White Paper

Following NEH guidelines, this White Paper contains:

Project Overview

Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde (https://mina-loy.com/) charts Mina Loy’s avant-garde migrations through digital scholarly narratives and visualizations that contextualize and interpret her writing, art, and designs. This peer-reviewed, digital, multimedia scholarly book is an open educational resource authored by students, staff, and faculty at Davidson College, Duquesne University, and the University of Georgia (UGA). It is the culmination of a five-year collaboration, supported by a generous Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The scholarly website comprises a Mina Loy Baedeker (a digital scholarly book that charts Loy’s relationship to Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism) and related materials including timelines, maps, art exhibits, a Twine game, close readings that interlink a text with its interpretation, student-authored biographies and other projects (“New Frequencies”), and a crowd-sourced feminist theory of the en dehors garde (“Flash Mob”)—our feminist alternative to the avant-garde. In addition, we share our WordPress “DH Scholarship Theme” and site documentation in an open GitHub repository, so that scholars can use and adapt our model for other digital humanities (DH) projects.

We adopted open-source tools and platforms whenever possible. We created a custom WordPress theme enhanced by free plugins, including Advanced Custom Fields, Advanced WordPress Backgrounds, Crop Thumbnails, Easy Footnotes, Hypothesis, Ivory Search, PDF Embedder, Simple Page Ordering, Smart Slider 3, and Wonder 3D Carousel. In order to meet our design specifications for the grids and post(card) displays, we paid for the plugins Advanced Custom Fields Pro and Content Views Pro. Our technical designer, Greg Lord, used these plugins to enable WordPress to store, display, and export metadata, thereby making the platform more suitable for scholarly projects.

Timeline of Activities

Initial Conception, Prototyping & Planning (2014-2017)

  • Develop and conduct usability testing on early prototypes.
  • Form cross-institutional teams of principal investigators (PIs) from Davidson College, Duquesne University, and University of Georgia, Athens.
  • Secure Loy’s literary executor, Roger Conover, as project consultant.
  • Assemble Advisory Board of experts in digital humanities, modernist, and avant-garde studies.
  • Identify and network with communities of practice at conferences, workshops, and institutes.
  • Secure permission from primary copyright holders.
  • Draft, revise, and submit application for NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant.
  • Conduct periodic work retreats for 3 PIs.

NEH Grant Year 1 (Sept 2017-Aug 2018)

  • Hire Greg Lord as design/tech consultant.
  • Design and build custom theme and close reading plugin.
  • Research and develop site content.
  • Link scholarship to teaching, develop classes, and conduct first round of Biography Project.
  • Expand team to include additional students, IT experts, and digital librarians.
  • Provide WordPress and other relevant tech training to contributors.
  • Publicize project via scholarly publications, blogs, and social media.
  • Orchestrate digital “flash mob” (crowd-sourced feminist theory of the avant-garde).
  • Conduct multi-day work retreat for 3 PIs.
  • Participate in NEH DHAG annual meeting for award recipients.

NEH Grant Year 2 (Sept 2018-Aug 2019)

  • Refine and conduct usability testing on website design.
  • Implement split-screen, close-reading plugin.
  • Complete chapters for the scholarly Baedeker.
  • Teach related courses and conduct second round of Biography Project.
  • Submit site for public and Advisory Board peer review via Hypothesis, an online annotation tool.
  • Submit site for double-blind peer review via ModNets, a scholarly vetting organization.
  • Respond to and incorporate suggestions from peer reviewers.
  • Work with Roger Conover on selection and presentation of Loy’s visual art.
  • Complete StoryMaps of Loy’s visual art.
  • Edit student-generated Biographies and generate social network visualization.
  • Vet and incorporate student research projects.
  • Apply for NEH one-year, no-cost grant extension. 
  • Conduct multi-day work retreat for 3 PIs.

NEH Grant Year 3 (Sept 2019-March 2020)

  • Finalize plan for migration of website to UGA DigiLab. 
  • Finalize and upload remaining website content & design.
  • Prepare site documentation and “DH Scholarship Theme” to share in open GitHub repository.
  • Draft and edit white paper.
  • Publicize project completion via social media and conference activities.
  • Apply for DH awards and prizes.
  • Conduct work retreat for 3 PIs.

