Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The English Studies Job Search

Clancy of CultureCat links to these two perspectives on the English Studies academic job market . The first is "But Can You Teach?," by M. Garrett Bauman and published in The Chronicle, and the second is "Who Would You Hire?, or, Merit in Action," written by "Dean Dad" at Confessions of a Community College Dean.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rereading Orality & Literacy

Rereading Orality & Literacy so as to give my students a theoretical framework for understanding Naomi Mitchinson's Early in Orcadia, I was, once again, struck by the fact that it's much too well known and far too little well read.

I've seen far too many discussions of this book by scholars who haven't read it or haven't read it recently (i.e., discussions of it are based not on the text but on discussions and quotations of the text that are once, twice, even five or six times removed from Ong's own words). I've seen the book attacked for saying things it does not say, and I've seen it attacked for not saying or taking into account things it actually does say or does take into account. For instance, I don't remember where I read this, but I once read an attack on Ong based on the argument that traditional skills-based knowledge is often learned visually, by watching and doing rather than through telling. This, the argument went, blew Ong's psychodyanamics of orality classification system out of water because it demonstrated that visualism was important before writing. While the argument itself demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of what Ong and others do argue, it even demonstrates a complete lack of attention to Orality & Literacy itself. In Ong's discussion of the fifth characteristic of orally based thought and expression, "Close to the human lifeworld," Ong writes
An oral culture has nothing corresponding to how-to-do-it manuals for the trades [...]. Trades were learned by apprenticeship (as they still largely are even in high-technology cultures), which means from observation and practice with only minimal verbalized explanation. (43)
Clearly, the scholar who was attacking Ong in that piece I read had paid absolutely no attention to Orality & Literacyitself, not even to the section of the book to which the author took issue. This is all too common an approach to Ong and his work: accusing him of saying what he does not say or attacking him for not considering something he does, in fact, consider.

But lets take a step back from that particular issue. Things don't get much better when we consider representations of Ong's work. Based on search engine referrals to both my blogs, Notes from the Water J. Ong Archive and Machina Memorialis, I feel comfortable in saying that one of Ong's better known topics is the psychodynamics of orality articulated in chapter 3 of Orality & Literacy. For a good number of people, the psychodynamics of orality are the list of nine characteristics of orally based thought and expression Ong lists in that chapter, which are:

  • Additive rather than subordinate;

  • Aggregative rather than analytic;

  • redundant or 'copious';

  • Conservative or traditionalist;

  • Close to the human lifeworld;

  • Agonistically toned;

  • Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced;

  • Homeostatic; and

  • Situational rather than abstract.
What one needs to remember, what one would remember if they returned to the chapter, or, in some cases, turned to it, is that this section, labeled "Further characteristics of orally based thought and expression," is but one of nine sections in the chapter "Some Psychodynamics of Orality." In other words, these nine characteristics do not, in and of themselves, define the psychodynamics of orality. Although this is the case, far too many representations and accounts of the psychodynamics of orality focus only on these nine characteristics.

And let's take another step back. Or maybe it's a step sideways. Either way, I want to focus on the nine characteristics as a whole. Many scholars, often following Beth Daniel's "Against the Great Leap Theory of Literacy," attack Ong and orality-literacy studies by pointing out weaknesses, both real and imagined, with these nine characteristics. This would be fine except for the fact that few acknowledge or pay any attention to how Ong introduces these nine characteristics. He writes:
This inventory of characteristics is not presented as exclusive or conclusive but as suggestive, for much more work and reflection is needed to deepen understanding of orally based thought (and thereby understanding of chirographically based, typographically based, and electronically based thought). (36)
Far too often, these suggestions that need further exploration are treated as hard facts to be embraced or refuted.
Ong, as he himself liked to stress, did not try to theorize. Rather than theorize, he tried to describe what we knew and what the implications of that knowledge was. And this is not just some semantic game that Ong and I are playing. As I've argued before, this distinction is key to understanding Ong's work (see for instance, this post for the gist of this argument).

What I'm getting at here in this post, and it's not a new theme for me, is that Orality & Literacy is one of the more misread and misunderstood books in English studies. And, moreover, far too little is done with it. It's cited a lot by both its supporters and its critics, but it's not used enough as a road map for further exploration. In writing it, Ong presented us with a map that has large tracks of unknown territory, and on this map he did not write "Beyond here be dragons." No. Ong wanted us to explore, to discover, and to learn. He believed knowledge existed in time (follow the link at the end of the paragraph above), and that what we know is always provisional and will always need to be reevaluated and reworked as new knowledge comes in.

I'm always struck by thoughts like these when I pick this book up. While it came at the end of his career, it was always intended to be an introduction to his own work and to the field. Even when it was published in 1982, it was not meant to be an end point but instead a point of departure.

Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive.

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Help Review and/or Contribute to a Free Rhetoric and Composition Textbook

Matt Barton and his students have been working on a free Rhetoric and Composition wikibook and are now looking for reviewers as well as collaborators. See Matt's post at for more information.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Spring Teaching

My science fiction course is taking shape. I've decided we'll read five novels and a number of short stories, and we'll watch 2-3 movies and some episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

The novels we'll read are Dawn by Octavia Butler, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, The Telling by Ursula Le Guin, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr., and Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune. In addition to the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episodes, I know we're going to watch Bladerunner, and I think we're going to watch Minority Report (and read the short story upon which it is based). I'm also thinking about showing Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, but I'm also tempted to show War of the Worlds and Mars Attacks!.

The issues of short stories is more vexed, but my current short list includes:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars"

  • Robert Silverberg's "Good News from the Vatican"

  • Nancy Kress' "Out of All Them Bright Stars"

  • Candas Jane Dorsey's "(Learning About) Machine Sex"

  • Isaac Asimov's "Robbie" and/or "Robot Dreams"

  • William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Burning Chrome"

  • Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" or "Second Dawn"

  • Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"

  • Cordwainer Smith's "The Ballad of Lost C'mell"

  • Phil K. Dick's "Minority Report"

  • James Trptree, Jr.'s "The Women Men Don't See"

  • H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu"

Who and what that are missing from that list is depressing. Really, I continually debate myself over the wisdom of teaching both science fiction short stories and novels in the same course. As a reader, SF novels were and are much more important to me than SF short stories, but the short story is of vital importance to the history of SF, and one can hardly touch on the complexity of the genre in the span of one semester by just reading novels. The first time I taught a SF class, I went with novels and 4 short stories. Clearly, I'm still sticking with novels, but I'm trying to bring in more stories. I need to browse my SF anthologies and anthologies in the library before I finally decide which stories to include. Please feel free to make suggestions.

The class itself is already full. It usually fills quickly. And I'm glad to see that more than a third of the class is women. Last time I taught it, women made up less than 10%. Though, to be fair, I taught a course that was added late by dividing the already existing and fully enrolled SF course into two courses and the other instructor was a women. Her class was about 40% women.

Finally, I've decided to make use of the free wiki service Schtuff, which has a built in blog. I'm not keen on the blogging software my school's made available, and I can use Schtuff as the course web site, blog, and wiki all from one URL. We'll be using the wiki for a collaborative project working with the short stories. I'll post more about that later.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Kessinger Publishing's Rare Reprints

essinger Publishing utilizes advanced technology to publish and preserve thousands of rare, scarce, and out-of-print books.

We search worldwide for hard-to-find books and publish them in affordable editions. Once we place a title into print, it stays in print.

