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Review: Winnifred Eaton Archive

A review of the Winnifred Eaton Archive, a digital edition of the works of Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve, directed by Mary Chapman

Published onAug 28, 2023
Review: Winnifred Eaton Archive

Winnifred Eaton Archive

Project Team
Mary Chapman (Director), University of British Columbia
Jean Lee Cole (Senior Consultant), Loyola University Maryland (emeritus)
Sydney A. Lines (Project Manager), University of British Columbia
Joey Takeda (Technical Director), Simon Fraser University
Samantha Bowen (Research Assistant), University of British Columbia
Sijia Cheng (Research Assistant), University of British Columbia
Daisy Couture (Research Assistant), University of British Columbia
Ken Ip (Research Assistant), University of British Columbia

Project URL

Project Reviewer
Heather Ball, St. John’s University
Elizabeth James, West Virginia University

Project Overview

Mary Chapman

The Winnifred Eaton Archive (WEA) is an accessible, fully searchable, digital scholarly edition of the collected works of Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve (1875-1954), best known for the popular Japanese romances she signed “Onoto Watanna.” Born in Canada and establishing her career with the publication of the best-selling novel Miss Nume of Japan, Eaton was the first Asian North American novelist and achieved sensational success in her lifetime. She was also a self-supporting journalist, playwright, and screenwriter. Her works were translated into scores of languages, reprinted, and adapted for the stage and screen.

The Winnifred Eaton Archive is organized into exhibits that correspond to periods in Eaton’s career. These periods overlap chronologically: Early Experiments features texts written in the 1890s and early 1900s during Eaton’s writing apprenticeship in Montreal and Jamaica, and/or before she had taken up her “Japanese” identity as “Onoto Watanna”; Playing Japanese collects texts written on Japanese subjects and themes from 1896 until 1922; New York Years collects texts from a period of reinvention (1901-1916) after the novelty of Eaton’s Japanese romances had faded, when Eaton tried writing dialect fiction and autobiographically inspired novels; Alberta (still incomplete) will collect texts written about Western ranch country and advocacy for Canadian literature, during Eaton’s years in Alberta, roughly from her marriage to Frank Reeve in 1917 until her death; and In Hollywood (still incomplete) will collect her screenplays, treatments, extant films, as well as fiction and journalism about the movie business written from 1916-1935.

The archive will provide a full and fair survey of Eaton’s work — its generic and stylistic range, its aesthetic experiment as well as its often problematic politics. Eaton’s ethnic masquerade, which recalls many literary frauds and impersonators both historical and contemporary, has made her difficult for scholars to celebrate. Whereas her sister Edith, who published sympathetic fictional and non-fictional accounts of diasporic Chinese under the Chinese pseudonym “Sui Sin Far,” is known as the “good” Eaton sister, Winnifred is considered the “bad” Eaton sister because of her sustained betrayal of her Chinese ancestry. The archive, by publishing authoritative electronic versions of Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve’s complete oeuvre written over many stages of her career, only one of which involved “Playing Japanese,” intends to reveal the rich diversity of her work and her writerly talent. 

All transcriptions are based on high-resolution digital images of published sources obtained from research libraries or, for unpublished materials, verified manuscripts from the Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve fonds at the University of Calgary. For Eaton’s manuscripts, periodical publications, and books, we provide facsimile page images and transcriptions. Transcriptions do not include illustrations. Where more than one version of a text exists, we provide facsimile page images and transcriptions for at least one version, typically the most complete; in the future, we may digitize additional versions. For films, we commit to providing both facsimile page images and transcriptions of her manuscripts (including scenarios, treatments, and screenplays) and are working to locate electronic copies of her films.

Principles and practices are adapted from The Map of Early Modern London’s Mission Statement written by Dr. Janelle Jenstad (University of Victoria) and the MoEML Team. All of our documents are encoded using a small subset of the TEI P5 schema. A fuller account of our encoding practices is given in our documentation. We have encoded the structure of the texts (divisions, sections, et cetera), page beginnings, quotations, and any variants of Winnifred Eaton’s name. 

The WEA has served as a flagship project for the development of staticSearch: a completely client-side search engine built specifically for digital editions and written by Martin Holmes and WEA technical director Joey Takeda. It is currently in active development; the code and documentation can be found on Github.

All of the technical and encoding documentation for the WEA can be found here. This documentation — written entirely within our TEI ODD file (One Document Does It All) — provides instructions for how to build the WEA site locally as well as outlines our encoding practices.

Project Review

Heather Ball and Elizabeth James

The Winnifred Eaton Archive serves as a much needed collection of 19th and 20ty century literature by an understudied Asian North American figure within an understudied area of literature. This project fosters scholarship and inquiry into Eaton’s writings and works toward mitigating the decades of erasure of Asian history and literature in North America. The project not only looks at her works as related to the larger literary corpus, both by other women authors as well as written works of the period in general, but also serves to invite critique and conversation around potentially polarizing parts of her works and life.

The project uses transcriptions with TEI markup and digital surrogates to provide access to the materials, along with a search bar and several thematic and bibliographic (e.g., pseudonyms) categories to divide the materials, providing individuals with multiple ways of looking at and understanding Eaton’s work in ways that inspire curiosity. The project makes excellent use of high-level technologies available, not only through using open access practices, TEI-based practices and encoding, open-code sharing and transparency via GitHub, and high-res digital images, but by being a flagship project for the development of staticSearch, which is a client-side search engine for digital editions that does not rely on outside and often algorithmically-biased search engines.

The project takes a minimal computing approach as demonstrated in its technical documentation. All processing is done client-side to minimize the back-end technical infrastructure needed to run the site. As a result, the project serves as a robustly documented example for other projects that seek to create sustainable projects. Every effort has been taken to ensure accessibility as well; through their coding practices, availability on GitHub, publishing high-quality images, Creative Commons License, and the project’s commitment to the “Endings Principles for Digital Longevity,” which means little to no dependence on server-side processing via static page building. In relation to inclusivity and diversity, the project’s commitment is markedly high. Not only do the contributors note the importance of her works to the larger corpus as an Asian American woman, they also address the potential problems of representing Eaton’s work as objectively as possible (they note that: “…editing her work in an ethical and anti-racist manner is challenging. Digitization of her works enables us to develop protocols for contextualizing racist aspects of her work.”).

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