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Annexing the Possibilities: The Victorians Institute Journal Digital Annex

Linda K. Hughes, TCU (Texas Christian University)

Anteroom to “annexes”
Ellen Rosenman, whose editorial term began in 2010, asked me to comment on the new VIJ Digital Annex, and I want to use this preliminary space to praise the foresight, energy, and creativity that went into inaugurating this hybrid phase in the history of Victorians Institute Journal, which now combines print and digital forms and makes interactions between them possible. The choice to affiliate the Annex with NINES, which originated in discussions between David Latané and Andrew Stauffer, is also inspired. As the NINES homepage states: “NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) is a "scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first”. VIJ’s annex likewise links the material journal to digital media, and the reach, relevance, and presence of VIJ will expand as a result of the annex’s tie to the increasingly important digital scholarly community of NINES.
In what follows I explore the possibilities opened up by the new VIJ Digital Annex by pondering multiple meanings of “annex” as an act or a space. In all cases, my definitions and historical examples of usage are drawn from the online OED subscribed to by the Mary Couts Burnett Library at my home institution.
I. annex, v.
4. To add to a composition or book, to append.

    a
1500  (1450)    Merlin (1899) 327   That he dide write he anexed to the booke that Blase wrote.
Quite brilliantly, the very name of the VIJ Digital Annex encodes VIJ’s new hybridity, since “to annex” means to append an entity to a composition or book. “VIJ Digital Annex” thus announces a relation to print and as such also encodes the history of VIJ, which originated (and persists) as a print form.
8. To attach as a consequence.

   a1538    T. Starkey Dial. Pole & Lupset (1989) 64   Thes thyngys folow & be annexyd as commyn effectys.
But the annex is reached only online, whence the annex also announces consequential historical change as digital scholarship in the humanities continues to grow exponentially. If the weighty Variorum Edition was once the signifier of scholarly reliability (and the equally weighty canonicity of the author at issue), the National Endowment for the Humanities now requires as a condition of funding “endeavors to make the products of its grants available to the broadest possible audience.” In practice this most often means pairing a print edition with a website, and, “all other considerations being equal, NEH gives preference to those that provide free access to the public” (NEH). The title of a new essay in Profession 2010, published by the Modern Language Association in December 2010, seems to say it all: “Valuing Digital Scholarship: Exploring the Changing Realities of Intellectual Work” (Purdy and Walker). Yet there is more to say, since the essay is a print publication not available online (like most of VIJ; see the prior paragraph).
5. To affix (a seal; hence a signature or other mark of sanction). arch.

   1603 R. Knolles Gen. Hist. Turkes 43 Nothing was accounted of any force, except his [sc. the emperor's] approbation were thereunto annexed.
The VIJ Digital Annex has been vetted as part of NINES, an attribution clearly visible at the top and bottom of the webpage that neatly encases annex contents with a kind of digital seal of approval. The “seal” grants welcome publicity to the journal and also signifies a digital politics and economics. Note this comment under the annex proper: “Content in this group is protected by a Creative Commons’ Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License” (http://www.nines.org/groups/vij). Jerome McGann, Dino Felluga, and Laurel Brake have all recently commented in print and online journals that the digitized searchable databases of full-text Victorian periodicals, scholarly bibliographies, and other materials resources on which we have quickly come to rely come at a price. As McGann, chief enabler of NINES,@ comments,
Capitalist entrepreneurs are already actively trying to gain control over as much information as they can. Perhaps never before has knowledge been so clearly perceived as a fungible thing, as a commodity to be bought and sold. Humanities
scholarship has a calculable market price, and the market will work to buy low and sell high, as the dreadful examples of Elsevier and Kluwer have recently revealed to the science community.