Located near Glacier National Park in Montana, Kessinger Publishing is dedicated toward publishing and digitally preserving important literature for future generations.
The categories and search function are not what one would hope--I wouldn't expect to find Jacob Grimm's four-volume Teutonic Mythology in philosophy rather than folklore (though it does come up under mythology), and I'm not keen on the fact "Old English" as a search term brings up way more texts like Arabian Days and Vindication of the Principles and Doctrines of the People Called Quakers, but there's a number of treasures at reasonable prices. Consider, for instance, their collection of William Morris's medievalism such as The House Of The Wolfings, The Story Of The Glittering Plain, The Story Of The Heath Slayings Heitharviga Saga, The Well At The World's End, and Wood Beyond The World.


XML editors

Recently, someone on the Digital Medievalist list asked for recommendations for a XML editor that was java based and hid the fact XML was being used--a WYSIWYG editor, I think. Two were suggested: Vex, an open source editor, and XMLmind.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Where a Geneticist Can Teach 'Gilgamesh'"

I've been wanting to comment on The Chronicle article "Where a Geneticist Can Teach 'Gilgamesh'" for a while now. From the beginning of the article:
One sunny day shortly after the start of the fall term, Robert M. Dawley was preparing to spend the afternoon tutoring two students on how to measure the DNA content in the cells of tadpoles.

But first he walked briskly out of his building and over to a small lounge with white cinder-block walls, stretched out on the carpeted floor, his head propped up on a bent arm, and asked a small class of bright-eyed freshmen sitting along the walls to reflect on Gilgamesh, the world's oldest-known epic poem. Gilgamesh, the virile Mesopotamian king who may actually have lived around 2700 BC, is both hero and villain in his failed quest for immortality.
In short, the article discusses the idea of year-long core seminars, focusing on the program at Ursinus College where Robert Dawley teaches. By most accounts, including those of the students themselves, Ursinus' program is successful and most of the faculty, including those outside the humanities, find value in teaching humanities based first year seminars.

Looking back to my post in response to Domenico Grasso's piece "Is It Time to Shut Down Engineering Colleges?," I'd like to push this idea a bit further and suggest we think about having philosophers and literary scholars and historians teaching genetic engineering or cosmology. I'm not suggesting that non scientists teach upper division courses in the sciences but, instead, I'm suggesting, as in my earlier post, that our non scientists need more exposure to issues of science and technology, and, like Grasso, I think we all need to think about science and technology from a humanist perspective. Again, he argues:
Faced with the increasingly complex design challenges of the 21st century — an era where resources of every kind are reaching their limit, human populations are exploding, and global-warming related environmental catastrophe beckons — engineers need to grow beyond their traditional roles as problem-solvers to become problem-definers.

To catalyze this shift, our engineering curriculum, now packed with technical courses, needs a fresh start. Today’s engineers must be educated to think broadly in fundamental and integrative ways about the basic tenets of engineering. If we define engineering as the application of math and science in service to humanity, these tenets must include study of the human condition, the human experience, the human record.

So, why should all the core science classes be the traditional introductions to those disciplines? Why not interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary) seminars focusing on the social, cultural, political, historical aspects of science and technology? We are a technological society that has little understanding of science or technology, let alone the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of science and technology. A well-rounded, liberal, education is not just rooted in the humanities. It is rooted in the sciences (and the social sciences) as well. It involves the making the connections among the disciplines, in considering disciplinary issues through the lens of other disciplines.

via Jerz's Literacy Weblog.

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An Introduction to Tiger's Terminal

Mary Norbury-Glaser has written a five-part introduction to the terminal in MacOS X 10.4. for the O'Reilly Network's

Via Lifehacker

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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages: An international project to edit the corpus of medieval skaldic poetry.
Introduction: General objective of the project

The general objective of the project Norse-Icelandic Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages is to produce a new edition of the known corpus of Norse-Icelandic skaldic poetry. The edition will appear in book and electronic form. The editors do not intend to follow the format of Finnur Jónsson’s Den Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning A and B (1912-15), currently regarded as the standard edition of the skaldic corpus, with separate volumes of diplomatic and critical editions. This will be a critical edition with an English translation, which will, however, in all cases reexamine the manuscript evidence for the poetic texts and their locations. To do this a data bank of photographs of the manuscripts will need to be established for the editors to work from. Many relevant photographs already exist in the two Arnamagnæan Institutes, in Reykjavík and Copenhagen. At the same time, there will be some photographs that will have to be made specially for the project. As the editors plan to issue the edition in electronic format as well as book form, we will also be seeking permission to scan the relevant images from photographs for use in the electronic version of the edition. (At this stage we envisage scans of the lines containing the skaldic verses alone and not of whole folios of the manuscripts in which the poems or verses occur.)

The published edition will be divided into three parts. The first will include complete, identifiable poems or fragments thereof; the second will include lausavísur (single verses) and Finnur Jónsson’s ubestemmelige vers (poetry of indeterminate provenance), while the third part will be a bibliography. Depending on the outcome of our negotiations with publishers, the parts may or may not comprise separate volumes.
The project includes a online database.


Monday, November 21, 2005

RSS How-to

Recommended by Lifehacker is Paul Stamatiou's HOW TO: Getting Started with RSS. If you're one of the 88% of internet users who don't know about RSS, or even one of the 96% of internet users who don't make use of it, this article can help you wade through the internet.

And on the subject of what RSS feeds can and are changing the way we use the net, earlier today, Collin posted on the expansion of non-blog feeds and some thoughts on how feeds can change the way we interact with journals.

Three Web-based Resources: Swicki, Openomy, LibraryThing

Three Web-based resources: Swicki, a community-driven search engine; Openomy, an tag-based file storage system; and LibraryThing, social software for your personal library catalog.


"A swicki is new kind of search engine that allows anyone to create deep, focused searches on topics you care about. Unlike other search engines, you and your community have total control over the results and it uses the wisdom of crowds to improve search results. This search engine, or swicki, can be published on your site. Your swicki presents search results that you're interested in, pulls in new relevant information as it is indexed, and organizes everything for you in a neat little customizable widget you can put on your web site or blog, complete with its very own buzz cloud that constantly updates to show you what are hot search terms in your community." Via Educational Blogs


"Openomy is an online file system. You can store files on Openomy and access them from any computer. Openomy organizes files and users via tags (as opposed to folders). You can choose to keep your files guarded by Openomy, or allow certain outside applications (of your choice) to do new and interesting things with your data." Via Educational Blogs


"LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. Because everyone catalogs together, you can also use LibraryThing to find people with similar libraries, get suggestions from people with your tastes and so forth." Via

Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility

From the article Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility, published by Kenneth Hamma, Exec. Dir. for Digital Policy, J. Paul Getty Trust, in D-Lib Magazine.

Art museums and many other collecting institutions in this country hold a trove of public-domain works of art. These are works whose age precludes continued protection under copyright law. The works are the result of and evidence for human creativity over thousands of years, an activity museums celebrate by their very existence. For reasons that seem too frequently unexamined, many museums erect barriers that contribute to keeping quality images of public domain works out of the hands of the general public, of educators, and of the general milieu of creativity. In restricting access, art museums effectively take a stand against the creativity they otherwise celebrate. This conflict arises as a result of the widely accepted practice of asserting rights in the images that the museums make of the public domain works of art in their collections.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that the institutional claims of copyright to such works would survive a legal challenge. The judgment in a 1999 case, BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY, LTD. v. COREL CORP., brought in a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, held that the marketing of photographic copies of two-dimensional public domain master artworks, without adding anything original, cannot constitute copyright infringement when the underlying work is in the public domain. By and large, museums have been holding their noses and hoping this ruling will neither be broadly noticed nor challenged [4]. The fact that the ruling applies only to two-dimensional works of art likely provides little relief to those museums with a traditional but persistent pecking order that goes something like: paintings, drawings, everything else.
This is, I should note, an opinion piece, as D-Lib Magazine makes clear. I'm particularly interested in the issue, however, because medieval manuscripts are treated as art objects and, therefore, supposedly not in the public domain. In fact, it's standard practice to obtain written permission to publish a transcription of a manuscript even when the transcription was made from a microfilm copy of the manuscript.

via Archivalia

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Google Books to Be Archived in Hardcopy

According to The Life of Books, Google plans to "backup" the Google Book Search project with hard copy:
Ever Wonder Where's Google Going to Backup All Those Virtual Books?

