History and Future of the Book (Fall 2014 Digital Studies Course)

April 9th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

A tentative syllabus for DIG 350: History & Future of the Book, a course just approved for the Digital Studies program at my new academic home, Davidson College. Many thanks to Ryan Cordell, Lisa Gitelman, Kari Kraus, Jessica Pressman, Peter Stallybrass, and many others, whose research and classes inspired this one.

DIG 350: History & Future of the Book

Course Description

A book may only be made of paper, cardboard, ink, and glue, but it is nonetheless a remarkable piece of technology—about which we have mostly forgotten it is a piece of technology. This class is concerned with the long history, the varied present, and the uncertain future of the book in the digital age.

We will approach the history of the book in the most materialist way possible. In other words, when we say “books,” we don’t mean novels. We don’t mean texts. We mean books, the actual physical objects. Books have heft. They burn. They mildew. They smell. Their shape and design limit certain uses and encourage others. Similarly, books in the future—or whatever replaces books—will foster certain practices over others.

Over the course of the semester History and Future of the Book will return again and again to three central questions: (1) What is the history of the book as a physical and cultural object? (2) How have current disruptions in reading and writing technology changed the way we use and imagine books? (3) What does the future of the book look like?

Along the way we will consider reading and writing innovations such as electronic paper, e-readers, touchscreen interfaces, DIY publishing experiments, and place-based authoring. We will also address what some critics call the phenomenon of bookishness in contemporary culture—an exaggeration of the most “bookish” elements of a book, which may represent either the last dying gasp of the printed book or herald a renaissance of the form

Learning Goals

By the end of the semester, students will be able to do the following:

  • Evaluate key moments in the development of the book as a technological form
  • Compare the affordances of different forms of textual technology (clay, scrolls, paper, books, screens, and so on)
  • Dramatize the ways books and other technological forms reconfigure social practices
  • Propose speculative designs for the future of the book
  • Construct a technologically-enhanced book
  • Question the significance of “extreme” reading and writing technologies

Required Reading

Other Required Material

Note: every student in DIG 350 will be issued an iPad for the duration of the semester. In addition to Meanwhile, students will selectively purchase and study two or three other relevant apps. Possibilities include LetterMPress, Strange Rain, Device 6, 18 Cadence, and A Humument.

Required Work

The graded work for DIG 350 will take several forms, detailed below: (1) class participation; (2) semi-weekly blogging; (3) an alternative House of Leaves model; (4) a book enhancement; (5) a mobile library design; (6) a comparative analysis final paper.

(1) This class places a high premium on participation. It is essential that everyone has carefully considered the day’s material, attends class, and participates. I also expect students to bring the day’s readings to class, well-marked up with notes and annotations. Daily attendance is crucial for full participation. More than two absences will lower your class participation grade by at least one letter grade. More than five absences will result in a zero for your class participation grade. Participation is worth 10% of your final grade.

(2) Each student will contribute to the class blog. There will be 15 prompts throughout the semester, and each student will respond to 10 of these. Each post should be approximately 400 words. See the blog evaluation guidelines below. Blogging is worth 20% of your final grade.

(3) Every student will design an alternative form of House of Leaves, a book that epitomizes the phenomenon of bookishness. The Alternative House of Leaves model is worth 20% of your final grade

(4) The book enhancement is a creative and critical engagement with the physical form of the book, using soft circuits or another type of I/O sensor to “hack” the book. The enhancement will be accompanied by a reflective statement. The book enhancement is 20% of your final grade.

(5) The speculative design of a technologically-enhanced mobile library, in collaboration with Caitlin Christian-Lamb, the Associate Archivist in the library. The mobile library design is worth 10% of your final grade.

(6)   The final paper will be comparative analysis of a single or group of similar textual objects across print and digital forms. The final paper is worth 20% of your final grade.


The final grade will be calculated in the following manner:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Blogging: 20%
  • House of Leaves alternative: 20%
  • Book Enhancement: 20%
  • Speculative Library Design: 10%
  • Final Project: 20%

I will evaluate the blog posts according to the following 0-4 point scale:

4 Exceptional. The blog post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. The post demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. The post includes at least one rhetorically useful image or media clip that illustrates—rather than trivializes—its point.
3 Satisfactory. The blog post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Fewer connections are made between ideas, and though new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. The post reflects moderate engagement with the topic.
2 Underdeveloped. The blog post is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The blog post is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of student engagement with the topic.
0 No Credit. The blog post is missing, late, or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

Every other assignment will be given a letter grade that has a percentage equivalent:

A = 95% /A- = 90%
B+ = 88% / B = 85% / B- = 80%
C+ = 78% / C = 75% / C- = 70%
D+ = 68 / D = 65% /F = below 60%

Inclusive learning

I am committed to the principle of inclusive learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to inclusive learning.

Any student with particular needs should contact Nance Longworth (x2129), the Academic Access and Disability Resources Coordinator, at the start of the semester. The Dean of Students’ office will forward any necessary information to me. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Academic Integrity

Students at Davidson College abide by an Honor Code. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form.

Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Classroom Courtesy

While this course embraces the digital world it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them. I permit laptops and tablets in class, but only when used for classroom activities, such as note-taking or class readings. Occasionally I may ask students to turn off all digital devices.

Text messaging or other cell phone use is unacceptable. Any student whose phone rings during class or who texts in class will be responsible for kicking off the next class day’s discussion.

Late arrivals or early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided.

DIG 350 Calendar


Week 1 (August 25, 27 and 29)

  • Key Concepts: book history
  • Robert Darnton, “What is the History of Books?” in Daedalus 111:3 (1982): 65-83
  • In-class activity: Writing in Clay
  • Leah Price, “You are What You Read,” New York Times, 2007

Week 2 (September 1, 3, and 5)

  • Key Concepts: paper and printing as technologies
  • Visit to Special Collections
  • Selections from Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800 (1976)

Week 3 (September 8, 10, and 12)

  • Key Concepts: (dis)continuity and affordances
  • Guest Speaker: Dr. Tyler Starr, Assistant Professor of Art
  • Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters (Introduction and Chapter 1)
  • Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (pp. 1-40)
  • Joseph Dane, “On the Continuity of Continuity: Print Culture Mythology and the Type of the Gutenberg Bible” from Out of Sorts: On Typography and Print Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)

Week 4 (September 15, 17, and 19)

  • Key concepts: materiality of forms
  • Peter Stallybrass, “Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible” from Books and Readers in Early Modern England (2011)
  • In-class activity: Simulating a medieval scriptorium
  • Gerard Genette, “Introduction” in Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997), 1-15.
  • Johanna Drucker, “The Artist’s Book as a Rare and/or Auratic Object” from The Century of Artists’ Books, pp. 92-120


Week 5 (September 22, 24, and 25)

  • Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
  • Johanna Drucker, “The Codex and Its Variations” from The Century of Artists’ Books, pp. 121-159
  • Johanna Drucker, “Experimental Typography as a Modern Art Practice” from The Visible Word, pp. 91-104

Week 6 (September 29, October 1 and 3)

Week 7 (October 6, 8, and 10)

  • House of Leaves
  • * House of Leaves Alternative Model Due *

Week 7 (October 13, 15, and 17)

  • Key Concepts: comics and ergodic works
  • Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (pp. 1-23)
  • Jason Shiga, Meanwhile
  • Choose Your Own Adventure mapping

Week 8 (October 20, 22, and 24)

  • * Mobile Library Speculative Design *

The Future

Week 9 (October 27, 29, and 31)

  • Key Concepts: digitization and deterioration
  • Whitney Anne Trettien, A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: The Case of English Reprints Jhon Milton Areopagitica, Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013)
  • Gooding, P., M. Terras, and C. Warwick. “The Myth of the New: Mass Digitization, Distant Reading, and the Future of the Book.” Literary and Linguistic Computing 28.4 (2013): 629–639.
  • Bonnie Mak, “Archaeology of  a Digitization” from  Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (2014)

Week 10 (November 3, 5, and 7)

Week 11 (November 10, 12, and 14)

  • Key Concepts: audio books and haptic interfaces
  • Matthew Rubery, “Play It Again, Sam Weller: New Digital Audiobooks and Old Ways of Reading” Journal of Victorian Culture (2008)
  • Matthew Rubery, “Canned Literature: The Book after Edison” Book History (2013)
  • Meanwhile and Strange Rain apps
  • * Book Enhancement Due *

Week 12 (November 17, 19, and 21)

Week 13 (November 24, 26, and 28)

  • Thanksgiving Break

Week 14 (December 1, 3, and 5)

  • Key Concepts: Emulation and a Return to Materiality
  • Nick Montfort, Emulation as Game Facsimile (2011)
  • Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost, “Platform Studies: Frequently Questioned Answers” (2009)

Week 15 (December 8 and 10)

  • Work on Final Paper, due at the end of the exam period

What crisis in the humanities? Interactive Historical Data on College Majors

November 2nd, 2013 § 4 comments § permalink

If you’re an academic, you’ve probably heard about the recent New York Times article covering the decline of humanity majors at places like Stanford and Harvard. As many people have already pointed out, the article is a brilliant example of cherry-picking anecdotal evidence to support an existing narrative (i.e. the crisis in the humanities)—instead of using, you know, actual facts and statistics to understand what’s going on.

Ben Schmidt, a specialist in intellectual history at Northeastern University, has put together an interactive graph of college majors over the past few decades, using the best available government data. Playing around with the data shows some surprises that counter the prevailing narrative about the humanities. For example, Computer Science majors have declined since 1986, while History has remained steady. Ben argues elsewhere that not only was the steepest decline in the humanities in the 1970s instead of the 2010s, but that the baseline year that most crisis narratives begin with (the peak year of 1967) was itself an aberration.

Of course, Ben’s data is in the aggregate and doesn’t reflect trends at individual institutions. But you can break the data down into institution type, and find that traditional humanities fields at private SLACs like my own (Davidson College) are pretty much at late-1980s levels.

Clearly we should be doing more to counter the perception that the humanities—and by extension, the liberal arts—are in crisis mode. My own experience in the classroom doesn’t support this notion, and neither does the data.

Digital Humanities at MLA 2014

September 19th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

This is a list of digitally-inflected sessions at the 2014 Modern Language Association Convention (Chicago, January 9-12). These sessions in some way address digital tools, objects, and practices in language, literary, textual, cultural, and media studies. The list also includes sessions about digital pedagogy and scholarly communication. The list stands at 78 entries, making up less than 10% of the total 810 convention slots. Please leave a comment if this list is missing any relevant sessions.

The title of each panel links back to its official description in the convention program, which occasionally includes supplemental material uploaded by panel participants. Also running throughout the convention is the digitally-focused Pathfinders Exhibit: 25 years of Experimental Literary Art, in Sheraton II, Ballroom, Level 4.

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3. Get Started in the Digital Humanities with Help from DHCommons

Thursday, 9 January, 8:30–11:30 a.m., Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Ryan Cordell, Northeastern Univ.; Josh Honn, Northwestern Univ.; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.

The workshop welcomes language and literature scholars who wish to learn about, pursue, or join digital humanities (DH) projects but do not have the institutional infrastructure to support them. Representatives of DH projects and initiatives will share their expertise on project design, outline available resources and opportunities, and lead small-group training sessions on DH technologies and skills. Preregistration required.

15. How to Do Things with New Media in Medieval Studies

Thursday, 9 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Huron, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Mary Kate Hurley, Ohio Univ., Athens

Speakers: Angela Bennett Segler, New York Univ.; Maria Sachiko Cecire, Bard Coll.; Michael Sarabia, Univ. of Iowa

This hybrid roundtable on intersections of theory and praxis in our forays into the digital reconstruction of the premodern world will address questions such as: How can we connect the practical approach to digital resources with the theoretical materials that have been amassed in media studies? What does the praxis of digital humanities say about the theory of new media, and vice versa?

38. Digital Practice: Literary Remediations

Thursday, 9 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Richard E. Langston, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

  1. “The Fate of Literary Studies in the Age of Hyperculturality,” Rolf Johannes Goebel, Univ. of Alabama, Huntsville
  2. “Mimicking the Avant-Garde: Intellectual and Artistic Activism in the Digital Age,” Patrizia C. McBride, Cornell Univ.
  3. “Computer Poems and Critical Coding: Redefining Subjectivity for the Digital Age,” Kurt Beals, Washington Univ. in St. Louis

Responding: Leslie Morris, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities

For abstracts, visit german.berkeley.edu/transit.

39. Haunting Narratives: Folklore’s Contribution to Narrative Studies

Thursday, 9 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Grace, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Camilla Henriette Mortensen, Lane Community Coll., OR

  1. “‘We Have Always Slain Dragons’: Negotiating Empathy and Villainy through Narrative Study,” Shelley Ingram, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette
  2. “‘Then There’s a Pair of Us!’: Fetishism and the Construction of Ghostly Folk in and through Literature,” Todd Richardson, Univ. of Nebraska, Omaha
  3. “At the Intersection of Land and Water: Using Topic Models and Morphologies to Understand Folk Narrative,” John Laudun, Univ. of Louisiana, Lafayette

For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/docs/haunted-narratives-the-contributions-of-folklore-studies-to-understandings-of-american-imaginations/.

66. The Semipublic Intellectual? Academia, Criticism, and the Internet Age

Thursday, 9 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago H, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Liliana M. Loofbourow, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Phillip Maciak, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

Speakers: Natalia Cecire, Yale Univ.; Hua Hsu, Vassar Coll.; Evan Kindley, Claremont McKenna Coll.; Sharon Marcus, Columbia Univ.; Anne Helen Petersen, Whitman Coll.; Salamishah Tillet, Univ. of Pennsylvania

This roundtable seeks to address both the possibilities and the professional anxieties brought about by the new boom in online academic writing. Representing a diverse array of writing and editing experiences in and out of the profession, the panelists will be in a unique position to reflect on the goals and realities of taking scholarship to new publics.

80. Hard Mode: Games and Narratives of Marginalization

Thursday, 9 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Huron, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Anastasia Salter, Univ. of Baltimore

Speakers: Edmond Chang, Drew Univ.; Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow, Duke Univ.; Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey

For extended abstracts and links to works under discussion, visit hardmode.selfloud.net.

Mainstream video games often reflect culturally dominant discourse, with narratives that fail to include marginalized or “vulnerable” voices and groups. As video games are becoming an increasingly visible form of storytelling and entertainment, what role can games from outside these norms play in subverting such marginalizing representations?

