My heart beats for literary analysis, modern art, and critical thinking. I’m the most engaged when I can dissect and piece together seemingly unrelated stories to build a larger, broader narrative with far-reaching cultural implications. In the latter half of my senior year at San Jose State University (SJSU), I stumbled into a bibliophile’s fantasy.
Long story short, I was part of a motley crew of avid literature nerds under the guidance of Dr. Katherine Harris, a valued professor at SJSU, to research and unlock the mysteries of three rare books in our spare time. These weren’t just any ordinary rare books—a couple of them were limited edition 20th century art books worth a very, very pretty penny. Read the full story as told by Dr. Harris on her blog.
But it wasn’t about the money (there was what seemed to be a Picasso print tucked away in one of the books that we handed to an art expert for investigation), the glitz, or the glam of academic treasure. When my professor asked if I was interested in digging deeper into these books, I was beside myself with excitement. I fashioned myself to be a veritable literary explorer, delving into the depths of modern literature and art.
The works we delved into were The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde (1920), Sebastian van Storck by Walter Pater (1927) and The Ballad of a Barber, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley (1919). The name “BeardStair” is derived from Aubrey Beardsley and Alastair (the two artists of this art book trifecta). Both The Sphinx and Sebastian van Storck were illustrated by the obscure artist named Alastair, while the Ballard of a Barber was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley: All gorgeously printed and delectably musty with age and history.
When our research group met up for the first time to examine these codices, I was absolutely floored by how vivid the prints were inside these bound books, as well as how wonderfully modern the texts were. My favorite of the three works was Oscar Wilde’s The Sphinx because of its luscious language and languid symbolism.
As time went on, the group started to dissipate due to other responsibilities (we were all still students at the time), but luckily, Dr. Harris was able to revive the project as a grad student course at SJSU. Entitled “The BeardStair Project” and carried out within a few months of its inception, the course actually brought the research to fruition and created a digital scholarly edition for the works.
The entire experience spanned a year or so, and I’m proud to have been able to present at conferences (see videos of THATCamp Pedagogy and Re:Humanities Conference) about our group’s findings as well as pedagogical inquiries and techniques. Check out my Tumblr for my research and thought process during the project.