Check out my post for The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Fugitive Leaves:
Check out my post for The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Fugitive Leaves:
There are few events that could put me to work before 8AM on a Saturday with a smile on my face, but Networking Early Modern Women was certainly one of them. Networking Women and the subsequent “add-a-thon” trained participants to add early modern women and their relationships to the site Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, a digital humanities project that represents early modern social networks. As moderator Christopher Warren explained, women made up half of the population during this epoch but make up only 6% of entries in Six Degrees’ main source, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Networking Women aims to complicate such a male-centered view of history by representing the networks in which early modern women participated: “news networks, print networks, food networks, court networks, literary networks, epistolary networks, support networks, and religious networks,” the event’s “Rationale” explains, “in short, all networks.”
Tracking recipe writers’ and compilers’ networks will be tremendously helpful to our work: perhaps we will be able to say more about a recipe’s movement, evolution, and original location. We may be able to analyze more accurately disparities in early modern healthcare based on the social status, education, and wealth of writers and compilers. Or we may be able to draw parallels from the popularity of recipes and ingredients to a burgeoning global pre-capitalist society. The Recipes Project and EMROC have found another great ally, and I am thrilled to be a young scholar at a time when a myriad of disciplines can collaborate easily and share in the labor of representing the historically un- and misrepresented.
Of course, digitally reconstructing the social fabric of early modern society comes with both pitfalls and advantages. Racial and social-status diversity can be difficult to represent clearly due in part to language, cultural, and educational disparities. And representing women and their relationships has been problematic for contemporary researchers since, as Amanda Herbert notes in her keynote, “less scholarly attention has been paid to the way that women’s networks helped constitute and maintain a growing British empire in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.” Additionally, even when we broaden archival work to include hand-worked objects such as clothing and jewelry or traditionally overlooked pieces of historical writing such as account and recipe books, we run into masculine apparatuses that obscure women’s identities and thus their role in the period. For example, as I added female recipe contributors mentioned in Aletheia Howard’s Natura Exenterata (1655), I struggled to identify these women elsewhere due, in part, to marriages and subsequent name changes—not to mention the possibility of alternative spellings for both maiden and married names. As you can see in the image of my entry for Lettice Pudsey (above), trying to locate the same early modern woman in more than one currently searchable source requires many open tabs: OED, ODNB, EEBO, Six Degrees, The Recipes Project, Luna, Google Docs and Google Book searches. While not an extensive search, the pursuit of more biographical information on Pudsey came up short that day, and with one relationship (to Mrs. Risley, who may be related to Thomas Risley (1630-1716) who practiced medicine) the node is floating in a network that I hope will one day have more to say about the woman it represents.
Traditionally, identifying early modern women has depended on identifying their relationships with and to men. And with so few early modern women in contemporary databases at this time, we will inevitably rely on early modern men to identify many of these women. So while Six Degrees now allows me to represent Howard’s relationship to recipe contributor Lady Cook and Coventry and gives Pudsey a place in this digital recreation, I can hear Hillary Nunn’s inquiry buzzing in the back of my mind: “If only that means we could say for sure who these people are.”
Of course, the paradox here is that as we add women and track their lineage, often through their relationships with and to men, we will begin to see more clearly the complexity of women’s networks, more accurately articulate their dependence on and independence from men, and better understand who these people are, while continuing to complicate narratives that portray early modern women only as victims of patriarchal apparatuses. Six Degrees is a tremendous resource for this work with the potential to grow with and adapt to contemporary research that augments the historical canon of the period.
