Digital Scholarship Incubator Reflections: Alyssa Bellows

This post is part of a series of reflections from 2017 Digital Scholarship Incubator participants.


Alyssa Bellows: Mapping Victorian Gaming Literature

My dissertation explores scenes of games in novels through the lens of a historical genre of popular literature devoted to gaming strategy. As I researched my dissertation, I discovered: 1) I had not realized how many of these books existed; 2) scholars in my field didn’t know about these books either. I’ve been hard-pressed throughout the dissertation process to introduce my fellow Victorianists to a genre of literature they know little and care less about. My goal for the digital incubator is to try a make a case for the significance of gaming to nineteenth-century culture and I hope to do that by collecting and displaying data on its publication history and (secondarily) by organizing some kind of online archive that would make gaming materials more accessible and visible to scholars in my field. I’d also like to address a larger audience by tying the data I collect to modern gaming statistics, such as the revenue generated by gaming, then and now. Finally, I think collectors and enthusiasts, the people who currently know about the genre, would also be interested in this project.

I have very little exposure to DH, although I have attended workshops and talks – so I’ve seen some things that other people can do! The bigger hurdle I face at the moment is actually how to find publication information on a genre that has been largely overlooked by scholars. A small amount of information is self-reported by the manuals. For example, I know that Henry Jones sold 60,000 copies of a guide to Bezique! That’s massive! (For nineteenth-century.) Bezique was never a very popular game, so that suggests to me that games like Chess and Whist would pull even higher numbers… if I could find them. Some national bibliographies record how many editions were published: Thomas Matthews published at least eighteen editions of his manual continuously from around 1804-1850. As you can see, I have multiple types of numbers to work with – total sales, years in print, numbers of editions – that are inconsistent and in random places.

I’m wondering whether this incubator could help me find some of this information. Are there databases of publication information I could search for titles or authors of gaming literature? I’ve recently heard of Machine Readable Cataloguing (MARC). How do I access that? Could it help me find some of this information? Once I find the information, which is the best kind to use? Personally, I’d prefer numbers of sales, especially if I can get a sense of the revenue generated. Finally, what is the best way to display my information? I’m thinking some kind of timeline/graph/chart collage, with layering or scroll-over capabilities. Maps could feature too if I find data on tournaments or clubs. Ideally, I’d love to create some kind of visual representation that helps scholars reimagine Victorian Britain from the perspective of games. I’d love to add a literary dimension as well – perhaps noting on the timeline when an author published a pertinent scene of gaming, or when well-known figures participated in gaming activities. In its end result, this project could be extremely multidimensional and I’m not sure how long each layer will take so I hope to start with publication information on gaming materials. Is it possible to create a dummy project as a model that I could update with real numbers once I find them?

I am most intimidated by the request for a project team. As far as I know, it’s just me! I’d like to involve students in this, perhaps, if I can make it work, but for now I think I’m the only one who cares enough to even give games literature a look. I hope that my work will change some of that and it poses interesting and meaningful questions for literary studies about canonicity and the kinds of literary materials that receive our attention for the classroom or preservation.