Week 13: Neuromancer

Posted April 25, 2013 By Brandon Galm

Once again, I’m doing a blog post a week ahead of when I was originally scheduled to do one. But this post is actually serving two purposes. One, it’s a typical blog post analyzing what we’ve read for this week, and two, it’s an abstract of sorts for my final paper, a chance for me to get down some ideas (and hopefully get some feedback on those ideas) since I decided less than a week ago to forego my original final project idea and write about Neuromancer instead.

Since my main research interests lie in ecocriticism and environmental studies, I want to think about the world(s) of Neuromancer–both in how they’re represented, but, more importantly, what they can tell us about how we think/view/interact/consider nature, the natural, space, and place. And I want to do this by saying that the two worlds (“real” space and cyberspace) aren’t so different in the long run.

Since I need to be brief here (this is something that I think is worth spending 20+ pages on), I thought I’d just look at one example from the novel to give everyone an idea of where I’m coming from. Rather than digging too deep into the ideas of what is real space and what is created space, I thought that this example–the ride that several characters take in the Mercedes–would serve as an interesting example for where I’m coming from in my analysis. During their ride in the Mercedes, a tour-guide-esque voiceover instructs them where to look to see specific sites/locales/etc: “‘On our left,’ said the Mercedes, as it steered through a maze of rainy streets, ‘is Kapali Carsi, the grand bazaar” (90). One character–the Finn–ignores the perception directions from the Mercedes, and instead sees “miniature scrapyards” (90). The point that I’m making with this passage is this: the Mercedes serves as a guide, it suggests exactly how one should perceive the space that is being traveled to. It (I’m assuming the car was programmed to do this, so other factors should be considered as well in why it points out what it points out, like the owner and programmers) directs viewing away from the less desirable. The Mercedes is working a sleight of hand over the riders, which allows it to become a metaphor for all socially constructed spaces.

Again, for the sake of brevity, you’ll all have to take my word for the way/reasons that we perceive nature/space in particular ways (this will be covered much more in depth in my final paper). In many ways, we perceive space in these ways because we’ve been told to. Space/place, like so much else, is socially constructed. Sure, there are physical constructions that will always be true, but if we ignore the social constructions (if we look at the bazaar and ignore the scrapyards), we’ll only ever believe what we’re told. This leads to particular behaviors (say, oh, I don’t know, global warming denialism for instance) that can be detrimental the longer they are occurring.

To sum up, even more briefly: part of the reason that people resist changing behaviors is because they can’t see any reason to change them. The world that they see is the world that they are told should exist, so why should it become something else that challenges that?

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Week 12: Response to “Bloodchild”

Posted April 18, 2013 By Brandon Galm

I know we were supposed to each tackle a different story this week, but I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t respond to Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild”. I’m also going to take a slightly different approach this week, and take a more pedagogical stance to my response to the story. This was partially due to the “Afterward” sections that Butler wrote for each of the stories in the Bloodchild book collection. At first, when I read Butler’s thoughts on her story, I felt robbed. I was reading the story in a very particular way critically, and to see Butler comment on why she wrote “Bloodchild” (which was, at first glance, nowhere close to how I was reading it–either in terms of how she says people normally read it [a critique of slavery] or her own reasons [a male pregnancy story]). However, Butler also pointed out that her initial reason behind writing this short story was to take something graphically, disturbingly terrifying to her: the “botfly–an insect with…horror movie habits” (30). Here is where I made my connection to pedagogy and how I might teach this text, or more specifically, how I might use this text to teach about what was running through my head throughout my experience of reading “Bloodchild”.

My analysis of this story, pre-Butler’s “Afterward”, was one of commodity fetishism–the denial of the source of production. Specifically, I was thinking of the commodity fetishism of meat and factory farming. Many of Butler’s descriptions of the insect-like impregnation and eventual removal of the worms, and the ways that she described Gan’s reactions to seeing it directly, read to me like narratives of industrial meat farming. Actually, not exactly. What reminded me of factory farming in Butler’s work was the fact that, in most circumstances, what is described to the reader is something that is not meant to be seen. It is not meant to be seen, because if the Terrans saw it, they’d probably begin to have some second thoughts about their relationship with the Tlic.

