Friday, September 30, 2011


  • For the first time in many years, there are actually jobs in my field. I don't want to move, and I probably won't apply, but a lot of them seem to read like this "Wanted: Undine Specialty 1 with possible subfield in Undine Specialties 2 and 3." It's tempting.
  • Some day, I am going to stand up in a faculty meeting and say, "This is not a karaoke bar. You cannot just stand up and hold forth to no particular purpose with all of us as your captive audience. If you're going to do that, at least buy us a round."
  • A few months ago, I was talking with someone (let's call hir Fatuous Fool) in Undine Specialty 2 who'd been in the field for, oh, 20 minutes or so, and FF said, "Of course X isn't really a Specialty 2 project at all." "Really? Why?" I asked. "How would you define Specialty 2?" "Um, er, um," replied FF, after which I dropped it. I wish now that I had pursued it a little further and been a little less gracious, because really, who made FF the deity of Specialty 2? Well, maybe taking the high road was all for the best.
  • I am tempted to rant further about reinventing the educratic wheel--"No more dreary lectures with our new ed-u-matic professor software!"--but fortunately Historiann has done it for me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Touching books

In one of my classes this semester, the students (some of them) seem happier to watch and listen than to speak up and participate. It's as though all those crazy antics I'm performing at the front of the class--you know, asking questions--are less real to them than the PowerPoints I use to show pictures and key terms when I lecture. We've done groups, presentations, reading aloud, and lots of other things. I think they're coming around.

The other day, I was introducing an author, and I had them come up to the front of the class. It's not small class, but they all gathered around.

"You know, when you read from our anthology, it's easy to lose sight of the context," I began. "I'll bet you think that Famous Author lives in this anthology."

She's clearly lost it this time, their eyes said. How could an author live in a book?

Then I pulled out some books and some copies of the magazines in which FA had published. They passed them around and I talked about the kinds of places where FA had published, how authors usually published with the same publishing house over a period of time, and all that. I asked them to look at the jokes and drawings and what they noticed about the magazines.

They seemed interested and stayed that way even when we moved on to the next part of the class. How could you be indifferent to an author when you've held the actual publication in which FA published all those decades ago? At the very least, they don't think that FA lives in an anthology any more, and they have a pretty good sense of the kind of literary house in which s/he does live.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Writers' little helpers

Some technological, some not.

First the not-technological:
  • First of all, the Another Damned Notorious Writing Group. It really did help to feel as though I needed to accomplish something and check in on Friday.
  • Also, the ADNWG inspires bloggers to write about writing, as posts by its cofounders and also Sisyphus, Dr. Crazy, Dr. Virago, Dame Eleanor, and all the comments on the ADNWG posts attest.
  • Opposite day. I think I've posted before that my natural time to write is in the evening, by which I mean that I have better concentration and interest then, and I can write more in 2 hours in the evening than in 4 hours during the day. Given every piece of advice on writing ever published, I've been trying very hard to do the "get up in the morning and write" thing, but yesterday I just gave up, did fun class-prep work all day, cruised around on the internet a little, and in the evening finally made the suckitude meter budge in the right direction on this get-it-out-the-door article that I have to finish. I wrote a bunch and can now see the end in sight.
The technological ones:
  • Pomodoro. I finally broke down and bought Pomodoro instead of using my regular timer. Somehow, having its alien voice tell me to get started has helped, as has the game-type quality of having it enter the time spent automatically on my calendar.
  • Google Calendar. It truly did make a difference when I actually wrote in "Write" as an appointment on writing days. It's all a Jedi mind trick, like the timers, but really, what isn't?
  • 750words. It doesn't work for the kinds of editing and rewriting I was doing yesterday, but for generating text that you can then cut into shape, it works well.
  • Freedom. Freedom cuts you off from the Internet for a period of time that you specify. The Windows version I tried didn't work, although whether that was due to Freedom or the general haplessness of Vista, I'm not sure. It works well with a Mac but--important--not if you are also running Pomodoro.
  • Excel. I know I've posted before about a spreadsheet I keep (on the advice of Boice & Silvia) listing word counts for the day & a brief description of what I did. I recently opened a new workbook page and started keeping track just of the time I started with the beginning and ending word counts. I used to do this on paper, but except for planning and editing, I haven't felt like writing much on paper lately, and this works.
I do realize these are all toys to keep me entertained while I get to work, little shiny technological carrots, so to speak, but if they work, they work. I'm saving learning about Scrivener, which I own but can't figure out yet, for the next big writing push.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small post on writing

With all due respect to Profacero, Dame Eleanor, Dr. Virago, and Jonathan at Prose Doctor, writing is not either* neither easy or fun right now. I'm still finishing up a promised piece that I thought I could get done before Notorious/ADM's writing challenge--the one I listed so confidently last Friday--but it isn't happening despite many long hours of working on it this week (and the week before that, and the week before that, and so on).

It's sucking up vast quantities of time that I'm supposed to be putting to other things. It's slow work, and it's harder work than it ought to be. Some parts are pretty good, some are okay, and some are bad but getting better. Instead of a word count meter, maybe I should put in a suckitude meter and measure the gradual progress in the right direction that way.

But it will get better, and it will get done.

*"Neither." Sheesh. See what I mean about the words not working?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hacking the Academy: Transformative? Feasible?

The shorter version of the free, crowdsourced book Hacking the Academy is now online (via Profhacker) at this site: I've been reading through the "Hacking Scholarship" part.

