Tag Archives: digital humanities

Romanticism: A State of the Union

Inspired by the President’s recent State of the Union address, I have decided to offer you, my Romantic brethren, a review of the state of Romantic studies. Despite our brooding Byronic ways, our Union is getting stronger. The house of cards may indeed have fallen, but our field is not languishing on the marble steps. Moneta will come!

::obligatory applause break::

The 2010 NASSR Conference in Vancouver, British Colombia took the idea of “Romantic Mediations” as its theme. Participants were encouraged to submit proposals that explored communication technologies and print culture. As the call for papers makes clear, “The era that saw the invention of semaphore, telegraphy, the continuous-feed press, and the difference engine, the Romantic in all its senses might be characterized as a period of significant experimentation in media and ideas of mediations” (NASSR). While many papers engaged with new inventions and their effects on Romantic era works – I heard an excellent paper regarding the influence semaphore had on theatrical gesturing practices – others utilized the concepts and language of media and mediation in order to offer new and perhaps more precise ways of engaging with and understanding key Romantic writers and texts.

The issues and concerns of last year’s NASSR conference are also being addressed by McGill University’s ongoing collaborative endeavor “Interacting with Print: Cultural Practices of Intermediality 1700-1900.” Founded in 2005, the interdisciplinary and interinstitutional research group headed by Susan Dalton, Andrew Piper, Tom Mole and others sets out to investigate “how people interacted with printed matter, how they used print media to interact with other people and how printed texts and images interacted within complex media ecologies.” The group focuses on the relations and interactions between various media. In order to more accurately, in its terms, “situate” print, the collaborative group sets out to debunk three prevalent scholarly “myths”: that print displaced other media, that print equals letterpress or engraving, and that print culture is national culture. In the online manifesto for “Interacting with Print,” the group claims that their “research activities will provide a more specific understanding of print’s place in the production, dissemination and reception of culture in a period that saw the development of mass media.” Print, as this quotation makes clear, was only one of many mediums for producing and disseminating culture and oftentimes incorporated other forms of media such as printed images.

Together, the conference and working research group speak to a set of issues being addressed by current critics of the Romantic period. Many scholars, including myself, have asked why this interest in media and mediation is emerging at the present moment. I believe that the answer, at least in part, lies in the new descriptions and definitions of the Romantic period and Romanticism offered by thinkers like Walter Ong and Friedrich Kittler. In his 1982 work Orality and Literacy, Ong claims that the Romantic desire for “autonomous utterance” is facilitated by print and speaks to the “alliance of the Romantic movement with technology” (158). That is, print mediates the Romantic desire for interiority and individuality. According to Ong, there is a clear correlation between the mediums of Romantic art, in this instance print, and the prevalent artistic ideology of the period. Relying on and citing Ong’s work with notable frequency, John David Black’s recent book The Politics of Enchantment: Romanticism, Media, and Cultural Studies labels Romanticism as one of the effects of print: “Coming some three centuries after the invention of the mechanical press, romanticism was the mature cultural expression of the cumulative effects of Gutenberg’s breakthrough” (134). This quotation makes Romanticism the result of the proliferation of print that started with Gutenberg’s press.

Similarly to Ong, Kittler’s landmark work Discourse Networks 1800/1900, published in 1985 in the original German and translated into English in 1990, draws attention to the relationship between media and Romanticism. Especially important to Kittler’s text is Foucault’s essay “Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside.” In this early work, Foucault develops what David Wellbery calls “a lexicon of exteriority” (xii). The French thinker sets out to distinguish between language itself and “the apparatuses of power, storage, transmission, training, reproduction, and so forth that make up the conditions of factual discursive occurrences” (Wellbery xii). Like Foucault before him, Kittler’s work situates what is said or written in a secondary position and instead focuses on these “apparatuses.” His decision to title his 1987 follow up work Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter further underscores the important role communication and storage apparatuses play in his thinking. For Kittler, scholars are always dealing with media, with the technological possibilities of any given epoch because it is through the media of a given moment that “something like “poetry” or “literature” can take shape” (Wellbery xiii). As Thomas Streeter points out, Kittler “suggests that one should understand romanticism, not as a collection of texts or a historical period, but as a way of organizing discourse through practices of writing, reading, and relating” (777). Streeter and other critics, however, also feel that Kittler’s work often places too much emphasis on technologies and, at times, veers towards techno-determinism. Yet, these criticisms aside, the German thinker’s influence over contemporary literary studies in general as well as Romantic criticism is undeniable.

