Category Archives: c18

Publicity and the Public Sphere (Digital Humanities Caucus)

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The ASECS Digital Humanities Caucus is seeking panelists for a 2013 conference session on digital humanities, publicity, and the public sphere.

“[D]igital humanities is . . . a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.”

–Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What Is Digital humanities and What‘s It Doing in English Departments?”

The “social undertaking” of the digital humanities is, in some ways, a remarkably eighteenth-century set of practices. The intersection between print, modernity, publicity, and democratic engagement has long been of interest to scholars of the eighteenth century. What can digital humanities help us learn about the eighteenth-century public sphere and publicity? What can the digital humanities—its methodologies, its tools, its ethics, its politics—bring to the study of the eighteenth century? How does understanding eighteenth-century modes of publication and publicity help us analyze our own digital culture? This panel seeks theoretical, critical, and/or pedagogical responses to these
broad questions broadly defined.

Please submit proposals or inquiries to the following address: Tonya Howe, Marymount U., Dept. of Literature and Languages, 2807 North Glebe Road, Arlington VA 22207; Tel: (703) 284-5762; Fax: (703) 284-3859; E-mail:  thowe@marymount.edu. Proposals are appreciated by September 1, 2012.

ASECS 2012 Proposal: Student-Curated Web Archives and the Practice of Public Scholarship

This is the proposal for my 2012 ASECS talk; I’ll post the full (and very different) piece soon!

The process of creating sound public knowledge shares a great deal with the knowledge-making procedures in the arts and humanities.  These procedures include interpretation, judgment, imagination, and expression….  In this respect, then, the humanities scholars are natural allies for the public….  In strengthening the public sphere, they can shore up their own place in a society that sees little need for them.”

— Noëlle McAfee, “Ways of
Knowing: The Humanities and the Public Sphere”

I wanted to open with this quote from Noelle McAfee’s “Ways of Knowing” because it gets at something central to what we do, I think, as scholars and teachers of literature–and, in many ways, what we do as scholars and teachers of 18th century literature. If we believe, as John Guillory has shown, that the cultural capital underwritten by English departments today is no longer that of a shared body of knowledge that distinguishes the educated and the elite, but instead that of a set of skills, with writing front and center, then McAfee’s point is even more well-taken. She writes that the “knowledge-making procedures in the…humanities” include “interpretation, judgment, imagination, and expression.” These are remarkably similar to what characterizes the creation of “sound public knowledge.” In both cases, it is not so much a question of what is studied as how it is studied, because the “it” is never completely distinct from the “how.”

Indeed, one of the things I routinely encounter as a teacher of everything from composition to Restoration and 18th-century theater and advanced research methodologies is the desire students have to see subject matter or content as distinct from the form and the structure through which it is represented. By turning students into knowledge-creators, especially public, self-conscious knowledge-creators, we can help overcome this shortsightedness–which is itself a product of an educational system that teaches to the test. Encouraging students to see their work as something that not only exists in and as part of the public sphere, but also itself offers a clear contribution to a scholarly conversation presents one way to transform students into self-conscious knowledge-creators. Technology may pose as many problems as it offers solutions, but with judicious choice and thorough familiarity, some tools can make this transformation less radical and more revelatory.

[omeka]

In “Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community,” part of the findings of the ACLS’s National Task Force on Scholarship and the Public Humanities, James Quay and James Veninga explore the relationship between the humanities, institutions of higher education in the liberal arts tradition, and civic engagement. Considering the radical cultural changes shaping our world today, Quay and Veninga note that the greatest “test of…democracy” is located in “enriching public conversation and extending participation in this conversation to all Americans.” The most central challenge facing higher education today, they find, is overcoming the sense and practice of a divide between academic scholarship in the humanities and public engagement. And yet, this divide is not insurmountable; it is more accurate, and indeed more useful, “to consider scholarship and the public humanities not as two distinct spheres but as parts of a single process, the process of taking private insight, testing it, and turning it into public knowledge.”

This process is most visible when (excuse the generalization) the Ivory Tower meets Joe Public: in a crowded DC museum, in an open, collaboratively-produced web archive like The Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, in a prison performance of The Tempest organized jointly by faculty, students and the incarcerated. In “The Humanities and the Public Soul,” Julie Ellison puts it this way: “The specific importance of public scholarship in the arts and humanities is to provide purposeful social learning, spaces where individuals and groups with ‘trustworthy knowledge’ convene to pursue joint inquiry and invention that produces a concrete result.”

Works Cited

Ellison, Julie. “The Humanities and the Public Soul.” Imagining America: Reports and Resources. 27 July 2011. <http://www.imaginingamerica.org/IApdfs/Ellison.HumanitiesPublicSoul.pdf>.

McAfee,  Noëlle.  “Ways of Knowing: The Humanities and the Public Sphere.” Standing with the Public: The Humanities and Democratic Practice.  Kettering Foundation Press, 1997.