This leads me to how I might use this short story in a classroom. In assigning the story, I’d also be sure to include Butler’s statements that follow the story, particularly stressing her idea of using writing to confront something that is terrifying and, in many ways, gruesome to see and learn about. I would then explain to the students that I’m going to show them something that is going to be difficult to watch, but that I think is important to see: undercover video from factory farms (or for those who choose a less confrontational approach with their students, perhaps video of sweat shops, or even Un Chien Andalou; the point is to challenge the students comfort in their own space, and to use that challenge to get them to recognize how their choices can have far greater impacts than they might ever think about–in other words, break the commodity fetishism as drastically as you feel comfortable).

After reading the story, talking about how Butler used the story to come to terms with the terror she felt from the botflies, and watching the factory farm video, I would then have a conversation with the students about connections they can make between the text and why I just showed them that video. A good question to ask might be, “Whose role did I put the students in?” The next step is to ask the students to write their own short stories in reaction to what I just showed them. Using “Bloodchild” as a guide, I would stress that they can be as inventive as possible, but to try and really get at the heart of how the video made them feel. We would then share our stories during the next class, while having as many conversations as necessary to make students understand both why I showed them the video, as well as why it’s important to see it. Even if it doesn’t change their minds (Gan still decided to go through with it, after all), it still–no pun intended–infests their future thinking about choices and impacts, and how we need not accept things simply as they are presented to us.

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Week 7ish: Response to The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted March 24, 2013 By Brandon Galm

I know I should probably be writing about gender and sex, since that is the main theme of both Le Guin’s novel and our class this week. But I actually am going to write about something else instead, something that had me thinking about the science fiction aspect of the book. The one problem with the approach I’m taking is that I’m not really sure what it adds to an analysis of the book, but it’s extremely prominent throughout, and is something that I couldn’t get out of my head while I was reading. I’m referring (of course?) to time.

From the “appendix” at the end of the book which lays out the calendar and seasonal cycles of Gethen to Estraven’s journal keeping to Genley’s “timejumping,” time is everywhere in The Left Hand of Darkness. I challenge any of you to find a page that doesn’t have some reference to time on it (I’m sure there are some, but, honestly, probably not many). For the remainder of this response, I want to focus primarily on Genley’s relationship to time, but because time is relative, his relationship is actually dependent on other time. Without something to be relative to, it would simply be the time, not time as experienced by Genley.

Genley is a bit of an anomaly in terms of time. As a space traveler, he is, also, a time traveler. Estraven says this in his (I’m not sure which pronoun to use…) journal: “While he lived a few hours on one of those unimaginable ships…everyone he had left behind him at home grew old died, and their children grew old…” (222). But Genley does not feel time pass in the same way that those he left behind do. For them time passed much more quickly than it did for him. In this way, Genley has a duality to himself (the yin-yang that he mentions). He becomes both “the torrent and the glacier” that the Foretellers talk about. In other words, Genley understands and lives on a personal time that passes as quickly as those he is around (the torrent), but he also has a sense of a more universal, ecological time (the glacier) that allows him to “experience” large chunks of history in many different places. Of course, this experience, too, is relative. He is not actually experiencing it in the same way that a glacier or a mountain might experience it (i.e. he does not live for generations in a single place), but compared to people that are grounded, so to speak, to their planets, he survives for many of their generations. Isn’t physics fun?

Something interesting happens, though, as Genley and Estraven make their grueling journey back to Karhide: Genley is forced to experience time at a rate that he is not used to. In some ways, time literally slows to a crawl for him. In his sections of the book that relate their journey, he becomes extremely narrow-minded in his description of the time of their journey–how many days it’s been, what time they ate lunch, how long they slept. He makes mention of how few miles they are able to travel in a single day. Imagine that. Imagine traveling around 186,000 miles per second (or just shy of that, since their ships moved just below the speed of light), and then all of a sudden you’re moving at 10 or 12 miles per day. This shift becomes such a shock to Genley that, beginning around the time of his imprisonment, he starts to lose all sense of time. By the end of their journey, he writes/says, “When I realized that I did not even know what day of the month it was, I began to realize how badly off I had in fact been, lately” (290). He has become so ingrained with his new temporal experience, that it actually causes him to no longer have a temporal experience at all.

