Posts filed under: blog

It’s always a challenge for me to shift gears once the summer starts. After a full year of just-in-time work meeting others’ deadlines (and a few of my own, to be fair), the summer often happens upon me like an infinite horizon of possible projects, the opportunity to put a dent in the “to read” shelves of my bookcases, to write intransitively, and so on. It is the worst thing to hit August 1st only to realize that none of those wonderful plans have been realized.

For years, I’ve used the metaphor of exercise to communicate to my students the importance of steady, regular writing as a key to successful dissertating. The fact of the matter is that no one can just sit down and write a book, any more than one can lose a substantial amount of weight in a single burst of physical activity. It’s a long process that involves much more localized motivation and a certain amount of faith that daily activity will ultimately allow a body to reach its goals. And it’s something that improves with practice and investment.

However, when it comes to my own work during the summer months, too often I’ve been prone to waiting “until the mood hits.” So this year, I’m going to try something a little different. I toyed with Tumblr in my grad class last semester, and while my activity there had faded by mid-semester, I liked the interface well enough to think about adding it to my toolbox. …

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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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It’s been a while. My spare time has been consumed with preparing for the 2014 Rhetoric Society of America Conference (that link will take you to the online program for the conference, which did no small amount of the consuming), which happened last week. As a consequence, I haven’t had a great deal of time to spend here.

Anyhow, one of the things that I talked about with friends at the conference was the idea of recovering orphan works–unpublished essays and/or conference papers that never saw the light of publication for one reason or another. One of my own orphan works is an essay called “A Book of Stars: Slicing, Scaling, and Data Mining Our Discipline,” which I wrote (as far as I can recall) sometime not long after I taught my first course in Network Rhetorics in 2005. Interestingly enough, you can see some of the same concerns (meta/data, scale, synecdoche) that are currently swirling in my brain as I work on my second book.

I submitted the essay originally to College Composition and Communication, where it received a “revise and resubmit,” which I declined to follow up on. In part, this was because the suggestions took the essay to a place that I was ambivalent about. Part of it too, I think, was that I was experimenting with what I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s style–the progressive layering in of sources over the course of a chapter/book–an approach that I would have had to rethink quite a bit in …

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I suppose that it might surprise a few people to learn that, before this weekend, I’d never attended a THATCamp. Surprise! It’s true. I blame this strange omission on several factors, including but not limited to proximity, awareness, and that special brand of conferential social anxiety that I bring to the table. Unconferences always sound great to me in theory, but then I realize that they’re basically designed to put participants in social situations that are my least comfortable. Ah well. I like to think I did okay this time around.

Anyhow, one of the things that these sorts of gatherings inevitably accomplish for me is to tip me onto tools that I hadn’t been aware of before. I left our Camp dead set on trying to incorporate Zotero more mindfully into my workflow this summer, and I saw a couple of other interesting tools that I may try in upcoming weeks. Chief among these is Textexture, which allows you to paste in a text to be visualized as a network (and exported as a GEXF file.

It’s pretty cool. Here’s my chapter from Dobrin’s collection on Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media:

Network Visualization of "Discipline and Publish"

 

As you can see, the site also gives you a couple of topic clusters, which accounts for the different colors (toggling the filters restricts the diagram to that/those cluster(s)) Each of the nodes in the network can be rolled over to reveal the term and its closest friends in the text. It’s not a …

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This week is our flagship national convention, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). After having attended CCCC for many, many years in a row, I find myself once more forgoing the experience. This year, I’m spending my travel money on a couple of summer conferences (RSA and KBS), and between those and my upcoming talks at LSU and Wisconsin, that’s more than enough public speaking for me for the year.

But as rhetopians and complandians across the nation converge on Indianapolis this week, one of the things that I chatted a bit about in class last night was the role that the flagship conference plays in our field these days. I’ve thought a little about this in various places, but as the field of Rhetoric and Composition has grown (and shifted towards what I think of now as Writing Studies), one thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot is CCCC. I might even project that comment beyond the discipline to suggest that the idea of the flagship conference hasn’t changed a whole lot, but I can’t really say whether that’s correct. For the moment, I thought I’d explain a little of what I mean by this.

I’m sure that, with a little extra nuance, we could subdivide these further, but in my mind, there are at least three network models that correspond to changes in the field, with implications for how we think of the flagship conference:

centralized, decentralized, distributed

3 network models of disciplinarity

Wave 1: In the early days …

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dials

Photo by cinz, CC-licensed, CGB-modified

In RCDH this week, we began the turn to a series of weeks where we look at some specific methods associated with digital humanities, and I began our conversation by explaining why I’d avoided (mostly) the idea of “distant reading” as a way to organize the syllabus. I think my explanation worked out okay, but I thought I might write through it here.

None of this is to say that I don’t use the phrase “distant reading.” I like to think that I don’t spend too much time or energy trying to close barn doors after the animals have escaped. But I also believe that the phrase itself was initially meant to be suggestive rather than particularly denotative; it’s grown heavier as it’s gotten more popular, though, and there’s a tension at its core that I don’t find especially helpful.

