FellowsHub: The Long Journey

Marquette University’s Department of Special Collections is the proud owner of several original J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts, including his two most famous works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Visitors and scholars from all over the world have come to look at the manuscripts and study them. But the collection includes more than just the original works. The Tolkien materials also feature numerous audio and video recordings related to Tolkien and Tolkien Studies, monographs and collections of essays, and — thanks to S. Gary Hunnewell of Arnold, Missouri — a large number of fanzines spanning the latter-half of the 20th century into the 21st.

While the large collection of Tolkien material is ripe for research and discovery, the fanzine collection is, in particular, an unmined treasure trove of information just waiting to be studied. When the group behind the Syriac Reference Portal, came to Marquette in the summer of 2017 and demonstrated the scope and process of their portal, the Digital Scholarship Lab, Special Collections, and the Department of Library Information Technology were inspired to collaborate on a project that would use digital methods and tools to open up the fanzine archive to the public in the form of a research database and reference portal.

A sample of a record from Syriaca.org indicating the biographical details of Abraham Qidounaya, a 4th-century saint.

Syriaca.org, the model that our project was first based upon, is a multi-faceted research compendium that combines traditional research methods in history and philology with developing tools and techniques of the digital humanities. The main tool is TEI, or text-encoding, which involves assigning meaningful code to particular words or concepts in a text (title, for example, or author) that can then be pulled into a bibliographic XML record. Users can then explore relationships between People, Texts, Locations, and more.

With this framework in mind, a team of librarians, archivists, staff, and students from the three library departments involved began working on creating our own version of the reference portal, one focused on the Tolkien fandom through its fanzines, called FellowsHub. Our Graduate Intern Sam Young, Digital Media Tutor Kendall Roemer, and I marked up photocopies of microfilmed fanzines including issues of Entmoot, Hobbitalia, Hoom, and I Palantir, noting every time a name was mentioned, or location, or an important motif, and entered the data into spreadsheets.

Those spreadsheets were then combined into one master list, where individual items were assigned a URI and a type, and every unique instance they were referenced listed out. J.R.R. Tolkien, as you can see below, was assigned the very first URI at number one.

It felt only right.

A look at one of our Google sheets for data collection.

Over the past several months, the project, as Tolkien himself would say, “grew in the telling,” and our team realized that the possibilities of the data contained in these fanzines and the fanzine collection here at Marquette University exceed the confines of the Syriaca site, and we’re exploring ideas for how to use and share the data that we continue to collect.

On May 16th, archivist Bill Fliss, who curates the Tolkien collection, will be travelling to Kalamazoo, MI, to introduce the project to Tolkien scholars at the 2nd Annual Tolkien Seminar, and then at the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University which immediately follows. He’ll be gathering suggestions and brainstorming with scholars and fans regarding what features and data would be most useful in such a database, to help guide the future directions of the project.