Alison  Booth


Alison Booth--BA Bennington, MFA Cornell, PhD Princeton--has taught narrative, Victorian literature, Gothic, travel, Jane Austen and other literary topics at UVA for a very long time. She is the author of Greatness Engendered: George Eliot and Virginia Woolf (1992) and How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present (2004) and editor of Wuthering Heights (Longman) and Introduction to Literature (Norton). Her research explores both the audience reception of authors and biography of or in groups, in an Anglo-American context. She is currently engaged in a digital project, Collective Biographies of Women (Scholars' Lab and IATH), and a book on literary tourism, biography, and house museums, "Writers Revisited."

  • Digital Versions of Life Narrative


    My first THATCamp, right in my backyard.  I’ve hopped around every digital branch of the UVA tree (think the bewigged cardinal): Scholars’ Lab (including the GIS specialists), NINES, SHANTI, and IATH, where lately we’re working on the BESS schema (Biographical Elements and Structure Schema), a database, and some prototypes for visualization, all taking the bibliography of 1200+ books in the Collective Biographies of Women project further into studies of biography.  Lots of DH work is biographical (a lot of projects have a person’s name in the title), and personal data and life narratives are all over the Internet, but even in literary digital studies there is relatively little work on genres of nonfiction.   I just got back from a conference on Life Writing at the Huntington Library.  My talk was called Social Networking in Old and New Media, the “old” being books, the “new” being digital, both social media and digital humanities.  The talk was like a sandwich with “all about my DH project” pressed thin in the middle, and thick slices of observation and speculation about the social construction of persons online.   What are the elements of a unique “person,” identity, or life narrative?  How do the forms (in all senses) of life narrative vary with repetition across different media?  Name, date and place of birth and death, portraits, signature or password, resume-style events (think Linked-In)–and, as on Facebook, relationships and consumer choices/opinions–these elements seem to give us a handle on the unique individual linked to others.  But as anyone who has worked in a library, written a biography or a history, or developed a database involving any social records knows, every component in this list of identifiers can be shared by others or it changes over time or can be falsified or lost.  There’s lots to pursue in the ways that computers affect life narrative, writing or encoding or studying it.  I’m interested in all the angles people might bring to this, but the Huntington crowd was very much about scholarship in paper archives and writing full-length literary biography.  I think print and digital media present similar issues about reconciling the big and little picture, what’s shared, what’s interesting, and what kind of elements or controlled values our schema allows.

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