all at once

Thirteen years ago, I was a graduate student in English literature when the Twin Towers collapsed, a fireball erupted from the Pentagon, and a group of everyday travelers hurtled a fourth involved commercial airliner, in self-sacrifice, into a muddy field. We got an email from our department chair. It read (I paraphrase), “this is why poetry matters.”

I had been watching people leap to their deaths from skyscrapers on the morning news. “Bullshit,” said I, a girl who had been in love with Shakespeare and Pope and Keats and Tennyson since grade school. And that was the end of any more conventional conception I may have had of my own career–the end, for me, of the profession of English.

I was, truth be told, already on the way out, toward my discipline’s methodological and material oddball fringe–specializing by then not in literary hermeneutics but in the mapping of its lessons and techniques to bibliography, scholarly editing, human-computer interaction, and humanities computing. Over time–by applying my teaching experience and past education in Education, and by learning from the side jobs in labs and centers that I held as a grad student–I built some expertise in project management and digital cultural heritage. In that way, I applied myself to work that felt more satisfyingly pragmatic to me. I couldn’t bear to spend my time happily, as a single, sensitive reader and writer–but I could happily spend it struggling: nudging and nurturing people, and helping them find ways to work effectively as teams in the protection and remediation and interpretation and sharing of stuff. Soon I was a mother and a post-doc. Then I was a member of UVa’s research faculty in Media Studies and a mother some more. Finally, I became a librarian and (heaven help me) an administrator. Continue reading “all at once”

toward a new deal

A New Deal for the Humanities[This is the cleaned-up and slightly expanded text of a talk I gave last week, at a University of Illinois symposium on the future of the humanities at state-funded, US-based research universities. My paper was called “Graduate Training for a Public and Digital Humanities.” The organizers of the symposium, Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed, framed its goals in a New Republic essay and positioned the event deliberately between two significant anniversaries: of the Morrill Act, establishing land-grant universities in the US, and the GI Bill, extending higher education to the American under-classes.]

Today, some 20 years after its first formulation, there is little question of the validity of Jerome McGann’s core and repeated argument: that we humanities scholars and publics stand before the vast, near-wholesale digital transformation of our various and shared cultural inheritance. This transformation – more properly, these remediations – are fully underway. They open new avenues for the work of the liberal arts in all of its spheres: for our ability to gain access to, to analyze and interpret, and most importantly to vouchsafe to future generations, the words, images, sounds, and built and material objects that crystalize in our archives and which we so carefully position to refract little, mirror-like understandings of what it has meant, for the blink of an eye, to be human.  Continue reading “toward a new deal”

prism, for play

This week marks the release of a new version of Prism, a web-based tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” constructed over the course of two academic years by two separate cohorts of graduate fellows in our Praxis Program at the Scholars’ Lab.


Praxis fellows are humanities and social science grad students across a variety of departments at UVa, who come to our library-based lab for an intensive, team-based, hands-on experience in digital humanities project-work, covering as many aspects of DH practice as our practiced Scholars’ Lab staff can convey. Continue reading “prism, for play”

the evaluation

(Update, Winter 2015: Chad has re-posted The Evaluation on Medium, along with another piece of whistle-blowing futurism entitled “We will all be illiterate soon.” Messy and recommended.)

The next time Chad Sansing tells me he’s written a short story, I think I’ll read it immediately. You can skip my preamble, too, and download a PDF version of this sobering, dystopian near-future meditation on American education gone awry, right now. Other formats, below.

theevaluationvariant3Several months ago, my husband posted a brief, sci-fi vignette to the Cooperative Catalyst, tagging it with phrases like “merit pay,” “standardized testing,” and “school discipline.” I didn’t realize he had continued the story until a couple of weeks ago (a grim Saturday we spent in our pajamas, mourning Aaron Swartz), when he made a CC-licensed version of the full thing available online.

Still, I didn’t read it — at least, not all of it. Just enough to know I wanted to wait for a quiet moment. Tonight, I was reminded of “The Evaluation” by this report of brave teachers at three Seattle public schools whose act of civil disobedience is to refuse to administer and to be judged by deeply flawed standardized tests. So I returned to Chad’s story, and was struck enough by it to interrupt his dinner at Educon 2.5, to insist that he send me a plain-text version, for dolling up and posting in multiple formats, right away. You can read it here:

PDF (prettiest)
EPUB (for iBooks and various readers)
MOBI (for the Kindle)
TXT (for remixing)

or, newly, on Medium.

Chad teaches middle school humanities at a grassroots, teacher-led (ie. not corporate-run), arts-infused charter school in Albemarle County, Virginia — the Community Public Charter, which he helped to found. (Update: he’s now a technology teacher at the BETA Academy — “build, experiment, tinker, apply” — hosted within a public middle school in Staunton, Virginia.) Chad writes and speaks frequently about redeeming what he calls an “authentic and democratic” education, for teachers and students alike, from a culture driven by dehumanizing standardized assessment and punitive notions of discipline. You can find him on Twitter at @chadsansing. He’s the teacher you wish your kids had, every year.

ada lovelace day: malala yousafzai

This is my fourth post for Ada Lovelace Day, when we pause to honor the women who most inspire us in the fields of technology, science, engineering, and math.

I haven’t missed the day since it was launched in 2009. That year, I celebrated Johanna Drucker and Bess Sadler. Johanna, who taught me letterpress printing, helped me deepen my practical and embodied engagement with technologies of text. From Bess I came to understand the global, ethical dimensions of open source software development and why it is so important for me to advocate for it and support it every day in the Scholars’ Lab. The next year, I honored Leah Buechley of MIT, whose Lilypad Arduino and other “high-tech, high-touch” wearable, embedded, and frankly beautiful soft circuits–part of her tireless and smart promotion of technology education for girls–were my entree into physical computing. And last year, I wrote about humanities computing pioneer Susan Hockey, so far the only female winner of our highest digital humanities award, the Busa Prize–and I discovered a fantastic old photograph of her, to boot.

Reuters thumbnail image, Malala YousafzaiThis year, it’s Malala. By now, everyone has heard the story of Malala Yousafzai, the fifteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban aboard a school bus, for daring to say that children should have the opportunity of an education regardless of their gender. The news this morning, one week after the attack, makes her survival seem more possible–but we have yet to learn at what cost to her sharp mind and brave heart.

Continue reading “ada lovelace day: malala yousafzai”