Fundamentally interdisciplinary and collaborative, Six Degrees will be most helpful when working in a similar manner. The day of the add-a-thon I worked from a list of names compiled by Hillary Nunn and a transcription of the Natura that she shared with me. I worked from Google Docs with other contributors. I watched enthusiastic Twitter users discuss the day’s talks. I went from being two degrees away from the project to one. The day gave me a new support system, a new network, through which I can more easily learn who these early modern women are, while sharing that information with other scholars. As with any project that aims to shed light on underrepresentation, for Networking Women to represent more accurately early modern women’s social networks, it demands much from its contributors. We must look in margins and notes, as Amanda Herbert recommends, and search for women’s work in material items. We must think both creatively and together as we reconstruct the past, working with the conviction articulated so well that day by @DanAShore on Twitter: “Obviously #networkingwomen isn’t just about a single website. The hope is that inclusion in one resource leads to wider inclusion as well.”
Surveying Shakespeare, with support from the Department of English and the Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Colorado Boulder, is a series of exhibits that represent the work of undergraduate students enrolled in “Shakespeare for Non-Majors” during the fall 2015 semester. Committed to historical and literary storytelling, this series demonstrates these students respect for the past and the archives and historians that protect it.
Urban Martin “Information and Power”
Dillon Cromwell “Conflicts of Love in Hamlet“
A flog—or fail blog—seemed the most appropriate way to articulate the shortcomings of “Surveying Shakespeare.” Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that this project was unsuccessful. Instead, I want to take time to evaluate its insufficiencies and consider ways to improve it for future iterations. Rather than merely pointing out what did not work well, this reflection is meant to probe my initial ideas regarding higher education pedagogy and demonstrate how this project has changed my pedagogical philosophy. This post, then, is as much a phlog as a flog.
When I began piecing this project together, all I had was a “discursive construction” of DH (Kirschenbaum 3). I certainly have more materiality, both digital and print, to show for my efforts now, but applying my discursive assumptions and constructions of DH to “Surveying Shakespeare” still leaves me mystified. In retroactively describing my philosophy behind this project, I turn to a previous post on techpower disparity in which I outline my early thoughts on DH:
I recognize the power that comes with being able to connect the stories I tell to people, and since humanities programs should, in part, exist to . . . reach outside our academic community, we have to embrace DH or risk not only talking to ourselves but also contributing to the perceived obscurity of humanities programs. Of course, academics should make every effort to embrace DH; after all, it’s likely that we will eventually drop the “D” entirely. Yet, as [Cynthia] Selfe warns, we must also recognize our own privilege and power over the conversations being had and ask ourselves how to mitigate techpower disparity within our communities.
Although I believe academic work is and should be more than just public scholarship as James Mulholland has recently articulated, my thoughts haven’t changed much from my first post. In reviewing “Surveying Shakespeare,” I hope that the above sentiment resonated with my pedagogy this semester. I wanted students to complete work that went beyond the classroom. I wanted student-generated, digital, public content. I wanted students to be aware that a public audience would be consuming their work. And I wanted all of this digital work to be academically minded.
My major criticism of this project comes from students’ lack of play and from the truncated timeline. I couldn’t start talking about this project option until mid-October. Students came to Special Collections on October 29th. They turned in contracts on November 4th. And they turned in their final products on December 7th. In all, I’m impressed with what most of my students were able to accomplish in 6 weeks. They scheduled several, independent visits to Special Collections and one student sought out and found help translating part of an early modern French text. However, I wish I had been able to stimulate more play. For example, students had to use Omeka, had to use the library’s theme, and in general, had to ditch any hope of using plugins. In future iterations, I’d like to embrace Jentry Sayers’ call to “[frame] a technology as something that’s central to making art and culture, rather than subordinating it tool-like to a means of mechanical or digital reproduction.” As I rethink this assignment, Sayers’ statement will certainly inform how I, and hopefully my students, will come to participate with digital work. One way to promote this is through more student-written reflections, which, if given an entire semester to work with students, I’d have students do weekly—possibly in their own flogs. So while ASSETT (Arts & Sciences Support of Education through Technology) was incredibly helpful and necessary for this project, I’d have liked to see my students struggle to find the digital tools that worked best for their projects’ needs and to become more intimately familiar with how they were using them.