Faced with the near impossible task of securely and permanently preserving and protecting thier substantial investment in the production of the millions of pages of books that it intends to scan and make available worldwide on the internet, Google has entered into an agreement with Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA under which Google will take possession of the storied former US Army airship base and mammoth dirigible hangars and indoor training center in Mountain View, California's Moffet Field.
Think about it, according to Google's stated plan, millions of books will be scanned into an enormous database that will ultimately be at the mercy of hackers, systems upgrades and a national power source. The only way to guarantee the collection's permanence is to store all the original data in hard copy! The 200-foot high Hangar One is a ready-made building of the appropriate capacity to store millions and millions of books and is a ready-acknowledgement of the safety and permanence of hard copy materials vis a vis a digital library!

Via Depraved Librarian.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Online Science Fiction Resources

Preparing for my Science Fiction course next semester, I've pulled these online resources from Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction, 5th ed.
The J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction

Welcome to the website for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, a medium for information about the Center and its programs, data about science fiction, informed commentary, and news about SF in general. This website also provides links to other SF resources.

Cyberpunk Information Database

The Cyberpunk Project (TCP) is an remotely avaliable net of files about cyberpunk subculture, cyberpunk science fiction and general cyberculture in the form of free information. This is an open directory, hosting related documents and literate work.

Locus Online

Locus Online, which went online in April 1997, is a semi-autonomous web version of Locus Magazine. Like the magazine, Locus Online focuses on news of the Science Fiction publishing field and coverage of new science fiction books and magazines.

The SF Hub

This is the first subject portal for science fiction scholars. Created by The University of Liverpool Library with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the SF Hub aims to facilitate research into science fiction and its related literary genres.

The SF Hub is based on the wealth of research resources in the Science Fiction Collections of The University of Liverpool's Special Collections and Archives, including the renowned Science Fiction Foundation Collection. Our advanced search tools will enable you to find the resources you need amongst the extensive collections of books, journals, fiction magazines, fanzines, journal articles and archives at Liverpool University.

Also provided are links to a selection of quality-assured research tools and sites elsewhere on the Web. For news/comment: we now have an unofficial BLOG.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database is an on-line, searchable compilation and extension of Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1878-1985, Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1985-1991, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index 1992-1995, including material located since publication of the last printed volume. Most material was obtained and examined by the compiler; the remainder was verified in a reliable secondary source.

Science Fiction Studies
Science Fiction Studies is published three times a year (March, July, November) by SF-TH Inc. at DePauw University. The Science Fiction Studies Website publishes abstracts of all articles, as well as the full texts of all reviews, historical documents, and selected essays appearing in the journal since its founding in 1973 by R.D. Mullen. We normally maintain a one-year blackout before texts published in the journal appear on the website.

Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Utopia

This site is essentially a complex bibliography that lists and cites and describes sf & critical works from a feminist perspective. Plots are described of complete works. Works that are already complete are reviewed, discussed, and described, and consequently there are spoilers

Uchronia: The Alternate History List
Uchronia: The Alternate History List is an annotated bibliography of over 2700 novels, stories, essays and other printed material involving the "what ifs" of history. The genre has a variety of names, but it's best known as alternate history.

In an alternate history, one or more past events are changed and the subsequent effects on history somehow described. This description may comprise the entire plotline of a novel, or it may just provide a brief background to a short story. Perhaps the most common themes in alternate history are "What if the Nazis won World War II?" and "What if the Confederacy won the American Civil War?"

For more about alternate history and this bibliography, please read the extended introduction.

SF Site

SF Site is composed of many pieces. Twice a month since July 1997, we have posted a mixture of book reviews, opinion pieces, author interviews, fiction excerpts, author and publisher reading lists and a variety of other features. At the same time, we've maintained a comprehensive list of links to author and fan tribute sites, SF conventions, SF TV and movies, magazines and e-zines, writer resources, publishers and small press sites and many other SF resources.

Science Fiction Weekly

A weekly webzine sponsored by the SCFI Channel.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database

Hosted by The Cushing Library Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection and Institute for Scientific Computation at Texas A&M University

The ISFDB is a community effort to catalog works of fiction. It links together various types of bibliographic data: author bibliographies, publication bibliographies, award listings, magazine content listings, anthology and collection content listings, and forthcoming books.

Update 11/21: novelhead has a recent post on science fiction blogs.

Open Source Mac

Open Source Mac is a simple list of the best free and open source software for Mac OS X. We aren't trying to be a comprehensive listing of every open-source mac app, instead we want to showcase the best, most important, and easiest to use. This page should be a handy reference and a useful tool for getting more people to start using free and open-source software. If you think we're missing any great apps, please let us know.
via Educational Blogs

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Computers & Writing 2006 CFP

Computers and Writing 2006 invites proposals for its May 25-28 conference. Hosted by Texas Tech University, the theme for the program is “Still Making Knowledge on the Frontier(s).” To submit proposals by January 15 for workshops, poster sessions, round table discussions, and individual or panel presentations, see the submission form. [read whole CFP]

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"The Image Culture" by Christine Rosen

The University Archivist also passed along to me "The Image Culture" by Christine Rosen, published in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. Again, I'm posting this as an article to return to, but from a quick skim of the introduction, I see Rosen ends the intro with this:
Two things in particular are at stake in our contemporary confrontation with an image-based culture: First, technology has considerably undermined our ability to trust what we see, yet we have not adequately grappled with the effects of this on our notions of truth. Second, if we are indeed moving from the era of the printed word to an era dominated by the image, what impact will this have on culture, broadly speaking, and its institutions? What will art, literature, and music look like in the age of the image? And will we, in the age of the image, become too easily accustomed to verisimilar rather than true things, preferring appearance to reality and in the process rejecting the demands of discipline and patience that true things often require of us if we are to understand their meaning and describe it with precision? The potential costs of moving from the printed word to the image are immense. We may find ourselves in a world where our ability to communicate is stunted, our understanding and acceptance of what we see questionable, and our desire to transmit culture from one generation to the next seriously compromised.
Some day I need to dig up Ong's short lecture on "Secondary Oralism and Secondary Visualism" and report what he argued, not because it was brilliant--I don't remember, honestly, which in itself suggests that it wasn't, but because it's an interesting footnote in where his thinking was heading in the 1990s.

Cross posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive

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"The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Tradition"

The University Librarian ran across the article "The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Tradition" by Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute. I've hardly even skimmed it and I'm posting it here as a reminder to myself than anything else. The piece is by a librarian for librarians and it even ends with a "Recommendations for Libraries." The article identifies "ten key trends that are affecting the development of the next generation library." (Frey notes that these are not the only trends, "but ones that have been selected to give clear insight into the rapidly changing technologies and equally fast changing mindset of library patrons." They are:

  1. Communication systems are continually changing the way people access information

  2. All technology ends. All technologies commonly used today will be replaced by something new.

  3. We haven’t yet reached the ultimate small particle for storage. But soon.

  4. Search Technology will become increasingly more complicated

  5. Time compression is changing the lifestyle of library patrons

  6. Over time we will be transitioning to a verbal society

  7. The demand for global information is growing exponentially

  8. The Stage is being set for a new era of Global Systems

  9. We are transitioning from a product-based economy to an experience based economy

  10. Libraries will transition from a center of information to a center of culture

I'm particularly drawn to item 6:
Keyboards remain as our primary interface between people and electronic information even though inventors have long felt there must be a better way. The days of the keyboard are numbered. As mentioned earlier, all technology ends and soon we will be witnessing the end of the keyboard era.