I’m no expert when it comes to New Criticism, which is where the idea of close reading emerges (in the US, at least), from folks like I.A. Richards, Ransom, Empson, Brooks, et al. I did a little bit of research on this (it shows up in my discussion of interfaces vs objects in Lingua Fracta), but it’s never been a real focus of mine. And I don’t know that it’s exactly something that requires that focus. “Close reading” is not a method per se. Rather, it’s an attitude, I think, where “close” actually means “closely,” implying an extra degree of care, attention to …

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This week in RCDH, we focused our reading and discussion around algorithms. As I mentioned last week, the topic felt kind of transitional for me—databases, archives, and metadata blend together fairly well (for me, at least), and they’re not topics that feel overwhelmingly technological for people. Whether or not we work on the back ends of those kinds of projects, the concepts themselves are not immediately intimidating, I don’t think.

That changes a bit with the shift to algorithms, which have a more machinic flavor. Whether that’s actually the case is something I was thinking about in class, and it’s persisting with me this morning. One of the things that I said last night is that, at heart, algorithms are simply procedures, and we spent a healthy chunk of our time trying to put that into practice.

Last week, we used a couple of pages from an old MLA job list, and brainstormed as complete a catalog of metadata as we could. Before class yesterday, I took that list and converted it into “variables,” such that Rank, for example, became a class with potential values like Assistant, Associate, Full, Open, Fixed Term, etc. I brought copies of that list of variables to class with me, and had the students write “programs” for evaluating job advertisements. We didn’t focus too heavily on programming languages or anything—I wanted to keep it as light as possible. The goal of the program was to generate a score S(n) for each of the …

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Whenever I put together a course, I like to imagine that there’s some sort of narrative thread running through, whereby early topics and readings lead to the ones that follow. Sometimes that thread is brute chronology, but most often, it’s thematic, and I suspect that more often than not, the thread is one that only I can see, although I do try to suggest it at various points during the semester. In the case of RCDH, this has been a little tricky, not least because DH is still emergent, somewhat interdisciplinary, and my own field’s engagement with it is uneven. In my head, though, after we’d gotten an obligatory week of definitions out of the way, the first “unit” of the course was a trio of weeks gathered under the headings of database, archive, and metadata. (Here’s the schedule, if you haven’t seen it.)

We’re turning now to a week that didn’t necessarily fit that well as I was originally putting the course together, a week that combines Stephen Ramsay’s Reading Machines, some work on procedural literacies, and a few pieces/performances of algorithm. It’s an ambitious little week in its own way, but as we were working our way through a discussion of metadata last night, it got me to thinking about the transition between this week and next. Some of this I raised in class somewhat tentatively, but I wanted to write through it a bit today, partly for my own memory, and also because …

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This week, in Rhetoric, Composition, and Digital Humanities, we’re reading a series of essays about metadata, so that’s where my mind has been as of late. And one of the things that I’m asking my students to do each week is to imagine projects that they might do based upon the readings and resources for that week. So I spent a little time this afternoon messing around with the fabulous dataset that Jim Ridolfo has shared, the OCRed archive of MLA Job Information Lists.

I wanted to do something that had some kind of hypothesis, but also that I could do fairly quickly, without too much technological overhead. I settled for the question of how the job search process has changed over the past 10-15 years with respect to technology. When I was on the market for the first time, in 1997 (!!), I don’t recall whether the online version of the JIL had been introduced yet. But certainly the job seeker’s experience, even allowing for the online JIL, was predominantly paper-based.

I don’t think it’s particularly earth-shattering to suggest that this has changed. But can we find that change reflected in the JIL itself? I tried a couple of angles. First, I tracked all mentions of the word “postmark” (including postmarked). I was working mostly with basic pagecounts, and while I tried to be good about eliminating those few occasions where it appeared twice in one ad, I almost certainly missed some of them. I also …

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Last week, as part of their 10-year anniversary, Facebook released a tool that allows users to create (and later edit) movies based upon their FB usage. The “Look Back” videos offer “an experience that compiles your highlights since joining Facebook.” For a couple of days, my feed (and I suspect, most people’s) filled with “looks back” from a variety of friends, followed by the inevitable wave of parodies (Walter White, Darth Vader, et al.).

Like many of my friends, I went ahead and let FB sort through my photos and updates in an effort to set my “highlights” to music, but I didn’t end up sharing the results. This week in my DH course, we’re talking about archives, so I’ve been reading around somewhat alert to discussions of archiving, and I ended up thinking a bit about my “Look Back” and what it had to tell me about my relationship with FB as an archive of my life. I didn’t end up sharing my movie because I didn’t feel like it was particularly representative–while it did manage to hit on a couple of significant events (such as the fact that I bought a house), most of the updates and images included were pretty random. And so I’ve been thinking on why that was.

One obvious reason is that I don’t share as much of my life with FB as others do, and I say that without judgment. As FB itself notes, the content of the movie “depend[s] on how long …

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