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The Digital Interface

The decision to build a digital interface that accommodates the work of one of Canada’s most Gutenberg-bound writers might seem odd. Wouldn’t it be more fitting to present Cogswell in the paper and ink format he was accustomed to, and in which we are accustomed to seeing him? The quick answer is “Yes”; the more nuanced one is that publishers today have little of the generosity that Cogswell had in getting writers into print. So rather than dwell negatively on what couldn’t be done for reasons of sales and marketability (the usual reasons publishers give when they don’t see a place for a book in their catalogues) I decided to take the means of production into my own hands – as Cogswell, Dudek, and other modernists did. The result is a project aimed primarily at presenting Cogswell and secondarily at experimenting with the potentials of digital creation and dissemination.

Dean Irvine’s Editing Modernism in Canada SSHRC project, on which I am a co-applicant, provided the impetus to begin. Since that SSHRC project aims to create innovative digital interfaces to re-present key Canadian modernists, and Cogswell was one of those modernists, the fit was ideal. And UNB’s Electronic Text Centre, one of the leading centres of digital humanities in the country, was eager to partner with me.

My hope from the outset was that the work we did to create the Cogswell interface would serve as a template for other books on other figures. In New Brunswick, a province poorly served by a small cottage-industry publishing house and a corporately owned press, the benefits of digital knowledge dissemination – an alternative to the dismal situation we now have – are immediate and pressing.

In pioneering alternative ways to present and disseminate information, the students and scholars working in the still-early days of digital publishing are, in effect, paralleling the efforts of the mid-century modernists who used earlier technologies of typewriter and mimeograph machine to bypass the intractability of a media and publishing industry no longer serving the knowledge needs of citizens. It was thus in seeking to be as revolutionary (and relevant) as Cogswell that this project found its form.


Next: Acknowledgements