Category Archives: categories

what can you do with a million (non-digitized) books?

I am growing into a scholar with a foot in literature and a foot in information science, I have a stake in asking and answering that newly liberated question: What can you do with a million books? What do you do with a million books?

It’s a question that’s being asked a lot in the past few years, and what’s more, so many answers are beginning to be offered in concrete terms rather than speculation. It’s an exciting and promising time for literature, for other humanistic fields. Digital humanities are here, and we finally have both the ready means and ready material to start interrogating texts in ways that were logistically not possible before now.

It’s a question that I’d like to offer my own answers to, in the form of experiments and projects, as so many others are now doing. But there is always another question nagging at me when I look, with real enthusiasm, at the kind of work that is being done to take humanistic inquiry to an unprecedented scale.

At first I asked the question that made me feel like an outsider, despite sharing the same desires and the same curiosity as those whose web sites I visit, and whose articles I read. I asked, why is this happening in the same departments, in the same fields? Why does it seem that this is limited not to a discipline, but to a time, to a place?

To be blunt, the vast majority of projects are dealing with texts in English or French, or more broadly in European languages, with the classics, and with texts from the early modern period through the early 20th century. Why did I read an article today whose very title asked “what is the place of digital humanities in English departments?”
Continue reading what can you do with a million (non-digitized) books?

web travel

Regarding my last post, how to think about what “makes up” the web? Sites, paths, a combination? Something else?

Conceptually the way we typically think of the Web is in terms of “sites” – obviously, “Web site” (with “pages”, like so many leaves) is a commonly understood term. So with my emphasis on conceptualizing the Web as made up of infinitely many organic and spontaneous paths, rather than established and locatable sites, I have been thinking about words to use to describe this ephemeral thing.

How about Web journeys? Is this too cheesy? I think of a journey as sometimes having a destination, sometimes getting there, sometimes getting quite off track, and sometimes only having a vague idea of where it will take place. It traverses sites but is not made up of them.

the linked, linear, serendipitous Web

I’m taking a course on Web archiving for the second half of this winter term at U of M, and from the very beginning our major project has got my brain going on theoretical issues and implications of technology and our offline assumptions as they impact our approach to the Web.

Here’s the thing about the Web. (And let’s distinguish it from “Internet.” I am only talking about the Web.) Perhaps the most wonderful, inspiring, and revolutionary aspect of hypertext and hyperlinks are their difference from print, and from scanned book images or e-books treated as paper books. I am talking about text that means something to the computer (in a sense, in that it’s manipulable), rather than the image of words on a page, which is also how I’d describe print media.

How are hypermedia different? Two words: linked, and linear.
Continue reading the linked, linear, serendipitous Web

who is ‘anonymous’?

Given that I write about issues of anonymous, collective, and pseudonymous authorship, a headline this morning couldn’t help but grab my attention.

Guessing Who the Anonymous Author of ‘O’ Is” (New York Times, 2011.01.19)

This headline is terrible, and not just in terms of grammar and flow (not to mention catchiness). By terrible, I of course mean that I would rewrite it. Let’s try this.

“Media Freaks Out Over Not Knowing Who Wrote Work Published Anonymously; Writers Overcompensate By Insisting Loudly That They Didn’t Do It” (I have no idea if my capitalization is right. So maybe you can burn me for grammar too!)

The article begins with this great statement that pretty much sums up the attitude of journalists and critics toward a kind of entitlement to making a direct connection between attributed author (here, “Anonymous”) and a single writer or team of writers.

The publisher of “O,” an anonymously written novel about a 2012 presidential campaign, made a brazen request of journalists and other writers in an e-mail on Tuesday: if anyone asks whether you are the author, please decline to comment.

I couldn’t have made up anything better. It’s brazen! The nerve of that publisher to emphasize the authorial identity of “Anonymous” as complete in itself rather than something that demands to be linked to the private identities of the writer(s). Of course, it’s not just the possibility of “Anonymous” in itself being an author: it’s also the context of past political novels (here, Primary Colors) attributed to that very same author, although here the “Anonymous” is quite different in that it is tied to a completely separate political novel.

I often ask when studying writing in the 1880s and 1890s, what did it mean to read a work that has no writer’s name attached, and one attributed only to Anonymous?

Continue reading who is ‘anonymous’?

some questions for the media

…to which I already know the answers. So don’t worry, I’m not looking for an explanation of the obvious.

I’d simply like to juxtapose some stories to think about.

First up – a kid is arrested in an FBI sting for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Portland, OR. (Note: I am on the side of the FBI in this one. From everything I’ve heard about the story, it seems about as far from entrapment as you can get and still be running a sting.) It’s front page news. Obviously. It should be.

