Bethany Nowviskie

inauguration day

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"your train of thought has been cancelled"

January 20th has inaugurated the worst and longest case of writer’s block of my life.

I hate to write, under the best of circumstances. It’s painful for me. It’s no fun. It has eaten up whole weekends of my children’s youth that I never saw and will not see again—me, holed up in coffee shops; my family playing games or buying too many comic books or feeding ducks at the park or making spaghetti or doing all the things my partner thought to do with little ones while I was trying to write. It has created bad habits, fetishes. That I can only write well first thing in the morning (still seeking quiet in my college dorm). That grown-up me needs water first—a shower or a swim. That I can only write important things if I’m mad. Lyrical stuff if sad, or scared.

Dissertations postpartum. (But here, writing-brain, the joke’s on you! I’m never doing those two things again!)

That the cost of a keynote is dual weekends at the screen: the first one wasted, the second half-inspired, driven half by fear. That the deadline for articles, chapters, has to loom—has actually to be here.

People think, because I write pretty things, they must be pretty to write.

Donald Trump, you wrecking ball, you craven seething hateful tragic little man. You tool of forces stronger and more evil than yourself, you sign of things to come and things that cannot be allowed to be. You broke my finger-tips, you broke my brain.

open invitations

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[These are unedited remarks from the closing plenary of the 2016 DLF Forum, written about 15 minutes before it began, on the morning after Election Day. Video should be available soon.]

I thought I knew on Monday what I needed to say this morning. I was going to give heartfelt thanks to you all for being the community that you are—and for the experience of the past year and a half, for me, as director—and of the past three days for us all, as a tongue-in-cheek little conference village.

Mostly I was just going to be cheerful and chirpy, make a happy announcement about some new advisory board members, and turn things over to our panelists for equally cheerful and brief pitches about their groups and projects. (Panelists, I am so grateful to you for being up here with me.)

This plenary session is called “Open Invitations,” and I think that suits what I’m going to say now, instead, just fine.

What I’m going to say now presumes nothing about your personal politics. I think we saw last night how little we can presume, and how much work is needed on the systems and methods of data collection and analysis that we bear responsibility for and are complicit in as information professionals. How little we understand each other.

And I am especially conscious of how some of you in far less privileged and safe positions than mine must be feeling this morning—far from home, maybe among some friends, surely among many strangers, and perhaps in a lonely minority here, by virtue of the color of your skin or other qualities of the one precious body you’re in, by virtue of the place of your origin or the assumptions people make about that place, or the faiths you hold dear, or the genders of the people you love or want to love one day, or just by virtue of who know yourself to be. Even in what I hope and believe is a DLF village full of allies—clumsy, awkward allies, probably, most of us, but people who honor you and want and need you here—I know you must be feeling very alone.

What I want to say presumes nothing about the politics of anyone in this room, but the newly explicit social justice mission of the DLF is no secret. You may have seen me steer left. And it’s no secret that together, as a collective of individuals, many of us have been working to move this organization along the arc of the moral universe, and to follow where that arc bends—and go where people much more qualified to lead than we are, are leading. Read the rest of this entry »

digital humanities in the anthropocene

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[Update: I’ve made low-res versions of my slides and an audio reading available for download on Vimeo, Alex Gil has kindly translated the talk into Spanish, and Melissa Terras’ wonderful performance is now up on the Digital Humanities 2014 website. Finally, a peer-reviewed and formally-published version appears in a 2015 issue of DSH: Digital Scholarship in the Humanities.]

“And by-and-by Christopher Robin came to an end of the things, and was silent, and he sat there looking out over the world, and wishing it wouldn’t stop.” – A. A. Milne

Every morning, as the Virginia sun spills over the rim of the Shenandoah Valley, I dive into the water of my municipal swimming pool and think of ruined Roman baths. On either end of the lane in which I take my laps are blue tile letters, mortared just beneath the waterline by a craftsman of the century gone by. I read two words as I swim back and forth: shallow and deep, shallow and deep.

