I’ve broken up the crazy end-of-the-semester season by sneaking in episodes of The Magicians, the SyFy series based on Lev Grossman’s novels. The premise of the novels and TV adaptation blends Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Paper Chase, and a host of generic 90s shows about good-looking 20-somethings to imagine a grad school for magicians. It took a few episodes for the show to click for me (I can pinpoint the exact moment in the fourth episode of the first season), and now I’m enjoying it immensely. It’s the closest thing to Buffy in tone that I’ve seen in years.
But it’s also a critique of Buffy’s optimism (or was it Joss Whedon’s optimism?). Things in The Magicians keep breaking. Every solution to the show’s major crises spawns further crises. There is never any resolution, a vivid illustration of what philosophers call a “wicked problem”—a problem so complex and intractable that there’s no way to test for solutions or even know when you’ve stumbled upon the least bad solution of the many bad solutions.
“Why can’t anything just be fixed,” wonders Kady in the season 2 finale. And that’s pretty much the overarching theme of The Magicians: nothing can ever just be fixed.
I’ve been thinking lately about one narrative invention in The Magicians magical universe, the idea of the shade. A shade is that part of a person that imbues them with emotions and empathy. In secular terms it’s a bit like a conscience. In religious terms, a soul might be the analog. Shades can be removed—either by force or by choice—and the result is a human who resembles what we might commonly call a sociopath.
The Big Bad in season one of The Magicians removed his shade by choice, rendering him unswayable by pity, untouched by regret, and immune to shame or guilt. In season two Julia is another character who loses her shade. It’s accidental, a metaphysical mishap that occurs during the magical equivalent of an abortion after she’s been brutally raped by a god. Losing her shade makes it impossible for Julia to empathize with others on anything but an intellectual level. Unlike the Big Bad, Julia is a fundamentally good person. She knows she’s supposed to empathize with others, so she tries, without much success, to fake it. Losing her shade also makes it possible for Julia to deal with—ignore is probably a better word—her own post-traumatic stress. She can’t even empathize with herself, in other words.
I was struck by how the shadeless Julia recklessly put her friends in harms’ way as she pursues revenge on the god who raped her. She saw her friends as a means to an end and acted on that. Julia’s narrative arc in season two is an uncanny display of objectification, fitting several criteria that the philosopher Martha Nussbaum famously laid out in an 1995 essay. In “Objectification” (Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24.4, pp. 249-291). Nussbaum diagnoses “Seven Ways to Treat a Person as a Thing,” which I’ll quote at length here:
Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.
Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.
Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.
Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.
Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc.
Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account. (257)
Julia primarily exercises #1, #2, and #7. So, not a total sweep of the objectification criteria, but close to what the gods themselves exercise in The Magicians. (The gods add fungibility, violability, and ownership, at the very least.)
At some point Julia asks her frenemy Kady to act as a kind of external shade, a moral compass to tell Julia when she’s going too far. It’s an interest objectification twist, as Julia instrumentalizes Kady but in a way that acknowledges Kady possesses a subjectivity that surpasses Julia’s own experiences and feelings.
Why does all this matter?
For me at least, it matters because I’ve begun to pay close attention to the way American society—whose economic and cultural might was made by possible by enslaved people who were literally and legally considered objects—I’ve begun to pay close attention to the way American society objectifies others. Objectification—treating people like things that have no autonomy, no interiority, no subjectivity—is happening, at all levels of our government and national discourse, right now.
The Magicians offers a metaphysical explanation for why objectification happens. The objectifier has lost their shade, that “tiny beating heart” at the center of one’s being, as the Big Bad explains to Julia. A shade—or lack thereof—is the fantasy equivalent of what we often see in science fiction, where technology is the reason for someone’s increasing emotional disconnection to others. In Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon (2002), for example, there are some humans who have lived so long through cloning and the digital transfer of their consciousness into new bodies that they become “Meths”—or Methuselahs, centuries-old humans who view mortal humans as their playthings.
Looking to fantasy and science fiction for explanations of objectification might, might, give us some insight for understanding how objectification happens in the real world. I’m not saying Donald Trump lost his shade, but I’m not not saying that.
Seriously, though, fantasy and science fiction can also expand our imaginative possibilities for overcoming objectification. Call it speculative humanization. Returning the humanity of objectified people. Julie turns to her support network to help her. Science fiction offers examples too, like Lauren Olamina’s hyperempathy in Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower (1993). Lauren is born with hyperempathy, a neurological side-effect of her mother’s drug addiction, which causes Lauren to experience the pain (and pleasure) of others. Hyperempathy makes it nearly impossible for Lauren to cause suffering in others, unless she wants to suffer herself.
What other theories of objectification do fantasy and science fiction offer? And what other paths toward reinstating empathy do fantasy and science fiction offer? How do we lose our humanity, how do we regain it, and how do we stop treating people as things? These are the essential questions for our times.
The novelist Colson Whitehead just wrapped up a visit to Davidson College as our 2019 Reynolds speaker. The annual Reynolds Lecture was established in 1959 through a gift from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Every year this endowed lecture brings a distinguished guest from the humanities, arts, or sciences to campus. Former Reynolds speakers have included Alison Bechdel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nicholas Kristof, Maya Angelou, Junot Díaz, Zadie Smith, Gloria Steinem, and many others.
I’m the chair of the Reynolds Lecture Committee this year, which means I had the honor of introducing Colson to a packed house in our main performing arts hall. After Colson’s talk (performance, really), a few people asked me about my introduction. I’m sharing it here, in hope that it does some good in this world beyond the 500 or so people who heard it tonight.
It’s tempting to say that whatever Colson Whitehead’s novels are about, they’re always about something else.
His debut novel The Intuitionist wasn’t really about a divide between two factions of elevator inspectors in an alternate reality New York City. It was about race, about passing, about postmodern blackness.
Likewise, Colson’s 2011 novel Zone One wasn’t about a zombie apocalypse in present-day Manhattan. Not really. It was about identity, the loss of identity, about the monstrous other, and the question of, as the poet Gil Scott-Heron posed it in 1970, the question of who will survive in America.
Colson is here tonight to talk about his latest novel, The Underground Railroad, which won both the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award. Unlike his other novels, The Underground Railroad is resolutely about what it appears to be about. It’s about slavery. The long, brutal legacy of slavery.
In the novel the underground railroad—that death-defying perilous journey out of the slave-owning South—it’s an actual railroad, an actual railroad that runs underground. It seems fantastical and it is, but it lays bare the comforting lies America has told itself about its past. Oh, the underground railroad, you just hop aboard and you’re on your way to freedom. No. The truth, as Colson insists by paradoxically using fiction, the truth was much harder to bear.
Colson’s visit couldn’t come at a better time. In The Underground Railroad each state finds its own way to deal with the problem of slavery, a parody of the patently false notion that the Civil War was about state’s rights. In North Carolina slavery is replaced with a kind of indentured servitude just as dehumanizing as chattel slavery. Meanwhile today in North Carolina the General Assembly wages a war on democratic values with racially based gerrymandering and open attacks on the state judiciary, motivated by a goal that goes all the way back to the end of Reconstruction, which is the goal of disempowering black voters.
Colson’s visit couldn’t come at a better time. Just last week at Davidson signs cropped up all across campus, overnight. The signs read simply, “It’s okay to be white.” If you don’t know, this superficially benign affirmation originated on 4chan, an anonymous Internet message board and the spiritual home of the alt-right. The signs were essentially the materialization of white supremacist Internet trolls into our physical world. Like Colson Whitehead’s novels, the signs say one thing, but they also mean something else.
