To the Brian O’Nolan Estate,
We, the undersigned, write to request your agreement to the publication of Cruiskeen Lawn as an online, open access, facsimile database. We would like to launch this revolutionary new scholarly resource at the fifth international Flann O’Brien conference in Dublin in July 2019.
In this letter we argue that this project will achieve three important goals: (1) spark a new wave of O’Brien scholarship; (2) expand the possibilities of such scholarship; and (3) canonize his journalism in a consolidated digital archive.
This project we propose to call: ‘Digital Myles’.
Myles published over 4,000 columns in the Irish Times between 1940 and his death in 1966. The column is one of the greatest works of journalism and satire the world has seen and one of the hardest to find and read in its full scope.Only a very small fraction of these columns have made their way into published editions and Flann O’Brien scholarship.
We note that O’Brien himself continuously sought out opportunities to win new readerships for his journalism throughout his life. In 1943, the first collected volume of Cruiskeen Lawn was published by Cahill and Co. This early collection seized upon the quick and intense popularity of the column in its early years, making it accessible to its readers and perhaps introducing the still uninitiated to Myles na gCopaleen. O’Brien planned another edition for 1944 and collected the columns for many years in vast scrapbooks, perhaps to this end. He syndicated his journalism outside of the Irish Times for multiple Irish newspapers, sought an international readership for his work and even made a 1943 appearance in Time magazine by dint of his columns.
A new readership
We know that Flann O’Brien in his various guises has always held popular appeal with a wide readership, to a greater extent than many modernist authors. Much as the Best of Myles edition offers an entry point into his work for many readers, a full archive of his newspaper columns would be a potential destination for a new and international generation of non-academic, non-specialist readers.
The extensive press activity pertaining to the recent Collected Letters (ed. Maebh Long) suggests that the launch of this digital archive will immediately generate lots of coverage and enable new work on the author as a result. Once launched, the full text of the journalism will be indexed by Google and other search engines, generating new awareness and influencing potential researchers. Indeed, scholarly material that is open access is usually read 20 times more than traditional closed books. In this light, we also note that evidence so far suggests that Open Access publication can enhance, rather than detract from, the sales of printed works. There is reason to believe that Digital Myles, in promoting the public profile of Myles na gCopaleen, could also contribute to increased sales of printed editions of his columns.
A new wave of scholarship
Within the fast-growing field of Flann O'Brien studies this is a top-priority project. Further work on the columns has been referred to as the last great task of O’Nolan criticism, now that we have a Collected Letters. The searchable digital edition would liberate this text from a paid-for, hard-to-search and/or inaccurately and incompletely indexed version on the Irish Times website and various other digital and offline repositories. It is of fundamental importance within Irish studies and in its intersection with modernist studies.
The only comparable corpus, the journalism of the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, has been housed in a freely available digital archive by the Austrian Academy Corpus since 2007. In the wake of the Modernist Journals Project and the digital preservation of such crucial magazines as the Little Review, there are few historic print resources that more strongly merit such dedicated treatment and that would benefit from greater accessibility than this one. An open access dataset would also create immense opportunities for digital humanities projects.
Open access resources generate more citations and inspire more research. We expect dozens of scholarly articles, dedicated conferences and eventually new books, including new print editions of the columns, to result from this digital edition.
Annotating and editing the columns
Each column of Cruiskeen Lawn is densely allusive, referring to works, ideas, events and other newspaper articles. Many are written in multiple languages. It would be impractical to print a fully annotated or translated version of the columns, but the digital medium will allow a team of scholars to collaborate on the task using software. Most O’Brien scholars have developed some form of personal Cruiskeen Lawn repository and annotated it; this project allows us to unify that work and put it in a single place.
The project to assemble a team of scholars internationally to collaboratively edit and translate the columns would likely attract significant funding, further enhancing the prestige and attraction of Flann O’Brien studies and increasing the financial feasibility of a print edition.
As part of her dissertation on Cruiskeen Lawn at Boston University’s Editorial Institute, Dr. Catherine Ahearn has amassed a near comprehensive catalogue and searchable archive of 4,212 columns.
We propose to use her collection as the basis for Digital Myles, an open access repository and searchable database of the column as well as related columns and letters to the editor published in the Irish Times. The development work will be undertaken by Professor Martin Eve and Andy Byers at Birkbeck College, University of London, based on the scholarly communications software they have created, Janeway.
Digital Myles will have an advisory board of made up of members from the O’Nolan scholarly community to manage it, to approve additions and changes to the archive, and to help scholars and readers using the site for their own purposes. Those currently involved in this early stage of the project, along with Catherine, Martin and Andy, are Tobias Harris, PhD researcher on Flann O’Brien at Birkbeck College and Joseph Brooker, Reader in Modern Literature at Birkbeck College and author of Flann O’Brien (2005).
A complete, open archive of Cruiskeen Lawn would be a landmark in O’Nolan studies that would beget future landmarks in the field. We hope to gain your support in doing so and to launch Digital Myles at the fifth international Flann O’Brien Conference, to be held in Dublin in July 2019.
Catherine Ahearn, PhD, MIT Knowledge Futures Group
Joe Brooker, PhD, Reader in Modern Literature, Birkbeck University
Andy Byers, Lead Developer, Janeway
Martin Eve, Project Lead, Janeway
Tobias Harris, PhD Candidate, Birkbeck University
Jennika Baines, PhD, Acquisitions Editor, Indiana University Press
Ruben Borg, PhD, Co-founder International Flann O’Brien Society, Senior Lecturer in English, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ronan Crowley, PhD, FWO [PEGASUS]² Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, University of Antwerp
Jon Day, PhD, Lecturer in English, King’s College London
Louis de Paor, PhD, Director, Centre for Irish Studies, NUI Galway
Gregory Dobbins, PhD, Associate Professor of English, UC Davis
Katherine Ebury, PhD, Lecturer in Modern Literature, University of Sheffield
Paul Fagan, PhD, Co-founder International Flann O’Brien Society, Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Modernism, University of Vienna, Senior Scientist at Salzburg University
Jack Fennell, PhD
Catherine Flynn, PhD, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley
James Fraser, PhD, Lecturer, NUI Maynooth
Keith Hopper, PhD, Tutor in Literature & Film Studies, Oxford University’s Department for
Continuing Education; and St Clare's International College, Oxford
John Kelly, PhD, Emeritus Research Fellow in English, St. John's, University of Oxford, Josepha C. E. Lanters, PhD, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Maebh Long, PhD, Senior Lecturer, University of Waikato
Frank McNally, Chief Writer of the Irishman’s/woman’s Diary, Irish Times
Neil Murphy, PhD, Professor of English & Associate Dean, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, NTU Singapore
Joseph Nugent, PhD, Professor of English Literature, Boston College
Brian Ó Conchubhair, PhD, Associate Professor of Irish Language and Literature, Director of the Center for the Study of Languages & Cultures, University of Notre Dame
Ondřej Pilný, PhD, Professor of English and American Literature and Director of the Centre for Irish Studies, Charles University, Prague
Thomas Shea, PhD, Associate Professor of English, University of Connecticut
Carol Taaffe, PhD
Anna Teekell, PhD, Assistant Professor, Christopher Newport University
Dirk Van Hulle, PhD, Professor of English Literature at the University of Antwerp
David Wheatley, PhD, Reader, University of Aberdeen
Christopher Cahill, Executive Director, American Irish Historical Society
If you would like to sign this letter in support of Digital Myles, please create an account and add your name and affiliation in the comments. One of our editors will then add your name to the letter. Many thanks for your support.