91. Technologies of Translation

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Ontario, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Michael Emmerich, Univ. of California, Los Angeles

  1. “How Digital Archives Transform the Praxis of Literary Translation,” Jonathan Baillehache, Univ. of Georgia
  2. “Digital Palimpsests: Translation, Curatorial Practice, and the Interactive Text of Online Magazines,” Megan Berkobien, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  3. “Computational Tracking of Cross-Cultural and Cross-Lingual Markers in Translation Corpora,” Eugenia Kelbert, Yale Univ.; Saša Mile Rudan, Oslo Univ.
  4. “Digital Pedagogy: The ‘Li Sao’ in Translation,” Monica Zikpi, Univ. of Oregon

98. Vulnerable Texts in Digital Literary Studies

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: John David Zuern, Univ. of Hawai’i, Mānoa

  1. “Lossless Interactivity? Preservation and Adaptation across Meanwhile‘s Media Editions,” Jeremy Douglass, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
  2. “The Liminal Textuality of Comments in Code,” Rachael Sullivan, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  3. “Close, Distant, and Curatorial: Responsible Reading in Digital Literary Studies,” John David Zuern

108. Power Searching the MLA International Bibliography

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Sheffield, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Barbara Chen, MLA

“How to Maximize Your Research with the MLA International Bibliography,” Gregory Grazevich, MLA

121. Homo-reproductions

Thursday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Armitage, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Valerie Rohy, Univ. of Vermont

  1. “The Future in Ruins,” Valerie Rohy
  2. “Homo-sustainability,” Abby Goode, Rice Univ.
  3. “Repro Redux: The Denials of Digital Generation,” Judith A. Roof, Rice Univ.

For abstracts, visit homoreproductions.commons.mla.org/.

128. Forgotten Sources, Alternative Archives

Thursday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Sean O’Toole, Baruch Coll., City Univ. of New York

  1. “Pickwick’s Other Papers,” Carrie Sickmann Han, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
  2. “Coded Critiques in Postwar Spain: Reading Gabriela Mistral in the Poetry of Jose Luis Hidalgo,” Elizabeth Hochberg, Princeton Univ.
  3. “The Residue of History in New Media Archives,” Augusta Rohrbach, Washington State Univ., Pullman

For abstracts, write to sean.otoole@baruch.cuny.edu.

130. Things My Computer Taught Me about Poems

Thursday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Sheffield, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Meredith Martin, Princeton Univ.

  1. “Millay and Her Books,” Amanda L. French, George Mason Univ.
  2. “What Does Style Really Mean? A Comparative Analysis of the Poetry of Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” Natalie M. Houston, Univ. of Houston, University Park
  3. “Turbulence and Temporality: (Re)Visualizing Poetic Time,” Katharine Coles, Univ. of Utah; Julie Lein, Univ. of Utah

For abstracts, visit amandafrench.net/2013/03/28/things-my-computer-poems.

149. Online Courses: Challenges and Opportunities

Thursday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Debra Ann Castillo, Cornell Univ.

Speakers: Al Filreis, Univ. of Pennsylvania; William Albert Pannapacker, Hope Coll.; Lois Parkinson Zamora, Univ. of Houston, University Park

155. Literary Criticism at the Macroscale: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to Textual Circulation

Thursday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Parlor C, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Hoyt Long, Univ. of Chicago

  1. “The Werther Effect: Topologies of Transnational Literary Circulation in the Eighteenth Century,” Andrew Piper, McGill Univ.
  2. “Trade Imbalance in the World Republic of Letters: Transnational Culture through the Lens of Big Data,” Hoyt Long
  3. “Quantitative Literary Studies in a Transnational Age,” Ted Underwood, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
  4. “Transnational Literary Studies in a Quantitative Age,” C. P. Haun Saussy, Univ. of Chicago

168. Augmented Reality for Teaching and Learning in the Humanities

Thursday, 9 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Lincolnshire, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Julie Sykes, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Speakers: Jason B. Jones, Central Connecticut State Univ.; Julie Sykes

Participants will be introduced to various practical ways of utilizing mobile technology in the humanities classroom. Current projects addressing language learning and literary studies will be presented. Participants will engage in an augmented reality experience and begin to create relevant learning activities for their learning contexts. Participants are encouraged to bring their own iOS devices (iPhone, iTouch, iPad).

173. Beyond the Protomonograph: New Models for the Dissertation

Thursday, 9 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Daniel Powell, Univ. of Victoria

Speakers: Melissa A. Dalgleish, York Univ.; Shawn Moore, Texas A&M Univ., College Station; James O’Sullivan, University Coll. Cork; Nick Sousanis, Columbia Univ.; Danielle Spinosa, York Univ.; Nicholas van Orden, Univ. of Alberta

Although the need for graduate education reform in the humanities is widely discussed, the traditional role of the dissertation as a capstone protomonograph has only begun to be questioned. This panel features six Pecha Kucha presentations (20 slides x 20 seconds) from graduate students developing radically new models of the dissertation, followed by ample discussion.

187. Teaching outside the Classroom through Digital Humanities: Alt-Academic Feminism

Thursday, 9 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Teresa Mangum, Univ. of Iowa

Speakers: Anne Balsamo, New School; Natalie M. Houston, Univ. of Houston, University Park; Tara McPherson, Univ. of Southern California; Safiya Umoja Noble, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; Roopika Risam, Salem State Univ.

For position statements and resources, write to teresa-mangum@uiowa.edu.

Can digital and public humanities reshape studies by and about women in language, art, and culture? Feminists, people of color, LGBT communities, and differently abled and aged women are creating collaborative spaces despite uneven developments and digital divides. How can digital tools and practices serve feminist pedagogy and critique, resituating feminism within and beyond the academy?

199. Digital Queers, Queering the Digital: Gaming, Programming, Performance

Friday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Martha Nell Smith, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

Speakers: Thom Bryce, York Univ.; Edward Chamberlain, Univ. of Washington, Tacoma; Edmond Chang, Drew Univ.; Kimberly Hall, Univ. of California, Riverside; Hannele Kivinen, York Univ.

Responding: Marilee Lindemann, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

This roundtable analyzes queer online performances that critique the exclusionary practices of dominant American culture, queering codes in game programming, and queer approaches to new media to make visible that opportunities afforded by queer bodies extend well beyond remembering Alan Turing, the gay iconic code breaker cited by some as historical proof of digital humanities diversity.

207. Diversifying the Victorian Verse Archives

Friday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Meredith Martin, Princeton Univ.

  1. “Recovering Tennyson’s ‘Melody in Poetry’: Salon Recitations and Musical Settings,” Phyllis Weliver, Saint Louis Univ.
  2. “Morris Metrics: The Work of Meter in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Yopie Prins, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  3. “Digital Archives and the Music of Victorian Poetry,” Joanna Swafford, Univ. of Virginia

For abstracts, visit https://sites.google.com/a/slu.edu/diversifying-the-victorian-verse-archives/.

213. Twenty-First-Century Pedagogies

Friday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Stacey Lee Donohue, Central Oregon Community Coll.

  1. “Not on Wikipedia: Making the Local Visible,” Laurel Harris, Queensborough Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
  2. “Survival Spanish Online: Designing a Community College Course That Bridges Culture and Authentic Connections,” Cecilia McGinniss Kennedy, Clark State Community Coll., OH
  3. “Sound Essays: A Cure for the Common Core,” Kathryn O’Donoghue, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
  4. “Leveling Up! Gamifying the Literature Classroom,” Jessica Lewis-Turner, Temple Univ., Philadelphia

For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/groups/the-two-year-college/announcements/ after 15 Dec.

233. Seeing with Numbers: Sociological and Macroanalytic Approaches to Literary Exclusion

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Chicago F, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Richard Jean So, Univ. of Chicago

  1. “Modernism’s Limits: Patterns of Exclusion in Scholarly Reading,” Andrew Goldstone, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
  2. “Finding Thomas Curtis Clark: Topic Modeling the Rules of Exclusion in American Modernist Poetry,” Richard Jean So

Responding: Amy Hungerford, Yale Univ.; Matthew Jockers, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln

For abstracts, visit lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/literarynetworks/.

239. Vulnerable Times in the Archive: Forgotten Modernist Literary Magazines

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Kane, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Belinda Wheeler, Paine Coll.

Speakers: Suzanne Wintsch Churchill, Davidson Coll.; Anne Donlon, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Paul Hjartarson, Univ. of Alberta; Hannah McGregor, Univ. of Alberta; Elizabeth O’Connor, Washington Coll.

Following Marianne Hirsch’s presidential theme, this roundtable explores various modernist literary magazines that “have been marginalized, forgotten, or omitted from dominant histories.” Though these magazines’ overlooked status might be seen as a weakness, the participants illustrate how these documents and current periodical scholarship have created what Hirsch calls “a space for engagement and resistance.”

245. Beyond the MOOC: The Online Seminar

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Grace, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Margaret Lamont, Stanford Univ.

  1. “Re-placing Synchronous Classrooms at Stanford’s Online High School,” Adam Rzepka, Stanford Univ.
  2. “The United States and the Middle East at the Virtual Table,” Maggie N. Nassif, Brigham Young Univ., UT
  3. “Engaging Long-Distance Learners: Personalization, Communication, and Application Integration,” Erin Kingsley, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder

253. Gaming across the Curriculum: The Write Game

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Catherine Jean Prendergast, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

  1. “Mystorical Play: On Ludic Invention of Knowledge,” Jan Holmevik, Clemson Univ.
  2. “Replayability and Revision: Writing Over and Over,” Cynthia Haynes, Clemson Univ.
  3. “Augmented Reality Games: Engines of Reflection,” Virginia Kuhn, Univ. of Southern California

259. The Twenty-First-Century Library: Discovery Services versus Subject Specialists

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Huron, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: James Raymond Kelly, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst

Speakers: Laura R. Braunstein, Dartmouth Coll.; Barbara Chen, MLA; Sarah G. Wenzel, Univ. of Chicago

Currently the style of providing research access to online catalogs and databases for undergraduate students is through the use of a discovery system. Some panelists will discuss how traditional methods are a more logical means to the desired end, while others will discuss how they have used discovery services successfully in research instruction in both writing and literature classrooms.

284. Digital Humanities and French Renaissance Culture

Friday, 10 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Columbus, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Jacqueline D. Wernimont, Scripps Coll.

  1. “Translations of Translations: From Latin to French to Digital,” Anneliese Pollock, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
  2. “Digitizing the French Sixteenth Century: Unblocking the Literary Canon,” Hassan Melehy, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  3. “The Montaigne Project,” Philippe Desan, Univ. of Chicago

Responding: Dorothea Heitsch, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

291. Torture and Popular Culture

Friday, 10 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Hillary L. Chute, Univ. of Chicago

  1. “Shocking Media: The Abu Ghraib Photographs and Zero Dark Thirty,” Liz Maynes-Aminzade, Harvard Univ.
  2. “Animal Cruelty: The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow,” Christopher Pizzino, Univ. of Georgia
  3. “Torture, Rebirth, and Revelation in V for Vendetta and Save the Green Planet,” Peter Yoonsuk Paik, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  4. “Sites of Pain: The Expressive Work of Spaces of Torture in Video Games,” Mark Sample, George Mason Univ.

299. What Is Data in Literary Studies?

Friday, 10 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: James F. English, Univ. of Pennsylvania

Speakers: David Alworth, Harvard Univ.; Eric Hayot, Penn State Univ., University Park; Heather Houser, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Lauren Klein, Georgia Inst. of Tech.; Peter M. Logan, Temple Univ., Philadelphia; Scott Selisker, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

This roundtable will consider questions about data in literary studies beyond the usual debates over digital method and quantification. Does our discipline have a coherent concept of data? Are there kinds of data that are specific to literary studies or that only exist as products of literary research? What is the relation between literary data and literary theory? Is data political?

307. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop

Friday, 10 January, 1:30–3:30 p.m., Chicago VIII, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Jason Rhody, National Endowment for the Humanities

This workshop will highlight recent awards and outline current funding opportunities. In addition to emphasizing grant programs that support individual and collaborative research and education, the workshop will include information on the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. A question-and-answer period will follow.

323. Trauma, Memory, Vulnerability

Friday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago IX, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Susan Rubin Suleiman, Harvard Univ.

  1. “Trauma Theory for Implicated Subjects,” Michael Rothberg, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
  2. “Cyberpoetics and Cryptopolitics: Facebook Pages as Memory Portals,” Ananya Jahanara Kabir, King’s Coll. London
  3. “Embodying Postconflict Memories: Teatro Testimonial in Chile,” Maria José Contreras, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
  4. “Culture of Memory and Human Rights: New Constellations,” Andreas A. Huyssen, Columbia Univ.

Responding: Susan Rubin Suleiman

Bringing vulnerability to bear on the politics of trauma and memory studies, the session will illustrate new constellations in the field. Looking at memory’s multidirectional and global circulation—from Europe to East Asia and Latin America—papers will engage embodiment, performance, and digital media, as well as complicity and human rights.

337. New Digital Vanguards in Spanish Literature

Friday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Parlor F, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Alexandra Saum-Pascual, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. “Print Alternatives: Hybrid Spanish Writing Today,” Alexandra Saum-Pascual
  2. “Digital Technology and New Forms of Literature from a Hispanic Perspective,” Sergi Rivero-Navarro, Harvard Univ.
  3. “Interstory: Three Narratives in Media Convergence,” Elika Ortega Guzman, Univ. of Western Ontario
  4. “Technological Expropriation in Latin American Poetry: A Historical Perspective,” Marcos Wasem, Bard Coll.

For abstracts, visit hybridspanish.commons.mla.org/ after 1 Dec.

339. New Ways of Reading: Surface Reading and Digital Methods

Friday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago D, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Mara Mills, New York Univ.

Speakers: Stephen M. Best, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Alexander Gil, Columbia Univ.; Heather K. Love, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Sharon Marcus, Columbia Univ.; Ted Underwood, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

For papers and digital examples, visit www.surfacereading.org after 1 Dec.

This session considers intersections between new work on reading and digital methods. It emerges from a collaboration that includes a book project (Surface Reading: History, Theory, Practice) and a digital project. Speakers will report on digital experiments in classes they taught in fall 2012.