Quay, James, and James Veninga. “Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community.” American Council of Learned Societies.  27 July 2011. 1990. <http://archives.acls.org/op/op11quay.htm>.

Working Assignment: Digital Gomatos Collection

This March at ASECS, I’m presenting my work on the development of a collaborative digital assignment for graduate students (which could also work for advanced undergraduates) organized around the creation of items in an Omeka collection. The idea is to work together to define and populate a subcollection of materials housed in our small special collections room–the assignment could be a part of a course on research methods, or a topics course (like Ethics and the Public Sphere in the 18th Century). The goal is, broadly speaking, to enable students to see research and the production of knowledge as a collaborative, creative, public activity with ties outside the classroom. I want my students to see research as a process of making–making knowledge, making access, making texts, making tools, making decisions that affect how we interact with texts, making decisions that affect how we interact with others and other ideas. I’d like to connect the project to eighteenth-century concepts of publicity and democratization, with reference to sociability, conversationality, practices of publishing, and the history of copyright.

Below, I’ve included a working version of the assignment; I’m not planning, right now, to incorporate TEI markup, but I want to ensure that there is room for its inclusion in the future. If you’re doing projects like this, I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially about targeted supplementary readings, steps I may have missed, and key questions students are likely to have that I’ve not addressed here. (Sadly, the embedded google doc isn’t perfectly formatted…)

Student-Curated Web Archives and the Public Humanities

Just got my ASECS proposal in for the next conference! I feel as though I just returned from San Antonio…. Here it is:

In “Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community,” part of the findings of the ACLS’s National Task Force on Scholarship and the Public Humanities, James Quay and James Veninga explore the relationship between the humanities, institutions of higher education in the liberal arts tradition, and civic engagement. Considering the radical cultural changes shaping our world today, Quay and Veninga note that the greatest “test of…democracy” is located in “enriching public conversation and extending participation in this conversation to all Americans.” The most central challenge facing higher education today, they find, is overcoming the sense and practice of a divide between academic scholarship in the humanities and public engagement. And yet, this divide is not insurmountable; it is more accurate, and indeed more useful, “to consider scholarship and the public humanities not as two distinct spheres but as parts of a single process, the process of taking private insight, testing it, and turning it into public knowledge.”

Since 2010, I have been experimenting with Omeka as a platform from which to build a collaboratively-generated and student-curated web archive based on selected eighteenth-century holdings in our university’s small special collection. I am developing a course built entirely around the project by using some of the collection’s strengths—like travel narratives, sermon collections, and texts dealing with health and illness—to help students understand their roles not only as participants in an ongoing conversation of ideas, but also as creators of public knowledge in a digital age that works with tactile, pre-digital materials. In the central project, students select one of a range of texts that have been tapped for inclusion in the Omeka archive, study it for content as well as context and form, discover the particularities of our edition, situate the text within the range of open-access indexes (like the ESTC and 18th Century Book Tracker), conduct research on the item’s significance, and create a full record for the item in the archive. Each record contains a brief researched overview geared toward a general audience, hyperlinked further-reading bibliography, page images of a selected portion of the item, and an edited and searchable PDF version of the selection, in addition to tags and basic metadata drawn from the Library of Congress catalog listings. The project has several variations—for instance, the class may work with a single item as a whole, considering and developing standardized methods for representing the data associated with the record—and I am also experimenting with ways to include a collaborative scholarly XML edition of the item.

The project seeks to concretize the significance of the public sphere in the eighteenth century—particularly the role of print in its formation, as well as the progressive values of open conversation and rational civic debate it fosters—while drawing on the goals and methods of the public humanities. Because I teach at a Catholic-identified private university, such a project has additional civic implications. In “The Humanities and the Public Soul,” Julie Ellison puts it this way: “The specific importance of public scholarship in the arts and humanities is to provide purposeful social learning, spaces where individuals and groups with ‘trustworthy knowledge’ convene to pursue joint inquiry and invention that produces a concrete result.” Ultimately, the site will grow into a self-consciously produced resource that provides a context from which students can explore the material ramifications of participation in a kind of academic learning that is social, concrete, and public.

Because of the scale of this project, I am still in the process of developing it—currently, a small number of our MA students are creating records according to a working model, testing the parameters of the assignment, and providing feedback on the experience while learning about the practical and theoretical contexts of digital representation of print media. This panel would provide a unique opportunity to collaborate at the structural level to embody joint inquiry and invention.

Works Referenced:

Ellison, Julie. “The Humanities and the Public Soul.” Imagining America: Reports and Resources. 27 July 2011. 

McAfee, Noëlle. “Ways of Knowing: The Humanities and the Public Sphere.” Standing with the Public: The Humanities and Democratic Practice. Kettering Foundation Press, 1997.

Quay, James, and James Veninga. “Making Connections: The Humanities, Culture and Community.” American Council of Learned Societies. 27 July 2011. 1990.