Creating La Vie littéraire au Québec in the Digital Era

La vie littéraire au Québec 2.0. Croissance, seuils et réduction

La vida literaria en Quebec 2.0 : crecimiento, umbrales y reducción.

Marie-Frédérique Desbiens et Chantal Savoie

Traduction de Jean-Yves Bart

Traduit de :
La vie littéraire au Québec 2.0

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Référence électronique

Marie-Frédérique Desbiens et Chantal Savoie, « Creating La Vie littéraire au Québec in the Digital Era », Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods [En ligne], 2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 12 avril 2018, consulté le 19 septembre 2018. URL : https://revue.biens-symboliques.net/218

Presenting the work that, for nearly thirty years, our team conducted on “La vie littéraire au Québec” (a series of volumes published on literary life in Quebec) is an opportunity to observe the practical aspects of the introduction of digital tools in a history of literature/cultural history research. In this paper, we discuss the modalities of the digital turn undertaken five years ago in our team as we emphasize the epistemological bases of our project and the resulting structure of the books. This turn was part of the modernization of the team’s tools and working methods, of course, but we want to focus here on the behind-the-scene and self-reflexive aspects of this digital shift, through the examination of three of its most qualitative results. The first one is the improvement of the observations that digitalization allows, thanks to the increasing quantity of material that it is now possible to consider and study; the second one is the possibility to initiate an efficient collective upstream work that enables deeper analyses; the third one is the ability to store, transfer and recycle data, which participates in a crucial and often under-estimated way in the advancement of scientific work. We finally hope that our discussion will contribute to a better understanding of what is at stake with digital data – far from a genuine digital “revolution,” it seems to us that digitalization in the history of literature is just the next step in the continuity of the Annales School.

Le travail réalisé depuis près de trente ans autour de « La vie littéraire au Québec » offrait une occasion d’observer concrètement l’impact de l’introduction des outils numériques sur la recherche en histoire littéraire et culturelle. Tout en rappelant les bases épistémologiques du projet et la structure des ouvrages qui en découle, nous nous attardons ici sur les modalités du tournant numérique réalisé il y a cinq ans par l’équipe. Ce virage est venu consolider une modernisation des outils et du fonctionnement de l’équipe, bien sûr, mais ce sont avant tout les coulisses de l’exercice autoréflexif initié dans le contexte de ce virage que nous avons souhaité rendre visibles. Trois aspects du virage numérique nous semblent ainsi porteurs de transformations qualitatives. L’affinement des constats qu’il permet, lié à la quantité de matériel qu’il devient possible de considérer et de compulser, est d’abord mis en valeur. Dans un deuxième temps, c’est la possibilité d’amorcer le travail collégial en amont qui nous a semblé permettre l’approfondissement des analyses. Enfin, c’est la capacité de conservation, de transfert et de recyclage des données qui joue à notre avis un rôle sous-estimé du point de vue de l’avancement du travail scientifique. Nous espérons au final que notre réflexion contribuera à une meilleure évaluation des enjeux du numérique – loin d’assister à une véritable « révolution » numérique, nous semblons bien tout simplement franchir une nouvelle étape qui s’inscrit dans la foulée de la rupture introduite par l’école des Annales et de ses effets sur l’histoire littéraire.

El trabajo que viene desarrollando, por cerca de treinta años, el equipo La vida literaria en Quebec da la oportunidad de observar, de manera concreta, el impacto de la introducción de herramientas numéricas para la investigación en historia literaria y cultural. Sin olvidar las bases epistemológicas del proyecto y la estructura que deriva de las obras, aquí nos centramos en las modalidades del giro numérico llevado a cabo por el equipo hace cinco años. En efecto, este giro ha consolidado una modernización de las herramientas y del funcionamiento del equipo, pero son sobre todo los entresijos del ejercicio auto-reflexivo iniciado en el contexto de este giro que hemos querido hacer visible. Así, tres son los aspectos de este giro numérico que nos han parecido portadores de transformaciones cualitativas. Primero, es la finura de las constataciones que permite, que está ligado a la cantidad de material que es posible considerar y compulsar, que es puesta en valor. En segundo lugar, nos ha parecido que la posibilidad de iniciar con anterioridad el trabajo colegial, permite profundizar los análisis. Finalmente, desde nuestra perspectiva, el rol que han jugado la capacidad de conservación, de transferencia y de reciclaje de los datos han sido subestimados desde el punto de vista del avance del trabajo científico. Al fin, esperamos que nuestra reflexión contribuirá a una mejor evaluación de los asuntos centrales de la problemática numérica así como a evaluar mejor en qué medida asistimos a una verdadera “revolución” numérica o si simplemente no estamos franqueando una nueva etapa que se inscribe en la ruptura introducida por el escuela de los Anales y de sus efectos en la historia literaria.