350. Open Access: Editing Online Scholarly Journals

Friday, 10 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., O’Hare, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Helena Gurfinkel, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville

Speakers: Nicole N. Aljoe, Northeastern Univ.; Alan Clinton, Santa Clara Univ.; David Gunkel, Northern Illinois Univ.; Helena Gurfinkel; Laura L. Runge, Univ. of South Florida

Responding: Henry S. Sussman, Yale Univ.

The roundtable will address the logistics of founding and maintaining a journal; potential nonspecialized readership; the evaluation of open-access publications, as well as of the work of editing, in the context of hiring, tenure, and promotion; and peer-review practices that follow the open-access principle, while responding to tenure and promotion requirements.

368. East Asian Traditional Poetry in the Digital Age

Friday, 10 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Huron, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Paul Rouzer, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  1. “Rereading Chinese Poetry in a Digital Context,” Graham Sanders, Univ. of Toronto
  2. “‘Du Fu Is Busy!’: Classical Poetry on the Chinese Internet,” Xiaofei Tian, Harvard Univ.
  3. “Shiki’s Social Media: Print, Internet, and Haiku in Nineteenth- and Twenty-First-Century Japan,” Robert Tuck, Univ. of Montana
  4. “Traditional Poetry and Digital Pedagogy,” Monica Zikpi, Univ. of Oregon

369. The Twenty-First-Century University: Gender, Technology, and Learning

Friday, 10 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Michigan B, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Shaden M. Tageldin, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  1. “Feminist Dialogues on Technology,” Elizabeth Mathews Losh, Univ. of California, San Diego
  2. “Hybridizing Foreign Languages: Gender and Professionalization,” Charlotte Ann Melin, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  3. “The Gender Factor in Technology-Enhanced Language Courses,” Fernando Rubio, Univ. of Utah

For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/ after 9 Dec.

377. Making Sense of Big Data

Friday, 10 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Helen Thompson, Northwestern Univ.

  1. “Of Archives and Algorithms: EEBO (Early English Books Online) and the Challenges of Big Data,” Anupam Basu, Washington Univ. in St. Louis
  2. “Fragments of Fiction: Heterogeneity and the Early Novel in the Digital Archive,” Mark Algee-Hewitt, Stanford Univ.
  3. “Scale and Precision: Having It All,” Laura C. Mandell, Texas A&M Univ., College Station

For abstracts and links, visit idhmc.tamu.edu/MLA2014.

379. Culture and Activism in the 2011–13 Russian Protest Movements

Friday, 10 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Parlor C, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Katharine Holt, Columbia Univ.

  1. “Protest and Digital Aesthetics,” Marijeta Bozovic, Colgate Univ.
  2. “When the Digerati Take to the Street (and Airwaves): Alexei Navalny, Sergei Minaev, and the Offline Transposition of the New Media Intelligentsia,” Michael Gorham, Univ. of Florida
  3. “Pussy Riot Democracy: Notes on Ethnography and Russian Activism,” Frances Harrison, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York
  4. “Postsocialist Political Depression and the Refiguring of Liberalism: Imagining Social Change in and around the Protests,” Adam Leeds, Univ. of Pennsylvania

For abstracts, visit mlaslavic.blogspot.com.

399. MOOCs, Boutique Subjects, and Marginal Approaches

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Dorothy Kim, Vassar Coll.

Speakers: Rebecca Davis, Saint Edward’s Univ.; Wendy Marie Hoofnagle, Univ. of Northern Iowa; Helene Scheck, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York; Sonam Singh, Barnard Coll.; Lisa M. C. Weston, California State Univ., Fresno

For abstracts, visit hosted.lib.uiowa.edu/smfs/mff/index.html.

This roundtable addresses what happens to marginal approaches (e.g., feminist, queer, disability, racial) and boutique subjects (e.g., medieval studies) in the MOOC paradigm.

402. Beyond the Digital: Pattern Recognition and Interpretation

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Sheraton I, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.

Speakers: Jeffrey Binder, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Ryan Cordell, Northeastern Univ.; Collin Jennings, New York Univ.; Cedrick May, Univ. of Texas, Arlington; James O’Sullivan, University Coll. Cork; Lisa Marie Rhody, George Mason Univ.; Shawna Ross, Arizona State Univ. Polytechnic

For abstracts and methods, visit ach.org/ach-sessions after 1 Dec.

In discussions of digital humanities we sometimes forget that the output of digital analysis is not the goal; rather, it is a means to an end: the interpretation of a text. This panel will feature brief presentations that offer interpretations of patterns found with a digital approach. Crucially, however, presenters will speak not about methods but instead about interpretations and conclusions.

403. Words, Works, and New Archives: Studying African American Literature in the Twenty-First Century

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Warren Carson, Univ. of South Carolina, Spartanburg

  1. “The Field and Function of African American Literary Scholarship: A Memorial and a Challenge,” Dana A. Williams, Howard Univ.
  2. “Chaos, Digital Humanities, and Change in Twenty-First-Century African American Literary Study,” Jerry W. Ward, Central China Normal Univ.
  3. “The Black Book: Creating an Interactive Research Environment,” Kenton Rambsy, Univ. of Kansas
  4. “Keepin’ It Interactive: Hip-Hop in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” Regina Bradley, Kennesaw State Univ.; Jeremy Dean, Rap Genius, Inc.

405. Meeting Where Students Are: Faculty-Library Collaborations and Undergraduate Research

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Ohio, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Dawn Childress, Penn State Univ., University Park

Speakers: Susanna Boylston, Davidson Coll.; Anne Geller, Saint John’s Univ., NY; Laura E. McGrane, Haverford Coll.; Susette Newberry, Cornell Univ.; Jennifer Rajchel, Haverford Coll.; Blythe E. Roveland-Brenton, Saint John’s Univ., NY

For abstracts, visit wp.me/p29LID-1A after 1 Dec.

Panelists will discuss collaborations among librarians and faculty members that create curriculum-based research opportunities for students in the use, building, and interpretation of collections. Perspectives on introducing students to the protocols of research include the literary-critical, archival, programmatic, and compositional and cross the analog-digital divide in their methods and tools.

409. Innovative Interventions in Scholarly Editing

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Colorado, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Stephen G. Nichols, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD; Raymond G. Siemens, Univ. of Victoria

Speakers: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Julia H. Flanders, Northeastern Univ.; Steven E. Jones, Loyola Univ., Chicago; Peter Robinson, Univ. of Saskatchewan; Timothy L. Stinson, North Carolina State Univ.

Responding: Susan Schreibman, Trinity Coll. Dublin

Explores editorial innovation, considered in the context of the field’s principles and practices, including those associated with the CSE and the award of its seal for approved editions. Presenters will address, among other topics, the role of editing in new Commons-oriented publication platforms, the uses of new media in scholarly editing, and the relation of the scholarly edition to the data that underlies it.

416. Digital Practice: Moving Images

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Deniz Göktürk, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. “The Nature of Digital Images,” Carsten Strathausen, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia
  2. “Remixing Herzog: Auteurship and Participation in the Digital Age,” Tara Hottman, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  3. “The Documentary Tradition in the Digital Age,” Verena Kick, Univ. of Washington, Seattle

Responding: Eric C. Ames, Univ. of Washington, Seattle

For abstracts, visit german.berkeley.edu/transit.

418. Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Steven Hymowech, Fulton-Montgomery Community Coll., NY

  1. “Right Leaders of Wrong: A Revolution in Higher Education,” Jesse Stommel, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
  2. “Banding Together in the Face of the Coming ‘Apocalypse,’” Lee Skallerup Bessette, Morehead State Univ.
  3. “Who Owns the Humanities?” George Louis Scheper, Community Coll. of Baltimore County, MD
  4. “Vulnerability and Academia: A Critical Analysis,” Paul Lauter, Trinity Coll., CT

Responding: Stacey Lee Donohue, Central Oregon Community Coll.

For abstracts, visit www.ccha-assoc.org/index.html after 1 Dec.

420. Social Pedagogies and Second-Language Development

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Huron, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Sébastien Dubreil, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville

  1. “The Emergent Multilingual Self during Study Abroad and What It Teaches Us about Language Instruction,” Glenn Levine, Univ. of California, Irvine
  2. “Curriculum Development in the Chinese-Heritage Language Classroom: Learners’ Defining Role,” Xuehua Xiang, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
  3. “Bridging the Print-Digital Divide with Social Reading,” Carl S. Blyth, Univ. of Texas, Austin

For abstracts, visit profd.weebly.com/mla-2014.html.

451. Theory and Practice in International Online Classroom Collaboration: An Electronic Roundtable

Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Chicago VIII, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Zsuzsanna Palmer, Old Dominion Univ.

Speakers: Sarah Guth, State Univ. of New York Global Center; Alexander Hartwiger, Framingham State Univ.; Zsuzsanna Palmer

For abstracts and resources, write to zpalm001@odu.edu after 7 Jan.

This electronic roundtable showcases international online collaboration projects while theoretically situating them in order to reimagine these digital contact zones as sites for critical thinking. The speakers’ projects come from a range of disciplines—writing, literature, and language teaching—and identify the challenges and rewards of cross-cultural interaction in global classrooms.

463. New Arabic Genres

Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Colorado, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Ken Seigneurie, Simon Fraser Univ., Surrey

  1. “Revolutionary Memoirs: Women, Nation, and the Arab World,” Tahia Abdel Nasser, American Univ. in Cairo
  2. “Scheherazadean Cyborgs: Arab Women Diarists in the Digital Age,” Nadine Sinno, Georgia State Univ.
  3. “Desire and the Canonization of Arabic Literature,” Kifah Hanna, Trinity Coll., CT
  4. “Illustrated War: Lamia Ziadé’s Bye Bye Babylon, the Art of Remembering, and the Lebanese Civil War,” Salah D. Hassan, Michigan State Univ.

For abstracts, visit tinyurl.com/c65bllb.

471. Who Benefits? Competing Agendas and Ethics in Graduate Education

Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: David B. Downing, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania

Speakers: David B. Downing; Shane Peterson, Washington Univ. in St. Louis; Daniel Purdy, Penn State Univ., University Park; Katina Rogers, MLA; Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria

This roundtable explores the responsibility programs have to graduate students given the current job market, including whether programs should continue to admit the same number of students, how to reform graduate education for the job market that exists, how to advise graduate students, and how program directors can respond to institutional pressure to grow, create, and maintain programs.

481. African Literature and Performance and New Media

Saturday, 11 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Colorado, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Moradewun Adejunmobi, Univ. of California, Davis

  1. “Teju Cole’s Twitter Feed and the Politics of Digital Form,” Mark DiGiacomo, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
  2. “Critic, Creator, Curator: Three Francophone African Writers and Authorial Presence on the Web,” Kristen Stern, Boston Univ.
  3. “New Media, Shifting Margins: Digital Divide Reconsidered,” Akinwumi Adesokan, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
  4. “The Place of Fiction in Southern Africa: New Media, Print, and Local Literary Ecologies,” Stephanie Bosch Santana, Harvard Univ.

482. Making Digital Counterpublics

Saturday, 11 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: David Parry, Saint Joseph’s Univ.

  1. “Education Reform by Undergraduates: Giving Rural Students a Voice,” Lee Skallerup Bessette, Morehead State Univ.
  2. “From MOOC to POOC: Plurality, Participation, and JustPublics,” Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Emily Sherwood, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
  3. “A Beautiful Social Collaborative,” Aimee Knight, Saint Joseph’s Univ.
  4. “Fashioning Alternative Publics,” Kim Knight, Univ. of Texas, Dallas

For papers, abstracts, and resources, visit www.outsidethetext.com/main/making-digital-counterpublics.

485. Digital Practice: Social Networks across Borders

Saturday, 11 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Missouri, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Stefanie Harris, Texas A&M Univ., College Station

  1. “Kafka and the Kafkaesques: Close Reading Online Fan Fiction,” Bonnie Ruberg, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  2. “Aesthetics and Politics in Representing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Germany: Markus Flohr’s Wo samstags immer Sonntag ist,” Isabelle Hesse, Univ. of York
  3. “Intersections of Music, Politics, and Digital Media: Bandista,” Ela Gezen, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst

Responding: Yasemin Yildiz, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

For abstracts, visit german.berkeley.edu/transit.

526. Scholarly Journals: Academic and Commercial and Independent Perspectives

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Missouri, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Alan Rauch, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte

Speakers: William Breichner, Johns Hopkins University Press; Adam Burbage, Taylor and Francis; Alison Denby, Oxford University Press; Eileen Joy, BABEL Working Group; Dawne C. McCance, Mosaic; Margaret Zusky, John Wiley and Sons

This session brings together editors and journal publishers from university presses, commercial presses, and the independent sector. Our objective is to share multiple perspectives about the future of scholarly journals (digital and print). An open forum, we welcome comments from attendees.

528. Digital Humanities from the Ground Up

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago VIII, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Amy E. Earhart, Texas A&M Univ., College Station

Speakers: Benjamin Doyle, Northeastern Univ.; Heather Froehlich, Univ. of Strathclyde; Kristi Girdharry, Northeastern Univ.; Kirstyn Leuner, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; Amanda Licastro, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Michael Lin, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Benjamin Miller, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Paige Morgan, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; David Tagnani, Washington State Univ., Pullman; Amanda Visconti, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

For abstracts, visit commons.mla.org/groups/computer-studies-in-language-and-literature/.

A showcase session to highlight innovative work by undergraduate and graduate students in the digital humanities. This session aims to demonstrate how students, at different levels and from a range of institutions, are expanding their research horizons by engaging in digital projects.

535. Medieval Literature, Digital Humanities

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Geraldine Heng, Univ. of Texas, Austin

  1. “How We Read Now (in the Digital Middle Ages),” Stephen G. Nichols, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD
  2. “Bibliopedia: Humanities Scholarship as Linked Data,” Michael Widner, Stanford Univ.
  3. “A New Digital Cartography of ‘Convivencia’: Sevilla 1492,” Thomas Patrick Kealy, Colby-Sawyer Coll.

543. Deletion, Erasure, Cancellation: Negative Textualities

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Purdue-Wisconsin, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Marjorie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley Coll., CA

Speakers: Laura All, Univ. of Virginia; Paul Benzon, Temple Univ., Philadelphia; Andrew Ferguson, Univ. of Virginia; Marjorie Luesebrink; Chuk Moran, Univ. of California, San Diego

For abstracts, visit paulbenzon.com/mla14panel/.

