On November 2 and 3, George Mason University convened a forum on the Future of Higher Education. Alternating between plenary panels and keynote presentations, the forum brought together observers of higher education as well as faculty and administrators from Mason and beyond. I was invited to appear on a panel about student learning and technology. The majority of the session was dedicated to Q&A moderated by Steve Pearlstein, but I did speak briefly about social pedagogy. Below are my remarks.
This morning I’d to share a few of my experiences with what you could call social pedagogy—a term I’ve borrowed from Randy Bass at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University. Think of social pedagogy as outward facing pedagogy, in which learners connect to each other and to the world, and not just the professor. Social Pedagogy is also a lean-forward pedagogy. At its best a lean-forward pedagogy generates engagement, attention, and anticipation. Students literally lean forward. The opposite of a lean-forward pedagogy is of course a lean-back pedagogy. Just picture a student leaning back in the chair, passive, slack, and even bored.
A lean-forward social pedagogy doesn’t have to involve technology at all, but this morning I want to describe two examples from my own teaching that use Twitter. Last fall I was teaching a science fiction class and we were preparing to watch Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Since I wasn’t screening the film in class, students would be watching it in all sorts of contexts: on Netflix in the residence hall, on a reserve DVD upstairs in the JC, rented from iTunes, a BluRay collector’s set at home, and so on. However, I still wanted to create a collective experience out of these disparate viewings. To this end, I asked students to “live tweet” their own viewing, posting to Twitter whatever came to mind as they watched the film.
In this way I turned movie watching—a lean-back activity—into a lean-forward practice. And because the students often directed their tweets as replies to each other, it was social, much more social than viewing the film in class together. Over a 5-day period I had hundreds of tweets coming in, and I used a tool called Storify to track rhetorical and interpretative moves students made during this assignment. In particular, I categorized the incoming tweets, bringing to the surface some underlying themes in my students’ tweets. And then we began the next class period by examining the tweets and the themes they pointed to.
My next example of a social pedagogy assignment comes from later in the semester in the same science fiction class. I had students write a “Twitter essay.” This is an idea I borrowed from Jesse Stommel at Georgia Tech. For this activity, students wrote an “essay” of exactly 140 characters defining the word “alien.” The 140-character constraint makes this essay into a kind of puzzle, one that requires lean-forward style of engagement. And of course, I posed the essay question in a 140-character tweet:
Again I used Storify to capture my students’ essays and cluster them around themes. I was also able to highlight a Twitter debate that broke out among my students about the differences between the words alien and foreign. This was a productive debate that I’m not sure would have occurred if I hadn’t forced the students into being so precise—because they were on Twitter—about their use of language.
And finally, I copied and pasted the text from all the Twitter essays into Wordle, which generated a word cloud—in which every word is sized according to its frequency.
The word cloud gave me an admittedly reductivist snapshot of all the definitions of alien my students came up with. But the image ended up driving our next class discussion, as we debated what made it onto the word cloud and why.
These are two fairly simple, low-stakes activities I did in class. But they highlight this blend of technology and a lean-forward social pedagogy that I have increasingly tried to integrate into my teaching—and to think critically about as a way of fostering inquiry and discovery with my students.
[Crowd photograph courtesy of Flickr user Michael Dornbierer / Creative Commons Licensed]
What follows is a comprehensive list of digital humanities sessions at the 2013 Modern Language Association Conference in Boston.
These are sessions that in some way address the influence and impact of digital materials and tools upon language, literary, textual, and media studies, as well as upon online pedagogy and scholarly communication. The 2013 list stands at 66 sessions, a slight increase from 58 sessions in 2012 (and 44 in 2011, and only 27 the year before). Perhaps the incremental increase this year means that the digital humanities presence at the convention is topping out, leveling out at 8% of the 795 total sessions. Or maybe it’s an indicator of growing resistance to what some see as the hegemony of digital humanities. Or it could be that I simply missed some sessions—if so, please correct me in the comments and I’ll add the session to the list.
Presiding: Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.; Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey
This workshop is an "unconference" on digital pedagogy. Unconferences are participant-driven gatherings where attendees spontaneously generate the itinerary. Participants will propose discussion topics in advance on our Web site, voting on final sessions at the workshop’s start. Attendees will consider what they would like to learn and instruct others about teaching with technology. Preregistration required.
Thursday, 3 January, 8:30–11:30 a.m., Republic A, Sheraton
Presiding: Alison Byerly, Middlebury Coll.; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.
Facilitated discussion about evaluating work in digital media (e.g., scholarly editions, databases, digital mapping projects, born-digital creative or scholarly work). Designed for both creators of digital materials and administrators or colleagues who evaluate those materials, the workshop will propose strategies for documenting, presenting, and evaluating such work. Preregistration required.
Presiding: Trent M. Kays, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Lee Skallerup Bessette, Morehead State Univ.
Speakers: Marc Fortin, Queen’s Univ.; Alexander Gil, Univ. of Virginia; Brian Larson, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Sophie Marcotte, Concordia Univ.; Ernesto Priego, London, England
Digital humanities are often seen to be a monolith, as shown in recent publications that focus almost exclusively on the United States and English-language projects. This roundtable will bring together digital humanities scholars from seemingly disparate disciplines to show how bridges can be built among languages, cultures, and geographic regions in and through digital humanities.
Presiding: Robert R. Bleil, Coll. of Coastal Georgia; Jennifer Gray, Coll. of Coastal Georgia
Speakers: Susan Cook, Southern New Hampshire Univ.; Christopher Dickman, Saint Louis Univ.; T. Geiger, Syracuse Univ.; Jennifer Gray; Matthew Parfitt, Boston Univ.; James Sanchez, Texas Christian Univ.
Responding: Robert R. Bleil
Nicholas Carr’s 2008 article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" and his 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains argue that the paradigms of our digital lives have shifted significantly in two decades of living life online. This roundtable unites teachers of composition and literature to explore cultural, psychological, and developmental changes for students and teachers.
Speakers: Robin Bernstein, Harvard Univ.; Lindsay DiCuirci, Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County; Laura Fisher, New York Univ.; Laurie Lambert, New York Univ.; Janice A. Radway, Northwestern Univ.; Joseph Rezek, Boston Univ.
Archivally driven research is changing the methodologies with which we approach the past, the types of questions that we can ask and answer, and the historical voices that are heard and suppressed. The session will address the role of archives, both digital and material, in literary and cultural studies. What risks and rewards do we need to be aware of when we use them?
Thursday, 3 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Liberty C, Sheraton
Presiding: Andrew Piper, McGill Univ.
Speakers: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Stanford Univ.; Lindsey Eckert, Univ. of Toronto; Neil Fraistat, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Matthew Jockers, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln; Laura C. Mandell, Texas A&M Univ., College Station; Jeffrey Thompson Schnapp, Harvard Univ.
As part of the ongoing debate about the impact and efficacy of the digital humanities, this roundtable will explore the theoretical, practical, and political implications of the rise of the literary lab. How will changes in the materiality and spatiality of our research and writing change the nature of that research? How will the literary lab impact the way we work?
Speakers: Douglas M. Armato, Univ. of Minnesota Press; Jamie Skye Bianco, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Jennifer Laherty, Indiana Univ., Bloomington; Monica McCormick, New York Univ.; Katie Rawson, Emory Univ.
As open-access scholarly publishing matures and movements such as the Elsevier boycott continue to grow, open-access publications have begun to move beyond the simple (but crucial) principle of openness toward an ideal of interactivity. This session will explore innovative examples of open-access scholarly publishing that showcase new types of social, interactive, mixed-media texts.
Presiding: Alex Mueller, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston
Speakers: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Martin Foys, Drew Univ.; Matthew Kirschenbaum, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Stephen G. Nichols, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD; Kathleen A. Tonry, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs; Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library
In this roundtable, scholars of manuscripts, print, and digital media will discuss how contemporary forms of textuality intersect with, duplicate, extend, or draw on manuscript technologies. Panelists seek to push the discussion beyond traditional notions of supersession or remediation to consider the relevance of past textual practices in our analyses of emergent ones.
Presiding: Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey
Speakers: Moya Bailey, Emory Univ.; Anne Cong-Huyen, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Hussein Keshani, Univ. of British Columbia; Maria Velazquez, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Responding: Alondra Nelson, Columbia Univ.
This panel examines the politics of race, ethnicity, and silence in the digital humanities. How has the digital humanities remained silent on issues of race and ethnicity? How does this silence reinforce unspoken assumptions and doxa? What is the function of racialized silences in digital archival projects?
Speakers: Travis Brown, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Johanna Drucker, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Eric Rochester, Univ. of Virginia; Geoffrey Rockwell, Univ. of Alberta; Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria; Susan Schreibman, Trinity Coll. Dublin
Working only with set texts limits the use of many digital tools. What most advances literary research: aiming applications at scholarly primitives or at more culturally embedded activities that may resist generalization? Panelists’ reflections on the challenges of interoperability in a methodologically diverse field will include project snapshots evaluating the potential or perils of such aims.
Presiding: Jason C. 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.
Friday, 4 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Back Bay D, Sheraton
Presiding: Richard A. Grusin, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Speakers: Wendy H. Chun, Brown Univ.; Richard A. Grusin; Patrick Jagoda, Univ. of Chicago; Tara McPherson, Univ. of Southern California; Rita Raley, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
This roundtable explores the impact of digital humanities on research and teaching in higher education and the question of how digital humanities will affect the future of the humanities in general. Speakers will offer models of digital humanities that are not rooted in technocratic rationality or neoliberal economic calculus but that emerge from and inform traditional practices of humanist inquiry.
Friday, 4 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Fairfax A, Sheraton
Presiding: Stephen G. Nichols, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD
Speakers: Karen L. Fresco, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; Albert Lloret, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; Jacques Neefs, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD
Responding: Timothy L. Stinson, North Carolina State Univ.
This panel explores the resistance of editors to explore digital editions. Questions posed: Do scholarly protocols deliberately resist computational methodologies? Or are we still in a liminal period where print predominates for lack of training in the new technology? Does the problem lie with a failure to encourage digital research by younger scholars?
Presiding: Michael Bérubé, Penn State Univ., University Park
"The Mirror and the LAMP," Matthew Kirschenbaum, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
"Access Demands a Paradigm Shift," Cathy N. Davidson, Duke Univ.
"Resistance in the Materials," Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia
The news that digital humanities are the next big thing must come as a pleasant surprise to people who have been working in the field for decades. Yet only recently has the scholarly community at large realized that developments in new media have implications not only for the form but also for the content of scholarly communication. This session will explore some of those implications—for scholars, for libraries, for journals, and for the idea of intellectual property.
Friday, 4 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Back Bay D, Sheraton
Presiding: Russell A. Berman, Stanford Univ.
Speakers: Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia Univ.; Lanisa Kitchiner, Howard Univ.; David Laurence, MLA; Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia; Elizabeth M. Schwartz, San Joaquin Delta Coll., CA; Sidonie Ann Smith, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Kathleen Woodward, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Doctoral study faces multiple pressures, including profound transformations in higher education and the academic job market, changing conditions for new faculty members, the new media of scholarly communication, and placements in nonfaculty positions. These and other factors question the viability of conventional assumptions regarding doctoral education.
Friday, 4 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Back Bay D, Sheraton
Presiding: Peter S. Donaldson, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.
Global Shakespeares (globalshakespeares.org/) is a participatory multicentric project providing free online access to performances of Shakespeare from many parts of the world. The session features presentations and free lab tours of the MIT HyperStudio.
Presiding: Ryan Cordell, Northeastern Univ.; Katherine Singer, Mount Holyoke Coll.
Speakers: Gert Buelens, Ghent Univ.; Sheila T. Cavanagh, Emory Univ.; Malcolm Alan Compitello, Univ. of Arizona; Gabriel Hankins, Univ. of Virginia; Alexander C. Y. Huang, George Washington Univ.; Kevin Quarmby, Emory Univ.; Lynn Ramey, Vanderbilt Univ.; Matthew Schultz, Vassar Coll.
This digital roundtable aims to give insight into challenges and opportunities for new digital humanists. Instead of presenting polished projects, panelists will share their experiences as developing DH practitioners working through research and pedagogical obstacles. Each participant will present lightning talks and then discuss the projects in more detail at individual tables.
Saturday, 5 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Public Garden, Sheraton
Presiding: Ana-Maria Medina, Metropolitan State Coll. of Denver
Speakers: Lois Bacon, EBSCO; Marshall J. Brown, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Stuart Alexander Day, Univ. of Kansas; Judy Luther, Informed Strategies; Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt Univ.; Joseph Paul Tabbi, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago; Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist Univ.