In times like these, times marked by hate, vulnerability, precariousness, we turn to literature. Cora, the fugitive slave at the heart of The Underground Railroad, faces, as Colson puts it, “travesties so routine and familiar that they were a kind of weather.” Such travesties continue apace today. And Colson Whitehead, by looking to horrors of the past, gives us light for the present. And for that, we are grateful. His visit—his novel—could not come at a better time.
Everyone, please join me in welcoming Colson Whitehead.
Are you sick of parallax scrolling yet? You know, the way the foreground and background on a web page, iPhone screen, or Super Mario Brothers move at different speeds, giving the illusion of depth? Parallax scrolling is a gimmick. Take it away and not much changes. Your videogame might be a tad less immersive, but come on, how immersive was it in the first place? Turn off parallax scrolling on your phone and your battery life might actually improve. Parallax scrolling is ornamental, a hallmark of what will eventually be known as the Baroque Digital Age.
So it’s with hesitation that I’m attempting to recuperate the word parallax here. In my defense I’m using the word metaphorically, to describe a certain kind of hermeneutical approach to textual material.
Here it is: parallax reading, an interpretive maneuver that keeps both close and distant reading in focus at the same time.
If you’re just tuning in to the digital humanities, there’s a pretty much bogus IMHO tension between close and distant reading. Close reading is that thing we were all taught to do in high school English, paying attention to individual words and the subtle nuances of a text. Distant reading zooms out to look at a text—or even better, a massive body of texts—from a distance. In Franco Moretti’s memorable words, distance is “not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge: fewer elements, hence a sharper sense of their overall interconnection. Shapes, relations, structures. Patterns.”1
“Parallax reading” is a fancy way of saying why not combine close and distant reading. And to be clear, no one is saying you can’t. Again, it’s a bogus tension, a straw man. I’m not proposing anything new here. I’m just giving it a name. And in a bit, a demo.
A parallax reading is the opposite of the “lenticular logic” that, as Tara McPherson explains, separates the two images on a 3D postcard, making it impossible to see them simultaneously. Whereas lenticular vision flips between two distinct representations, parallax reading holds multiple distances in view at once. Like its visual counterpart, parallax reading conveys a sense of depth. Unlike parallax scrolling, though, this is depth that actually matters, a depth that complicates our understanding of texts.
What would a parallax reading look like?
As a case study let’s look at Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz.” Written from the perspective of a young boy, the sixteen line poem captures a possibly tender, possibly terrifying moment, as his boozy father mock waltzes him “off to bed.” The whiskey on his father’s breath makes the boy “dizzy.” His mother looks on, barely tolerating the nonsense. The boy is so small he only comes up to his father’s waist; his dad’s belt buckle scrapes his ear with “every step.” As the boy goes to bed “still clinging” to his father’s shirt it’s not clear whether he’s clinging out of fear or love, or maybe both.
“My Papa’s Waltz” was published in 1942 and by the mid-50s was already widely anthologized. It’s a great poem, and I love teaching it. And so do other people. There’s a lot going on under its deceptively simple surface. In The Literature Workshop (a book every teacher of literature should study), Sheridan Blau uses “My Papa’s Waltz” to confront two questions that often arise in literature classes: where does meaning come from, and how the hell do we know which meaning is the right one?
Blau observes that for twenty years or so he taught “My Papa’s Waltz” and students overwhelmingly read it as nostalgic, the fond recollection of a grown man of his gruff but loving father. Then, sometime in mid-80s, Blau’s students began to read the poem more darkly, a vivid childhood memory about abuse and a dysfunctional family.
What happened? How can the poem mean both things? At this point you might be thinking, ah, so a parallax reading is simply holding two opposing meanings of the poem in place at the same time. This is what sophisticated readers and writers do all the time. For example, Sherman Alexie describes “My Papa’s Waltz” as
incredibly sad and violent, and its sadness and violence is underscored by its gentle rhymes and rhythms. It’s Mother Goose on acid, maybe. I think that its gentle music is a form of denial about the terror contained in the poem, or maybe it’s the way kids think, huh?
A love poem about, as Alexie says later on, “the unpredictability of the alcoholic father.” Two seemingly incompatible interpretations—incompatible, that is, to a naive reader. Is this what I mean by parallax reading? Are two competing perspectives we keep in simultaneous focus what parallax reading is all about?
Embracing ambivalent or contradictory interpretations is nothing new. Hopefully, literary scholars practice this—and teach it—all the time. (If anything, we celebrate ambiguity a little too much, when what the world needs now is some rock solid truth, right?) Anyway, a parallax reading is not about the interpretative outcomes, it’s about the methodological process. It’s about simultaneously negotiating close and distant readings.
Think about “My Papa’s Waltz” from a close reading perspective (the foreground of the parallax). An array of historical evidence might suggest which interpretation of his poem Roethke himself preferred. For example, we could look at drafts of the poem, which indicate several significant revisions. In one draft, the small boy is a girl and the “right ear” scraping a buckle is the less particular “forehead.”
Changing the gender of the speaker recasts the the father-son relationship as a father-daughter relationship. We might be less likely to read biographical details of Roethke’s own life into the poem: his father ran a gigantic greenhouse, worked with his hands, and died of cancer when Roethke was 14-years-old. Would any of that matter if the speaker is a girl? Would any of it matter either way?
We could also listen to Roethke’s own delivery of the poem. At least two recordings are available online. One features Roethke reading in a sing-song voice that bears no trace of fear or resentment. Another Roethke reading is somber, the accent on the words “you” in the third stanza and “beat” in the fourth stanza possibly ominous, possibly not.
Or—and this is novel—we could actually read the poem. Here’s what I did last time I taught “My Papa’s Waltz.” (I wasn’t teaching Roethke’s poem per se, I was teaching Blau’s book, in a grad class on the pedagogy of teaching literature.) I’m a fan of reading aloud in class, and that’s what we did. As we read, I asked students to point—literally, point with their index finger—to the words that were most freighted with abuse. “Scraped” and “beat” drew some attention from the students, but invariably the word with the strongest connotation of abuse for the students was “battered.” Roethke uses “battered” to describe the father’s hand—it was “battered on one knuckle”—but students couldn’t help displacing the word onto the small boy himself. It’s as if by metonymical extension the boy too was battered and bruised.
With “battered” coming into focus during our close reading as a key marker of abuse, let’s shift to a distant reading of “My Papa’s Waltz”—the background of the parallax. But how can we zoom out from a single poem? From a distance, what’s there to look at? If one poem is a drop of water, what’s the ocean of words that contains it?
One possible ocean is Google Books. Google ngrams offers a snazzy interface for tracking word frequency over time, based on Google Books’ dataset, a staggering 155 billion words in American English. Since my students found “battered” to be the center of traumatic gravity of “My Papa’s Waltz” I plugged that word into Google ngrams:
Which is honestly not that useful. Ngrams can show the rise and fall of certain terms, but they’re inadequate for more nuanced inquires. There are at least three reasons the Google ngram viewer fails here: (1) Google ngrams limits searches by collocates, that is, immediately preceding and succeeding words; (2) Google ngrams can’t search for parts of speech; and most significantly (3) Google ngrams provides no context for the words—no sentence context, no source context, nothing.
This is where the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) comes in. COHA is a dataset of 400 million words from 1810 through 2009. Established by Mark Davies at Brigham Young University, COHA includes fiction (including texts from Project Gutenberg, scanned books, and scanned movie scripts) and nonfiction (including scanned newspapers and magazines). COHA is a smaller dataset than Google Books, but it holds several critical advantages over Google Books. You can search for phrases that aren’t necessarily collocated right next to each other. You can specify what part of speech you want to search for. That’s really important if you’re looking for a word like, oh, I don’t know, “trump,” which can be a verb, noun, proper noun, and a few other things. Finally, COHA provides context for its searches.
