Fostering Cultural Literacies through Digital Scholarship: The Yaddo Archive Project and Yaddocast as Multimodal Humanities Projects

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Richard L. Edwards

    Indiana University, Bloomington

  2. 2. Micki McGee

    Fordham University

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Yaddo and the Yaddo Archive Founded in 1900 by the financier and philanthropist
Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina, Yaddo is an artists’
community located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga
Springs, New York. Its mission is to nurture the creative
process by providing an opportunity for artists to work
without interruption in a supportive environment. Since
its first official season in 1926, the artists’ retreat has
hosted more than 5,500 artists, writers, composers and
other creatie workers including legendary figures such
as Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Leonard Berstein,
Truman Capote, Aaron Copland, Philip Guston, Patricia
Highsmith, Langston Hughes, Ted Hughes, Alfred Kazin,
Ulysses Kay, Jacob Lawrence, Carson McCullers,
Sylvia Plath, Katherine Ane Porter, Mario Puzo, Clyfford
Still, and Virgil Thomson.
In 1999, in celebration of the community’s centennial,
Yaddo and the New York Public Library entered into
a unique partnership to ensure that Yaddo’s archive—
more than 550 boxes of rare letters, journals, guest applications,
photographs, artworks, sound recordings, and
other ephemera—would be preserved for posterity and
available to scholars and the public. The Yaddo Records,
now housed in the NYPL’s Manuscript and Archives Division,
constitute a unique resource for scholars in the
humanities and of organizational development in that
they include intimate letters between Yaddo’s director
and many of 20th century’s most distinguished artists
and nearly complete records of the organization’s operations
from 1900 to the present. In addition, Yaddo
has kept detailed records of the arrivals and departures
of its guests for nearly every year of operations, making
charting the organization’s contribution in building social relationships more viable than would otherwise be
Multimodal Humanities and Yaddo:
Making American Culture Exhibition
When Yaddo opened as an artist retreat in 1926, the New
York Times hailed it as “a new and unique experiment,
which has no parallel in the world of arts.” That statement
is still true today. Yaddo has not shed its experimental
roots, and as part of its ongoing outreach efforts,
it has dynamically begun to embrace 21st century technologies
and techniques. And while the experience of
the artists at Yaddo might not have dramatically changed
in decades, the cultural outreach of Yaddo has been enchanced
by digital scholarship projects in the multimodal
humanities. David Theo Goldberg and Tara McPherson
have advanced the concept of the “multimodal humanities.”
As McPherson states, the multimodal humanities
“bring together databases, scholarly tools, networked
writing and peer-to-peer commentary while also leveraging
the potential of the visual and aural media that so
dominate contemporary life.” In the case of Yaddo, that
media archive can encompass textual, visual, gestural,
and aural works spanning the fields of literature, painting,
composing, choreography, sculpture, film, video and
mixed media.
As part of efforts to foster culture literacy around the
opening of a new exhibition on the history of Yaddo at
the New York Public Library in October 2008, the Yaddo
Archive Project (a database project) and Yaddocast (an
enhanced podcast series) were both created. In each
project, database logics, participatory architectures, and
interpretive spaces coalesce to tackle the complex question
of Yaddo’s impact on American culture. While there
were different technical and production issues raised by
these two projects, this paper will focus on the design of
these projects as part of a larger epistemological question
around how digital projects in the multimodal humanities
mode can further our understanding of cultural
The Yaddo Archive Project
The Yaddo Archive Project (YAP) was not planned as
the typical “exhibition website” that simply repurposes
exhibition content with online presence. Rather, YAP
aimed to use digital technologies to map key information
in the Yaddo archive, from other records retained in
Yaddo, and from secondary sources (artists’ biographies,
leters, and journals) to explore how Yaddo, as an artists’
community, created cultural capital by fostering social
The planned key components of YAP are an interactive
online platform that 1) charts the network of relationships
that made Yaddo a formidable force in 20th century
American arts and letters, 2) map the relationships
that were forged during Yaddo visits that later impacted
American arts and letters, 3) charts art works (primarily
published books, as those are most readily identified by
date and accessed via online catalogs such as the Library