This roundtable considers practices that might collectively be termed “negative” textual operations. Bringing together a range of methods and perspectives, we intend to foster discussion of a framework in which qualities such as absence, removal, residuality, blankness, and illegibility become essential criteria for understanding textual materiality.

565. Online Innovations: From Distance Learning to MOOC Madness

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Michigan B, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Susan G. Polansky, Carnegie Mellon Univ.

Speakers: Thomas P. DiPiero, Univ. of Rochester; Chrissy Hosea, Yale Univ.; Christopher Jones, Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Fernando Rubio, Univ. of Utah; Lisa Vollendorf, San José State Univ.

Discussion of changing technologies and their impact on teaching and learning, including hybrid, blended, and flipped classes; online teaching; and MOOCs.

577. Evaluating Digital Scholarship: Candidate Success Stories

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago VIII, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Victoria E. Szabo, Duke Univ.

Speakers: Cheryl E. Ball, Illinois State Univ.; Alexander Gil, Columbia Univ.; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; Kari M. Kraus, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

Responding: N. Katherine Hayles, Duke Univ.

For a detailed description and participants’ project links, visit people.duke.edu/~ves4/mla14 after 1 Dec.

In an electronic roundtable, candidates from various institutions and backgrounds share work and describe successful navigation of appointment, tenure, and promotion. MLA guidelines on evaluating digital scholarship serve as context. Discussion of how shifting definitions of academic success may include interdisciplinary collaboration, public engagement, hybrid teaching/research, alt-ac.

582. Literary Social Media, Past and Present

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., O’Hare, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Jeremy Douglass, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

  1. “Writing Imperial Networks in Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Fiction,” Dermot Ryan, Loyola Marymount Univ.
  2. “The Century Guild Hobby Horse and the Ambivalence of the Victorian Literary Networks,” Rebecca N. Mitchell, Univ. of Texas–Pan American
  3. “Digital Darcy: Hypermediation in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” Kristina Booker, Southern Methodist Univ.

For abstracts, visit media.commons.mla.org/.

583. Electronic Literature after Flash

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Purdue-Wisconsin, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Mark Sample, George Mason Univ.

Speakers: Leonardo Flores, Univ. of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez; Christopher T. Funkhouser, New Jersey Inst. of Tech.; Dene M. Grigar, Washington State Univ., Vancouver; Mark C. Marino, Univ. of Southern California; Stuart Moulthrop, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Amanda Visconti, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Zach Whalen, Univ. of Mary Washington

This roundtable considers the future of electronic literature, which for over a decade has been dominated by works designed on Adobe’s Flash platform. The accomplished scholars, artists, and curators on this panel focus on the death of Flash e-lit, the study and preservation of Flash works, and the rise in electronic literature of HTML5, JavaScript, and apps.

586. Early Modern Media Ecologies

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Jen Boyle, Coastal Carolina Univ.

  1. “Needlework Networks: Paper, Prints, and Female Authorship,” Whitney Trettien, Duke Univ.
  2. “Sidney Circularities: Music and Script in the Contrafactum Lyric,” Scott A. Trudell, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
  3. “Stage, Stall, Street, Sheet: Multimedia Shakespeare,” Adam G. Hooks, Univ. of Iowa

For abstracts, visit www.scotttrudell.com.

599. The Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and in Public

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Katina Rogers, MLA

Speakers: David F. Bell, Duke Univ.; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Kevin Kee, Brock Univ.; Cecilia Márquez, Univ. of Virginia; Kelli Massa, University Coll. London; William Albert Pannapacker, Hope Coll.; Donnie Sackey, Wayne State Univ.

For description of programs and overall project, visit praxis-network.org.

How can humanities programs better equip students for a wide range of careers, while also fostering methodological expertise and public engagement? This roundtable will discuss a few possible approaches as seen in the Praxis Network, a new international alliance of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research.

618. FrostBytes: Archival Scholarship in the Digital Age

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Grace, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Mark Steed Richardson, Doshisha Univ.; Donald Sheehy, Edinboro Univ. of Pennsylvania

The workshop will share information about Frost collections and about the status of digitization and electronic cataloging at major collections. Tools and procedures for locating and acquiring materials will be discussed. Our purpose is to plan the creation, development, and maintenance of a comprehensive digital resource—under the aegis of the Frost Society—for Frost scholarship.

651. Women in the Expanding University: Global and Local

Saturday, 11 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Rebecka Rutledge Fisher, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Speakers: Diana Elizabeth Henderson, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.; Teresa Mangum, Univ. of Iowa; Margaret Soltan, George Washington Univ.; Catharine Roslyn Stimpson, New York Univ.

Women are often at the center of debates about technological pedagogy. Taking women and the “expanding university” as our framework, we will address pedagogical strategies, forms of community engagement, and prospects for women’s activism offered by new technologies. This session promises to open a space for critique of emerging technologies even as it identifies new avenues of innovation.

658. New Directions in William Carlos Williams Studies

Saturday, 11 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Sheffield, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Daniel Burke, Marquette Univ.

Speakers: Julia Bloch, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Samantha Carrick, Univ. of Southern California; Julia Daniel, West Virginia Univ., Morgantown; Margaret Konkol, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York; Serena Le, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Lisa Siraganian, Southern Methodist Univ.; Erin Templeton, Converse Coll.

For abstracts, visit wcwsociety.wordpress.com/.

Speakers will present contemporary approaches to Williams studies in a “lightning talk” Pecha Kucha format. Topics will include Williams and aging, eco-Williams, Williams and contemporary pedagogy, Williams and food and drug studies, sonic Williams, and digital Williams.

659. Text-nology Idea Jam: Doing New and Old Things with Old and New Books

Saturday, 11 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Chicago H, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Tamara O’Callaghan, Northern Kentucky Univ.

Speakers: Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, Duke Univ.; William Germano, Cooper Union; Andrea R. Harbin, State Univ. of New York, Cortland; Tamara O’Callaghan; Katherine Ruffin, Wellesley Coll.; Eleanor F. Shevlin, West Chester Univ.; Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library

For idea itinerary, explanation of format, and proposed questions, visit www.nku.edu/~ocallaghant/IdeaJamMLA2014.htm.

This workshop is an “idea jam”—an event run by participants rather than by facilitators—on the impact of technology on the text and reading practices. Each facilitator will propose an open-ended question related to the idea jam topic. Participants then work with the facilitator whose question most intrigues them to brainstorm ideas, concerns, etc.

679. Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities

Sunday, 12 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Purdue-Wisconsin, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Roopika Risam, Salem State Univ.

Speakers: Alexander Gil, Columbia Univ.; Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; Porter Olsen, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Amit Ray, Rochester Inst. of Tech.

Responding: Anna Everett, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

For abstracts, visit dhpoco.org.

This roundtable outlines the shape of contemporary postcolonial digital humanities and interrogates how postcolonial studies have evolved through different phases of Internet culture. The roundtable begins a public conversation about the contours, stakes, and limits of postcolonial digital humanities by exploring the roles of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization in digital cultures.

692. Encoding and Decoding William Blake

Sunday, 12 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Michigan–Michigan State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Sheila A. Spector, Brooklyn, NY

  1. “Encoding and Decoding Blake’s Book Illustrations: The Night Thoughts Watercolors,” Sheila A. Spector
  2. “William Blake’s Manuscript Production Decoded: How Blake Encoded Manuscript Culture in His Illuminated Works,” James Rovira, Tiffin Univ.

For abstracts, visit www.jamesrovira.com.

708. Critical Making in Digital Humanities

Sunday, 12 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Roger Whitson, Washington State Univ., Pullman

  1. “Theorizing Collaborative Making: Between Writing, Programming, and Development,” Amaranth Borsuk, Univ. of Washington, Bothell; Dene M. Grigar, Washington State Univ., Vancouver
  2. “Toward a History of Critical Making in the Humanities,” Kari M. Kraus, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria

Responding: Garnet Hertz, Univ. of California, Irvine

For abstracts, visit www.rogerwhitson.net/criticalmaking2014 after 15 Dec.

717. Women, Collaboration, and New Media

Sunday, 12 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Kate Flint, Univ. of Southern California

  1. “When to (Dis)Engage: Collaboration without Sexism,” Laura C. Mandell, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
  2. “Women + Collaboration + New Media = E-literature Literary Criticism,” Jessica Pressman, Univ. of California, San Diego
  3. “Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities,” Kathleen Woodward, Univ. of Washington, Seattle

724. The Data Is the Scholarship

Sunday, 12 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Parlor C, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Kenneth M. Price, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln

  1. “The Data of Revision: TextLab and the Theory of Fluid-Text Editing,” John Bryant, Hofstra Univ.; Nicholas Laiacona, Performant Software Solutions
  2. “Prime Timelines: Visualizing Televisual Time and Narrative Temporality,” Joel Burges, Univ. of Rochester; Nora Dimmock, Univ. of Rochester
  3. “Editing, Encoding, and Ambiguity in Folger Digital Texts,” Rebecca Niles, Folger Shakespeare Library; Michael Poston, Folger Shakespeare Library

738. Book History and Digital Humanities

Sunday, 12 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Lincolnshire, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Lise Jaillant, Newcastle Univ.

Speakers: Claire Battershill, Univ. of Reading; Michael Gavin, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia; Matthew Lavin, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln; Hannah McGregor, Univ. of Alberta; Greg Prickman, Univ. of Iowa; Andrew M. Stauffer, Univ. of Virginia; Elizabeth Willson Gordon, King’s Univ. Coll.

For abstracts, visit sharpweb.org.

Book history might evoke images of Luddite rare-books connoisseurs and bibliographers. Yet, book historians have long been interested in the impact of technological changes on the creation and diffusion of texts. This informal discussion will shed light on the digital future of book history and on the bibliographical roots of digital humanities.

748. Tumblr Vulnerabilities

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Aren Aizura, Arizona State Univ.

Speakers: Kara Jesella, New York Univ.; Nicholas Mitchell, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Roy Pérez, Willamette Univ.; Jeanne Vaccaro, Univ. of Pennsylvania

Responding: Alexis Lothian, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania

For abstracts, write to aren.aizura@gmail.com after 19 Nov.

How is the microblogging platform Tumblr an affective space for queer and dangerous critique in and outside the academy? What are the politics of blogging on Tumblr as scholars in a professional climate where “online presence” is the consummate CV attribute? How does Tumblr provoke or align itself with the specter of the digital humanities and its proprietary software platforms?

754. Lit Misbehaving: Responding to New and Changing Modes of Creative Production

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Rachael Sullivan, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

  1. “Bonfires, Lesbians, Depression, and Rape: Twine, Feminist Voices, and Agency in Game Narratives,” Anastasia Salter, Univ. of Baltimore
  2. “Turn Up the Opacity: Discussing Discomfort with Digital Modes,” Daniel Anderson, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  3. “E-books, Typography, and Twitter Art,” Zach Whalen, Univ. of Mary Washington

Responding: Stuart Moulthrop, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

For abstracts, visit rachaelsullivan.com.

776. E-literature and Translations: Database, Platform, Language

Sunday, 12 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Kathi Inman Berens, Univ. of Southern California

  1. “Remediating LidantJU fAram,” Jonathan Baillehache, Univ. of Georgia
  2. “Lost and Found in Translation: How the Electronic Literature Knowledge Base Translates a Field into Data,” Jill Walker Rettberg, Univ. of Bergen
  3. “Meditation Level Up: Sony Playstation 2 and The Night Journey,” Kathi Inman Berens

For abstracts, visit kathiiberens.com/2013/05/31/mla14-panel/.

782. Geospatial Literary Studies

Sunday, 12 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Ontario, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: David Joseph Wrisley, American Univ. of Beirut

  1. “The Meanings of the City: A Data-Mining Approach to Mapping Early Modern London,” Anupam Basu, Washington Univ. in St. Louis
  2. “Locating the Bookstore: Antebellum Literary Landscapes and Contemporary Interpretive Practice,” Kristen Doyle Highland, New York Univ.
  3. “Mapping (Dis)Ease: Narratives of Influenza and Migration during the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic,” Anne Stachura, Univ. of Texas–Pan American
  4. “Mapping Knowledge Networks in British Newspapers of the Long Eighteenth Century,” Rachael King, New York Univ.

792. Old Materials, New Materialisms

Sunday, 12 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Missouri, Sheraton Chicago

Presiding: Robert Markley, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

  1. “Objects, Authors, and Other Matter(s) in the Gloria Anzaldúa Archive,” Suzanne M. Bost, Loyola Univ., Chicago
  2. “Writing Histories of Listening: Acoustemology as Literary Practice,” Ely Rosenblum, Univ. of Cambridge
  3. “Even the Stones Cry Out: Archival Research and the Inhuman Turn,” Andrew Ferguson, Univ. of Virginia
  4. “A Life of Its Own: A Vital Materialist Look at the Medieval Manuscript as an Agentic Assemblage,” Angela Bennett Segler, New York Univ.

805. In the Meme Time

Sunday, 12 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: John W. Mowitt, Univ. of Leeds

  1. “C’est la même,” Sarah Juliet Lauro, Clemson Univ.
  2. “Vaccinating against the Virus of the Mind: Incorporating Agency into the Meme Equation,” Kate Miltner, Social Media Collective, Microsoft Research New England
  3. “All Together Now: Beyond the Totalizing Meme,” Peter Krapp, Univ. of California, Irvine

807. Traffic

Sunday, 12 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Presiding: Mark Goble, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. “Traffic in High-Frequency Stock Trading: Risk and Instability with the Nonhuman,” N. Katherine Hayles, Duke Univ.
  2. “The Project: Transmedia Games and Network Aesthetics,” Patrick Jagoda, Univ. of Chicago
  3. “The View from Above,” Kate Marshall, Univ. of Notre Dame

The Poetics of Non-Consumptive Reading

May 22nd, 2013 § 23 comments § permalink

Ted Underwood's topic model of the PMLA, from the Journal of Digital Humanities, Vol. 2., No. 1 (Winter 2012)

“Non-consumptive research” is the term digital humanities scholars use to describe the large-scale analysis of a texts—say topic modeling millions of books or data-mining tens of thousands of court cases. In non-consumptive research, a text is not read by a scholar so much as it is processed by a machine. The phrase frequently appears in the context of the long-running legal debate between various book digitization efforts (e.g. Google Books and HathiTrust) and publishers and copyright holders (e.g. the Authors Guild). For example, in one of the preliminary Google Books settlements, non-consumptive research is defined as “computational analysis” of one or more books “but not research in which a researcher reads or displays substantial portions of a Book to understand the intellectual content presented within.” Non-consumptive reading is not reading in any traditional way, and it certainly isn’t close reading. Examples of non-consumptive research that appear in the legal proceedings (the implications of which are explored by John Unsworth) include image analysis, text extraction, concordance development, citation extraction, linguistic analysis, automated translation, and indexing.