Dr William Crossman, Founder/Director of the CompSpeak 2050 Institute for the Study of Talking Computers and Oral Cultures, predicts that as we say goodbye to keyboards we will begin the transition to a verbal society. He also predicts that by 2050 literacy will be dead.

While the accuracy of his dates and the wholesale transition from literacy to a verbal society may be debatable, there will undoubtedly be a strong trend towards verbal information. Computers will become more human-like with personalities, traits, and other characteristics that will give us the sense of being in a room with other humans.
As is probably obvious to those who know me, I don't buy Crossman's predictions, but Frey's point that we're relying more and more upon verbal interfaces and verbal communication is clear (can anyone forget Rich Rice's C&W 2001 town hall presentation on sound, sex, and mayhem?).

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Share" and Other Lessons Taught at Knight School

BBC News has an article on something called "Knight School," an eight week program which the police in Lincolnshire are using to reform unruly youth, and I see that the Telegraph has a more detailed story. The BBC's piece is mostly tongue-in-cheek. They asked three medievalists what one could learn from medieval knights and have provided a list of ten lessons, summed up well by Carl Pyrdum of Got Medieval:
Kids! Be like knights! Don't get into fights. But in the fights you do get into, be merciful! Also, beat up bullies! But tell people your friends did it!
According to the Telegraph, however, the school itself is serious. Its founder, Sgt Gary Brown of the Spilsby Police Department, is in the running for Britain's Policeman of the Year and was runner up for the Criminal Justice Award 2005 category for Outstanding Contribution to Tackling Youth Crime. The Telegraph story focuses in on a young boy named Jack whose been transformed since passing through the school. We also learn a bit about how Sgt. Brown's efforts have transformed his town:
On the odd occasion that Stephanie [Jack's mother] went out in the evening, she would look despairingly at the loutish and raucous teenagers who gathered at the bus shelter in the town centre to drink lager and swear at passers-by and hope she wasn't glimpsing Jack's future. "I would think to myself, 'In less than 10 years perhaps that's what Jack will become' ."

Since then, two things have changed. Jack is merely mildly mischievous but is a model of good manners. And the lager louts who made many of Spilsby's 3,000 residents wary of venturing out after dark are more likely to be found playing carpet bowls against the pensioners they once abused, scrubbing graffiti off walls, cleaning up road signs, collecting litter and cutting down trees to create parkland. The town is transformed too.

Anti-social behaviour and crime rates have been halved, the streets are clean and the inhabitants have an air of jaunty self-confidence. The shops now bustle with the daily banter of a close-knit community that takes a pride in the market town.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences Draft Report

The American Council of Learned Socities' Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences has released their draft report for public comment.
The draft report of the American Council of Learned Societies' Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences is now available for public comment. Click here to view draft. The Commission invites you to contribute to the final version of this report by offering critique, providing examples, proposing ways to improve the draft, or raising issues omitted from the draft. We do not promise to incorporate all suggestions, but we do promise to consider them, and we encourage you to call this request for comments to the attention of others. Comments on the draft may be sent to .

The Commission will meet again early in 2006 to discuss public comments and complete their work, so comments should be submitted by December 31st, 2005.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Workshop on Editing Medieval Texts

Workshop: Editing Medieval Texts
Friday and Saturday, February 3 – 4, 2006
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

A two-day workshop on the practices of editing Medieval texts will be held at the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; the workshop will be directed by Professor Roy Liuzza.

The workshop is intended to be more like a class or professional development seminar than a conference; presenters will share both their successes and frustrations, and work together towards developing better professional skills for textual work in Medieval studies. Scholars and students at any level who are interested in learning more about textual criticism through this presentation of works in progress and discussion of practical and theoretical issues are invited to attend.

The workshop is sponsored by the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and has been made possible by the generosity of the Hodges Better English Fund, the Humanities Initiative Committee, and the Office of Research at the University of Tennessee.
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Unsworth's "New Methods for Humanities Research"

Matthew Kirschenbaum quotes from and links to John Unsworth's Richard W. Lyman Award lecture “New Methods for Humanities Research.” Since the Lyman Award is for advancing "humanistic scholarship through the innovative use of information technology," Unsworth's lecture focuses on digital technologies while at the same time arguing that we in the humanities do do research rather than just scholarship or criticism. Kirschenbaum pulls out a good quote on that issue, so I won't post it here myself. Instead, I'll point to a few different passages:
Bill Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, would agree, at least in the case of computer science: Bill has argued (in my hearing) that computer science should really be considered one of the humanities, since the humanities deal with artifacts produced by human beings, and computers (and their software) are artifacts produced by human beings. Harold Abelson, a professor of computer science at MIT, tells students in his CS 101 course (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) that

"computer science" is not a science and . . . its significance has little to do with computers. The computer revolution is a revolution in the way we think and in the way we express what we think. The essence of this change is the emergence of what might best be called procedural epistemology--the study of the structure of knowledge from an imperative point of view, as opposed to the more declarative point of view taken by classical mathematical subjects. Mathematics provides a framework for dealing precisely with notions of "what is." Computation provides a framework for dealing precisely with notions of "how to."

In other words, computers are all about method, they are epistemological to the core, and they are made by human beings. All of these qualities make them objects as well as instruments of interpretation--a point that I'll return to, after we look at some of the ways these artifacts of procedural epistemology can be used in humanities research.

"The computer revolution is a revolution in the way we think and the way we express what we think." Naturally, I like that line. It's got a good Ongian ring to it, especially when you add to it Unsworth's commentary: "computers are all about method." It also gets at the heart of why English studies should not, can not, ignore digital technologies. If "the way we think and the way we express what we think" are not core concerns of English studies in its myriad forms, I don't know what is.

And, lastly, I thought I'd share the conclusion:
On the subject of "infrastructure" I'd like to encourage you to have a look at the draft report of the Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies: it became available for public comment just a few days ago, and it can be downloaded from the ACLS web site. The Commission is looking for comments on this draft, and your contributions would be most welcome: we hope that when it is complete the report will help to foster the development of the tools and the institutions that we require in order to reintegrate the human record in digital form, and make it not only practically available but also intellectually accessible to all those who might be interested in it.

That goal is, I think, a good place to stop, because it brings us back to the point that Frye made about the purpose of criticism in general, which is that it should be "interested in literature itself and in what it does or can do for people." However "scientific" or statistical or technical these new research methods might seem--however systematizing, totalizing, and gradgrindian--they are driven by the desire to understand the human record, and perhaps even more, to understand our understanding of it. That it should take a machine to do that is only a superficial paradox: the machine itself is simply an instrument of procedural epistemology, and its only function, at least in humanities research, is to offer us methods for imagining what we don't know, as well as what we do.