Changes are happening to the scholarly journal, a fundamental institution of our professional life. New modes of communication open promising possibilities, even as financial challenges to print media and education make this time difficult. A panel of editors, publishers, and librarians will address these topics, carrying forward a discussion begun at the 2012 Delegate Assembly meeting.
Speakers: Evelyn Baldwin, Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Mikhail Gershovich, Baruch Coll., City Univ. of New York; Janice McCoy, Univ. of Virginia; Ilknur Oded, Defense Lang. Inst.; Amanda Phillips, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Anastasia Salter, Univ. of Baltimore; Elizabeth Swanstrom, Florida Atlantic Univ.
This electronic roundtable presents games not only as objects of study but also as methods for innovative pedagogy. Scholars will present on their use of board games, video games, authoring tools, and more for language acquisition, peer-to-peer relationship building, and exploring social justice. This hands-on, show-and-tell session highlights assignments attendees can implement.
Presiding: Claudia Cabello-Hutt, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro; Marcy Ellen Schwartz, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
Speakers: Daniel Balderston, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Maria Laura Bocaz, Univ. of Mary Washington; Claudia Cabello-Hutt; Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Veronica A. Salles-Reese, Georgetown Univ.; Marcy Ellen Schwartz; Vicky Unruh, Univ. of Kansas
This roundtable will explore renewed interest in Latin American archives—both traditional and digital—and the intellectual, political, and social implications for our research and teaching. Presenters will address how new technologies (digitalized collections, hypertext manuscripts, etc.) facilitate access to research and offer strategies for introducing students to a variety of materials.
Speakers: Sarah J. Arroyo, California State Univ., Long Beach; R. Scot Barnett, Clemson Univ.; Ron C. Brooks, Oklahoma State Univ., Stillwater; Geoffrey V. Carter, Saginaw Valley State Univ.; Anthony Collamati, Clemson Univ.; Jason Helms, Univ. of Kentucky; Alexandra Hidalgo, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette; Robert Leston, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York
This roundtable will present separate, yet unified, digital writings on laptops. Instead of making a diachronic set of presentations, we will make available a synchronic set, in an art e-gallery format, arranged separately on tables as conceptual art installations. The purpose is to demonstrate how digital technologies can reshape our views of presentations and of what is now called writings.
Saturday, 5 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Back Bay D, Sheraton
Presiding: Paul Fyfe, Florida State Univ.; Robert H. Kieft, Occidental Coll.
Speakers: Tanya E. Clement, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Rachel Donahue, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Kari M. Kraus, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; John Merritt Unsworth, Brandeis Univ.; John A. Walsh, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
This roundtable extends current conversations about reforming graduate training to a burgeoning field of disciplinary crossover and professionalization. Participants will introduce innovative training programs and collaborative projects at the intersections of modern language departments, digital humanities, and library schools or iSchools.
Saturday, 5 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Liberty A, Sheraton
Presiding: Elizabeth M. Schwartz, San Joaquin Delta Coll., CA
"Peer Review 2.0: Using Digital Technologies to Transform Student Critiques," Elizabeth Harris McCormick, LaGuardia Community Coll., City Univ. of New York; Lykourgos Vasileiou, LaGuardia Community Coll., City Univ. of New York
"How I Met Your Argument: Teaching through Television," Lanta Davis, Baylor Univ.
"Writing Wikipedia as Postmodern Research Assignment," Matthew Parfitt, Boston Univ.
"Weaning Isn’t Everything: Beyond Postformalism in Composition," Miles McCrimmon, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll., VA
Speakers: David Kim, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Jennifer Sano-Franchini, Michigan State Univ.; Lee Skallerup Bessette, Morehead State Univ.
Responding: Tara McPherson, Univ. of Southern California
This roundtable addresses how applications and interfaces encode specific cultural assumptions about race and preclude certain groups of people from participating in the digital humanities. Participants present specific digital humanities projects that illustrate the impact of race on access to the programming, cultural, and funding structures in the digital humanities.
Saturday, 5 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., The Fens, Sheraton
Presiding: Korey Jackson, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Speakers: Matt Burton, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Korey Jackson; Spencer Keralis, Univ. of North Texas; Jason C. Rhody, National Endowment for the Humanities; Lisa Marie Rhody, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Michael Ullyot, Univ. of Calgary
This roundtable seeks to query precisely what data can be and do in a humanities context. Charting the migration from individual project to scalable data set, we explore “big data” not simply as a matter of size or number but as a process of granting researchers and educators access to shared information resources.
Presiding: Catherine Elizabeth Ingrassia, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.
Speakers: Joshua Eckhardt, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Molly Hardy, Saint Bonaventure Univ.; Laura C. Mandell, Texas A&M Univ., College Station; James Raven, Univ. of Essex
Consistent with the theme of open access, this roundtable explores limitations of proprietary digital archives and emergent alternatives. It will provide an interactive, engaged demonstration of 18thConnect; a historian’s perspective; discussion of British Virginia; and scholarly digital editions of seventeenth-century documents.
Speakers: Amanda L. French, George Mason Univ.; George Williams, Univ. of South Carolina, Spartanburg
This "master class" will focus on integrating two digital tools into the classroom to facilitate student-generated projects: Omeka, for the creation of archives and exhibits, and WordPress, for the creation of blogs and Web sites. We will discuss what kinds of assignments work with each tool, how to get started, and how to evaluate assignments. Bring a laptop (not a tablet) for hands-on work.
Sunday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Beacon A, Sheraton
Presiding: Alexander Reid, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York
Speakers: Heather Duncan, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville; Richard E. Miller, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick; Daniel Schweitzer, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York
Responding: Alexander Reid
As our profession seeks to understand electronic publishing, the emergence of middle-state publishing (e.g., blogs, Twitter) adds another layer of complexity to the issue. The roundtable participants will discuss their use of social media for scholarship and how middle-state publishing alters scholarly work and the ethical and professional concerns that arise.
Presiding: Yohei Igarashi, Colgate Univ.; Lauren A. Neefe, Stony Brook Univ., State Univ. of New York
Speakers: Miranda Jane Burgess, Univ. of British Columbia; Mary Helen Dupree, Georgetown Univ.; Kevis Goodman, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Yohei Igarashi; Celeste G. Langan, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Maureen Noelle McLane, New York Univ.; Tom Mole, McGill Univ.
A roundtable of scholars discusses and defines “Romantic media studies,” one of the most vibrant approaches to Romantic literature today. Spanning British, German, and transatlantic Romanticisms, the exchange considers Romantic-era media while reflecting on methods of reading for media, mediations, and networks as well as on the relation between Romantic criticism and the digital humanities.
Speakers: Katherine E. Gossett, Iowa State Univ.; Erik Hanson, Loyola Univ., Chicago; Matthew Jockers, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln; Steven E. Jones, Loyola Univ., Chicago; Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia; Sarah Storti, Univ. of Virginia
This roundtable explores the urgent necessity of reforming graduate training in the humanities, particularly in the light of the opportunities afforded by digital platforms, collaborative work, and an expanded mission for graduates. Presenters include graduate students and faculty mentors who are creating the institutional and disciplinary conditions for renovated graduate curricula to succeed.
Sunday, 6 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Liberty A, Sheraton
Presiding: Mark Sample, George Mason Univ.
Speakers: Douglas M. Armato, Univ. of Minnesota Press; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Frank Kelleter, Univ. of Göttingen; Kirstyn Leuner, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; Jason Mittell, Middlebury Coll.; Ted Underwood, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
This roundtable considers the value and challenges of serial scholarship, that is, research published in serialized form online through a blog, forum, or other public venue. Each of the participants will give a lightning talk about his or her stance toward serial scholarship, while the bulk of the session time will be reserved for open discussion.
One cannot help but observe the predominance of cupcakes in modern America. Why the cupcake, and why now, at this particular historical moment?
What the fuck is up with all the cupcakes?
Within five minutes of my home there are two bakeries specializing in cupcakes. Two bakeries two hundred yards from each other. They sell cupcakes, and that’s about it. Cupcakes.
Go to a kid’s birthday party and if you survive the bowling or the bouncy castle or the laser tag with the mewling mess of Other People’s Children shouting and screaming, you and your kid will be rewarded with a cupcake. No cake, maybe not even any candles. Cupcakes, that’s it.
Theoretically they come frosted or plain, but plain is such an outright disappointment to everyone, it’s almost embarrassing, so frosted it is. Topped with swirling piles of sugar and fat, the cupcakes come bearing equally saccharine names like Red Velvet Elvis and Cloud 9 and, no shitting you, Blueberry Bikini Buster.
My friends, my very smart friends in academia who study the latest trends in culture and technology, I have a question. You can talk about the spatial turn and the computational turn all you want, but can someone fucking explain the cupcake turn to me?
I have my own theory, and it goes like this: cupcakes match—and attempt to assuage—our cultural anxieties of the moment.
Cupcakes are models of…
It’s not a whole cake. It’s a miniature cake. A cake in a fucking cup. A cupcake is a model of modesty. And it’s the best kind of modesty, because it paradoxically suggests extravagance. Cupcakes are rich. And expensive. You could buy two dozen Twinkies for the price of a single caramel apple spice gourmet cupcake.
By the very nature of their production, cupcakes are made in multiples. A 3×3 tray of 9 cupcakes or 4×4 tray of 16 cupcakes, it doesn’t matter. Cupcakes are serial cakes. Mass produced but conveying a sense of homestyle goodness. Cupcakes are the perfect homeopathic antidote for the industrially-produced food we mostly consume. Fordism never tasted so sickly sweet.
On the surface, gourmet cupcakes are artisanal desserts. For all their seriality, cupcakes still contain minute variations in flavor and toppings. Yet underneath, the base model remains the same. Cupcakes embody the postmodern ideal of the manufactured good that has been injected with artificial difference, in order to conjure a sense of individuality. Cupcakes are indie desserts. And like hipsters, cupcakes are pretty much all the same. Cupcake sprinkles and hipster scarves serve the same purpose, turning the plainly ordinary into the veiled ordinary.
Ontologically speaking, just what the hell are cupcakes anyway? A cupcake’s not really a cake. A distant cousin to the muffin, maybe. Is it a pastry for the 21st century United States, a kind of American croissant, full of gooey American exceptionalism? The cupcake itself doesn’t even know what it is. It’s a hybrid form, a Frankencaken. But in a culture frightened by change, blurred borders, and boundary crossings, the cupcake makes all those scary things palatable. As long as it comes in little accordion-pleated paper cup.
Austerity, seriality, artistry, hybridity, that’s what cupcakes are all about. The perfect food for our post-industrial, indie vibe Great Recession. Enjoy them while they last.
Crimson Velveteen photograph courtesy of Flickr user Gina Guillotine / Creative Commons Licensed
This fall at George Mason I’m teaching a special topics course called ENGLISH 442: 21st Century Literature. My department reserves the 442 course number for “American Literary Periods” and this usually means some recognizable—not to mention canonized—era of American literature, comprised of works that share certain stylistic and thematic characteristics. Nineteenth century naturalism. Twentieth century modernism. Post-war postmodernism. But what is 21st Century literature? What are its defining narrative modes and concerns?
The hell if I know.
I’m not going to answer these questions in ENGH 442. Beyond looking at publishing dates, it’s futile, I believe, to make any claims about the distinguishing features of 21st century literature. The simple fact is this: 21st century literature is whatever people are writing in the 21st century.
Yes, the first 12 years of the new millennium have been marked by September 11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a crippling, never-ending recession. But the new millennium has also been marked by the rise of YouTube, Justin Bieber, and Minecraft. What 20 novels best reflect the spirit of the 21st century so far? What 10 novels? And, given that my goal is to teach for uncoverage rather than coverage, what 5 novels?
It’s an almost insurmountable challenge to come up with a representative reading list of 21st century literature.
So I didn’t.
Instead, to assemble my reading list I came up with a rather arbitrary criterion, which is no more arbitrary than any other criterion would have been. I’ve decided to focus my 21st century literature class on works that are somehow reworking or engaging with earlier works of literature and film. I’m not talking adaptations. I’m also not interested in classic works of literature, rewritten with vampires. And I don’t mean retellings from an existing minor character’s point of view.
I mean deep entanglements in a web of intertextuality.
I’m delighted with the list I came up with. It spans genres and formats, and ranges from the comedic to the elegiac. The reading list includes some of my favorite texts to teach as well as some I’ve long wanted to teach. And here it is:
In addition to these six works (which are not all works of fiction, though they certainly are all works of literature), I will have some short stories, as well as historical and theoretical pieces scattered throughout the semester. Plus, a few tricks it is not yet time to reveal.