Introduction

This paper partakes in this dossier’s examination of databases: their users and the behind-the-scenes work involved in their design and use – from the objectives at their inception to their underlying vision of literary history and the methodological issues they raise. To do so, it explores the modalities of the digitalization undertaken five years ago by the team of La Vie littéraire au Québec (VLQ – it should be noted that the first volumes of the series are available for free downloading, like the first one, for instance, which studies the period 1764-1805). This transition was part of the modernization of the team’s tools and working methods –the scope of this modernization being actually considerably broadened by the increased volume of texts and interactions involved in the historical period we have been working on recently (1934-1962). As both our team and method have remained very stable for more than twenty-five years, we have a valuable opportunity to expand on the self-examination inspired by digitalization, and to attempt to separate what in this process reflects a genuine digital “revolution” from the outcomes of a medium-term impact of the shift introduced by the Annales School in the field of literary history, which in turn informed the use of databases.

Figure 1. Cover of the book La Vie littéraire au Québec

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La Vie littéraire au Québec, tome VI (1919-1933), edited by Denis Saint-Jacques and Lucie Robert and published at Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, in 2010.

© Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec.

The Project, its Objectives and Methods

Since the publication of its first volume in 1992, La Vie littéraire au Québec has been working towards retracing a large-scale literary history of Quebec (from 1764 to the early 1960s) by examining texts in context. This undertaking differs from previous syntheses in that it is not aimed at consecrating oeuvres and reputations, but rather at embracing the literary field and literary activity in their full breadth, by looking at the production, circulation, diffusion, and reception of literature. Our overall approach draws on the sociology of literature that came out of the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1996), Jacques Dubois (1978), and Michel Van Schendel (1979) et al., and that is focused on the general system of agents, bodies, and codes, within a perception of literature as a distinctive discursive formation (Foucault 2002) which is key to the making of a public space (Habermas 1962). Our theoretical framework has progressively expanded to include insights from the sociology of networks (Denis & Marneffe [de] 2006; Lacroix 2014) and the literary history of newspapers (Kalifa, Régnier, Thérenty, Vaillant 2012; Thérenty 2007). Contemporary research in feminist studies, theatre studies, and musicology (chanson) also constantly informs our research by revealing both the interdependence of various cultural activity sectors and the fundamentally interdisciplinary quality of these practices. Together with a hermeneutic approach to our review of the texts, this theoretical framework helps us to consider not only literature, but above all literary life in that it aims to ‘account for a moving object rather than a closed object, and to approach it while paying attention to transformations, changes, and to what moves as opposed to what stays motionless. It is moving because it is alive, and seized in its present, in vivo and in situ’ (Robert 2012: 95).

The project’s theoretical bases have remained constant over the years: there would therefore be little to say about them in terms of a strict methodological “evolution.” Formal and institutional stakes have oriented the main narrative spine of the six volumes published so far, which retrace how the literature of Quebec gradually gained its legitimity and relative autonomy, to use Bourdieu’s terminology. However, the quantitative and material dimension of our project has been less often discussed, even though our work in these areas also has a history of its own. This material history will be the main guiding thread in this presentation of our databases, showing that in addition to accommodating the adaptation of our tools and approaches to the digital era, they also offer the opportunity to make an additional step towards a literary history with a genuinely integrated quantitative component, reflecting the wishes formulated by Franco Moretti (2005).

Dealing with quantitative data is not something new, and the task of the researchers before us was no more simple or complex in that regard. Due to the very nature of the intellectual project at the heart of the La Vie littéraire au Québec book series, explicit and explicated methods for collecting, indexing and framing data have always been necessary to the process of compiling these volumes.1 Requiring a constant back-and-forth between the whole and parts, between an increasingly dazzling abundance of sources and the expected synthesis which is always very strictly framed, these quantitative processings have admittedly changed, and they are most often addressed in terms of their transformation, with a focus on what has been transformed, amplified, or deployed. Here we will emphasize the regulatory role, the stabilizing effect of the document management system we set up insofar as this infrastructure is not only functional: it also contributes to giving us pointers that may serve as indicators of the distortions that all syntheses tend to introduce. For these purposes, we will look in very concrete detail at the MO adopted for each volume, which we methodically applied to each production cycle and each historical period.