More recently, Matthew Sag has reformulated non-consumptive research as “nonexpressive use.” In an amicus brief filed on behalf of HathiTrust, Sag, Matthew Jockers, and Jason Schultz explain that with digital humanities-style book digitization, “works are copied for reasons unrelated to their protectable expressive qualities; none of the works in question are being read by humans as they would be if sitting on the shelves of a library or bookstore.” Scholars “do not read, understand, or enjoy” the copyrighted works in question. The works’ expressive qualities—tone, perspective, figurative language, thematic content, and so on—are mere words on a page, pieces of data used to generate metadata. This nonexpressive use is the primary legal defense of digitization for the sake of large-scale textual analysis.

In the last chapter of Macroanalysis (2013), Jockers argues that unless the law recognizes the value of nonexpressive use of copyrighted works, digital humanists will be stuck studying books in the public domain. “Today’s digital-minded literary scholar is shackled in time,” Jockers writes. “We are all, or are all soon to become, nineteenth centuryists.” This sentiment echoes my own argument in Debates in the Digital Humanities, in which I use the contemporary American novelist Don DeLillo as a case study. Yet as I hope is obvious in my chapter, I am somewhat skeptical about what large-scale text analysis might reveal about DeLillo’s novels that we don’t already know. I present a counterfactual timeline that satirizes what scholars might learn about DeLillo from non-consumptive research. I particularly like this entry from 1999, with its oblique reference to Barthes’ “The Death of the Author”:

An English professor skilled in computational analysis uses word frequency counts to compare the text of the White Noise Omnibus CD-ROM with a scanned and OCR’d version of the raucous but out-of-print novel Amazons by Cleo Birdwell, long suspected to be the work of DeLillo. The professor’s computer proves with a +/– 10 percent error rate that DeLillo is the author of Amazons, primarily based on the recurrence of the name “Murray Jay Siskind” in both novels. The English professor publishes his findings in the journal Social Text, concluding that “now that the author has been found, the text is explained.”

The joke—one of them, at least— is that everyone already knows DeLillo is the primary author of Amazons. No text analysis is needed. There is no +/-10 percent error rate. We know it with with 100% certainty, and a trip to the Don DeLillo Papers at the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin will reveal not only draft manuscripts of Amazons but also a letter from DeLillo to his agent that explains why he wants to publish under a pseudonym. (“I want to be out of the picture. I want to disengage myself,” DeLillo writes.)

My counterfactual timeline parodies other digital humanities applications as well, including data-mining, GIS, and 3D environments. I don’t mean to suggest these digital tools have no place in humanities research. My chapter has a lot of hyperbole, and I routinely overstate my case in order to make my point (a rhetorical flourish that itself parodies academic discourse). In any case, I’ve been thinking more critically lately about what non-consumptive research—that is, nonexpressive use—of contemporary copyright-protected works can add to our understanding of those works. I want to propose an approach to non-consumptive research that stands in direct opposition to the stance articulated by most digital humanists:

Let’s turn our non-consumptive use of digitized works into expressive use of digitized works.

Consider my project House of Leaves of Grass as an illustrative example. As I explain in my artist’s statement, House of Leaves of Grass is a 100 trillion stanza-long mashup of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (which is in the public domain) and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (which is not). To create the work (which was inspired by Sea and Spar Between by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland), I subjected the source texts to a number of typical non-consumptive analyses. The most conventional of these analyses were simply word frequency lists, made using Voyant Tools. Here’s my list of the 2,017 most frequently used words in House of Leaves; these are all the words in Danielewski’s novel that appear ten times or more. Guided by this list and other non-consumptive analyses, I reassembled both common and unique words and phrases from Leaves of Grass and House of Leaves into an entirely new work. In other words, House of Leaves of Grass transforms a non-consumptive engagement of House of Leaves and Leaves of Grass into an expressive engagement of those texts, which can be read, understood, and enjoyed. I transformed what Franco Moretti would call a distant reading into a new textual—and expressive—object.

The way House of Leaves of Grass calls attention to key lines—say the variations of “This is not for you” from House of Leaves or the repetition of “I Sing!” from Leaves of Grass—reinstates the expressive potential of what had become, in my non-consumptive research, a database of words. The seemingly empirical “model” of a corpus typically built from distant reading offers itself up as an aesthetic object on its own terms. Furthermore, not only can we close-read House of Leaves of Grass (and, given its size, close reading may be the only conceivable way to read it), we can use House of Leaves of Grass to aid in a close reading of its source texts. My distant reading of House of Leaves and Leaves of Grass became a close reading.

Borrowing from my experience making House of Leaves of Grass, I want to advocate for a poetics of non-consumptive reading in the digital humanities. Scholars and students of art, literature, history, and culture ought to transform more of our non-consumptive research into expressive objects. Nonexpressive use of texts is a dead-end for the humanities. A computer model surrounded by a wall of explanatory words is not enough. Make the computer model itself an expressive object. Turn your data into a story, into a game, into art. Call it aesthetic empiricism or empirical aesthetics. Call it whatever you want. But without a poetics of machine reading, there is nothing.

Header image is Ted Underwood’s visualization of Andrew Goldstone’s topic model of the PMLA, from the Journal of Digital Humanities, Vol. 2., No. 1 (Winter 2012)

no life no life no life no life: the 100,000,000,000,000 stanzas of House of Leaves of Grass

May 8th, 2013 § 26 comments § permalink

HoLoGMark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a massive novel about, among other things, a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is a collection of poems about, among other things, the expansiveness of America itself.

What happens when these two works are remixed with each other? It’s not such an odd question. Though separated by nearly a century, they share many of the same concerns. Multitudes. Contradictions. Obsession. Physical impossibilities. Even an awareness of their own lives as textual objects.

To explore these connections between House of Leaves and Leaves of Grass I have created House of Leaves of Grass, a poem (like Leaves of Grass) that is for all practical purposes boundless (like the house on Ash Tree Lane in House of Leaves). Or rather, it is bounded on an order of magnitude that makes it untraversable in its entirety. The number of stanzas (from stanza, the Italian word for “room”) approximates the number of cells in the human body, around 100 trillion. And yet the container for this text is a mere 24K.

There are three distinct source texts for House of Leaves of Grass. As its title suggests, House of Leaves of Grass remixes Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (the “deathbed edition” of 1891-1892). Key words and phrases were selected from these two works according to either frequency of appearance or thematic significance and then algorithmically remixed into couplets based on seven templates. The third source text for House of Leaves of Grass is its electronic literature forebear, Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland’s Sea and Spar Between (2011). Sea and Spar Between provided inspiration (and the underlying platform) for House of Leaves of Grass, though the two works are dramatically different in terms of content and tone.

House of Leaves of Grass is available online at http://fugitivetexts.net/houseleavesgrass/. The work displays properly in any modern computer-based browser, such as Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. A keyboard and mouse are required to explore the work. (I prefer using the arrow keys to navigate, and the mouse wheel—or the multi-touch equivalent—to zoom in and out of the work.

While the instructions for reading House of Leaves of Grass provide some details about the work, here is more background about the data sources and tools I used:


  • Modified version of Javascript-based Sea and Spar Between, by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland

Data Sources

  • Mark Z. Danielewksi, House of Leaves (2000 full color 2nd edition, scanned and OCR’d)
  • Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-1892 edition, from Project Gutenberg)
  • Spreadsheet of word frequencies, n-grams, and other data, generated from the texts above using the tools below


The Century of the Fugitive and the Secret of the Detainee

April 22nd, 2013 § 13 comments § permalink

	Cops used a forward-looking infrared device (FLIR) to find traces of Tsarnaev’s heat signature.</p>
The 21st century will be the century of the fugitive. Not because fugitives are proliferating, but because they are disappearing. And not disappearing in the way that fugitives like to disappear, but disappearing because they simply won’t exist. Technology won’t allow it.

A manhunt summons forth the great machinery of the state: scores of armed agents, ballistic tests and DNA samples, barking dogs, helicopters, infrared flybys. There is no evading it. It’s nearly impossible now to become a fugitive. And the more difficult fugitive life becomes, the more legendary fugitive figures become. As Peter Stallybrass and Allon White put it in their classic study of the grotesque and carnivalesque, “…what is socially peripheral is so frequently symbolically central.” The more marginalized and rare fugitives become, the greater the role they will play in our symbolic repertoire. In film, literature, music, art, videogames—in all these arenas, the fugitive will play a central role. Fugitives will come to occupy the same place in our collective consciousness as cowboys or pirates. And just as the Western film genre dominated the mid-20th century—while agribusiness was at the same time industrializing the west, making the cowboy superfluous—the 21st century will be dominated by the symbolic figure of the fugitive.

I think back to perhaps what will be remembered as the last great case of American fugitivity: Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber who disappeared into the mountains of western North Carolina in February 1998. Rudolph became the target of the largest manhunt in FBI history, and it seemed as if he had vanished in a poof of smoke until May 31, 2003, when he finally surrendered himself after years of hiding.

Rudolph reportedly told a man in July 1998—when he emerged briefly for a day before disappearing again for another five years—that “where I’m hidden, they’ll never find me.”

And it was true. Rudolph gave himself up freely, arrested near a dumpster behind a Save-A-Lot supermarket, in Murphy, North Carolina. By most accounts, Rudolph was simply weary of hiding where he couldn’t be found. And he will likely be the last fugitive. In a world of digital, synchronized communication we have what amounts to infinite tracking, deep searching, and persistent indexing. Of everyone. I don’t agree with Rudolph’s political beliefs and I abhor his methods. But there is something achingly diminishing about a captured fugitive. It’s as if the world suddenly got smaller. Now even Rudolph is subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

The fate of Rudolph—in permanent solitary confinement in the ADX Florence supermax in the Rockies—tells us what stands as the corollary to the fugitive: the detainee.

Detainees come in many forms: the prisoners held in federal and state supermaxes across the country (in addition to Rudolph, ADX Florence alone houses Ted Kaczynski, Terry Nichols, Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, and many other former fugitives); the “illegal enemy combatants” held in Guantánamo without writ of habeas corpus; the undocumented workers rounded up by ICE and held in makeshift internment camps like the one in Raymondsville, Texas.

And what is the relationship between fugitives and detainees?

As the fugitive becomes one of the dominant images in American cinematic, literary, and folk culture, the detainee will become one of the dominant figures in real life.

The principle works under a law of inverse visibility. Detainees, for all their sheer number, will be virtually invisible to the mainstream media. The more detainees held indeterminately in detention centers, internment camps, and black ops military barracks, the less visible they will be. In their place stands their opposite: the fugitive.

Detainee should be the watchword of the 21st century, but it won’t. Instead, the fugitive will dominate the stories we tell ourselves about the modern world.

(Note: this post combines several of my previous posts on fugitives, buried deep in my archive from 2004 and 2007. Header image from the thermal imaging of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber.)

Building Digital Studies at Davidson

April 11th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

I am thrilled to share the news that in August I will join the faculty of Davidson College, where I will be building a new interdisciplinary program in Digital Studies. This is a tremendous opportunity for me, and my immodest goal is to make Davidson College a model for other liberal arts colleges—and even research universities—when it comes to digital studies.

This means I am leaving George Mason University, and I am doing so with much sadness. I have been surrounded by generous colleagues, dedicated teachers, and rigorous thinkers. I cannot imagine a better place to have begun my career. At the same time, my life at GMU has always been complicated by the challenges of a long distance commute, which I have written about here and elsewhere. My new position at Davidson will eliminate this commute. After seven or so years of flying 500 miles to work each week, it will be heaven to simply bike one mile to work every day.

And a good thing too—because I have big plans for Digital Studies at Davidson and much work to do. Students are already enrolling in my Fall 2013 courses, but more than individual classes, we have an entire program to design. I am thrilled to begin working with my new colleagues in both the humanities and sciences. Together we are going to build something both unique and uniquely Davidson.

Electronic Literature after Flash (MLA14 Proposal)

April 10th, 2013 § 6 comments § permalink

gamegame6I recently proposed a sequence of lightning talks for the next Modern Language Association convention in Chicago (January 2014). The participants are tackling a literary issue that is not at all theoretical: the future of electronic literature. I’ve also built in a substantial amount of time for an open discussion between the audience and my participants—who are all key figures in the world of new media studies. And I’m thrilled that two of them—Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop—just received an NEH grant dedicated to a similar question, which is documenting the experience of early electronic literature.

Electronic literature can be broadly conceived as literary works created for digital media that in some way take advantage of the unique affordances of those technological forms. Hallmarks of electronic literature (e-lit) include interactivity, immersiveness, fluidly kinetic text and images, and a reliance on the procedural and algorithmic capabilities of computers. Unlike the avant garde art and experimental poetry that is its direct forebear, e-lit has been dominated for much of its existence by a single, proprietary technology: Adobe’s Flash. For fifteen years, many e-lit authors have relied on Flash—and its earlier iteration, Macromedia Shockwave—to develop their multimedia works. And for fifteen years, readers of e-lit have relied on Flash running in their web browsers to engage with these works.

Flash is dying though. Apple does not allow Flash in its wildly popular iPhones and iPads. Android no longer supports Flash on its smartphones and tablets. Even Adobe itself has stopped throwing its weight behind Flash. Flash is dying. And with it, potentially an entire generation of e-lit work that cannot be accessed without Flash. The slow death of Flash also leaves a host of authors who can no longer create in their chosen medium. It’s as if a novelist were told that she could no longer use a word processor—indeed, no longer even use words.

Or is it?

This roundtable brings together a range of practicing e-lit authors and scholars to discuss what the end of Flash means for electronic literature, new media, and the broader field of digital humanities. Each participant will limit his or her remarks to a strictly-timed six minutes, with the bulk of the session devoted to an open discussion between the panel and the audience. We will open with Chris Funkhouser, who argues that the importance of Flash to digital poetry in the early years of the 21st century cannot be understated. An e-lit poet himself, Funkhouser suggests that it is not the end of the software itself that is his primary concern, but the question of what happens to the aesthetic principles that have emerged out of Flash.