All in all, ENGH 442 should be an excellent class, and I’m looking forward to kicking off the fall semester.
(This is the text of my five minute position statement on the role of computational literacy in computers and writing. I delivered this statement during a “town hall” meeting at the annual Computers and Writing Conference, hosted at North Carolina State University on May 19, 2012.)
I want to briefly run through five basic statements about computational literacy. These are literally 5 statements in BASIC, a programming language developed at Dartmouth in the 1960s. As some of you might know, BASIC is an acronym for Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, and the language was designed in order to help all undergraduate students at Dartmouth—not just science and engineering students—use the college’s time-sharing computer system.
Each BASIC statement I present here is a fully functioning 1-line program. I want to use each as a kind of thesis—or a provocation of a thesis—about the role of computational literacy in computers and writing, and in the humanities more generally.
10 PRINT 2+3
I’m beginning with this statement because it’s a highly legible program that nonetheless highlights the mathematical, procedural nature of code. But this program is also a piece of history: it’s the first line of code in the user manual of the first commercially available version of BASIC, developed for the first commercially available home computer, the Altair 8800. The year was 1975 and this BASIC was developed by a young Bill Gates and Paul Allen. And of course, their BASIC would go on to be the foundation of Microsoft. It’s worth noting that although Microsoft BASIC was the official BASIC of the Altair 8800 (and many home computers to follow), an alternative version, called Tiny BASIC, was developed by a group of programmers in San Francisco. The 1976 release of Tiny BASIC included a “copyleft” software license, a kind of predecessor to contemporary open source software licenses. Copyleft emphasized sharing, an idea at the heart of the original Dartmouth BASIC.
10 PRINT “HELLO WORLD”
If BASIC itself was a program that invited collaboration, then this—customarily one of the first programs a beginner learns to write—highlights the way software looks outward. Hello, world. Computer code is writing in public, a social text. Or, what Jerry McGann calls a “social private text.” As McGann explains, “Texts are produced and reproduced under specific social and institutional conditions, and hence…every text, including those that may appear to be purely private, is a social text.”[1. McGann, Jerome. The Textual Condition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 21.]
10 PRINT “GO TO STATEMENT CONSIDERED HARMFUL”: GOTO 10
My next program is a bit of an insider’s joke. It’s a reference to a famous 1968 diatribe by Edsger Dijkstra called “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” Dijkstra argues against using the goto command, which leads to what critics call spaghetti code. I’m not interested in that specific debate, so much as I like how this famous injunction implies an evaluative audience, a set of norms, and even an aesthetic priority. Programming is a set of practices, with its own history and tensions. Any serious consideration of code—any serious consideration of computers—in the humanities must reckon with these social elements of code.
10 REM PRINT “GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD”
The late German media theorist Frederich Kittler has argued that, as Alexander Galloway put it, “code is the only language that does what it says.”[2. Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006, p. 6] Yes, code does what it says. But it also says things it does not do. Like this one-line program which begins with REM, short for remark, meaning this is a comment left by a programmer, which the computer will not execute. Comments in code exemplify what Mark Marino has called the “extra-functional significance” of code, meaning-making that goes beyond the purely utilitarian commands in the code.[3. Marino, Mark C. “Critical Code Studies.” Electronic Book Review (2006). <http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/codology>.]
Without a doubt, there is much even non-programmers can learn not by studying what code does, but by studying what it says, and what it evokes.
10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));:GOTO 10
Finally, here’s a program that highlights exactly how illegible code can be. Very few people could look at this program for the Commodore 64 and figure out what it does. This example suggests there’s a limit to the usefulness of the concept of literacy when talking about code. And yet, when we run the program, it’s revealed to be quite simple, though endlessly changing, as it creates a random maze across the screen.
So I’ll end with a caution about relying on the word literacy. It’s a word I’m deeply troubled by, loaded with historical and social baggage and it’s often misused as a gatekeeping concept, an either/or state; one is either literate or illiterate.
In my own teaching and research I’ve replaced my use of literacy with the idea of competency. I’m influenced here by the way teachers of a foreign language want their students to use language when they study abroad. They don’t use terms like literacy or fluency, they talk about competency. Because the thing with competency is, it’s highly contextualized, situated, and fluid. Competency means knowing the things that are required in order to do the other things you need to do. It’s not the same for everyone, and it varies by place, time, and circumstance.
Translating this experience to computers and writing, competency means reckoning with computation at the level appropriate for what you want to get out of it—or put into it.
I recently described a new mode of scholarship that I called the deformed humanities. The idea is simple: take apart the world, deform it, and make something new. Or, as Donna Lanclos summarized the deformed humanities in a tweet: “Break things, leave them broken, learn stuff.”
As an example of the deformed humanities I offered up my work Hacking the Accident. But what would the deformed humanities look like in other fields? It’s one thing to imagine a scholar who already studies fiction creatively destroying existing texts. But it’s quite another to imagine a scholar who owes a certain debt to facts working in the deformed humanities.
A course taught by my George Mason colleague Mills Kelly provides an illustrative case of the deformed humanities in the field of history. Mills’ class “Lying about the Past” explores the social role of hoaxes throughout history—the Piltdown man, Hitler’s diary, and so on. For the class’s final project, students design their own hoaxes and then unleash them upon an unsuspecting public. In 2008 students created a hoax about Edward Owens, the so-called last American pirate. Students created a Wikipedia page with false sources, a blog detailing a fictional student’s discovery of the last American pirate—which the class backdated to make it look like the blog had been written over a four-month period, and other faked primary and secondary sources. When Mills revealed the hoax at the end of the semester (and students copped to it on Wikipedia), his IP address was banned from Wikipedia and the page was marked for deletion.
Mills faced a barrage of criticism in 2008 for having his student “lie” about the past. With the most recent version of the class just finishing up, Mills has come under fire once again. As Mills notes, he’s been receiving a flood of hate email. He’s being called everything from irresponsible to “sociopathic pond scum.”
There’s no need for me to defend the ethics of creating a hoax as a class project—Mills himself has persuasively made that case. All I want to say is that this is an example of the deformed humanities. And with a purpose too. Mills has described his pedagogical intent using a riddle[note]Quoted with permission from Kelly, T. Mills. “True Facts or False Facts—Which Are More Authentic?” Playing with Technology in History. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, 2010.[/note]:
Q: What happens when you teach students how to lie? A: They learn how to be historians.
Call him a cynic, but Mills is dead on. History is comprised of lies. And if not outright falsehoods, then half-truths, exaggerations, and omissions.
The Deformative is Political
When I first began to think of creative and critical work in terms of the deformed humanities I hadn’t focused on the political dimensions of the concept—aside from self-consciously reclaiming a potentially troubled term, deformity. But I’ve quickly come to believe that the deformed humanities is a political humanities, a politicized humanities.
As a number of scholars and public intellectuals have noted, the humanities are under attack. One particularly cogent response to the attacks comes from then-American Historical Association president Anthony Grafton. Writing in the January 2011 issue of Perspectives on History, Grafton argued that perhaps the most vital argument one can make in favor of the humanities is “the argument that scholarship matters.” Historians and other humanists model “honest, first-hand inquiry” and an “austere, principled quest for knowledge.” Such clear-headed and rational scholarship, Grafton believes, is especially needed to combat the misrepresentations of the past and present that pervade our mediated world.
Mills’ example—and the deformed humanities—suggests that while Grafton goal’s is noble, it is the wrong approach. Or at least not the only approach. Why fight lies with the truth when you can fight them with other lies? Lies that reveal the truth. Scholarship ought to be rooted in knowledge, not necessarily facts.
Looking beyond a few undergraduate hoaxes, such a strategy—outlying the liars—is a particularly potent response to attacks on the humanities. It’s one, however, that Progressives are likely to avoid.
One of the unfortunate lasting legacies of the Bush era is that Progressives automatically discount anyone who strays too far from objective perspectives or evidentiary reasoning. In the face of Bush’s dismissal of the “reality-based community,” Progressives have enshrouded themselves in facts and statistics and studies. This is what Grafton argues for as well. And it’s exactly the wrong way to fight narrow-minded, unjust, subjective and self-serving beliefs. Fight truthiness with truthiness, something Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert long ago figured out, but which the humanities have forgotten.
Truth is not relative, but it is overrated.
[“Lies” image courtesy of Flickr user Simon Law. Creative Commons Licensed.]
The hornbook was not a book, but a small wooden board with a handle. A sheet of vellum inscribed with a lesson—typically the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer—was attached to one side and covered by a thin, transparent layer of horn or mica. Historians don’t know much about hornbooks, other than they were important tools for primary education in the 16th and 17th centuries in England, Germany, Holland, and by way of the Puritans, the American colonies.
Shakespeare mentions a “Hornebook” in Love’s Labor Lost, and it’s not unlikely that Shakespeare himself first learned his letters on a hornbook. In 1916 the book antiquarian George Arthur Plimpton, whose knowledge of the hornbook has never been surpassed, pointed to a woodcut in Gregor Reisch’s magisterial Margarita Philosophica (1503) to illustrate the fundamental role of the hornbook in the early modern curriculum:
A boy stands outside the Tower of Knowledge (each level representing progressively heightened domains of learning, from the grammar of Donatus and Priscian on the lower levels, to the science and philosophy of Cicero, Aristotle, Seneca and Pliny on the upper levels). To enter the Tower of Knowledge the boy need only accept the hornbook from his teacher and master it. As Plimpton puts it, the hornbook was “the key to unlock the treasures of learning” (4).
But the hornbook wasn’t simply a metaphorical key. It answered a very real concern of material culture at the time. Parchment, and later, paper, was simply too costly to be put in the hands of young learners. With its vellum primer protected like a laminated lesson, the sturdy hornbook was a hardware solution to a social problem. On some hornbooks the vellum could slide out from underneath the translucent horn and be replaced by other lessons. The hornbook in this way was a kind of 17th century iPad. Much more durable than paper, hornbooks were apparently passed down between students, sibling to sibling, generation to generation.
What’s surprising about hornbooks, given their durability and symbolic as well as literal value in early modern education, is how few have survived into the 20th and 21st centuries. Plimpton lamented in 1916 that “the British Museum has only three, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford one” (5). In fact, the most exhaustive collection of hornbooks is probably Plimpton’s own collection, amassed over years and now housed at Columbia University.
What applications and documents might be included on a “Digital Humanities Creator Stick,” a collection of tools that could fit on a USB flash drive, allowing students, teachers, researchers, and anyone else to work on digital humanities projects. An individual would plug the stick into any computer and instantly have access to what she needs to get work done. Unplug the stick and she takes those tools with her.
In my mind I’ve been comparing George’s digital humanities creator stick (or DH jump drive, as Roger Whitson described it) to a hornbook. Like the hornbook in Reisch’s Tower of Knowledge, it provides entry into a world that might otherwise be closed to the newcomer. Even the paddle shape of the hornbook resembles a USB flash drive.
Likening a digital humanities jump drive to an 17th century hornbook requires a certain amount of historical and technological blindness, but I’d like to entertain the comparison briefly, in order to find out if the fate of the hornbook gives us any insight into a similar kind of tool for the digital humanities. The hornbook arose during a particular historical moment to address a particular social problem. I called it a piece of hardware earlier, but really, it was a platform, in much the same way the Nintendo Wii is a platform. The wooden board itself and the translucent horn overlay were the hardware, while the vellum or paper lesson was the software. As platform studies has shown, however, hardware and software alone do not comprise the sum total of any technological platform. Use and social context are as much a part of the platform as the physical object itself.
And yet we don’t actually know what students did with their hornbooks or how they used them. We have glimpses—a few illustrations, some mentions in literature, a handful of advertisements. But the full scope of how teachers and students had meaningful (or not so meaningful) interactions with the tool and in what environments is lost to us. We simply don’t know.
This missing social element of the hornbook makes me think of the DH creator stick. The THATCamp Piedmont session prompted a lively discussion. But I know George was initially frustrated with the direction of this conversation, which trended toward the abstract, ranging from questions about the digital divide to issues surrounding digital fluency. George had wanted—and the collaborative notes generated during the session reflect this—to focus more concretely on assembling a definite list of tools and documentation that could be put on a USB flash drive. At one point in the session (probably after I had introduced a Lego versus Ikea approach to getting stated in the digital humanities), George compared assembling a digital humanities toolkit to a homeowner putting together his or her first toolbox. You know you need a hammer, a screwdriver, and a few other common tools. Before you head to the hardware store you don’t need to philosophize about the nature of home itself. A homeowner doesn’t ask, What is a home? A homeowner goes out and buys a hammer.
