The Modernist Journals Project Responds to Senator Coburn

Robert Scholes, co-director of the Modernist Journals Project, has written a response to Senator Coburn, which I am pleased to provide here.

United States Senator Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, recently released his annual report detailing what he perceives as wasteful federal spending. One of the examples he cites is the Modernist Journals Project.  Senator Coburn says that, in 2012, the Modernist Journals Project (MJP), a joint venture administered by Brown University and the University of Tulsa, was awarded $270,000 in federal funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The Senator is wrong about this. The NEH spent $132,000, and the universities of Tulsa and Brown spent $134,000 on this particular grant. The Senator also mentions other grants for the MJP over nine years, totaling a bit over $600,000 which he says came from NEH. But Tulsa and Brown also paid almost half of those funds as cost sharing.

Senator Coburn claims that certain works like the once-popular McClure’s magazine will be among the magazines digitized, though much of it is already available for free online at Google Books. This is simply not true.  Google has digitized some material, but it is taken mainly from printed compilations of these magazines which, in fact, do not have most of the advertising pages, making them less useful for scholarly research. These full magazines with all their pages are extremely difficult to find, and the Google versions lack 50% of the contents. Many of the magazines. digitized by the MJP over the four grants given by the NEH, are in fact very rare, and the few more popular magazines included in the MJP are also hard to find, because the libraries who bound them omitted the advertising.

In regards to the MJP, the Librarian of Brown University, Harriette Hemmasi, explains that:

  1. The review process for NEH grants is highly competitive and involves the careful evaluation and comparison by at least several scholars in the field
  2. The MJP serves two fundamentally different functions than other digitization projects, such as Google:
    (a) MJP supports a cover-to-cover digital reproduction, meaning that only those journal issues for which all original pages have been retained (especially advertisements) are included.  In the past, most libraries discarded “non-essential” pages, such as advertisements, before binding the issues & these “defective” issues have been used for other digitization projects such as Google.  With the increasing interest in cultural and interdisciplinary studies, these advertisements are central to current research and teaching, as well as interesting/valuable to the public.
    (b) The MJP is not *just* a digitization project.  It is a scholarly environment in which knowledgeable faculty and grad students provide essays and other intellectual commentary on the materials included.

The Site Manager of the MJP, Mark Gaipa, has provided analytic notes covering the last single year of the MJP, which helps to explain why the MJP is important to scholars around the world:

  • 97,934 visits to the site, or an average of 268 visits each day
  • 60,257 unique visitors, or an average of 165 unique visitors each day
  • 60% of users were new visitors (with 59,319 visits) while 40% were returning visitors (with 38,615 visits)
  • Overall, 417,309 page views, with an average of 4.26 pages per visit
  • People from 158 nations and all six populated continents visited the MJP, with 46.5% of visits coming from the U.S., 21.5% from the United Kingdom, and 4.5% from Canada, with Brazil, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, India, and Spain together (and in that order) amounting to 11% of usage.
  • In the U.S., people from every state visited the MJP, with the top three states being New York (5,580 visits), California (4,487 visits) and Pennsylvania (2,571 visits), and the bottom three Hawaii (75 visits), South Dakota (28 visits), and Alaska (27 visits).
  • Top journals visited: Crisis (1,534 visits), Little Review (1,109 visits), Blast (997 visits), New Age (685 visits), Egoist (568), and Freewoman (370).
  • Top non-journal content page visited: how to teach a magazine (480 visits).
  • Top referral sites: Wikipedia, facebook, twitter, artcyclopedia

Finally, Professor Sean Latham of the MJP in Tulsa, added another reason why the MJP is an important resource:

Stepping back from these factual errors in the report, it’s important to understand that magazine and periodical studies constitute a vibrant and expanding area of teaching and research.  At least three academic journals are devoted to the subject (including the Journal of Periodical Studies) and the MJP’s unique resources have been singled out in a number of national media outlets like The New Yorker and the New York Times.   In addition, the MJP  is considered one of the leading digital humanities projects in modern literary studies.  This means not only that it is creating new fields of teaching and research around magazines, but that it is also building collaborative relationships between academic disciplines and between institutions.  In addition to the Brown-TU partnership, for example, the MJP is also directly involved in partnerships with the University of Victoria, Loyola University, and Princeton University among others.

Robert Scholes

Research Professor of Modern Culture & Media, Brown University

One response to “The Modernist Journals Project Responds to Senator Coburn

  1. Pingback: The Modernist Journals Project Responds to Senator Coburn | Magazine Modernisms | Silver and Dark

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