Building on Funkhouser’s ideas, Dene Grigar will next highlight two critical characteristics of Flash poetry: kinopoeia (movement that imitates or suggests a word or idea) and musicopoeia (music that imitates or suggests a word or idea). Grigar highlights three works that show the need for such new terminology: Ana Maria Uribe’s Anipoemas, John Kusch’s Red Lily, and Thom Swiss’s Shy Boy.

After Funkhauser’s and Grigar’s introductions to Flash we move to questions about the preservation, emulation, and study of Flash-based electronic literature. Zach Whalen begins this discussion by recalling earlier concerns about the preservation of web-based e-lit. Whalen focuses on Talan Memmot’s groundbreaking Lexia to Perplexia, which cannot be viewed in modern web browsers. Whalen explores why Lexia to Perplexia “breaks” and what one must alter in order to “fix” it. Whalen then questions the tacit assumption of digital preservation projects, which is that digital works must always be preserved. Ultimately, Whalen concludes that ephemerality and obsolescence are significant aesthetic properties of electronic literary works.

Next, Leonardo Flores picks up on the ethical and artistic dimensions of preservation by exploring the strategies that e-lit authors have developed to extend the life of their works. Using Dreaming Methods and R3/\/\1X\/\/0RX (remixworx)—two British e-lit collectives—as his case studies, Flores finds one strategy is to make the source material of individual works public, while another strategy involves migrating works to alternative platforms, such as HTML5 or iOS, that offer similar—but not the same—functionality.

The importance of code arises in both Whalen’s and Flores’ lightning talks, and Mark Marino pursues this question full throttle in his talk about code studies and Flash e-lit. Marino grounds his insights in his collaborative study of William Poundstone’s canonical work, Project for Tachistoscope [Bottomless Pit]. Marino suggests that studying the underlying ActionScript code of Project for Tachistoscope can deepen our understanding of the work, revealing new layers to the work that more screen-focused analyses neglect.

The final two lightning talks imagine the future of electronic literature without Flash. Amanda Visconti surveys the way e-lit can appropriate digital platforms that were never designed for poetics or narrative. Visconti argues that such platform poaching combines the veneer of credibility associated with a digital archive or a wiki with a narrative license that is simultaneously ethically dangerous and rich with possibilities for counterfactual knowledge.

Finally, the formal part of the roundtable ends with Stuart Moulthrop, the author of some of the most widely read and taught electronic literature works. In an act of provocation Moulthrop argues that “there never was such a thing as Flash.” Moulthrop sees Flash as a blip in the idiosyncratic timeline of electronic literature. Flash was, Moulthrop points out, an always-limited convenience, merely a way of developing interesting interfaces for the Web. Moulthrop ultimately finds that the idea of an interface-based literary art is larger and more durable than Adobe’s powerful but deeply flawed product. 

Moderated by Mark Sample, this diverse “Electronic Literature after Flash” roundtable capitalizes upon the growing interest in electronic literature—and the digital humanities more generally. Given its focus on the preservation and study of soon-to-be obsolescent forms of technology, this roundtable will also appeal to MLA members invested in the more conventional fields of textual studies, bibliographic preservation, media studies, and information sciences. And finally, the roundtable speaks to the enduring concerns of authors and artists who simply want their works to be available and accessible to future generations of readers.

Image: game, game, game, and again game by Jason Nelson

From a Murmur to a Drone

March 10th, 2013 § 4 comments § permalink

Unmanned_000120Not so long ago a video of a flock of starlings swooping and swirling as one body in the sky went viral. Only two minutes long, the video shows thousands of birds over the River Shannon in Ireland, pouring themselves across the clouds, each bird following the one next to it. The birds flew not so much in formation as they flew in the biological equivalent of phase transition. This phenomenon of synchronized bird flight is called a murmuration. What makes the murmuration hypnotic is the starlings’ seemingly uncoordinated coordination, a thousand birds in flight, like fluid flowing across the skies. But there’s something else as well. Something else about the murmuration that appeals to us at this particular moment, that helps to explain this video’s virality.

The murmuration defies our modern understanding of crowds. Whether the crazed seagulls of Hitchcock’s The Birds, the shambling hordes of zombies that seem to have infected every strain of popular culture, or the thousands upon thousands of protestors of the Arab Spring, we are used to chaotic, disorganized crowds, what Elias Canetti calls the “open” crowd (Canetti 1984). Open crowds are dense and bound to grow denser, a crowd that itself attracts more crowds. Open crowds cannot be contained. They erupt.

A murmuration is not an open crowd. It is not quite a closed crowd either. A closed crowd is bounded and permanent, while a murmuration is an instantiation—a rhythmic, ephemeral flash. The murmuration in the video is an idealization of the crowd, transforming it into a thing of beauty.

Even the word itself is sublime, a murmur that goes on to become something else entirely. Murmuration might be this generation’s cellar door, supposedly—as the novelist Don DeLillo once recounted with skepticism—the most beautiful string of syllables in the English language (Begley 1993). And like the avian phenomenon it describes, this poetic word contrasts sharply with that unpleasant onomatopoeic word we use to describe something else that flies in the sky but which is rarely seen.


An MQ-1 Predator Drone. Courtesy of U.S. Air Force.




The long ‘o’ following by an even longer ‘n,’ an alveolar nasal consonant that sounds like a humming without the ‘m.’ A low threshold background noise, ubiquitous but unlocatable, like object it describes. Vaguely insect-shaped machines, armed with laser-guided missiles, drones have become the Obama administration’s chief tactical weapon in its counterterrorism operations.

Before the Predator and the Reaper, both made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, a drone was more commonly associated with the male honeybee, whose sole function is to fertilize the queen bee. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the bee, not the sound, is the origin of the word, and it dates back to 1000 AD. Only later, in the 16th century would the word become associated with the sound. And how did drone—as we use the word today—come to mean what the U.S. government calls “remotely piloted aircraft”? The earliest example the Oxford English Dictionary gives is 1946 in England. It is a reference to remote controlled planes, likely because of their simplistic, mindless function, which recalls an earlier use in Britain of “drone,” slang for a “non-worker; a lazy idler, a sluggard.” This meaning of drone suggests that modern unmanned drones are purely mechanical, the anti-crowd.

The Predator and Reaper drones are not automatons though, no more than any bird in a murmuration. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are controlled by a crew comprised of a remote pilot and a sensor operator, working side-by-side in a ground station, hundreds, even thousands, of miles away from the battleground. Many of the drone sorties flown in Yemen and Somalia, for example, are controlled by pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico (Whitlock 2012; Shoemaker 2012).

In an Air Force photograph of a training mission at Holloman Air Force Base, we see an MQ-9 Reaper pilot and sensor operator wedged into their cramped control room, surrounded by no less than fourteen screens, a joystick in the pilot’s right hand.


A Reaper Pilot and Sensor Operator at Holloman AFB. Courtesy of U.S. Air Force

The remote cockpit is a jarring mismatch of technology. The drone itself is loaded with full motion cameras, infrared sensors, and other sophisticated gear, but the hardware in the control station is an eighties shade of PC beige, and the recliners look to be leftovers from an office supply store fire sale. The room is windowless and appears claustrophobic, perhaps even more so than the cockpit of an F-16. “If you’re in the F-16, at night, in the weather, lightning around you and St. Elmo’s fire coming up on the cockpit, all that stuff is affecting you right now,” reports one California National Guard drone pilot, stressing the psychological impact of visual access to the outside world. “Whereas,” he continues, “if you’re sitting in the ‘cockpit’ of the UAV, you don’t have those external influences on you, so you don’t feel quite as threatened as you might flying though a thunderstorm in an F-16” (Prawdzik 2007). The drone cockpit is detached from the outside world, almost monastic in its winnowing of perception and experience.

And here we come full circle. Is not the idealized crowd we find reflected in the balletic flight path of the murmuration the precise opposite of drone warfare? We watched the murmuration video and shared it like good news because it transformed all the elements of drone warfare into a graceful dance. The mangled crowd of PTSD warriors and victims became a rapturous display of nature. The gleaming machines and their AGM-114 Hellfire missiles became a flock of warm-blooded birds dominating the sky by their sheer vitality. The terror of a drone attack from on high became the sublime sight of a murmuration. And the witnesses to a drone attack—the only consistent witnesses being the UAV operators themselves—became the two young women recording the murmuration video, and by proxy, us. The murmuration appealed to us because it met two forces shaping the contemporary world and from which most Americans are sheltered—crowds and drones—and combined and transmuted them. So that for a little while longer we can keep the other world—the world of darkness, destruction, and indeterminate humanity—at bay.


Begley, Adam. 1993. “The Art of Fiction CXXXV.” Paris Review 35 (128): 274–306.

Canetti, Elias. 1984. Crowds and Power. Translated by Carol Stewart. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Prawdzik, Christopher. 2007. “Airmen Warm to UAVs as California Establishes First Air National Guard Predator Mission.” National Guard Magazine, February.

Shoemaker, Michael. 2012. “Predators, Reapers Break Flying Record.” Air Force Print News Today. October 15.

Whitlock, Craig. 2012. “Remote U.S. Base at Core of Secret Operations.” The Washington Post, October 25.

CFP: Electronic Literature after Flash (MLA 2014, Chicago)

March 9th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Attention artists, creators, theorists, teachers, curators, and archivists of electronic literature!

I’m putting together an e-lit roundtable for the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago next January. The panel will be “Electronic Literature after Flash” and I’m hoping to have a wide range of voices represented. See the full CFP for more details. Abstracts due March 15, 2013.

When Does Service Become Scholarship?

February 8th, 2013 § 59 comments § permalink

When does service become scholarship?

When does anything—service, teaching, editing, mentoring, coding—become scholarship?

My answer is simply this: a creative or intellectual act becomes scholarship when it is public and circulates in a community of peers that evaluates and builds upon it.

Now for some background behind the question and the rationale for my answer.

What counts as the threshold of scholarship has been on my mind lately, spurred on by two recent events at my home institution, George Mason University. The first was a discussion in my own department (English) about the public humanities, a concept every bit as hard to pin down as its two highly contested constitutive terms. A key question in the department discussion was whether the enormous amount of outreach our faculty perform—through public readings, in area high schools, with local teachers and lifelong learners outside of Mason—counts as the public humanities. I suggested at the time that the public humanities revolves around scholarship. The question, then, is not when does outreach become the public humanities? The question is, when does outreach become an act of scholarship?

The department discussion was a low-stakes affair. It decided the fate of exactly nothing, except perhaps the establishment of a subcommittee to further explore the intersection of faculty work and the public humanities.

But the anxiety at the heart of this question—when does anything become scholarship?—plays out in much more consequential ways in the academy. This brings me to the second event at Mason, the deliberations of the College of Humanities and Social Science’s Promotion and Tenure committee. My colleague Sean Takats, whom some may know as the Director of Research Projects for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and the co-director of the Zotero project, has recently given a devastating account of the RPT committee’s response to his tenure case. Happily, the college committee approved Sean’s case 10-2, but what’s devastating is the attitude of some members of the committee toward Sean’s significant work in the digital humanities. Sean quotes from the committee’s official letter, with the money quote being “some [committee members] deter­mined that projects like Zotero et al., while highly valu­able, should be con­sid­ered as major ser­vice activ­ity instead.”

Sean deftly contrasts the committee’s impoverished notion of scholarship with Mason’s own faculty handbook’s definition, which is more expansive and explicitly acknowledges “artis­tic work, soft­ware and media, exhi­bi­tions, and per­for­mance.”

I absolutely appreciate Mason’s definition of scholarly achievement. But I like my definition of scholarship even more. Where does mine come from? From the scholarship of teaching—another field, like digital humanities, which has challenged the preeminence of the single-authored manuscript as the gold standard of scholarship (though, like DH, it doesn’t exclude such forms of scholarship).

More specifically, I have adapted my definition from Lee Shulman, the former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In “Taking Learning Seriously,” Shulman advances a persuasive case for the scholarship of teaching and learning. Shulman argues that for an intellectual act to become scholarship, it should have at least three characteristics:

it becomes public; it becomes an object of critical review and evaluation by members of one’s community; and members of one’s community begin to use, build upon, and develop those acts of mind and creation.

In other words, scholarship is public, circulating in a community that not only evaluates it but also builds upon it. Notice that Shulman’s formulation of scholarship is abstracted from any single discipline, and even more crucially, it is platform-agnostic. Exactly how the intellectual act circulates and generates new work in response isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that the work is out there for all to see, review, and use. The work has been made public—which after all is the original meaning of “to publish.”

Let’s return to the CHSS committee’s evaluation of Sean’s work with Zotero. I don’t know enough about the way Sean framed his tenure case, but from the outside looking in, and knowing what I know about Zotero, it’s not only reasonable to acknowledge that Zotero meets these three criteria of scholarship (public, reviewed, and used), it’d take a willful misapprehension of Zotero, its impact, and implications to see it as anything but scholarship.

Sean notes that the stance of narrow-minded RPT committees will have a chilling effect on digital work, and I don’t think he exaggerates. But I see this as a crisis that extends beyond the digital humanities, encompassing faculty who approach their scholarship in any number of “unconventional” ways. The scholarship of teaching, certainly, but also faculty involved in scholarly editing, the scholarship of creativity, and a whole host of public humanities efforts.

The solution—or at least one prong of a solution—must be for faculty who have already survived the gauntlet of tenure to work ceaselessly to promote an atmosphere that pairs openness with critical review, yet which is not entrenched in any single medium—print, digital, performance, and so on. We can do this in the background by writing tenure letters, reviewing projects, and serving on committees ourselves. But we can and should also do this publicly, right here, right now.

From Fish to Print: My 2012 in Review

January 12th, 2013 § 5 comments § permalink

A Busy YearLike the pair of mice in Leo Lionni’s classic children’s book, I had a busy year in 2012. It was a great year, but an exhausting one.

The year began last January with a surprise: I was mentioned by Stanley Fish in an anti-digital humanities screed in the New York Times. That’s something I can check off my bucket list. (By the way, my response to Fish fit inside a tweet.) Ironically, had Fish read my chapter in Debates in the Digital Humanities, which was published the very same week, he might have seen some strange correspondences between his stance toward the digital humanities and my own. This chapter, “Unseen and Unremarked On: Don DeLillo and the Failure of the Digital Humanities,” has recently become open-access, along with the rest of the book. Hats off to Matt Gold, the Debates editor, as well as his crew at the Graduate Center at CUNY and the University of Minnesota Press for making the book possible in the first place, and open and online in the second place.