I appreciated the analogy and George’s efforts to ground the discussion. I’m not so sure, though, that we in the digital humanities have figured out what our “home” is, much less what our essential tools are. I am not ready to foreclose the discussion about what we ought to be doing with our tools, which surely would influence what those tools are. I am not ready, to use the hornbook as a metaphor, to affix a standard lesson underneath a protective laminate of horn.
And to be sure, I know very few digital humanists who would argue differently. I doubt that anyone who was in the THATCamp session would want to declare this or that set of tools to be the canonical tools of DH, or this or that set of practices to be the only valid approach to digital humanities work. This openness is one way a digital hornbook differs from the historical hornbook, which was clearly meant to be the first step in a rigidly prescribed way of thinking. I can think of some humanists a hornbook might appeal to in this regard, but no digital humanists.
A digital hornbook would avoid the monologic authority of a historical hornbook by not only including a variety of tools but also including a range of documentation and pedagogical material. George mentioned several times in the session that while we had compiled a great list of tools, we hadn’t thought about the kind of guides or tutorials that should be included on the DH stick. He’s right. It wasn’t until toward the end of the session that we added some guides—mostly standard, official documentation of the various tools and services on the list. And then, at last, a few more substantive, scholarly perspectives on the digital humanities found their way onto the ideal DH Creator Stick: A Companion to Digital Humanities, Hacking the Academy, and Debates in the Digital Humanities.
It’s the presence of these last two texts in particular that finally make the DH Creator Stick more than an inert catalog of portable apps. Hacking the Academy and Debates in the Digital Humanities fill a role that none of the other tools or guides on the proposed list do. They fill an absence that mirrors the unknown social life of the hornbook, for they tell us about the social life of the digital humanities. They model the digital humanities in action. And they do so by presenting a multiplicity of voices, a range of concerns, and most important to broadening the digital humanities audience, an ongoing and reiterative invitation to students, teachers, and young scholars to consider the impact of the digital on the questions that humanists ask of the world.
It’s crucial to have documents like these available for students and novice practitioners, but I would go farther. What we most need to include on a digital hornbook for newcomers to the digital humanities is precisely that which can never be distilled digitally. It’s an attitude, an ethos. Perhaps the closest we might come is dumping the entire contents of Day of DH onto the flash drive, all four years of blog posts about what people actually do during their daily work. This material might give aspiring digital humanists (not to mention humanists) a better entry point into the discipline than any set of tools or tutorials. Even then, though, the diverse principles that inspire us may not shine through. I’ve labeled my own approach deformative humanities, but there are many other ways to conceive of the spirit that motivates digital humanists. In any case, the real challenge we face is capturing and relaying this attitude. A 4GB (or 8GB or 16GB or 32GB) flash drive can hold a fantastic number of applications and documents, but it’s a capacity that may mislead us into thinking that the DH jump stick would be a powerful tool in and of itself. The prescribed lesson on a hornbook teaches us very little, apart from telling us what society deemed necessary to enter the Tower of Knowledge. The contents of a flash drive similarly teach us very little, apart from demonstrating what a group of people—we digital humanists—valued at a certain moment in the early 21st century. Centuries from now I would not want a media archaeologist bemoaning the utter lack of context surrounding a flash drive housed in Special Collections that was obliquely labeled “DH Creator Stick.” The digital humanities is people and practices, not tools and documentation. The real question is, can our tools and documentation convey this?
I’ve gone on record as saying that the digital humanities is not about building. It’s about sharing. I stand by that declaration. But I’ve also been thinking about a complementary mode of learning and research that is precisely the opposite of building things. It is destroying things.
I want to propose a theory and practice of a Deformed Humanities. A humanities born of broken, twisted things. And what is broken and twisted is also beautiful, and a bearer of knowledge. The Deformed Humanities is an origami crane—a piece of paper contorted into an object of startling insight and beauty.
I come to the Deformed Humanities (DH) by way of a most traditional route—textual scholarship. In 1999 Lisa Samuels and Jerry McGann published an essay about the power of what they call “deformance.” This is a portmanteau that combines the words performance and deform into an interpretative concept premised upon deliberately misreading a text, for example, reading a poem backwards line-by-line.
As Samuels and McGann put it, reading backwards “short circuits” our usual way of reading a text and “reinstalls the text—any text, prose or verse—as a performative event, a made thing” (Samuels & McGann 30). Reading backwards revitalizes a text, revealing its constructedness, its seams, edges, and working parts.
In many ways this idea of textual transformation as an interpretative maneuver is nothing new. Years before Samuels and McGann suggested reading backward as the paradigmatic deformance, the influential composition professor Peter Elbow suggested reading a poem backwards as a way to “breathe life into a text” (Elbow 201).
Still, Samuels and McGann point out that “deformative scholarship is all but forbidden, the thought of it either irresponsible or damaging to critical seriousness” (Samuels & McGann 34–35). Yet deformance has become a key methodology of the branch of digital humanities that focuses on text analysis and data-mining.
This is an argument that Steve Ramsay makes in Reading Machines. Computers let us practice deformance quite easily, taking apart a text—say, by focusing on only the nouns in an epic poem or calculating the frequency of collocations between character names in a novels.
Deformance is a Hedge
But however much deformance sounds like a progressive interpretative strategy, it actually reinscribes more conventional acts of interpretation. Samuels and McGann suggest—and many digital humanists would agree—that “we are brought to a critical position in which we can imagine things about the text that we did not and perhaps could not otherwise know” (36). And this is precisely what is wrong with the idea of deformance: it always circles back to the text.
Even the word itself—deformance—seems to be a hedge. The word is much more indebted to the socially acceptable activity of performance than the stigmatized word deformity. It reminds me of a scene in Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, where the adult narrator Alison comments upon her teenage self’s use of the word “horrid” in her diary. “How,” Bechdel muses, “horrid has a slightly facetious tone that strikes me as Wildean. It appears to embrace the actual horror…then at the last second nimbly sidesteps it” (Bechdel 174). In a similar fashion, deformance appears to embrace the actual deformity of a text and then at the last possible moment sidesteps it. The end result of deformance as most critics would have it is a sense of renewal, a sense of de-forming only to re-form.
To evoke a key figure motivating the playfulness Samuels and McGann want to bring to language, deformance takes Humpty Dumpty apart only to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
And this is where I differ.
I don’t want to put Humpy Dumpty back together.
Let him lie there, a cracked shell oozing yolk. He is broken. And he is beautiful. The smell, the colors, the flow, the texture, the mess. All of it, it is unavailable until we break things. And let’s not soften our critical blow by calling it deformance. Name it what it is, a deformation.
In my vision of the Deformed Humanities, there is little need to go back to the original. We work—in the Stallybrass sense of the word—not to go back to the original text with a revitalized perspective, but to make an entirely new text or artifact.
The deformed work is the end, not the means to the end.
The Deformed Humanities is all around us. I’m only giving it a name. Mashups, remixes, fan fiction, they are all made by breaking things, with little regard for preserving the original whole. With its emphasis on exploring the insides of things, the Deformed Humanities shares affinities with Ian Bogost’s notion of carpentry, the practice of making philosophical and scholarly inquiries by constructing artifacts rather than writing words. In Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Bogost describes carpentry as “making things that explain how things make their world” (93). Bogost goes on to highlight several computer programs he’s built in order to think like things—such as I am TIA, which renders the Atari VCS’s “view” of its own screen, an utterly alien landscape compared to what players of the Atari see on the screen. Where carpentry and the Deformed Humanities diverge is in the materials being used. Carpentry aspires to build from scratch, whereas the Deformed Humanities tears apart existing structures and uses the scraps.
For a long while I’ve told colleagues who puzzle over my own seemingly disparate objects of scholarly inquiry that “I study systems that break other systems.” Systems that break other systems is the thread that connects my work with electronic literature, graphic novels, videogames, code studies, and so on. Yet I had never thought about my own work as deformative until earlier this year. And it took someone else to point it out. This was my colleague Tom Scheinfeldt, the managing director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. In February, Scheinfeldt gave a talk at Brown University in which he argued that the game-changing element of the digital humanities was its performative aspect.
Scheinfeldt uses Babe Ruth as an analogy. Ruth wasn’t merely the homerun king. He essentially invented homeruns as a strategy, transforming the game. As Scheinfeldt puts it, “the change Ruth made wasn’t engendered by him being able to bunt or steal more effectively than, say, Ty Cobb…it was engendered by making bunting and stealing irrelevant, by doing something completely new.”
Scheinfeldt then picks up on Ramsay’s use of “deformance” to suggest that what’s game-changing about digital technology is the way it allows us “to make and remake” texts in order “to produce meaning after meaning.”
Hacking the Accident
As an example, Scheinfeldt mentions a project of mine, which I had never thought about in terms of deformance. This was a digital project and e-book I made last fall called Hacking the Accident.
Hacking the Accident is a deformed version of Hacking the Academy, an edited collection forthcoming by the digitalculturebooks imprint of the University of Michigan Press. Hacking the Academy is a scholarly book about the disruptive potential of the digital humanities, crowdsourced in one week and edited by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt.
Taking advantage of the generous BY-NC Creative Commons license of the book, I took the entire contents of Hacking the Academy, some thirty something essays by leading thinkers in the digital humanities, and subjected them to the N+7 algorithm used by the Oulipo writers. This algorithm replaces every noun—every person, place, or thing—in Hacking the Academy with the person, place, or thing—mostly things—that comes seven nouns later in the dictionary.
The results of N+7 would seem absolutely nonsensical, if not for the disruptive juxtapositions, startling evocations, and unexpected revelations that ruthless application of the algorithm draws out from the original work. Consider the opening substitution of Hacking the Academy, sustained throughout the entire book: every instance of the word academy is literally an accident.
Other strange transpositions occur. Every fact is a fad and print is a prison. Instructors are insurgents and introductions are invasions. Questions become quicksand. Universities, uprisings. Scholarly associations wither away to scholarly asthmatics. Disciplines are fractured into discontinuities. Writing, the thing that absorbs our lives in the humanities, writing, the thing that we produce and consume endlessly and desperately, writing, the thing upon which our lives of letters is founded—writing, it is mere “yacking” in Hacking the Accident.
These are merely the single word exchanges, but there are longer phrases that are just as striking. Print-based journals turn out as prison-based joyrides, for example. I love that The Chronicle of Higher Education always appears as The Church of Higher Efficiency; it’s as if the newspaper was calling out academia for what it has become—an all-consuming, totalizing quest for efficiency and productivity, instead of a space of learning and creativity.
Consider the deformed opening lines of Cohen’s and Scheinfeldt’s introduction, which quotes from their original call for papers:
Can an allegiance edit a joyride? Can a lick exist without bookmarks? Can stunts build and manage their own lecture mandrake playgrounds? Can a configuration be held without a prohibition? Can Twitter replace a scholarly sofa?
At the most obvious level, the work is a parody of academic discourse, amplifying the already jargon-heavy language of academia with even more incomprehensible language. But one level down there is a kind of Bakhtinian double-voiced discourse at work, in which the original intent is still there, but infused with meanings hostile to that intent—the print/prison transposition is a good example of this.
I’m convinced that Hacking the Accident is not merely a novelty. It’d be all too easy to dismiss the work as a gag, good for a few amusing quotes and nothing more. But that would overlook the several levels in which Hacking the Accident acts as a kind of intervention into academia. A deformation of the humanities. A deformation that doesn’t strive to put the humanities back together and reestablish the integrity of a text, but rather, a deformation that is a departure, leading us somewhere new entirely.
The Deformed Humanities—though most may not call it that—will prove to be the most vibrant and generative of all the many strands of the humanities. It is a legitimate mode of scholarship, a legitimate mode of doing and knowing. Precisely because it relies on undoing and unknowing.
I’ve had a sneak preview of MIT Press’s Fall 2012 catalog, and I’m delighted that the boldest project I’ve ever worked on is in there. The title is 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 and it just gets crazier from there.
Working by wiki style collaboration.
Studying one line of code.
For a thirty-year-old computer.
I’ll say more about 10 Print in the coming weeks, but for now, I just want to admire my co-author Casey Reas’s brilliant cover.
Instead of writing papers at the end of the semester in my videogame studies class, my students are building videogames. After all, what better way to understand games than to make one, a notion Ian Bogost calls carpentry.
My students aren’t designing merely any kind of game. They are designing metagames, by which I mean a game that itself comments upon or thinks through some aspect of other videogames. The assignment is available for all to share or remix.
