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    Wheat in the wind

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There was this thing and I thought, this thing could be an aside, but if it was an aside how would it look? Well maybe it could look like one of those little notepad things, why not!

Some Audio please

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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 redesigned groups, a sub-speciality among many (smaller) others, without any acknowledgment of its own conceptual breadth. It is tucked there under “Language Studies,” a category that could easily cover the entire rest of the groups, alongside several categories of linguistics work.

The problem is something of a chicken-egg situation: does MLA valuation of R/C reflect its membership? Or does the tactical membership of R/C folk (many of whom, like myself, only member up when we absolutely must) produce or result in that valuation? Perhaps a little of both. We can say for certain, though, that this map sorely underestimates the “scholarly commitments” represented annually in the job list. Over the past decade, according to the MLA reports on the job list, some 50% of the available positions every year come in Rhetoric and Composition, Business and Technical Writing, and Creative Writing. R/C floats at around 30%, give or take. And the number of panels relevant to those fields at MLA probably runs at about 1-2%. As a consequence, as someone in R/C, MLA is where I must go to interview but little else. We might also cite the percentage of MLA books about R/C, or the number of articles appearing in PMLA on R/C topics, etc.

For some of us, I suspect that this doesn’t matter much. And really, for the most part, it has little effect on my day-to-day life. For our last search, we bypassed MLA altogether, moving from Skype interviews to campus visits–it will not shock me if that soon becomes the norm. I’ve been interested in and grateful for the MLA’s embrace of digital humanities lately, but we’re rapidly reaching the end of the “captive audience” era for MLA. Once R/C job applicants and faculty no longer have to attend for job-related functions, MLA will slide off a lot of people’s radar. As someone in a freestanding writing program, that doesn’t really affect me. But I do understand the frustration of those who are effectively required to attend a conference, at great personal expense, that is willing to charge them money without making any sort of effort to represent their scholarly commitments. It’s a big enough umbrella.

If MLA still has those umbrella aspirations, then when stuff like this comes up, they need to range a bit. It’s hard not to look at the members of that committee that “redesigned” the groups and see the continued neglect of R/C as anything other than self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are the where’s and when’s: Cornell ’91, Yale ’90, Yale ’74, Yale ’84, Brown ’75, Stanford ’75, Columbia ’09, and Yale ’80. I’m sure that the task was daunting, and the work thankless, but really, most of us could have predicted what a “map” drawn by this committee was going to look like. And in putting that kind of committee together, MLA should not be surprised at the many, many of us who don’t see ourselves on it.



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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Apropos of a couple of different Twitter conversations yesterday, I found myself thinking last night about just how much our tiny, academic corner of the media landscape has changed in the past five or ten years. The first such conversation involved a simple request for resources–someone was looking for an article on a topic (archives) that could be included in a syllabus–and the second was about citation, and whether a particular writer had engaged with the scholarship in a specific discipline. Depending on the Venn diagram of our following, you may have seen one or both of these. I’m being purposefully vague here, though, because the details here matter less to me than the fact of the conversations themselves.

I entered my PhD program right about the time that Mosaic was making the transition to Netscape–the latter was released during my first semester, although I wouldn’t know it for another year or two. Here’s how long ago this was: unless you specifically requested otherwise, my school put the last 4 digits of your Social Security number in your email username–that’s how oblivious we/they were at the time. Before I devolve here into a combination of tech history and Abe Simpson stories, I’ll just say that it was a different time.

The availability of Facebook and Twitter (and any number of other sites), and the presence of fairly usable journal databases, are in the process of changing much of what it’s meant to be an academic. Those changes are happening in fits and starts, and they’re unevenly distributed, but I think they’re slowly shifting our expectations for ourselves, in ways that will only become more apparent over the next decade. It wasn’t so long ago that “searching the journal database” would have been a euphemism for going to my office and thumbing through back issues. And the database was limited strictly to whichever journals you and your colleagues had subscribed to.

And that’s to say nothing of trying to access journals or topics from other fields; tracking an idea or topic across multiple disciplines would have required such effort as to make it practically impossible. When I was in graduate school, I used to use the campus bookstore that way–I would walk the stacks and look at the texts required in other programs’ graduate courses, to see what sounded relevant or interesting. Now? I follow folks from any number of disciplines on Twitter, I read their blogs, and I trace back their citations online. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that I have certain interests–technology cuts across disciplines–but the conditions of possibility for my interests have emerged alongside social media.

If there’s an interesting side effect to this, it’s that having access to a broader swath of scholarship changes our assumptions. For those of us who use these platforms, the boundaries among disciplines feel much more porous and arbitrary, such that interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity becomes our default. So in the case of the second conversation I refer to above, part of me wonders how much of “citation politics” is being driven by these platforms. That conversation was not an isolated occurrence–with the emergence of digital humanities, there have been times where I felt myself resenting the fact that its history is defined almost exclusively in terms of “humanities computing” rather than “computers and writing.” There’s also a long history of consternation about the import/export ratio in writing studies–why do “we” draw on “their” ideas but “they” don’t return the favor? And so on.