By mid-November, my concerns about the project were particularly ideological. Especially after reading Braidotti’s The Posthuman, I feared I had abandoned my earlier feminist DH ambitions and had created another neoliberal cog, reinscribing my project with the same institutional problems plaguing the academe. For awhile when I turned my attention to “Surveying Shakespeare,” I was haunted by the “terrible things” Matthew Kirschenbaum summarizes in “What is ‘Digital Humanities’ And Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?”: “Digital humanities doesn’t do theory. Digital humanities never historicizes. Digital humanities is complicit. Digital humanities is naïve. Digital humanities is hollow huckster boosterism” (5). The list continues for some time before finally offering some resistance to claims of DH’s utter repulsiveness: “But while terrible can mean repugnant, the etymology of the word (Greek treëin, “to tremble”) also encompasses that which is terrific, by which we can mean possessed of great intensity” (Kirschenbaum 6). This wasn’t immediately comforting to me, and I think that was because at this time I had been focused on the final product rather than student learning. I’m neither surprised nor upset about this, as it was necessary in the moment. While I still debate with myself about how innovative this project was, I believe it embraces Kirschenbaum’s paradox, and I’m profoundly proud to publicize my students’ labor: https://omeka.colorado.edu/specialcollections/exhibits (you’ll need to scroll down to see the “Surveying Shakespeare” exhibits)
Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What is ‘Digital Humanities’ and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” differences, 25.1 (2014): 1-18. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.
Sayers, Jentry. “Make, Not Brand: DIY Making after Big Data.” Maker Lab in the Humanities, University of Victoria. 25 June 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin, 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.
Generally, we know how important interdisciplinary work is to our own research, but I hadn’t realized its importance in my pedagogy until Oct. 29th, when students interested in creating digital, online exhibits for the course “Shakespeare for Non-Majors” visited CU Boulder’s Special Collections and Archives. I’m indebted to this department and its librarians and historians. For their expertise and patience and the time and energy they have given my students and me.
I reserved Special Collections for the day, and students were to spend an hour or more looking through texts, which were divided somewhat thematically based on what students had brainstormed the week before. (You can see the brainstorming section on our first meeting here.) Ideally, I wanted students to play—look through texts and find something that “snagged” them. Keeping my teaching philosophy in mind (“Discomfort is a precursor to growth. Part of my job is to create discomfort”), I was expecting to see some frustration on their part, but I hoped I had scaffolded the project in such a way that they would be able to work through it. By the end of the day, I lost one student to another project. But seeing students interact with the seventeenth century, librarians, and each other was enough for me to overlook this loss.
Before the day began, I had felt certain that I was not qualified to lead this project, and by the end of the day, I knew that I had been right—but for a different reason. While at 9am I felt isolated and uncertain about my own capabilities, by 4pm, I realized neither I, nor anyone, should be qualified to lead students in any research project alone. Special Collections’ librarians and historians restored my confidence in this project, my students, and myself. In preparing this project, I had accounted for collaboration between others and myself, but I had overlooked entirely student opportunities for collaboration. In part, I think this was due to being a master’s student and not wanting to bother others with what at face value are my project, my responsibilities, and my students. But thank goodness my work environment was my students’ learning environment that day because those who engaged with the people and texts around them collaborated in ways I had not anticipated. In short, I was reminded that a large part of what defines my feminist, (maybe post-) humanist hermeneutic is collaboration and interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work both in my research and teaching.
About the Recipes Project:
“We are an international group of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies. Old recipes can tell us a lot about the past, such as how medicines were prepared, when certain foods became popular, or why ingredients might be magical. Join us as we explore the weird and wonderful world of recipes!
We are on Facebook and Twitter, where we share the best links from around the Web on the histories of food, medicine and more! We also have a group Zotero page, which is where we share a bibliography of historical recipe collections and recipe-related secondary readings.”
