The Modernism Lab, a virtual space dedicated to collaborative research into the roots of literary modernism, was compiled from 2005 to 2012. Through this project, we hoped, by a process of shared investigation, to describe the emergence of modernism out of a background of social, political, and existential ferment. The project covered the period 1914-1926, from the outbreak of the first world war to the full-blown emergence of English modernism. The Lab has supported undergraduate classes on Modern Poetry, the Modern British Novel, Modernist London, and Joyce’s Ulysses, and a graduate course in English and Comparative Literature, “Moderns, 1914-1926,” as well as a class on modern German literature at the University of Notre Dame. Students in the classes have contributed materials to the website and used it as the platform for their research. The main components of the original website were an innovative research tool, YNote, containing information on the activities of 24 leading modernist writers during this crucial period and a wiki consisting of brief interpretive essays on literary works and movements of the period.
The project as a whole aimed to reconstitute the social and intellectual webs that linked these writers—correspondence, personal acquaintance, reading habits—and their influence on the major works of the period. We were interested, too, in broadening the canon of works studied in the period by paying attention to minor works by major authors, major works by minor authors, and works that may have been influential in their time but that are no longer much read.
Questions of particular importance for our research involved the modernists’ engagement with their literary, intellectual, and historical context. We were particularly interested in Anglo-European literary relations. A typical question of this sort would be, “How did the translations of Dostoevsky by Constance Garnett influence English writing in the period?” Another major concern was the tracing of intellectual trends: “How and when did psychoanalysis make its impact felt in modernist writing?” We paid particular attention to the literary manifestations of a broader historical context, including the modernists’ involvement with political movements such as socialism, feminism, liberalism, nationalism, and imperialism. Another major theme was the attitudes of these writers to formal religion and to alternatives such as atheism, neo-paganism, spiritualism, and the occult. The database traced the empirical information—such as references to Dostoevsky or Freud or Tagore in writers’ correspondence—while the wiki offered interpretive accounts of how these influences played out in the modernists’ formal and thematic concerns.