Posts filed under: if i were in charge

The orientation day for our graduate program is Monday, and I’ve been tapped to speak briefly about a topic related to the overall theme of navigating the currents of the program and the discipline. So this post is the handout that I’ll be distributing, and it’s also the first of what will probably end up being five lists of five for the August 31st issue of Rhetsy. So I thought I’d also share it here, since it may be of interest to others. Strictly speaking, this isn’t advice that applies solely to graduate students; these are things that I use myself.

Five Habits/Tools for the New School Year

Over the summer, I got around to reading Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Amazon), less from an interest in individuality than his focus on attention and design. While the book is not without its flaws, much of what Crawford has to say about attention fits with other work that I’m doing. In his introduction he identifies one of the persistent themes of his book:

The paradox is that the ideal of autonomy seems to work against the development and flourishing of any rich ecology of attention–the sort in which minds may become powerful and achieve genuine independence….our environment constitutes the self, rather than compromises it (25).

When I reflect back on the ecology of attention that I cultivated in graduate school, I’m actually pretty pleased with how the …

Continue Reading →

Jon Stewart’s final episode as host of The Daily Show aired this past Thursday, and I spent a bit of my browse time this week reading all of the thinkpieces that heralded and/or accompanied his final appearance. I discovered that he had changed American politics forever, that he hadn’t changed it enough, that he’d variously used his powers for good, for evil, for opiate, and for naught. He was too much of a tool for the White House; he was not enough of a tool for the White House. He was incisive, provocative, palliative, smug, and so on, and so on.

The one thing I noticed, though, was that most of these pieces focused on the effect that Stewart’s version of TDS had either on the political landscape in this country, or on the media coverage of such. I thought I’d take a different tack, and suggest that his retirement (as well as Stephen Colbert’s late last year) leaves a large hole that Larry Wilmore and John Oliver don’t appear to be filling. Whether Trevor Noah will do so remains to be seen. Let me describe this hole in the form of a list:

Paul Farmer. Toni Morrison. Steven Johnson. Jill Lepore. Michael Lewis. William Deresiewicz. Naomi Klein. Randall Munroe. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Steven Wise. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thomas Piketty. Edward O. Wilson. Jane Goodall. Nate Silver. David McCullough. Sarah Vowell. Reza Aslan. Fareed Zakaria. Tavis Smiley. Jon Ronson. Cass Sunstein. Steven Brill. (pulled from the Daily Show Booklist and the

Continue Reading →

bluebookSo I’ve got a question, but it’ll take me a while to get to it.

A few years back, here at Syracuse, we overhauled our graduate curriculum, paying particular attention to the core curriculum and comprehensive examinations. When I arrived at Syracuse, our comps process was a fairly traditional major-minor-minor set up. The exams themselves were varied, in a well-intentioned attempt to account for a variety of writing processes, but the idea of generating 3 lists, writing, and being examined over the results is fairly standard practice. There are virtues to this model, not the least of which is that it gives students experience assembling bibliographies, time to read, and ideally, a more focused mastery over the field than perhaps can be achieved in coursework.

Nevertheless, there were problems. The written examination is a genre that only bears tangential resemblance to the writing that we do in our careers. If anything, it intensifies the event model of writing that seminar papers habituate in us (read, read, read, read, then write in a very short burst of eventfulness), rather than moving students towards a more integrated process of research/writing. We also found that, as an unfamiliar genre, the exams themselves produced no small amount of anxiety, and often took up more time than they perhaps deserved in a program where funding was limited. Finally, those kinds of exams are difficult to articulate with coursework–what exactly is being “tested” if the lists are student-generated and potentially have little to do with their …

Continue Reading →

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 …

Continue Reading →

There’s a phrase that I got from Laurence Veysey, via Gerald Graff (although it appears in other places as well): “patterned isolation.” Veysey uses the phrase to explain the growth of the modern university and the way that disciplines grew without engaging each other, but I tend to apply it on a more “micro” scale. That is, there are many things we do as teachers and scholars in patterned isolation from our colleagues, tasks that call upon us to reinvent wheels over and over in isolation from one another. Fortunately, with the Internet and all, much of that is changing, as folks share syllabi, bibliographies, and the like online.

