Over the last couple of years, I have been slowly applying lessons from the Digital Humanities to my work. Part of that project has been rethinking C.S. Lewis’ bibliography. Specifically, I wanted to shift my thinking from when a book was published to when Lewis was working on various writing projects.
Lewis was a quick writer, and sometimes that timeframe was short, like the two weeks he took on vacation to write The Pilgrim’s Regress in 1932. Other projects took years, like the Oxford History of English Literature volume, 16th Century Literature, Excluding Drama, which took 20 years from commision to publication and earned its nickname, OHEL. Other books were lifetime commitments, like his “Prolegomena” lectures in the early 1930s that developed over time to the last book Lewis would complete, his absolutely essential The Discarded Image. Lewis’ book-writing schedule, then, ranged from 2 weeks to 3 decades, and a simple bibliography won’t do.
That is why I made the “Cheat Sheet,” allowing me to chart Lewis’ activities and draw conclusions. My post, “The Periods of C.S. Lewis’ Literary Life,” is an example of the kind of subtle shift that careful attention to data can allow. This month I found Jane Chance’s Tolkien, Self and Other “This Queer Creature” (2016), which leans on critical theory and an approach to Tolkien’s writing like my approach to Lewis’ literary project. An example of the deceptiveness of only using a bibliographic timeline is evident in Chance’s book, which was published on such-and-such a date in 2016, but represents decades of work and years of papers.
Ultimately, I am building a timeline that will show C.S. Lewis’ writing schedule in visual form, including the essays and major poems. I don’t anticipate that I’ll complete that project for a couple of years, but I threw my data model out into the blogosphere to see what others would come up with. Joe Hoffman answered that call–not with new analysis based on my graphics, but by creating his own graphic of the periods of Lewis’ life and the kind of writing he did with a subtly different metric. The vertical axis is the sum of the number of works Lewis had in progress that year, each divided by the number of years in which he was working on it.
I would encourage you to check out his entire post here, which is funny and suggestive of future work. Joe even threatens to use a Gantt chart, which is what the primitive version of my timeline will look like.
This is the world of Digital Humanities: an open approach to building knowledge. Now it’s your turn.