Only a few of my students are computer science or game design majors. They are are almost all nonprogrammers, non-designers. But in line with the central message of Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, I believe anyone can make a videogame. Maybe not Skyrim but certainly a modest game that uses the affordances of the medium to think about the medium. Because my students’ initial pitches were much more ambitious than what they could ever hope to achieve in the space of two weeks, I cribbed a list of design principles that are either explicitly mentioned or implied in Anthropy’s chapter “Making the Games.” Again, I share it here:
“Dumb little games” have value and can enrich our understanding of the form
Later this week I’ll be heading to Boston for the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. I’m delighted to be presenting on a panel organized by my frequent conspirator Zach Whalen on code studies and videogames. I’m also delighted that there will be an abundance of other panels devoted to videogames.
For my ease—and hopefully others’—I’ve compiled a list of all of these panels. If I’m missing a videogame-oriented panel, let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it right away.
[heading style=”1″]Videogame Studies Panels at SCMS 2012[/heading]
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:00AM-11:45PM (Session A)
A7: Harder Than You Think: The Difficulty and Digital Games Panel
Aubrey Anable (University of Toronto), “Casual Games, Serious Play, and the Affective Economy”
Thursday, March 22, 2012 05:00PM-06:45PM (Session I)
I11: Playing With Feelings 2: Medium, Immersion, and Affect Room: Franklin Chair: Daniel Reynolds (University of California, Santa Barbara) Respondent: Mark J. P. Wolf (Concordia University, Wisconsin)
Daniel Reynolds (University of California, Santa Barbara), “Radical Embodiment and Affective Interactivity”
Virginia Kuhn (University of Southern California), “One More Time with Feeling: Can Agency and Immersion Co-exist?”
Chaz Evans (University of Illinois, Chicago), “The Brechtian Video Game (and Other Theatrical Conceptions of Software-based Experience)”
Friday, March 23, 2012 12:15PM-2:00PM (Session K)
Video Game Studies Special Interest Group
Friday, March 23, 2012 02:15PM-04:00PM (Session L)
L11: Code Studies and Videogames Room: Franklin Chair: Zach Whalen (University of Mary Washington)
Sheila Murphy (University of Michigan), “Parsing Code, Playing Games: A Mediation on Reading Video Games”
Mark Sample (George Mason University), “A Revisionist History of JFK Reloaded (Decoded)”
Zach Whalen (University of Mary Washington), “’//create magnetic children’: Game Code as Critical Paratext”
Christopher Hanson (Syracuse University), “Mapping Levels of Abstraction and Materiality: Structuralist Games?”
Saturday, March 24, 2012 9:00AM (Session M)
M11: Computer Games and Virtual Forms Room: Franklin Chair: Lori Landay, Berklee College of Music
Brent Strang (Stony Brook University), “Red Dead Remediation: Sandbox Games, Anti-environments and Digital Adolescence”
Juan F. Belmonte Avila (University of Murcia), “Tactility in Computer Games: Non-Visual Mediations in Digital Discourses”
Mark J. P. Wolf (Concordia University, Wisconsin), “BattleZone and the Origins of First-Person Shooting Games”
Lori Landay (Berklee College of Music), “Virtually There: Presence, Agency, Spectatorship, and Performance in Interactive Media”
Sponsor: Video Game Studies Scholarly Interest Group
Saturday, March 24, 2012 05:00PM-06:45PM (Session Q)
Q11: Video Game Industry Studies Room: Franklin Chair: Sheila Murphy (University of Michigan) Co-Chair: Julia Lange (University of Michigan) Respondent: Nina Huntemann (Suffolk University)
Benjamin Aslinger (Bentley University), “Redefining the Console for the Digital, Global, and Networked Era”
Kathryn Frank (University of Michigan), “Imagining the Cult Media Audience: Comics and Video Game Industrial ‘Synergy’”
Julia Lange (University of Michigan), “E3 or Not E3?: The Video Game Industry Online and In-person”
Q21: Beyond Strawmen, Misrepresentations, and Caricatures: Elucidating a Critical Political Economy of Media Room: Whittier Chair: Philip Drake (University of Stirling) Respondent: Philippe Meers (University of Antwerp)
Eileen Meehan (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale), “The Misrepresentation of Critical Political Economy of Media”
Randall Nichols (Bentley University), “Manufacturing the Xbox: The Other Video Game Labor Problem”
Andre Sirois (University of Oregon), “Advertising and Avatars: Investing in Subcultural Capital and Selling Authenticity in the Case of DJ Hero”
Sunday, March 25, 2012 11:00AM-12:45PM (Session S)
S7: Video Games Room: Cambridge Chair: Robert Buerkle (University of Pittsburgh)
Reem Hilu (Northwestern University), “A Pioneering Game: “The Oregon Trail” and History Simulation”
Frank Episale (City University of New York), “Roger Ebert vs. Jacques Rancière: Video Games, Art, and the Emancipated Spectator”
Robert Buerkle (University of Pittsburgh), “At a Loss for Words: Portal 2 and the Silent Avatar”
[Downhill photograph courtesy of Flickr user krelle / Creative Commons Licensed]
A column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by former Idaho State University provost and official Stanley Fish biographer Gary Olson has been making waves this weekend. Entitled “How Not to Reform Humanities Scholarship,” Olson’s column is really about scholarly publishing, not scholarship itself.
Or maybe not. I don’t know. Olson conflates so many issues and misrepresents so many points of view that it’s difficult to tease out a single coherent argument, other than a misplaced resistance to technological and institutional change. Nonetheless, I want to call attention to a troubling generalization that Olson is certainly not the first to make. Criticizing the call (by the MLA among others) to move away from single-authored print monographs, Olson writes that a group of anonymous deans and department chairs have expressed concern to him that “graduate students and young faculty members—all members of the fast-paced digital world—are losing their capacity to produce long, in-depth, sustained projects (such as monographs).”
Here is the greatest conflation in Olson’s piece: mistaking form for content. As if “long, in-depth” projects are only possible in monograph form. And the corollary assumption: that “long, in-depth” peer-reviewed monographs are automatically worthwhile.
Olson goes on to summarize the least interesting and most subjective aspect of Maryanne Wolf’s otherwise fascinating study of the science of reading, Proust and the Squid:
…one disadvantage of the digital age is that humans are rapidly losing their capacity for deep concentration—the type of cognitive absorption essential to close, meditative reading and to sustained, richly complex writing. That loss is especially deleterious to humanities scholars, whose entire occupation depends on that very level of cognitive concentration that now is so endangered.
Here again is that conflation of form and content. According to Olson, books encourage deep concentration for both their writers and readers, while digital media foster the opposite of deep concentration, what Nicholas Carr would call shallow concentration. I don’t need to spend time refuting this argument. See Matthew Battles’ excellent Reading Isn’t Just a Monkish Pursuit. Or read my GMU colleague Dan Cohen’s recent post on Reading and Believing and Alan Jacob’s post on Making Reading Hard. Cohen and Jacob both use Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which offers a considerably more nuanced take on reading, distraction, and understanding than Olson.
But Olson is mostly talking about writing, not reading. Writing a book, in Olson’s view, is all about “deep concentration” and “richly complex writing.” But why should length have anything to do with concentration and complexity? There’s many a book-length monograph (i.e. a book) that is too long, too repetitive, and frankly, too complex—which is a euphemism for obscure and convoluted.
And why, too, should “cognitive concentration” correspond to duration? Recalling the now ancient Stephen Wright joke, “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.” The act of writing is mostly standing on the shore like an idiot. And Olson is asking us to stand there even longer?
I am not saying that I don’t value concentration. In fact, I value concentration and difficult thinking above almost all else. But I want to suggest here—as I have elsewhere—that we stop idealizing the act of concentration. And to go further, I want to uncouple concentration from time. Whether we’re writing or reading, substantive concentration can come in small or large doses.
The act of writing is mostly standing on the shore like an idiot. And Olson is asking us to stand there even longer?
There’s a cultural prejudice against tweeting and blogging in the humanities, something Dan Cohen is writing about in his next book (posted in draft form, serially, on his blog). The bias against blogs is often attributed to issues of peer review and legitimacy, but as Kathleen Fitzpatrick observed in an address at the MLA (and posted on her blog), much of the bias is due to the length of a typical blog post—which is much shorter than a conventional journal article. Simply stated, time is used as a measure of worth. When you’re writing a blog post, there’s less time standing on the shore like an idiot. And for people like Olson, that’s a bad thing.
I want to build on something Fitzpatrick said in her address. She argues that a blog “provides an arena in which scholars can work through ideas in an ongoing process of engagement with their peers.” It’s that concept of ongoing process that is particularly important to me. Olson thinks that nothing fosters deep concentration like writing a book. But writing a scholarly blog is an ongoing process, a series of posts, each one able to build on the previous post’s ideas and comments. Even if the posts are punctuated by months of silence, they can still be cumulative. Writing on a blog—or building other digital projects for that matter—can easily accommodate and even facilitate deep concentration. Let’s call it serial concentration: intense moments of speculation, inquiry, and explanation distributed over a period of time. This kind of serial concentration is particularly powerful because it happens in public. We are not huddled over a manuscript in private, waiting until the gatekeepers have approved our ideas before we share them, in a limited, almost circumspect way. We share our ideas before they’re ready. Because hand-in-hand with serial concentration comes serial revision. We write in public because we are willing to rewrite in public.
I can’t imagine a more rigorous way of working.
(Digital Typography Woodcut courtesy of Donald Knuth, provenance unknown)
Here (finally) is the talk I gave at the 2012 MLA Convention in Seattle. I was on Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces: E-Literature’s Past and Present panel, along with Dene Grigar, Stephanie Strickland, and Marjorie Luesebrink. Lori’s talk on e-lit’s stand against the interface-free aesthetic worked particularly well with my own talk, which focused on Erik Loyer’s Strange Rain. I don’t offer a reading of Strange Rain so much as I use the piece as an entry point to think about interfaces—and my larger goal of reframing our concept of interfaces.
Today I want to talk about Strange Rain, an experiment in digital storytelling by the new media artist Erik Loyer.
Strange Rain came out in 2010 and runs on Apple iOS devices—the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. As Loyer describes the work, Strange Rain turns your iPad into a “skylight on a rainy day.” You can play Strange Rain in four different modes. In the wordless mode, dark storm clouds shroud the screen, and the player can touch and tap its surface, causing columns of rain to pitter patter down upon the player’s first-person perspective. The raindrops appear to splatter on the screen, streaking it for a moment, and then slowly fade away. Each tap also plays a note or two of a bell-like celesta.
The other modes build upon this core mechanic. In the “whispers” mode, each tap causes words as well as raindrops to fall from the sky.
The “story” mode is the heart of Strange Rain. Here the player triggers the thoughts of Alphonse, a man standing in the rain, pondering a family tragedy.
And finally, with the most recent update of the app, there’s a fourth mode, the“feeds” mode. This allows players to replace the text of the story with tweets from a Twitter search, say the #MLA12 hashtag.
Note that any authorial information—Twitter user name, time or date—is stripped from the tweet when it appears,as if the tweet were the player’s own thoughts, making the feed mode more intimate than you might expect.
Like many of the best works of electronic literature, there are a number of ways to talk about Strange Rain, a number of ways to frame it. Especially in the wordless mode, Strange Rain fits alongside the growing genre of meditation apps for mobile devices, apps meant to calm the mind and sooth the spirit—like Pocket Pond:
In Pocket Pond, every touch of the screen creates a rippling effect.
The digital equivalent of a miniature zen garden, these apps allow us to contemplate minimalistic nature scenes on devices built by women workers in a FoxConn factory in Chengdu, China.
It’s appropriate that it’s the “wordless mode” that provides the seemingly most unmediated or direct experience of Strange Rain, when those workers who built the device upon which it runs are all but silent or silenced.
The “whispers” mode, meanwhile, with its words falling from the sky, recalls the trope in new media of falling letters—words that descend on the screen or even in large-scale multimedia installation pieces such as Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv’s Text Rain (1999).
And of course, the story mode even more directly situates Strange Rain as a work of electronic literature, allowing the reader to tap through “Convertible,” a short story by Loyer, which, not coincidentally I think, involvesa car crash, another long-standing trope of electronic literature.
As early as 1994, in fact, Stuart Moulthrop asked the question, “Why are there so many car wrecks in hypertext fiction?” (Moulthrop, “Crash” 5). Moulthrop speculated that it’s because hypertext and car crashes share the same kind of “hyperkinetic hurtle” and “disintegrating sensory whirl” (8). Perhaps Moulthrop’s characterization of hypertext held up in 1994…
…(though I’m not sure it did), but certainly today there are many more metaphors one can use to describe electronic literature than a car crash. And in fact I’d suggest that Strange Rain is intentionally playing with the car crash metaphor and even overturning it with its slow, meditative pace.
At the same time as this reflective component of Strange Rain, there are elements that make the work very much a game, featuring what any player of modern console or PC games would find familiar: achievements, unlocked by triggering particular moments in the story. Strange Rain even shows up on the iOS’s “Game Center.”