For the time period of the 1950s, when “My Papa’s Waltz” had already been widely anthologized, COHA includes nearly 12 million words from fiction sources, 5.7 millions words from popular magazines, 3.5 million words from newspapers, and just over 3 million words from nonfiction books. That’s a total of 24 million words from the 1950s, which gives us a representative view of how language was being used across a number of domains at the time. This is the ocean of words that surrounds “My Papa’s Waltz.”
Let’s check out “battered” in COHA, to see how the word was being used during Roethke’s time and afterward.
Here are our search parameters, which tell COHA to find any occurrence of “battered” followed within five words by a noun (that’s the [nn*] in the Collocates box). This search acknowledges that the frequency of “battered” isn’t as important as its context.
The results are immediately striking. We have the kind of patterns Moretti seeks in distant reading.
The second most common noun following “battered” is women, as in “battered women.” This frequency would appear to support the idea that “battered” in “My Papa’s Waltz” is an indicator of abuse. At the very least, its appearance is ominous.
Yet dig deeper and notice that the variants of “battered…women” do not become prevalent until 1980 (with 16 occurrences) and peak in the 1990s with 46 occurrences. Prior to 1970, “battered” is rarely used in the context of physical abuse against women.
So what does “battered” typically describe when Roethke published the poem in 1942 and in the years immediately afterward? In the 1940s the most common collocate was “hat”: “a battered black stovepipe hat,” “a battered greasy hat,” “his battered hat,” “a disreputable, battered hat”—all uses that suggest a knocked-about, down-on-one’s-luck man. Here’s the KWIC (Keyword In Context) display for “battered…hat” in the 1950s:
And look at the third most common noun associated with “battered.” It’s “face,” peaking in the 1950s. This detail might appear to support the negative interpretation of “My Papa’s Waltz.” But again, look at the keyword in context.
The battered face here is predominantly a male face, battered by wind, hard living, and frequently, war. This is likely the kind of “battered” Roethke had in mind when he described the rough hands of the boy’s father in the poem.
Contrast this with how battered appears in the 1990s, when it is associated most frequently with “women”:
Here we find “battered” being used the way today’s students would understand the word, associated with the physical abuse of women by men. (Grammar fun: “battered” is technically a participial adjective. It’s an adjective that started out as a participial phrase, but was shortened. Like “there were no shelters for battered women in Michigan” (the first example from the KWIC above) really means “there were no shelters for women who were battered by men in Michigan.” The agent—the men inflicting the battering—drops out of the sentence and we’re left with inexplicably battered women, and no party to take responsibility. Basically it’s passive voice in disguise, a way for abusive men to get off scott-free, linguistically speaking.)
So, a theory: “battered” is what I would call a cusp word—a word teetering on the cusp between two opposing meanings. On one side, the word suggests strength and resilience. It’s gendered masculine in this context. On the other side it suggests helplessness and victimization. It’s gendered female in this case. In other words, once associated with men at the mercy of the elements or men who have endured hardship, “battered” is now associated with women who have suffered—though this part is kept hidden by the participial adjective—at the hands of men.
We still occasionally encounter the older meaning of the word. A line from Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” (1992) comes to mind:
From the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet Democracy is coming to the USA
Here “the battered heart of Chevrolet” is a stand-in for Rust Belt America, the industrial wasteland that left blue collar working men out of work. Or “stiffed,” as Susan Faludi put it in her eponymous diagnosis of 20th century masculinity.2 I’m no sociologist, but it’s not difficult to imagine that “the battered heart of Chevrolet” contributed to a sense of helplessness in men that found expression in violence against women. Emasculated men beating their way to empowerment. Thus battered souls lead to battered bodies.
We can’t know for certain, of course, but it makes sense that Roethke’s description of the father’s hands as “battered” is a kind of tribute to the man. An acknowledgment of hard work and sacrifice. Roethke’s vocabulary was shaped by the Great Depression and World Wars, an era of stoic endurance (even if that stoicism was a myth). People reading the poem today, however, see in “battered” the ugly side of human nature. Desperation, rage, brutality.
In his explanation of his students’ changing interpretation of “My Papa’s Waltz”: Blau suggests that “a change in the culture made a particular reading available that had not been culturally available before.”3 Blau’s exactly right. That shift in meaning began in the 1980s, concomitant with growing social awareness of domestic abuse. What Blau doesn’t say—because the tools weren’t culturally available to him at the time—is that thanks to a distant reading, we can find evidence of that shift within a single word of Roethke’s poem.
What’s important for a parallax reading is that neither foreground nor background disappear entirely. In fact, they only make sense when considered together. That’s where the sense of depth comes from. Armed with knowledge gleaned from distant reading we can go back to the poem and read it again. And maybe, recursively, find other words to track across time, or to contextualize historically. But we always return to the poem.
Will a parallax reading definitively answer the question, what’s “My Papa’s Waltz” about? No. The beauty of literature and language more generally is its ambiguity (argh, though again, maybe we tolerate a little too much ambiguity). But, I have discovered evidence that complicates our interpretation of the poem. At the very least, it should shock us out of our presentist approach to language, assuming the way we use words is the way those words have always been used. And even more importantly, it’s not that I have found answers about the poem. It’s that I found a new way to ask questions.
Moretti, Franco. “Graphs, Maps, Trees 2: Abstract Models for Literary History.” New Left Review, vol. 26, no. March-April, 2004, p. 94.↩
Faludi, Susan. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Harper Perennial, 1999.↩
Blau, Sheridan. The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Heinemann, 2003, p. 73.↩
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.
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?
Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel House of Leaves (2000) presents a paradox to the literary scholar working within the digital humanities. On one hand the massive, labyrinthine novel offers so many ambiguities and playful metaleptic moments that it would seem to be a literary critic’s dream text, endlessly interpretable, boundlessly intertextual. On the other hand, with its layers of footnotes, metacommentary, and self-conscious invocation of literary theory, the novel seems to preemptively foreclose any and all possible interpretative moves.
Indeed, as Danielewski himself has said, “I have yet to hear an interpretation of House of Leaves that I had not anticipated”[1. McCaffery, Larry, and Sinda Gregory. “Haunted House—An Interview with Mark Z. Danielewksi.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.2 (2003) : 106.] While we should take Danielewski’s proclamation as a kind of reverse echo of Warhol’s disingenuous denial of any intention in his artwork, the fact remains that the novel’s hyperconscious awareness of itself, combined with the important scholarly criticism from the likes of Katherine Hayles and Mark Hansen, as well as the continuing exegetical flood generated by legions of fans online—take all this together and it seems impossible that there is anything new to say about House of Leaves.
What do you say about a book that attempts to say everything about itself?
How do you say something new about a text that has been discussed, dissected, and picked over by thousands of persistent and incisive minds?
And how might a digital humanities sensibility reinvigorate a thoroughly worked-over literary text?
Jessica Pressman has convincingly argued that House of Leaves is a “networked” novel in at least two senses: the novel is acutely aware of digital networks and the circulation of knowledge online; and ideal readers will adapt a “networked reading strategy” as they make sense of the book, encountering companion works such as the album Haunted by Poe (aka Danielewski’s sister) and Danielewski’s own The Whalestoe Letters.[2. Pressman, Jessica. “House of Leaves: Reading the Networked Novel.” Studies in American Fiction 34.1 (2006) : 107-128.] To these two forms of the networked novel, my ProfHacker colleague Brian Croxall recently suggested another: reading the novel as part of a network. That is, Brian wants his upcoming undergraduate class at Emory University to read House of Leaves alongside of other classes at other institutions.
