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Receiving the Insight Grant: Inside the MAPP Project with Alice Staveley

Jul 30 2018

By Nina Randolph


In June 2013, when the Modernist Archives Publishing Project began, it was a group of five passionate founders exploring archives and the recently emerging field of book history. Now, it has transformed into “a critical digital archive of early twentieth-century publishers,” created by a collaborative international team working to better understand the history of publishing during that time. By coupling traditional humanities research with new technologies, all in a team-focused environment, MAPP is transforming the foundation of literary archival research.

The project has now received the Insight Grant promising five more years of research for the MAPP team. This grant from the SSHRC supports research excellence in the social sciences and humanities with the goal of building knowledge and an understanding about people, societies, and the world.

Sitting across from Alice Staveley, one of the initial cofounders, she exuded not only excitement for everything MAPP encompasses, but also a genuine passion for sharing the knowledge and data her team has acquired.

Before this project even existed, Alice and the other four founders--Elizabeth Wilson Gordon, Helen Southworth, Claire Battershill, and Nicola Wilson--would share their discoveries, studies, and frustrations about their archival work at independent conferences around the world. Alice recalls, “it was at that moment where we all sat at a Woolf conference and thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could actually see all of these archives in a click?’ and we thought, ‘how would we do that?” It was this initial inquiry that bred the first MAPP project pitch, “we thought we’d join forces under the rubric of the emergent field of digital humanities,” Alice explains.

Digital humanities unifies scholars and pushes them to explore the intersection of digital technologies and the disciplines of the humanities. CESTA supports research projects in this field such as MAPP by providing seed support, DH expertise, student research assistance, and the facilities and platform needed for these collaborative projects.

The magnitude of these projects and their ambitions demand this type of support and “a belief in the value of the kind of work that’s being done.” When talking with Alice about the center and the relationships it’s fostered, her face lit up, ““[the team] just really likes working together. It’s been new to me but… this is like a lab mentality and so we share both the honors and the errors together. And we couldn’t do it without CESTA.”

As a part of CESTA, this project has grown immensely and being awarded the Insight Grant is a momentous leap forward for the MAPP project. In its current stage, MAPP focuses on Virginia Woolf and her personal printing press, the Hogarth Press. With this grant, however, the team can feel the “rocket fuel under the project,” reigniting that initial passion and ambition, while giving the project the opportunity to expand.

With aspirations of expansion and the funding to do so the MAPP team is adamantly exploring the “idea of bringing the public in to academic work and creating bridges.”

The intention of this team and project to make their work accessible is representative of CESTA’s efforts to greater develop an understanding of the world through applying technology to the humanistic research questions. “We constantly ask how can we make the technology reveal the hiddenness [of the archive] and so much of that is the way we design the data and how we make it available,” says Staveley.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Alice finished with what keeps her so passionate about this work. “We’re thinking of women, invisible stories in the history of making and publishing that have gotten occluded. We’re making that recovery and accelerating the process of access to these ‘lost’ stories.”  This project is not only opening up the world of academia to the public, but simultaneously making previously untold histories accessible.

This project has been worked on by Cherie Xu,  Peter Morgan, Victoria Ding, and Emily Elott.   


[About the writer]

Nina is a dedicated member of CESTA’s external communication team. As a student athlete studying Management, Science and Engineering at Stanford University, she is a passionate and ambitious team member always looking for the next challenge.