The production of each volume begins with lists and inventories: of works (by genre); periodicals; actors of literary life (writers, publishers, journalists, professors, theatre professionals, etc.); associations; bibliographies of secondary sources on the period in question; and general and cultural chronologies on Quebec, Canada, North America, and Europe. Our first general understanding of a historical period for La Vie littéraire comes from the cross-interpretation of these lists. Based on this common and overarching perspective, we then divide the work of producing an outline and first versions of the text between the team members based on our specialties (or not!) and on the table of contents. The mass of documents we use as a starting point (lists of actors and works, thematic folders, and bibliographies of secondary sources) is organized according to the unchanging seven chapters of the series.2 The order of the chapters reflects our perception of the process through which literary life unfolds, from its inscription in an international literary paradigm, and its dependence on socio-economic and artistic conditions, with individuals organized in networks and forming a milieu, to the way it is structured as a market and materialized in texts that are subject to a reception. We see this movement as a spiral, insofar as the reception, examined at the end of one volume, informs the socio-literary and artistic conditions discussed at the beginning of the next volume. We developed our database on the basis of these interwoven and interdependent operations.

The Database, its Structure and Potentialities

The main components of our database are found under the tabs “Documentation” and “Fact sheets” (Fiches in French). They are crucial both to the volumes of La Vie littéraire and to the development of our digital ecosystem.3

Figure 2. Documentation – Files

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

“Documentation” is a space to store the files needed by researchers to write their sections of the book. The documentation is divided into three sub-sections which fit the needs of our project. The first contains the digital version of the documentation folders matching each subtitle in our table of contents and each list of folders produced over time by the VLQ team to be used for the writing of volume 7 and 8.4 For instance, the virtual folder on “Literary Publishing” gives access to a complete PDF file containing the names of all documents found in those volumes, and provides the opportunity to conduct a targeted search within the list of these documents to find the one(s) we might be more specifically interested in, such as, for instance, the texts penned by Claude-Henri Grignon, better known under the alias “Valdombre.”

Figure 3. Documentation – File #12 for the Volume 7 (1934-1947) of La Vie littéraire au Québec

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

The other sub-section in the “Documentation” space contains folders featuring iconographic material accumulated during an initial systematic research stage, complemented by occasional findings (currently more than 250 images). The images will eventually be used to illustrate each of the parts of the next volumes of VLQ – again following the table of contents.

Figure 4. Four comedians acting in the radio adaptation of the novel “A Man And His Sin” by Claude-Henri Grignon, for the CBC (Radio-Canada) station in Montreal

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From left to right: Hector Charland (Séraphin Poudrier), Juliette Béliveau, Paul Guèvremont and George Alexander.

Source: Fonds de Conrad Poirier, 1912-1968, 22 février 1945, BAnQ-Montréal, P48, S1, P23122.

Lastly, the third and final sub-section includes a variety of documents produced by the members of our team: reports drafted by students for research seminars associated with the project; administrative materials from our meetings and other scientific activities; press kits on literary events, actors or prizes; directories of academic institutions; and digitalized excerpts from books or periodicals, etc. In short, these are documents used by the researchers and students involved in the project: beyond their interest for the purposes of documenting a specific section, they are liable to inform our common reading of a given period as well as the writing of the volumes or of an article or presentation by a team member. The creation and development of the database, alongside the considerable digitalization effort by the team’s full-time central secretariat, have facilitated the consultation of this huge wealth of documents and allowed us to maximize their use for all researchers working on the project5 at any time and from anywhere.6

The “Fact sheets” space forms the core of the VLQ database. It contains a wealth of information pertaining to five types of object relating to literary life in one way or another: actors, associations, organizations, places, and periodicals. These are not just digitalized documents, but structured datasets.

Figure 5. Fact Sheet “Actors”

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

Initially, the VLQ database solely contained fact sheets on “Actors.” The four other types of object only existed as attributes of these actors.7 As we adjusted our method to benefit from the opportunities offered by digital environments, we decided to introduce individual fact sheets for each of these objects. This has allowed us not only to enrich our inventory of information, references, and documentary sources, but also to cross-reference a wider, more efficient set of data.

Figure 6. Fact Sheet “Authors”

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Former handwritten “Authors” form for Olivar Asselin.

Over time, the fact sheets on “Actors,” which were aimed at designing sampling8 in the form of tables published in each volume, have also evolved. While the main categories contained in the original paper fact sheets (year of birth and death, training, main occupations, publications, etc.) were transferred to our digital sheets, some were also added to facilitate the inventorying of new information or avenues of research to follow (including a variety of indicators on habitus and fame, the list of groups or places frequented by actors, and their mention or lack thereof in the main literary histories of the twentieth century). The point is to be able to carry out multiple cross-searches between sheets, to broaden and refine their statistical opportunities. These searches may of course apply to a general overview of the entire period or to a limited dataset (on generation, literary genre, place of work, social background, etc.). If we compare, for instance, the paper version of the fact sheet on Olivar Asselin to the digital version, we can see that the latter is to a large extent a reproduction of the original, but that it has additional information devised specifically to make the most of search tools and pinpoint previously unreported correlations.

