Posts filed under: academia

Frictional Ethics & Social Media

It’s time for one of those posts where a few different ideas have coalesced into something for me. It’s been a while since I’ve written here–I’d originally intended to post an angry rejoinder to Steven Pinker’s infotisement in the Chronicle, but in the process of writing it, I managed to get him out of my system. There’s still some material there that I want to post, but it’s not what I’ve been thinking about lately.

The first thread I want to collect comes from several weeks back, an essay that I happened across, probably on Facebook. Dorothy Kim, over at Model View Culture, has a great piece about the ethics of social media research, particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to questions of race. Kim draws provocative connections between recent research and “[t]he scientific and academic history of disregarding rights and ethics in relation to the bodies of minorities and especially women of color,” connections that cannot simply be waved away with recourse to the assumption that “Twitter is public.” I strongly recommend Kim’s essay–to be honest, I began reading it defensively, because as someone who doesn’t do a lot of qualitative or experimental research, my understanding of the public nature of Twitter was pretty uninformed. I’m not going to summarize her essay fully here, because I want to connect it to a couple of other things here, but Kim persuaded me to take another look at my assumptions.

Kim’s argument relies on what I still find …

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Dossiers (sigh)

FilesWinter is coming, and around the country, a host of applicants are diligently applying their talents to the assembly of materials that they hope will demonstrate their suitability for what few tenure-track positions are available. That means that anxiety is on the rise, as are the blog posts that castigate the academy for its inconsistencies, its capriciousness, and above all, its indifference.

The problem: partly because of their relative rarity, partly because of the varied institutional expectations, and partly because they are conducted by volunteers who themselves have other full-time positions, academic job searches are often more complicated than they need to be. To be honest, I think the single most relevant reason for this, however, is not cruelty but inexperience. Every year, I’d guess that there are a lot of programs (and search committee chairs) who basically find themselves reinventing the wheel. They rely upon their own (often limited) experience, local history, and whatever advice they’re able to track down. And the result is that it can seem like every single job ad comes with slightly different expectations, particularly at the dossier stage, from every other one.

Each of us doubtless has a story about that weird 1-2 page document that we had to write for one school, answering a question that no one else in the country was asking. And because the other applications we have to assemble all blur together, we remember the outliers, and tend to think of them as representative of a broken system. And …

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The Strength of Weak Media

There are a couple of different conversations that serve as context for this post, but rather than hail people directly, I’ll just note that it’s that time of the year (for us at Syracuse, anyway) when we encourage our dissertators to start thinking about the job market. Part of what we do in our graduate program is to set up gradual deadlines over the summer for them to share their dossier materials with each other and with faculty, so that when the deadlines start rolling in, they’re ready to go.

I’ve noticed in recent years, off and on, what has been kind of a surprising decline in the number of folks who maintain some sort of professional home page, whether a set of static pages or embedded within WordPress (or some other CMS). This isn’t to say that they’re not active online; for rhetoric and composition, at least, activity on social media has been steadily growing, I think. But as more and more of us embrace Facebook, Twitter, and the like, one of the casualties has been the individually-maintained homepage, and that’s to say nothing of blogging, which has been supplanted by its various micro- cousins. I want to make the case, though, both for my own students here and for others across the discipline, that this is a mistake. You might not necessarily know it to look at my own page (which has been in-process for an embarrassingly long time), but I think that a periodically maintained homepage may …

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Should I tweet this? Campus visit edition

Yesterday, there was a minor squall that swept quickly across my Twitterological system. One of the departments in my field that maintains its own, somewhat official Twitter account trumpeted the names and schools of the finalists for a senior search in their department. I do have a screen shot of the tweet, but figured that I’d have to redact so completely that there wasn’t a lot of point in sharing it here. But it read:

Delight! Our job search found exceptional candidates: [candidate1]- [school1], [candidate2]- [school2], [candidate3]- [school3]. Job talks coming up!

