WDGSDAD? Day Two

We rejoin our plucky heroine on All Hallows’ Eve….

 8.20 Rise and shine!

9.00 Respond to a few emails for the Writing Center, while I’m finishing my cup of Earl Grey tea.

9.35 Leave for work.

10.00 Arrive at my office in the Writing Center. It takes me less than ten minutes to drive to campus but I have to park a rather long walk from where university business is actually conducted. Start preparing for today’s meetings and squeeze in reading two drafts for the seminar (one on the solar radiation of soil and one on immunization refusal).

11.45 Dash out for a quick coffee break. Both while in line and when I was walking earlier, I “triage” emails on my smartphone: skimming, deleting, filing, and deciding which are most urgent.

11.50 Back in my office. My Writing Center commitments today include several different meetings: two “intake” meetings with graduate students who want individual tutoring, two meetings with students in the seminar, and a phone call with a department chair about an upcoming meeting with relevant faculty.

2.20 Finish up in the Writing Center. I ate my lunch at my desk, while writing emails. Walk back to my car.

2.45 Decide to get an overdue eyebrow shape when I remember the salon by campus owes me a free one.

3.00 Finally make it home and immediately put on sweatpants. I was originally intending to work for the rest of the afternoon in my office in the English department—both of my offices are shared, by the way—but it was imperative for any possible productivity that I put on sweatpants [British English translation = jogging/tracksuit bottoms].

4.30 Rouse myself from a brief lie down as I wasn’t feeling well and turn to further preparation for my dissertation prospectus colloquium. Write up responses to questions I received this afternoon from a departmental reviewer.

5.30 Alleviate my despair at the theoretical holes in my project by watching an episode of a Freeform show on Netflix.

6.20 Review and revise my drafted responses.

6.35 Answer emails, both for my own research activities and for the Writing Center.

6.50 Retire for the evening. Pour a beer in honor of Keats; impress my partner with my Romantic poets trivia; do some dishes.

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Actual depiction of an eager graduate student trick or treating, courtesy of Shit Academics Say

I was hoping that—far from helping me to procrastinate on my work, as my dear sister suggested—tracking my time would make me more productive than usual. However, the DESPAIR of beginning a dissertation and the EXHAUSTION from a bevy of administrative meetings have defeated me today so I have decided to save my energy for the TRIAL BY COMBAT tomorrow. As you can probably tell, this evening is not an optimistic time for this academic.

Here’s hoping tomorrow brings me more energy.

P.S. Thank you to Laura for reminding me to post about total hours!

Work for Writing Center: 4 hours 35 minutes

Research time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Total: 6 hours

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What do graduate students do all day?

This week a colleague directed me to Philip Nel’s series of blog posts from 2011 in which he tracked what he did for both work and play for a week. I was a little nervous to read the posts because I feared that his example would overwhelm me, that I would realize that I don’t have the work ethic I’ll need to complete my doctorate and become a professor. However, reading about his week and then—in a parallel series—Maria Nikolajeva’s week inspired me to start tracking my own time more carefully than I normally do. I’m sharing this because I wish to join in their consciousness-raising mission but also because I think that time so often gets away from me and I’d like to see where it’s going.

I’m in a curious position this academic year because I’m not filling the traditional roles of either teacher or student. Having completed my comprehensive exams this August, I’m now writing my dissertation; meanwhile, rather than acting as the instructor for a specific course, I’m the Coordinator for Graduate Writing Support at our Writing Center. Undertaking independent research and having an administrative position are new challenges for me, but also expose parts of working in academia with which fewer of us are familiar. Let’s see what this week reveals! I feel somewhat vulnerable making this information public but it may be a useful blow against pluralistic ignorance (i.e. “everyone else seems to be doing so much better than me!”). I’m also planning to use my example to inspire others who could share this information from their unique positions in the academy, especially those who have family commitments too.

(N.B. Maria recorded her day in the present tense while Phil’s notes are in the past tense. I found myself opting for the former and am happy to opine on this decision at length, if anyone is interested.)

So…. Sunday….

Morning and early afternoon: Enjoy sleeping in and being lazy after a very late night at a Halloween party. Catch up with Facebook and texts. Make brunch. Relax with my partner.