I suppose that one way to connect this to the ideas of gender presented in the book would be to compare his temporal identity to his gender identity, or ideas of gender. His temporal identity exists relationally to the temporal identities of those around him, much in the same way that his ideas of gender do. His new temporality begins to emerge (or is thrust upon him) just as he begins to question why he’s always seen Estraven as male, and not as the ambisexual being that Gethenians are. Maybe I’m stretching in my analysis here, but I don’t think that the prevalence of time within the novel can be ignored either.

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Week 5: Response to Pulp Sci-Fi

Posted February 28, 2013 By Brandon Galm

As I’m starting to write this post, I’m sitting in the coffee in Artists Hand. Three of the employees are discussing: the idea of human souls, what makes us human, what happens to the energy created by our bodies after we die. Considering I just finished reading “No Woman Born,” I thought that was worth mentioning. While I was listening, I started thinking about how I could insert myself into that conversation based on what I had just read (as well as thoughts I was having while I was reading it–thoughts not entirely removed from their discussion). By the time I figured out what I wanted to say to them, they had already moved on to their next topic du jour, but at least I knew what I wanted to write about.

I kept returning to an idea of phenomenology that I read last semester (specifically, a phenomenology of–surprise, surprise–Whiteness). The idea comes from Sarah Ahmed’s essay “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” and, to summarize very briefly, it discusses the ways that 1) humans interact with objects within environments,  2) how hegemonic ideology determines how/where those objects are placed within environments, and 3) how those ideologies also dictate the “correct” response to those interactions.

Throughout “No Woman Born,” the other characters kept insisting upon Diedre’s being a “real” woman, although each time she seemed to convince them, something would draw their attention to her artificiality. Those moments in which she appeared to them to be real where moments in which she was interacting. Diedre seems to be aware of this herself, when she says, “We knew we couldn’t work out anything like a facsimile of the way I used to look, so we had to find some other basis to build on. And motion is the other basis of recognition, after actual physical likeness” (8). In other words, it isn’t enough for someone to simply look human, they must also act and move like a human (and this involves environmental interaction). On stage, Diedre knows how to move to get the audience to believe her realness; immediately after the above quote, Moore writes of Diedre, “She moved lightly across the carpet toward the window” (8). Of importance here, is the fact that Diedre “moved lightly”–she moved in a feminine way. And here, I return to Ahmed’s phenomenology. Because Diedre interacts in her environment in a way that has been dictated for a feminine presence  to behave, she is able to make John believe that she is a human.

Also worth mentioning: Diedre is not real. She is a construction made to represent/duplicate a previous, flesh-and-blood Diedre. Because she is not real, she is also an object in the environment to be interacted with. Here is where Ahmed’s essay gets really interesting. Not only can it be used to demonstrate the way that Diedre can convince people of her realness, it can also be used to show how 1) those “correct” feminine actions are determined for her (so all behavior, in some ways is “unreal,” regardless of the performers humanity), and 2) how easily those “correct” actions can be undermined. As an example of the latter, I look to the end of the short story. Maltzer (I think; I was having trouble keeping the male characters separate) tells Diedre to not come closer, because she “can’t interfere from that distance” (27). He understands her ability to act within their environment only in terms of humanity (which she is not), and therefore tries to control the environment for his benefit using that as a guide. When she moves faster than humanly possibly, she proves the fragility of his power to create and control both the environment and how others might interact within it.

