A review of Mina Loy, a multimedia digital project on the avant-garde works of modernist writer and artist Mina Loy, directed by Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum
Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant Garde
Suzanne W. Churchill, Davidson College
Linda Kinnahan, Duquesne University
Susan Rosenbaum, University of Georgia
Kathryn Holland, MacEwan University
Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum
Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde is a peer-reviewed, multimedia, digital scholarly website that charts modernist writer and artist Mina Loy’s avant-garde migrations. This open educational resource offers scholarly narratives and visualizations to contextualize and interpret Loy’s writing, art, and designs. It comprises a Mina Loy Baedeker (a digital scholarly book that charts Loy’s navigation of Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism), timelines, maps, art exhibits, a Twine game, close readings that interlink a text with its interpretation, student-authored biographies and other projects (“New Frequencies”), and a crowd-sourced feminist theory of the en dehors garde (“Flash Mob”) — our feminist alternative to the avant-garde. In addition, we share our WordPress “DH Scholarship Theme” in an open GitHub repository, so scholars can use and adapt our model for other digital humanities projects.
Our aim was not to create a comprehensive digital archive or wiki, but to provide a curated, multimedia, interactive platform for accessing and understanding Loy’s work. Using Loy as a case study, our project aims to broaden understanding of the diversity of avant-garde production and activate a network of interested readers and scholars. The project demonstrates how digital tools can transform humanities scholarship from the traditional model of a lone scholar writing a monograph to a team of researchers collaborating on a “multigraph” — an interactive, multi-authored, multimodal resource that sets user experience (UX) design standards for digital humanities scholarship. Originally built and hosted at Davidson College, the project is now hosted by the University of Georgia Libraries. The project is built on a WordPress platform with our custom theme, which uses open-source plugins.
Created by students, staff, and faculty at Davidson College, Duquesne University, and the University of Georgia, the project is the culmination of a five-year collaboration, supported by a $75,000 NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant, as well as by grants from our respective institutions (see Our Team).
The UX design of the project is designed to appeal to and accommodate a range of users, from advanced scholars and professors, to graduate students, undergraduates, and enthusiasts. Depending on their training and interests, users may engage the content at various levels, exploring bios, maps, and art exhibits; interacting with student-authored projects; diving into the scholarly chapters of the digital Baedeker; or participating in the ongoing production of feminist theory.
We have followed MLA style, adopted a Creative Commons license, and submitted the project for two forms of peer review: 1) double blind peer review from ModNets and 2) public peer review via Hypothesis (see Peer Review). An early version of the site was reviewed by “Teaching Modernist Women’s Writing in English” in 2016; we were interviewed for the blog “Decorating Dissidence: Modernism, Feminism, and the Arts” in 2018; and in Fall 2020 the project was featured in a Visualities Forum on Modernism/Modernity’s PrintPlus platform and in the Modernist Studies Association Digital Exhibition. The project attracts an average of 2,500 views a month, with a peak of more than 4,500 views in April 2020 when we announced the website’s completion on social media.
Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde is a born-digital, multimedia resource composed of methods and forms that follow those of its central subject: modernist writer and artist Mina Loy. In a creative life that spanned the first half of the 20th century and was located in Paris, Florence, New York, Mexico City, and elsewhere, Loy explored key movements of her time — such as Futurism and feminism — along with manifold themes including childbirth, erotic desire, and street life in her work. The project frequently takes cues from Loy’s creative expression. For instance, its homepage features its “Manifesto: Mina Loy for a Digital Age,” aligning directly with the genre and striking typography of one of Loy’s best-known texts (Feminist Manifesto, November 1914) and recent writing inspired partly by it (see the Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities, 2014); its “About” area invites the reader in with Loy’s claim ”BUT the Future is only dark from outside. Leap into it—and it EXPLODES with Light” (“Aphorisms on Futurism,” Camera Work, June 1914) as its epigraph.
An open educational resource (OER) designed for use by scholars and students, the project offers expansive and visually striking collections of material: primary texts by Loy linked to interpretations of them, resources about places in her life and archival afterlife, statements contributed by its audience, and documentation of its production, including the peer-review process conducted via the ModNets (Modernist Networks) federation. The site is arranged in four major areas. “Read” directs users to born-digital scholarship about Loy and modernist culture written by lead members of the team and its advisory board; it includes the Mina Loy Baedeker: Scholarly Book for Digital Travelers, a collection of essays loosely ordered by genre and period, and “Close Readings: Text | Interpretation,” which juxtaposes five poems by Loy and short analyses of them. This is followed by the five-part “Interact” section, which highlights contributions by students and the project’s audience. “New Frequencies” is a collection of 20 student projects about Loy, her peers, and their written and visual art that can be manipulated by users, while “Post(card)s: En Dehors Garde Flash Mob” features postcards with images and texts submitted by users responding to the team’s invitation to develop a new “feminist theory of the avant-garde” inspired by intersectional feminism and Susan Rosenbaum’s studies of American modernist women’s writing, turning outward (en dehors) to the peripheries of modernist culture while attuned and returning to its center. “Time Travel” animates users’ perceptions of Loy’s relationships and world with informative sections about her archives, members of her creative network (with more than 50 short biographies by students at the project’s host institutions), and major locations in her career. “About” provides not only standard introductions to the project and its members, but also information about the varied peer reviews undertaken as the site was developed, along with guidelines on citation and the use of the project’s custom WordPress theme for projects that users may wish to undertake.
Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde is an impressive project that rewards the time users invest in it. Its strengths include its rigorous approaches to Loy’s work, offering substantive scholarly arguments about her texts, career, and the interplay between them and broader concerns of her time. Tools for digital publication are leveraged effectively: words and high-quality images are imbricated throughout; the Baedeker’s structure encourages users to navigate it in non-linear paths; and settings in “Close Readings” enhance the mobility of its texts, especially the alignments of Loy’s poetry and critics’ prose. Team members highlight the varied forms of labor necessary to create and maintain digital, collaborative scholarship; along with caveats about non-peer-reviewed material on the site, they note difficulties with generating user feedback for its public peer-review process and challenges that arose in developing feminist theory via its “flash mob” method of the post(card)s initiative. Its outward-looking perspectives also are commendable, with publications engaging the scholarly community on Modernism / Modernity’s Visualities forum, for example, and compelling content on its social media channels. Some of the site’s material would be improved by greater clarity, with more information about the contexts of student contributions to “New Frequencies” to better match descriptions in “Bios” as well as greater distinctions between collections in the “Interact” and “Time Travel” areas to support users’ navigation. Ultimately, however, the site is an apt homage to Loy and her peers in modernism and a stimulating resource for those who research and teach them.