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Jeff Drouin

James Joyce Quarterly announces leadership transition

man in a plum-colored shirt and grey blazer gesturing upwards with this right arm
Sean Latham

After 21 years of service, Walter Professor of English Sean Latham has stepped down from the editorship of the James Joyce Quarterly (JJQ) to take on new a position with The University of Tulsa. He will be succeeded by Chapman Professor of Law Robert Spoo and Associate Professor of English Jeff Drouin, who will serve as co-editors.

Latham arrived at TU in 2001 to lead the journal after completing his doctorate at Brown University. As editor, he oversaw the transformation of JJQ from a print-only publication into an innovative, hybrid publication with a sprawling global readership of scholars, fans, teachers,and students. During this tenure, he hosted the North American Joyce Conference, marked the centenary of Bloomsday and created the journal’s 50th-anniversary issue. In addition to producing over 70 issues of the print journal, he revived the celebration of Bloomsday here in Tulsa and returned the headquarters of the International James Joyce Foundation to TU.

“The James Joyce Quarterly brought me and my family to Tulsa,” Latham remarked, “and the community of scholars, fans and students that have gathered around it have made the Joyce world a second home.” His work as editor has taken him to symposia and universities around the world, from Dublin, Zurich and Paris to the world’s largest book festival in Shanghai. During his editorship, he wrote or edited 10 books on modern literature and culture, including editions of Joyce’s Dubliners and Ulysses, as well as influential studies on literary magazines, libel law and snobbery.

man smiling and wearing a white shirt, blue tie and blue blazer
Robert Spoo

More than anything, Latham has valued the opportunity to help shape the work of developing scholars: both the students who have come to Tulsa to study Joyce and the writers and researchers whom he has mentored through the challenges of a rigorous peer-review process: “The arrival of each new issue is a joy because I know the huge amount of work that our entire team has put into maintaining the journal’s reputation for excellence.”

Latham’s successors also came to Tulsa to pursue work on James Joyce. In fact, he took over the journal from Spoo, who, while then a member of the English faculty, had served as editor from 1991 to 2001. “I’m in the amazingly unique position of having preceded Sean at JJQ and now returning to it as he embarks for new challenges and opportunities,” said Spoo. “In addition to my work in TU’s College of Law, I remain active as a scholar of Joyce, so the transition will be a natural one for me, and I greatly look forward to collaborating with Jeff in guiding JJQ into the future.”

man wearing glasses, black shirt and black blazer
Jeff Drouin

Spoo will share the editor’s chair with Drouin, an expert on modernism and digital humanities. Drouin describes it as “an honor to become an editor of the journal that has guided research in Joyce and modernism for so many scholars over so many years. Bob and Sean as the two more recent editors, have both made a lasting impact that will allow us to carry the journal forward as the world moves in new directions.”

Stepping down from a position that has defined almost his entire professional life is emotional, Latham admits. “I do so, however, knowing that the journal will be led by an outstanding team who are certainly far better qualified for the work than I was back in 2001. And they will be supported by Carol Kealiher, our managing editor, and the dedicated staff of graduate assistants who have always been the real keys to the journal’s ongoing success.”

Latham will remain at TU and move to a largely administrative role leading the institution’s public humanities initiatives while developing the fledging TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies.

The JJQ was founded by Thomas F. Staley at TU in 1963 and began its life as a modest passion project in a midtown Tulsa garage. It has since grown into the internationally recognized flagship of Joyce studies and a leading publication in literary studies more generally. TU itself is home to one of the world’s leading collections of Joyce’s papers and has been a research leader in the field of modern literature for more than 60 years.

Digital Modernism

For University of Tulsa Associate Professor of English Jeff Drouin, studying Modernism goes beyond analyzing what we already know about literature. It is about formulating new questions and challenging what we understand about the period. The Department of English and Creative Writing’s Modernist Journals Project (MJP) offers graduate students, faculty and researchers outside TU abundant opportunities to engage in these fresh scholarly activities.

New England meets Tulsa

man with grey hair and glasses seated at a desk gazing at a computer monitor
Associate Professor Jeff Drouin

Originating at Brown University, the MJP is the first digital archive of literary magazines from the early 20th century that digitizes complete runs of fully intact magazine issues, including the covers and the advertisements, as primary sources that are free to the public. The MJP was founded by Robert Scholes in 1995. TU Professor of English Sean Latham worked closely with Scholes during his graduate studies and became a project manager for the MJP at Brown. In 2003, the MJP launched the Tulsa location, where Latham became the co-director. Latham stepped down from active involvement in 2014 and is now a senior advisor for the project.

