Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY … Dr. John Bryant, a Hofstra University professor of English since 1986, has been awarded prestigious grants from the Fulbright Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). With the Fulbright, Dr. Bryant will teach at the University of Rome (Sapienza) next spring 2014. The NEH grant is providing funding for Dr. Bryant’s continued work on the Melville Electronic Library (MEL.hofstra.edu), a searchable collection of interlinked versions of Herman Melville’s manuscripts, print texts, sources, art work and other research and secondary materials that will make up a virtual literary “playground” for scholars, critics, students, and general readers.
The Fulbright grant is Dr. Bryant’s second. His first was from 1977-1978 at the Universities of Genoa and Turin, soon after he received his Ph.D. The Fulbright for spring 2014 at Sapienza will have him teaching courses on the American Renaissance (1820-1860 – or the “Antebellum” period) and on Early American Literature. Both will include the study of Melville’s writings.
In the years between his first and second Fulbrights, Dr. Bryant built a reputation as one of the world’s foremost experts on Melville. He is the author of Melville and Repose (Oxford), The Fluid Text (Michigan), Melville Unfolding (Michigan), and the Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, which he co-edited with Haskell Springer. He is also the editor ofLeviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, the official publication of the International Melville Society.
The NEH grant is his third awarded to the development of the Melville Electronic Library (MEL). Dr. Bryant’s fascination with the many existing editions of Melville’s work and evolving creative process led him to the idea and development of MEL in the late 1990s. While researching a manuscript of Typee that was discovered in 1983, Dr. Bryant saw a need for a digital approach to studying, comparing and editing revisions of classic works.
With the first NEH grant, Dr. Bryant and Hofstra’s office of Faculty Computing Services developed the model for TextLab, an innovative software program which enables users to compare varying manuscript stages and published versions of Melville’s writings online. The second and third NEH grants gave Dr. Bryant the resources to turn the TextLab model into an actual tool, in collaboration with the Information Technology at Hofstra and the outside firm Performant Software Solutions. TextLab allows scholars and readers to work collaboratively on developing narratives that explain Melville’s numerous revisions. When MEL is complete, the result will be a comprehensive resource where those studying and researching Melville’s writing – from the erudite scholar to the inquisitive student — can share their work and insights.
Dr. Bryant says he has always been fascinated by the process of revision. However, in the early years of his career, the role technology could play in the study of literature had not yet been fully explored. There were few ways technology influenced the study of literature. Then online archives emerged for authors such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and Dr. Bryant began to see the possibilities for not only building an online resource for Melville, but an online community.
Even after decades of teaching and researching his favorite author, Dr. Bryant says Melville “never gets old. He was amazing. We are still catching up with him. And when I reread his works I always find things I did not see before.”
This June 2013, Dr. Bryant will be a keynote speaker at the Melville Society’s annual conference, “Melville and Whitman in Washington, DC: The Civil War and After.” Dr. Bryant will deliver the address “How Billy Grew Black and Beautiful: Editing Billy Budd in Revision for the Digital Age.”
For more information visit MEL.hofstra.edu. For more information on the Melville Society’s conference visitmelvillesociety.org.
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