2.35 Begin reading a student draft in preparation for an individual consultation as part of the Graduate Seminar in Academic Writing I’m currently leading.

2.50 Pause to drive my partner to his car.

3.20 Resume reading. Working with students from all disciplines means I am learning a lot about topics that are far flung from my own research: in this case, genome sequencing and computer software that processes this information.

3.40 Help unpack groceries after my partner returns. Turn to another draft (this time on human rights) before preparing a lesson plan and slides for the next session of the seminar. Read and comment on an abstract for a previous seminar participant. Send emails regarding an upcoming writing retreat.

4.50 Turn to my own research, specifically preparing for the colloquium on my dissertation prospectus, which is scheduled for Tuesday. I carefully re-read the prospectus and type up responses to the questions my advisor suggested via email. The colloquium is a chance for my committee and other department representatives to weigh in on my proposed topic before I submit the proposal to the Graduate School for approval. (This means I can then apply for an extra fellowship…!)

5.30 Respond, rather belatedly, to emails from a colleague I met at a conference last weekend and from a poet whose papers I’ve been working on. (Yes, faithful readers, this is John Temple, who kindly sent me some books that just arrived in the mail.)

5.40 Draft a proposal for a conference. I also produce a one-page version of my CV to accompany this. Email draft to a colleague: I need to revise and submit it by Tuesday so this was all a bit last minute.

6.20 Back to Writing Center work. Read a blog post that the director suggested and send him a quick email with my thoughts. Make notes for an upcoming staff meeting; check emails; add reminders to my online calendar.

6.35 Help my partner finish making dinner; eat delicious Indian food and home-made naan bread; tidy up kitchen and wash dishes.

7.40 Back to my own research. Skim and make notes on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s letters: this is part of my preparation for a dissertation chapter. I’m writing about The Prelude, a long autobiographical poem that William Wordsworth addressed to Coleridge.

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Transcribing a Greek phrase so Google can translate it. The editor didn’t feel the need to gloss this, which means “know thyself.”

8.20 More tidying up before settling in to watch the World Series. I’m rooting for the underdog Cubs, who also happen to be the team without an offensive caricature of a Native American on their uniforms. Write this blog post.

9.30 Squeeze in a few more minutes of work, almost accidentally, by reading a blog post on teaching the dramatic monologue.

Work for Writing Center: 2 hours

Research time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Total: 4 hours 15 minutes

I’ll be back tomorrow, which will be much busier, of course.

Graduate Writing: A Perspective From Both In and Out of the Game

Shut up and write. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do as a graduate student, eventually? I’ve been thinking a lot about writing in graduate school over the past few days because I’ve been attending the Consortium on Graduate Communication’s Summer Institute. While I myself am facing the prospect of completing a dissertation and publishing articles, I participated in the CGC Institute primarily in order to learn more about how I might support other graduate students in communicating their research. This summer I’m taking over as the Graduate Writing Support Co-ordinator for UConn’s Writing Center and—as I’ve experienced many times already in my academic career—I will be straddling the positions of educator and learner. This time my “teaching role” will be peer-to-peer, which both excites and terrifies me. Attending the Institute as both a professional in the field and one of the learners everyone was discussing so intently was a fascinating position, leading to much self-reflection as well as mild anxiety and a vow to be very careful of how I talk about my students from now on.

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I wanted to write about the Institute in order to practice a little of what I’ll be preaching but also because I hope to share some insights with my readers, of which the most important is always myself. (Eleanor: this is what you told yourself you’d refer back to when leading that seminar, remember!) I’ve learned so many things, not least what a nascent organization looks like as it emerges from informal networks: the CGC is very new and we had a general meeting to discuss its next steps. The Institute’s theme was “Bridging English Language Teaching and Writing Studies in Supporting All Graduate Writers” and this bridge has, by far, been the fulcrum of my own thinking over the past few days. As I am based in a Writing Center and studying in a Department of English, my own background is in writing studies: I took a graduate seminar in composition theory and pedagogy, have presented on and chaired panels at UConn’s Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing, and taught First-Year Writing for four years before taking on my new role. Many of the participants at the Institute, however, had a background in applied linguistics and were housed in language programs targeted at multilingual learners. Thinking about graduate communication support from a different theoretical and institutional angle has been refreshing and, at the very least, will ensure I learn more about UConn’s own language program when I return to school. I want to be sure that I’m directing students to the best resources, after all.