The way users can tap through Alphonse’s thoughts in Strange Rain recalls one of Moulthrop’s own works, the post-9/11 Pax, which Moulthrop calls, using a term from John Cayley, a “textual instrument”—as if the piece were a musical instrument that produces text rather than music.
We could think of Strange Rain as a textual instrument, then, or to use Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s reformulation of Cayley’s idea, as “playable media.” Wardrip-Fruin suggests that thinking of electronic literature in terms of playable media replaces a rather uninteresting question—“Is this a game?”—with a more productive inquiry, “How is this played?”
There’s plenty to say about all of these framing elements of Strange Rain—as an artwork, a story, a game, an instrument—but I want to follow Wardrip-Fuin’s advice and think about the question, how is Strange Rain played? More specifically, what is its interface? What happens when we think about Strange Rain in terms of the poetics of motion and touch?
Let me show you a quick video of Erik Loyer demonstrating the interface of Strange Rain, because there are a few characteristics of the piece that are lost in my description of it.
A key element that I hope you can see from this video is that the dominant visual element of Strange Rain—the background photograph—is never entirely visible on the screen. The photograph was taken during a tornado watch in Paulding County in northwest Ohio in 2007 and posted as a Creative Commons image on the photo-sharing site Flickr. But we never see this entire image at once on the iPad or iPhone screen. The boundaries of the photograph exceed the dimensions of the screen, and Strange Rain uses the hardware accelerometer to detect your motion, your movements. So that when you tilt the iPad even slightly, the image tilts slightly in the opposite direction. It’s as if there’s a larger world inside the screen, or rather, behind the screen. And this world is broader and deeper than what’s seen on the surface. Loyer described it to me this way: it’s “like augmented reality, but without the annoying distraction of trying to actually see the real world through the display” (Loyer 1).
This kinetic screen is one of the most compelling features of Strange Rain. As soon as you pick up the iPad or iPhone with Strange Rain running, it reacts to you. The work interacts with you before you even realize you’re interacting with it. Strange Rain taps into a kind of “camcorder subjectivity”—the entirely naturalized practice we now have of viewing the world through devices that have cameras on one end and screens on the other. Think about older videocameras, which you held up to your eye, and you saw the world straight through the camera. And then think of Flip cams or smartphone cameras we hold out in front of us. We looked through older videocameras as we filmed. We look at smartphone cameras as we film.
So when we pick up Strange Rain we have already been trained to accept this camcorder model, but we’re momentarily taken aback, I think, to discover that it doesn’t work quite the way we think it should. That is, it’s as if we are shooting a handheld camcorder onto a scene we cannot really control.
This aspect of the interface plays out in interesting ways. Loyer has an illustrative story about the first public test of Strange Rain. As people began to play the piece, many of them held it up over their heads so that “it looked like the rain was falling on them from above—many people thought that was the intended way to play the piece” (Loyer 1).
That is, people wanted it to work like a camcorder, and when it didn’t, they themselves tried to match their exterior actions to the interior environment of the piece.
There’s more to say about the poetics of motion with Strange Rain but I want to move on to the idea of touch. We’ve seen how touch propels the narrative of Strange Rain. Originally Loyer had planned on having each tap generate a single word, though he found that to be too tedious, requiring too many taps to telegraph a single thought (Loyer 1). It was, oddly enough in a work of playable media that was meant to be intimate and contemplative, too slow. Or rather, it required too much action—too much tapping—on the part of reader. So much tapping destroyed the slow, recursive feeling of the piece. It becomes frantic instead of serene.
Loyer tweaked the mechanic then, making each tap produce a distinct thought. Nonetheless, from my own experience and from watching other readers, I know that there’s an urge to tap quickly. In the story mode of Strange Rain you sometimes get caught in narrative loops—which again is Loyer playing with the idea of recursivity found in early hypertext fiction rather than merely reproducing it. Given the repetitive nature of Strange Rain, I’ve seen people want to fight against the system and tap fast. You see the same thought five times in a row, and you start tapping faster, even drumming using multiple fingers. And the piece paradoxically encourages this, as the only way to bring about a conclusion is to provoke an intense moment of anxiety for Alphonse, which you do by tapping more frantically.
I’m fascinated by with this tension between slow tapping and fast tapping—what I call haptic density—because it reveals the outer edges of the interface of the system. Quite literally.
Move from three fingers to four—easy to do when you want to bring Alphonse to a crisis moment—and the iPad translates your gestures differently. Four fingers tells the iPad you want to swipe to another application, the Windows equivalent of ALT-TAB. The multi-touch interface of the iPad trumps the touch interface of Strange Rain. There’s a slipperiness of the screen. The text is precipitously and perilously fragile and inadvertently escapable. The immersive nature of new media that years ago Janet Murray highlighted as an essential element of the form is entirely an illusion.
I want to conclude then by asking a question: what happen when we begin to think differently about interfaces? We usually think of an interface as a shared contact point between two distinct objects. The focus is on what is common. But what if we begin thinking—and I think Strange Rain encourages this—what if we begin thinking about interfaces in terms of difference. Instead of interfaces, what about thresholds, liminal spaces between two distinct elements. How does Strange Rain or any piece of digital expressive culture have both an interface, and a threshold, or thresholds? What are the edges of the work? And what do we discover when we transgress them?
These are my notes “Building and Sharing (When You’re Supposed to be Teaching,” a lightning talk I gave on Tuesday as part of CUNY’s Digital Humanities Initiative. Shannon Mattern (The New School) and I were on a panel called “DH in the Classroom.” Shannon’s enormously inspirational lightning talk was titled Beyond the Seminar Paper, and mine too focused on alternative assignments for students. Our two talks were followed by a long Q&A session, in which I probably learned more from the audience than they did from me. I’ll intersperse my notes with my slides, though you might also want to view the full Prezi (embedded at the end of this post).
I’d like to thank Matt for inviting me to talk tonight, and to all of you too, for coming out this gorgeous evening. I’m extremely flattered to be here—especially since I don’t think I have any earth-shattering thoughts about the digital humanities in the classroom. There are dozens and dozens of people who could be up here speaking, and I know some of them are here in this room right now.
A lot of what I do in my classroom doesn’t necessary count as “digital humanities”—I certainly don’t frame it that way to my students. If anything, I simply say that we’ll be doing things in our classes they’ve never done before in college, let alone a literature class. And literature is mostly what I teach. Granted I teach literature classes that lend themselves to digital work—electronic literature classes, postmodern fiction, and media studies classes that likewise focus on close readings of texts, such as my videogame studies classes. But even in these classes, I think my students are surprised by how much our work focuses on building and sharing.
If I change point of view of the title of my talk to my students’ perspectives, it might look something like this:
Building and sharing when we’re supposed to be writing. And at the end of this sentence comes one of the greatest unspoken assumptions both students and faculty make regarding this writing:
It’s writing for an audience of one—usually me, the instructor, us, the instructors. This is what counts as an audience to my students. They rarely think of themselves as writing for an audience beyond me. They rarely think of their own classmates as an audience. They often don’t even think of themselves as their own audience. They write for us, their professors and instructors.
So the “sharing” part of my title comes from my ongoing effort—not always successful—to extend my students’ sense of audience. I’ll give some examples of this sharing in a few minutes, but before that I want to address the first part of my title: the idea of building.
Those of you who know me are probably surprised that I’m emphasizing “building” as a way to integrate the digital humanities in the classroom. One of the most popular things I’ve written in the past year is a blog post decrying the hack versus yack split that routinely crops in debates about the definition of digital humanities.
In this post, I argued that the various divides in the digital humanities, which often arise from institutional contexts and professional demands generally beyond our control—these divides are a distracting sideshow to the true power of the digital humanities, which has nothing to do with production of either tools or research. The heart of the digital humanities is not the production of knowledge; it’s the reproduction of knowledge.
The promise of the digital is not in the way it allows us to ask new questions because of digital tools or because of new methodologies made possible by those tools. The promise is in the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge.
And I truly believe that this transformative power of the digital humanities belongs in the classroom. Classrooms were made for sharing. So, where does the “building” part of my pedagogy come up? How can I suddenly turn around and claim that building is important when I just said, in a blog post that has shown up on the syllabus of at least three different undergraduate introduction to the digital humanities courses?
Well, let me explain what I mean by building. Building, for me, means to work. Let me explain that.
In an issue of the PMLA from 2007 there’s a fantastic series of short essays by Ed Folsom, Jerry McGann, Peter Stallybrass, Kate Hayles, and others about the role of databases in literary studies. Folsom’s essay leads, and in it he describes what he calls the “epic transformation” of the online Walt Whitman Archive, which Folsom co-edits, along with Ken Price, into a database (1571). All of the other essays in some way respond to either the particulars of the digital Walt Whitman Archive, or more generally, to the impact of archival databases on research and knowledge production. It’s a great batch of essays, pre-dating by several years the prevalence of the term “digital humanities”—but that’s not why I mentioning these essays right now.
I’m mentioning them because Peter Stallybrass’s essay has the provocative title “Against Thinking,” which helps to explain why I mean by working, which Stallybrass explicitly argues stands opposed to thinking.
Thinking, according to Stallybrass is hard and painful. It’s boring, repetitious, and I love this—it’s indolent (1583).
On the other hand, working is easy, exciting, a process of discovery. It’s challenging.
This distinction between thinking and working informs Stallybrass’s undergraduate pedagogy, the way he trains his students to work with archival materials and the STC. In Stallybrass’s mind, students—and in fact, all need to do less thinking and more working. “When you’re thinking,” Stallybrass writes, “you’re usually staring at a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen, hoping that something will emerge from your head and magically fill that space. Even if something ‘comes to you,’ there’s no reason to believe that it is of interest, however painful the process has been” (1584).
Stallybrass goes on to say that “the cure for the disease called thinking is work” (1584). In Stallybrass’s field of Renaissance and Early Modern literature, much of that work has to do with textual studies, discovering variants, paying attention to the material form of the book, and so on. In my own teaching, I’ve attempted to replace thinking with building—sometimes with words, sometimes without. And I want to run through a few examples right now.
In general, these examples fall into two categories:
[And here my planned comments dissolved into a brief tour of some of the ways I incorporate building and sharing into my classes. The collaborative construction category is more self-evident: group projects aimed at building exhibits or formulating knowledge, such as my Omeka-based Portal Exhibit and the current cross-campus Renetworking of House of Leaves. I described my creative analysis category as an antidote to critical thinking—a hazardous term with an all but meaningless definition. In this category I included mapping projects and game design projects that were alternatives to traditional papers. I concluded my lightning talk by noting that students who pursued these creative analysis projects spent far more time on their work than those who wrote papers, and while their end results were often modest, these students were far more engaged in their work than students who wrote papers.]
Folsom, Ed. “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives.” PMLA 122.5 (2007): 1571-1579. Print.
This is a comprehensive list of digital humanities sessions scheduled for the 2012 Modern Language Association Conference in Seattle, Washington. The 2012 list stands at 58 sessions, up from 44 last year (and 27 the year before). If the trend continues, within the decade it will no longer make sense to compile this list; it’ll be easier to list the sessions that don’t in some way relate in to the influence and impact of digital materials and tools upon language, literary, textual, and media studies.
It’s possible I may have missed a session or two; if so, let me know in the comments and I’ll add the panel to the list. Note that there’s also a pre-convention Getting Started in the Digital Humanities with DHCommons workshop; but because this workshop is application-only, it does not appear in the official MLA program.
You may also want to follow the MLA Tweetup Twitter account for updates on various spontaneous and planned meet-ups in Seattle.
[UPDATE 13 January 2012: I’ve begun adding links to presentations and papers if they’ve been posted online.]
Thursday, January 5
Pre-Convention Digital Humanities Project Mixer
1-4 pm in Convention Center, rooms 3A & 3B
Projects looking for collaborators and collaborators looking for projects, come mix and mingle in this informal project poster session that offers a face-to-face DHCommons experience. Representatives from projects looking for collaborators or just wanting to get the word out will share information and materials about their projects. This forum will also offer great opportunities for one-on-one conversations about pursuing projects in the digital humanities. If you would like to share your project, please sign up here, but otherwise there is no need to register.
This event is open to all MLA participants.
1. Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates
8:30–11:30 a.m., Willow A, Sheraton
Presiding: Alison Byerly, Middlebury Coll.; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.; Susan Schreibman, Trinity Coll. Dublin
The workshop will provide materials and facilitated discussion about evaluating work in digital media (e.g., scholarly editions, databases, digital mapping projects, born-digital creative or scholarly work). Designed for both creators of digital materials (candidates for tenure and promotion) and administrators or colleagues who evaluate those materials, the workshop will propose strategies for documenting, presenting, and evaluating such work. Preregistration required.