First, I quote this passage because of the mention of the Commission report, but, more importantly because of the false human-machine dichotomy hinted at here, a dichotomy Unsworth himself doesn't accept. I'd have pushed this farther than he did, however. I'd have suggested that there is no paradox, not even a superficial one, in using computers to engage in humanities research. Computers are no more and no less a tool than a book or a pen or a pair of glasses. Or, to quote Ong, "There is nothing more natural to humans than the artificial." Or, to put it another way: a tool is a tool is a tool. And we are, by definition, users of tools.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

ImageTexT CFP: The Comics Work of Neil Gaiman

I learned from Neil Gaiman's blog today that ImageTexT, the interdisciplinary comics journal based at the Univeristy of Florida, currently has a call for papers on the comics work of Neil Gaiman:
ImageTexT is pleased to announce an upcoming special issue on the work of Neil Gaiman. ImageTexT is a web-based journal published by the University of Florida, committed to advancing the academic study of comic books, comic strips, and animated cartoons. Under the guidance of an editorial board of scholars from a variety of disciplines, ImageTexT publishes solicited and peer-reviewed papers that investigate the material, historical, theoretical, and cultural implications of visual textuality. ImageTexT welcomes essays emphasizing (but not limited to) the aesthetics, cognition, production, reception, distribution and dissemination of comics and other media as they relate to comics, along with translations of previously existing research on comics as dimensions of visual culture.
For this issue, we are particularly interested in papers that help move beyond the core of well-rehearsed cliches that make up scholarship on Gaiman. Innovative and inventive approaches to the subject matter are greatly preferred to retracing the role of the mythic in Sandman, or discussing Dream in terms of Freud. Being a comics-centered journal, we are most interested in treatments of Gaiman's work in comics, although we use the term in the broadest sense, including Stardust and his children's picture books, and will certainly welcome treatments of Gaiman's non-comics work alongside his comics work.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The portrayal of stories and art in the work of Gaiman as contrasted with his British contemporaries (Moore, Morrison, etc)

  • Gaiman and his collaborators (especially Dave McKean): research on their subject status, influence and any tensions they bring to 'his' work, including issues of the auteur, polyvocality and seriality.

  • Sandman's relationship to different readerships, including how the books are viewed by the goth/punk community (also: relationship to music), academics, fantasy authors and readers, and the series' peculiar relationship to mainstream comics (also: consideration of superheroes and the superheroic in Gaiman's work).

  • Comics and (non-)illustrated Texts: theoretical approaches to, issues and effects of Gaiman's writing moving between these contexts.

  • Gaiman's conception of superheroes, as well as the ambiguous role of superheroes in Sandman.

  • The role of British history, culture and education in Gaiman's work and/or that of the American immigrant, including considerations of him alongside non-immigrant British comics writers and in the context of immigrant and postcolonial writing and authors.

  • The role of theology and the sacred, secular and profane in Gaiman's work, particularly that of Judeo-Christian divinity relative to the profusion of finite divinity.

  • Children and childhood in "children's" and "adult" stories by Gaiman, including issues of children's literature, bildungstromen, narratology, psychology and memory.
The full CFP is at, and the submission deadline is March 1, 2006.

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Julian Dibbell on MetaFilter

Julian Dibblell, digital culture commentator and author of the widely anthologized "A Rape in Cyberspace," has a piece on the success of MetaFilter in the Village Voice. From the introduction:
What's unusual about MetaFilter, rather, is that its thousands of contributors manage to make all those parts add up to a whole. Smart, avid, leanly written, and likably lefty, the posts and comments that frame the links somehow cohere into a recognizable sensibility rather than just more evidence of imminent worldwide information meltdown.

You'd think this would be an easier trick to pull off. After all, the high-toned generalist magazines-The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly-have been at it for over a century, and there's no shortage of bloggers who've been absorbing their elegantly balanced worldview for decades. Nonetheless it's a reliable rule of thumb that if a blog isn't a scattershot case of attention deficit disorder, then it's a single-issue exercise in obsessive compulsion. And while some might argue that only heroic editorial effort can overcome the tendency of blogs-especially collaborative ones-to go to one extreme or the other, MetaFilter shows otherwise. Look under the hood, and you'll find that a few simple tweaks-tight limits on the frequency of posts, for instance, and an active but light-handed pruning of redundant items-account for much of its success. The rest is bottomless, unquenchable curiosity about the world, but that's the easy part, right?
Read more.

via Depraved Librarian
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Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd GIG

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG begins broadcasting on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim next weekend (either the night of Nov. 19 or morning of Nov. 20 depending upon your time zone -- see the Adult Swim SAC page for times), and I see that the Ghost in the Shell: SAC web site has been updated. The update includes this SAC: 2nd GIG trailer. There's also a number of video clips from season 1, seven from episodes, the SAC trailer, and the opening credit sequence. While other people have been enjoying Lost and Prison Break, this is the show I've been waiting for.

While poking around, I also came across this cool Ghost in the Shell: SAC fan site.

The second half of Samurai Champloo also starts back up next weekend, playing, I think, an hour before Ghost in the Shell.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Palimpsest: Open Source Teaching Resources for Higher Ed

Palimpsest is a website where those who teach in higher education can create and share resources under an Attribution-NonCommercial Creative Commons License. Palimpsest was created on November 1, 2005 by George Williams, assistant professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Unlike WikiPedia, where anyone may make changes to the information, on Palimpsest, editing privileges are assigned by a moderator. If you would like to contribute, email for a user account. Contributors from all academic disciplines are welcome.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dissertation Abstract: Social Memory and Old English Literature

[Edit: I decided to add the chapter summaries and modified the intro to reflect this addition.]

A few weeks ago I promised I'd post my dissertation abstract and I've been negligent in doing that. I still have some applications to send out and I still tinker with it, and the chapter summary section is still rough and hasn't been sent out at all, so comments and suggestions are gladly accepted.

"Social Memory and Old English Literature"

Value of Research Specialization
As a study of the practices and traditions of social memory in Old English literature, my dissertation delves into two areas of memory studies that have been little explored: the traditions and practices of memory of Anglo-Saxon England and the active use of social memory by a pre-modern culture for the purposes of constructing a national identity. My dissertation demonstrates both the ways in which the practices and traditions of personal, rhetorical, and social memory are represented in Old English literature and the ways individual Anglo-Saxon authors actively used social memory to social-political purposes.

Argument of Dissertation
Taking a “dynamics of memory” approach to social memory and beginning with the assumption that literature, as a form of social memory, reflects, preserves, and even establishes not only the traditions of a culture but what that cultures does not want to forget, I argue that Anglo-Saxon social memory is a mixture of its varied traditions—Christian and pagan, Classical and Germanic, written and oral—and represents the ongoing process of negotiation between how the culture remembered its past and how individuals actively sought to construct that remembered past. Ultimately, I argue that approaching literature as social memory can help us better understand the traditions at play within a culture, and that Old English literature, as social memory, demonstrates our need to reevaluate our distinctions between modern and pre-modern practices of social memory.

Contribution of Dissertation
My dissertation changes and expands our understanding of the conceptions and traditions of memory in Old English literature and the use of social memory in pre-modern cultures. In my research, I
  • examine the linguistic, rhetorical, and social-cultural conceptions and practices of memory in Anglo-Saxon England as represented in Old English literature.

  • demonstrate that Anglo-Saxon social memory draws from its two traditions: the written, rhetorical, Classical, and Christian tradition and the oral, native, Germanic, and pagan tradition.

  • explore how medieval rhetorical memory was used in the construction and transmission of social memory and how Anglo-Saxon social memory was used for rhetorical purposes.

  • extend our understanding of the uses of memory in European oral-literate transitional cultures.

  • bring to bear on Old English literature some of social memory studies’ major concerns such the creation of invented traditions, the connections between personal and social memory, the intersections between memory and history, and trauma theory.