Omissions and Changes

We completed most of our project activities according to our original plan, but had to adjust our timeline to accommodate unanticipated family responsibilities, health issues, and weather-related travel delays. Any large DH project plan must be flexible enough to adapt to such circumstances. For example:  

  1. An exhibition of Loy’s artwork, at which we planned to showcase our project, was delayed indefinitely. We redirected the travel funds to support our work retreats, which proved essential to our successful collaboration.
  2. Although we never aimed to create a comprehensive digital archive of Loy’s work, we had proposed publishing PDFs of Loy works addressed on our site. In Fall 2017 the Beinecke Library digitized Mina Loy’s archive, making digital copies of her work and drafts available to the public. We conferred with the Beinecke and decided to link to their digital archive, a decision that enabled us to focus our time and energy on our primary goal: developing multimodal scholarly narratives and other ways of contextualizing and interpreting Loy’s work.
  3. In keeping with our focus on digital narratives, we added photo essays about Roger Conover and by Carolyn Burke, scholars who have been foundational to collecting Loy’s work and chronicling her career, along with a slide show essay on “Loy’s Signature Style.” We also substituted StoryMaps and our own drawings of Loy’s artwork for the image gallery we initially conceived, in order to respect Roger Conover’s concerns about copyright over the images of the visual art.

Publication Efforts

We have publicized the project at numerous conferences and symposiums, including:

  • Digital exhibitions, panels, roundtables, and a seminar at Modernist Studies Association (MSA) conferences (Pittsburgh, 11/14; Boston, 11/15; Pasadena, 11/16; Columbus 11/18).
  • Churchill, Kinnahan, and  Rosenbaum, “Visual Culture & Digital Humanities,” public lecture and workshop, with Linda Kinnahan and Susan Rosenbaum, Duquesne University (3/17).
  • “Mina Loy & Transatlantic Surrealism” panel organized by Kinnahan, Rosenbaum, and Hayden. ISSS Conference (11/18). 
  • Suzanne Churchill, “Feminist Designs: from Mina Loy to Modernist Digital Humanities,” invited public lecture, University of Kentucky (10/19).
  • Susan Rosenbaum, Digital Humanities Colloquium, “Student Research and Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde” University of GA (2/19).
  • Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900: 2 roundtables by PIs and by students involved in the project  (2/20)

In addition, we co-authored a chapter in an edited volume and an article in a scholarly journal, as well as a DH case-study analysis:

  • Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda A. Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum, “Digital Baedeker: A Feminist Experiment with Mina Loy’s Archive,” The Contemporary Poetry Archive, ed. by Linda Anderson, Mark Byers, Ahren Warner (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), [add page range].
  • Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda A. Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum, “Feminist Designs: modernist digital humanities & Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde,” Feminist Modernist Studies 16 August 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/24692921.2018.1505255
  • Suzanne W. Churchill, Linda A. Kinnahan, and Susan Rosenbaum, “Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde, A Case Study,” submitted to Visualizing Objects, Places, and Spaces: A Digital Project Handbookhttps://handbook.pubpub.org/

We conducted a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, largely overseen by graduate students and undergraduates and most active during the digital “flash mob” orchestrated in Summer 2018. We reactivated the campaign in March 2020 to publicize the completion of the project. 

During the grant period, we kept a project blog, were interviewed for a feature on the feminist scholarly blog, Decorating Dissidence (hosted on Medium.com), and received an early review on Teaching Modernist Women’s Writing in English (MLA Commons). Our project is cited by Amy Elkins in “From the Gutter to the Gallery: Berenice Abbott Photographs Mina Loy’s Assemblages,” PMLA, 134:5 (October 2019), 1094-1103, and by Peter Nicholls in “Mina Loy and Lexicophilia,” Feminist Modernist Studies, 2:3 (2019), 263-273, DOI: 10.1080/24692921.2019.1663090

After the project is completed and transferred to the UGA server in March 2020, we will apply for various scholarly book and DH awards and solicit reviews in academic journals.