And don’t imagine that our cultural heritage—what Shelley called our poetry—is safe from commercial exploitation by agents who view our work—what they call “the content” we create—as a marketable commodity. Perhaps the chief virtue of a project like NINES is to supply scholars with a social mechanism for preserving and protecting what we do. (81)@
Felluga speaks of “the exorbitant fees the corporations then charge universities to buy back the editing and research work originally generated by their own employees” and the threat posed by “the continuing depletion of our library resources as corporations sell us back our own digital content at prices that are increasing well beyond the rate of inflation” (313). The situation is evolving, since as Andrew Stauffer points out, several of these corporations are beginning to share limited resources with NINES, a nonprofit (Stauffer 9). Brake usefully historicizes access in relation to print culture, noting, “the distribution model differs from that for books in the past century, which targeted individuals as well as libraries. Now, the purchaser sought for these expensive digital products is corporate. Individuals only have access through membership in the community of an institutional purchaser. This may include public libraries, but just as often in this period of recession, it does not. The ethics of access, then, are problematic, and current practice may exclude whole sectors of the wider public, including the schools” (¶ 14).
To reproduce the above quotations I have accessed a peer-reviewed, open-access online journal (for Brake), a print journal (for Felluga), and a remediated journal in a digitized commercial database (for McGann). My library must subscribe annually to the premium version of the digitized database at a rate based on the university’s tier in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions (2000) and its annual number of downloads—a total cost of anywhere from $6,200-$38,500 per year per library in North America. Some profits are returned to scholarly journals, since each download generates a small royalty; but the majority belong to the vendors.
These details underscore the importance of what the annex does as well as the value of VIJ’s print journal. As Ellen Rosenman states, “We are in the process of digitizing articles from the journal's Victorian Texts series, in an effort to expose scholarship that would otherwise be available only in print” (http://www.nines.org/groups/vij). The first five she has collected feature important primary documents edited by scholars whose work has been peer reviewed: a William Morris interview and letter, letters of Elizabeth Gaskell and her family, Scottish poems by Marion Bernstein, and a Chinese missionary tract by Charles Marjoribanks. Accessing these materials online will cost no library or individual a cent: this digitized material represents a gift from scholars back to scholars, students, and any interested members of the public. This resource, however, hardly slips free of economic considerations. Dues-paying members of Victorians Institute are automatically subscribed to the journal, and their (extremely modest) fees help underwrite the editorial costs and energies that support the print medium and now, augmented by funding of NINES from the University of Virginia (formerly the Mellon Foundation), the new annex.
3. To add as an additional part to existing possessions (with or without local contiguity).

   1800 Duke of Wellington in Dispatches I. 60 The whole country is permanently annexed to the British Empire.
Perhaps the most familiar meaning of “annexation” to Victorianists is an imperialist drive to attach land and resources to an empire. Where VIJ is concerned print is, for the time being, the “metropole” and the annex the “colony.” But how long will this be the case? Which will be the hegemonic medium in ten years’ time? Digital humanities has unquestionably come to the fore, but in view of VIJ’s continuing commitment to print it is worth pausing to recall that printed books are also a technology that merits praise. As numerous scholars have commented, the great virtue of print is its stability, durability, and feasibility of access with or without functioning power grids or batteries (given enough windows, candles, or moonlight). How many have marveled, as I have, leafing through one of the letter books in the Manuscript Reading Room of the British Library, at the freshness and clarity of a three-hundred-year-old letter by Isaac Newton, or in other reading rooms at the creamy pages of late eighteenth-century books? Free Google Book nineteenth-century texts are a godsend to Victoriansts (Stauffer 2, 7), and the weight and cost of books has made the Kindle or I-pad a more mobile, convenient carrier of reading matter. But the portability of the average book is likewise impressive, for it (to paraphrase another arch-imperialist besides Wellington) can accompany the reader on the seas, on the beaches, on landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, in the hills—even on the subway or bus (where books excite less envy or contemplated theft than I-pads) or the bathtub.
If the great vulnerability of digital resources is the constant technological change that renders platforms and software moribund and threatens digital content, the magnificent advantages of digital resources are their searchability, access, speed, flexibility, interactivity, correctability, expandability, and compatibility with multiple media (film, audio, graphics, language).@ The lure of all these features, not to mention the fact that the rising generation finds print increasingly foreign and digital media “indigenous,” suggests that in the future the primary and ancillary roles of print and digital media in VIJ will indeed reverse. Purdy and Walker celebrate digital media as the new norm (and prospectively the new normal), but after similarly noting the strengths of digital resources, Brake issues a caution:
Digitisation of nineteenth-century materials has immense potential for opening up the rich diversity of these preserved resources to a geographically and demographically dispersed group of users, but it is just as important to retain the print archive for digitised resources—as the most durable form of the resource—as it is for those print titles which remain undigitised. Virtual representation of print objects is not the same as the objects, not only because the paper issues or bound volumes are the durable “originals,” but also because the medium is different. It is important now for users to have access to characteristics of the material book or serial; this will become increasingly important in future, when users may have little firsthand experience of books, the format of which may itself become one of the key markers of nineteenth-century culture. (¶ 23)
In the near future VIJ may well become an online journal, but for now we are given the best of both worlds, print and digitization, and this is cause for celebration.@
II. annex (e, n.)
4. From the modern French annexe, as applied to additional parts of an exhibition building: a supplementary building designed to supply extra accommodation for some special purpose; a wing. . . .

