Note: The complete Archive is freely available to AustLit subscribers and members of subscribing institutions. If this is not you and you would like a preview, please leave a comment with contact details below.]