As stated in our NEH grant proposal, our project goals were to respond to the “pressing need in digital humanities…for multimodal, user-directed narratives that situate evidence, interpretation, and arguments in ways that allow readers to understand the scholarly project.” Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde is a scholarly website that charts the career of the 20th-century writer and artist Mina Loy. Our goals were to:

  • provide access to and interpretations of Loy’s verbal and visual work, much of which remains buried in archives or private collections;
  • transform close reading through multimodal tools and environments that activate verbal and visual reading practices;
  • develop a crowd-sourced, flash-mob, feminist theory that better accounts for the contributions of women and people of color to the avant-garde;
  • conduct an experiment in public humanities scholarship that involves scholars and students in transforming scholarly methods and products, tests new processes for peer review, and sets UX design standards for digital scholarship.

More specifically, we sought NEH funds to enable us to we seek NEH funding to: 

  1. support the relocation and expansion of our WordPress beta site to include split-screen architecture, interactive essays, visual displays, maps, timelines, and games; 
  2. orchestrate a month-long “flash-mob” formation of a theory of the “en dehors garde”;
  3. work with our advisory board to test Hypothes.is as a tool for public peer review and with Modernist Networks (ModNets) to submit the project to their system of double-blind peer review. 

We met and exceeded our goals and objectives, although unexpected delays and commitments required us to request and receive a one year, no-cost extension in order to do so. The site now contains: a “Mina Loy Baedeker” (a multimedia book with an introduction and 6 chapters), 3 photo essays, 5 side-by-side close readings of poems, 5 maps, 4 timelines, 20 student projects (“New Frequencies”), 7 art exhibits (StoryMaps), 23 project blog posts, 60 biographies of Loy’s associates, 70 re-arrangeable post(card)s articulating visions of a feminist theory of the avant-garde, and a DH Toolkit that makes our theme and site documentation freely available for use on other DH projects.


Our scholarly website is free and open to the general public, with a range of content designed to appeal to anyone from Loy-curious newcomers and enthusiasts, to students and scholars. Based on anecdotal reports and contact forms, we believe that most users are university faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. Several of our colleagues have reported assigning our site (or portions of it) in their graduate and undergraduate classes, and we are using the site in our classes as well.

Our site stats indicate that Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde is attracting a growing audience that is quite significant in size and activity for a DH website. We saw the usage go up markedly during the Flash Mob, which we orchestrated via a social media storm of publicity. We enjoyed a record monthly high of 4450 hits that occurred in September 2018 during the flash mob. Given our other commitments, we were unable to sustain this level of social media outreach after the flash mob, but our site has nevertheless enjoyed a steady increase in monthly hits in 2019, more than doubling from 851 in January, to 1886 in June, and rising again to 2353 in September. Our total hits per year are 16,808 in 2018 (49/day) and 17,017 in the first 10 months of 2019 (58/day). We anticipate another rise when we officially “publish” the site and promote the publication on social media in March 2020.

Project Evaluation

In the spring of 2019, our scholarly website underwent both public and double-blind peer review. We conducted an experiment in public peer review using the free, online annotation tool Hypothesis. With help from Jeremy Dean, Heather Stains, Jon Udell, and Kately Lemay at Hypothesis, we created a closed but public Advisor Board group. We asked our Advisory Board members to read and evaluate our site using Hypothesis, so that their comments and suggestions could be viewed by the public. We also created an Open Forum group for the public to participate in peer review. We invited our Board Members by email, and used social media to encourage the public to participate. Concurrently, we submitted the site to ModNets, a federation of digital projects in the field of modernist literary and cultural studies, which provides a vetting community for digital modernist scholarship. Our project went through their more traditional, double-blind peer review process, which produced two readers’ reports. 

Evaluation Results

In the month-long span of public peer review, Advisory Board members made more than 80 annotations on the site, offering detailed and helpful feedback. Several board members did not participate—often for good reasons, such as childbirth or serious illness. These challenges provided another reminder of how life intervenes, and scholarly teams and projects must adapt. Fortunately, we were able to make many changes and improvements to the site based on the suggestions we received. Unfortunately, despite our social media campaign, we received no annotations in the Public Forum, although we do receive occasional contact forms, expressing gratitude and identifying errors or broken links. Our experiments with the Flash Mob and public peer review suggest that users are more interested in contributing creatively to a scholarly project than in critically evaluating it. 