In January I also performed my first public reading of one of my creative works— Takei, George—during the off-site electronic literature reading at the 2012 MLA Convention in Seattle. There’s even grainy documentary footage of this reading, thanks to the efforts of the organizers Dene Grigar, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inmans Berens. I also gave a well-received talk at the MLA about another work of electronic literature, Erik Loyer’s beautiful Strange Rain. And finally in January, I spent odd moments at the convention huddled in a coffee shop (this was Seattle, after all) working with my co-authors on the final revisions of a book manuscript. More about that book later in this post.

All of this happened in the first weeks of January. And the rest of the year was equally as busy. In addition to my regular commuting life, I traveled a great deal to conferences and other gatherings. As I mentioned, I presented at the MLA, but I also talked at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies convention (Boston in March), Computers and Writing (Raleigh in May), the Electronic Literature Organization (Morgantown in June), and the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (Milwaukee in September). In May I was a co-organizer of THATCamp Piedmont, held on the campus of Davidson College. During the summer I was a guest at the annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit (Redmond in July). In the fall I was an invited panelist for my own institution’s Forum on the Future of Higher Education (in October) and an invited speaker for the University of Kansas’s Digital Humanities seminar (in November).

If the year began the publication of a modest—and frankly, immensely fun to write—chapter in an edited book, then I have to point out that it ended with the publication of a much larger (and challenging and unwieldy) project, a co-authored book from MIT Press: 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10 (or 10 PRINT, as we call it). I’ve already written about the book, and I expect more posts will follow. I’ll simply say now that my co-authors and I are grateful for and astonished by its bestselling (as far as academic books go) status: within days of its release, the book was ranked #1,375 on Amazon, out of 8 million books. This figure is all the most astounding when you consider that we released a free PDF version of the book on the same day as its publication. More evidence that giving away things is the best way to also sell things.

I was busy with other scholarly projects throughout 2012 as well. I finished revisions of a critical code studies essay that will appear in the next issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly, and I wrapped up a chapter for an edited collection coming out from Routledge on mobile media narratives. I also continued to publish in unconventional but peer-reviewed venues. Most notably, Enculturation and the Journal of Digital Humanities, which has published two pieces of mine. On the flip side of peer-review, I read and wrote reader’s reports for several journals and publishers, including University of Minnesota Press, MIT Press, Routledge, and Digital Humanities Quarterly. (You see how the system works: once you publish with a press it’s not long until they ask you to review someone else’s work for them. Review it forward, I say.)

In addition to scholarly work, I’ve invested more time than ever this year in creative work. On the surface my creative work is a marginal activity—and often marginalized when it comes time to count in my annual faculty report. But I increasingly see my creativity and scholarship bound up in a virtuous circle. I’ve already mentioned my first fully-functional work of electronic literature, “Takei, George.” In June this piece appeared as a juried selection in Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints, a media art exhibit held in conjunction with the 2012 Electronic Literature Organization conference. A tip to other scholars who aim to do more creative work: submit your work to juried exhibitions or other curated shows; if your work is selected, it’s the equivalent of peer-review and your creative work suddenly passes the threshold needed to appear on CVs and faculty activity reports. Another creative project of mine, Postcard for Artisanal Tweeting, appeared in Rough Cuts: Media and Design in Process, an online exhibit curated by Kari Kraus on The New Everyday, a Media Commons Project.

My own blog is another site where I blend creativity and scholarship. My recent post on Intrusive Scaffolding is as much a creative nonfiction piece as it is scholarship (more so, in fact). And my favorite post of 2012 began as an inside joke about scholarly blogs. The background is this: during a department meeting discussion about how blogging should be recognized in our annual infrequent merit salary raises, a senior colleague expressed concern that one professor’s cupcake blog would count as much as another professor’s research-oriented blog. In response to this discussion, I wrote a blog post about cupcakes that blended critical theory and creativity. And cursing. The post struck a nerve, and it was my most widely read and retweeted blog post ever. About cupcakes.

Late in 2012 my creative work took me into new territory: Twitterbots, those autonomous “agents” on Twitter that are occasionally useful and often annoying. My bot Citizen Canned is in the process of tweeting every unique word from the script of Citizen Kane, by order of frequency (as opposed to, say, by order of significance, which would have a certain two syllable word appear first). With roughly 4,400 unique words to tweet, at a rate of once per hour, I estimate that Citizen Kane will tweet the least frequently used word in the movie sometime five months from now.Another of the Twitterbots I built in 2012 is 10print_ebooks. This bot mashes up the complete text of my 10 PRINT book and generates occasionally nonsensical but often genius Markov chain tweets from it. The bot also incorporates text from other tweets that use the #10print hashtag, meaning it “learns” from the community. The Citizen Cane bot runs in PHP while the 10 PRINT bot is built in Processing.

Alongside this constant scholarly and creative work (not to mention teaching) ran a parallel timeline, mostly invisible. This was me, waiting for my tenure decision to be handed down. In the summer of 2011 I submitted my materials and by December 2011, I learned that my department had voted unanimously in my favor. Next, in January 2012 the college RPT (Rank-Promotion-Tenure) committee voted 10-2 in my favor. It’s a bit crazy that the committee report echoes what I’ve heard about my work since grade school:

[quote style="1"]Mark Sample presents an unusual case. His work is at the edge of his discipline’s interaction with digital media technology. It blurs the lines between scholarship, teaching, and service in challenging ways. It also marks the point where traditional scholarly peer review meets the public interface of the internet. This makes for some difficulty in assessing his case.[/quote]

In February my dean voted in favor of my case too. Next came the provost’s support at the end of March. In a surprise move, the provost recommended me for tenure on two counts: genuine excellence in teaching and genuine excellence in research. Professors usually earn tenure on the strength of their research alone. It’s uncommon to earn tenure at Mason on excellence in teaching, and an anomaly to earn tenure for both. By this point, approval from the president and the Board of Visitors (our equivalent of a Board of Trustees) might have seemed like rubber stamps, but I wasn’t celebrating tenure as a done deal. In fact, when I finally received the official notice—and contract—in June, I still didn’t feel like celebrating. And by the time my tenure and promotion went into effect in August 2012, I was too busy gearing up for the semester (and indexing 10 PRINT) to think much about it.

In other words, I reached the end of 2012 without celebrating some of its best moments. On the other hand, I feel that most of its “best moments” were actually single instances in ongoing processes, and those processes are never truly over. 10 PRINT may be out, but I’m already looking forward to future collaborations with some of my co-authors. I wrote a great deal in 2012, but much of that occurred serially in places like ProfHacker, Play the Past, and Media Commons, where I will continue to write in 2013 and beyond.

What else with 2013 bring? I am working on two new creative projects and I have begun sketching out a new book project as well. Next fall I will begin a year-long study leave (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), and I aim to make significant progress on my book during that time. Who knows what else 2013 will bring. Maybe sleep?

[Header image: A Busy Year by Leo Lionni]

An Account of Randomness in Literary Computing

January 8th, 2013 § 18 comments § permalink

imageBelow is the text of my presentation at the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston. The panel was Reading the Invisible and Unwanted in Old and New Media, and it was assembled by Lori Emerson, Paul Benzon, Zach Whalen, and myself.

Seeking to have a rich discussion period—which we did indeed have—we limited our talks to about 12 minutes each. My presentation was therefore more evocative than comprehensive, more open-ended than conclusive. There are primary sources I’m still searching for and technical details I’m still sorting out. I welcome feedback, criticism, and leads.

An Account of Randomness in Literary Computing
Mark Sample
MLA 2013, Boston

There’s a very simple question I want to ask this evening:

Where does randomness come from?

Randomness has a rich history in arts and literature, which I don’t need to go into today. Suffice it to say that long before Tristan Tzara suggested writing a poem by pulling words out of a hat, artists, composers, and writers have used so-called “chance operations” to create unpredictable, provocative, and occasionally nonsensical work. John Cage famously used chance operations in his experimental compositions, relying on lists of random numbers from Bell Labs to determine elements like pitch, amplitude, and duration (Holmes 107–108). Jackson Mac Low similarly used random numbers to generate his poetry, in particular relying on a book called A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates to supply him with the random numbers (Zweig 85).


Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates


Published by the RAND Corporation in 1955 to supply Cold War scientists with random numbers to use in statistical modeling (Bennett 135), the book is still in print—and you should check out the parody reviews on Amazon.com. “With so many terrific random digits,” one reviewer jokes, “it’s a shame they didn’t sort them, to make it easier to find the one you’re looking for.”

This joke actually speaks to a key aspect of randomness: the need to reuse random numbers, so that, say you’re running a simulation of nuclear fission, you can repeat the simulation with the same random numbers—that is, the same probability—while testing some other variable. In fact, most of the early work on random number generation in the United States was funded by either the U.S. Atomic Commission or the U.S. Military (Montfort et al. 128). The RAND Corporation itself began as a research and development arm of the U.S. Air Force.

Now the thing with going down a list of random numbers in a book, or pulling words out of hat—a composition method, by the way, Thom Yorke used for Kid A after a frustrating bout of writer’s block—is that the process is visible. Randomness in these cases produces surprises, but the source itself of randomness is not a surprise. You can see how it’s done.

What I want to ask here today is, where does randomness come from when it’s invisible? What’s the digital equivalent of pulling words out of a hat? And what are the implications of chance operations performed by a machine?

To begin to answer these questions I am going to look at two early works of electronic literature that rely on chance operations. And when I say early works of electronic literature, I mean early, from fifty and sixty years ago. One of these works has been well studied and the other has been all but forgotten.


My first case study is the Strachey Love Letter Generator. Programmed by Christopher Strachey, a close friend of Alan Turing, the Love Letter Generator is likely—as Noah Wardrip-Fruin argues—the first work of electronic literature, which is to say a digital work that somehow makes us more aware of language and meaning-making. Strachey’s program “wrote” a series of purplish prose love letters on the Ferranti Mark I Computer—the first commercially available computer—at Manchester University in 1952 (Wardrip-Fruin “Digital Media” 302):

M. U. C.

Affectionately known as M.U.C., the Manchester University Computer could produce these love letters at a pace of one per minute, for hours on end, without producing a duplicate.

The “trick,” as Strachey put it in a 1954 essay about the program (29-30), is its two template sentences (My adjective noun adverb verb your adjective noun and You are my adjective noun) in which the nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are randomly selected from a list of words Strachey had culled from a Roget’s thesaurus. Adverbs and adjectives randomly drop out of the sentence as well, and the computer randomly alternates the two sentences.

image008The Love Letter Generator has attracted—for a work of electronic literature—a great deal of scholarly attention. Using Strachey’s original notes and source code (see figure to the left), which are archived at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, David Link has built an emulator that runs Strachey’s program, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin has written a masterful study of both the generator and its historical context.

As Wardrip-Fruin calculates, given that there are 31 possible adjectives after the first sentence’s opening possessive pronoun “My” and then 20 possible nouns that could that could occupy the following slot, the first three words of this sentence alone have 899 possibilities. And the entire sentence has over 424 million combinations (424,305,525 to be precise) (“Digital Media” 311).


A partial list of word combinations for a single sentence from the Strachey Love Letter Generator

On the whole, Strachey was publicly dismissive of his foray into the literary use of computers. In his 1954 essay, which appeared in the prestigious trans-Atlantic arts and culture journal Encounter (a journal, it would be revealed in the late 1960s, that was primarily funded by the CIA—see Berry, 1993), Strachey used the example of the love letters to illustrate his point that simple rules can generate diverse and unexpected results (Strachey 29-30). And indeed, the Love Letter Generator qualifies as an early example of what Wardrip-Fruin calls, referring to a different work entirely, the Tale-Spin effect: a surface illusion of simplicity which hides a much more complicated—and often more interesting—series of internal processes (Expressive Processing 122).

Wardrip-Fruin coined this term—the Tale-Spin effect—from Tale-Spin, an early story generation system designed by James Mehann at Yale University in 1976. Tale-Spin tended to produce flat, plodding narratives, though there was the occasional existential story:

[quote style="1"]Henry Ant was thirsty. He walked over to the river bank where his good friend Bill Bird was sitting. Henry slipped and fell in the river. He was unable to call for help. He drowned.[/quote]

But even in these suggestive cases, the narratives give no sense of the process-intensive—to borrow from Chris Crawford—calculations and assumptions occurring behind the interface of Tale-Spin.

In a similar fashion, no single love letter reveals the combinatory procedures at work by the Mark I computer.

M. U. C.

This Tale-Spin effect—the underlying processes obscured by the seemingly simplistic, even comical surface text—are what draw Wardrip-Fruin to the work. But I want to go deeper than the algorithmic process that can produce hundreds of millions of possible love letters. I want to know, what is the source of randomness in the algorithm? We know Strachey’s program employs randomness, but where does that randomness come from? This is something the program—the source code itself—cannot tell us, because randomness operates at a different level, not at the level of code or software, but in the machine itself, at the level of hardware.

In the case of Strachey’s Love Letter Generator, we must consider the computer it was designed for, the Mark I. One of the remarkable features of this computer was that it had a hardware-based random number generator. The random number generator pulled a string of random numbers from what Turing called “resistance noise”—that is, electrical signals produced by the physical functioning of the machine itself—and put the twenty least significant digits of this number into the Mark I’s accumulator—its primary mathematical engine (Turing). Alan Turing himself specifically requested this feature, having theorized with his earlier Turing Machine that a purely logical machine could not produce randomness (Shiner). And Turing knew—like his Cold War counterparts in the United States—that random numbers were crucial for any kind of statistical modeling of nuclear fission.

I have more to say about randomness in the Strachey Love Letter Generator, but before I do, I want to move to my second case study. This is an early, largely unheralded work called SAGA. SAGA was a script-writing program on the TX-0 computer. The TX-0 was the first computer to replace vacuum tubes with transistors and also the first to use interactive graphics—it even had a light pen.

The TX-0 was built at Lincoln Laboratory in 1956—a classified MIT facility in Bedford, Massachusetts chartered with the mission of designing the nation’s first air defense detection system. After TX-0 proved that transistors could out-perform and outlast vacuum tubes, the computer was transferred to MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics in 1958 (McKenzie), where it became a kind of playground for the first generation of hackers (Levy 29-30).

vlcsnap-2013-01-02-21h53m01s188In 1960, CBS broadcast an hour-long special about computers called “The Thinking Machine.” For the show MIT engineers Douglas Ross and Harrison Morse wrote a 13,000 line program in six weeks that generated a climactic shoot-out scene from a Western.

