A review of The (De)collected War of the Worlds, a scholarly digital edition of H.G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds, created by Madeline Gangnes
The (De)collected War of the Worlds
Madeline Gangnes, University of Florida
Amanda Visconti, University of Virginia
The (De)collected War of the Worlds (TDWW) is a public-facing online archive of materials related to the serialization of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. When collected as volumes, serialized texts like Wells’s novel are divorced from crucial images and paratexts. This web archive re-places Wells’s text within specific historical, aesthetic, and material contexts to create a more approachable and accessible presentation. Drawing inspiration from digital projects on serialization and illustration, TDWW uses a range of open-access tools to model how digital approaches can reincorporate important contexts.
TDWW includes the serialized text of the novel and facsimiles of the illustrated periodical pages to illuminate the novel’s material conditions. Descriptions of page layouts and illustrations are offered to 1) demonstrate how illustrations contribute to meaning-making and 2) make images accessible to audiences for whom visual materials present difficulties. The novel’s full serial text is digitally annotated with citations from critical editions of the novel, as well as my own citations. The site also incorporates text comparisons, a map, a publication timeline, and information about the tools used to create the project.
I created the base website using the free version of WordPress, then migrated to Reclaim Hosting so I could use plugins to enhance accessibility and enable direct embedding. I used Track Changes in Microsoft Word to mark up a file from Project Gutenberg to identify revisions between the 1897 periodical and the 1898 volume texts. This created a transcript of the periodical text to 1) host on the website for annotation and text-to-speech compatibility and 2) compare with the volume using the online text comparison tool Juxta Commons to display Wells’s revisions.
The transcript pages constitute the bulk of the website’s content. To facilitate accessibility for the image-textual content, I wrote text-to-speech compatible descriptions of page layouts and illustrations to accompany digital facsimiles. Hypothes.is allowed me to annotate the text with critical and historical citations. Through Google Maps, I constructed an interactive map of southern England tracking the Martian landing sites, the characters’ journeys, and Wells’s homes. I used Timeline JS to present information related to the novel’s serial publication, which is largely overlooked in critical discussions.
I conceived and executed this project by myself as a component of my doctoral dissertation and in partial fulfillment of the University of Florida’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities. I made revisions based on feedback from advisors and colleagues.
The audience of TDWW includes scholars, instructors, and students of nineteenth-century British literature, periodicals, serialization, illustration, visual rhetoric, book history and print culture, digital humanities, and/or disability studies. The project was designed to also be accessible to non-academic audiences.
Project Support and Dissemination
A University of Florida Research Travel Award funded my initial archival research at the British Library and the Bodleian Libraries, and my Graduate Fellowship and Kirkland Dissertation Award allowed me the time and resources to develop and maintain the project. Proposals based on this project have been accepted to the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) Conference and the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention. It also will be discussed in Quick Hits: Teaching With Digital Humanities (University of Indiana Press, 2020).
The (De)collected War of the Worlds (TDWW) is a scholarly digital edition (SDE) of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds (War) and its serialized, illustrated, and collected contexts. Beyond its solid implementation of typical textual scholarship methods (e.g. transcription, critical annotations, collation), TDWW particularly shines in the quality, variety, and attention to its contextualizations. These deliberately engage multiple audiences beyond the Victorianists, textual scholars, and teachers one would expect of such an SDE. Madeline Gangnes intentionally addresses four audiences frequently underserved by scholars: non-academic readers, users accessing the project via a variety of digital input/output devices, humanities scholars curious about what the digital humanities is or how to do it, and digital humanities scholars seeking models for supporting any of those audiences.
By pulling attention from the later volumized text to the earlier serialized version, Gangnes’ project can be evaluated as an SDE while also playing with the idea of "(de)collecting": moving from a single, final volume as an authoritative collection of the text, to the richer social contexts presented by "(de)collecting" the novel into its serialized form. Many of the project's choices around contextualization advance humanities scholarship and accessibility simultaneously. For example, the project includes a topically unrelated text that was illustrated by the same artist as the serialized War; Gangnes uses this context to show a potential influence on War's illustration style and content to make a broader argument about illustrated periodicals' challenges for text-to-speech engines.
A collated, annotated transcription of the periodical text, alongside digital facsimiles with text-to-speech compatible descriptions of page layouts and illustrations, form the edition's key content. This core work fulfills goals of making the serialization's illustrations accessible to audiences with difficulties accessing visual materials and "demonstrat[ing] how illustrations contribute to meaning-making." Translation, color and text size adjustment, and other widgets increase the project's accessibility to visitors with a variety of needs for digital input/output methods, including users using screen readers to hear text. A variety of multimedia approaches including text comparisons, a map, and a timeline offer different entry points into the research.
The project reflects digital archival theories such as Ricardo L. Punzalan's work on "virtual reunification" of disparate cultural heritage items with shared geographic origins. It builds on the work of online textual archives that return serialized literature to placement alongside the paratexts sometimes removed during digitization. TDWW is also an addition to the recent history of editions imagined as something more or else than the formal meaning of "critical edition," such as museum exhibits, apps, and platforms for social reading. Unlike most digital humanities project where, best intentions notwithstanding, accessibility is treated as an afterthought shortly before publication, TDWW is a critical intervention in digital humanities project design, making accessibility a key feature of its scholarship from its inception.
The commitment to building the project via tools free for non-commercial use means that everything about the project, except its scholarly labor and web hosting, can be emulated by other scholars for free. Coupled with friendly explanations that do not assume familiarity with core research and technical concepts, the project is accessible to non-academic users as well as scholars seeking to pursue similar digital humanities work by demonstrating that technical processes do not need to be invented from scratch. Gangnes walks users through her scholarly (including technical) process and practice, both why and how, explicitly intending TDWW to offer a useful model for similar scholarship. The project presents an exceptionally thorough explanation of both typical and experimental applications of eight tools, web hosting, and a dataset involved in the research or presentation of the project. Additionally, slides and a conference talk transcript further explain these tools, their use for this project, and their potential for other scholars' research.
Scholarly review and recognition of the project include papers accepted to major conferences for the field (NAVSA and MLA), discussion in an upcoming book on digital humanities pedagogy, and three sources of research funding. Directed by Gangnes alone, TDWW was created as a component of a doctoral dissertation and graduate digital humanities certificate. As such, this project demonstrates the benefits of continuing to improve opportunities and resources supporting digital humanities dissertation work.
In the future, this project could include more in-depth analysis of what its multimedia features reveal about the text, benefiting from the current project’s fluency in accessible, jargon-free explanation. The promising direction of the “(de)collecting” concept might flourish with a more detailed discussion that further cites and critiques existing work. A longer written methodology section, in the style of other critical editions, could make more of the textual scholar’s thinking accessible to users seeking to emulate this project’s approaches. On the other hand, given the project’s rejection of some typical editing approaches and the director’s established expertise in textual scholarship, more writing about why such a methodology was not shared at length could be an equally useful contribution. Rather than being shortcomings, these suggestions are simply potential areas of continued growth for this already successfully ambitious scholarly project.
 See "Understanding Virtual Reunification." Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 84, no. 3, pp. 294–323. The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online is an example of a project virtually reunifying artifacts from a specific geographic area; Codex Sinaiticus is an example of a single "text" reassembled online from pages physically in disparate locations.
 See Arbuckle, Alyssa. "Considering The Waste Land for iPad and Weird Fiction as Models for the Public Digital Edition." Digital Studies/Le champ numérique, 2014. https://www.digitalstudies.org/articles/10.16995/dscn.50/.