As part of the Institute, we were formed into working groups and my project—supported by others thinking about program design and development—was focused on the syllabus for UConn’s Graduate Seminar in Academic Writing. I’ve been familiarizing myself with the most recent version of this course and thinking about how I can prepare myself to lead it. While I plan on making very few changes before I have the chance to teach it—there will be opportunities between course sessions to do so—I am exploring it from the perspective of its learning objectives. I need to think through the goals of assignments and activities before guiding others through them. Two frameworks that I’ve been using were referenced during keynote presentations from Michelle Cox and Karyn E. Mallett on the Institute’s theme: Tate et al.’s typology of composition pedagogies and Tardy’s description of the four knowledge domains required for disciplinary expertise. Michelle and Karyn both analyzed specific courses with these frameworks in mind, opening up a method by which I could tackle our syllabus systematically and place it in the context of course offerings at other universities.

The model referenced by Karyn offered a way of thinking about the four domains of knowledge needed to develop disciplinary expertise: formal, rhetorical, process, and subject knowledge. These target domains can be mapped closely to the model referenced by Michelle, in which she considered how different elements of writing courses are informed by particular writing pedagogies. For instance, rhetorical genre studies focus on rhetorical knowledge; writing in the disciplines emphasizes subject-specific knowledge; writing process pedagogy—as well as the writer’s workshop model—illustrates the significance of attending to process; and so on. When exploring UConn’s syllabus and how it included these different domains and pedagogies, I was happy to notice that some assignments were including more than one of these areas: for example, consulting with one’s advisor asks graduate students to reflect on process as well as disciplinary-specific expectations while reading dissertations in one’s field is both disciplinary-specific and a chance to analyze a genre. The one knowledge domain that does not map so easily onto writing pedagogies is formal knowledge. This is, no doubt, why it’s the part of the seminar I’m so anxious about facilitating as we will be turning to exercises in organization, concision, and variation. It is, however, crucial and demonstrates why attention to all students as language learners—no one can claim academic English as a mother tongue!—is so important.

I’ll leave my reflections there. Thank you so much to all the participants in the Institute, especially to the members of my working group: Thadeus Bowerman (Texas A&M), Joanne Lax (Purdue), Linda Macri (U of Maryland), Talinn Phillips (Ohio U), Jacqueline McIsaac (U of Waterloo), and Mary McPherson (U of Waterloo). Our final task was a poster presentation and we were proud to develop a concept map of the many intersecting ways we were all working toward building a community of graduate writers. Enjoy exploring!

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Launching My Online Exhibition

Yesterday afternoon I was honored to launch my exhibition, “John Temple Papers: Tracing Poetic Revision in The Ridge,” at a lunch hosted and indeed supplied by the Department of English. I had the opportunity to introduce audience members to the poetry of John Temple with some wonderful readings by colleagues, to discuss the genesis of the project, and to outline some features of the Omeka site. I emphasized the theoretical grounding of the exhibition in notions of textual fluidity i.e. an understanding of texts as existing through and across many material instances or versions. The presentation was followed by a chance for discussion and I was really excited by the questions raised by the audience members.

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We began by exploring why exactly I am so wedded to this notion of textual fluidity and multiplicity, and I was pleased to be able to gesture to so many colleagues in the room who work on primary archival materials, and whose favorite writers have complex publishing and revision histories, such as Marianne Moore. We also spent some time thinking about textual histories that extend beyond the death of the author—including Professor Thomas Recchio’s work on Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell—and the possibilities for digitization of other relevant collections. I was able to emphasize the multiple agencies involved in the production of any writer’s work and we also touched upon the multiple audiences for my own exhibition. The audience were increasingly focused on thinking about the labor implications of digital projects: what investments of time, money, and expertise are needed for projects like mine?

Unfortunately I don’t think I had the most encouraging response to that question. While I’ve been very grateful for all the support I’ve received while working on the exhibition, the reality is that my ambitions have been limited by the infrastructure available to me. I’m aware, however, that this is a complaint even Franco Moretti of Stanford’s Literary Lab has! However, ultimately, I’ve really loved working on the John Temple Papers and I’m excited, now that it’s live, to hear feedback from users. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to think about digital tools and platforms that enable me to undertake the practical and theoretical work I’d like to continue with texts.