The “Groupings” field can rapidly create sub-corpuses of actors for analytical purposes. Asselin is listed in the “VLQ-CA-1870” grouping, which includes all actors born between 1870 and 1879. In its current form, our database allows users to automatically establish shared trajectories and actor networks and classify publications by genre and generation, which is a major step forward from the original fact sheets, where similar operations were only possible by way of a lengthy and resource-intensive effort.

Figure 7. Result of the search “VLQ-CA-1870” which provides a list of every author active in Quebec, born between 1870 and 1879

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

The fact sheets on “Actors” remain the most detailed and complex in the database, but other types of sheet are also featured. Those on “Works” contain bibliographical information on around 3,000 works compiled from several library catalogues and the Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires du Québec (DOLQ). Thanks to these “Works” fact sheets, each of our collaborators can undertake the necessary selection process for the writing of their chapter(s); and produce statistical tables (on new literary releases, percentages of publication by genre, etc.), which are published in Chapter 4 of our volumes (on the literary market). The sheets on “Associations” include information allowing us to paint the most complete picture possible of the formal and informal cultural and literary groups in activity at a given time. The sheets on “Periodicals” provide information on the dates and contexts of the foundation of journals, selected on the basis of our criteria and research proposals, their editorial boards, circulation numbers, etc.

Figure 8. Digitalized “Authors” form for Olivar Asselin

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

Rather than simply sources, the periodicals are also considered to be part of the corpus of works. We account for this twofold dynamic in the cultural space thanks to the configuration of our data, but also and most importantly, to our ability to raise multiple interrelated questions pertaining to the data. We know, for instance, that in the 1930-1940s, major intellectual journals such as La Relève or Amérique française defined the relationship to literature of several writers by creating communities of authors and publishing their articles. Likewise, we must also take into account the rise of magazines, which had a major impact on the literary field in terms of popular literature. We went so far as to digitalize some periodicals not yet available online – despite the remarkable efforts of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) on that front – to be able to efficiently comb through that mass of often previously unsearchable documents such as the back issues of Radiomonde9 and Current Events.10

With the transition to digital, we were able to consider an increased number of original questions and verify them more quickly. This has made it significantly easier for us to gain a new understanding of the cultural life of a given era from an inclusive perspective, accounting for the way it unfolded in vivo and in situ. Our data on the participation of actors in venues of sociability can for instance be fed into structural network analysis software to analyse the structure and strength of these networks of sociability. This is also the case for data that lend themselves to geolocation. The website’s section on “Places” offers access to maps, including one that presents the geographical locations of a wide variety of organizations relating to Montreal’s literary life between 1934 and 1947 and one that shows the geographical distribution of the members of two major groups, the French section of the Royal Society of Canada and the Académie canadienne-française.

Figure 9. Distribution of every publication for the period 1934-1947 according to their genre

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

Several stages of our work now entail the production of numerous graphs. While our “tables” on actors have reflected our method and been our intellectual signature since the first volume of the series, there has been a growing need to present tighter syntheses. In volume 6, for instance, we decided to present in the form of lists, some of the tables which emphasized our cohort of actors’ specific generational issues. Nearly all sections now require “graphs, maps, trees,” to borrow a title by Franco Moretti (2005). Our work on the upcoming volumes increasingly relies on data presented in table form, some for internal use and intended primarily for interpretation purposes, others to be featured in the volumes to synthesize various aspects of our analysis. These representations of data are not a magical system: we use them to illustrate our argument at each step, and to test and document a variety of inferences. We only include those that have been validated and appear to give insight into our subject matter. Lastly, it is worth noting that this opportunity to verify the validity of our inferences, to refine and adjust them, is not only a matter of efficiency. Indeed, it significantly speeds up the retroaction process and gives us a chance to collectively consider larger series of hypotheses in a way that suits the collaborative working method that characterizes our team.11

Figure 10. Evolution of the distribution of every publication according to their genre, for each year of the period 1934-1947

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Screenshot, VLQ database.

Quantitative Thresholds

These founding principles of our data collection and of their organization on the basis of our table of contents are both reflected and augmented by their implementation in a digital environment. The multilateral cross-interpretations and the retroaction made possible by the acceleration of the process through which interpretative inferences are produced and hypotheses are validated come with a substantial increase in the amount of data we consider in the making of our history of literary life. Acceleration and refinement are often perceived as positive aspects, but they remain limited by the synthesis and reduction required by our principles. This section addresses this counterweight.

The indicators on which our approach and argument are based are those used in research on the history and sociology of literature, and that Gisèle Sapiro divided into two main sets: the indicators on “the production and circulation of books and printed materials, their publics and uses” on the one hand, and those that focus on “the world of letters, its social recruitment, structure, consecration bodies, forms of hierarchization, and the works themselves” (2008: 35) on the other hand. The specificity of our research resides in the fact that we consider the entire process through which literary life is built in each period and in our continual references to this context.