Drouin began his work at the MJP as a freelance coder for the project when he was a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York. He became the director of the MJP at Tulsa in 2014. Drouin works beside Susan Smulyen, the MJP’s director at Brown, in order to digitize the texts in Tulsa. Currently, Brown hosts the digital repository that stores the magazines’ data, while TU provides physical texts from McFarlin Library’s Department of Special Collections. This archive includes magazines from all over the world, such as the Little Review, which contains works from influential Modernist authors. Special Collections also contributes works that contain artifacts, such as authors’ margin notes, to the MJP for digitization.

Discoveries through digitization

young woman smiling while seated at a desk
M.A. student Danika Bryant

The MJP has made many discoveries that have enriched scholars’ understanding of Modernism. “Some of the most important discoveries have been the content itself,” Drouin remarked. “The purpose of the MJP was to uncover content that was lost. Going back to magazines during that time allows us to have a clearer picture of authors who contributed that have been left out of the literary record.”

By digitizing fully intact magazines, Drouin and his MJP colleagues at Brown, as well as TU graduate students involved with the project, have been able to reveal and acknowledge oppressed and marginalized Modernist writers who are missing from the current Modernist narrative. Digitizing these magazines also allows researchers and students to experience the texts’ materiality. “By including advertisements and covers, we can see the different social climates of the era and develop a new perspective on the period’s literature,” Drouin noted.

The language of coding

man gesturing toward a white board while a man and a woman sit at a long table
Graduate assistants learn about coding at the MJP office

Digitizing magazines entails coding and translating text into XML in order to create an electronic transcript. Coding bibliographic information makes it searchable and sortable. Coding, however, benefits not just users. It also allows Drouin and users of the journal to deploy software to discover patterns and see what authors have contributed to the period through SourceForge.

“The natural language processors find linguistic patterns throughout the language of Modernism,” explained Drouin. “These software have given us data sets to analyze that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Natural language processing also helps us discover patterns that we wouldn’t perceive during the normal act of reading, and to ask and answer questions about the magazines and about Modernism as a whole.”

Opportunities for students

The MJP gives opportunities for both English undergraduate and graduate students. The latter, for example, can undertake graduate assistantships with the project. These students learn electronic editing, text and coding as a gateway to digital humanities.

young man in a white shirt seated at a desk
M.A. student Nathan Blue

This semester, M.A. students Danika Bryant and Nathan Blue are working at the MJP to ensure that the magazines are being properly processed through ABBYY, a software used for digitizing texts in order to prepare them for coding. Bryant is currently working through one of the issues of transition magazine, a Modernist journal from the 1920s. “Being able to code again, with results that are tangible this time, gives me a focus that allows me to relax just a bit from my coursework and other jobs,” Bryant commented. “So far, I really enjoy the work that I do with the MJP and I don’t see that changing!”

a paper copy of Scribners Magazine showing the cover
One of the journals being coded by the MJP

Blue also enjoys researching Modernism and seeing where the MJP opens up new doors to new theories. “Modernism was born and grew up in these magazines,” Blue noted. “It is immensely valuable to allow people access to see where Modernism really thrived in their original context: these magazines and journals.” Blue is currently working on using OCR software to train the computer to “read” English, so to speak. Blue then encodes the text with metadata. “These skills allow me a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts of literature in the digital age”.

Involvement with the MJP helps to teach undergraduate students about periodical culture, which is crucially important in literature and media evolution studies. In Drouin’s view, “physical experience helps students to connect with the physicality of the texts, such as paper texture, print quality and color gradients. The physical aspects provide a perspective on the literature and on the Modernist movement that doesn’t come across in the digital surrogate. Some of the texts have marginalia from the authors who owned them and let us see the authors as people who have lived and loved, instead of just 20th-century writers.”

Recent developments

The MJP continues to transform new ways of working with old texts. For example, the project recently launched a new website with advanced functionalities for teaching and researching. Graduate students are also inventing new analytic modes and the project’s data were migrated to a new virtual repository.

These changes are opening up the computational possibilities for Drouin and his team and will allow researchers to extract data directly from the MJP for their projects. The MJP will also shortly release a new set of material from transition Magazine, a surrealist magazine published in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. “My hope,” said Drouin, “is that the MJP and other projects like it will help researchers break free from constraints and create more accuracy within the study of literature.”

If you are intrigued by the work of the MJP or about digital humanities in general, reach out to Jeff Drouin at