As part of Open Access Week, Manifold is featuring interviews with the creators of exemplary projects that use Manifold's capabilities to the fullest. Our fourth installment in this series is an "Anthropocene Edition" of The Mill on The Floss. We interviewed its creators, Megan Butler, Francesca Colonnese, and Mara Minion, about this exciting project.
Our Manifold project around George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss grew out of a suggestion from our professor, Jesse Oak Taylor, for an alternative to the classic quarter-end seminar paper. The project allowed us to flip the script: instead of incorporating the novel into our essays, we incorporated our research into the novel. This also gave us a useful perspective on what is involved in creating a scholarly edition of a text. What and how much should we include? How do we frame our edition as an ecocritical intervention into the novel? How can we bring to the novel a new understanding of the role of nature, including how that fits with modern concerns about the Anthropocene?
Our team included three graduate students and three undergraduate seniors, each with an assigned number of annotations to pair with the text and each with a section of the introduction to write. Two of us handled the coding and internal design of the project. By having a project that bridged many talents and levels of scholarship, we were able to produce something that felt valuable to have live on the internet at the end of single quarter.
It is atypical in our graduate program that literary studies seminars invite experimentation. As a result of breaking free from the research paper, we were able to produce work that extended our skills at writing to a reader who was not known to us, one beyond the classroom. We still imagined our audience was an intelligent reader, which felt freeing and interesting and left us less nervous about taking some risks with our ideas. Particularly since literary studies often avoids collaborative models of producing critique, we enjoyed working together. Our annotations were a lot like weekly discussion board posts but more fun. This was a good reminder that knowledge production can come in bite size chunks rather than article or dissertation length works.
We mostly used Manifold’s text digestion and annotation tools for this specific project. The ability to create a robust edition was simplified by the Manifold platform. We found the platform quick and accessible for a group using it for the first time. Although we didn’t use the reading group feature to bunch our annotations, that would have been another option.
From time to time, we had some design challenges that left us feeling hemmed in. For example, we wished the annotations had more linking options—instead of jumping to a chapter head, we wanted to link right to a passage. Manifold also offers limited tools for locating the interactions of people with the text outside of reading groups. We can see from the number of comments that this edition has been of use to others, but it is difficult to interact with these comments, even as project authors, and we would love to ask the annotators if our edition helped them.
We had a great time presenting our project to the class and stepping out of the seminar paper norm—the rest of the class and the professor were surprised at how we enlivened the novel in new ways. Manifold also let our work for the quarter live on, which is so different from the paper that gets dropped in a folder and is rarely seen again. We know that others have been able to enjoy and read our work but look forward to other methods of tracking usage, like Manifold’s new analytics tool.
Megan Butler is a PhD student at the University of Washington whose writing and research seek uses for literature in the ongoing crises of forced migration and refugee care. Outside of school, she is an avid triathlete and yoga practitioner who loves hanging out with her three not-so-young kids.
Francesca Colonnese is a PhD student at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on issues of temporal perception in 19th C poetry. When not working on George Eliot Manifold projects, she reads contemporary fiction at dog-friendly coffeeshops.
Mara Minion is also a substantial contributor on this project, doing much of the technical work.