About the Modernism Lab

Lab vs. Archive vs. Reference Work
In the News


The Modernism Lab

The Modernism Lab is a virtual space dedicated to collaborative research into the roots of literary modernism. We hope, by a process of shared investigation, to describe the emergence of modernism out of a background of social, political, and existential ferment. The project covers 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 website are 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 aims 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 are 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 involve the modernists' engagement with their literary, intellectual, and historical context. We are 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 is the tracing of intellectual trends: "How and when did psychoanalysis make its impact felt in modernist writing?" We pay 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 is the attitudes of these writers to formal religion and to alternatives such as atheism, neo-paganism, spiritualism, and the occult. The database traces the empirical information—such as references to Dostoevsky or Freud or Tagore in writers' correspondence—while the wiki offers interpretive accounts of how these influences played out in the modernists' formal and thematic concerns.

Lab vs. Archive vs. Reference Work

Our orientation towards ongoing research differentiates this project from other major websites devoted to humanistic research. One very successful model has been the electronic archive—a collection of primary documents made available on the web (e.g. the Modernist Journals Project or The Valley of the Shadow). In the case of our period, however, the potential archive of primary documents is massive. Questions of copyright also limit the applicability of this model. We therefore include a set of links to existing web-based archives, including the collections of the Beinecke Library, Project Gutenberg, and Google Book Search.

Another model, typified by the Victorian Web, offers authoritative essays on the period. We recognize the value of such an approach, but ours is more experimental. As a Laboratory, we hope to pose research questions and work together to answer them. In a prototype of Modernism Lab, for example, Pericles Lewis and his graduate students created an archive of information from the letters, biographies, and published statements of 12 major modernist writers during the four months immediately following Britain's declaration of war on August 4, 1914. This information served as the basis of Lewis's article, "Inventing Literary Modernism During the Great War," which argues that these authors' contemporary reaction to the war continued to shape modernism for years to come. The data is far from exhausted, however, and has been incorporated into our database, which now spans the years 1914-1926.

While we have expanded the chronological field of inquiry, we plan to continue using a comparative method going forward to address some of the following major research questions:

The Modernism Lab is a collaborative project including over eighty graduate and undergraduate students at Yale and ten other universities.

History of the Modernism Lab

The Modernism Lab has its roots in Pericles Lewis's courses on Modern British literature. In 2005, Professor Lewis received a grant from the ELI/Davis foundation to develop a website for the study of the Modern British Novel. That website became the nucleus for the Modernism Lab. Lewis's book The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism, based partly on his undergraduate teaching, became the basis for some of the first wiki entries posted on the Modernism Lab. His research has been supported by Hilles and Griswold fund grants at Yale. The first publication to grow directly out of the Modernism Lab is "Inventing Literary Modernism."


Project Director

Managing Editor

Associate Editors

Instructional Technology Group


Editorial Board


Initial funding was provided by a John and Yvonne McCredie Fellowship in Instructional Technology. On-going funding is being contributed by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Paul Moore Memorial Fund for Instructional Innovation in Yale College, and the Provost's Office of Yale University. Technical support is provided by the Instructional Technology Group.

In the News

Mapping James Joyce's Ulysses

This entry on Yale's Teaching with Technology Tuesdays blog gives a description and video of the session led by Sam Alexander and Abe Parrish on the "Mapping Ulysses" project. Working with students in Pericles Lewis's Ulysses seminar in the Fall of 2010, Parrish and Alexander created an interactive digital map of Dublin in 1904. Using GIS software, the student participants began the project of mapping the plot, geography, and socio-political context of Joyce's masterpiece.

EdTech Newsletter

This article describes the genesis of the Modernism Lab as well as the plans for its expansion. In it, Professor Pericles Lewis also offers the guiding philosophy of the Lab and describes how he came to the idea of a collaborative research laboratory.


In this piece, Ioannis Yessios, the technical designer of the Yale Modernism Team, outlines the novelty and usefulness of Ynote. Ynote, an application conceived by Professor Lewis and designed by Yessios, is a digital database that enables the research of many different people to be housed in "a single repository that afford[s] a variety of ways to hierarchically stratify information." Ynote enables students and scholars to pool data and engage in truly collaborative research.

Modernist Versions Project Partnership

The Modernism Lab has recently partnered with the Modernist Versions Project (MVP). The MVP, based at the University of Victoria, is an initiative to create a digital platform that will enable the ingestion, collation, and display of modernist texts that exist in multiple versions. Partnering with the Modernism Lab will enable the MVP to use some of the incredibly rich modernist resources found at Yale's Beinecke Library.

Yale Bulletin and Calendar

This article mentions Professor Lewis as a recipient of one of the John and Yvonne McCredie Fellowships in Instructional Technology for the 2007-2008 academic year. It describes how the Yale Modernism Lab was modeled after the collaborative work done in the biological and physical sciences.

Modernism on the Victorian Web

Elyse Graham, a Yale graduate student and assistant editor for the Modernism Lab, wrote a wiki on Walter Pater's The Renaissance that was picked up by the Victorian Web, an internet source for material on Victorian literature.


A wiki on James Joyce's poetry, written by Yale graduate student and assistant editor Anthony Domestico, was featured in Flashpoint Magazine, an online arts and politics journal.

The Yale Modernism Lab has been mentioned on many other blogs and websites. Here are some examples:






If you mention the Yale Modernism Lab online, or if you find references not included above, we'd love to hear about it! Please e-mail anthony.domestico@yale.edu with any information.