About the project

Ephemera. is the product of late nights in digital archives and a long-standing fascination with paper ephemera, what Maurice Rickard would call the “minor transient documents of everyday life.” While working on my dissertation in American poetry, I was intrigued to find out that abolitionists like Frances Harper published poems in newspapers, but pinpointing the location of specific poems was a challenge.

Reading the newspapers felt like stepping into a past moment in time, almost like I was viewing a social media feed from the 1850s. I was especially struck by the close proximity of ordinary ads, long-form abolitionist essays and speeches, and anti-slavery poems in each edition. A poem about a slave auction feels a lot more immediate when it blends in to accounts of real-world local and national happenings, but the significance is lost when the poem is reprinted in an anthology or hidden in a database. I decided to collect the different published versions of Harper’s poems to give other readers a taste of what I discovered.

This project explores questions of material context and ephemerality. What does it mean to read a poem in (and as) a transitory object? Can we experience ephemerality in a digital environment in ways we cannot in print? By providing access to the poems in a number of contexts, the project helps readers inhabit the moment a newspaper poem came in to the world. It encourages readers to get closer—to interact with the poem and be present at the temporal surface where it lives.

This site is built and maintained by Kayla Shipp at Emory University.

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