The post has since been removed, appropriately, but not before it was linked and critiqued by some folk with pretty substantial numbers in terms of followers. I don’t want to name, shame, or blame here; rather, my point is a broader one about social media and the search process, and why folks reacted so strongly and so negatively to what was in all likelihood a genuine expression of excitement and appreciation.

I think that many of us often assume that everyone in a department will know where to draw the lines when it comes to social media. And yet, the landscape changes fast enough that we don’t always have time to think about how they might interact with what may be tried-and-true procedures when it comes to things like job searches, which are not exactly everyday occurrences, particularly in the humanities. And the intricacies of the search process can be opaque, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it from …

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Getting Wet

I posted to FB yesterday about the MLA’s proposed ‘redistricting,’ to be found at An Open Discussion of MLA Group Structure, observing that the tactical nature of my relationship to MLA made it impossible for me to comment there. Partly because the discussion was picked up in a number of other places, and partly because it’s hard for me to snark without putting at least equal effort into more constructive ends, I’ll say a few words here, and post it for MLA folk to see.

The title for this post came to me as I thinking about the viability of MLA as an “umbrella organization,” which of course sent me to song lyrics about umbrellas. While we might indeed say that it’s raining now more than ever, I eventually settled on a classic, from ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’ by the Police:

Do I have to tell the story
Of a thousand rainy days since we first met
It’s a big enough umbrella
But it’s always me that ends up getting wet

I always liked that song. Anyway, the TLDR here is that the proposed change to group structure for MLA has not gone as far as it might to “reflect changes in curricula and scholarly commitments among our members.” Despite a disproportionate number of jobs, some 90+ PhD programs, and dozens of journals, rhetoric and composition (not to mention a range of other areas both coordinate and subordinate) remains buried at the lower levels of the …

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Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

What you may not know about me is that, once upon a time, I went to graduate school fully intending to focus my efforts on Irish literature. I had the opportunity to meet Seamus Heaney on a couple of occasions, and to hear him read several times, both in the States and during my semester abroad in Dublin. So it was with some sadness that I learned this morning that he had passed away.

Here is what you don’t know. Some of this has to do with Heaney, some more of it with Seamus Deane (who was a visiting professor at Carleton one term and from whom I took a course), but most of it has to do with Irish literature in general. As an English major in college, I took plenty of literature courses, and all of that literature was mediated through the printed page, of course. And the page, it flattens things. Birth and death dates follow the names of the writers included in our Norton anthologies, important numbers, but ultimately pretty meaningless to a 20 year old. When I started studying Irish literature, it was a bit newer, certainly, but as it stretched to the current day, to authors still living, and later to authors that I was meeting, literature changed a bit for me. This is the analogy my undergraduate mind devised: as I started out, the texts I was reading were like stars in the night sky, bits of brilliance against a much vaster sea of dark. What Irish literature did for me was to flip that metaphor on its head–I began to see literature itself as the field and the textstars as intensities rather than disconnected objects.

A big part of that was that the writers I met in Ireland all knew each other, and wrote both for and to each other. It may seem obvious to me now, but they were part of an ecology, a network, a community, and something was lost when you read them in isolation from the others. They weren’t writing in isolation and so they changed the way I read–little wonder that when, in a few years, I encountered what rhetoric and composition had to say about the myth of the isolated, originary writer, I was already primed for that work to resonate with me. And while it may be a stretch from the outside to connect the 20-year old me stepping out of a Dublin pub with the me who’s focused on ecologies and networks for the past several years, for me it’s always made perfect sense.

So, below the fold, is Heaney’s “The Ministry of Fear,” written for Seamus Deane:


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CCR 733: Rhetoric, Composition, and Digital Humanities (sp14)

Next spring, I’ll be teaching our grad program’s DH course for the second time. While not a complete loss, the first time I taught the course was affected in no small measure by the fact that I had major surgery just prior to the start of the semester. It turned out that debilitating pain and medication-hazed convalescence were not especially conducive to course planning. :)

So in many ways, then, it feels like I’m really teaching the course for the first time. I’m going to paste below my preliminary outline for course readings, for which I would especially welcome your feedback. It’s not really close to done yet, but I feel like I’ve got enough now that I can finally move on and plan my fall courses (!!).  I still have several layers of research to do (bookmarks, instapaper, fave tweets, TOCs, etc.) before this will feel finalized. So if you have any suggestions for readings, please share them here, or drop me a note–this will be an ongoing process throughout much of the fall semester.