After some wrangling of syllabi and schedules, Brian Croxall has gathered a group of us who are teaching House of Leaves at the same time toward the end of October: Paul Benzon (Temple University), Erin Templeton (Converse College), Zach Whalen (University of Mary Washington), and myself at George Mason. The context for each of our classes is different: Paul’s class is a capstone course on literature, media, and the archive; Erin’s is an honors course on the contemporary novel; Zach’s is a senior seminar; Brian’s is a digital humanities class; and my own course is post-print fiction. Because of the varied courses involved (not to mention diverse institutional contexts), we see great value in reading House of Leaves as a network.
Right now we are in the process of determining what kind of assignments our five classes can share. They range from the simple to the complex, including the following:
Blog Commenting. If we’re all using course blogs, we can have each class read and comment on the posts of the other classes. This is the easiest assignment to implement and has the benefit of being asynchronous.
A Group Blog/Tumble Log. All of our students (which will likely add up to 50-60 students) join one massive group blog or tumble log for the three weeks that we’re reading House of Leaves. There’s some flexibility in how dialogic this group effort would be. Students could use Tumblr simply to post quotes and images related to the book, or we could have a full-fledged blog, with layers of comments.
Constructive Class projects. I suggested converting my mapping House of Leaves assignment into a studio-type project, in which one class presents two or three group projects to the other classes, and those classes “critique” them. This assignment requires more overhead than the other options, and involves a greater commitment from the students (versus commenting on blogs, where the stakes are lower).
In addition to these fairly predictable shared assignments, I’ve been thinking about a more radical one, which tackles head-on the challenge any teacher of House of Leaves faces: the forum. The House of Leave forum is a massive discussion board of tens of thousands of posts, ranging from the puerile to the brilliant. And, since this is House of Leaves, sometimes both at once. Nearly every puzzle, every ambiguity, every nuance of House of Leaves has had a discussion thread devoted to it. The forum is so overwhelming that it can easily suck the air out of a literary reading of House of Leaves. And, as Rita Raley noted in a message to Richard Grusin and myself, the forum has an unassailable authority about it:[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/ritaraley/status/37364736030941184″]
Just as House of Leaves presents a paradox to the literary scholar, so too does the forum present a dilemma to the digital humanist. On one hand, the forum is a vast crowd-sourced literary interpretation, complete with user-generated concordances, digitizations, and transcriptions—all of the familiar tools of digital humanists. On the other hand, this work is produced by non-scholars. By fans. Amateurs. It’s not vetted in a way recognizable to most academics (though it’s foolish to believe that the forum does not have its own system of peer review and prestige ranking).
Different professors have different ways of dealing with the forum. Some ban their students from reading it outright. Others acknowledge the forum in an offhand way, hoping that their students never investigate for themselves the breadth and depth of the discussions. In either of these cases, I think the tiptoeing around the forum is due to pedagogical expediencies rather than a high-brow dismissal of low-brow work.
There is a third option, of course, which is to face the forum head-on and incorporate the discussion threads into the class (which certainly fits the networked reading strategy Pressman describes).
And now, I want to propose a fourth option.
Renetworking the Novel
Let’s bring the forum to the fore by starting it anew.
That is, I propose starting the forum from scratch. In our classes we’ll explicitly (and temporarily) forbid students from reading the House of Leave forum. Instead, we create an alternate forum of our own, seeded with a few initial threads that appeared in the original forum. The idea is to recreate the forum, and see how its trajectory would play out ten years later, in the context of a literature class. The 50-60 students from the five classes seems a manageable number to launch a new iteration of the forum; enough to generate a sense of “there” there, but not such an overwhelming number that keeping up with the forum becomes unmanageable (though that would in fact replicate the feel of the original forum).
After three weeks of intensive cross-class use of the renetworked forum, the final step would be to lift the ban on reading the official forum, giving students the opportunity to compare the alternate forum with the original, and draw some conclusions from that comparison.
The five of us haven’t decided yet what kind of shared assignment we’ll use. And my post here is not meant to sway anybody; it’s more of a thought experiment. What would happen if we truly renetworked an already networked novel? And do so using the same modes that made the novel networked in the first place? What would we learn? About House of Leaves? About networks? About crowdsourcing? About the blurry lines between academics and fans?
After much deliberation—and with your feedback, both here and twice on Twitter—I have finalized the reading list for my upcoming Science Fiction class. Actually, I finalized it months ago, but I haven’t had a chance to post it here until now.
This list isn’t everything we’re reading; there’ll be short stories, critical essays, other nonfiction works, as well as some experimental writing and film. But the novels below are the texts officially available at the university bookstore or Amazon.
Students: you need not buy the paper versions of these books. You can purchase e-book versions for your Kindle, Nook, or iWhatever. In the case of We3, you can purchase digital copies of the three issues that make up Morrison and Quitely’s graphic novel from Comixology.
I’m excited for the class, and I hope my students are too. All of these novels stick to my original goal of exploring and challenging what counts as “human” in our increasingly inhuman world. And all of them are excellent, provocative reads.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Broadview) (This is the 1818 edition, not the 1831 edition)
Each of these works offers a meditation upon the act of reading or writing, the power of stories, the role of storytellers, and the materiality of books themselves as physical objects. In addition to these printed and (mostly) bound texts, my English Honors Seminar students will encounter a range of other unconventional narrative forms, from Jonathan Blow’s Braid to Kate Pullinger’s Inanimate Alice, from Christopher Strachey’s machine-generated love letters to Robert Coover’s deck of storytelling playing cards. Along the way we’ll also consider mash-ups, databased stories, role-playing games, interactive fiction, and a host of other narrative forms. We’ll also (a heads-up to my students) create some of our own post-print beasties…
• Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (Harvest Books, ISBN 0156439611)
• Don DeLillo, Mao II (Penguin, ISBN 978-0140152746)
• Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves (Pantheon, ISBN 978-0375703768)
• Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper (Mariner, ISBN 978-0156032117)
• Anne Carson, Nox (New Directions, ISBN 978-0811218702)
I recently received word that my proposal for a roundtable on videogame studies was accepted for the annual Modern Language Association Convention, to be held next January in Seattle, Washington. I’m very excited for myself and my fellow participants: Ed Chang, Steve Jones, Jason Rhody, Anastasia Salter, Tim Welsh, and Zach Whalen. (Updated with links to talks below)
This roundtable is particularly noteworthy in two ways. First, it’s a departure from the typical conference model in the humanities, namely three speakers each reading twenty-minute essays at an audience, followed by ten minutes of posturing and self-aggrandizement thinly disguised as Q&A. Instead, each speaker on the “Close Playing” roundtable will briefly (no more than six minutes each) lay out opening remarks or provocations, and then we’ll invite the audience to a long open discussion. Last year’s Open Professoriate roundtable followed a similar model, and the level of collegial dialogue between the panelists and the audience was inspiring (and even newsworthy)—and I hope the “Close Playing” roundtable can emulate that success.
The second noteworthy feature of the roundtable is the topic itself. Videogames—an incredibly rich form of cultural expression—have been historically unrepresented, if not entirely absent from the MLA. I noted this silence in the midst of the 2011 convention in Los Angeles:
How is it possible that I am the only person talking about videogames at #MLA11?
This is not to say there isn’t an interest in videogames at the MLA; indeed, I am convinced from the conversations I’ve had at the conference that there’s a real hunger to discuss games and other media forms that draw from the same cultural well as storytelling. Partly in the interest of promoting the critical study of videogames, and partly to serve as a successful model for future roundtable proposals (which I can assure you, the MLA Program Committee wants to see more of), I’m posting the “Close Playing” session proposal here (see also the original CFP).
We hope to see you in Seattle in January!
