01. Our First Class

Hi, everybody! Welcome to Western, welcome to the History Department, and welcome to History 9808: Digital History. Our first class meeting will be on Wednesday, September 15th, from 12:30 to 2:30 pm, in the History Department seminar room (SSC 4317).

Your reading assignment for the first week, and a note about bringing computers to class, are (as they say in the blogosphere) below the fold:

[Edited to add: It is very bad form to do this it the last minute, but I have added one more blog post to the reading list: Amanda French’s “Make 10 Louder.” If you see and read this addition before class, great – if not, no worries, the fault is mine.]

Bring Your Computers!

You will obviously be using computers in this course. Please bring your notebook, laptop, or other portable computer to class if you have one. If you don’t have a portable computer you can easily bring, that is OK. If you don’t have a computer at all, you can use a machine in one of the campus computing labs. If possible, however, I encourage you to bring and use your own computer during our class meetings. Sometimes we will be doing exercises on our computers. Other times we will simply be engaged in discussion, but even then you are encouraged to take notes, look things up on the web, blog about the ongoing discussion, send tweets, and so on. To get the most out of this course, you will want to experiment with new forms of learning and interaction.

Week 01 Readings

There is a reading assignment for our first week. Please read the following blog posts, articles, and short pieces, and come to class prepared to discuss them. (Yes, there are a lot of them, but they are short, and easy to read!) They all revolve around the most recent annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA), which is the major professional organization for scholars of language and literature in the United States. Reading these items and piecing together the story they tell will introduce you to many of the themes of our course, and to many of the places where conversation about digital humanities and digital history is happening right now.

This is also an exercise in reconstructing a historical narrative using online sources. These links will take you to a variety of different sites and authors. Which are the most useful? Which seem the most trustworthy? What is the best order in which to read them? You may be blocked from reading some pieces by a pay wall. There are ways for you to read everything I have linked to online, legally, and for free. But can you figure out how? The last link here does not go to a website but to an archived file of Twitter messages. Can you access this data? If you do, how might you make sense of it? What could a future historian learn from a source like this about academia and the humanities in 2009-10?

If you have comments or questions while doing the reading, please post a comment here. (For this week, at least, this is optional.) Good luck with the reading, and above all: don’t panic! This course may push you out of your comfort zone at times, but we are all in it together–and the material we will be exploring is important, exciting stuff. I look forward to learning with you.

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13 Responses to 01. Our First Class

  1. It’s very kind of you to include two of my posts on the first day’s discussion. It also looks like a fascinating approach to history. Will there be any record online of what the class concludes?

  2. Hi, Brian (if I may)

    Thanks for visiting! I hope you don’t mind my using the story of your paper going viral as a kind of case study to kick off this class. I’m hoping it will serve as an introduction to some of the conversations around digital humanities right now – both the legitimate excitement around social media and the new “digital humanities,” but also the way that excitement relates (I think) to a context of austerity, corporatization, and a crisis in academic budgets and the job market that shows every sign of being permanent.

    At the risk of tipping my hand to my students (this will show them the value of reading the comments on a blog post, I guess), I thought one of the most interesting things about the reaction to your paper is how a “bad news” story about economics and the job market got reframed by many as a “good news” story about Twitter and social media. (I love your line about being an “Eliotic Adjunct King.”)

    The students in this class will be launching their own blogs and commenting here as well, so there will, hopefully, be some kind of record of our discussions. I will keep you posted – and if you want to weigh in in any capacity, it would be terrific to have your input.

    Thanks again!

  3. Rob,
    I think you’re absolutely right about the excitement about digital humanities being amplified by the different crises universities are facing at the moment. We know that universities respond well to novelty, and digital humanities represent something novel in a moment of contraction. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there granting agencies out there who are willing open their pockets for these projects in a way that no one else has ever done for the humanities. That’s something that makes administrators sit up and take notice.

    The movement from “bad news” story to “good news” story is also motivated by the irreversible movement of the academy, I think. We’re becoming a bit inured to the doom and gloom. But it’s also a reflection of what happened to me, where I wrote something about a situation that I was in that was bad. What I wrote didn’t change that situation in the moment, but it’s had (to my knowledge) nothing but good consequences for me thus far. Hence my avocation for graduate students thinking seriously about online profiles.