This isn’t to say that, with a wave of the Twitter wand, everyone everywhere should now be aware of everything. But I do think that social media are rapidly simplifying what used to be insurmountable issues of material access, and as a result, our expectations for intellectual access are changing as well. I’m fairly sure that this is a positive development–when I was young, the only way your work would be read outside of your home discipline was if you were lucky enough to transcend your discipline and become a superstar. This isn’t probably the right term for it, but I think of this as “vertical interdisciplinarity.” I think what we’re seeing emerge now is a more “lateral interdisciplinarity,” where only a couple degrees of separation is required to search in other fields–if I know someone who knows someone, that’s all it takes. And that “knowing” can be something as simple as following a blog or a couple of people on Twitter. A lot of my own interest and work in network studies comes less from superstars and more from finding places where people in other fields are sharing their syllabi and writing occasional blog posts.

But we’re in a transitional time, and that means that not everyone is working this way, even if we believe that they all could be. The assumption that we are all equally visible to one another sounds a little absurd, but I catch myself at it all the time. I know about you; how can you not know about me?! Between the defunding of academic presses and the proliferation of social media platforms, I find myself having to think more about whether and how visibility is my own responsibility. At the very least, this raises issues of how our notions of audience are changing.

I was about to post this when it occurred to me that this could be read as a kind of “blame the victim” argument with respect to any kind of disciplinary asymmetries–that I could be taken to mean that if a particular group of people isn’t adequately represented in a conversation, it’s somehow their fault for not working hard enough to make themselves visible. That’s definitely not my point here. I don’t think these changes alter our professional ethics in that regard–if anything, they should (ideally) make them simpler to achieve. It should be easier to assemble a broader range of citations, course readings, and/or keynote speakers–to my mind, there is even less excuse for homogeneity. A second, related point is that, at a time where open access challenges the model of scarcity upon which many of our organizations have built themselves, I think visibility and aggregation are services that those organizations should work harder to provide.

I’ve got more to say, but also syllabi to finish. So that’s all for now.

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 of the syllabus at The static version of the syllabus will be available both there and here once I’m closer to finalizing.

Oh, and there are only 13 weeks because we’ll lose one to CCCC, I think, and because I always leave a week open for flexibility’s sake.

CCR 733: Rhetoric, Composition, and Digital Humanities

Schedule of Activities


Winter Break

This is not required, but I highly recommend you read either or both of the following over winter break–if you are new to DH, both books provide a nice introduction to some of the issues we’ll be discussing:

Robin Sloan, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Amazon)
Charles Soule, Strange Attractors (Amazon)

Week 1 Introduction to Course

There are no required readings for our first meeting, but I do recommend setting up some sort of blogspace (WordPress, e.g.) in advance, as well as a Twitter account if you don’t already have one. We will spend some time discussing this site, the role that blogs and Twitter will play in the course. If you have questions about this prior to the actual course, feel free to contact me.

Week 2 Definition

Matthew Berry, “Introduction” Understanding Digital Humanities
Anne Burdick, et al., “A Short Guide to the Digital Humanities,” from Digital_Humanities (PDF)
Alan Liu, “The Meaning of Digital Humanities,” PMLA 128.2 (March 2013): 409–423.
Willard McCarty, “The Future of Digital Humanities is a Matter of Words.” from A Companion to New Media Dynamics (PDF)
Part I of Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Defining the Digital Humanities” (available online)

Andrew Abbott, “The Chaos of Disciplines,” from Chaos of Disciplines (PDF)
Part III of Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Critiquing the Digital Humanities” (You should at least skim this)

Week 3 Database

Charles Cooney, et al. “The Notion of the Textbase: Design and Use of Textbases in the Humanities.” LSDA
Sharon Daniel, “The Database: An Aesthetics of Dignity.” from Database Aesthetics (PDF)
Ed Folsom, Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives. PMLA 122.5 (Oct 2007), 1571-1612 (includes responses).
Christiane Paul, The Database as System and Cultural Form: Anatomies of Cultural Narratives.” Database Aesthetics (PDF)
Geoffrey Sirc, “Serial Composition.” Rhetorics and Technologies (PDF)

Collin G Brooke, “Databases, Data Mining” and “Personal Patterns: Mapping and Mining” from Lingua Fracta (PDF)

Week 4 Archive

Casey Boyle. Low-Fidelity in High-Definition: Speculations on Rhetorical Editions. RDH
Tarez Samra Graban, Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne and Whitney Myers. In, Through, and About the Archive: What Digitization (Dis)Allows. RDH
Michael Neal, et al. Making Meaning at the Intersections. Kairos
Liza Potts. Archive Experiences: A Vision for User-Centered Design in the Digital Humanities. RDH
Jenny Rice and Jeff Rice. Pop Up Archives. RDH