For the sake of brevity, I wanted to touch quickly on one other short story that we read this week–“Twilight”–using a similar approach. As Campbell described the environment of the future, I kept getting the feeling that he was describing a place that was created explicitly for the benefit of humans–at least in terms of the “natural” world (the way that the future beings decided which animals to kill, which lead to other animals dying, for example). Also, Campbell writes of the machine cities replicating Romantically beautiful natural phenomena (“There were shrubs and trees and parks, glowing in the soft light that they had learned to make in the very air”) (29). I wanted to tie this back in to the argument from above through this construction, a construction that is hegemonic (Do all people see nature in the same beautiful way? If not, who decided for everyone else?). Additionally, Campbell seems to imply that, once these constructions were completed, humans stopped actually interacting with them anymore. This also reminded me of the Luckhurst chapter on 1945, specifically his mention of Heidegger. The technology that the future humans developed to build space made them unable (or undesiring) to want to be a being in that space any longer.

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Week 2: Looking Backward, Bellamy, Wegner pt. 2

Posted February 7, 2013 By Brandon Galm

And now I turn to Bellamy’s utopian novel, Looking Backward, as I try to make sense of some of my comments from my previous post and connect them to what’s happening in the book.

The first theme I was discussing had to do with the denial of history that Wegner wrote about in his essay(s) on utopia and Bellamy. While the direct denial of history was not as prevalent in the novel as I was expecting it to be after reading Wegner, there were still plenty of moments in which I was able to make some links between the two. In fact, it really wasn’t until the last couple of chapters that it was so open (I’m thinking of the sermon they listened to, specifically), as when the pastor closes with, “With a tear for the dark past, turn we then to the dazzling future, and, veiling our eyes, press forward” (Bellamy, Kindle Locations 2668-2689). I’d like to briefly deconstruct this sentence, and explain how it relates to the denial of history, as well as to where I saw this cropping up in the rest of the book. First, as I mentioned in my previous post, history is full of dark moments, moments that many might wish to forget or shy away from remembering. The pastor here makes a direct call for this action, saying instead to look toward the future (in some ways, I think Bellamy might have been addressing his present-day readers by showing them a future they could look forward to). He explicitly uses the term “veiling,” a term that crops out throughout Critical Race and Critical Whiteness Studies to mean the intended denial of history, of looking back at the ways that the past has been made dark. If one only looks to the future, and shies away from and ignores past atrocities, I wonder how they can ever really keep moving forward? The people in this future that West has arrived in seem so certain of the correctness of their ways throughout the book. And if one is only looking forward, and never at what has come before, how can they continue to improve? It seems counterintuitive to me.

Moving to the other theme I had hoped to find throughout, the idea of the cul-de-sac is tangentially related to this previous topic. Again, the specific mention of the term doesn’t appear until much later in the novel, but I was able to make connections to this idea much more. While Bellamy was using the term (as Wegner pointed out) to mean the way that society had “dead-ended” itself in Bellamy/West’s present, I am using the term a bit more loosely to point out the ways that it also implies a sequestering or cordoning off. This, in some ways, might help to explain my issues with the future people’s desire to only “press forward.” By not looking at the past, they are keeping particular ideas/people/whatever outside of their “perfect” society. In other words, for such an advanced society, that believes in the good for the many, they are remarkably closed-minded to anything outside of their established order (and their contempt for “outsiders” can be seen in the way they reply to West’s questions throughout; they barely hide their scoffs, in my opinion).

Additionally, the society itself is strangely sequestered. They talk about their wonderful public spaces, like the dining halls for example, but even within those spaces a sense of community is absent. They have their own rooms within those halls in which to dine (“Every family in the ward has a room set apart” (Kindle Locations 1399-1400)), so eating out isn’t really the same as we think of eating out. Even worse, for me, is the telephonic “radio” system which plays live music and sermons. Not once in the book did the Leete’s have any friends or acquaintances visit (or, at least, so few that I don’t remember them). Again, this leads me to the point about moving forward. Really, they aren’t going anywhere. Their society has stagnated as much as any other society has. They just live extremely sequestered, and never question the past (but instead point out how it has failed compared to their system), living in bliss in their unchanging, “perfect” harmony.