We found the Hypothesis team to be knowledgeable, responsive, and helpful, and the tool to be very powerful and effective. One limitation of Hypothesis, however, is that it does not yet meet web accessibility standards. In addition, the yellow highlighting that appears on annotated text distracts from the site’s aesthetics, which we believe are essential to an immersive reading experience. Because of these limitations, we have deactivated the Hypothesis plugin on our site.

We received very positive reviews from ModNets, in the form of 1-2 page content and technical reports. These reports also allowed us to make small but significant improvements to site content and design. 

While both forms of peer review were beneficial, a weakness of our two-pronged approach was a lack of comprehensive peer review. This was due in part to the sheer size and complexity of the site, which is not designed for a “start to finish” reading that peer reviewers would apply to a print book. We encouraged our Advisory Board to focus their attention on the Mina Loy Baedeker, which is our digital equivalent to a scholarly book, but we gave them free reign to roam. While they dipped into the Baedeker, we did not receive comments on every chapter from the Advisory Board. 

To ensure that our project received comprehensive peer review of all site content, we used our own private Hypothesis group to provide detailed and thorough feedback on each other’s Baedeker chapters. We also set up systems of review for the student work, with graduate students reviewing and editing undergraduate work with faculty oversight, and faculty reviewing and making suggestions on graduate student work.

Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: There is no expertise in DH, only courage and resilience

Don’t wait for someone to come along with the expertise to show you how to do what you want to do or build what you want to build. What you’re envisioning hasn’t been invented yet. You have to jump in, unafraid of failure, knowing that whatever you’re attempting won’t work—at least at first. But you’ll persist, tinkering, troubleshooting, and Googling around for answers. Eventually you’ll get something to work, even if it’s not exactly what you set out to do. In DH you learn by doing, not prior to doing. As one graduate student put it, “You have to do the work to know how to do the work”; and, as another attests, “You have to expand your notion of work to include thinking, failing, playing around, and learning new skills.” 

Lesson #2: Set realistic limits

Without a clear roadmap or precedent for this work, we worked intuitively, which allowed us to be open to discovery, enabled the project to expand organically, and helped us to be more flexible about its parameters. Davidson undergraduate Andrew Rikard’s expression, “It’s doable,” became an early motto that encouraged us to take intellectual, creative, and technological risks.

When the project grew to a cross-institutional collaboration, we had to modify the motto, reminding ourselves that just because “it’s doable” doesn’t mean we should pursue it. When you have a team of high achievers, “it’s doable” can fuel a relentless drive to succeed at a task, even if the time and effort needed to accomplish it isn’t commensurable with the benefits of the outcome. The project is going to grow bigger than you ever anticipated and take more time than you ever set aside, so it’s important to set limits. 

Lesson #3: Collaboration is key to DH projects

DH scholarship is necessarily collaborative, in part because no single humanist by training will have all the skills necessary to build a successful project. But when those necessary collaborations—the seeking of guidance and assistance and ideas from others—become a personal exchange, the nature and design of the project changes. Its most distinctive aspects may be those that result from the interpersonal exchanges, rather than from the idea or vision of an individual genius. 

DH collaboration is also distinctive because often the “help” does not exist prior to the emerging project, but is part of its making. The knowledge, expertise, and even tools may not exist yet. You learn as you go, making and adapting tools to answer your questions and achieve your goals. Our collaborations were strengthened by practices such as work retreats, periodic and mindful delegation of work, and sharing of external training. These practices made the collaboration sustainable and gave contributors a greater sense of knowing how to contribute. 

Collaboration will invariably lead to some friction and frustrations. But don’t forget that you encounter friction, frustration, and even despair when you work alone. The joy of a collaboration is that your partners can restore your faith in the project at those moments when you’re ready to throw in the towel. They’ll remind you why it’s valuable, why they joined in, and why it’s worth continuing. And they’ll produce work—new insights, new material—that make the project better and make you proud to be a part of it. 

