Bringing Literature to Life in the Digital Humanities

Spring, 2019

As a kid growing up in Newfoundland, Kate Scarth loved Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books and now she gets to live that passion every day.

The Chair of L.M. Montgomery Studies and Assistant Professor in Applied Communication, Leadership and Culture at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in Charlottetown says her position is not a traditional academic one. This is primarily because it features a significant public-engagement component, something she explored earlier when she was doing post-doctoral work at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. That project was one that made her perfectly suited to the job she has now.

Supported by the Nova Scotia Museum and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, the project, which she worked on with ACENET’s Chris Geroux, features the literature of Halifax. The idea was to use her background in British literature, and her knowledge from having written her thesis on London’s suburbs, to continue that work — with a Canadian bent.

“I wanted to do something local, with a public-engagement side,” she says, adding that her adviser had done a course focused on getting people to read literature and then getting them out to experience places mentioned in the books.

A Compute Canada scholarship for the digital humanities helped her with the digital dimensions of her project.

“They matched humanities scholars to a Compute Canada technical expert,” she says. “I was matched with Chris Geroux from Halifax and he really helped accelerate the project and possibilities.”

Ultimately, the project is a soon-to-be-released map-focused website called Halifax Literary Landmarks. It features a map with popups about what literary happenings took place where. Text and audio versions of the same information are also available.

“L.M. Montgomery is one of the writers we look at,” Scarth says. “She went to Dalhousie for a year and later worked as a reporter in Halifax. She also set an Anne of Green Gables novel in a fictional Halifax. Anne visits the old burial grounds, for example.”

Scarth’s goal was to highlight the literary side of Halifax. “I want to show people there is rich literature about Halifax and help them learn more about where they live.”

The website has been housed on a virtual machine on the Compute Canada cloud.

“I can’t even begin to express how helpful it’s been to have Chris working with me,” she says of her ACENET experience. “When we were hiring computer science students, he helped draft the ad and sat in on interviews. It’s been so helpful for me not coming from that background.”

Her interest in the digital humanities continues in her current position. She’ll soon launch an online journal of L.M. Montgomery studies, something she hopes will attract scholars, librarians, English academics and even independent researchers.

“The journal will have a really wide audience,” she says. “I’ve also been sitting on an advisory committee with Parks Canada because they’re redeveloping the Anne of Green Gables interpretation centre and I’m developing an online course on the same subject.”

At UPEI, she has taught digital humanities and digital literacy courses, and she teaches a series of courses called “putting arts to work” — the idea being to get students to think about the skills they’re building in their Arts studies.

Scarth’s job seems custom-made to suit her strengths as she completes the mandate of the L. M. Montgomery Institute, which is “to forward the informed celebration of Montgomery’s work.”