Several computer-generated variations of the script were performed on the CBS program. As Ross told the story years later, “The CBS director said, ‘Gee, Westerns are so cut and dried couldn’t you write a program for one?’ And I was talked into it.”


The TX-0’s large—for the time period—magnetic core memory was used “to keep track of everything down to the actors’ hands.” As Ross explained it, “The logic choreographed the movement of each object, hands, guns, glasses, doors, etc.” (“Highlights from the Computer Museum Report”).

And here, is the actual output from the TX-0, printed on the lab’s Flexowriter printer, where you can get a sense of the way SAGA generated the play:

TX-0 SAGA Output

In the CBS broadcast, Ross explained the narrative sequence as a series of forking paths.


Each “run” of SAGA was defined by sixteen initial state variables, with each state having several weighted branches (Ross 2). For example, one of the initial settings is who sees whom first. Does the sheriff see the robber first or is it the other way around? This variable will influence who shoots first as well.

There’s also a variable the programmers called the “inebriation factor,” which increases a bit with every shot of whiskey, and doubles for every swig straight from the bottle. The more the robber drinks, the less logical he will be. In short, every possibility has its own likely consequence, measured in terms of probability.

The MIT engineers had a mathematical formula for this probability (Ross 2):


But more revealing to us is the procedure itself of writing one of these Western playlets.

First, a random number was set; this number determined the probability of the various weighted branches. The programmers did this simply by typing a number following the RUN command when they launched SAGA; you can see this in the second slide above, where the random number is 51455. Next a timing number established how long the robber is alone before the sheriff arrives (the longer the robber is alone, the more likely he’ll drink). Finally each state variable is read, and the outcome—or branch—of each step is determined.

What I want to call your attention to is how the random number is not generated by the machine. It is entered in “by hand” when one “runs” the program. In fact, launching SAGA with the same random number and the same switch settings will reproduce a play exactly (Ross 2).

In a foundational work in 1996 called The Virtual Muse Charles Hartman observed that randomness “has always been the main contribution that computers have made to the writing of poetry”—and one might be tempted to add, to electronic literature in general (Hartman 30). Yet the two case studies I have presented today complicate this notion. The Strachey Love Letter Generator would appear to exemplify the use of randomness in electronic literature. But—and I didn’t say this earlier—the random numbers generated by the Mark I’s method tended not to be reliably random enough; remember, random numbers often need to be reused, so that the programs that run them can be repeated. This is called pseudo-randomness. This is why books like the RAND Corporation’s A Million Random Digits is so valuable.

But the Mark I’s random numbers were so unreliable that they made debugging programs difficult, because errors never occurred the same way twice. The random number instruction eventually fell out of use on the machine (Campbell-Kelly 136). Skip ahead 8 years to the TX-0 and we find a computer that doesn’t even have a random number generator. The random numbers must be entered manually.

The examples of the Love Letters and SAGA suggest at least two things about the source of randomness in literary computing. One, there is a social-historical source; wherever you look at randomness in early computing, the Cold War is there. The impact of the Cold War upon computing and videogames has been well-documented (see, for example Edwards, 1996 and Crogan, 2011), but few have studied how deeply embedded the Cold War is in the software algorithms and hardware processes themselves of modern computing.

Second, randomness does not have a progressive timeline. The story of randomness in computing—and especially in literary computing—is neither straightforward nor self-evident. Its history is uneven, contested, and mostly invisible. So that even when we understand the concept of randomness in electronic literature—and new media in general—we often misapprehend its source.


Bennett, Deborah. Randomness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.

Berry, Neil. “Encounter.” Antioch Review 51.2 (1993): 194. Print.

Crogan, Patrick. Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation, and Technoculture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.

Edwards, Paul N. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. Print.

Hartman, Charles O. Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1996. Print.

“Highlights from the Computer Museum Report.” Spring 1984. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.

Holmes, Thomas B. Electronic and Experimental Music: A History of a New Sound. Psychology Press, 2002. Print.

Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010. Print.

McKenzie, John A. “TX-0 Computer History.” 1 Oct. 1974. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.

Montfort, Nick et al. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013. Print.

Ross, D.T. “Memorandum 8436-M-29: Preliminary Operating Notes for SAGA II.” 19 Oct. 1960. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/mit/tx-0/memos/Morse_SAGAII_Oct60.pdf>.

Shiner, Jeff. “Alan Turing’s Contribution Can’t Be Computed.” Agile Blog. 29 Dec. 2012. <http://blog.agilebits.com/2012/12/08/alan-turings-contribution-cant-be-computed/>.

Strachey, Christopher. “The ‘Thinking’ Machine.” Encounter III.4 (1954) : 25–31. Print.

Turing, A.M. “Programmers’ Handbook for the Manchester Electronic Computer Mark II.” Oct. 1952. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. “Digital Media Archaeology: Interpreting Computational Processes.” Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Ed by. Erkki Huhtamo & Jussi Parikka. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

—. Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Sudies. MIT Press, 2009. Print.

Zweig, Ellen. “Jackson Mac Low: The Limits of Formalism.” Poetics Today 3.3 (1982): 79–86. Web. 1 Jan. 2013.

IMAGE CREDITS (in order of appearance)

Being, On. Alan Turing and the Mark 1. 2010. 24 Dec. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/speakingoffaith/4422523721/>.

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates. Courtesy of Casey Reas and10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013. 129.

“Ferranti Mark 1 Sales Literature.” 24 Dec. 2012. <http://www.computer50.org/kgill/mark1/sale.html>.

Image of Love Letter Source code courtesy of Link, David. “There Must Be an Angel: On the Beginnings of the Arithmetics of Rays.” 2006. 23 Dec. 2012. <http://alpha60.de/research/muc/DavidLink_RadarAngels_EN.htm>.

Still Image from “The Thinking Machine.” CBS, October 26, 1960. <http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/10268-the-thinking-machine-1961—mit-centennial-film>.

Western Drama Written by TX-0. 1960. Computer History Museum. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/accession/102631242>.

SAGA Printout from Pfeiffer, John E. The Thinking Machine. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962. 132. Print.

Doug Ross Explaining TX-0 Program in the Film “The Thinking Machine.” 1960. Computer History Museum. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/accession/102631241>.

Intrusive Scaffolding, Obstructed Learning (and MOOCs)

December 18th, 2012 § 39 comments § permalink

Training WheelsMy five-year-old son recently learned how to ride a bike. He mastered the essential components of cycling—balance, peddling, and steering—in roughly ten minutes. Without using training wheels, ever. That idyllic scene of a bent-over parent pushing an unsteady child on a bike, working up enough speed to let go? It never happened. At least not with him.

I’m not sentimental for that Norman Rockwell moment, because I had it several years earlier with my older son. I spent hours running behind him, steadying him, catching him. What made it so difficult for my older son to learn how to ride a bike? Precisely the thing that was supposed to teach him: training wheels.

The difference between the way my sons learned how to ride a bike was training wheels. My older son used them, and consequently learned how to ride only with difficulty. His younger brother used a balance bike (the Skuut in his case), a small light (often wooden) bike with two wheels and no pedals. As the child glides along, thrust forward by pushing off from the ground, he or she learns how to balance in a gradated way. A slight imbalance might be corrected by simply tipping a toe to the ground, or the child can put both feet on the ground to fully balance the bike. Or anything in between.

With a pedal-less bike you continually self-correct your balance, based on immediate feedback. I’m leaning too much to one side? Oooh, drag my foot a little there. Contrast this with training wheels. There’s no immediate feedback. In fact, there’s no need to balance at all. The training wheels do your balancing for you. Training wheels externalize the hardest part of riding a bike. If you’re a little kid and want to start riding a bike, training wheels are great. If you’re a little kid and want to start to learn how to ride a bike, training wheels will be your greatest obstacle.

If you think of riding a bike in terms of pedagogy, training wheels are what learning experts call scaffolding. Way back in 1991, Allan Collins, John Seely Brown, and Ann Holum wrote about a type of teaching called cognitive apprenticeship, and they used the term scaffolding to describe “the support the master gives apprentices in carrying out a task. This can range from doing almost the entire task for them to giving occasional hints as to what to do next.” As the student—the apprentice—becomes more competent, the teacher—the master—gradually backs away, in effect removing the scaffolding. It’s a process Collins, Brown, and Holum call “fading.” The problem with training wheels, then, is that fading is all but impossible. You either have training wheels, or you don’t.

Training wheels are a kind of scaffolding. But they are intrusive scaffolding, obstructive scaffolding. These bulky metal add-ons get in the way quite literally, but they also interfere pedagogically. Riding a bike with training wheels prepares a child for nothing more than riding a bike—with training wheels.

My oldest child, I said, learned how to ride a bike with training wheels. But that’s not exactly what happened. After weeks of struggle—and mounting frustration—he learned. But only because I removed the all-or-nothing training wheels and replaced them with his own body. I not only removed the training wheels from his bike, but I removed the pedals themselves. In essence, I made a balance bike out of a conventional bike. Only then did he learn to balance, the most fundamental aspect of bike-riding. I learned something too: when my younger son was ready to ride a bike we would skip the training wheels entirely.

scaffoldingMy kids’ differing experiences lead me to believe that we place too much value on scaffolding, or at least, on the wrong kind of scaffolding. And now I’m not talking simply about riding bikes. I’m thinking of my own university classroom—and beyond, to online learning. We insist upon intrusive scaffolding. We are so concerned about students not learning that we surround the learning problem with scaffolding. In the process we obscure what we had hoped to reveal. Like relying on training wheels, we create complicated interfaces to experiences rather than simplifying the experiences themselves. Just as the balance bike simplifies the experience of bike riding, stripping it down to its core processes, we need to winnow down overly complex learning activities.

We could call this removal of intrusive scaffolding something like “unscaffolding” or “descaffolding.” In either case, the idea is that we take away structure instead of adding to it. And perhaps more importantly, the descaffolding reinstates the body itself as the site—and means of—learning. Scaffolding not only obstructs learning, it turns learning into an abstraction, something that happens externally. The more scaffolding there is, the less embodied the learning will be. Take away the intrusive scaffolding, and like my son on his balance bike, the learner begins to use what he or she had all along, a physical body.

I’ve been thinking about embodied pedagogy lately in relation to MOOCs—massive open online courses. In the worse cases, MOOCs are essentially nothing but scaffolding. A typical Coursera course will include video lectures for each lesson, an online quiz, and a discussion board. All scaffolding. In a MOOC, where are the bodies? And what is the MOOC equivalent of a balance bike? I want to suggest that unless online teaching—and classroom teaching as well—begins to first, unscaffold learning problems and second, rediscover embodied pedagogy, we will obstruct learning rather than foster it. We will push students away from authentic learning experiences rather than draw them toward such experiences.

After all, remember the etymological root of pedagogy: paedo, as in child, and agogic, as in leading or guiding. Teachers guide learners. Scaffolding—the wrong kind—obstructs learning.

Sacred Heart Mission photograph courtesy of Fernando de Sousa / Creative Commons Licensed. Scaffolding photograph courtesy of Kevin Dooley / Creative Commons Licensed.

Ready: 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10

December 4th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

10 PRINT Cover

I’m delighted to announce the publication of10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 (MIT Press, 2013). My co-authors are Nick Montfort (who conceived the project), Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost, Jeremy Douglass, Mark Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, and Noah Vawter. Published in MIT Press’s Software Studies series, 10 PRINT is about a single line of code that generates a continuously scrolling random maze on the Commodore 64. 10 PRINT is aimed at people who want to better understand the cultural resonance of code. But it’s also about aesthetics, hardware, typography, randomness, and the birth of home computing. 10 PRINT has already attracted attention from Bruce Sterling (who jokes that the title “really rolls off the tongue”), Slate, and Boing Boing. And we want humanists (digital and otherwise) to pay attention to the book as well (after all, five of the co-authors hold Ph.D.’s in literature, not computer science).

Aside from its nearly unpronounceable title, 10 PRINT is an unconventional academic book in a number of ways:

  • 10 PRINT was written by ten authors in one voice. That is, it’s not a collection with each chapter written by a different individual. Every page of every chapter was collaboratively produced, a mind-boggling fact to humanists mired in the model of the single-authored manuscript. A few months before I knew I was going to work on 10 PRINT, I speculated that the future of scholarly publishing was going to be loud, crowded, and out of control. My experience with 10 PRINT bore out that theory—though the end product does not reflect the messiness of the writing process itself, which I’ll address in an upcoming post.
  • 10 PRINT is nominally about a single line of code—the eponymous BASIC program for the Commodore 64 that goes 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. But we use that one line of code as both a lens and a mirror to explore so much more. In his generous blurb for10 PRINT, Matt Kirschenbaum quotes William Blake’s line about seeing the world in a grain of sand. This short BASIC program is our grain of sand, and in it we see vast cultural, technological, social, and economic forces at work.
  • 10 PRINT emerges at the same time that the digital humanities appear to be sweeping across colleges and universities, yet it stands in direct opposition to the primacy of “big data” and “distant reading”—two of the dominant features of the digital humanities. 10 PRINT is nothing if not a return to close reading, to small data. Instead of speaking in terms of terabytes and petabytes, we dwell in the realm of single bits. Instead of studying datasets of unimaginable size we circle iteratively around a single line of code, reading it again and again from different perspectives. Even single characters in that line of code—say, the semicolon—become subject to intense scrutiny and yield surprising finds.
  • 10 PRINT practices making in order to theorize being. My co-author Ian Bogost calls it carpentry. I’ve called it deformative humanities. It’s the idea that we make new things in order to understand old things. In the case of 10 PRINT, my co-authors and I have written a number of ports of the original program that run on contemporaries of the C64, like the Atari VCS, the Apple IIe, and the TRS-80 Color Computer. One of the methodological premises of 10 PRINT is that porting—like the act of translation—reveals new facets of the original source. Porting—again, like translation—also makes visible the broader social context of the original.

In the upcoming days I’ll be posting more about 10 PRINT, discussing the writing process, the challenges of collaborative authorship, our methodological approaches, and of some of the rich history we uncovered by looking at a single line of code.

In the meantime, a gorgeous hardcover edition is available (beautifully designed by my co-author, Casey Reas). Or download a free PDF released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.