A couple of additional notes: In addition to weekly readings, I expect that I’ll ask the students to look at 1-2 online projects a week–I have a huge list of possibilities, but I haven’t sorted through them yet to match them up with readings and topics. We’ll also be spending time each week in the lab working with various tools–again, big list that needs sorting and matching. Finally, I’ll be hosting a more dynamic version …

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Embargoes, BrouhAHAs, and the rhetoric of scale

a little comic about the AHA embargo fiasco

a little comic about the AHA embargo fiasco

I am not an historian, nor a member of AHA, nor an early-stage scholar, nor a publisher, nor am I responsible for library acquisitions. But then, the same can be said of plenty of folk who have weighed in on the decision by the American Historical Association to release a statement allowing for (and by implication, perhaps, endorsing) the “embargo” of history dissertations. As Rick Anderson notes (in a Scholarly Kitchen post that provides a pretty strong overview), the AHA “smack[ed] the hornet’s nest.” I follow enough Digital Humanities and Open Access inclined historians on Twitter that this statement, and the furor that ensued, registered substantially throughout my feed. And over the past week or so, the discussion has trickled upwards to the usual suspects (and beyond!) and sideways to other disciplines. At least it has to my own, based on listserv discussions and retweets.

And it should spread, because it’s not just an issue for historians. Times for university presses and for academic libraries are tough all over, and that affects every discipline. As someone who routinely advises late-stage graduate students and untenured faculty, I think that the questions raised by the AHA statement are ones that everyone in the humanities should be thinking about, not just members of that particular organization. For a good cross-section of the various positions and issues, my best recommendation is Open History, a project that began as part of the backlash against the …

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[I wasn’t sure whether or not I really wanted to share this piece of writing. Perhaps you’ll understand both why I was hesitant to do so, and why I have.  -cgb]

If you were on FB or Twitter this weekend, and are associated with academia, you probably caught a glimpse of a tweet from an evolutionary psychologist who suggested that “obese PhD applicants” should save themselves the trouble of applying for doctoral programs, since their obvious lack of willpower will keep them from being able to write a dissertation. I’m not going to link in any way to Geoffrey Miller’s work, but this Jezebel story will tell you most of what you need to know. Miller himself has progressed quickly through the life cycle of denial: he initially defended his statement, then deleted it, then apologized for it, then disavowed it, and finally, when pressed by his university, claimed that it was part of a “research project.” My guess is that Miller has managed to damage himself pretty seriously; it wouldn’t shock me to hear that his home institution will have nothing more to do with him.

Like a lot of people, my first response to that tweet was both outrage and rage. It was a shitty thing to say. The more I thought about it, though, the more layers I found. Some of them were prompted by others’ comments about Miller’s tweet, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my own embodied response as well. If you’ve never …

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Publishing as a Graduate Student #gradpub #cwcon

So, Jim put out this call for advice this week:


It’s been a while since I last posted here, and Jim’s tweet got me to thinking, so I figured I might write a few thoughts down. They’re not necessarily complete, because I do think that discipline and venue matter quite a bit, as does the student’s progress, work habits, and readiness. While it might be nice if there were a simple 10-point listicle that provided us all we ever needed to know about publishing, the fact of the matter is that it’d be pretty horoscopic. I’m not sure my advice will be any better, but it’s generally worked for me.

There are a few essays that I hand out to graduate students on a semi-regular basis, pieces that I’ve found really useful to have and to revisit every so often for my own writing. In honor of the listicle, I present to you my Top 5 Must-Read Essays for the Aspiring Scholarly Writer:

* C. Wright Mills, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship” (PDF) — It’s dated, and it’s from the social sciences, but it’s worth every graduate student’s time to read and adapt Mills’ advice:

By keeping an adequate file and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake. Whenever you feel strongly about events

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