“Lord Peter’s England,” and reflections thereupon

Bedraggled in appearance and crestfallen in aspect, I amble pathetically o’er the finish line of this particular semester, proffering a website and my reflections on the creation of same. My consolation in this is that my two favorite Lord Peter Wimsey books, Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night sit on my bedside table, ready to be read and mined for the historical insights they offer on, respectively, the role of advertising in the rise of a consumer culture in the early 20th century and the cultural attitudes surrounding women’s role in academia during the same time period. Yes, heartened by the promise of free time, I eagerly look forward to writing more for Lord Peter’s England: Britain Between the Wars; for now, I will reflect on the process of creating the website as it presently stands.

Project goals

My central task in creating my website was to use the Lord Peter Wimsey novels as a window into the cultural history of Britain during the interbellum years. My goals for the site were and are as follows:

  • First and foremost: to interpret historical lessons about the social, cultural, political, and economic situation in Britain between World War I and World War II, as seen through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels
  • To model historical literary analysis and to show the site’s visitors how period literature can serve as a primary source for understanding history
  • To promote the Lord Peter Wimsey books in general, as they are very good and deserve to be read more widely in the modern era, but their online footprint is at this point very minor

As this project is ongoing, I don’t feel it appropriate to evaluate how well these goals have been achieved at this time; I am still in the process of achieving them. However, I have so far engaged in historical interpretation of the reintroduction of shell-shocked soldiers into society following the Great War and how that reintroduction varied in difficulty across socioeconomic lines, as well as of the ways in which the world had changed (and had not changed) for women during the same period. To the ends of the second goal, a page on the site, “Reading Literature for Historical Content,” contains an explicit discussion and modeling of historical literary analysis, and each post models more of the same. And as for the third, I have linked to the full texts of each Lord Peter Wimsey novel as they are available online and hope to implicitly make the case through each post on the site that the books are worthy of continued readership.

Writing a post for Lord Peter’s England

It’s taken a few outings of writing content for the blog for me to determine exactly how I plan to carry on with it; what follows is an outline of the formula as it stands.

Determining a topic

Naturally, I have read all the Lord Peter Wimsey books before, and the first step in writing about any of them involves thinking back to my cherished memories of each one and considering what historical topic looms largest in the book.

Reading the book, with attention to the topic

With my subject chosen, I go forward with carefully reading the book anew and looking for that topic. I note when references to the topic appear. Rereading rather than simply thinking back to when a topic came up is helpful for catching, for example, minor instances of social commentary, or throwaway lines that point to a larger truth.

Drawing excerpts from the book

Using the online versions of the book, I find the passages I’d noted while reading and gather them.

Secondary source research

This is one of the major ways in which my approach has changed from the beginning. In my first post, I cited a small number of scholarly journal articles that I had found through AU’s library search portal. However, upon consideration of what we’ve discussed in connection with so many of the readings in this class, I have realized the value of choosing sources that are widely accessible over sources available only to a restricted audience. If a reader with AU’s proxy set up on their computer to allow them access to scholarly journals wishes to look into the secondary sources, they can do so, but anyone who doesn’t have that access is shut off from further reading if I only use these academic sources.

Moving forward, I intend to focus more on the types of sources included in the “Strong Poison and a changing world for women” post: websites from reputable publishers that any reader can access. I’d like to be able to connect people to historical resources they can actually use, thus ensuring that they can engage with additional sources without having to have any special credentials or permissions at all.

Writing and publishing a post

This all gets condensed into a post of about 2,500 words, which I’m increasingly trying to break into digestible pieces with headings and such to facilitate reading. My earliest version of the first post was more along the lines of what I’d submit as an academic essay in its structure and formatting, but from what we’ve read and the resources we’ve viewed in this course, I’m increasingly convinced that this isn’t suitable for a public digital history project. Each post includes a short bibliographical section.

Reflections and Lord Peter’s future

As the above process section would indicate, my thinking on this project has evolved through working on it, and I expect that it will continue to do so as I continue to create posts. We’ve repeatedly discussed throughout this semester the difficulty of deciding when a digital project is “done,” and I now understand completely why that’s the case—once you’ve put something up, it only becomes easier to go, “Well, that’s probably not the best way to do that, is it?” The perpetual editability of a digital project provides the opportunity (both ameliorative and deleterious) to revise one’s approach. I’d like to think I’m at a place now where I’ll just sally forth with the approach I’ve devised, but I imagine I’ll still have some course-correcting to do. I only hope that the mission creep will be minor.

In addition to continuing on with the formula for content posts I’ve been using, I’m planning to incorporate some additional ideas. First, as it was suggested to me at our poster session last week, the opportunities for doing some macroanalysis of the text using Voyant Tools and the like are very promising. The corpus is readily available as the full texts of all books are online, so it’s really just up to me to unlock that potential at any time. Second, I’d like to do a bit more contextual work as well, discussing, for example, what about the cultural situation in Britain led to the rise of the detective novel genre during Dorothy L. Sayers’ time.

There are a lot of great directions in which I can take this project, and I’m excited to keep moving forward with it. I have a long ways to go before I’ll feel comfortable passing this along to the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, but this is something of a passion project for me, so I’m ready to put the work in.

Thanks for a lovely semester, everybody—H.A.G.S., K.I.T., &c.

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