  • challenge the dominant view in social memory studies that the active engagement with invented traditions for the purposes of constructing national identity is a modern phenomena.
Relevance to Future Research
One reason I chose this particular topic is its potential for future research. Because it is a subject no one has yet undertaken, when published as a book, my dissertation will help fill in gaps in scholarship of Anglo-Saxon culture, medieval rhetorical memory, social memory, and orality-literacy studies. As this approach to pre-modern social memory is also applicable to other medieval traditions, such as the Icelandic Family Sagas and Middle English romances and chronicles, I am interested in applying this approach more broadly. This approach is can also provide a theoretical framework for approaching other traditions, such as medievalism as is represented in the collection Constructing Nations, Reconstructing Myth which I am co-editing. Finally, as my dissertation has given me a better understanding of pre-modern conceptions and uses of rhetorical memory, I have already begun to consider the ways in which the recovery of historical rhetorical memory can inform contemporary practice and I foresee a number of articles and a book emerging from this line of inquiry.

Chapter 1: Memory in Old English Literature: A Semantic-Field Study
Through a study of more than 50 Old English words from four semantic fields (the faculty of memory and remembering, the act of remembering and recollection, remembrance and commemoration, and consideration and rumination), this chapter is first comprehensive semantic-field study of memory in Old English. As the most detailed exploration of Anglo-Saxon conceptions of memory to date, this chapter serves as a foundation for the rest of the project.

Chapter 2: The Practices of Social Memory in Old English Literature
Drawing heavily upon the work of social memory scholars such as Jan and Aleida Assmann, Paul Connerton, James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Pierre Nora, and Eviatar Zerubavel, I discuss Old English literature as social memory, and I survey the ways in which it reflects, preserves, and even creates traditions of Anglo-Saxon social memory. In particular, this chapter focuses on how the practices of Anglo-Saxon social memory draws from both the written, rhetorical, Classical, and Christian tradition and the oral, native, Germanic, and pagan tradition, and it explores how medieval rhetorical memory was used in the construction and transmission of social memory.

Chapter 3: The Rhetoric of Remembrance in Old English Literature
From the commemoration of Beorhtnoth and his loyal thanes in "The Battle of Maldon," to the digressions in Beowulf, from the ubi sunt in "The Wanderer" to the Anglo-Saxonization of the Jews in the Old English "Exodus," and from Alfred’s reminiscence in Preface to Pastoral Care to Bede’s recounting of the trials and tribulations of the early Christians in England, the past is always present in Old English literature. While the previous chapter explores Old English literature as social memory, this chapter examines memory and remembrance as a rhetorical trope often used in for the purpose of preserving and transmitting social memory.

Chapter 4: The Construction of National Identity is Old English Literature
Focusing on texts such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, and Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, I argue that throughout the Anglo-Saxon period a number of authors and rhetors actively sought to create an Anglo-Saxon national identity through the use and even creation of social memory.

Chapter 5: "Swa begnornodon Geata leode": Beowulf as Traumatic Memory
In this chapter, I argue that Beowulf functions not only as social memory but as traumatic memory as well. As a tradition of Anglo-Saxon "mythhistory," Beowulf became doubly encoded with two cultural anxieties: the anxiety that came from leaving their ancestral homeland for England and the much more contemporary anxiety over the spiritual state of those left behind in that homeland that led to the active Anglo-Saxon missionary campaign on the continent.

In case you're wondering, the both the abstract and the chapter summary are one page each.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Collaborative Writing Environments and Wiki Roundup

Purely a reference for myself, but if you've used or try out any of these, I'd be happy tto hear what you think about them.

Writeboard. Web-based sharable documents that let you "write, share, revise, compare."

WikiNotes. Not really a collaborative environment per se, but wikish (for Mac OS X 10.4 or above with notes exportable to iPods).

JotSpot Live. Lifehacker describes this as "wiki-like" with a word processor like editing tools.

Schtuff. A free wiki service.

Wikispaces. A free wiki service.

Lifehacker's guide to installing Instiki. Instiki is a personal wiki program that runs on your desktop.

pbWiki. Mentioned here before, but mentioned again to be thorough. pbWiki are by default password protected but can be made public.

TiddlyWiki. Can print as 3x5 cards. Cleary a wiki to look into.

Backpack. A "wiki, weblog, to-do list and calendar."

Many, but not all, via Lifehacker.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blogging Pepys and Other Historical Sources

OhmyNews International has an article on blogging historical sources. What originally caught my eye, and hence the title of my post, is Phil Gyford's Pepys' Diary, in which Gyford is blogging Samuel Pepys' Diary. (Samuel Pepys, in case someone doesn't know, was a Seventeenth-century British government official whose diary, kept from 1660-1669, is considered one of the greatest and most popular works of Seventeenth-century British literature. Important events covered in Pepys' diary include the London Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. Gyford began on January 1, 2003 and will finish in 2012.)

While the article begins with a discussion of Gyford's blogging of Pepys, it also discusses a number of historical blogs, and links to the History News Network's Cliopatria, the HNN's blog that also sponsors annual history blog awards. Cliopatria's list of history blogs includes other primary source blogs like Pepys' Diary.

The whole idea of blogging historical sources is interesting on a number of levels. First, obviously, it helps get primary sources out on the Web, many of which readily fit the blog format such as diaries, journals, chronicles, letters, and commonplace books. It also brings to the fore the whole issue of documenting the personal. While many would argue that there is no inherent value in the daily recording of mundane in one's life, documents like Pepys' diary serve as an interesting counterpoint to these arguments. Yes, Pepys' diary is of interest to us because it is historical, because it's a glimpse into London some 400 years ago. And yes, Pepys himself was a good writer. And yes, as a governemnt official, Pepys had access to and writes about secrets of the powerful. Despite all that, what makes Pepys' diary so interesting is the glimpses of a past world it gives us. The desire to record the mundane events of one's day is an old one. Blogs, of course, bring the personal into the public realm, but for better or worse, that is becoming a defining characteristic of digital culture. It seems odd to us know because we stand with one foot in print culture and one foot in digital culture. While the old rules and practices no longer define our daily lives, the new rules and practices are not yet codified and interiorized. (This is not to say that the traditions and logics of print culture are being brushed aside, just that they are no longer the defining paradigm.

via Archivalia .

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Mind Hacks: Essential Sites for Students

Explorations of memory have, not surprisingly, required forays into cognitive science, which in turn have led me to cognitive linguistics and cognitive poetics. This interest in the cognitive is also bolstered by my Ongian work*. So, I've found of some interest Mind Hacks' Essential Sties for Students. I particularly like The Cognitive Science Millennium Project's list of the one hundred most influential works in cognitive science from the 20th century. The list is, I'm sure, problematic in all the ways such lists are, but it is also telling.

*On occasion, when I mention cognition and Ong, someone will get a bit dismissive and say something like "Ong was just a literary critic," which, I should note, isn't true. While he was not trained as a cognitive scientist, he long held a dual appointment in medical school's Department of Psychiatry where his official position was as Professor of Humanities in Psychiatry.

via Lifehacker.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Technorati Hacks

Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion offers 10 Technorati hacks for those who want to get more out Technorati

via Lifehacker

If:Book Critique of MIT's $100 Laptop Project

Over at If:Book, Ben Vershbow has an interesting critique of MIT's $100 Laptop project. Vershblow wonders if the "one laptop per child" movement will, ultimately, solve the problems endemic to the developing world or if it's (good intentioned) snake-oil cure-all to a problem that's more of a concern for us than those on the ground. More importantly, however, Vershbow is concerned about the focus on the "packaging" rather than the content, and he's concerned about the fact there hasn't been much discussion about creating an infrastructure to support those laptops:
The open source movement is behind One Laptop Per Child in a big way, and with them comes the belief that if you give the kids tools, they will teach themselves and grope their way to success. It's a lovely thought, and may prove true in some instances. But nothing can substitute for a good teacher. Or a good text. It's easy to think dreamy thoughts about technology emptied of content -- ready, like those [Container Store] aisles of containers, drawers and crates, to be filled with our hopes and anxieties, to be filled with little brown hands reaching for the stars. But that's too easy. And more than a little dangerous.