In mid-October, students in Dr. David Glimp’s “Shakespeare for Non-Majors” were presented with their final project assignment. Rather, a list of project options. Whether a graphic novel, a short film, or a series of 8th-12th-grade lesson plans, students are to “make and reflect.” The Omeka project (later rebranded as the “Surveying Shakespeare” series) offers students the chance to make digital, online exhibits from items in CU Boulder’s Special Collections and Archives, and I was thrilled that Dr. Glimp was willing to list it as one of the options.
First, I should explain the course and my role in it. This semester I worked as Dr. Glimp’s lead teaching assistant. I provided pedagogical support in the form of curriculum and classroom management assistance as well as general technological support. “Shakespeare for Non-Majors” is traditionally a large-lecture course that requires students to attend two lectures and one recitation led by a teaching assistant (TA) each week. But for the fall 2015 semester, students had the option to take the course in the traditional manner or enroll in a “hybrid” version, which allowed students to watch the lectures online at their own convenience before their weekly in-person recitation. (This has made TA meetings very interesting, and I hope to write more on that after seeing data from an end-of-the-year student survey.) Assuming that many students chose the hybrid version for its flexibility, I wanted this project to accommodate students who had time for face-to-face interaction and those who did not. What I decided, then, was that students would only be required to be present at SC on Oct. 29th. If they were unable to get all of the information they needed that day, they would have return to SC when convenient.
I had been planning the project for months and by October was anxious for my first meeting with interested students. You can see a version of the document that I shared with students here: http://bit.ly/OmekaMeeting. This meeting was strictly informative, and students were not obligated to choose this project at this time.
After working through the project expectations, due dates, and the evaluation, I had students look at Omeka-powered sites to get a sense of what this platform was and what could be done with it. I then briefly explained each item on the bibliography that Special Collections (SC) and I had created, which also included an alternative, digital place to find each text so that students could work from home. Just over half of SC’s items are searchable through our library’s database, so while I hope to give students more freedom and responsibility to do research in future iterations of this project, I’m glad I scaffolded it in this way—particularly for undergraduate, non-majors. Although, as I would soon learn, the students most engaged with this project would have been able to run with just about any challenge thrown at them
With the bibliography and the class syllabus in mind, students brainstormed possible exhibit ideas. These were intentionally broad, as I wanted students’ projects to be inspired primarily through interaction with the texts. I also encouraged students to write questions and concerns at the bottom of the document that I answered after our meeting.
I asked students to choose one of the options we had brainstormed by the end of the following week, and if students were willing to work in groups, I sent them an introductory email and established a Google Doc for them. You can find an example here: http://bit.ly/OmekaGroupDocument. At this time, I also gave students a template for their contracts since they were due two weeks later, which you can see here: http://bit.ly/OmekaContract.
That meeting was a reminder of two things: I love working with students, and I am in an incredibly privileged position. I can’t explain the anxiety and joy of watching students who asked questions like “What’s the minimum length for this option?” begin to lose interest as they realized this was a “serious” assignment; the satisfaction of watching students fill up the brainstorming section of the Google Document with ideas; or the exhilaration of having a student challenge my joke that you wouldn’t want to make an exhibit on Shakespeare and Space since the archive we had wouldn’t support it. He pointed out that SC’s Galileo could be read alongside Shakespeare’s use of spheres in Henry IV, part 1. He eventually abandoned this project for another equally fascinating option, but seeing students’ imaginations and curiosities sparked has been the best part of this project to date. At the same time, I don’t know how I would do this project again with an entire class. Because of SC’s size and my own schedule, I am currently managing nine students working on six projects. I am thankful for the small size and know it will provide me with great data and experience for future iterations, but I need to also reflect on how to use this project in different circumstances: are individual projects an option for full-size classes? Or would there be too many to manage? And how do I make group work less anxiety producing? On a large scale, would this work better with upper-class English majors?
Anyway, there’s plenty of time to question my method before attempting this project again. For now, I’m going to revel in their enthusiasm.
