It’s a Long Story: Victorian Short Fiction Project

This blog post features the work of Leslee Thorne-Murphy, Department of English

This week, the Humanities Center is pleased to feature the work of Leslee Thorne-Murphy. Over the last decade, Dr. Thorne-Murphy’s work on Victorian short fiction has become an invaluable resource to scholars interested in Victorian literature and those interested more broadly in short fiction. The project is called the “Victorian Short Fiction Project,” and it has attracted the attention of scholars worldwide and has recently been accredited by NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship)–a major step for any nineteenth-century online project.

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This project began as a way to get students involved in academic research and give them exposure to campus library resources. The project began in 2004 as Dr. Thorne-Murphy asked her Victorian literature students to take advantage of the impressive collection of Victorian-era periodicals housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library and comb through them to find interesting pieces of short fiction to share with class members and to analyze in a research paper. Students would transcribe their findings and do a write-up that they would share with the class.

Dr. Thorne-Murphy quickly realized that this project had a lot of potential, and rather than risking redundancy in the students’ projects, she began to have the students compile their findings in what became a website known as the Viki Wiki. This way, students’ work of the previous semesters would be available to students in the future and the collection would grow rather than recycle.

One of the most interesting patterns, Dr. Thorne-Murphy says, is that on top of finding pieces by household names like Mary Shelley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens, her students have uncovered a vast archive of anonymous pieces of short fiction. According to Dr. Thorne-Murphy, unaccredited pieces of short fiction have not yet been given adequate scholarly attention in Victorian scholarship. The work on the Viki Wiki is helping to bring this important archive of short fiction to light.

Students have responded well to the project over the years. One student said:

“Overall, this project was one of [the most], if not the most[,] influential educational activities I’ve taken part in as a student here at BYU. I was able to research lesser known material which contributed to the sense of accomplishment I felt. I had the sense that I was actually contributing to the discourse within literary studies and not simply churning out another banal paper or project and at the same time I also feel that the knowledge I gained from the project is valuable because it is not a topic that the whole of literary studies is familiar with, and I can therefore feel a sense of ownership for what I’ve done and feel pleased with the effort I put into it.”

Collaboration around campus has been crucial as the project has picked up steam. Working closely with Maggie Kopp in Special Collections, Mike Johnson from the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Jeremy Browne in Digital Humanities, this project has taken on multiple lives–going from the HBLL’s periodicals to the classroom to the web. Students also continue to be an important part of the project. From the beginning, this was a classroom project, and there is still a lot of student-led energy behind the growing archive as Dr. Thorne-Murphy’s students have been able to be on the front lines of distinguished Victorian scholarship.

Dr. Thorne-Murphy has a large vision for the project as it continues to mature. She says, “We envision compiling critical editions of those texts that were re-published, so that we can show authorial and editorial emendations.” The project, which began as a Wiki, is undergoing reconstruction on a new WordPress website which has been accredited by NINES. This is an exciting step for Victorian scholarship and yet another credit to the impressive work happening in the halls of the Humanities College at BYU.

You can see more details about the history of the Victorian Short Fiction Project on the website.

This post was written by Holly Boud, Humanities Center Intern

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