Lesson #4: Identify & network with communities of practice

Participating in various DH workshops and institutes such as ILiADS (Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship) and DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute) was critical to the project, not just for technology training, but also for a sense of community. Communities of practice provide vital support and knowledge for DH pioneers; instead of feeling like you are wandering in the wilderness without a map, you understand that you are part of a larger, collaborative exploration, full of like-minded researchers eager to share their knowledge and expertise.

Applying for an NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant helped us connect with other communities of practice, including the staff at NEH, the directors of our respective institutions’ Digital Libraries/Laboratories, scholars with expertise in modernist Digital Humanities, and later with other grant recipients. The grant writing process goes beyond seeking funds for your project; it helps you develop a plan and template, drawing upon the expertise and examples of others. NEH Senior Program Officer Jennifer Servanti’s suggestions on our draft proposal were crucial to our success. Serventi had a broader perspective and wider experience, asked good questions, and pointed out weaknesses and gaps in our proposal draft. 

Lesson #5: Incorporate strategic planning throughout your project

A strategic plan is essential for setting manageable goals, identifying steps to achieve them, and matching those steps to a calendar. Our NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant served as our strategic plan, and the NEH guidelines, requirements, and advice made this document detailed, thorough, and practical. It became an essential reference point throughout our process. Perhaps most importantly, it required us to address the question: How will you know when your project is finished? 

While the NEH proposal was a valuable planning document for the project as a whole, the Faculty Success Program (FSP) from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity reinforced the importance of ongoing strategic planning for each semester, along with weekly planning. The FSP strategic planning method involves setting realistic goals, identifying specific steps to reach the goals, and matching those steps to your calendar. This process was especially helpful when it came to tying up all the loose ends and completing the project. We also kept Google Doc “to do” lists, assigning responsibilities to each PI. 

Lesson #6: Choose a system for project communications & record-keeping

As vital as interpersonal exchanges are, communications will be more difficult than you think, not because they don’t take place, but because they occur in such abundance, over such long stretches of time. Even with a tool like Slack and with a process blog to record progress, it was hard to retain all the thinking, talking, decision making, and delegating. We thought Slack would be a good place to gather and record our decision-making process, but we didn’t use it consistently or find its interface intuitive.

We’ve realized the importance of a decision log, as well as a place and system for storing project materials. We ended up reverting to email for communications and using Google folders and docs for project materials. Next time around, we would investigate open source project management tools or platforms that would enable us to keep a decision log that we could search and sort by date or topic. 

Communications aren’t just important within your team. You need to be connecting and networking with your desired audiences and networking with communities of practice throughout your project. It’s important to be dedicated and aggressive about promoting your site. Our hits skyrocketed when we ran the flash mob and had students orchestrating our social media campaign, but our faculty leaders couldn’t sustain that activity, since none of us are social media savvy. We would have benefited from a permanent team member dedicated to social media, as well as a detailed outreach plan, which should include not just social media, but also applying for awards, attending conferences, and contributing to DH forums and publications. 

Lesson #7: Give students freedom & peer review

Students (undergraduate and graduate) are capable of innovative research. In our project, they made crucial decisions, implemented them, and contributed original content. Even in an era of flipped classrooms, the dominant model of learning remains top-down and hierarchical, perhaps even more in the production of research than in the classroom. Students are invited to do interesting work, but often within a framework established by the professor. There’s good reason for this scaffolding, because the professor often has knowledge, training, and experience that students lack. 

But what if you don’t know exactly where your research will go or how you will present it? In this regard, it helps to lack knowledge, training, and experience, because students may have knowledge, expertise, and experiences that faculty need. We had to figure out ways to help students explore and implement tools we did not fully understand ourselves, collaborating with librarians and instructional technologists as intellectual partners. Our lack of expertise often enabled us to learn with and from our students.

Our students contributed original research projects to our website, included under a section titled “New Frequencies.” They researched, wrote, and edited biographies of figures in Mina Loy’s social and artistic networks. They culled data from these biographies to create a visualization of Loy’s social-artistic network. They created maps and timelines of Loy’s life and career, as well as 3D animations, lexicons, galleries, and e-commerce sites to promote engagement with her work. In short, their scholarly contributions to the project were essential.