Week 5 Metadata

Tarez Samra Graban, “From Location(s) to Locatability: Mapping Feminist Recovery and Archival Activity Through Metadata.” College English
Kieran Healy, “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere.
Richard McNabb, “Making the Gesture: Graduate Student Submissions and Expectations of Journal Referees.” Composition Studies, 29.1 (2001): 9-26.
Geoffrey Nunberg, “Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars.” CHE, August 31, 2009.
Jessica Reyman, “User Data on the Social Web: Authorship, Agency, and Appropriation.” College English 75.5 (May 2013): 513-522.
Jentery Sayers, et al., Standards in the Making

Week 6 Algorithm

Kevin Brock, One Hundred Thousand Billion Processes: Oulipian Computation and the Composition of Digital Cybertexts
James Brown, “Making Machines
Paul Eggert, “Text as Algorithm and as Process.” from Text and Genre in Reconstruction (PDF)
Stephen Ramsay, Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism
Mark Sample, Hacking the Accident

Week 7 Microscopy

Don Foster, from Author Unknown
Matthew Jockers & Julia Flanders, “A Matter of Scale
Seth Long, “Text Network and Corpus Analysis of the Unabomber Manifesto.” Feb 12, 2013

Geoffrey Rockwell, “What is Text Analysis, Really?” LLC 18.2 (2003): 209-219.
Greg Urban, “The Once and Future Thing.” from Metaculture (PDF)

Patrick Juola, “Rowling and “Galbraith”: an authorial analysis” Language Log, July 16, 2013.
Ben Zimmer, “Decoding Your Email Personality.” NYT, July 23, 2011
Ben Zimmer, “The Science that Uncovered J.K. Rowling’s Literary Hocus-Pocus.” WSJ, July 16, 2013.

Journal of Law and Policy Symposium on Authorship Attribution (PDF available at site)

Week 8 Mesoscopy

Carol Berkenkotter & Thomas Huckin, “Conventions, Conversations, and the Writer”
David Hoffman and Don Waisanen. “At the Digital Frontier of Rhetorical Studies: An Overview of Tools and Methods for Computer-Aided Textual Analysis” RDH
Dan Wang, “Is There a Canon in Economic Sociology?” Accounts 11.2 (2012): 1-8.

Issue 2.1 of the Journal of Digital Humanities on Topic Modeling

Week 9 Macroscopy

Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis
Nelya Koteyko. Corpus-Assisted Analysis of Internet-Based Discourses: From Patterns to Rhetoric. RDH
Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature.” NLR

Gregory Crane, “What Do You Do With a Million Books?” D-Lib Magazine12.3 (2006).
Jean-Baptiste Michel et al., “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books,”Science331.176 (2011): 176-182.
Ted Underwood, “How Not To Do Things with Words,” blog post, The Stone and the Shell, 25 August 2012.

Week 10 Networks

Albert-Lazlo Barabasi. from Linked &o Bursts
Anna Munster, “Prelude to the Movements of Networks.” from An Aesthesia Of Networks
James Porter. “Rhetoric in (as) a Digital Economy.” Rhetorics and Technologies (PDF)
Duncan Watts, from Six Degrees.

Week 11 Visualization

Tanya Clement, “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualizations in Literary Scholarship.” LSDA
Johanna Drucker, “Graphesis: Visual knowledge production and representation” (PDF)
Johanna Drucker, “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” DHQ
Martyn Jessop, “Digital Visualisation as a Scholarly Activity” LLC 23.3 (2008): 281-293.
Krista Kennedy and Seth Long, “The Trees Within the Forest: Extracting, Coding, and Visualizing Subjective Data in Authorship Studies.” RDH
Manuel Lima, “The Syntax of a New Language.” from Visual Complexity (PDF) (Companion Site)
Stéfan Sinclair, et al., “Information Visualization for Humanities Scholars.” LSDA

Max Black. from Models and Metaphors

Week 12 Graphs

Morgan Currie, “The Feminist Critique: Mapping Controvery in Wikipedia.” UDH
Kieran Healy, “A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy.”
Brad Lucas and Drew Loewe, “Coordinating Citations and the Cartography of Knowledge.” The Changing of Knowledge in Composition
Derek Mueller, “Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail: What Graphs Can Tell Us about the Field’s Changing Shape.” CCC 64.1 (Sep 2012): 195-223.
Anne Stevens and Jay Williams, “The Footnote, in Theory.” Critical Inquiry

Week 13 Maps

Scot Barnett, “Psychogeographies of Writing: Ma(r)king Space at the Limits of Representation.” Kairos
Franco Moretti, “Maps.”
Franco Moretti, “Network Theory, Plot Analysis.”

+Spatial Humanities

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