CLOSE PLAYING: LITERARY METHODS AND VIDEOGAME STUDIES
(As submitted to the MLA Program Committee
for the 2012 conference in Seattle, Washington)
Nearly fifteen years ago a contentious debate erupted in the emerging field of videogame studies between self-proclaimed ludologists and the more loosely-defined narratologists. At stake—or so it seemed at the time—was the very soul of videogame studies. Would the field treat games as a distinct cultural form, which demanded its own theory and methodology? Or were videogames to be considered “texts,” which could be analyzed using the same approaches literary scholars took to poetry, drama, and fiction? Were games mainly about rules, structure, and play? Or did games tell stories and channel allegories? Ludologists argued for the former, while many others defended the latter. The debate played out in conferences, blogs, and the early issues of scholarly e-journals such as Game Studies and Electronic Book Review.
In the ensuing years the debate has dissipated, as both sides have come to recognize that no single approach can adequately explore the rich and diverse world of videogames. The best scholarship in the field is equally attune to both the formal and thematic elements of games, as well as to the complex interplay between them. Furthermore, it’s become clear that ludologists mischaracterized literary studies as a strictly New Critical endeavor, a view that woefully overlooks the many insights contemporary literary scholarship can offer to this interdisciplinary field.
In the past few years scholars have begun exploring the whole range of possible literary approaches to games. Methodologies adopted from reception studies, reader-response theory, narrative theory, critical race and gender theory, queer studies, disability studies, rhetoric and composition, and textual studies have all contributed in substantive ways to videogames studies. This roundtable will focus on these contributions, demonstrating how various methods of literary studies can help us understand narrative-based games as well as abstract, non-narrative games (for example, Tetris). And as Jameson’s famous mantra “always historicize” reminds us, the roundtable will also address the wider social and historical context that surrounds games.
This topic is ideally suited for a roundtable format (rather than a panel of three papers) precisely because of the diversity of approaches, which are well-represented by the roundtable participants. Moreover, each presenter will limit his or her opening remarks to a nonnegotiable six minutes, focusing on the possibilities of one or two specific methodologies for close-reading videogames, rather than a comprehensive close reading of a single game. With six presenters, this means the bulk of the session time (roughly thirty-five minutes) will be devoted to an open discussion, involving both the panel and the audience.
“Close Playing: Literary Methods and Videogame Studies” will appeal to a broad swath of the MLA community. While many will find subject of videogames studies compelling enough by itself, the discussion will be relevant to those working in textual studies, media studies, and more broadly, the digital humanities. The need for this roundtable is clear: as we move toward the second decade of videogames studies, the field can no longer claim to be an emerging discipline; the distinguished participants on this panel—with the help of the audience—will survey the current lay of the land in videogame studies, but more importantly, point the way forward.
(Exactly ten years ago this week I turned in my last graduate seminar paper, for a class on late 19th and early 20th century American literature taught by the magnificent Nancy Bentley. The paper was about the 1904 World’s Fair and Geronimo, a figure I’ve been thinking about deeply since Sunday night. Because of the strange resonances between the historical Geronimo and the code name for Osama Bin Laden, I’ve posted that paper here, hoping it helps others to contextualize Geronimo, and to acknowledge his own voice.)
[heading]”A Very Kind and Peaceful People”:
Geronimo and the World’s Fair[/heading]
[quote]St. Louis had an “Exposition” in 1904. Of course, Geronimo was there, was becoming a permanent exposition exhibit, basking in hero-worship, selling postcards, bows and arrows, putting money in his pockets.[/quote]
– The son of Indian agent John P. Clum, in the latter’s biography, Apache Agent[1. Woodworth Clum, Apache Agent: The Story of John P. Clum (1936; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), p. 291.]
Nearly twenty years after he had surrendered for the last time and became a permanent prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, instead of a renegade Indian whose name struck terror in the hearts of Americans and Mexicans alike across the Southwest, the Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo attended, or rather, appeared at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition—the event commemorated “the greatest peaceable acquisition of territory the world has known”[2. This ironic claim, considering the genocide that followed the United States’ takeover of the territory, was made by James W. Buel, Louisiana and the Fair: An Exposition of the World, Its People and Their Achievements, vol. 1, 10 vols. (Saint Louis: World’s Progress Publishing Company, 1904), p. 7.]—the Fair devoted a number of exhibits to traditional Native American culture, including an “Apache Village” that had been constructed along the midway.
There under the strict supervision of the War Department was Geronimo, nestled between a stall of Pueblo women pounding corn and a group of Indian pottery makers. Here the seventy-five-year-old war chief sat in his own booth, making bows and arrows and selling signed photographs of himself for as much as two dollars apiece.[3. Angie Debo, Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), pp. 410-412.] Two interpretations of Geronimo’s participation in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition have long prevailed. On the one hand, Geronimo is derided as a self-serving scoundrel, “basking in hero-worship,” whose fame, or more appropriately, whose infamy had been earned at the expense of the blood of dozens of American settlers and soldiers. This is the view Woodworth Clum adopts in Apache Agent, the biography he writes of his father, who was once the acting governor of the New Mexico Territory and an Indian agent who had negotiated with the Apaches.
On the other hand, Geronimo is celebrated as a hero, a noble warrior from a lost age, one who has successfully and with dignity (and business acumen) assimilated into American society. It is fascinating that while both of these views presume some form of agency on Geronimo’s part, they take for granted that Geronimo is present at the Fair as an attraction, a crowd-pleasing museum piece. Neither of these views take into account what that museum piece himself might have thought about his experiences at the Exposition. What happens when the attraction talks back? What happens when one exhibit walks among other exhibits and comments upon them? What happens when Geronimo the fiend and Geronimo the hero give way to Geronimo the spectator? In the brief essay that follows I hope to tentatively answer these questions by setting in dialogue with each other two collections of texts: the first, what was written about Native American exhibits at the St. Louis World’s Fair and other spectacles like it by the events’ organizers and contemporary journalists and visitors; and the second, Geronimo’s own life story, taken down in 1906, in which he offers his account of what he did and what he saw at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
Native Americans on display
The display of Native Americans as exotic curiosities or specimens of a disappearing culture was of course nothing new by the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair. A half century earlier P. T. Barnum was one of the first “curators” of such displays. In his Struggles and Triumphs Barnum remembers one exhibit of American Indians from the “far West” that demonstrates his consummate showmanship, in which he transforms a group of Indian chiefs into museum pieces supposedly without their even realizing it. Capitalizing on the language barrier between the chiefs and himself, Barnum “convinces” the Indians that visitors to his American Museum in New York are there to honor the Indians. The chiefs appear to be pleased with this news and they welcome the endless, seemingly adoring crowds who come to pay them “respect.” The success of the exhibit depends upon the Indians remaining ignorant—or at least acting ignorant—of the museum’s true function. “If they suspected that your Museum was a place where people paid for entering,” the Indian’s interpreter tells Barnum, “you could not keep them a moment after the discovery”[4. P. T. Barnum, Struggles and triumphs; or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum (Buffalo: Courier Company, 1882), p. 214.]—a claim that heightened the audience’s sense of witnessing savagery from a position of safety.
The language barrier worked to Barnum’s advantage especially when he introduced one Kiowa chief, Yellow Bear, to the audience. Smiling and genially patting Yellow Bear on the shoulder, Barnum “pretended to be complimenting him to the audience” when he was in fact saying the opposite:
[Yellow Bear] has killed, no doubt, scores of white persons, and he is probably the meanest, black-hearted rascal that lives in the far West. […] If the blood-thirsty little villain understood what I was saying, he would kill me in a moment; but as he thinks I am complimenting him, I can safely state the truth to you, that he is a lying, thieving, treacherous, murderous monster. He has tortured to death poor, unprotected women, murdered their husbands, brained their helpless little ones; and he would gladly do the same to you or to me, if he though he could escape punishment.[5. Ibid., pp. 215-216.]
The incongruity of Barnum’s inflammatory words and his affectionate manner creates a humorous effect for his readers, if not for those in attendance at the museum, and establishes a pattern to how Native American “savages” would be described to the masses for generations to come.