   1883    Pall Mall Gaz. 20 Mar. 4/1   The success of Newnham and Girton, and of the Woman's Annex at Harvard.
Though the Pall Mall Gazette’s reference to a Woman’s Annex at Harvard might set the tone for renewed questions about marginalization, privilege, and power, I want to focus instead on what kind of space the VIJ Digital Annex offers or could become. In keeping with the etymology of “annexe” as a built space we might begin by imagining the alternative “rooms” or structures it could resemble. For many users it will be entered as a “front door” to VIJ. Anyone who clicks on the “Publications” tab on the NINES website immediately encounters an image of VIJ, a means, I hope, by which many new members will be invited into the Victorians Institute community. Only a Google search for “Marion Bernstein,” the subject of one of the exhibits, led back to the VIJ annex on the first page of hits in December 2010, but other web users could in future find the annex via the same search engine. For others, the VIJ annex may be entered as a back door after they visit the VIJ home page, note the annex link, and click onto the site.
Once entered, the new annex is minimally (and least excitingly) a store room, a place where important scholarship is digitally deposited. As Brake points out above, “store room” is increasingly likely to apply more to printed matter, with libraries coming to share functions with museums. Similarly limited but more dynamic, the annex may for casual visitors be only a way station, a stop enroute elsewhere—though always with the tantalizing prospect that some new browser will discover just how intriguing the world of Victorian studies can be.
Far more exciting is the possibility that the annex will function as a space where real work is done—perhaps not the “main room” of VIJ, which is devoted to the print journal, but the equivalent, say, of a scholar’s study at home in which bookshelves line the walls surrounding a reading desk while the computer and stacks of current work lie off to the side in an annex. Subscribers can use the annex as a lively reading room where we can revisit important material at the click of a mouse and direct others to it with a digital link. Those outside the VIJ community, obviously, can also make use of its digital articles.
Especially vital is the annex’s capacity for interactive dialogue through the “discuss” button next to each online article and under the open online forum. This feature gives us all a reason, prospectively, to enter the “room” often and leave traces of our visits in ways at least as interesting as the nineteenth century cartes-de-visite so many of us still find fascinating. To initiate interactivity in the annex, I’ve re-read William Baker’s edited Gaskell correspondence with great pleasure and have responded online; I’ve also recruited additional discussants, asking them to reply to annex articles formally or informally, briefly or at greater length. The “discuss” feature, in fact, could develop into the equivalent of a series of collaborative blogs, as one digital reader responds to an article, another replies (including, it’s to be hoped, the author or editor of the piece), another responds, and so on.
The annex’s “discuss” resource also offers exciting possibilities for graduate teaching. As part of a seminar involving socialism, imperialism, travel, sexuality, Pre-Raphaelitism, women poets, working class writing, domesticity, and/or Gaskell’s fiction, I can envision asking a group of graduate students to work together to construct a response to one of the current or future annex articles—or to open a discussion on the forum through a digital position paper. The possibilities could multiply if, say, faculty at different institutions coordinated simultaneous graduate courses and assigned groups to respond to each other. NINES itself has a classroom option that enables individual courses to post “exhibits” and elicit discussion. Not one of the exhibits posted in 2010, however, attracted a response by year’s end. “Classrooms” suggest assigned work more than spontaneous conversation, and perhaps unsurprisingly, when all our schedules are overly full, scholars and students are slow to engage others’ assigned postings.
The Digital Annex is emphatically not a classroom resource alone, as is the NINES “Classroom” feature. But that is no reason to exclude students from participation. One way of moving closer to the communal interactivity that remains the ideal of Web 2.0 while still involving graduate students enrolled in a course context might be to charge any group contributing to the Digital Annex also to recruit a scholar who would respond to them in turn—a means of contributing to students’ professional development as well as widening the conversation among VIJ’s constituency. The annex could also entail alternative serious work if conference organizers of Victorians Institute annual meetings were to use the “Open Discussion” forum to elicit response to possible conference themes or conference arrangements (especially in reaction to past or contemplated innovations).