Clifford Siskin and William Warner’s collection of essays, This Is Enlightenment, elaborates upon the ideas present in Discourse Networks as well as Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter. The two critics argue that every history constructed by literary scholars has its benefits but a history of what they term “mediation” has the potential to “clarify both the singularity of each local event and what those events have in common” (11). They “use “mediation” here in its broadest sense as shorthand for the work done by tools, by what we now call “media” of every kind – everything that intervenes, enables, supplements, or is simply in between” (4). In this passage we can begin to see the similarities to Ong, Foucault, and Kittler’s focus on the technologies and “apparatuses” of given historical moments. Siskin and Warner, who were the keynote speakers at the NASSR conference referred to at the start of this post, show that “mediation was always necessary but the forms of mediation differ over time” and therefore there exists “a history of mediation” (9). Under this new framework, the Enlightenment becomes “an event in the history of mediation” (1). The Enlightenment was facilitated by a historically specific set of forms of mediation such as print, reading, writing, and other associational and relational practices.

Naturally, redefining the Enlightenment in such a manner leaves critics of the Romantic and Victorian eras asking what place in the new history their own periods hold. Siskin and Warner address this question in their 2011 article in The European Romantic Review, “If this is Enlightenment, Then What Is Romanticism?” According to the article, “Enlightenment is an event, Romanticism is an eventuality, and Victorianism is a variation” (290). The forms of mediation do not change or proliferate in equal measure. That is, some moments, in this instance the Enlightenment, have both a greater variety and number of forms of mediation than others. The claim that Romanticism can be seen as an “eventuality” also reflects John David Black’s claim that Romanticism is the “mature cultural” result of the Gutenberg press.

If the “apparatuses” of storage, transmission, communication, etc. are worthwhile objects of inquiry and if the Enlightenment is an event in the history of mediation, then how is the current scholar of the Romantic period to engage with and comment upon a work or a collection of works? Or, as John Richetti asks in his review of the This Is Enlightenment collection, “How would foregrounding mediation change the kinds and areas of inquiry in our own epoch?”

Yours in Romanticism,

Randall Sessler, NYU

Call for New Bloggers

The NGSC is currently seeking applications for five new bloggers for 2012.

We ask that NGSC bloggers commit to writing at least one blog entry a month.

If you visit the blog often, you’ll know that our bloggers post about a variety of topics, including reflections about individual research, reviews of research tools and resources, information about libraries/collections/archives, updates about conferences, etc. More general posts about about graduate school and pedagogy are also welcome. It’s not formal, and it’s a great way to engage with a large community of people interested in Romanticism.

In order to apply, please email a one-page letter of intent along with a CV to: nassgrad@colorado.edu. Applications are on due on February 1, 2011. Applicants will be notified by February 10.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Imagining a British Literature Unconference

Two years ago, NGSCers met to discuss possible topics for our in-utero blog. The idea of “reimagining the conference” from a graduate student’s point of view was raised by both Jill Heydt-Stevenson, our intrepid faculty advisor, and Scott Hagele, former co-chair. At that time, I had not yet heard of THATcamp (The Humanities and Technology camp), which does precisely this for the digital humanities. My goal in this post is to introduce THATcamp and juggle the idea of a BritLitCamp: a British Literature unconference.

First a major disclaimer: I’ve never been to a THATcamp in person. However, the backchannel (i.e., Twitter stream found by searching for #thatcamp) for the most recent unconference held at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason Univ., June 3-5, was as lively as a Boulder hippie drum circle at dusk. Participants tweeted non-stop about topics under discussion, photos, questions, and links to blog posts and collaborative note-taking in googledocs. I had no trouble following along from my desk and tweeting with participants, which just made me want to be there. Visit Mark Sample’s archive of #thatcamp tweets that he created using TwapperKeeper to read the tweets for yourself! (Make coffee first.)

So, what I know about THATcamp is comprised entirely of what I’ve read online and heard in brief descriptions from Johanna Drucker, Lori Emerson, Laura Mandell, and other DHers. My understanding is that THATcamp is meant to complement traditional academic conference formats and outcomes. It is a small, collaborative gathering of cross-disciplinary and cross-professional attendees (scholars, librarians, students, and non-academics of all stripes including programmers, business professionals, etc.). The agenda for the gathering is established by all the participants not a year in advance, but at the meeting: at CHNM this was done by writing session ideas on blank pages, taping them all to a wall, and voting for sessions by placing colored stickers on them. The sessions with the most stickers go on a schedule made then and there. Also, all attendees are active participants in each session — far more so than the format of paper delivery to an audience of listeners or even a roundtable. Thatcamp.org has a very helpful About page for more information, as well as a definition of an “unconference.”

Tweeted by @dancohen “How sessions are scheduled at #THATCamp. Done morning of, not a year ahead of time. Optimized for engagement. http://yfrog.com/gyt0sbaj

In his post on ProfHacker, Brian Croxall says that one of the things he loves most about THATcamp is its call for “more hack and less yak”:

“You’re encouraged to come out of sessions having done or made something concrete. In some cases, what you make might be a list of ways to improve a backchannel or a collaboratively written set of notes about project management. In other cases, you might finish a session having built a WordPress theme from scratch. Whether you believe that digital humanities depends on building things or not, it can be tremendously exciting to feel as though you’ve completed a project (or several) in one day…especially compared to how slow progress can often feel when you are writing.”