Dropping cheap, well-designed laptops into disadvantaged classrooms around the world may make a lot of money for the manufacturers and earn brownie points for governments. And it's a great feel-good story for everyone in the thousand-dollar laptop West. But it could make a mess on the ground.
There's also a disturbing comparison between the laptop program and the pharmaceutical industries pushing of baby formula on the developing world and the problems its created.

I haven't had enough time to take all this in, nor have I been following the laptop program well enough to make offer much critical analysis, but what all this brings to mind for me is the United States' movement in the 1990s to put an internet-connected computer into every classroom. We focused on supplying hardware without developing a supporting infrastructure, which ultimately led to a lot of computers collecting a lot of dust. One difference here is that the computers will be given to the children who may be more likely to play and learn than the average US adult, but I'm wondering how much of this expectation is rooted in cultural bias. Will a kid, who lives without electricity and running water, really take to a computer in a way that children in modernized cultures, kids who see older children and adults using computers if not at home at least in the media and in public spaces? What I'm getting at here is that we have an assumption that children "take" to technologies, but do we have any data, any studies, that show children take to technologies that aren't already a common part of their everyday experience?

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Humanities labs?

One item I've been meaning to discuss for a while now is the Inside Higher Ed article "We Need Humanities Labs" written by clinical psychologist and dissertation coach Gina Hiatt . She begins
I wonder how an English professor would feel spending a week in a physics lab. Not about the scientific work, but about the frequent, ongoing interaction between students and peers, post-docs and faculty. Scientists see each other in the lab, if not daily, then at least weekly. They have frequent lab meetings, colloquia and interaction with scholars at other universities around joint research.
And then, in comparison to the sciences, she notes:
In the humanities, outside of the classroom, this kind of easy and even semi-formal interaction is rare. The isolation for the grad student begins in earnest when the coursework is finished and the qualifying exams are completed. The fledgling ABD is nudged out of the nest, left to fly solo for long periods. The luckiest students have advisors who are mentors and insist on frequent meetings, which increase accountability and allow the student to learn how to think in a scholarly manner. The large majority, however, are left to flounder, some of them working as adjuncts far from the institution where they are trying to finish a Ph.D.
Finally, drawing upon Barton Kunstler's article "he Hothouse Effect: Time Proven Strategies of History's Most Creative Groups," she suggests that the humanities can create their own "hothouses" through weekly meetings with peers in which "the only agenda being the discussion of work in progress at an informal level." Based upon her dissertation support groups, she suggests that
People should be encouraged to attend with partly formed thoughts, poorly written paragraphs, or just an idea they want to develop. The idea is to think of all such scholarly dialogue as a laboratory. Ideas are cooked up, thrown in the test tube, and mixed with human interaction, creativity and motivation. These experiments will produce better written and less painfully produced dissertations or publications, and might engender a “creative humanities hothouse.”

I've found the reaction to this argument from those in the humanities to be interesting. While not universal, many of the reactions can be lumped into the mantra that "humanities research is solitary." Some suggest that solitude can lead to "independent thinking" and others note that in the humanities, unlike the sciences, we're isolated experts:
It would take months to familiarize anyone with all the materials he or she would need to know in order to make even a half-informed comment. Unfortunately, in history at least, almost no one, including your advisor , knows anything about your specific project other than the abstracts and reports you have given them yourself. The result is that we all talk about methodology or point out weaknesses in each other's papers, instead of discussing substantive issues in our research.
Denis Jerz, on his blog rather than in the discussion after the article, makes the best argument for the solitary nature of humanities work
[...] quite frankly, most work in the humanities IS solitary. I realize that hard and serious work is done in group environments, but in the humanities we don't first *do* research and *then* write it up -- typically the writing *is* the research, along with the requisite reading, and most of us need quiet and some control over our schedule in order to get that work done.

I'm quite sympathetic to the need for extended amounts of quiet, solitary time to do reading, thinking, and writing, but I'm not buying this argument that the humanities can't benefit from close interaction and regular discussion. I used to buy it, and I used to argue as much with a fellow graduate student who, observing the close interaction his wife, a biochemistry Ph.D. candidate, had with her fellow students and professors, argued that we in the humanities needed a similar setup.

In the past, I experienced something like a humanities "lab" for a couple of years. We used to have weekly Old English or Old Norse readings groups, and monthly practice oral exams in which the medieval faculty would grill one graduate student for 45-60 minutes on a narrowly focused subject such as Old English prose, lais, Middle English debate poetry, or, in my case, Beowulf followed by a debriefing discussion in which we all participated. In those days, the ideas I had zipping around my head were less narrowly focused, less one-tracked, and that, think, was a good thing. It's about the connections, the associations, the joining of disparate pieces of information into something new. It was the exposure to ideas, to thoughts, to associations and connections I wasn't going to encounter on my own. I also spent two years in a rhet-comp reading group. While we stopped reading as we moved into our respective dissertations, we still meet regularly to talk, offer moral support, and, most recently, to negotiate the job search process.

And that, I think, is what Gina Hiatt is suggesting in this piece, that by coming together weekly to focus on each others work, to bounce ideas off each other, to tap into and share each others storehouses of knowledge and experience, to create a continuing intellectual dialogue that we can draw upon when we enter into our quiet, solitary time of reading, thinking, and writing. But, most importantly, we then bring back to the group what we get out of that quiet, solitary time.

While I may know more about rhetorical memory, medieval memory theory, and social memory than anyone else in my department, let alone the rhetoricians and the medievalists, this doesn't mean that no one in my department has anything to offer me, which is, essentially, what the historian I quote above suggests. They've got plenty to offer me and I sometimes go and ask them. In the past six months, I've asked one friend who is writing his dissertation on Old English proverb collections some questions about proverbs, and I've asked another friend whose spent much time with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle if they could think of any sections in the ASC that I might be able to use as additional examples. Both helped me the best they could in that limited, one time contact. I know for certain that my friend working on OE proverbs could benefit greatly from my knowledge of the cognitive and memorial function of proverbs and that I would benefit from his greater knowledge of OE proverbs and their meanings. If we regularly met and discussed, I'm quite sure his dissertation would be different and I'm sure that my discussion of proverbs would be different too.

And that's the point. If we medievalists met regularly and discussed our work with our fellow graduate students and professors, our thoughts, our ideas, our associations, and our knowledge would be different. It would be deeper, richer, and thicker. In a nutshell, more textured and complex.

If we truly believe what we preach, that knowledge is socially constructed and that invention is a social act, it seems to me that we should be involved in these regular discussion sessions, that these should be a regular feature of graduate education in the humanities. Imagine, if you will, if you could join such a group when you started your program. Weekly, you sit and listen to others, the more experienced members of your field, discuss their ideas, and you contribute and ask questions as you want. Over time, as you progress, you start sharing your own ideas, your seminar papers, your conference presentations, your first publications, and, eventually, your dissertation. Your intellectual growth is not a solitary, by your own bootstraps experience punctuated by brief encounters with individual minds, but rather a continual ongoing conversation that regularly benefits from each others' labors because everyone's ideas are, to some extent, on each others' minds.