But I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to short circuit patterned isolation. For me, reading notes are one of those sites. I’m not a great note-taker and never have been–I’m too reliant on visual/spatial memory and marginalia. Disconnecting my own notes from the physical artifacts that I was processing didn’t make sense. Now, of course, I’m lucky sometimes if I remember having read a book, much less what I scrawled in its margins, so I wish that I’d been better about taking notes and I admire those people who have already internalized the lesson that it took me 20+ years to figure out. So one of the things that I like to do in my graduate courses is to aggregate the note-taking process. Rather than asking or expecting each student to take a full set of reading notes for the …

Continue Reading →

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 …

Continue Reading →

It feels like a particularly dark time around the Interwebz these days–I don’t think it’s just me. I’ve been studying and working with new media for a long time now, and so you’d think that I’d be sufficiently inured to bad news. For whatever reason, though, it feels like the hits have kept coming over the last month or so. There’s plenty to feel down about, but since this song is about me, I wanted to collect some of my thoughts on the changes that are happening with two pieces of my personal media ecology: the demise of Google Reader and the recent purchase of GoodReads by Amazon.

I’ve been soaking in a lot of the commentary regarding Google Reader, ever since it happened while I was at CCCC, and while there’s a lot of stuff I’m not going to cite here, there were a couple of pieces in particular that struck me as notable. I thought MG Siegler’s piece in TechCrunch was good, comparing Google Reader’s role in the larger ecosystem to that of bees. Actually, scratch that. We’re the bees, I think, and maybe Reader is the hive? Anyway, my distress over the death of Reader is less about the tool itself and more about the standard (RSS/Atom) it was built to support. I understand why there are folk who turned away from RSS because it turned the web into another plain-text inbox for them to manage, but as Marco Ament (of Instapaper fame) observes, that was …

Continue Reading →

What follows is a fairly rough approximation of the talk that I gave at the UK Networked Humanities Conference (#nhuk) in February, 2013. I don’t usually script out my talks in quite the level of detail that I have below, but this time out, I struggled to get my thoughts together, and scripting seemed to help. As usually happens with me, though, I went off-script early and often.

Also, I use a lot of slide builds to help pace myself, so I’m not providing a full slide deck here. Instead, I’m inserting slides where they feel necessary, and removing my deck cues from the script itself. I’m also interspersing some comments, based on the performance itself.

I’ll start with the panel proposal that Casey Boyle (@caseyboyle), Brian McNely (@bmcnely) and I put together:

Title: Networks as Infrastructure: Attunement, Altmetrics, Ambience

Panel Abstract:  In his early 2012 discussion of the digital humanities, Stanley Fish examines a number of recent publications in the field, and arrives at the conclusion that DH is not only political but “theological:”

The vision is theological because it promises to liberate us from the confines of the linear, temporal medium in the context of which knowledge is discrete, partial and situated — knowledge at this time and this place experienced by this limited being — and deliver us into a spatial universe where knowledge is everywhere available in a full and immediate presence to which everyone has access as a node or relay in the meaning-producing system.

Continue Reading →

You may have caught the news over Facebook or Twitter late this past week: I accepted an offer from the Rhetoric Society of America to become their inaugural Director of Electronic Resources (DER). First, I want to thank everyone who congratulated me over email, FB, Twitter, etc. I appreciate all the positive feedback and good wishes.

By the time we got to the point of the offer, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. I really like how RSA has framed the position, imagining it as on an organizational par with a journal editorship, an ex officio board membership, etc. And there were several things, I think, that recommended me for the position–my familiarity with most things digital as well as the fact that I’m tenured/established, the support that SU was willing to provide me upon accepting the gig, and the fact that I have a good working relationship with the person who’ll be running the conference in 2014. All of those will make the position a manageable one for me.

I did spend some time this summer really thinking carefully about whether or not I wanted to dip my toe back into the pool of organizational service, though. After last year’s surgery, my health and energy levels are still somewhat precarious. I feel pretty solid now, but it takes less to incapacitate me than it used to, and taking on extra duties was something I really had to think about. I’m also in the process of getting my next …

Continue Reading →

I left a comment over at Dave’s excellent discussion of the MLA Job Information List, and part of it was picked up at Alex’s equally worthwhile followup, so I thought I’d expand on it here. Here’s the comment I left:

I was going to make the same point that Alex makes vis a vis the costs of the JIL vs. the costs of the conference itself for both interviewers and interviewees, especially all those years that we were forced to compete with holiday travelers for both plane seats and hotel rooms. The list is the tip of a very lucrative iceberg that has supported the MLA for a long time.

I wanted to second your comments about opening up the job list database, which for all intents & purposes is the same (inc. the crappy interface) that they used in the mid-90s. A much richer set of metadata about the jobs could be gathered by MLA (and made available to searchers) if the arbitrary scarcity of the print list is set aside and MLA were to take their curative obligation seriously.

There’s been no small amount of buzz lately surrounding the MLA JIL, our fields’ annual posting of open academic positions. For a long time, that list has been proprietary to MLA. At one time, institutions paid to have their positions appear in the list, and prospective applicants paid for a print copy of it. I don’t remember the exact year that the online database version of the …

Continue Reading →