So what isn’t front page news? What did I just have to spend over five minutes digging through CBSnews.com to find, under the “front page news” of the Unabomber’s Montana property going up for sale, and “how to feel sexy while aging” (answer: have lots of sex. not making that up.)?

Guy attempts to set mosque on fire in Corvallis, OR, days after the kid is arrested. Guy is arrested for doing so. He’s in jail. This isn’t even second-page news. This is comb-through-the-site-for-a-few-minutes news. Conduct-a-few-searches-because-I-can’t-find-it (even though it was sent to my cell phone via Google News a few minutes before) kind of news.

Should it be? I think you can guess what my answer would be to that question. I dare not even ask if it should be covered as “domestic terrorism” in the same way that say, the same action undertaken by a brown person with an accent. If I went and asked that, I’d have to keep asking about our shifting use of “terrorism” and why it never seems to apply to our most bountiful domestic terrorists, white power and violent anti-abortion groups.

Regardless of your views on any of this, wouldn’t it be nice for this kind of article to be a little closer to the top of the page? As opposed to, say, the media’s freak-out about new TSA screening procedures when it turned out that, as reported in the media, absolutely no freak-out actually occurred in reality despite their predictions? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a front-page story about something that happened, in addition to all that stuff that didn’t happen?

Oh well. Let’s move on.

Second story of the day is the continued “deliberation” over whether to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). There has been a Pentagon study. General McMullen has repeatedly called for its repeal. Then the heads of the various military units call for it not to be “while we’re fighting.” (Conveniently for them, it doesn’t look like this will ever not be the case, so they’re kind of off the hook.) Sen. McCain goes into increasingly complex contortions to get out of admitting that there has been a large-scale study done that overwhelmingly concludes that the policy should be repealed. Other senators waffle. It is endless.

The question that comes up again and again is how active-duty personnel, especially in combat, think it would affect their ability to do their jobs. How will it impact the unit? How will it impact their own effectiveness? Morale?

So here’s a question I would like to hear asked, just once. Even once would be enough.

How do currently serving gay and lesbian personnel feel their effectiveness and morale is influenced by DADT? How would its repeal impact their ability to do their jobs, in combat, where they are already serving? How do the people directly impacted by DADT feel about it currently and how would they feel if it was done away with?

The questions that will never be asked. I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?

arbitrary categorization: temporal boundary installment

An arbitrary annoyance of mine has piqued a strange and obsessive interest, and perhaps you could say, a one-woman mission to rethink the way we cut off time.

A fancy way of saying this: as midnight approaches (well beyond my bedtime on a school night), I look at the clock in the playground below my balcony. And I think, it’s almost tomorrow.

But why is it almost tomorrow? Why mark the day with midnight, why that arbitrary division? Not that any division won’t be arbitrary, that any border or category of “day” and “hour” and any other subdivision won’t be, but that I wonder – why not the dawn?

Surely, one can protest, it is fluid and doesn’t remain constant on every day. It ruins, as Benedict Anderson put it, homogenous, empty time. Is time homogeneous, even for those of us who live in supposed modernity? I argue that it is not, although that’s not much of an argument. I state that is not. I put forward that we give great meaning to temporal boundaries, that those meanings change day today, season to season, year to year. Those boundaries can, and are, meaningful markers, no matter how arbitrary.

As a technical Catholic (there is no escape; trust me, I tried), I reflected recently on my idea to spend Christmas as a vacation, to indulge my atheism. And then it hit me – perhaps I could enjoy a really spectacular Christmas in finding an opulent Catholic church and attending midnight mass.

Midnight mass. What an example. I’ve got my own intellectual issues with Anderson. They are legion. I can’t think of a better example to contradict his argument about time and modernity. Midnight mass is a technicality, like so much in the Catholic faith (and I say that with the utmost good will), a way to get in an obligation just-in-time, before getting off the hook for the commercial and gustatory hedonism that is Christmas Day. It’s predicted “just-in-time” delivery of business services by, well, as long as it’s existed. Something tells me that’s quite longer than the 1990s.

Back to my proposition, which is this: forget this day change at midnight. What is the point? We sleep through it. (Well, some of us. We should. And we don’t.) We can’t directly experience our social marking of the boundaries of the day. There is, really, no social marking, save for those on the night shift or those who are rushing to finish a project that was due tomorrow one minute, then today the next. Midnight projects an air of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes one of panic.

I’m on a one-woman mission to change this. From now on, I call for a universal change of marking the passage of one day to the next. My choice is 5 am. I’d love dawn. But our homogeneous empty time seems to call for an arbitrary number. 5 am. This is what I want.

Anyone with me?