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How to Use Google to Recover the First Asian North American Woman Writer

How to Use Google to Recover the First Asian North American Woman Writer

Sometimes a serendipitous Google search can set you on the path to rediscovering hundreds of uncollected works. 

As part of the Americanist Reading Group at Cornell, I've organized a lecture by Cornell PhD alumna Mary Chapman (UBC) about her work recovering Edith Maude Eaton aka Sui Sin Far, the first Asian North American woman writer. Through Google Mary Chapman found "The Alaskan Widow," a short story that had not appeared in the Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings volume edited by Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks. As a result of her efforts, two volumes of previously uncollected works by Sui Sin Far will be forthcoming.

An excerpt on her use of digital archives for this recovery process from Archive Journal:

AJ: Has the literary sleuthing you’ve done on Eaton prompted you to develop new methods for working with archives?

The biggest change in my research methods in the past five years has been prompted by digitization. I have had to learn how to search databases effectively, using intuition to temper the false sense of certainty one can have after a search. I always approach a question or search from multiple angles. A search for “Sui Sin Far,” for example, in The Youth’s Companion doesn’t find results because her pen name was displayed on the page not in typeface but in orientalist calligraphy that is not recognized by a word search. In digitized newspapers, the words “Sui Sin Far” are very difficult for character-recognition software to recognize because they are not familiar English words. That said, much of the research that located these uncollected texts by Eaton/Sui Sin Far was far less glamorous and far less nuanced; my research assistants and I have simply looked through the table of contents of many bound volumes of periodicals Sui Sin Far mentions in the “Acknowledgements” page of her Mrs. Spring Fragrance, found stories—some of which had detailed introductions that gave us further information—and followed our “leads.”

Mary Chapman delivered her talk "Sui Sin Far and the Asian Pacific" on October 2nd at Cornell University. I've made a Storify of her talk here:


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