Lost pieces of history discovered at UVic

UVic’s Modernist Versions Project and in particular its work on Ulysses has garnered significant public attention in the past few months, due in large part to a discovery by post-doctoral fellow Matt Huculak.

Huculak has been involved with the Modernist Versions Project since co-founding it in 2010. “Part of my work now is working in special collections, helping them identify texts that need more publicity,” he says. “My speciality is modernism, and the University of Victoria has quite an amazing modernist collection.” It was in the special collections section of the library where Huculak discovered issues of the periodical Two Worlds Monthly that feature portions of Ulysses which were published in the 1920s without author James Joyce’s permission.

These texts are a particularly rare find, Huculak says. “The problem with periodicals is they tend to be published on cheaper paper that tends to disintegrate faster than other papers. They are also not bound, are not necessarily meant to be put on a shelf and kept forever. So a lot of these periodicals have disappeared, and they exist on microfilm or in very poor copies. What I found here was a pristine-condition first four issues of this, which is quite exciting.”

The U.S. had banned Ulysses in 1920 due to its sexual content. Samuel Roth, the publisher of Two Worlds Monthly, was able to publish the segments without permission because the ban made Joyce ineligible for U.S. copyright. According to Huculak, “Roth ostensibly had a legal justification to publish this — other than the fact that it had already been deemed inappropriate. So in perfect terms it’s not really pirated, other than in the sense that he didn’t seek Joyce’s permission.”

At the time, copyright laws were not as favourable to the author as they are today. “You had six weeks to get [your text] manufactured in the U.S. The smarter authors had it published in the U.S. first,” says Huculak. “But with Joyce, he didn’t have this opportunity. So there is this huge international shaming campaign that takes Roth down. Quite frankly, he never recovers from this.”

The Two Worlds Monthly issues remained undiscovered in the library because of differences between the cataloguing system of the Victoria College, which they were originally catalogued under, and the cataloguing system introduced when the college became the University of Victoria. As Huculak describes it, “A lot of this material still had its old metadata, its old catalogue data, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s discoverable.”

This is where the UVic-based international Modernist Versions Project (MVP) came in. With partners across Canada, the United States and Britain, the MVP was created in 2010 at a Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Huculak says the MVP’s mission is “to encourage this type of work in students, to create more interdisciplinary relationships between the library and English department, the library and the digital humanities things here, and to encourage new ways of thinking about texts.”

Prior to Huculak’s discovery, the MVP raised its profile through an event called the “Year Of Ulysses” (YOU). During the year, says Huculak, “every month we released a new episode [of the 1922 edition of Ulysses] and had a Twitter chat to accompany it, as a way of encouraging the Joyce community and bringing people together to talk about the text. We had lectures that are posted online and on our website, where scholars come together to talk about the text. That was all part of the YOU initiative.” As a follow up, this year the MVP plans to digitize the issues of Two Worlds Monthly that Huculak discovered and make them available to scholars and the public.

Huculak’s find demonstrates the benefits of the UVic’s libraries collection, for not only scholars, but students as well. “I would really like to stress . . . how important the library is and what great opportunities there are here — really great, untapped opportunities — and undergraduates really need to ask themselves, ‘How do I make myself different? How do I get training outside of the classroom? How do I cultivate this sort of extra-curricular knowledge?’ I think the library and Special Collections is a wonderful place to do it,” says Huculak.

As for the future of the project, “What we’re doing is bringing light to this archive and seeing what happens,” says Huculak. “Maybe a student will go in and make another discovery — change the way we think about modernism.”

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