In Transition

Case Study #4

In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Principal: Tanya Clement, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin

What is it: an electronic scholarly edition of 12 poems by the Dadaist artist, performer, and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven presented in multiple witnesses.


In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is a publicly available scholarly edition of twelve primarily unpublished poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven. The edition provides access to a textual performance of the Baroness’s creative work in a digital environment that allows users to compare versions of each poem. The edition comprises TEI P5 encoded transcripts and images of ninety manuscript pages, in the Versioning Machine interface, which allows users to make comparisons across the versions. The manuscripts represented in this edition are housed in the Papers of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, which are among the holdings in Special Collections of the University of Maryland College Park Libraries.

The goal of this edition is to present these twelve poems in “performance,” in an environment that foregrounds the presence of an audience. The popularity of the Baroness’s published poems was in large part the result of the dialectic that an audience brought to a reading of her poetry. The Baroness’s “lived” presence as a noted personality on the streets of New York and as a subject of much debate among readers and writers in the pages of the little magazine The Little Review was part of how her poetry made meaning. This selection of poems illuminates a moment of transition in the culture of little magazines from an environment dependent on the dialectic a live audience can bring to reading to a more staid, formal reading experience; as well as it reflects a time of transition in the Baroness’s life, between 1923 and 1927, when she moved from New York to Berlin and finally to Paris. Making comparisons between versions written in these different environments sets this edition within the context of the transitioning technologies and social networks of textual transmission in the second decade of the twenty-first century. This edition not only seeks to provide access to a textual event in which audience intervention is foregrounded. It also shows that a digital environment can facilitate analysis on submerged textual and social patterns by allowing scholars to uncover new kinds of evidence and new opportunities for resituating texts.

Issues raised:

  • collaboration: typically scholarly editions are collaborative activities involving designers, programmers, students
  • expanded role of the editor, from a traditional limited role in the scholarly editing process to team/project leader – perhaps more akin to an orchestra conductor
  • the value of textual scholarship in contemporary literary studies (on par with critical scholarship?)
  • new methodologies and their status as literary scholarship (text encoding, edition design [interface, technologies of presentation])


Authorship statement:

The scholarly work I do with In Transition is facilitated by digital methodologies, but it also reflects very traditional modes of analysis within literary studies. In Transition is intended to encourage a redefinition of the poetic event of a Freytag-Loringhoven poem by providing an expanded view of what comprises the object of study. With this edition, I ask the questions: What is a text? What is a poem? What is literary? These are not new questions within literary studies but they are new within the context of the “textual event” of a Freytag-Loringhoven poem since representing and analyzing that event requires definitions of text that incorporate an audience’s participation in a live performance. Accordingly, this edition affords a new reading environment for Freytag-Loringhoven’s textual performances which is accomplished through a variety of digital means. These include encoded transcriptions that underlie an interface in which users can compare multiple versions of the Baroness’s texts and the potential to access online social networks that afford real-time audience collaboration.

The theory of text represented by In Transition engages principles based on a theory of textual performance. I am defining a theory of textual performance to include John Bryant’s notion of fluid text theory in which social text theory and the geneticist notion that a literary work is “equivalent to the processes of genesis that create it” are engaged to reflect the textual event as a “flow of energy” rather than a product (Bryant 71, 61). As such, a text in performance can comprise multiple versions in manuscript and print, various notes and letters and comments of contemporaries or current readers, plus the element of performance—an element of time, space, and a collaborative audience—that work together in the meaning-making event of a text.

What makes the Baroness’s poetry texts difficult to access through traditional (and new) practices of literary analysis and presentation, pertains to an element of textuality that was essential to her poetic performances during her time: a live audience. The Baroness’s “lifeart” was centered in the Dadaist model of the gallery and cabaret—and thus always and already including real-time audience participation. Literary work is a “phenomenon,” Bryant writes, ” . . . best conceived not as a produced work (oeuvre) but as work itself (travaille), the power of people and culture to create a text” (61). At the same time, the research of performance scholars such as Judith Butler and Peggy Phelan are also essential since they argue that a performance can never be archived or re-performed. Accordingly, this is not a traditional documentary edition that is mean to recreate the Baroness’s time period or the originary text. Instead, this edition is meant to engage a real-time audience in the meaning-making activities of the Baroness’s textual event.

Clement presenting her work in a covery letter for an Assistant Professor Position:

My research demonstrates that how we curate digital collections also shapes the knowledge users produce. As part of my dissertation, I include “In Transition: Selected Poems by The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,”2 a digital scholarly edition that I created which includes multiple versions of twelve little-known poems by this Dada artist and performer. In creating this edition, I question how standards and methods of preservation and access change our relationship to cultural artifacts such as these poems and manuscripts. Using manuscripts of these poems from UMD’s Special Collections, I first created archival-quality images of each poem and encoded transcripts according to the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) P5 XML standard. I then adapted the Versioning Machine3 (an open-source, JavaScript application) to create an interface for including annotations and comparing versions across the edition. Finally, because I used these standards, UMD Libraries was able to ingest the project into their Fedora repository, which, in turn, allows for a more robust user experience. Because of Fedora’s architecture, for instance, users can search for these poems within the context of the entire UMD digital collection. Here, my research shows the significant role that choosing metadata standards and open source technologies can play in shaping the work that scholars do with digital library collections.

How scholarship is identified in CV:

Scholarly Websites

“In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.” Digital Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, College Park, MD, 2009. Available online.


Bryant, John. The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” The Performance Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Bial. New York: Routledge, 2004. 154-166. Print.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

sponsored by the MLA Committee on Information Technology