9. Large Digital Libraries: Beyond Google Books
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 611, WSCC
Presiding: Michael Hancher Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Speakers: Tanya E. Clement, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Amanda L. French, George Mason Univ.; George Oates, Open Library; Glenn Roe, Univ. of Chicago; Andrew M. Stauffer, Univ. of Virginia; Jeremy York, HathiTrust Digital Library
Aside from Google Books, the two principal repositories for digitized books are Open Library and HathiTrust Digital Library; Digital Public Library of America is now in its planning stage. What are the merits and prospects of these three projects? How can they be improved? What role should scholars play in their improvement? These questions will be addressed by participants in each project and by others experienced in the digital humanities.
12. Transmedia Stories and Literary Games
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 615, WSCC
“Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers: Oulipian Games and Serial Players,” Patrick LeMieux Duke Univ.
“Make Love, Not Warcraft: Virtual Worlds and Utopia,” Stephanie Boluk Vassar Coll.
“Oscillation: Transmedia Storytelling and Narrative Theory by Design,” Patrick Jagoda Univ. of Chicago
Presiding: Sean Scanlan, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York
“Making Online Peer Review Interactive: Sticky Notes and Highlighters,” Cheryl E. Ball, Illinois State Univ.
“The Bearable Light of Openness: Renovating Obsolete Peer-Review Bottlenecks,” Aaron J. Barlow, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York
“The Law Review Approach: What the Humanities Can Learn,” Allen Mendenhall, Auburn Univ., Auburn
41. Social Networks, Jewish Identity, and New Media
1:45–3:00 p.m. University, Sheraton
Presiding: Jonathan S. Skolnik Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
“Social Networking, Jewish Identity, and New Jewish Ritual: Tattooed Jews on Facebook,” Erika Meitner Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ.
“Electronic Apikoros: Searching for the Nineteenth-Century Origins of Contemporary Satire in the Jewish Blogosphere,” Ashley Aronsen Passmore Texas A&M Univ., College Station
“From MySpace to MyJewishSpace: The Role of the Internet in the Self-Definition of New Jews in Austria and Germany,” Andrea Reiter Univ. of Southampton
47. Old Books and New Tools
1:45–3:00 p.m. 606, WSCC
Presiding: Sarah Werner Folger Shakespeare Library
Speakers: Katherine D. Harris, San José State Univ.; Jeffrey Knight, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Matt Thomas, Univ. of Iowa; Whitney Trettien, Duke Univ.; Meg Worley, Palo Alto, CA
This roundtable will consider how the categories of old books and new tools might illuminate each other. Speakers will provide individual reflections on their experiences with old books and new tools before opening up the conversation to the theoretical and practical concerns driving the use and interactions of the two.
Presiding: Kathleen Woodward Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“Emergent Projects, Processes, and Stories,” Sidonie Ann Smith Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
“Learning Collaboratories, Now and in the Future,” Curtis Wong Microsoft Research
“It’s the Data, Stupid!,” Ed Lazowska Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“How to Crowdsource Thinking,” Cathy N. Davidson Duke Univ.
Scholars from the human, natural, and computational sciences will address the future of higher education in a digital age. They will identify problems in higher education today and provide recommendations for what is needed as we go forward. What pressure does this information age exert on the current ways we think about higher education? How does a conversation across the computational sciences and the humanities address, ease, or exacerbate that pressure?
87. Digital Literary Studies: When Will It End?
3:30–4:45 p.m. 304, WSCC
Presiding: David A. Golumbia Virginia Commonwealth Univ.
“Digital Birth, Digital Adoption, Digital Disownment: Reconceiving Computational Textuality,” John David Zuern Univ. of Hawai’i, Manoa
“Digital Literary Studies circa 1954: Lacan’s Machines and Shannon’s Minds,” Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan Northwestern Univ.
“Digital Anamnesis,” Benjamin J. Robertson Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
121. Writing the Jasmine Revolution and Tahrir Square: Graffiti, Film, Collage, Poetry
5:15–6:30 p.m., Cedar, Sheraton
Presiding: Kathryn Lachman Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
“Tagging the Jasmine Revolution: Social Media and Graffiti in the Tunisian Uprising,” David Fieni Cornell Univ.
“Quand la révolution filmique anticipe la révolution populaire,” Mirvet Médini Kammoun Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts de Tunis
“The Women’s Manifesto: Thinking Egypt 2011 Transnationally,” Basuli Deb Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
“Poetic Responses to the North African Revolutions,” Mahdia Benguesmia Univ. of Batna
125. What’s Still Missing? What Now? What Next? Digital Archives in American Literature
5:15–6:30 p.m., 608, WSCC
Presiding: Brad Evans, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
Speakers: Donna M. Campbell, Washington State Univ., Pullman; Julia H. Flanders, Brown Univ.; Kenneth M. Price, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln; Oya Rieger, Cornell Univ.; Robert Scholes, Brown Univ.; Jeremy York, HathiTrust Digital Library
This roundtable has two goals: (1) to provide a forum for reflection on the first twenty years of the digital archive, especially as it relates to American materials, which might include consideration of what is still missing and of methodologies for making use of what is there now, and (2) to offer an opportunity for researchers who have become dependent on the archive to talk with major players in its production, in the hope of fostering new avenues for cooperation.
150. Digital Humanities and Internet Research
7:00–8:15 p.m., 613, WSCC
Presiding: John Jones Univ. of Texas, Dallas
“Creating a Conceptual Search Engine and Multimodal Corpus for Humanities Research,” Robin A. Reid Texas A&M Univ., Commerce
“What the Digital Can’t Remember,” John Jones
“Toward a Rhetoric of Collaboration: An Online Resource for Teaching and Learning Research,” Jennifer Sano-Franchini Michigan State Univ.
161. The Webs We Weave: Online Pedagogy in Community Colleges
7:00–8:15 p.m., 615, WSCC
Presiding: Linda Weinhouse, Community Coll. of Baltimore County, MD
“Blended Learning: The Best of Both Worlds?,” Pamela Sue Hardman, Cuyahoga Community Coll., Western Campus, OH
“Magic in the Web,” Michael R. Best, Univ. of Victoria; Jeremy Ehrlich, Univ. of Victoria
“The Digital-Dialogue Journal: Tool for Enhanced Classic Communication,” Bette G. Hirsch, Cabrillo Coll., CA
“Delivering Literary Studies in the Twenty-First Century: The Relevance of Online Pedagogies,” Kristine Blair, Bowling Green State Univ.
Friday, January 6
187. Digital Humanities and Hispanism
8:30–9:45 a.m. Grand A, Sheraton
Presiding: Kyra A. Kietrys Davidson Coll.
Speakers: Mike Blum, Coll. of William and Mary; Francie Cate-Arries, Coll. of William and Mary; Kyra A. Kietrys; Kathy Korcheck, Central Coll.; William Anthony Nericcio, San Diego State Univ.; Rocío Quispe-Agnoli, Michigan State Univ.; Amaranta Saguar García, Univ. of Oxford, Lady Margaret Hall; David A. Wacks, Univ. of Oregon
Demonstrations by Hispanists who use technology in their scholarship and teaching. The presenters include a graduate student; junior and senior Latin American, Peninsular, and comparativist colleagues whose work spans medieval to contemporary times; and an academic technologist. After brief presentations of the different digital tools, the audience will circulate among the stations to participate in interactive demonstrations.
202. The Presidential Forum: Language, Literature, Learning
“Of Degraded Tongues and Digital Talk: Race and the Politics of Language,” Imani Perry, Princeton Univ.
“Learning to Unlearn,” Judith Halberstam, Univ. of Southern California
“Borrowing Privileges: Dreaming in Foreign Tongues,” Bala Venkat Mani, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
“Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth about Starbucks,” Christopher Freeburg, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
The forum addresses three fundamental points of orientation for our profession: language, in its various materialities; literature, broadly understood; and learning, especially student learning and our educational missions. The language and literature classroom has to serve the needs of today’s students. How do changing understandings of identity, performance, and media translate into transformations in teaching and learning?
215. Digital South, Digital Futures
10:15–11:30 a.m. 606, WSCC
Presiding: Vincent J. Brewton Univ. of North Alabama
“Documenting the American South,” Natalia Smith Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Space, Place, and Image: Mapping Farm Securities Administration (FSA) Photographs and the Photogrammar Project,” Lauren Tilton Yale Univ.
“Southern Spaces: The Development of a Digital Southern Studies Journal,” Frances Abbott Emory Univ.
“Mapping a New Deal for New Orleans Artists,” Michael Mizell-Nelson Univ. of New Orleans
217. Reconfiguring the Scholarly Editor: Textual Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle
10:15–11:30 a.m., 613, WSCC
Presiding: Míceál Vaughan, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“Neither Editor nor Librarian: The Interventions Required in the New Context of Texts in the Digital World,” Joseph Tennis, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“Revealing a Coronation Tribute: Decoding the Hidden Aural and Visual Symbols,” JoAnn Taricani, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“Mapping Editors,” Meg Roland, Marylhurst Univ.
“The Editor as Curator: Early Histories of Collected Works Editions in English,” Jeffrey Knight, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
249. Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m. Grand A, Sheraton
Presiding: Kathi Inman Berens Univ. of Southern California
Speakers: Kathryn E. Crowther, Georgia Inst. of Tech.; Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.; Maureen Engel, Univ. of Alberta; Paul Fyfe, Florida State Univ.; Kathi Inman Berens; Janelle A. Jenstad, Univ. of Victoria; Charlotte Nunes, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Heather Zwicker, Univ. of Alberta
This electronic roundtable assumes that “building stuff” is foundational to the digital humanities and that the technical barriers to participation can be low. When teaching undergraduates digital humanities, simple tools allow students to focus on the simultaneous practices of building and interpreting. This show-and-tell presents projects of variable technical complexity that foster robust interpretation.
259. Representation in the Shadow of New Media Technologies
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 304, WSCC
Presiding: Lan Dong Univ. of Illinois, Springfield
“Web Video and Ethnic Media: Linking Representation and Distribution,” Aymar Jean Christian Univ. of Pennsylvania
“Among Friends: Comparing Social Networking Functions in the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Afro-American in 1904 and 1933,” Daniel Greene Univ. of Maryland, College Park
“Digital Trash Talk: The Rhetoric of Instrumental Racism as Procedural Strategy,” Lisa Nakamura Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
276. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop
1:30–3:30 p.m. 3B, WSCC
Presiding: Jason C. Rhody National Endowment for the Humanities
This workshop will highlight recent awards and outline current funding opportunites. 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.
301. Reconfiguring Publishing
1:45–3:00 p.m., Grand A, Sheraton
Presiding: Carolyn Guertin Univ. of Texas, Arlington; William Thompson Western Illinois Univ.
Speakers: James Copeland, Ugly Duckling Presse; Gail E. Hawisher, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; James MacGregor, Public Knowledge Project; Rita Raley, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Avi Santo, Old Dominion Univ.; Cynthia L. Selfe, Ohio State Univ., Columbus; Raymond G. Siemens, Univ. of Victoria
This session intends not to bury publishing but to raise awareness of its transformations and continuities as it reconfigures itself. New platforms are causing publishers to return to their roots as booksellers while booksellers are once again becoming publishers. Open-access models of publishing are creating new models for content creation and distribution as small print-focused presses are experiencing a renaissance. Come see!
315. The New Dissertation: Thinking outside the (Proto-)Book
3:30–4:45 p.m., 606, WSCC
Presiding: Kathleen Woodward, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Speakers: David Damrosch, Harvard Univ.; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Richard E. Miller, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick; Sidonie Ann Smith, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Kathleen Woodward
In 2010 the Executive Council appointed a working group to explore the state of the doctoral dissertation: How can it adapt to digital innovation, open access, new concepts of “authorship”? What counts as scholarship in the world today? How do we address the national problems of cost and time to degree? This roundtable will offer members of the working group an opportunity to make the case that as we shift the terminology from scholarly publication to scholarly communication we need to expand the forms of the dissertation and to reconceptualize what the dissertation is and how it can prepare graduates for academic careers in the coming decades.
332. Digital Narratives and Gaming for Teaching Language and Literature
3:30–4:45 p.m. Aspen, Sheraton
Presiding: Barbara Lafford Arizona State Univ.
“Narrative Expression and Scientific Method in Online Gaming Worlds,” Steven Thorne Portland State Univ.