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Week 2: Looking Backward, Bellamy, Wegner, pt. 1

Posted February 5, 2013 By Brandon Galm

The ease of reading the pdf files versus the html version of Looking Backward lead me to read the two chapters from Wegner prior to reading through Bellamy’s novel. As a result, I have a very clear idea of the problems/themes that I might want to explore throughout Looking Backward before ever getting into the novel itself. Having not read the novel yet, but wanting to get these ideas down before they slip away, this post will be a way for me to work through some of the problems I found with Wegner’s analyses (as well as some moments of agreement). I will then take these ideas with me as I read through Looking Backward and will write  a follow-up response, of sorts, by addressing moments in which the novel either reinforces my critiques or proves me wrong.

The first idea, and the one that I took the most issue with, was Wegner’s analysis of Looking Backward as it relates to the denial of history. Wegner makes the claim that, for Bellamy, the only way to truly move forward and progress is by forgetting one’s past and looking towards the possibilities of the future. My issue with this stems from my work with Critical Whiteness Studies, which essentially states the exact opposite. Critical Whiteness instead asks people to look at the past, at those darkest moments that one might truly wish to forget. This allows for a critical engagement with one’s own role in that past, regardless of the temporal separation between the event and the remembrance. Critical Whiteness makes the claim that the whitewashing and mythologizing (or denial) of history hides the true past for the purposes of reproducing hegemonic White ideologies.

Another of the themes that I wanted to explore was Wegner’s idea of the cul-de-sac. While I’m still trying to work through entirely what he’s implying with this (and having not read Looking Backward yet), I want to think about it in the same way as the denial of history. In some ways, this seemed to be contradictory (from my perspective) to denying history. The dead-end cul-de-sac is a fear of halting progress, and, from what I can gather in Wegner, is a result of being a prisoner to history. One cannot move forward until one forgets the past. This is problematic for many of the same reasons above: denial of the past is, in fact, what causes the dead end (enclosed? protected?) in the first place, because it is a constructed past to keep the hegemony in power. In addition, cul-de-sac, at least in its modern incarnation, has a semblance of panoptic paranoia–a place in which everyone has eyes on everyone else.

I’m not sure how either of these ideas will play out as I move into Bellamy’s novel, but check back tomorrow for the results.

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Week 7: Readings for 10/9/12

Posted October 10, 2012 By Brandon Galm

This week’s blog post also serves as a transcription of the introduction to the podcast that our class did (to be posted soon).

Good evening, everyone. It’s Tuesday, October 9th, and we’re coming to you from our ENGL 985 class at IUP. This class is geared around Digital Humanities, specifically as it relates to the Victorian time period. I thought that this week it would be interesting to do a podcast, so here we are.

Basically the structure of this podcast will be this: After this brief introduction, I’m going to give a quick run down on some key points from a couple of our readings from Debates in the Digital Humanities from this week. I want to state right off the bat that we’re going to use these readings as a starting point, and what I’m presenting from them for us to use is not necessarily what the authors were arguing for, but what popped up in my mind as I was reading them.

After that we’re going to take a short break in order to set up the next portion of our podcast. I put everyone else in the class into groups last week, and each group was given one of the websites that we were to look at. I set up a forum page on my blog for them to discuss their interactions and findings with their sites as the week went on, so that we could focus on specific aspects of the sites for tonight’s podcast. During our break (which, breaking the fourth wall here, is a lot longer than it appears on here for listeners), the groups will be exploring their respective websites with specific focus coming from this week’s readings and then we’ll come back and each group will get about ten minutes on air to share their findings and proposals. That about sums it up, so I think I’ll jump into the readings so everyone knows where we’ll be coming from.