However, beyond the measurement of literature and the usual applications of quantitative methods to our research topics, our self-imposed constraint for synthesis has become increasingly pressing. It has now reached a degree that makes it even more necessary to include an overarching meta-reflexive dimension to the project, which serves as a means to constantly strike a balance between the two opposite forces that inform our work by refocusing our objectives, methods, and possibilities. Built around the concept of “life” as theorized by Lucie Robert (2012), the heart of the intellectual work in this project consists in “connecting processes, events, and texts” (general presentation of La Vie littéraire au Québec: viii). The backbone of our table of contents is made up of five key processes: literary teaching; the autonomization of the creators’ milieu (which includes the market); the creation of boundaries between what is literature and what is not; and discourse on literature and the manifestation of literature in the works. We then organized the indexing of sources on the basis of this table, which serves as a thesaurus of sorts, to enable us to group our documents into around sixty thematic folders. This structure and these folders are concrete embodiments of our perception of Quebec’s literary history, “[which] should be read not as a continuous line from production to reception, but rather as a spiral where movement itself is a factor of change” (xii).

Tables and Table of Contents

The following table, which synthetizes the appendixes in each of our volumes, gives us a glimpse into the synthesis effect at work in our history of literary life. It can be used as a reference point for the observation of the progressive condensation/concentration of a few primary sources that serve as baseline data for our work.12

Figure 11. Number of persons, works and periodicals taken into account in the different volumes of La Vie littéraire au Québec

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Volume 5

Volume 6

Persons

602

798

958

1233

1005

1087

Works

151

163

314

751

959

1282

Periodicals

39

74

118

181

129

138

These numbers are derived from all the La Vie littéraire au Québec volumes’ Appendix (composed of index of names, persons, newspapers, and journals, plus the “Works” section of the bibliography). These indexes refer to individuals and newspapers or journals mentioned in the books, wherever they are from, or (for the individuals) whatever their class or occupation are. This raw data therefore is to be interpreted cautiously, but it confirms the continuous increasing in the number of processed documents, and it clearly shows the thresholds on which we want to focus here.

We will not comment on the increase in the number of actors of literary life at length, as this issue was covered in greater detail in an article on our analysis of actor cohorts by two members of our collective:

The preliminary list for volume 4, covering the years 1870-1894, contained 210 names, including 115 that were selected in our sample. For volume 6 (1919-1933), no fewer than 580 individuals had published a book; we selected 135 of them. For 1934-1947, on which we are currently working, the list of authors was simply too large: we had to restrict it by taking out all of those who had only published one or two books; we ended up with a “preliminary” list of 475 authors of at least three books. (Lacroix & Savoie 2015: 191)

Here we should point out that while the numbers compiled on the basis of names mentioned in the index undoubtedly reveal growth, this growth should be contextualized in light of the fact that we always work on a sample of around 100 actors regardless of the number of agents counted in the literary field. The growth suggested by our table is therefore something that happens outside our sample. We can nevertheless infer from this that in recent volumes, we increasingly discuss different actors from those selected in the sample that serves as the basis for our analysis of the literary world. While it may seem pedestrian, this observation means that we must also account for this gap, which widens with each volume and reflects the autonomization and legitimization process of Quebec’s literature.

We can also get a sense of the double movement of growth and reduction required by our work from index entry statistics and bibliographies of works and periodicals. While there is little to add at this point, in the absence of finer statistical processing to quantify this growth more precisely, we can observe that these data show a fairly sharp increase. Here, we will discuss our attempt to gauge the more synthetic treatment that these raw materials require. Taking advantage of the fact that our table of contents remains roughly unchanged from one volume to the next, even though the first volume covered the years 1764-1805 and the most recent covers the interwar period, we will use the example of the section entitled ‟Works of Imagination and Subjectivity” from Chapter 6 in all six published volumes.

The first volume (1764-1805) was processed quickly as the first novels were published in serial form during the period covered by volume 2. By volume 3, we had to work on a more substantial corpus on novels. The years 1840-1869, which followed the Durham Report,13 marked a high point in Canada’s literary history, with the publication of several classic nineteenth-century québécois novels. Essentially, the table of contents of the “Novels” section of volume 3, spanning from page 398 to page 421 (twenty-three pages) presents the novels one by one, distributing them fairly evenly between the sub-categories “adventure novel,” “historical novel,” and “psychological novel and social critique,” following the chronology of publication. The sub-entries all use the title of a single novel, except two, “The novels of Émile Chevalier,” on a series of novels by the same author, and “The novel of manners in translation” – a similar case, albeit one which does not name the author and translator, Eleanora Mullins Leprohon. A distinction between two types of texts and authors is thus introduced, although it should be noted that Mullins Leprohon is mentioned to the same extent as the other authors in the text proper.14

Figure 12. Table of Contents

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Extract from the Table of Contents of the “Novels” Section (Volume 3 of La Vie littéraire au Québec).