Though the problem of translation is one with which Geronimo would have to contend, in more subtle ways, when he told his own life story, later exhibits of American Indians did not depend upon gross misrepresentations of which those being represented were supposedly unaware. Instead, the exhibits relied on the ready complicity of Native Americans. Spectacles like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and his competitors, which were immensely popular from the 1880s through the 1920s, actively sought out willing Native Americans, including Geronimo. And many of the traits Barnum attributed to Yellow Bear—lying, thieving, treachery—were said of Geronimo as well. After the 1904 World’s Fair Geronimo briefly joined Pawnee Bill’s Wild West show (again, with the permission of the U. S. government, since he was still technically a prisoner of war). Geronimo’s act, never mind that Apaches were not buffalo hunters like the Plains Indians, was to shoot a buffalo from a moving automobile. In a move reminiscent of Barnum, Pawnee Bill billed Geronimo for this performance as “The Worst Indian That Ever Lived.”[6. Paul Reddin, Wild West Shows (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), pp. 153, 161.]
And Geronimo went along with the billing. By 1904, the Apache warrior was a seasoned showman and knew how to sell himself (or how to avail himself to be sold by others). He had appeared at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, and even earlier he was paraded at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.[7. Ibid., p. 161.] This expo was Geronimo’s debut, so to speak, his first time appearing in public as an attraction. Like the other Native Americans showcased in the exposition’s “Congress of American Indians,” Geronimo was subject to the crowd’s immense curiosity. According to Overland Monthly magazine, the “Congress of American Indians” was organized with a very specific goal in mind:
to present the different Indian tribes and their primitive modes of living; to reproduce their old games and dances; compare the varied and characteristic style of dress; illustrate their strange customs; recall their almost forgotten traditions; prove their skill in bead embroidery, basket-weaving, and pottery; and most important of all, to afford a comparison of the various tribes and a study of their characteristic and tribal traits.[8. Mary Alice Harriman, “The Congress of American Aborigines at the Omaha Exposition,” Overland Monthly 33 (1898), p. 506.]
The American Indians are specimens whose function is to “illustrate” strange customs yet enable distinctions to be made between the different tribes. In other words, the Indian is static, reified, deserving not so much of respect as scholarship. These representatives of a “fast-dying race,” stereotypically associated with “primitive” crafts like embroidery and pottery, are made all the more striking when juxtaposed against the modern architectural and engineering feats displayed at the exposition. “The Indian,” declared Overland Monthly, “will always be a fascinating object.”[9. Ibid., p. 507.] Indeed, nearly every page of the report in Overland Monthly is accompanied by a photograph of a notable Native American, often deliberately posing for the camera. On the first page is a portrait of the aged Geronimo, shot by the official photographer of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition and Indian Congress, F. A. Rinehart. Described as having a “deeply wrinkled face, scarred and seamed with seventy years of treachery and cunning,” Geronimo stands as a nostalgic reminder of the Apache wars two decades earlier, a nostalgia that further reduces the Indian into an object, a memento.[10. Ibid., p. 510.]
Paul Greenhalgh argues in Ephemeral Vistas, his study of late nineteenth and early twentieth century expositions and world’s fairs, that this process of objectification depended upon a blurring between entertainment and education:
Between 1889 & 1914, the exhibitions [the expositions and world’s fairs] became a human showcase, when people from all over the world were brought to sites in order to be seen by others for their gratification and education. […] Through this twenty-five year period it would be no exaggeration to say that as items of display, objects were seen to be less interesting than human beings, and through the medium of display, human beings were transformed into objects.[11. Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas: A History of the Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), p. 82.]
Surely Greenhalgh had in mind, among other examples, the representation of Native Americans as they appeared at the Omaha Exposition of 1898 and the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. Evidence abounds that “human beings were transformed into objects” at both events. According to David R. Francis, the former governor of Missouri and chairman of the St. Louis Exposition’s executive committee, Geronimo “illustrated at once a native type and an aboriginal personage of interest alike to special students and passing throngs of visitors.”[12. David R. Francis, The Universal Exposition of 1904 (St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, 1913), p. 529.] Geronimo, according to this formulation, is a “type,” which scholars and tourists alike can find interest in, providing the turn-of-the-century equivalent of edutainment.
Perhaps “edutainment” is too light a word, for it glosses over the complex power relations at work in Native American exhibitions. Linking the open displays of Native Americans in expositions like St. Louis with the more insidious Foucauldian panopticons that structured modern prisons, the historian Jo Ann Woodsum reasons, “As in the panopticon, the person(s) on display are under constant surveillance and therefore participate in their own discipline before the omnipresent gaze of the colonial eye.” Woodsum concludes that “Americans could gaze on their vanquished enemies [the Indians] with a twofold purpose. First, to acknowledge their triumph over a terrible obstacle on the road to progress. Second, as a way of reconciling the bloody nature of that triumph of empire with the foundation of the country as a democratic republic.”[13. Jo Ann Woodsum, “‘Living Signs of Themselves’: A Research Note on the Politics and Practice of Exhibiting Native Americans in the United States at the Turn of the Century,” UCLA Historical Journal 13 (1993), pp. 114-118.] The displays, Woodsum suggests, patch over an enormous ideological rift in American history. Indeed, there is a redemptive element to the fair, but in the case of Geronimo, I would argue, what is redeemed is not the nation, but the native. “Here,” Francis writes in The Universal Exposition of 1904, the official account of the St. Louis event, “the once bloody warrior Geronimo completed his own mental transformation from savage to citizen and for the first time sought to assume both the rights and the responsibilities of the high stage.”[14. Francis, p. 529.] The exposition was nothing less than the means through which Geronimo, whose name was once invoked as a kind of bogeyman, became the paragon of citizenship.[15. Consider what one pioneer’s granddaughter recalls: “When my mother was growing up, people said to their children, ‘If you don’t behave, Geronimo will get you.’” Quoted in C. L. Sonnichsen, “From Savage to Saint: A New Image for Geronimo,” Journal of Arizona History 27 (1986), p. 8.]
Samuel M. McCowan, the superintendent of the Chilocco Indian Training School in Oklahoma who became the director of the St. Louis Indian exhibits, had wished to present examples of Indian industry from tribes as diverse as Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, and Sioux. These Native Americans who sold their “native” crafts—pottery, beads, baskets, blankets, buckskins, silver jewelry—stood in sharp contrast to Geronimo, who sat in his booth signing photographs and hawking souvenirs (like the buttons taken from his coat, of which he had a curiously large supply).[16. Debo, pp. 400-405.] McCowan initially had felt that Geronimo was “no more than a blatant blackguard, living on a false reputation,” but he arranged for the Chiricahua Apache to visit the fair anyway, since his presence would guarantee a large crowd for the more educational aspects of the Indian exhibit.[17. Robert A. Trennert, “A Resurrection of Native Arts and Crafts: The St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904,” Missouri Historical Review 87 (1993), pp. 286-288.] As Geronimo’s time at the Fair came to a close, however, even McCowan changed his mind about Geronimo. McCowan almost gushes as he reports back to the army captain responsible for guarding the Apache warrior in Oklahoma:
He really has endeared himself to whites and Indians alike. With one or two exceptions, when he was not feeling well, he was gentle, kind and courteous. I did not think I could ever speak so kindly of the old fellow whom I have always regarded as an incarnate fiend. I am very glad to return him to you in as sound and healthy condition as when you brought him here.[18. Debo, p. 415.]
Geronimo, redeemed through his budding civility (not to mention his newfound interest in capitalism), impressed McCowan just as he impressed so many other visitors. As one Arizona visitor to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition remarked, Geronimo “had been tamed and looked alright.”[19. Robert A. Trennert, “Fairs, Expositions, and the Changing Image of Southwestern Indians, 1876-1904,” New Mexico Historical Review 62 (1987), p. 146.] Two decades earlier that same visitor from the Southwest might have been clamoring for Geronimo’s hanging. These changes in attitude of those around him are the virtues of converting “from savage to citizen.”