What Dreams May Come

Appropriately enough, I come finally to writing this post on the public holiday designed to commemorate the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Last semester I took a seminar with Kate Capshaw on African-American children’s literature, eventually writing an essay on contemporary illustrated books that depict the integration of baseball in order to explore how they reify or challenge the consensus memory of the civil rights movement. Along the way, however, as we all know, come the projects that one never quite pursues and for me there was a never-to-be project about early and mid-twentieth century children’s literature that considered how aspects of childhood—especially play and obedience—are differently inflected for children of color. The relevance of this for today can be seen in this piece from The Guardian about the concerns of black parents with “spirited” children.

One aspect of childhood that I want to discuss briefly here is dreaming. MLK, of course, told us that he had a dream about his and other children, but what type of dream was or could this considered to be? We can reflect on Dr. King’s words in 2016 and fear that his dream, and the American dream of opportunity for all, are merely dreams: fantasies that can never come to pass rather than boldly imaginative goals to be achieved through persistent endeavor. For Hamlet, from whom I take my post’s title, dreams were nightmares that led him to fear death and feel claustrophobic. He upbraids himself for being “like John-a-dreams” who “can say nothing.” Albus Dumbledore, that wisest of wise owls, told Harry Potter, missing his parents and besotted with their image in the Mirror of Erised, that “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Sigmund Freud used dreams to identify the repressed and infantile desires of his patients. Is the danger of dreams that they distract us from the real or that they reveal its inadequacies? As many have argued, MLK’s dream has served problematically to promote interracial amity as the solution to problems that Dr. King himself described as structural and economic.

The dreams of childhood are particularly prone to being disregarded. African-American children are often deprived of both possibility and fantasy, dreams of future greatness and dreams that take them beyond the constraints of the real: a distinction that I falter to make. The preciousness of dreams for African-American children is evoked in Langston Hughes’s collection, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, first published in 1932. The eponymous protector asks children to bring him their dreams:

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth

Away from the too rough fingers

Of the world.

Such dreams, in another poem, are to be held fast: children are warned that “when dreams go / Life is a barren field. These poems suggest the psychological trauma that comes to children who lose their dreams, perhaps a particularly devastating blow for African-American children. Such children, it is elsewhere implied by Hughes, become adults whose dreams—surviving as they do in warped and reduced ways—become politicized weapons.

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In a later poem, “Harlem” (1951), Hughes considers the possibilities of “a dream deferred”: is it “a raisin in the sun”? Does it “fester like a sore” or “stink like rotten meat”? Is it merely “a heavy load”? The poem concludes with a question that feels more like a threat as Hughes asks if a dream deferred might “explode.” In The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, this possibility is already hinted at. In “As I Grew Older,” a wall rises between a child and his dream as he ages, as he becomes “shadow… black.” In order to reach the lost light of his dream, the persona implores his hands to “Break through the wall! … to shatter this darkness, / To smash this night.” On a day like today, it is crucial to remember the force of Martin Luther King’s dream, a dream that was an alternative to “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” After all, the fantastic images that came in sleep were originally believed to hold prophetic power.

An Academic Voyage of Discovery: Seeing with New Eyes

Over the past week, I decided to take some advice. Ironically, it was advice on how to take, well, advice. (And, indeed, this blog post could be an example of giving advice about taking advice. So, as we in the business say, it’s all going to get very “meta.”) As the summer draws to a close, I have been focusing on making substantial progress with two articles before the fall semester becomes too much of a distraction. Both articles had already been submitted to journals and read by anonymous reviewers; both were returned to me by the editor with a request to “revise and re-submit.” What this means for those of you not in academic circles is that the reviewers saw potential in the articles but wouldn’t recommend publication until significant revisions were undertaken. So my task now is to make those suggested revisions and hope that when I return the article to the journal, the next set of reviewers agree that those revisions have made the article publishable.