Last week I started my post with an allusion to a phrase I often include on my syllabi: “Discomfort is a precursor to growth. Part of my job is to create discomfort.” This seems slightly sadistic, but after listening to Professor Jeffrey McClurken (University of Mary Washington) deliver his plenary and lead a workshop last Thursday and Friday, I’m more sure of my pedagogy than ever (don’t worry—students will no doubt humble me at any moment). While McClurken’s teaching maxim (“Uncomfortable, but not paralyzed”) reassured me that my teaching methods were motivated by a sound sentiment—help students take responsibility for their own learning—his workshop assured me that curbing student paralysis while working on a digital project is possible if we build good pedagogy and support systems.
First, because it’s a great starting point and because it’s incredibly relevant to the readings we’ve been doing for the last two weeks, I’d like to describe how McClurken’s response to “What is DH?” Dividing it into four categories, he carves out a multifarious discipline that includes
However, the talk diverged from the debates we’ve been reading about this week and instead focused on undergraduates: Where are they in DH and what is their role? We may leave them out, according to McClurken, because we’ve bought into the “digital native” narrative, a myth he complicates by emphasizing that much of undergraduates’ interaction with the digital is consumptive. DH projects then offer an intervention where in students become producers of knowledge with the ability to reach a public audience and craft their own digital identity, making them more adaptable and marketable after leaving our classes and programs. Too often, I’d argue, humanists fear “practicality”—perhaps because this word is often used to attack what we do. But I’d also contend that we (especially those at public universities) have a moral responsibility to keep our disciplines relevant by reaching outside our departments to public audiences. This transparency may, at times, put us at risk of criticism, but in doing so we let the world into the workings of “the ivory tower” and emphasize why we do what we do: “to contribute to the greater sum of human knowledge” (McClurken).
In creating a “digitally inflected” (as opposed to a “digitally centered”) project with CU Special Collections, I’m hoping to engender students’ respect for the past and the archives that protect it, while giving them “a room of their own” to showcase their skills and knowledge. Fifteen students from ENGL 3000 (Shakespeare for Non-Majors) will work in groups of three to curate collections in an exhibit on our sixteenth- and seventeenth-century archive. So, in framing this post around “doing” the digital humanities, I’d like to describe how I plan to do DH with undergraduates using McClurken’s workshop as a guide.
Accessing My Students
Using online surveys, I will first access the skill level of my students before meeting to discuss the project (workshop example: Link to student skills pre-assessment survey that I use). This will give me the option of dividing groups based on digital fluency and identifying the more fluent students as potential mentors/tutors. I cannot always be the first line of inquiry for students, nor do I want to be. I hope to provide them with a support system that allows them the natural discomfort of learning something new and the motivation and resources to find answers to their questions and concerns.
Picking My Tools and Letting Students Pick Theirs
McClurken’s next step puts students in charge of what their project will look like and how it will be used. In the case of my project, students are limited to only using Omeka—a free, digital publishing tool created to catalog and share digital collections of images, documents, and videos. However, after exploring Omeka’s showcase page (among other sites), students will access plugins and various other add-ons to decide which tools fit their needs best. From there, CU’s ASSETT (Arts & Sciences Support of Education Through Technology) will provide the server space and technical support for any customization my students will need. Omeka made sense to me for any project that involved digitizing archival work. While my project will not require students to fully digitize (make searchable) items at this time, I hope future iterations (perhaps with majors) will be more heavily involved in archival work and transcription. Additionally, CU Special Collections already works with on an Omeka platform, making publishing my students’ work much more manageable.
Perhaps the most valuable moment of McClurken’s workshop for me came when discussing student contracts. At this step, groups must determine a) their mission statement: what they will curate and how do they intend for the public to use it b) their tools: what they will need and why c) how they will divide the labor and d) the timeline they will use to complete their project. As McClurken noted, the final component of these contracts offers instructors the best opportunity to intervene, to mentor, and to remedy potential pitfalls.