I’m here to give a talk that likewise wants to glide from shallows to depths in turn. My hope is to position our work—the work of the DH community that has nurtured me with kindness for some 18 years—less as it is lately figured (that is, less as a fragmenting set of methodological interventions in the contemporary, disciplinary agon of humanities scholarship) and more as one cohesive and improbably hopeful possibility. The possibility is for strongly connecting technologies and patterns of work in the humanities to deep time: both to times long past and very far in prospect. But I’ll swim to the shallows, too—because, by musing about the messages we may attempt to send and receive in the longest of longues durées, I mean also to encourage a searching and an active stance in DH, toward our present moment—toward engagement with the technological, environmental, and ethical conditions of our vital here-and-now.

I promised in my abstract a practitioner’s talk, and that is what you will get. I’m not a philosopher or a critic. I’m a builder and a caretaker of systems—so I will attempt to bring a craftsperson’s perspective to my theme tonight.

Read the rest of this entry »

until the government re-opens

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The email pasted below announces cancellation — due to the current, ridiculous US government shutdown — of a meeting that would have provided excellent professional development, project development, and academic networking opportunities for scholars awarded highly-competitive grants for digital projects by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Staff of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities could not even send this message themselves, as farcical political brinkmanship has locked them out of their offices and email accounts.

I have attended and benefited from NEH ODH Project Directors’ Meetings in the past, and one of my staff members was set to represent the Scholars’ Lab’s current “Speaking in Code” grant at the event this Friday. These meetings help to create a more thoughtful and better-connected community of American scholar-practitioners of the digital humanities. They’re smart, these meetings. They are good business. Through an investment in building up the people who do the scholarly work, these meetings help the NEH to maximize (already too-small) investments American taxpayers have made in the Endowment itself — which is to say, they maximize the NEH’s contribution to education and research in fields like history, literature, anthropology, and foreign languages, and in the public humanities, in opening up the richness of our increasingly digital/digitized cultural heritage to broad and diverse audiences. This email, canceling Friday’s meeting, represents a wasted opportunity for NEH-funded scholars and ultimately for the publics their grant-supported projects serve.

But it also represents just one tiny example of government waste created by one faction of one political party unable to accept that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Read the rest of this entry »

new (and renewed) work in digital literary studies

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This is just an early announcement about a session at January’s MLA convention. We now have a timeslot (8:30am on Friday, January 7th), so I thought I’d announce it as people begin to make travel plans!

ACH is sponsoring a highly interactive and forward-looking showcase of digital humanities research, teaching, and publication in MLA’s new “electronic roundtable” (read: poster session!) format. Be there or be square.

New (and Renewed) Work in Digital Literary Studies: An Electronic Roundtable

The Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) is pleased to sponsor an electronic roundtable and demo session featuring new and renewed work in media and digital literary studies. Projects, groups, and initiatives highlighted in this session build on the editorial and archival roots of humanities scholarship to offer new, explicitly methodological and interpretive contributions to the digital literary scene, or to intervene in established patterns of scholarly communication and pedagogical practice. Each presenter will offer a very brief introduction to his or her work, setting it in the context of digital humanities research and praxis, before we open the floor for simultaneous demos and casual conversations with attendees at eight computer stations:

Station 1: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (open peer review with MediaCommons and CommentPress);
Station 2: Laura Mandell and Andrew Stauffer (for NINES and 18th-Connect);
Station 3: Joseph Gilbert (representing four new literary projects at UVA Library’s Scholars’ Lab — on teaching prosody, analyzing collective biographies of women, sharing audio tapes of William Faulkner, and mining 18th-century texts for metaphor — with project directors Chip Tucker, Alison Booth, and (tentatively) Brad Pasanek in attendance);
Station 4: Doug Reside (the TILE project for linking texts and images);
Station 5: John Walsh (extensions to the Swinburne Project);
Station 6: Randall Cream (the Sapheos image-based collation project),
Station 7: Matthew Wilkens (on statistical measures of allegory in literary history); and
Station 8: William Pannapacker and Ernest Cole (using new media in the undergraduate classroom, with “Post-Conflict Sierra Leone”).

We’ll be posting extended abstracts for each of these projects on the ACH site later this semester.

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at http://nowviskie.org by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.