of Congress and Worldcat) made before, during, and after
Yaddo visits with an eye toward demonstrating effects
of a Yaddo residency or residencies on subsequent
artistic productivity, and 4) an access-protected entry
point where scholars and archivists familiar with Yaddo
and its artists can contribute new information on the relationships
between members of this community (see Fig.
1 and Fig. 2).
Fig. 1. Yaddo archive Project wireframe, 2 degrees of
Fig. 2. Yaddo Archives Project: Visit overlaps and
relationships in table and timeline format
In addition to the Yaddo Archive Project, the exhibition
also led to the creation of another digital humanities
project entitled Yaddocast. Yaddocast is an enhanced
podcast series on Yaddo artists. Yaddocast was created
to tell the stories behind Yaddo’s artist guests and their
creative processes. Each episode of Yaddocast was produced as a scholarly investigation into creative activity
associated with Yaddo, and the project’s utilization of a
popular form of web-based media will be addressed as
part of its pedagogical aim toward fostering cultural literacy.
Fostering Cultural Literacies through
Yaddo-related Digital Scholarship
Multimodal humanities projects can be designed to take
advantage of the complex database logics and immense
bodies of knowledge related to the history of Yaddo.
The cultural impact of Yaddo far exceeds the 5,500 artists
who have been guests in Saratoga Springs. Artists
associated with Yaddo produce cultural works that influence
other cultural producers, and members of the Yaddo
interact with one another in novel and surprising ways.
YAP, for example, utilizes the latest techniques to make
those connections and relationships manifest. Rather
than publishing one scholar’s take on artistic cross-pollination
at Yaddo, YAP is a dynamic hypermedia system
that can be reconfigured based on different searches and
metadata criteria. Moreover, YAP is a read-write database,
where knowledgeable users or Yaddo artists can
add further relevant information.
Second, Yaddo requires a rich media approach to represent
its range of cultural artefacts. Since Yaddo is not a
doctrinaire artist colony, it supports all different kinds of
artworks, aesthetic techniques and artistic styles. Yaddo’s
creative output and the richness of its archives are
uniquely positioned to show a broad view of American
culture since 1926. But that broad purview also requires
innovative approaches to representing a variety of media
types and forms in digital scholarship. This paper
will address some of the techniques used in these two
Third, YAP and Yaddocast engage in a hermeneutics of
creativity activity. The relationship between information,
form and aesthetics all matter in these multimodal
humanities projects. Rather than just being bits of cultural
data, the process behind the creative output and the
relationships among Yaddo artists are important vectors
of meaning, and part of the process of cultural literacy
is not just an examination of the end products (books,
films, dances, etc) but a more thorough understanding
of the usually hidden aspects of the creative process.
The artistic legacy of Yaddo’s guests spans almost every
art field, and allows for a richness of content that is unmatched
by even large museums. But unlike normal museum
collections, Yaddo’s archives are tied to a specific
space of creative endeavor. That linkage is useful from
a multimodal humanities development perspective since
it allows for a new set of recombinant cultural possibilities
relating to how Yaddo operates as a social network
of artists.
Taken as a whole, the digital humanities projects related
to Yaddo begin to suggest that, within the digital humanities,
there are opportunities for fostering cultural literacies
through collaborating with larger publics around
web-based forms of scholarship that utilize architectures
of participation.
Bordieu, P. (2002). “The Forms of Capital,” in The Sociology
of Economic Life, Mark S. Granovetter and Richard
Swedberg, eds. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press,
pp. 96-111.
DeCarlo, D. (2004). Extreme Project Management. New
York: Wiley-Jossey.
Lin, N. (2001). “A Network Theory of Social Capital,”
in Social Capital: Theory and Research, Nan Lin, Karen
S. Cook, and Ronald S. Burt, eds. New Brunswick, NJ:
Transaction Publishers.
McGee, Micki, ed. (2008). Yaddo: Making American
Culture. Columbia University Press.
McPherson, T. quoted in Spiro, L. (2008). “Doing Digital
Scholarship.” http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.
digital-humanities-2008/ (Accessed 14 November
O’Reilly, T. (2004). “The Architecture of Participation.”
of_participation.html (Accessed 14 November
Unsworth, J. (2007). “Scholarly Primitives: what methods
do humanities researchers have in common, and
how mght our tools reflect this?” http://jefferson.village. (Accessed
14 November 2008)

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None