Geronimo the Reader and Spectator
[quote]When people first came to the World’s Fair they did nothing but parade up and down the streets. When they got tired of this they would visit the shows. There were many strange things in these shows.[/quote]
– Geronimo, describing his experience at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair [20. Geronimo and S. M. Barrett, Geronimo: His Own Story, ed. Frederick Turner (1906; New York: Meridian-Penguin, 1996), p. 156.]
But what did Geronimo think about all this? We can begin to hazard some guesses because Geronimo told us in the most subtle of ways. In 1905, back in custody at Fort Sills, Geronimo agreed to tell S. M. Barrett, a school superintendent from a nearby town, his life story. “Each day,” Barrett recalls, “he had in mind what he would tell and told it in a very clear, brief manner. […] Whenever his fancy led him, there he told whatever he wished to tell and no more.” Geronimo controlled what was said, how it was said, and when it was said. When asked a question after the first interview session, Geronimo simply responded, “Write what I have spoken.”[21. Ibid., p. 41.] Refusing to speak if a stenographer was present, Geronimo crafted an autobiography which is the legacy of an oral tradition. Doubly so—since he told his story to an interpreter, Asa Daklugie, who then told it to Barrett, at which point the story was put down in writing. Geronimo speaks, but someone else writes.[21. The relationship between Geronimo’s orality and literacy would make for a very interesting case study. Geronimo was illiterate, yet there was one word which Geronimo could write: his signature, a line of clumsy block letters G-E-R-O-N-I-M-O, which he autographed his photographs with.] The manuscript was then submitted for approval to the War Department, whose Secretary had found that “there are a number of passages which, from the departmental point of view, are decidedly objectionable.”[22. Geronimo and Barrett, p. 45.] It was only after President Roosevelt approved the manuscript in 1906 that this “autobiography” was published as Geronimo’s Story of His Life (it has since been reissued as Geronimo: His Own Story).
Rarely has Geronimo’s Own Story been treated as a literary text. More often it has been read as a historical document, or as Barrett phrases it in his preface, “an authentic record of the private life of the Apache Indians.”[23. Ibid., p. 1.] One notable exception is John Robert Leo’s “Riding Geronimo’s Cadillac: His Own Story and the Circumstancing of Text.” Written in the late seventies in the heady days of American deconstructionism, the article is quite concerned with the construction of meaning through the aporia in the text. In one rather—and now, predicable—Derridean move, for example, Leo announces that “Geronimo is he whose meaning always is emerging.”[24. John Robert Leo, “Riding Geronimo’s Cadillac: His Own Story and the Circumstancing of Text,” Journal of American Culture 1 (1978), p. 820.] While what Leo means by this statement of différance is too complicated to trace out here, I do want to emphasize Leo’s point that despite the translations, transcribing, and censorship that His Own Story underwent, “a residue of Geronimo’s way of seeing comes through the repressive imprint of white textual authority.”[25. Ibid., p. 824.] In other words, Geronimo circumvents a repressive ideological textual apparatus in order to convey a reading of the dominant white culture that goes against the grain—what Stuart Hall calls an “oppositional reading,” a reading that “detotalizes the message in the preferred code in order to retotalize the message within some alternative framework of reference.”[26. Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 103.] Geronimo begins the chapter of His Own Story called “At the World’s Fair,” with just such an encoding:
When I was at first asked to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair I did not wish to go. Later, when I was told that I would receive good attention and protection, and that the President of the United States said that it would be all right, I consented.[27. Geronimo and Barrett, p. 155.]
What Geronimo does not say is that he did not wish to go because the government was only willing to pay $1 per day for appearing at the exposition, while a commercial promoter had offered Geronimo $100 per month. Once the government made it clear that Geronimo could only leave his compound at Fort Sill under the War Department’s terms, he acquiesced.[28. Trennert, “Native Arts and Crafts,” pp. 287-288; Debo, p. 410.] Or, as he phrased it, in way that puts the power back in his hands, “I consented.” Of course, Geronimo would receive “good attention and protection” during his trip—in other words, close supervision by government guards.
What allows Geronimo to decode the fair, revealing some of its absurdities and paradoxes and then re-encode his reading in an understated narrative that we ourselves must decode is his appreciation of the power of the printed word, a lesson learned during his warrior days of the 1880s. Geronimo demonstrates this awareness in a transcript of his March 25, 1886 parley with General Crook:
I do not want you [General Crook] to believe any bad papers about me. I want the papers sent you to tell the truth about me, because I want to do what is right. Very often there are stories put in the newspapers that I am to be hanged. I don’t want that any more. When a man tries to do right, such stories out not to be put in the newspapers. […] Don’t believe any bad talk you hear about me. The agents and the interpreter hear that somebody has done wrong, and they blame it all on me. Don’t believe what they say. […] I think I am a good man, but in the papers all over the world they say I am a bad man.”[29. Britton Davis, The Truth About Geronimo, ed. M. M. Quaife (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929), pp. 202-203.]
Geronimo brought this understanding that “bad papers” tell “bad talk” to bear as he told Barrett his thoughts about his six months at the St. Louis World’s Fair, where, when he was not selling photographs and buttons or, as he did every Sunday, roping buffalo for delighted audiences in a Wild West show, he would himself venture to the shows. “There were,” Geronimo decided, “many strange things in these shows.”[30. Geronimo and Barrett, p. 156.] What follows in the rest of the chapter is the exhibition object par excellence, whom audiences come to gawk at, speaking about what he finds strange, what he finds alien about the fair. And Geronimo does so in such an understated way, focusing on seemingly unrelated shows, that we might wonder what underlying sentiments the old Apache hoped to convey in this narrative.
Of all the “many strange things” at the World’s Fair, of all the marvels and exhibits—the Exposition power plant, the Swiss chalet, the arc lighting, the hot air balloon races, the automobile showcase—what does Geronimo remember, or at least tell Barrett about? Most telling is that Geronimo recounts a number of acts which involve dissimulation. Watching two Turks brandishing scimitars in a sham battle, he “expected both to be wounded or perhaps killed, but neither one was harmed.” In another show a “strange-looking negro” sat bound in a chair, his hands tied behind his back. In a moment, the escape artist was free. Geronimo tells Barrett that “I do not understand how this was done. It was certainly a miraculous power, because no man could have released himself by his own efforts.” In the same vein, Geronimo witnesses a magic show, in which a variation of the classic trick of sawing a woman in half is performed. “I heard the sword cut through the woman’s body,” Geronimo recalls, “and the manager himself said she was dead; but when the cloth was lifted from the basket she stepped out, smiled, and walked off the stage.” The magic for Geronimo, as he tells it, lies not in the illusion that a woman’s body was sliced in half, but in how she healed. “I would like to know how she was so quickly healed,” Geronimo asks, “and why the wounds did not kill her.”[31. Geronimo and Barrett, p. 156.]
Men who fiercely fight and are not injured. A man who escapes the inescapable. A woman whose mortal wound disappears. I would venture that Geronimo is not simply dictating a chronological account of his wanderings through the midway, but is consciously, strategically constructing a discourse on power and the evasion of its effects. Perhaps Geronimo sees in the black escape artist who wrests himself free with “a miraculous power” a version of his own struggle against the repressive white world
A visit to a glassmaker likewise turns into a meditation on deception, authority, and control:
I had always thought that these things [glassware] were made by hand, but they are not. The man had a curious little instrument, and whenever he would blow through this into a little blaze the glass would take any shape he wanted it to. I am not sure, but I think that if I had this kind of an instrument I could make whatever I wished. There seems to be a charm about it. But I suppose it is very difficult to get these little instruments, or other people would have them.[32. Ibid., p. 160.]