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A “revise and re-submit” request is regarded as a compliment; indeed, it is probably the best response to receive from a journal as very few articles are accepted straightaway. It’s a step closer to publication. It is, however, also overwhelming. My initial response to both requests was frustration as I had been ready to let those articles out into the wild, as perfect as I thought I could make them, and they had been returned to my care in order to blossom further. Revise and re-submit? That sounded like, well, work. And I doubted whether or not I actually could do any more to make these articles better. Luckily, with the support of my professors and the various resources they’ve suggested, I had been provided with plenty of advice on how to–you guessed it!–take the advice provided by readers’ reports. After I had calmed down a little, I swallowed my pride and resentment, turning to what I knew Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks would tell me to do. I am in a “complicated” relationship with Belcher; it’s more hate than love, to be honest. But I knew she was right. I had to translate those readers’ reports into a list of actions and create (the humanities student in me still gasps!) a spreadsheet to track my fulfillment of those actions.

As much I didn’t want to admit it, Belcher, and indeed many online commentators like Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, had it right. Having already completed one of my R&Rs, I do declare that the recommended approach is a lot more restful and relaxing than I wanted to believe. So much so that I am now tempted to ask my writing students to create similar tracking documents, phrasing recommendations as a “to do” list and coupling similar suggestions from multiple reviewers, in order to provide, as ultimately as I have to, a cover letter explaining what revisions have been undertaken and why. It has only been by taking this approach to revision that I have really begun to practice what I so often preach to students. Teaching writing and revision is made both easier and more difficult by reflecting on my own experiences as a writer who must always revise. How can I guide students when I have figured out so very little of how to undertake this process successfully myself? How can I encourage them when I too feel so disheartened about returning to that brilliant, and, more importantly, finished draft?

Of course, all this allows me to empathize with students and makes the pose of “fellow learner” far more than a pedagogical tactic for encouraging collaboration rather than dictation in the classroom. What I plan to take forward to my teaching this fall is an expanded definition of “revision” as, etymologically speaking, “seeing anew” because I have realized that, while it certainly applies to using feedback in order to consider your writing with a fresh pair of eyes, the first step of this might be the need to see the feedback itself anew. The act of “translation” undertaken by creating a spreadsheet of recommendations and the satisfaction of recording what amendments–inclusions, changes, and deletions–function as responses to those: this is what has helped me revise my view of revision this summer.

The title of this blog post is derived from Marcel Proust’s remark (appropriately enough itself translated from the French) that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” As an literary critic not wishing to be regarded as a mere parasite on creative artists or, worse, reality, I want to agree; as an academic aware of my responsibility to contribute new knowledge, I must concur. I have a career’s worth of writing to look forward to and hopefully the epiphany that this blog post narrates brings me one step closer to celebrating that it will be a lifetime of revision that will truly take me places.

Tricks of the Trade

Having taken the graduate seminar in “Digital Materialities” that began this blog last spring, in the fall I was invited to present on my project to the members of a graduate seminar entitled “Introduction to Digital Humanities”. As I revised the presentation I had originally developed on “Designing Poetic Palimpsests: A New Digital Approach to Multiple Instantiations of Texts”, I found myself wondering how best to advise other graduate students on developing their own projects. How could my experience function as a set of guidelines for others?

By reflecting on how I came to designing my project, which—luckily for me!—was documented on this blog, I realized that I had begun with a similar impetus to many academics working in analogue as well as digital forms. I was troubled, even frustrated, and I hit upon a problem to solve, or, at the very least, some necessary questions to ask. I then looked to the work of others to see how far the problem had already been addressed and considered how I could build upon previous conclusions or solutions in order to take us a step further. In a rather Ivory Tower-esque way, I ended up by wondering what might be possible rather than what was possible, designing a tool I knew I could never build without far more funding and support. This process, particularly the first three stages, is familiar to many scholars but I thought it was important to articulate this to others and, as a literary minded individual, to name it in a memorable fashion. Please click on the image below to see what I came up with!4I for Developing a ProjectWhen presenting on this process and how I had undertaken it, I concluded with a slide on “What Happens Next?” that detailed my continuing work with the Dodd Center and the Scholars’ Collaborative. At that point, I was beginning to move toward my initial goal of a live online exhibition that would showcase the content and theoretical approach of my project. (A longer term goal remains collaboration with developers of similar tools.) This summer, I’ve had the time and energy to make significant strides with the exhibition, which is hosted on the Omeka platform.

