À la recherche des origines perdues

I am really sorry to have missed THATCamp MLA, especially the sessions on Spatial Humanities and Teaching Digital Archives. That said, I’m noticing an emergent theme in the notes from this THATCamp and the one I attended in NYC: collaboration. Be it with archivists, with computer scientists, with other departments, humanities scholars need to be prepared to move the barriers that separate disciplines aside, to admit the gaps in their own knowledge, and to ask for help. I know I will be, once the dissertation is done. Indeed, I’m really looking forward to June, when I will finally have the space to breathe, to collaborate with experts in any number of seemingly disparate fields, and to experiment with a corpus under the aegis of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.

So while I might moan about missing the friendly fusion of minds that makes a THATCamp such a stimulating and regenerative place to be, I’m not complaining about why I missed THATCamp: I’m in Paris. Why? “Why not?” aside, it is the enigmatic origins of the central text of my dissertation, Les Types de Paris, that draws me here. Not that my project is anything akin to la critique génétique — far from it; it’s a literary geography and a micro-history of a certain text at a certain time in a (un)certain place. Nevertheless, I find myself compelled to try to piece together the story of a text that has come to occupy both my waking and sleeping hours. And as I struggle to weave together the very disparate strands (a letter from Huysmans to Arij Prins; another — unpublished — from Jean-François Raffaëlli to Léon Hennique; a brief mention in Le Figaro Littéraire; a cursory paragraph in a dissertation from the 1970s) of this text, I can’t help but wish that today’s archivists and digitizers had been at work a century ago.

I’ve deduced what I can from correspondence, both published and not; from journals; and from archives on both sides of the Atlantic, but the story of this “littérature exposition” — as Philippe Hamon might put it — remains an elusive one. Perhaps that’s why nobody’s written extensively about it before…

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