Here Geronimo imagines what it would be like to “make whatever I wished,” a tantalizing power for one whose land and family were torn away from him a quarter of a century earlier. Geronimo recognizes the impossibility of such wishing, though, hinting that if such powers were readily available no one would want for anything. What it is that makes possessing “these little instruments” of power so very difficult is left unsaid—a striking silence in the text.
The conclusion of the chapter in His Own Story devoted to the World’s Fair is particularly stirring—and particularly coded. Geronimo, at the fair as a representative of one group of anthropological specimens, mentions an encounter with another group of anthropological specimens, “some little brown people” that United States troops had “captured recently on some islands far away from here.” These were Iggorrotes from the Philippines, about whom Geronimo had “heard that the President sent them to the Fair so they could learn some manners, and when they went home teach their people how to dress and how to behave.”[33. Ibid.] On the surface Geronimo appears to distance himself from these “brown people,” disavowing any similarities between his situation and theirs. But this is to ignore Geronimo’s next remark, in which he implicitly places himself in the same subject position as the Filipinos:
I am glad I went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people.[32. Ibid., pp. 161-162.]
Just as the Iggorrotes were to learn how to dress and behave by observing whites, so too did Geronimo learn from the whites. I would argue that this closing passage is laced with irony. What exactly did Geronimo learn of the white people? Not of their technology, their engineering, their art—all on display at the Exposition—nor how to dress and how to behave. Rather, he learned of the mechanisms of power, of deception, of a feigned aggression which is merely a mask for real violence. Geronimo concludes that “had this [Exposition] been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.”[33. Ibid., p. 162.] Surely this is an allusion to Geronimo’s earlier days, when he did have to defend himself against Mexicans, but also, unspoken here, against whites, who deceived Geronimo and his Apache band time and time again with their false promises and broken treaties.[34. I have not the space to present a detailed history of the Apache Wars and the various treaties and negotiations which pushed Geronimo and his tribe into a reservation system, but suffice it to say, that Geronimo himself covers this history earlier in His Own Story, especially pages 119-131, which makes Geronimo’s conclusion all that much more ironic.] A “very kind and peaceful people”? Hardly, if one adopts an oppositional reading, as Geronimo dryly does.
Barnum, P. T. Struggles and triumphs; or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum. Buffalo: Courier Company, 1882.
Buel, James W. Louisiana and the Fair: An Exposition of the World, Its People and Their Achievements. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Saint Louis: World’s Progress Publishing Company, 1904.
Clum, Woodworth. Apache Agent: The Story of John P. Clum. 1936. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
Davis, Britton. The Truth About Geronimo. Ed. M. M. Quaife. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929.
Debo, Angie. Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.
Francis, David R. The Universal Exposition of 1904. St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, 1913.
Geronimo, and S. M. Barrett. Geronimo: His Own Story. Ed. Frederick Turner. 1906. New York: Meridian-Penguin, 1996.
Greenhalgh, Paul. Ephemeral Vistas: A History of the Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851-1939. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding.” The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 1993. 90-103.
Harriman, Mary Alice. “The Congress of American Aborigines at the Omaha Exposition.” Overland Monthly 33 (1898): 505-512.
Leo, John Robert. “Riding Geronimo’s Cadillac: His Own Story and the Circumstancing of Text.” Journal of American Culture 1 (1978): 818-837.
Reddin, Paul. Wild West Shows. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Sonnichsen, C. L. “From Savage to Saint: A New Image for Geronimo.” Journal of Arizona History 27 (1986): 5-34.
Trennert, Robert A. “Fairs, Expositions, and the Changing Image of Southwestern Indians, 1876-1904.” New Mexico Historical Review 62 (1987): 127-150.
—. “A Resurrection of Native Arts and Crafts: The St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904.” Missouri Historical Review 87 (1993): 274-292.
Woodsum, Jo Ann. “‘Living Signs of Themselves’: A Research Note on the Politics and Practice of Exhibiting Native Americans in the United States at the Turn of the Century.” UCLA Historical Journal 13 (1993): 110-129.
Often dismissed by its critics as low-brow pulp, science fiction is nonetheless a rich, dynamic literary genre which deserves our attention. In this class we will move beyond the stereotypes of science fiction in order to examine novels, stories, comics, films, and videogames that question the global commodification of culture, the fetishization of technology, and the dominant ideologies that structure race, gender, and class relations. Drawing upon works from North America, Europe, and Asia, we will ultimately challenge what counts as “human” in our increasingly inhuman world.
(Amplified Body Diagram courtesy of Stelarc, 1995)
A roundtable discussion of specific approaches and close playings that explore the methodological contribution of literary studies toward videogame studies. 300-word abstract and 1-page bio to Mark Sample (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 15.
All participants must be MLA members by April 7. Also note that this is a proposed special session; the MLA Program Committee will have the final say on the roundtable’s acceptance.
[Controllers photo courtesy of Flickr user Kimli / Creative Commons License]
Keyne Cheshire, my friend and Classicist extraordinaire has translated Sophocles’ Women of Trachis into an American Western, The Passion of Herman Kilman. The chorale pieces of the play will be performed tonight, live, for the first time ever. Imagine: Hercules, son of Zeus, transformed into Herman Kilman, son of God… [More Information | Full-size PDF]
This special issue of DHQ invites essays that consider the study of literature and the category of the literary to be an essential part of the digital humanities. We welcome essays that consider how digital technologies affect our understanding of the literary— its aesthetics, its history, its production and dissemination processes, and also the traditional practices we use to critically analyze it. We also seek critical reflections on the relationships between traditional literary hermeneutics and larger-scale humanities computing projects. What is the relationship between literary study and the digital humanities, and what should it be? We welcome essays that approach this topic from a wide range of critical perspectives and that focus on diverse objects of study from antiquity to the present as well as born-digital forms.
Please submit an abstract of no more than 1,000 words and a short CV to Jessica Pressman and Lisa Swanstrom at <DHQliterary@gmail.com> by Feb. 15, 2011. We will reply by March 15, 2011 and request that full-length papers of no more than 9,000 words be submitted by *July 15, 2011*.
Here is an early, tentative course description for my Fall 2011 senior seminar for the English Honors students. I welcome comments or reading recommendations!
Post-Print Fiction (ENGL 400 Honors Seminar)
For several centuries the novel has been associated with a single material form: the bound book, made of paper and printed with ink. But what happens when storytelling diverges from the book? What happens when writers weave stories that extend beyond the printed word? What happens when fiction appears in digital form, generated from a reader’s actions or embedded in a videogame? What happens when a novel has no novelist behind it, but a crowd of authors—or no human at all, just an algorithm? We will address these questions and many more in this English Honors Seminar dedicated to post-print fiction. We will begin with two “traditional” novels that nonetheless ponder the meaning of narrative, books, and technology, and move quickly into several novels that, depending upon one’s point of view, either represent that last dying gasp of the printed book or herald a renaissance of the form. Finally, we will devote the latter part of the semester exploring electronic literature, kinetic poetry, transmedia narratives, and paranovels that both challenge and enrich our understanding of fiction in the 21st century.
Possible works to be studied include Mao II by Don DeLillo, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer, Personal Effects: Dark Arts by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman, This Is Not a Book by Keri Smith, Braid by Jonathan Blow, The Baron by Victor Gijspers, as well as works by Deena Larsen, Nick Montfort, Mary Flanagan, Jason Nelson, Jonathan Harris, Shelley Jackson, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Stephanie Strickland, and many more.
[Typewriter photograph courtesy of Flickr user paulmorriss / Creative Commons License]