For the period covered in volume 5 (1895-1918), we found some fifty novels published by around thirty authors. Still more than approximately twenty-page long, the table of contents is divided into three main sections: ‟Further down traditional paths” (with sub-sections on adventure novels and historical novels); ‟New developments” (with sub-sections on political novels of manners and social novels); and ‟Towards a home-grown novel.” The chronological principle prevailed – authors and titles disappeared. In the text proper, while categories dominated as they are the subject of sub-sections, the presentation by novel and author was retained with a slight tendency towards a discussion by work as opposed to by author, as attested by the fact that the output of some authors was addressed in different sub-sections when the emergence of new sub-genres required it. This points to the growing importance of literary sub-genres, which have become more instrumental to the description of transformations than stable categories. The trend continues in volume 6, whose table of contents is very similar both in terms of division by sections and its genre-based and chronological approach, from continuity to new developments. Again, organic classifications are preferred to the consideration of individual novels or series of authors, as they are better suited to our account of the era’s perspective on the works (‟Novels on social conflict,” ‟Novels on female fidelity”). The number of works and authors explicitly mentioned in the text proper remained similar15. A new category – publishers – appeared in the section on ‟New Developments.” ‟A Publisher’s project” indeed refers to Édouard Garand, whereas the sub-section on ‟Novels of the young generation” features a discussion of the Albert Lévesque publishing house.16

Conclusion

This brief overview situates the digital transition experienced in the process of creating La Vie littéraire as an extension of the reduction principle resulting from the converging effects of the increasing volume of documentation and interactions under study, and of our efforts to keep offering an overall synthesis. To conclude, we wish to stress three aspects that we believe to be important. The first is the multiplication of cross-queries in our database. This is far from a strictly quantitative aspect; we can already perceive its impact on the number, selection, and ultimately the quality of the hypothesis we formulate. It gives us a window into the multilaterality of the relations between the indicators we take into consideration. The second is the acceleration of the pooling and sharing of data. The main impact of this time-gain is not so much about ‟progress” in terms of efficiency, or about saving time as such (the production of our volumes has not by any stretch become a quicker process). Instead, it benefits our collective approach, whose process can now begin at a slightly earlier point of the work. This phenomenon comes with heightened demands when it comes to interpretation, especially in the context of the dizzyingly vast amount of collaborative work necessary to collectively sign each of our books, which is a trademark of our team. It appears to us that this finer, earlier selection process tends to offset the ‟zoom-out” movement resulting from the synthesis effect, whose impact increases with each new historical period. Roughly speaking, we need to adopt an increasingly perilous overarching perspective to get a sense of this totality and to address its heart, the wider perspective, and the margins in the same breath. The third and final aspect deserving emphasis is that digital tools have made it considerably easier to store data and make it available, which in turn makes exchanges and collaborations possible with other teams, individual researchers, and students. Sharing the data and their interpretation at various stages is both a necessary and a valuable endeavor.

The three observations made in the previous paragraph increase our confidence that in committing to the digital transition we have remained faithful to our original principles and our scientific mandate. Our attention to the modalities of the reduction of our basic materials required to produce our synthesis insightfully documents the steps in the process. In the context of a literary field that was for a long time characterized by a high degree of heteronomy, the fits and starts of the process, the crises it reveals, the arrangements made necessary by the adaptation to the specific market of Quebec’s cultural field, the borrowings, discrepancies, and adjustments to economic, political, and social realities might be the most distinctive features of the specificity of Quebec’s literary and cultural history. In that sense, we believe that our work is to a far greater degree an extension of the shift introduced by the Annales School than the manifestation of a digital revolution. Thanks to this approach, our study of Quebec’s literary ecosystem yields historiographical and epistemological rewards that go far beyond our local case. The databases briefly presented here, their conception as well as their practical use in the course of our analytical work constantly bring us back to the need to make up for reduction and distortions by elucidating the conditions of production of knowledge and committing to a meta-reflexive effort; but they also call us to highlight the heuristic benefits of this kind of work.

1 It is worth recalling the timespan covered by these books: when we compiled the first volume in our series for the 1764-1805 period, it was possible

2 The list of chapters is as follows: 1. Foreign Determinants; 2. General Conditions; 3. The Agents of Literary Life; 4. The Literary Market; 5. Ideas

3 We built our relational database using free open-source software. The management and search interface was developed using the PHP and Javascript

4 This documentation comes from the analysis of periodicals that we conduct for each volume (ca. 250-300 periodicals per volume). Once we have

5 Previously, folders of documents were sent in paper form to each of the writers, according to the chapters they had been assigned.

6 The project has involved multiple universities from its inception, and now brings together twelve scholars from six establishments.

