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Publication in serial format was one crucial means by which the novel reached unprecedentedly broad audiences in the nineteenth century and came to be seen as the era's dominant literary genre. Yet while students and scholars customarily acknowledge that works like Bleak House or Middlemarch originated as serials, it has long been difficult to convey the distinctive reading experiences and forms of social interaction which this mode of publication enabled.

The serial runs of Victorian novels that have survived are in rare book libraries or private collections, and there have been few attempts, none sustained, to disseminate Victorian serials in facsimile. The reader's relationship to a narrative is fundamentally altered when the text is parceled out into discrete installments, appearing over considerable periods of time, and overlapping with one another. How does a reader's conception of a single novel as a work of art change if the reading experience is regularly punctuated or interpenetrated by one or two (or more) other novels? How does the reader's sense of the shape of one novel, emerging over a significant amount of time, affect the perception of others emerging alongside it?

The Serial Experience Project, led by Professor James Buzard of MIT and Professor Joseph Childers of University of California, Riverside, seeks to explore the distinctive sociology of serial reading using high-quality digital facsimiles, advanced on-line visualization, annotation, and collaboration tools. The project is currently in the process of developing an early prototype (available here). This early prototype is far from complete, and does not claim to be entirely visually accurate. Rather, it attempts to showcase a few of the functionalities we hope to include in the project, such as faceted browsing linked to a timeline. Eventually we hope to include fully searchable facsimiles for every serial, as well as tools to annotate and collaborate on different interpretations of the novels.

Please email feedback to hyperstudio [at] mit [dot] edu.