What is this project’s purpose?
We aim to create a digital resource that facilitates new scholarly opportunities to approach Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedecker (1923). This digital resource will allow users to explore Lunar Baedecker’s full lexicon as well as access selected definitions from a dictionary Loy may have had access to in her time or selected definitions from a dictionary from the same era.
More than simply depositing this digital resource, we also hope to demonstrate its use via our own preliminary efforts at computerized textual analysis, close readings, and socio-historical analysis. By applying these three methods, this site exemplifies a feedback loop between them. This loop not only highlights the usefulness of each individual method but also demonstrates how each method can complement the others, picking up the slack where other methods are limited.
Computerized textual analysis, for instance, is restricted by the sample size, which in our case with Lunar Baedecker is very small. Close readings, on the other hand, are unable to capture a more comprehensive and holistic view of this collection. We as scholars lose insights about word frequencies and word patterns throughout the entire collection, favoring the study of these poetic devices in individual poems. Socio-historical analysis fills in gaps and grounds our understanding as to why Loy, based on her time and place, may write the way she writes or why she chooses the words she chooses. Unfortunately, this method can only reveal so much as it is hard to even place where precisely Loy was when she wrote Lunar Baedecker. Furthermore, impactful literary scholarship needs to be rooted in the text and socio-historical analysis can get lost in biographies and cultural contexts.
How does this Lexicon work?
- words whose meanings we find less accessible
This includes, but is not limited to, words that are more scientific in nature, such as relating to astrology, botany or anatomy. We will also define more obscure, Latin-based words as well as words that may have been understood a certain way by Loy’s contemporaries, considering each poem’s socio-historic context. Our primary source for the lexicon will be 1907 Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language. If a word is not listed in Webster’s, we use the definition from the contemporary Oxford English Dictionary.
2. words that relate to a celestial approach
Rather than simply making Loy’s poetry more linguistically accessible, we also aim to facilitate scholarly analysis. Based on our computerized textual analysis that highlights the importance of celestial words, our lexicon will isolate what we consider to be the celestial-related subject matter.
Why provide analysis?
Loy frequently uses words relating to astronomy; planets, moons, and suns, and more broadly light, darkness, and circles, pervade her poems. Following the example of Hoyt Long and Richard So (“Literary Pattern Recognition”), we use three types of analysis: close reading, socio-historic, and computerized textual analysis. Through this three-point approach, we give new celestial-focused analysis or point towards existing critical voices.
We also felt that, while the creation of such a lexicon is good work on its own, we should exemplify at least a few methodological possibilities with this tool. In this sense, we hope that future scholars either pick up where we have left off with our research or become inspired to use the lexicon in ways that we can not and could not even foresee.
What was our process?
We received a .txt of Lunar Baedecker from an online resource that can be found here (personal.colby.edu/~isadoff/map/loy.doc). With this .txt file we were able to conduct our preliminary computerized textual analysis. This analysis led to a group discussion regarding our hypotheses regarding astronomical and celestial imagery within the collection. From this point, drawing inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s Lexicon, we set out to create a lexicon tool via a WordPress website. We created literature reviews on the following topics: Lexicon Building, Digitizing Loy, Astronomy in Loy’s work, and the background of the 1923 Lunar Baedecker. Some of this information has made its way onto the site; specifically, you can learn about digitizing loy, the cultural context, and our close reading regarding astronomy. While the entire contents of our research did not make it onto the site, our literature reviews informed our research approach and drove us to ask new questions about both how to conduct our project and why our project matters.
During our initial research, we found an digitized version of the 1907 Webster’s International Dictionary of English Language, located at the Hathi Trust digital library.
The website went through four stages of prototyping before reaching its current iteration. In each prototype, we added more text-based content while also concentrating on UX processes like usability, site mapping, information architecture, and user testing. We conducted both in-class user testing (with an audience familiar with Loy) as well as informal testing with friends unfamiliar with our project. We received feedback from our classmates and professor in person and through Hypothes.is. Because wanted the information we provided to not only be usable, but accessible, we focused both on content and on how users could access content.
The lexicon was built in Google Sheets. Originally, we included both the 1907 Websters and Oxford English Dictionary definitions for words we identified as pertinent to this project. Later, iterations simplified the definition to only include the Websters 1907 definition. If we could not find the definition in the 1907 Webster’s, we consulted the OED. We also integrated other information for each word to the spreadsheet including part of speech, frequency, poem in which they were mentioned, context, and category “tags.” Each of these variables was manually typed into the Google spreadsheet, and since the 1907 Webster does not allow users to copy and paste, nor does it highlight where words on are its pages, this was a particularly time-intensive process.
Learn more about our methodology by viewing our project’s White Paper.