7 Lionel Groulx, for instance, was connected to an association – the Académie canadienne-française – a periodical – L’Action nationale – and a place –

8 These samples include 100 to 150 actors per volume, selected on different criteria each time as the lists of actors keeps getting longer. For

9 A bi-monthly magazine published in Montreal between 1939 and 1952, Radiomonde promoted French Canadian artists and Montreal’s cultural life.

10 Initially geared toward tourists staying in Montreal’s top hotels, the weekly Current Events (1922-1976) listed cultural events and addresses in

11 The series La Vie littéraire au Québec is not a collection of individual texts. The volumes are authored collectively to reflect our collective

12 Here we must however refrain from indulging in simplistic interpretations: the numbers we present are only a starting point, and will be further

13 In his 1839 report, which aimed to shed light on the causes of the Patriot Rebellions of 1837-1838, John George Lambton, Earl of Durham, proposed a

14 It should be noted that she is both the only woman addressed in the section and the only author that is not named in the table of contents.

15 There is, however, a tendency to associate an author with a group of texts of which he is considered an emblem; the difference lies in the

16 The headings themselves reflect our perceptions of editorial work, which entailed grouping works on the basis of affinities – here genre-based and

References

Bourdieu Pierre (1996). The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. English translation by Susan Emanuel. Palo Alto, Stanford University Press.

Denis Benoît & Marneffe (de) Daphné (eds.) (2006). Les Réseaux littéraires. Bruxelles, Le Cri/CIEL.

Dubois Jacques (1978). L’Institution de la littérature: introduction à une sociologie. Paris/Bruxelles, Nathan/Labor.

Foucault Michel (2002). The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated into English by A.M. Sheridan Smith. London/New York, Routledge.

Habermas Jürgen (1989) [1962]. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Translated into English by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, The MIT Press.

Kalifa Dominique, Régnier Philippe, Thérenty Marie-Ève, Vaillant Alain (eds.) (2012). La Civilisation du journal. Histoire culturelle et littéraire de la presse française au xixe siècle. Paris, Nouveau Monde.

Lacroix Michel (2014). L’Invention du retour d’Europe: réseaux transatlantiques et transferts culturels. Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval.

Lacroix Michel & Savoie Chantal, avec la collaboration d’Olivier Lapointe (2015). “Des crises continuelles aux trajectoires continues: les transformations de la vie littéraire au Québec, 1895-1948.” Sociologies et sociétés, 47(2): 189-210.

Moretti Franco (2005). Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. New York, Verso.

Robert Lucie (2012). “La vie culturelle et son histoire. Quelques réflexions sur la notion de ‘vie.’” Globe, 15: 231-242.

Saint-Jacques Denis & Lemire Maurice (eds.) (2005). La Vie littéraire au Québec, t. 5:1895-1918. Sois fidèle à ta Laurentie.” Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval.

Saint-Jacques Denis & Robert Lucie (eds.) (2010). La Vie littéraire au Québec, t. 6:1919-1933. Le nationaliste, l’individualiste et le marchand.” Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval.

Sapiro Gisèle (2008). “Mesure du littéraire. Approches sociologiques et historiques.” Histoire & Mesure, 23(2): 35-68.

Thérenty Marie-Ève (2007). La Littérature au quotidien: poétiques journalistiques au xixe siècle. Paris, Seuil.

Thérenty Marie-Ève (2012). “Le renouvellement de l’histoire littéraire.” In Kuperty-Tsur Nadine (ed.). La Critique au tournant du siècle. Mélanges offerts à Ruth Amossy. Louvain, Peeters: 117-135.

Van Schendel Michel (1979). “Appareil et Institution (littéraire).” Recherches et Théories, 19: 1-14.

1 It is worth recalling the timespan covered by these books: when we compiled the first volume in our series for the 1764-1805 period, it was possible to be fairly exhaustive by covering all authors and all texts (known or found at the time of our research). At the other end of the spectrum, volumes 7 and 8, currently in production, which cover the years 1934-1947 and 1948-1962 have unsurprisingly raised their fair share of challenges regarding the mass of documents concerned and the concrete possibility to process them, on the literary world, the book market, and the texts’ publication and reception.

2 The list of chapters is as follows: 1. Foreign Determinants; 2. General Conditions; 3. The Agents of Literary Life; 4. The Literary Market; 5. Ideas in Prose; 6. Imagination in Writing; 7. Reception.

3 We built our relational database using free open-source software. The management and search interface was developed using the PHP and Javascript programming languages; and the database management system is MariaDB, a completely free version of MySQL. The use of MariaDB/MySQL technology greatly facilitates the diffusion of our data, unlike proprietary systems such as FileMaker.

4 This documentation comes from the analysis of periodicals that we conduct for each volume (ca. 250-300 periodicals per volume). Once we have consulted, selected, digitalized, and indexed them, the articles are included in one of around sixty thematic folders.