The first of the two chapters from Debates in the Digital Humanities that we had to read for this week was “Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities” by George H. Williams. The basic gist of his argument is that we, when designing or proposing digital projects, need to have Universal Design principles in mind when doing so. Universal design, very basically, means that we should keep the largest possible audience in mind when designing. It should not be confused with something like text-to-speech technology (or vice versa) by itself (which is considered a disability assistance technology), but when designing a digital project that technology might be included in your design if you’re approaching it from a universal standpoint (it helps more users access your project more freely). An example of universal design that is given in the article is the automatic garage door opener. Williams cites Ronald L. Mace’s use of this example of the door opener “as a consumer product created with universal design principles: it is affordable; it appeals to and is useful to people both with and without disabilities” (205). Basically designs like these move beyond essentialisms. When it was designed it didn’t assume that all people opened their garage doors the same way. This should hold true as we design and propose digital humanities projects. So far, DH projects have tended to favor the quote-unquote traditional user. People with computers, internet connections, working eyes and ears. Obviously, I make this very poor joke to prove a point (and I mean no disrespect to any individuals in making it). The point is that those who do not share even one characteristic of these traditional users face greater difficulty in becoming a part of the digital humanities. If only traditional users are considered, how can Digital Humanities consider itself a part of the humanities as a larger body? Universal design moves away from the essentialisms that hinder the digital humanities from being as collaborative and all-inclusive as it hopes to be.

Shifting slightly, I want to move to the other chapter that we read from Debates: “Digital Humanities and Its Users” by Charlie Edwards. Edwards gives a nice quote from Tom Scheinfeldt on page 220 that I think sums up this idea of universality. He quotes, “Digital humanities takes more than tools from the internet… It works like the internet. It takes its values from the internet.” He goes on to explain that digital humanities, like the internet, welcomes “all comers, [assumes] that their contributions will be positive, and [expects] that they will share their work for the benefit of the community at large.” The one stipulation he closes with, however, is that DH is not there yet. It has every intention of be completely collaborative and all-inclusive, but it still fails to meet that desire on many levels. From universal design issues like Williams discusses to the lack of sharing of coding work from Edwards, DH has to make some significant steps in order to get to where it hopes to be. Granted, chapters or articles like these are helping to make those strides forward happen, and those of us designing and proposing new projects need to take these to heart as well in our own work.

Okay, now to step off of my soapbox and give some other people the chance to speak. As they continue to critique their websites during our short break here, they will be looking specifically at universal design issues within these sites. One of the first things they will be asking themselves comes from the Edwards article on users. Edwards writes that universal experience designers tend to ask themselves one question in beginning a project: “Who is to use the system and for what ends?” (215). I guess that’s technically two questions, but you get the point. After that, I am asking the groups to focus on finding holes in universal design within the website and to offer up some solutions or proposals for what they would add or change. In addtion, groups should feel free to consult the Web Accessibility Initiative at www.w3.org/WAI in determining issues and proposals as best they can in the twenty minutes or so they’ll be working together.

Full disclosure, these suggestions come with some caveats: 1) that the proposal does not take into account financial aspects (we’re basically saying that its already been funded), 2) the solution proposed might not exist yet (in other words, the best possible solution might be a technology that no one’s invented yet), and 3) we’ve only spent about a week looking at the site as users. We have no access to the backend of the site, to the full scale of the projects, or to what the designers really have planned for them. This activity is merely a way to get our class thinking about universal design principles from the standpoint of both users and future proposers/designers of digital humanities projects of our own.

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Week 6: Readings for 10/2/12

Posted October 2, 2012 By Brandon Galm

I want to focus the majority of this post on the Paul Fyfe chapter from Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Electronic Errata: Digital Publishing, Open Review, and the Futures of Correction.” This chapter was interesting to me, not least because I didn’t end up on either side of this debate. The chapter left me with more questions than I began with, but at least they were new questions about something other than the need to steer away from digital humanities projects as simply streamlining old ways of doing things (though, admittedly, these questions are essentially based within that theme that I so adore).