This is what the generative hothouse idea means for the humanities. As I read, I make a connection between what I'm reading and what my friend is working on and I tell my friend, and vise versa, or, as I share my ideas, fledgling or developed, with the group, someone else makes an associative link between my idea and something they've read or thought and they share it, which in turn sparks an association for someone else, which then sparks a connection between this idea and another idea I've been working on. But since I don't work in a hothouse environment, connections like this are random and unlikely. And when I do get feedback of these sort, it's not on my fledgling ideas but on the ones I've thought out, the ones I've spent time with and seem to me to be worth pursing. How many ideas have I had that withered on the vine because I didn't share them, because I didn't know or didn't remember X, so I couldn't combine X and Y to develop A, B, and C? How many ideas have you had that have withered likewise?

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Lifehacker's iTunes and iPod How-to Roundup

Lifehacker's Nov. 2 How-to roundup covers iTunes and iPods, including how to stream iTunes from home to work, buy an iTune for a friend, and use iWay to generate driving directions for your iPod.


Mac Resources: Wikitosh! A Mac User Wiki

Wikitosh is a new wiki developed specifically for Mac Users. In it you will be able to find and contribute to such subjects as Macintosh Computers and other Macintosh compatible hardware, Apple software and other software that runs on the Macintosh, a Support and Troubleshooting section that may help you upgrade, fix or repair, or otherwise troubleshoot issues that may arise with your Macintosh or peripherals, advanced areas for developers and programmers, as well as other topics of general interest to Macintosh Users. As a Wiki the content will be predominently provided by the Mac Community for use by the Mac Community (for more information please click on the "What is a Wiki?" link to the left.)

Be sure to check out Wikitosh's list of Must have software.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Typography Crash Course Roundup

Kevin Hale of particletree provides the article "Typography Crash Course Roundup," a set of links for those who want to learn more about type.
You can spend your whole life obsessing over type. It’s a craft with an awesome history and practicing it well often takes designers on a sort of quest that never seems to end. The strategies are both infinitely complex and sometimes irreducibly simple. The following resources are comprised of some of my favorite articles on the subject and some sites that should give most a great head start.
via Datacloud.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Don't Fear Plagiarism; Embrace it!

Plagiarism is the bugbear of higher ed these days and digital technologies are often identified as the vehicle if not the culprit for the plagiarism boom. Ultimately, my read on it all has to do with the growing pains we're experiencing as we move from the social, cultural, economic, material, and noetic structures of print into the social, cultural, economic, mateiral, and noetic structures of the digital. Any way, Mike over at Vita has a great discussion of his recently invented instant plagiarism assignment. The idea is behind the assignment is to have his students "do some initial focusing research while also making a point about plagiarism, and then to scaffold upon that initial research, getting them to put together an argument and structure in their own words without relying on any sources. " Mike concludes his post by saying:
And with that “Aha!” moment on their part, we moved on to the final portion of class, where they put together their pseudo-plagiarized draft with their assertion outline, introducing the combination with a brief note to me concerning how their perspective and insights extend the argument beyond what their sources say. As I look through their drafts tonight, it’s some solid initial work. Their assignment over the weekend is to do their library research in earnest; to come to me next week with a five-source annotated bibliography, which — scaffolded upon this week’s work — should give them a better idea of the range of discourse they’re addressing for this assignment.

I’m quite happy with the way this early work came out, and I think it more effectively models the careful and recursive way in which good research works, while explicitly addressing some of my other major pedagogical goals for this assigment, as well.

Don't fear plagarism. Embrace it.

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Snippets from The Art of Memory

Mintra Tansukhanunt of MaWiki has a good list of snippets/reading notes from Francis Yates' The Art of Memory at

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Intelligent Memory in the Internet Age

C|Net published a interesting article on "Intelligence in age of Internet" back in mid September and I forgot to mention it here. The article begins with the question: "It's a question older than the Parthenon: Do innovations and new technologies make us more intelligent?" and the piece discusses this issue from a historical and cross-cultural perspective. A few quotes:
Intelligence, as it impacts the economist Valderrama, is our capacity to adapt and thrive in our own environment. In a Darwinian sense, it's as true now as it was millions of years ago, when man's aptitude for hearing the way branches broke or smelling a spore affected his power to avoid predators, eat and survive.

But what makes someone smart can vary in different cultures and situations. A successful Wall Street banker who has dropped into the Australian Outback likely couldn't pull off a great Crocodile Dundee impression. A mathematical genius like Isaac Newton could be--in fact, he was--socially inept and a borderline hermit. A master painter? Probably not so good at balancing a checkbook.

Despite what I like about this piece, it has a very limited understanding of memory. For instance:
Only 600 years ago, people relied on memory as a primary means of communication and tradition. Before the printed word, memory was essential to lawyers, doctors, priests and poets, and those with particular talents for memory were revered. Seneca, a famous teacher of rhetoric around A.D. 37, was said to be able to repeat long passages of speeches he had heard years before. "Memory," said Greek playwright Aeschylus, "is the mother of all wisdom."

People feared the invention of the printing press because it would cause people to rely on books for their memory. Today, memory is more irrelevant than ever, argue some academics.

"What's important is your ability to use what you know well. There are people who are walking encyclopedias, but they make a mess of their lives. Getting a 100 percent on a written driving test doesn't mean you can drive," said Robert Sternberg, dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and a professor of psychology.

As I argue when ever I get the chance, the art of memory has always been about information management, the "ability to use what you know well" whether what you know is stored in your brain, in your Palm Pilot, in the library, or on the Web. Moreover, not only does this article make the common mistake in only understanding memory from an internal-external storage perspective rather than the more important natural-artificial perspective, it only understands memory as a function of cognition. When we know how to drive we rely upon habit-memory, also known as procedural memory. While I read Robert Sternberg's quote as making a distinction between declarative memory and habit-memory/procedural memory.

11/5 update/edit: The title of this post should have read "Intelligence in the Internet Age" after the name of the article, but, obviously, my subconscious had other plans. I can't help but note that I changed "intelligence" to "intelligent memory," especially within the context of my critique above. Intelligent memory, you see, governs the way we think, and is made up of "pieces of information, connections between the pieces, and the mental processes that manage the pieces and connections" (Gordon and Berger, Intelligent Memory, 7). I haven't thought about or worked enough with intelligent memory yet to say anything profound, but while "ordinary" memory tends to diminish with age, intelligent memory can be actively improved with old age and, in fact, does improve through experience.

To use an example from Intelligent Memory, Gordon and Berger explain that when we remember where we've put our car keys, we're drawing upon "ordinary memory." Everything else we know about our keys, what they're for, what they resemble, and the ways we might use them other than starting a car, such as for prying off a lid or cutting through thin plastic, are all governed by intelligent memory. Likewise, they explain, when you translate the marks on this screen (or their book) into letters, then words, and finally into a coherent message, you're using your intelligent memory.

So, how is intelligent memory important in the Internet Age? It governs both critical and creative thinking. It's what allows us to draw from our book knowledge of driving and our habit-memory of driving and make use of both in new ways when we encounter unfamiliar situations while driving. Likewise, when we intuit a new application or figure out how to navigate a new interface or when we modify, hack, or repurpose, we're making use of our intelligent memory. It's late, I've had far too little sleep for far too long, and I've got some unarticulated idea hiding in the recesses of my mind, dancing behind a veil. Essentially, if the Internet Age is to be one of critical and creative thinking, of innovation, then it is intelligent memory from which we'll need to draw.

Via Datacloud via Boing Boing
Cross-posted to Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive

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