Having already populated the website with documents and transcriptions, I have been focusing on the other form of content: namely, the verbal apparatus to guide users through the website and to accompany the exhibits that explore John Temple’s revisions of individual poems. What has been most pleasurable is that this has given me a surprisingly free rein in offering (albeit tentative) close readings of small details. It is a real joy to be able to pay attention to line breaks, capitalizations, punctuation, and so on. It appears that an unexpected benefit of the John Temple Papers might be to showcase a critical approach that I hold very close to my heart. Producing this element of the online exhibition’s content has also suggested to me the need to source peer review from not only those familiar with the criteria for effective digital projects but from literary scholars who can provide quality assurance for what will be a very public forum in which display my critical skills. I am excited to begin sharing my work with colleagues and look forward to a public launch during the next academic year.

A Class Field Trip to the Archive

I actually Googled how to re-start a blog today. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of what I discovered—as with all writing tips—was obvious, unhelpful, and confirmed my belief that it is always about overcoming one’s anxiety. However, a common theme that emerged was looking forward: archive those old posts, catch up with what’s been happening, start afresh, look forward, enjoy the blank slate and so on. It didn’t feel very me somehow. When I cast my eyes back across the blog posts I have written so far, I recognize a continual return to this blog’s motivating impulse as it emerged during a graduate seminar on Digital Materialities: the archive. I’ve reviewed multiple digital archives, explained their role in my research, and even chronicled how I’ve begun developing my own digital archive for the John Temple papers. In studying nineteenth-century literature, I am always looking back in order to look forward. As I face a summer in which my priority is revision rather than generation of materials from syllabi to articles, I also acknowledge that the confines of the Ivory Tower tend to mean much retreading of old ground. And so, in such a spirit, I’d like to tell my readers today about the archive in the context of teaching: a new angle on a familiar subject. This past semester, I was very excited to engage my students in exploring and conceptualizing the archive, partly because I recognize the need to demonstrate how my research methodologies also have pedagogical potential and partly because I had heard rumblings from my department about “information literacy”. What could be better, I thought to myself, than actually getting students into the archive, handling its materials, before they went on to work with sources available through the digital realm?

The entryway to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

We are very lucky at the University of Connecticut to have the Dodd Center. I simply cannot say that enough on this blog! One collection that I hadn’t worked with before was the Alternative Press, which includes materials from various activist movements. Its archivist, Graham Stinnett, recommended that my students read a piece by Verne Harris, who directed the South African History Archive and is now the archivist for the papers of Nelson Mandela. The article we read provided detailed information about the difficulty of archiving in South Africa’s past and present but its engagement with this specific context also introduced the students to Harris’s theory of the “archival sliver”, namely the archive’s ability to record only a sliver of a nation’s experiences. Having read and discussed this article, students visited the Dodd Center in order to work with a specific object from the Alternative Press collection and to enjoy a tour of the facilities. Many of them wrote enthusiastically about the decontamination freezers and the large crack in the vault’s concrete floor, symbolizing—as Graham suggested—the archivist’s constant fight against time. The students were challenged by the Alternative Press materials: while they handled the anti-war, LGBTQ and feminist materials with the ease of a generation that believes in progress, they were provoked to proclaim a desire for destruction by the white supremacist content of some publications. The materials produced by prisoners and mental health patients also held some shock factor for the students, many of whom wrote sensitively about these still suppressed voices.

Honestly, this set of student essays—working with Harris, as well as their own written accounts of the archive visit, in order to theorize the role and responsibility of the archive in the twenty-first century—demonstrated intellectual engagement I rarely see in a first-year writing classroom. Some essays looked to the frightening prospect of governmental surveillance; others considered the complexities of censorship and accessibility; several productively re-considered the old adage of “learning from history”. One student, a very welcome skeptic, reflected on the construction of historical narratives through the archive by comparing it to modern reality television shows. Perhaps I found most interesting those essays that tackled how archiving and using archives complicate our understanding of temporality, allowing us to approach the past in direct rather than mediated ways. In class discussion, I shared with them my own take on thinking about the past through the palimpsest and the “deep” past, emphasizing how we look through all succeeding events when considering a past occurrence. I wanted to counter the perspective of a thoughtful essay that explored the archive through the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle; I wanted to suggest that we cannot abstract ourselves from history in order to view it from above. Of course, as a teacher, what I really wanted was for my students to push back and to feel passion for how they saw it. My joy this semester as a teacher was because this was precisely what they did do.

