Mapping Faulkner’s Fiction through Digital Space and Time

Published: September 19, 2016

The Sound and the Fury, considered one of the great American novels of the twentieth century, is also one of the most difficult to understand. Its stream-of-consciousness narrative, absence of chronological order, and multiple narrators are just a few of the challenges presented to readers.

Addressing these challenges is Dr. Johannes Burgers, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Queensborough Community College and an Associate Director of the Digital Yoknapatawpha led by Professor of English Stephen Railton at the University of Virginia. They are joined by fellow Associate Director, Professor of Literary Studies Theresa Towner at University of Texas at Dallas, and an international team of over fifty scholars, technologists, and educators working to create a digital “deep atlas” of the works of William Faulkner that aims to visualize the relationship between locations, characters, and events in his short stories and novels set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. In its fifth year, the project has recently received a $286,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research division.


“Through the hard work of over 30 collaborating editors, we have created a robust relational database of nine novels and thirty-one short stories, and counting,” said Dr. Burgers. “The scholarship that is possible with this database is almost endless. For example, I am interested in mapping chronology in Faulkner, which is notoriously complex. Although there is an expansive and excellent critical literature on this, much of it is limited to individual novels or short stories. The data available allows us to do a large comparative study of all of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha fictions, something that would have been impossible to do with traditional scholarship.”

Features of the Digital Yoknapatawpha project include:

>Maps and timelines between narrative sequence and temporal sequence

>Character chronology

>Pop up descriptions of location, and every character and event associated with that location

>Links to manuscript documents and Faulkner sound fragments for many of the stories

“I believe this is a groundbreaking effort that will allow readers to experience the world of great literature in a technologically new and meaningful, lasting way.”

Dr. Burger’s research focuses on the intersections among modernity, racial pseudoscience, and literature in a transatlantic context. He recently completed his manuscript Modernist Jewishness: Literary Responses to Anti-Semitism before the Shoah. Written as a series of interconnected literary biographies, it traces the lives and writings of Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Robert Musil and reveals how their personal confrontations with anti-Semitism deeply shaped their modernist aesthetic. His scholarship on Faulkner is extensive and includes peer reviewed essays, lectures and conference presentations.

Originally from The Netherlands, Dr. Burgers has been a professor at Queensborough Community College since 2012. He has also taught at other CUNY campuses including Queens College, Hunter College and Kingsborough Community College. Currently, he is working on a user-driven data analytics module for the Digital Yoknapatawpha project.


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