Fyfe’s argument is basically this: that the future of digital publishing can help eliminate the need for the tediousness of editing work (copyediting, fact checking, etc.). Similar to the chapter before this one by Matthew Wilkins, both authors demonstrate the way that a technology can condense the amount of time it takes to research/check something down to almost nothing (at least as compared to a human being slogging through text after text to do it his or her self). Some of the “technologies” that Fyfe talks about aren’t completely technological, but they do require a certain element of tech to facilitate the editing process. For example, one of these is the fact that many publications that are either shifting to, or already are, digital publishing have removed a large amount of the proofreading/citation checking process. It seems to be the mindset that we can get it online, and then we can crowdsource the editing work. A good example of this is a website like Wikipedia, in which users can edit and change particular aspects of entries. Of course, this has downsides (like finding people willing to fit this editing into their already busy schedules; in other words, it would have to be done by peers that are adept and comfortable in editing scholarly work, like professors and/or graduate students) and upsides (one that Fyfe doesn’t mention: the ability to “publish” more pieces and/or giving more scholars opportunities to have their work peer-reviewed and published).

A good aside into this conversation happens in the “Blog Posts” chapter by Daniel J. Cohen. His chapter is titled “The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing.” As his “post” opens, he talks about the last “five percent” of publishing something. He’s relating a conversation he had with a colleague about why they don’t just publish everything they have done (the “95 percent”) with the click of a button. His colleague, Roy Rosenzweig, answered him back, “explaining the magic of the last stage of scholarly production between the final draft and the published book: ‘What happens now is the creation of the social contract between the authors and the readers” (319). In other words, those elements of corrections, editing, proofreading, etc. are what make the book a serious work of scholarship, and many readers might shy away from something that hasn’t gone through the same rigorous work entailed in that last five percent of publishing the work. Whether or not we agree with what Cohen posits initially (or Fyfe for that matter) is important, because it determines where we stand within Digital Humanities in some ways. Cohen goes on to say that we need to move past this “social contract” if we hope to move into stances that align us with what Fyfe is proposing for digital humanities scholarship/publication. He wants us (as a discipline) to “recognize outstanding work wherever and however it is published” (320).

Something else that I found myself on both sides of with Fyfe’s argument is his idea that new technologies can help to streamline the editing process. This would be a software program, for example, that could essentially “read” a text and, using a logorithm (or database with which to compare similar textual characteristics) could suggest or make changes to texts, thus eliminating the need for a copyeditor. A very basic form of this might be something like Microsoft Word’s spell- and grammar-checkers. Some issues that I see with this have to do with 1) the fact that a program is not free from errors (how often do we ignore a suggestion from spellcheck or grammarcheck?); 2) the program might not be able to recognize stylistic choices (like, say, sentence fragments for the purpose of emphasis); and 3) the program might recognize errors which are not errors, and completely reconfigure a text, negating any benefit that was there to begin with (we’d have to start all over). Granted, some of these issues are slightly nit-picky, but I think we need to ask questions like these to help balance the way that the benefits tend to outweigh these issues. Because there are benefits. Streamlining, of course (I’m not completely against it, as I’ve said before). The chance for others to have access to a database of grammatical choices might be another. I guess my point, and what I’ve taken most from this chapter, is that we really do have to ask as many questions as possible before we rush into acceptance of a new technology. At the very least, it can help us improve the technology that we’re proposing, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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Week 5: Post for 9/25/12 Class

Posted September 25, 2012 By Brandon Galm

For this week, we were asked to focus our blog post primarily on our interactions with the NINES website. For more about the NINES project you can visit their about page here, but a very brief quote from that page gives a nice summary: “NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) is a scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first.” For my post, I’m going to focus primarily on the various software that the NINES uses (because, quite honestly, the NINES is itself a bit overwhelming when approaching it as a whole), and my reactions/thoughts/feelings about interacting with it.

One of the goals of the NINES is the development of new software tools that both help existing scholarship, as well as create new forms to approach research and scholarship. A quick look back through either of my previous posts on our readings (here and here) will let you know that this is something that I am most interested in when it comes to the digital humanities and digital scholarship. In other words, I am not interested in just learning about those projects that let us take old ways of research and streamline them (though, as a scholar, I will admit that these projects are extremely beneficial). Rather, I am more interested in those projects that are creating new ways of researching that would not have been possible without the creation of the digital tool to do so. In this way, I am glad that one of the goals of the NINES project is to create such tools.