I’d love to hear from other teachers who have taken their students to archives. How do you frame these visits? What resources, including scholarly articles, enable your students to approach the archive critically? What types of assignments and activities do you design for archival visits? I hope the comments for this blog post might themselves become a productive archive.

To Babble About Doodle (with apologies to Northrop Frye)

This weekend I have been working on one of the several shorter papers that are due before Spring Break in order to fulfill the requirements of the graduate seminars I am taking this semester. The 10 page, conference-style paper I was drafting yesterday drew upon a brief response I had written on Blake’s poems, specifically the prophetic Milton, in which I had identified the significance of corporeality and Blake’s resistance to Cartesian dualism. The struggle to expand this response only transformed into the rare delight of feeling an energetic flow of ideas and words when I recognized how the undercurrents of all my critical work had also begun to make themselves evident in my reading of Blake. I found myself returning to metaphor, specifically the insistence of concrete vehicles for apparent abstractions remaining present despite the interpretative unpacking invited, and to the interactions between text and image.

To offer an example of what this latter part of my work might look like, I will share part of my draft, with the caveat that this is very much a work in progress. In the following excerpt, I am attending to this plate from The Book of Urizen, available through the Blake Archive:

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The skeleton on the left is separated from the fleshly man on the right by a stream of fire, which at its height touches the flowering branch that separates the columns of text above the image. The figures thus correspond to the textual descriptions that move from the “jointed spine” (11.1) at the top left of the plate to the ears that appear in the center of the right-hand column of text. We are invited to read the image as we do the text, from left to right, but the figures of flesh and bone can also be viewed from right to left, suggesting that if we peel away the garment of flesh, what remains is yet more layers of body. The spatial logic of the metaphor that asks us to see the spiritual as what might lie under or beneath the corporeal is thus employed literally to insist on the impossibility of such an uncovering. In describing how he undertakes “printing in the infernal method” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake describes the process of relief etching as “melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid” (14). As we can see from the melting away of flesh that occurs through the flames when we cast our eyes leftward across the above image, the hidden infinite is not the soul but the inner structure of the body. Thus Blake “expunge[s]” what he declares his printing method should: “the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul” (14).

Although the Norton edition of Blake’s Poetry and Designs does include both grayscale and colored examples of Blake’s illuminated texts, the work I undertake in my paper would be impossible without the access to these works in their entirety enabled by the Blake Archive, first conceived in 1995. As I draw in both visual rhetoric and book history as critical frameworks for my own scholarship, such resources are invaluable, from the author-specific scholarly archive to the extensive digitization undertaken by Google Books. One of my tasks over the next few weeks is to turn to the bibliography of visual rhetoric studies that Martha J. Cutter, a professor in my department, offered me when I expressed interest in her own work on illustrated narratives of slavery pre-Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I anticipate this reading will sharpen my analysis of illustrations in nineteenth-century boy books as I look toward presenting my work on these retrospective narratives at the Northeast Modern Language Association’s Annual Convention in Toronto. In analyzing young adventurers from Huckleberry Finn to Jim Hawkins, I am most interested in how they recede into the text as witnesses whose primary function is narrative. The illustration below from Thomas B. Aldrich’s ostensible autobiography, The Story of a Bad Boy, is what allows me to make claims such as this: “Tom’s status as a creation of the text rather than an actual referent is foregrounded by his embodiment in the materiality of the book rather than the world.”

Screenshot 2014-03-26 15.44.17

I am increasingly certain that the document that presents text as image, like the examples I have given above, will become the chief way in which I “quote” from the literature I study. While the digital archiving of such works and my digital production of scholarship (quite simply, inserting images into a Word document) suggests this to be easy, I am very aware of how difficult I may find it to justify the expensive integration of such images in any print versions of my work, looking forward to not only journal articles but to the monographs I will hopefully release once I am beyond the PhD stage. I am intrigued to discover whether similar concerns haunt other disciplines as we consider what the object of own analytical abilities might be and how best to represent it in our scholarship.