5 Previously, folders of documents were sent in paper form to each of the writers, according to the chapters they had been assigned.

6 The project has involved multiple universities from its inception, and now brings together twelve scholars from six establishments.

7 Lionel Groulx, for instance, was connected to an association – the Académie canadienne-française – a periodical – L’Action nationale – and a place – his house on the Avenue Bloomfield in Outremont, etc.

8 These samples include 100 to 150 actors per volume, selected on different criteria each time as the lists of actors keeps getting longer. For instance, for volume 7, the complete list contained over 400 actors, and we decided to only select actors who had published three books or more, with the exception of a few major actors, including theatre professionals and publishers.

9 A bi-monthly magazine published in Montreal between 1939 and 1952, Radiomonde promoted French Canadian artists and Montreal’s cultural life.

10 Initially geared toward tourists staying in Montreal’s top hotels, the weekly Current Events (1922-1976) listed cultural events and addresses in the city (dance, theatre, American movies, restaurants, etc.).

11 The series La Vie littéraire au Québec is not a collection of individual texts. The volumes are authored collectively to reflect our collective working process at every step – the name of the team members appears on the title page.

12 Here we must however refrain from indulging in simplistic interpretations: the numbers we present are only a starting point, and will be further refined by the end of the next funding cycle (with subsidies from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, SSHRC – CRSH, and from Québec’s Research Fund on Society and Culture, FRQ-SC). By then we will have completed the last two volumes and made all relevant data available after more than thirty years of work.

13 In his 1839 report, which aimed to shed light on the causes of the Patriot Rebellions of 1837-1838, John George Lambton, Earl of Durham, proposed a set of controversial reforms, including the assimilation of French Canadians through the unification of Upper and Lower Canada, which was implemented in 1841.Yet his support for the idea of political autonomy, as he recommended a responsible government that would be achieved in 1848, marked a landmark in the evolution of Canadian democracy. His now famous claim that French Canadians were “a people devoid of history and literature” was a trigger for many writers at the time.

14 It should be noted that she is both the only woman addressed in the section and the only author that is not named in the table of contents.

15 There is, however, a tendency to associate an author with a group of texts of which he is considered an emblem; the difference lies in the designation of this group of texts.

16 The headings themselves reflect our perceptions of editorial work, which entailed grouping works on the basis of affinities – here genre-based and generational.

Figure 1. Cover of the book La Vie littéraire au Québec

Figure 1. Cover of the book La Vie littéraire au Québec

La Vie littéraire au Québec, tome VI (1919-1933), edited by Denis Saint-Jacques and Lucie Robert and published at Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, in 2010.

Figure 2. Documentation – Files

Figure 2. Documentation – Files

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 3. Documentation – File #12 for the Volume 7 (1934-1947) of La Vie littéraire au Québec

Figure 3. Documentation – File #12 for the Volume 7 (1934-1947) of La Vie littéraire au Québec

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 4. Four comedians acting in the radio adaptation of the novel “A Man And His Sin” by Claude-Henri Grignon, for the CBC (Radio-Canada) station in Montreal

Figure 4. Four comedians acting in the radio adaptation of the novel “A Man And His Sin” by Claude-Henri Grignon, for the CBC (Radio-Canada) station in Montreal

From left to right: Hector Charland (Séraphin Poudrier), Juliette Béliveau, Paul Guèvremont and George Alexander.

Source: Fonds de Conrad Poirier, 1912-1968, 22 février 1945, BAnQ-Montréal, P48, S1, P23122.

Figure 5. Fact Sheet “Actors”

Figure 5. Fact Sheet “Actors”

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 6. Fact Sheet “Authors”

Figure 6. Fact Sheet “Authors”

Former handwritten “Authors” form for Olivar Asselin.

Figure 7. Result of the search “VLQ-CA-1870” which provides a list of every author active in Quebec, born between 1870 and 1879

Figure 7. Result of the search “VLQ-CA-1870” which provides a list of every author active in Quebec, born between 1870 and 1879

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 8. Digitalized “Authors” form for Olivar Asselin

Figure 8. Digitalized “Authors” form for Olivar Asselin

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 9. Distribution of every publication for the period 1934-1947 according to their genre

Figure 9. Distribution of every publication for the period 1934-1947 according to their genre

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 10. Evolution of the distribution of every publication according to their genre, for each year of the period 1934-1947

Figure 10. Evolution of the distribution of every publication according to their genre, for each year of the period 1934-1947

Screenshot, VLQ database.

Figure 12. Table of Contents

Figure 12. Table of Contents

Extract from the Table of Contents of the “Novels” Section (Volume 3 of La Vie littéraire au Québec).

© Presses Universitaires de Vincennes 2018