The whole essay or series of essays, if it's not too old-school a term to refer to them that way, is exciting; you can feel the energy that went into this project. It's also exciting to see put together in one place ideas that have been out on the blogosphere for some time. Here are some excerpts, with comments and questions:
  • "Say no, when asked to undertake peer-review work on a book or article manuscript that has been submitted for publication by a for-profit publisher or a journal under the control of a commercial publisher." (Jason Baird Jackson)
Cathy Davidson and other eminences may be able to get away with this, but if your university, like most, counts productivity in ways that engage with traditional publishing, this Bartleby "I would prefer not to" idea may not work.
  • "The idea that knowledge is a product, which can be delivered in an analog vehicle needs to be questioned. What the network shows us, is that many of our views of information were/are based on librocentric biases." (David Parry)
True, and again, something that's exciting and potentially liberating, although I confess to being librocentric (a librophiliac?). I don't know about this "knowledge as product in an analog vehicle," though. Haven't we been talking about alternative ways to exchange/preserve/present knowledge for at least the last 20 years or roughly the Internet age? That's how long I've heard about it, at any rate.
  • "In a world where the primary tools for finding new scholarship are tagged, social databases like Delicious and LibraryThing, the most efficient form of journal interface with the world might be a for journals to scrap their websites and become collective, tagging entities." (Jo Guldi) Guldi goes on to suggest a "wikification" that would allow a journal article to be crowdsource-reviewed for a year and to disappear if the author didn't make it a stronger article as a result.
Again, another interesting idea. Here the "survival of the fittest" ethos usually considered to be the province of official peer reviewers is crowdsourced--still Darwinian, in that a few will survive but many perish, but more democratic, maybe. Someone else suggested that reviews will still be "invited," so there will still be a hierarchy.

Meanwhile, the article dangles in the wind for a year, and if it is deemed insufficiently improved (by whom?) it disappears and the now publicly humiliated author . . . does what? Takes it off his or her cv, if it was on there to begin with? At what point does it count as "published," if we will still even have that category of evaluation?
  • "But the key point is that we need to take back our publications from the market-based economy, and to reorient scholarly communication within the gift economy that best enables our work to thrive. We are, after all, already doing the labor for free—the labor of research, the labor of writing, the labor of editing—as a means of contributing to the advancement of the collective knowledge in our fields." (Kathleen Fitzpatrick)
Can I get a big "amen"?
  • "But, as Cathy Davidson has noted, 'the database is not the scholarship. The book or the article that results from it is the scholarship.'” (Mills Kelly)
True--and yet what about the work that goes into establishing, curating, and mounting a database for use, not to mention the technical details? Kelly says, rightly, that it's not considered scholarship if it doesn't make an argument. Isn't the selection of texts and choice of access media a form of argument or at least an intellectual labor?

More to the point: Kelly never says this and never puts it in this way, but I'm uncomfortable with what could be seen as a distinction between worker bees who create the database and the "real scholars" who use it. Don't we value editions? Why should a database be less valued? Tom Scheinfeldt provides an answer for this:
  • At the very least, we need to make room for both kinds of digital humanities, the kind that seeks to make arguments and answer questions now and the kind that builds tools and resources with questions in mind, but only in the back of its mind and only for later.

  • Anyway, even if you don't agree with all of it, it's an exciting way to think about the possibilities of scholarship, so go read it.

    Your thoughts?

    Tuesday, September 06, 2011

    Monty Python wisdom

    Sometimes it happens: didn't sleep well, woke up early, went back to sleep and had a bad teaching dream (they showed up in a room I hadn't been told about), and so on.

    So in the rich tradition of interior monologues, as I was preparing to leave for the day, one part of my brain said, "I don't feel like teaching today."

    Up pipes a John Cleese voice from the "Dead Parrot" sketch. You know the part where Palin tells Cleese, "Beautiful plumage, the Norwegian blue" and Cleese answers "The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead"?

    Yes, a John Cleese voice popped up inside my head and said, "Your wanting to teach don't enter into it."

    I laughed, got in the car, taught all day, and had good classes. It's true: when they're expecting you to show up, your momentary thought that you might not feel like it don't enter into it.

    (Link to the sketch: Dead Parrot Sketch)

    Thursday, September 01, 2011

    Where have all the bloggers gone?

    Gone to the Chronicle, every one--well, two of them anyway: Tenured Radical and now Lesboprof. The Chronicle is not what you'd call enthusiastic about casual pseudonymous passers-by leaving comments (you need a Chronicle identity), so I won't be able to wish Lesboprof well in her new digs as I'd wanted to.

    Inktopia? Gone to Scientopia (at least for a guest post).

    Dr. Isis? Gone to her own domain:

    Comradde PhysioProffe? Gone to a group blog:

    I know there've always been group blogs, and this is only a few instances, but I'm wondering if we're seeing some kind of consolidation wave taking place. This is good in one way because the Chronicle and other sites are recognizing the power of blogs, but on the other hand, the integration of blogs/Twitter/Facebook that sites are aiming for makes that cloak of pseudonymity even thinner than before.

    Maybe the "thin pseudonym" people like Historiann and the moms at Roxie's Place have the right idea. Yet when I tried blogging a little bit under my own name, I hedged so much about everything that the posts were worthless (and I took the blog down almost immediately).

    For better or worse, this feels like a real voice in ways that my real voice did not. How's that for a conundrum?