Many turn domestic annexes into playrooms. Conceiving of the “Open Discussion Forum” as a site for ludic response could also prove interesting. As more and more scholars, teachers, and students turn to new media writing or adopt video dramatizations, parodies, visual interpretation and other forms to respond to literary works (in many of which free play and serious purpose are inseparable), they are producing new digital forms housed on university sites or uploaded onto youtube. The annex is not designed as a storage site for such material (which might easily overload its capacity). But it could be perfectly appropriate to post a one-sentence description of such a production and a link to it under the “Open Discussion” forum; such links might then function after all as a compressed storehouse of interesting ideas for new media assignments in other classrooms. This degree of interactivity, which could involve undergraduates and those outside universities might risk some danger of the “playroom” turning into a pit stop where passers by in a hurry deposit waste material. But we’ve long been accustomed to the appropriateness of a web moderator authorized to delete trivial or inappropriate matter (as Patrick Leary is empowered to do for the listserv VICTORIA).
Exiting the “annex”
I close with a metacommentary on my commentary. One reason I wanted to organize the essay around multiform meanings of “annex” was to fashion a structure that answered to the new hybridity of VIJ by nodding simultaneously to the resources of hypertext and print. This essay could easily organize itself as a hypertext, showing an image of an “anteroom” linked to a number of annex icons that, when clicked open, would reveal further discussion. Hypertext would carry the additional advantage of hosting embedded links to some of the articles or websites I mention as well as allowing for future videos or power point commentary. But I also wanted to evoke the play of words in another important nineteenth- and twentieth-century print form, the lyric. Reverberating meanings that haunt and inform each other surface and interact in mobile, unpredictable ways when we read a poem in a linear sequence. Indeed, re-reading a lyric multiple times, discerning layer upon layer of meaning as we reiterate the lines, intensifies associational links within the text, prompts us to leap to new insights, and heightens our awareness of the medium of verse as such. We are all digital now, but print remains an important resource of play, work, and learning. VIJ’s Digital Annex makes it possible for members of Victorians Institute and its visitors to affirm the journal’s newly-fashioned hybridity and the resources it offers in consequence.
Linda K. Hughes, Addie Levy Professor of Literature at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, specializes in Victorian literature, publishing history, and women’s studies. Among other work she is the author of Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters (2005) and The Cambridge Introduction to Victorian Poetry; and she has co-authored with Michael Lund The Victorian Serial (1991) and Victorian Publishing and Mrs. Gaskell’s Work (1999). She was appointed to the editorial board of Victorians Institute Journal in 2010. Her current project is a study of Victorian women writers and Germany in the context of female cosmopolitanism, study abroad, and a transnational women’s literary tradition. An early result is her essay “Discoursing of Xantippe: Amy Levy, Classical Scholarship, and Print Culture,” Philological Quarterly 88.3 (Summer 2009): 259-81.
Works Cited
Brake, Laurel. “Tacking: Nineteenth-Century Print Culture and Its Readers.” “Victorian Studies and Its Publics.” Special issue, guest-edited Linda K. Hughes.  Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net   55 (August 2009, launched September 2010). Web.
Brown, Gary J. “Beyond Print: Reading Digitally.” Library Hi Tech 19.4 (2001): 290-99. Web, 24 December 2010.
Felluga, Dino. “Addressed to the Nines: the Victorian Archive and the Disappearance of the Book. Victorian Studies 48.2 (Winter 2006): 305-19. Print.
Folsom, Ed. “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives.” PMLA 122.5 (2007): 1571-78. Print.
McGill, Meredith. “Remediating Whitman.” (Response to Ed Folsom’s “Database as Genre.”) PMLA 122.5 (2007): 1592-96.
McGann, Jerome. “Culture and Technology: The Way We Live Now, What Is to BeDone?” New Literary History 36.1 (Winter 2005): 71-82. Web, 23 December 2010.
National Endowment for the Humanities. Scholarly Editions and Translations Grants. Web (http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/editions.html), 23 December 2010.
Nowak, Lisa. “Digital Reading Theory and Its Relation to Academic Reading Practices.” Scroll 1.1 (2008). Web (http://fdt.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/fdt/article/viewArticle/4910/1773), 24 December 2010
Purdy, James P., and Joyce R. Walker. “Valuing Digital Scholarship: Exploring the Changing Realities of Intellectual Work.” Profession 2010. New York: Modern Language Association, 2010. 177-95. Print.
Stauffer, Andrew. “Digital Scholarly Resources for the Study of Victorian Literature and Culture.” Victorian Literature and Culture 39.1 (2011): 1-11. Web, 27 December 2010.