Mag MODS, MJP Lab, and Visualizing Data

A long overdue post on some really exciting news in modernist magazines/magazine modernism world.  At the Modernist Studies Association meeting in Buffalo last month, Mark Gaipa of the Modernist Journals Project debuted the MJP Lab, which makes available the MODS and TEI files for the following magazines:

This represents the next step in periodical studies, and it’s good to see that the MJP is putting itself there.

Data is both the blessing and the curse of periodical studies.  Because the field is not based in authorship and has not (yet) developed a canon, periodical scholars begin with basic questions of determining what texts exist in the archives and which are relevant to their scholarship.  When a field is this immense, its potential for revelation is also immense, but so too is the potential for getting completely lost in the archive or for being too intimidated even to enter.  As a result, in both Victorian and modern periodical studies a great deal of work has been dedicated to cataloging, or to put it in more contemporary terms, to creating reliable metadata in both paper format (e.g., the Wellesley Index, Hoffman, Allan, and Ulrich’s The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography) and digital (Modernist Journals Project).  While the contents of difficult to access magazines remain the main draw of digitized magazines for many users of such sites as the Modernist Journals Project and HathiTrust, scholars are now looking to do more than read magazines, thanks in great part to the existence of so much data.  Although the digitization of modern periodicals and creation of metadata will likely continue for many years to come, we have now reached the stage at which the data—the contents of the magazine which have been converted into machine readable information, in contrast to scanned images—and metadata are accessible, reliable, and rich enough that scholars can start digging into them qua data itself and not only as texts to be read and interpreted as literary texts are.  Even at this still early stage, the amount of information we have and our ability to generate more far exceeds our capacity to process it in textual format.  If the sheer time spent simply reading the complete run of The English Review wasn’t daunting enough, finding meaningful connections and patterns within all that information requires prodigious feats of endurance, memory, and attention, not to mention all those pieces of information that the human brain is simply not good at collecting (e.g., word frequencies, networked connections with more than three edges). And that is only one title among many.  If we are to discover just how it is, as Robert Scholes and Cliff Wulfman argue in Modernism in the Magazines, “modernism began in the magazines,” reading will not suffice.  We will need alternatives to reading texts, which is why visualization is quickly becoming a key practice of the digital humanities.  The benefits of visualizing data are not simply that it reduces the processing time required to find meaningful patterns in information; visualization is not simply a fast forward button, doing the work we would do otherwise, only much more slowly.  Visualization also helps researchers see data that would be otherwise obscured and direct their research.  The information scientist Katy Börner, the author of the Atlas of Science:  Visualizing What We Know (MIT Press, 2010), likes to describes data visualizations as maps because like maps they not only show you how data are positioned relative to each other but also help you determine where to go next, communicate what you’ve found, and provide ways to link data together.  If we are to determine where the young field of modern periodical studies is to go, visualizations will play a significant role in doing so.

Here’s one of the maps Mark Gaipa created using this data:

Node Tree of Others

For another graphic rendering, be sure to check out Chris Forster’s piece on paper and magazine production during the Great War.  And here’s one (really grimy image) by me, not using the MJP Lab, but still providing some idea of the scale of investigation we visualization allows.

Periodical Network: Authors who co-appeared with T. S. Eliot between 1912 and 1922

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