What Would a British Literature Unconference Look Like?

Revved up by the exciting tweets, notes, and ideas being shared on the twitter thatcamp backchannel, I began tweeting about the idea of a Romantic unconference (RomantiCamp?) with Roger Whitson, a Romanticist who works at Georgia Tech and studies Blake. Several THATcamp tweeps, ranging from 18th c. to Victorians, and from literature to history scholars, joined the conversation on twitter and together we created a collaborative googledoc of what a British Literature camp (BritLitCamp? BritCamp?) might look like. [Feel free to add to the document — your suggestions are most welcome!]

The googledoc expresses a lot of ways that a THATcamp-like event might create a new kind of forum for discussions of British literature and scholarship in our field: one that is more participatory, informal, and bent on learning skill sets and producing. It also expresses the concern that the academic literary conference model and literary scholarship really do go hand-in-hand. In other words, one of the things that THATcamp does so well (it seems, through my Twitter lens) is hold workshops that enable participants to learn and practice new skills right there–whether they are programming skills, communication skills, like Mark Sample’s session on Building a Better Backchannel, or project management skills. In literature, the “making” is usually research and writing, and as we all know, they are long and slow processes. The slow and often solo process of researching and writing essays leads to the solo presentation of a work-in-progress 20 minute paper to an audience of listeners. If it’s ingrained in our literary academic discipline to write and present this way, will a new kind of gathering that focuses on collaboration and “doing” work for our field? A number of THATcampers thought so.

To Chew On

Here are some of the suggestions from the collaborative googledoc that seem as though they might work for a BritLitCamp. They are quoted verbatim from the collaborative doc, so there are a number of authors voicing ideas and questions here:

“include more than 1 or 2 literary or historical periods at one conference to encourage maximum ability to move between periods and learn about a wider range of topics.”

“Hack British History and Literature. What does that mean? Less discussion, more doing.

– maybe a collaborative zotero site with great teaching resources

– or a centralized repository of 18c student projects/videos/etc–as a student-centered way of avoiding/complementing the research paper”

“Research discussions should be in the form of “dork shorts” (limited to 2 minute introduction of topic). These are read during lunch on the second day.”

“Question the privilege of the thesis statement or argument. Privilege the question.

– these are all great ideas–I like the dork shorts/lightning talk idea, which would naturally privilege something other than thesis–the question, the data. Putting ideas on the web, too, would be a great way to seek out collaborators. Use http://www.eighteenthcentury.org/ to house them?”

“create a collaborative document of the session, make public–true collaborative authorship. venue for this, after the fact?”

“collaborative sessions would be possible if there were readings in common that participants had a chance to do ahead of time. This would require session preliminary planning before attendees arrived — at least selection of works, but perhaps focus could be decided by attendees at the event.”

“Lit conferences rarely teach practical skills for how to do stuff. This seems to be one of the things that THATcamp does well. What then does a Lit-camp session do?

  • Close Reading
  • exchange project ideas
  • Distant Reading/Cultural Analytics
  • Data Visualization
  • Archival Research
  • Digital Apps for Literary/Historical Study
    • see earlier question about porting results info to chartable formats (from 17c-18c newspapers online, etc; if content itself is behind a paywall, what about just the numbers of hits? a browser plugin? @howet)
  • great visual, audio, video texts for use with X (see earlier notes re: themed/selected readings–integrate?)
  • Introduce text encoding
  • Forms of social tagging w/sources.
  • pair works across literary periods
  • pair unexpected works for classroom exploration of general topics”

Where to Now?

Do you have more ideas for imagining a British Literature unconference? What further concerns or issues can we raise? Contribute to the discussion with comments or just add anonymously to the googledoc.

And the Beat Goes On: STS 2011

I returned last Friday night 3/18, well technically 1am Saturday morning, from the Society for Textual Scholarship 2011 International Conference, hosted by Penn State University. The conference was a very positive learning experience for me in terms of my scholarly disciplines (Romanticism and digital humanities), writing process, professional community, and social media use. It was the first conference at which I tweeted (i.e., posted comments on twitter) about panels and at which I knew my own talk was tweeted out, the first time I participated in Day of Digital Humanities (DH) blogging (here’s my blog), and a welcome opportunity to meet and learn from other dh’ers and textual scholars that in some cases were also Romanticists. (See Paige C. Morgan’s wonderful blog post about the STS twitter feed, and about tweeting at conferences in general.)  Continue reading And the Beat Goes On: STS 2011