Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Jeffrey H. Richards

Committee Member

Amanda Gailey

Committee Member

Kathie Gossett

Committee Member

David S. Roh


The purpose of this study was to define shared characteristics of literary digital archives, specifically to explore how conceptual and structural qualities of such archives express generic qualities. In order to describe digital media such as database or digital archives, scholars resort to metaphors, and this study offers the metaphor of anatomy as a generic inscription with historical and methodological implications. The definition of the anatomy genre draws from Northrop Frye's in Anatomy of Criticism, in which Frye describes how anatomies are characterized by proliferating lists, the mixing of prose and non-prose forms, and self-reflexivity--under the guise of knowledge accrual, investigation, and discovery.

Criticism from digital humanities, new media, historiography, literature, and archival studies informed this research, in particular critical theory on genre and epistemology, and research on physical and digital archives. Because the definitions we apply to our digital technologies are under development, this dissertation participates in the overall emergence of terms in digital humanities theory.

Several case studies analyzed the interface and underlying structures of four literary digital archives to consider how they represent the material past, and how design of visual elements and functionality manifest characteristics of the anatomy genre. The case studies suggest that literary websites. exhibits, and archives participate in the anatomy genre. but that some sites are more "anatomical" than others, and some sites do not align with the genre at all. The ability to designate a digital project as an anatomy depends more on encyclopedism, detailism, and its continual updating, than on any other factors.

In addition, my own experience constructing a literary digital archive from historical manuscripts informs this investigation of genre, in particular my role as the researcher-archivist and how identity affects my approach to the archive. Historically, metacommentary has always been part of the anatomy genre, and this study positions methodological criticism as an expression of metacommentary.

The study concludes by considering the implications of literary digital archives for scholarship and research, including effects of power, institutional impact, and the profession of "English" itself, especially in light of the anatomy genre's tendency towards proliferation and unfinishability.


Advisor signatures were redacted.


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