    I’d be happy to participate in any way that seems useful to what you’re trying to get across, whether that’s commenting, Skype, or just being a silent observer.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention 01. Our First Class | History 9808 -- Topsy.com

  5. Brent Wiancko says:

    After reading the assigned pieces, I am still curious about the causes of the decline in permanent positions for academics. I would expect that most university administrators and others responsible for employing academics are scholars themselves. I would also expect them to be inclined towards maintaining continuity in professional practices, such as hiring procedures. Discussion about the history of recent changes in the academic job market might be an interesting approach to this theme in the readings.

    I am also uncertain about the degree to which new media, such as Twitter, and can help to reduce the marginalization of new scholars. As noted in the readings, the impressive numbers of academics who engage with these media are not representative. Relatedly, I am curious about the abilities of these media to help new scholars act as public intellectuals. If scholars’ blogs and Twitters have large, if skewed academic followings, can they be expected to attract significant numbers from the broader public? Perhaps media such as websites, newspapers, and television are more effective vehicles for engaging the public, but can new scholars effectively use these vehicles without significant institutional support?

  6. Caitlin Dyer says:

    I found the comment repeated throughout some of these articles that the use of twitter in the realm of literature and language was demeaning the subject matter. The MLA, or Modern Languages Association (keyword here being modern) is an association which aims to “strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature” (http://www.mla.org/about). I get the sense that perhaps this particular academic could do with a reminder that modern languages and the means of interacting and communicating are always changing and if you’re not adapting and changing with them, you can’t very well call yourself the “modern” association of anything can you.

  7. Hi, Rob MacDougall and Rob MacDougall’s class! Like Brian, I appreciate your reading my blog post. Let me know if you have any questions or comments — you can twitter me at @amandafrench or e-mail me.

    Caitlin, I will say that the MLA was named the “modern” language association back in 1883 to differentiate itself from the ancient languages (classical Greek and Latin). Even Old and Middle English count as modern in that sense, and if you study those languages, you’re likely a member of the MLA. But I hear you: some of us definitely feel that the MLA is, well, not very modern. Although apparently Twitter use (for whatever use that is as a measure of modernity) is even lower during the AHA annual meeting.

    • Hi, Amanda French! Thanks for coming by and commenting. This is turning out to be a very nice illustration of the “small world” friendliness of the digital humanities in 2010 and its generous gift economy.

      Your post was one of the smartest things written about Brian’s adventures (not) at the MLA. “Brian’s paper was big news only on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Which, however, means that it was big news.” Exactly. Plus, Spinal Tap!

  8. Michelle Goodridge says:

    The article ‘Brian Croxall, “On Going Viral at the (Virtual) MLA,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 March 2010’ will not load. It says you need to be a subscriber to access the article.
    I thought I would just let you know in advance- I am a bit disappointed since I have enjoyed following this set of articles and I feel a response from Brian Croxall to his ‘viral’ success would have been engaging to read.

    • Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for your comment. As I said in the post above, there are ways to access every one of the readings legally. Brian Croxall’s Chronicle of Higher Ed article is indeed behind what we call a “pay wall,” but there are at least two ways you can access it. I will spill the beans in class tomorrow, but in the meantime, I will give you a hint: you are a subscriber already.

      Don’t feel bad if you can’t figure it out! It is a rather circuitous (and to me, stupid) system. But the weirdness of online publication bureaucracies is one of the things we will be talking about in our class.

  9. Some extra links that may come up in class:

    Graphic representation of RT (retweets) and replies on Twitter at #MLA09: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coffee001/4882056148/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    How do we read the Chronicle of Higher Ed online from home?

  10. Brenda Trofanenko says:

    Greetings, Rob:

    Finally, I have a minute to comment on what appears to be a fascinating course! The range of topics is fascinating, and I am certain the students (and other lurking souls) will gain greatly from the extensive reading (and certainly the conversations). All the best, Brenda

    • Thanks, Brenda! For visiting, and for your kind words about the course. Most of the credit must go to Bill Turkel, who originally designed the course – I am just stepping in while he is on sabbatical. I hope Acadia is treating you well and you are enjoying your new digs.

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