“Designing Narratives: A Framework for Digital Game-Mediated L2 Literacies Development,” Jonathon Reinhardt Univ. of Arizona; Julie Sykes Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque
“Close Playing, Paired Playing: A Practicum,” Edmond Chang Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Timothy Welsh Loyola Univ., New Orleans
Responding: Dave McAlpine Univ. of Arkansas, Little Rock
343. The Cultural Place of Nineteenth-Century Poetry
3:30–4:45 p.m., 611, WSCC
Presiding: Charles P. LaPorte, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
“Lyric and Music at the Fin de Siècle: The Cultural Place of Song,” Emily M. Harrington, Penn State Univ., University Park
“Olympics 2012 and Victorian Poetry for All Time,” Margaret Linley, Simon Fraser Univ.
349. Digital Pedagogy
5:15–6:30 p.m., Grand A, Sheraton
Presiding: Katherine D. Harris San José State Univ.
Speakers: Sheila T. Cavanagh, Emory Univ.; Elizabeth Chang, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia; Lori A. Emerson, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; John Lennon, Univ. of South Florida Polytechnic; Kevin Quarmby, Shakespeare’s Globe Trust; Katherine Singer, Mount Holyoke Coll.; Roger Whitson, Georgia Inst. of Tech.
Discussions about digital projects and digital tools often focus on research goals. For this electronic roundtable, we will instead demonstrate how these digital resources, tools, and projects have been integrated into undergraduate and graduate curricula.
378. Old Labor and New Media
5:15–6:30 p.m., 608, WSCC
Presiding: Alison Shonkwiler Rhode Island Coll.
“America Needs Indians: Representations of Native Americans in Counterculture Narrative and the Roots of Digital Utopianism,” Lisa Nakamura Univ of Illinois, Urbana
“The Eyes of Real Labor and the Illusions of Virtual Reality,” Matt Goodwin Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
“Digital Voices: Representations of Migrant Workers in Dubai and Los Angeles,” Anne Cong-Huyen Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
Responding: Seth Perlow Cornell Univ.
Saturday, January 7
410. Reconfiguring the Literary: Narratives, Methods, Theories
8:30–9:45 a.m. 608, WSCC
Presiding: Susan Schreibman Trinity Coll., Dublin
Speakers: Alison Booth, Univ. of Virginia; Mark Stephen, Byron Univ. of Sydney; Øyvind Eide, Univ. of Oslo; Alexander Gil, Univ. of Virginia; Rita Raley, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
425. Composing New Partnerships in the Digital Humanities
8:30–9:45 a.m., 606, WSCC
Presiding: Catherine Jean Prendergast Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
Speakers:Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Catherine Jean Prendergast; Alexander Reid, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York; Spencer Schaffner, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; Annette Vee, Univ. of Pittsburgh
The objective of this roundtable is to facilitate interactions between digital humanists and writing studies scholars who, despite shared interests in digital authorship, intellectual property, peer review, classroom communication, and textual revision, have often failed to collaborate. An extended period for audience involvement has been designed to seed partnerships beyond the conference.
428. Technology and Chinese Literature and Language
10:15–11:30 a.m., Boren, Sheraton
Presiding: Xiaoping Song Norwich Univ.
“Adaptation: Rewriting Modern Chinese Literary Masterpieces,” Paul Manfredi Pacific Lutheran Univ.
“Technology in Chinese Instruction: A Web-Based Extensive Reading Program,” Helen Heling Shen Univ. of Iowa
“Technology and Teaching Chinese Literature in Translation,” Keith Dede Lewis and Clark Coll.
“Text-Image-Imagined Words: An Approach to Teaching Chinese Literature,” Xiaoping Song
The speakers will discuss the preservation of texts as a core purpose of libraries, engaging questions regarding the tasks of deciding what materials to preserve and when and which to let go: best practices; institutional and collective roles for the preservation of materials in various formats; economics and governance structures of preserving materials; issues of tools, standards, and platforms for digital materials.
450. Digital Faulkner: William Faulkner and Digital Humanities
10:15–11:30 a.m. 615, WSCC
Presiding: Steven Knepper Univ. of Virginia
Speakers: Keith Goldsmith, Vintage Books; John B. Padgett Brevard, Coll.; Noel Earl Polk, Mississippi State Univ.; Stephen Railton, Univ. of Virginia; Peter Stoicheff, Univ. of Saskatchewan
A roundtable on digital humanities and its implications for teaching and scholarship on the work of William Faulkner.
467. The Future of Teaching
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Grand C, Sheraton
Presiding: Priscilla B. Wald, Duke Univ.
“Gaming the Humanities Classroom,” Patrick Jagoda, Univ. of Chicago
“Intimacy in Three Acts,” Margaret Rhee, Univ. of California, Berkeley
“One Course, One Project,” Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria
“The Meta Teacher,” Bulbul Tiwari, Stanford Univ.
This session features innovative advanced doctoral students and junior scholars who are making their mark as scholars and as teachers using new interactive, multimedia technologies of writing and publishing in their research and classrooms. The panelists cross the boundaries of the humanities, arts, sciences, and technology and are committed to new forms of scholarship and pedogogy. They practice the virtues of open, public, digitally accessible thinking and represent the vibrancy of our profession. Fiona Barnett, Duke Univ., will coordinate live Twitter feeds and other input during the session.
468. Networks, Maps, and Words: Digital-Humanities Approaches to the Archive of American Slavery
482. Of Kings’ Treasuries and the E-Protean Invasion: The Evolving Nature of Scholarly Research
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 613, WSCC
Presiding: Jude V. Nixon, Salem State Univ.
Speakers: Douglas M. Armato, Univ. of Minnesota Press; Harriett Green, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; Dean J. Smith, Project MUSE; Pierre A. Walker, Salem State Univ.
This roundtable addresses the veritable explosion of emerging technologies (Google Books, Wikipedia, and e-readers) currently available to faculty members to enhance their scholarly research and how these resources are altering fundamentally the method of scholarly research. The session also wishes to examine access to these technologies and how they interact with the traditional research library and the still meaningful role, if any, it plays in scholarly research.
487. Context versus Convenience: Teaching Contemporary Business Communication through Digital Media
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 306, WSCC
Presiding: Mahli Xuan Mechenbier, Kent State Univ.
“Reenvisioning and Renovating the Twenty-First-Century Business Communication Classroom,” Lara Smith-Sitton, Georgia State Univ.
“Contextualizing Conventions: Technology in Business Writing Classrooms,” Suanna H. Davis, Houston Community Coll., Central Coll., TX
“Teaching Business Communication through Simulation Games,” Katherine V. Wills, Indiana Univ.–Purdue Univ., Columbus
490. Reconfiguring the Scholarly Edition
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 611, WSCC
Presiding: Susan Schreibman, Trinity Coll. Dublin
Speakers: Michael R. Best, Univ. of Victoria; John Bryant, Hofstra Univ.; Alexander Gil, Univ. of Virginia; Elizabeth Grove-White, Univ. of Victoria; Grant Simpson, Indiana Univ., Bloomington; John A. Walsh, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
New theories of editing have broadened the approaches available to editors of scholarly editions. Noteworthy amongst these are the changes brought about by editing for digital publication. New methods for digital scholarship, forms of editions, theories informing digital publication, and tools offer exciting alternatives to traditional notions of the scholarly edition.
513. Principles of Exclusion: The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Archive
1:45–3:00 p.m., 611, WSCC
Presiding: Lloyd P. Pratt, Univ. of Oxford, Linacre Coll.
“Missing Links; or, Girls of Today, Archives of Tomorrow,” William A. Gleason, Princeton Univ.
“Anonymity, Authorship, and Digital Archives in American Literature,” Elizabeth Lorang, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
“Dashed Hopes: Small-Scale Digital Archives of the 1990s,” Amy Earhart, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
532. Reading Writing Interfaces: Electronic Literature’s Past and Present
1:45–3:00 p.m. 613, WSCC
Presiding: Marjorie Luesebrink Irvine Valley Coll., CA
“Early Authors of E-Literature, Platforms of the Past,” Dene M. Grigar Washington State Univ., Vancouver
“Seven Types of Interface in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume Two,” Marjorie Luesebrink ; Stephanie Strickland New York, NY
539. #alt-ac: Alternative Paths, Pitfalls, and Jobs in the Digital Humanities
3:30–4:45 p.m. 3B, WSCC
Presiding: Sara Steger Univ. of Georgia
Speakers:Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.; Julia H. Flanders, Brown Univ.; Jennifer Howard, Chronicle of Higher Education; Matthew Jockers, Stanford Univ.; Shana Kimball, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia; Lisa Spiro, National Inst. for Tech. in Liberal Education
This roundtable brings together various perspectives on alternative academic careers from professionals in digital humanities centers, libraries, publishing, and humanities labs. Speakers will discuss how and whether digital humanities is especially suited to fostering non-tenure-track positions and how that translates to the role of alt-ac in digital humanities and the academy. Related session: “#alt-ac: The Future of ‘Alternative Academic’ Careers” (595).
566. Ending the Edition
3:30–4:45 p.m., 303, WSCC
Presiding: Carol DeBoer-Langworthy, Brown Univ.
“Mary Moody Emerson’s Almanacks: Digital Editions and Imagined Endings,” Noelle A. Baker, Neenah, WI
“Closing the Book on a Multigenerational Edition: Harvard’s The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Ronald A. Bosco, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York; Joel Myerson, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia
“‘Letting Go’: The Final Volumes of the Cambridge Fitzgerald Edition,” James L. W. West, Penn State Univ., University Park
581. Digital Humanities versus New Media
5:15–6:30 p.m., 611, WSCC
” Everything Old Is New Again: The Digital Past and the Humanistic Future,” Alison Byerly Middlebury Coll.
“As Study or as Paradigm? Humanities and the Uptake of Emerging Technologies,” Andrew Pilsch Penn State Univ., University Park
“Digital Tunnel Vision: Defining a Rhetorical Situation,” David Robert Gruber North Carolina State Univ.
“Digital Humanities Authorship as the Object of New Media Studies,” Victoria E. Szabo Duke Univ.
595. #alt-ac: The Future of “Alternative Academic” Careers
5:15–6:30 p.m., 3B, WSCC
Presiding: Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia
Speakers: Donald Brinkman, Microsoft Research; Neil Fraistat, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Robert Gibbs, Univ. of Toronto; Charles Henry, Council on Library and Information Resources; Bethany Nowviskie; Jason C. Rhody, National Endowment for the Humanities; Elliott Shore, Bryn Mawr Coll.
In increasing numbers, scholars are pursuing careers as “alternative academics”—embracing hybrid and non-tenure-track positions in libraries, presses, humanities and cultural heritage organizations, and digital labs and centers. Speakers represent organizations helping to craft alternatives to the traditional academic career. Related session: “#alt-ac: Alternative Paths, Pitfalls, and Jobs in the Digital Humanities” (539).
603. Innovative Pedagogy and Research in Technical Communication
5:15–6:30 p.m., 615, WSCC
Presiding: William Klein Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis
1. “The New Normal of Public Health Research by Technical Communication Professionals,” Thomas Barker Texas Tech Univ.
2. “Teaching the New Paradigm: Social Media inside and outside the Classroom,” William Magrino Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick; Peter B. Sorrell Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
3. “Technical and Rhetorical Communication through DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Digital Video,” Crystal VanKooten Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Is there gravity in digital worlds? Moving beyond both lamentations and celebrations of the putatively free-floating informatic empyrean, this roundtable will explore the ways in which representations in myriad digital platforms—verbal, visual, musical, cinematic—might bear the weight of materiality, presence, and history and the ways in which bodies—both human and hardware—might be recruited for or implicated in the effort.
730. New Media Narratives and Old Prose Fiction
1:45–3:00 p.m., 310, WSCC
Presiding: Amy J. Elias Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
“New Media: Its Use and Abuse for Literature and for Life,” Joseph Paul Tabbi Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
“Contrasts and Convergences of Electronic Literature,” Dene M. Grigar Washington State Univ., Vancouver
“Computing Language and Poetry,” Nick Montfort Massachusetts Inst. of Tech.
736. Close Playing: Literary Methods and Video Game Studies
This roundtable moves beyond the games-versus-stories dichotomy to explore the full range of possible literary approaches to video games. These approaches include the theoretical and methodological contributions of reception studies, reader-response theory, narrative theory, critical race and gender theory, disability studies, and textual scholarship.
Speakers: Mark Algee-Hewitt, McGill Univ.; Alison Booth, Univ. of Virginia; Amanda Gailey, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln; Laura C. Mandell, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
Roundtable on the theoretical, practical, and institutional issues surrounding the transformation of print-era texts into digital forms for scholarly use. What forms of editing need to be done, and by whom? What new research questions are becoming possible? How will the global digital library change professional communication? What is the future of the academic research library? How can we make sustainable digital textual resources for literary studies?