Letting Students Run with It
I spent several weeks this summer finding models, mentors, and materials for this experiment—a crucial step in beginning any DH project. I’m indebted to our Special Collections librarians, ASSETT, and English and History Departments for providing support and examples, but the time is coming when I will need to hand the project over to undergraduates. A formidable moment? Of course. But it is also exhilarating. It’s at this moment that I stop being a depositor of information and instead allow students their full potential as academics and humanists. There can be no doubt that some failures await me and my students, but certainly we will learn how to do the humanities better for the future.
I know very little about the Student Bill of Rights for Digital Work. In fact, until recently, I didn’t know it existed, so I will need to take a closer look at it in the next few weeks.
McClurken, Jeffrey. “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, and Digital Identity.” Exploring Digital Humanities Speaker Series, University of Colorado-Boulder. 17 Sept. 2015.
 I can’t emphasize enough how I believe DH can and should be a form of academic activism that brings more people to the table and makes information accessible to the public. I’d also argue this clearly springs from feminist methodologies—made more apparent by McClurken’s description of “A Domain of One’s Own,” a program at UMW that provides server space and a domain name to every undergraduate and that unquestionably alludes to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
During the Q&A following Claire Bond Potter’s keynote address at the 2015 conference Women’s History in the Digital World, Potter suggested that resistance to DH may stem from an “intellectually conservative” population. Describing this conservative as an academic who prefers independent research, eschews collaboration, and champions for the continuation of the monograph as the ultimate standard of professional success, she went on underscored one of her address’s key arguments: every academic is responsible for knowing DH. My eye twitched. While the Q&A’s truncated structure allowed for only a cursory glance at such a complex conversation, there it loomed: the binary, requiring that I pledge allegiance to the dreaded conservatives or to radical DH-ers working to disrupt academic hierarchies.
My eye has since stopped twitching, but it wasn’t until reading Cynthia Selfe’s article “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower” (1988) this week that I felt capable of tackling my initial aversion to the conversation I’ve described. Selfe’s article, despite being written nearly three decades ago, resonates today as she addresses the power dynamics associated with technology. While today these dynamics seem less likely to play out because of limited access to devices, the “darker side” of tech—financial and social costs—are still manifest in academia, and their presence disrupts the conservative-DH binary and makes clear that sometimes those who do not do or know DH are not fuddy-duddy scholars but rather are academics who lack techpower due to limited resources—particularly time (64). Depending on the institution or moment in an academic’s career, a scholar may not have the disposable time to devote to DH, and as a result, the scholar may not be able to access or understand what Selfe calls the “multilayered literacy associated with computers” (63). In other words, to “speak” tech is to speak powerfully, but this discourse when known by a privileged few tips academia in their favor.
Admittedly, I’m in a DH course and working on DH projects because I recognize the power that comes with being able to connect the stories I tell to people, and since humanities programs should, in part, exist to explore the humanness of our fields and reach outside our academic community, we have to embrace DH or risk not only talking to ourselves but also contributing to the perceived obscurity of humanities programs. Of course, academics should make every effort to embrace DH; after all, it’s likely that we will eventually drop the “D” entirely, and rather than set these methods apart from our research, we’ll simply say, “this is how we do the humanities.” Yet, as Selfe warns, we must also recognize our own privilege and power over the conversations being had and ask ourselves how to mitigate techpower disparity within our communities.
Potter, Claire Bond. “Putting the Humanities in Action: Why We Are All Digital Humanists, and Why That Needs to Be a Feminist Project.” Women’s History in the Digital World. Bryn Mawr College: n.p., 2015.
Selfe, Cynthia. “Computers in English Departments: The Rhetoric of Technopower.” ADE Bulletin. 90 (Fall 1988): 63-7. Web. 29 Aug. 2015.
 http://repository.brynmawr.edu/greenfield_conference/2015/Thursday/14/: I’d also note that the context of this address is particularly important. Addressing a room of feminists, Potter rightfully drew attention to DH’s disrupt potential and how feminists should harness that potential to invite more people into our conversations and research.