The NINES has three different software types that they are currently using/developing on their site: Collex, Ivanhoe, and Juxta (each link goes to NINES’ description of that software; follow the links from the NINES to learn more about the software from the developers). The Collex software seems to be a database-type system. It helps generate tags, create hyperlinks, and build connections between sites that are part of the NINES network of projects. This software type, for the most part, is working in the first way described above: as a software designed to streamline current and old ways of researching. While it does also hint at the possibilities of adapting that research in the future, as it stands, it appears to be an aggregator of digital resources available throughout their collections (which is quite large).

I am going to skip over Ivanhoe briefly and talk about Juxta next. Juxta is a comparison software used when looking at variants of different texts (between multiple editions, for example). I downloaded the open-source software from the Juxta website and played around with it. Because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to be doing with it exactly, I fumbled around for a bit. I was messing with it using the three versions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It seems like really interesting technology, to be able to compare various versions/editions that quickly, but judging from the need for beta testers that Juxta is looking for, it seems like creating jxt file types of the texts might be time consuming. Again, I only spent about twenty or so minutes messing around with the program, so I am clearly not an expert in what it can do. But what I did use of it was fairly easy to navigate, and I was able to generate results on the comparisons (though, admittedly, I had no idea how to interpret those results).

I saved the Ivanhoe software for last for two reasons. One, it was the one I was most excited to mess around with. Two, I couldn’t play around with it because it’s offline (the NINES appears to be focusing their time on Collex and Juxta at the moment, letting Ivanhoe wait). The Ivanhoe software is actually a game of sorts (from what I can tell of the description). Here’s how Ivanhoe describes it on their website: “In simple terms, IVANHOE is a digital space in which players take on alternate identities in order to collaborate in expanding and making changes to a ?discourse field,? [sic] the documentary manifestation of a set of ideas that people want to investigate collaboratively.” In other words, it’s basically a game that the user plays to learn how and why we do research and scholarship the way that we do. The NINES talks about it in terms of giving users/researchers feedback of sorts that might help him or her engage in scholarship differently (or perhaps figure out why their habits tend to lead them down the same roads). They write, “These interventions are then returned to the players in various kinds of visual transformations useful for critical reflection on the interpretative process.” Like I said, I was unable to actually play the game because it has been taken offline temporarily, but from what I can gather between the two sites, it’s less a game that helps the users get information, and more of a game that helps the users figure out how they get information (and why they interpret it the ways that they do). I was pretty bummed that I was unable to at least test the software out, because it seems like it could generate some really interesting insights. The “offline” posting was from January 2012, and since no more has been posted on the Ivanhoe website or on the NINES, I’m hoping that it might be back up and running again soon, in which case I’ll edit this posting (or maybe just do another dedicated post on it at that time).

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Week 4: Happenings in the Listservs

Posted September 18, 2012 By Brandon Galm

I wasn’t going to post anything on this topic this week, because I wasn’t really seeing any topics coming through the listservs that interested me (and the ones that I did check out ended up being not exactly what I was expecting it to be about). But the more I started thinking about how I couldn’t really find anything I was interested in, I started thinking about how surprising that really is.

Here’s why.

The sheer number of emails and digests that I have had to sift through since last week is staggering. I still haven’t figured out how to set the Victorianist listserv up to digest mode, and that’s a large part of the number, but that isn’t the point. The point is that there are more topics being written about the Victorian time period than I thought was possible (I’m less impressed by the number of topics coming through the Humanist Digest, because it’s a much more general topic covering a wide array of subjects). From the photography topic of last week’s post, to Victorian yachting, to walking clubs, the list seems endless. And this isn’t even including the messages that come through that are about conferences, publishing opportunities, or just links to articles in general.

Much like I wrote about last week, I was extremely hesitant that I would find anything of interest coming through these lists (especially the Victorianist one, being that I have zero familiarity or research interest in that time period). While this was the case this week, I know that it won’t always be, simply because of the incredible range of interests and topics that Victorianists are interested in. And worst case, now that I’m a bit more familiar with the listserv’s website, I can sift through the archived messages (which I plan on doing in the near future, once I get a free moment).

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