The Jane Austen Summer Program is getting ready to expand its activities once again, thanks to a new $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As most of our readers are already aware, during the pandemic, JASP launched our sister program, Jane Austen & Co. with the lecture series "Staying Home with Jane Austen." Three years on, that program continues to bring world-class scholars and experts to your laptop, and archive these talks for use at your convenience. This new grant will expand our intellectual community still further!
The innovative new project, called Jane Austen's Desk, "will simulate Jane Austen’s historical workspace, using Austen’s writing table and traveling writing desk as hubs for hosting historical, musical, literary, material culture, and philosophical sources in as interactive a manner as possible," as described in the successful grant application. Early drafts of the visuals for the site demonstrate the combination of aesthetics, accessibility, and insight that has characterized previous JASP/Jane Austen & Co. ventures.
The site will combine material culture, history, literary study, and other humanist disciplines. Harriet Wu, the graphic designer behind JASP's look, has created a beautiful artist's rendering of Austen's writing room. Again, from the grant application:
Austen’s table and desk are natural choices because they are authentic objects. Her twelve-sided writing table resides at the Jane Austen House Museum and her traveling writing desk—a.k.a. “writing slope”-- is currently on display at the British Library. JAD will take visitors aurally and visually into Austen’s writing environment. The setting will be an imaginative rendering of Chawton Cottage, where Austen lived from 1809 until her death in 1817 and where all of her books were published and her mature works written.
The project also includes plans for digital editions of Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice, with a rich array of contextual materials, from newspaper articles to digitized editions of books Austen was reading during composition to a circulating library catalog to maps of her siblings' travels. As explained in the grant application, "focusing on Mansfield Park also enables us to engage with important contemporary issues, particularly issues surrounding female authorship and mobility, the transatlantic slave trade and the Austen family’s disputed role in it, and the family involvement in the War of 1812."
Dr. Inger Brodey is the principal investigator for the grant project, and Ph.D. candidate Sarah Schaefer Walton is the project manager. They were both inspired by the old Pottermore platform with an animated writing desk, and wanted to bring that same sense of enchantment to entering Austen's works to make the site accessible to a range of readers, including younger readers. The vision for this grant is built upon previously funded work in an exploratory grant from the NEH, and is the product of a collaborative effort spanning multiple institutions. Dr. Janine Barchas (University of Texas at Austin), mastermind behind What Jane Saw and a speaker at the 2021 JASP, will be consulting on digital humanities practices. Caitlin Donovan, Ph.D. candidate in Education at North Carolina State University, will consult on educational materials for middle and high school users. Dr. Emily Friedman (Auburn University), Director of 18thConnect (a site that aggregates digital objects relating to eighteenth-century research), will help ensure that editing practices for Jane Austen's Desk are in keeping with disciplinary standards. Sheila Johnson Kindred, author of Jane Austen's Naval Sister, will be consulting on the Transatlantic travels of Austen's kin. Dr. Devony Looser (Arizona State University), whose most recent book, Sister Novelists, was the topic of her recent talk in Jane Austen & Co.'s 2022-23 series, will contribute expertise on both content and public humanities practice. Brian Norberg, Information Technologist and and Digital Technologies Librarian at Marist College, brings his experience with multiple other digital humanities projects to bear on developing the online features to provide an immersive experience.
Jane Austen's Desk is an exciting outgrowth of JASP's commitment to making cutting-edge scholarship accessible outside the confines of the academy, and to collaborative examination of Austen's texts with a broad and diverse community. Stay tuned for more over the coming years!
We hope you can join us for the experience that started it all - the Jane Austen Summer Program, meeting June 15-18 on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus! Register today!