As much as they have to offer and teach us, students may also produce work that doesn’t meet scholarly standards of accuracy, citation, or accessibility. And once they’ve completed a course or graduated, they have little incentive to revise or correct their work. How do you strike a balance between giving students the freedom to explore, invent, and design, while also making sure they research thoroughly, represent accurately, cite adequately, or uphold accessibility standards—all within the constraints of a summer or semester? It’s important to build in oversight for projects that occur during the semester as part of a course. Have students sign release forms or agree to give editorial access, so that you can make edits—or have another set of students make changes—to their work before it is published. We also set up systems of peer review, in which undergraduates evaluated each other’s work, graduate students vetted and edited undergraduate work, and the faculty PIs reviewed and commented on graduate student projects. Creating systems of peer review and editing is crucial to upholding scholarly standards for student work.

Project Continuation & Partnerships

We envisioned this project as an end-stopped experiment, and thus we do not intend to continue development of the site after we transfer it to UGA’s server. UGA has agreed to host the site for as long as it remains technologically viable. We will have access to the dashboard to do maintenance work such as updating themes and plugins, but we will not be adding new content.  The metadata for our scholarly Loy Baedeker is exportable from the Table of Contents as well as from each chapter, and the site will be aggregated on Modnets.org, to enhance its discoverability. 

Our project created a partnership among our three diverse institutions, a small liberal arts college, a Catholic university, and a public state university (Davidson College, Duquesne University, and University of Georgia, Athens). We collaborated with undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty at our respective institutions.  We communicated with our Advisory Board prior to applying for the grant and throughout the process, providing updates on our progress and seeking their advice as well as their participation in our public peer review process. We also worked consistently with Roger Conover, the executor to Loy’s literary estate, and secured permissions from museums and collectors who hold or own material used on the site. In the course of the grant period, Greg Lord, our technical designer, left Hamilton College to work for NASA, but he stayed with us to finish the project. We partnered with Loy scholars including Carolyn Burke, Cristanne Miller, Alex Goody, and Suzanne Zelazo to add their contributions to the site.  To set up and undergo peer review, we worked with David Chinitiz, Pamela Caughie, and Nick Wasmoen at ModNets, and with a team of people at Hypothesis. And we had more than sixty Loy scholars, students, and enthusiasts contribute to our Flash Mob, with others writing to us subsequently with inquiries and comments on the project. Rather than forming official partnerships, we’ve established a network of relationships, which we can activate for future DH projects. 

Long Term Impact

Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde provides crucial, accessible resources for understanding and evaluating Loy’s writing and visual art, as well as her relationship to the avant-garde. Given the scattered nature of her archive, and particularly of her visual creations, mina-loy.com is one of the only places other than the Beinecke Digital Archive to access previously unseen visual art by Loy, and our site is the only one that provides context for and interpretation of the artwork. 

Our project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, which means that users are free to share and adapt any material on this site, provided that:

  1. They provide an attribution;
  2. The material is not copyrighted by someone else.

Some materials on this site are held in copyright, including Mina Loy’s work and the work of other writers, artists, and photographers. We have secured permission to reprint these materials, and anyone who wishes to use or adapt these copyrighted materials must seek permission from the original copyright holders.

Our use of Mina Loy as a case-study in how women and others on the margins navigated the avant-garde resulted in a new theory of the “en dehors garde,” a concept that is fleshed out in the individual chapters of our digital scholarly book, and which we expend to have a long-term impact on the field of modernist studies. Colleagues in modernist studies report using our website in their undergraduate and graduate programs, and graduate students in MA and PhD programs say they’ve used it for their research and scholarship.  We hope that we have produced a robust digital resource on Loy scholarship that will stand the test of time, and we plan to pursue publishing a print book companion to broaden the reach of our work. We also hope our project will enjoy an “afterlife” through other DH projects that make use of our open-source, DH Scholarship Theme, which customizes the affordances of WordPress to make it more suitable for humanities research.