19th century MOOCs

As I prepare for Courtney and my presentation on MOOCs tomorrow alongside working on my teaching philosophy for ENGL 611, I can’t help but share this passage from Emerson’s essay, “Education” (which has essentially always served as my teaching philosophy, anyway). It’s funny how the issues we’ll discuss tomorrow (and which scholars have been discussing for months) were the same even while Emerson described his ideal “schoolroom” in the 19th century. Emerson writes

A rule is so easy that it does not need a man to apply it; an automaton, a machine, can be made to keep a school so. It facilitates labor and thought so much that there is always the temptation in large schools to omit the endless task of meeting the wants of each single mind, and to govern by steam. But it is at a frightful cost. Our modes of Education aim to expedite, to save labor; to do for masses what cannot be done for masses, what must be done reverently, one by one: say rather, the whole world is needed for the tuition of each pupil. The advantages of of this system of emulation and display are so prompt and obvious, it is such a time-saver, it is so energetic on slow and on bad natures, and is of so easy application, needing no sage or poet, but any tutor or schoolmaster in his first term can apply it–that it is not strange that this calomel of culture should be a popular medecine. On the other hand, total abstinence from this drug, and the adoption of simple discipline and the following of nature, involves at once immense claims on the time, the thoughts, on the life of the teacher. It requires time, use, insight, event, all the great lessons and assistances of God; and only to think of using it implies character and profoundness; to enter on this course of discipline is to be good and great. It is precisely analogous to the difference between the use of corporal punishment and the methods of love. It is so easy to bestow on a bad boy a blow, overpower him, and get obedience without words, that in this world of hurry and distraction, who can wait for the returns of reason and the conquest of self; in the uncertainty too whether that will ever come? … Now the the correction of this quack practice is to import into Education the wisdom of life. Leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.”

I know that was a lot of 19th century rhetoric (and I don’t want to tell you that your teaching lacks the assistance of God) but I’m very intrigued by these issues and how they correlate with our contemporary technological advances. Start mulling this over, comrades!

“weird tape in the mail”

Most of the critiques I have about “weird tape in the mail” are general feelings I’ve accumulated towards interactive fiction/electronic lit in general, so I’ll start with some individual praises for the specific story I’m reviewing:

  • I appreciated the images and gifs, even if they look like they were made in ms paint. I think the use of extra media adds to the interactivity of the narrative and helps the reader to orient themselves in the space of the hypertext. I believe I’d be particularly engaged in a narrative that used maps to more specifically and geographically orient me within my story.
  • The uncle was not appealing in the least, but I appreciated the presence of a second character (and “weird tape in the mail” also included a pseudo-stalker/second “you,” as well!) which also heightened the sense of “interactivity.” Lots of stories and games seemed to be just “you” exploring a space, turning over rocks and looking around for objects. Maybe I just have a skewed sense of what “interact” means, but I tend to associate it with social discourse rather than with space (or in this case, hyperspace). What could be even cooler, I think, is if these stories were truly interactive–what if you met other “readers” along the way?
  • The element of mystery in this story was compelling. Instead of just looking for something (the correct gay planet, for instance) you were searching for an answer.

I did have one “specific” critique for “weird tape in the mail,” before I get to the general:

  • The anti-consumerist message in this story was way too overt. Almost every action was accompanied by a so-called urge to shop, the identity of the horrible uncle was primarily based on his flawed vision of utopia (a pristine mall) and, of course, one of the two dour ends to the tale takes place in crowd of crazed shoppers. In terms of thematic elements, I just found it to be overdone to the point of distraction.

In terms of my general impression of this mode of writing, I think the characteristic that stuck with me most was the use of the “you” narrator. Second person a form of speech we don’t come across much (especially in narrative), I think, and I found it really disorienting. As I discussed in my previous blog post, it creates a weird protagonist/narrator hybrid, but one who has little to no control over  the narrative aside from the order in which one clicks links. And to reiterate a point I brought up before, I think the “choice” of the hyperlinks is usually a total illusion. The writer/programmer always ends up bringing you back to the thread he actually wants you to continue. In “weird tape in the mail,” looking at the toilet before you go outside to find the tape doesn’t impact the narrative at all. It makes sense that the writer only pursues alternative threads to a point, but I think it takes away from the power of the reader when he or she realizes they’ll end up going where the writer wants them to, in the end.

The use of “you” also seems to pointedly enforce identification with the protagonist, but I found this jarring. That isn’t my bed, those aren’t my blotchy legs, that isn’t my mound, or my uncle, or my car. would have cleaned my apartment when I moved in and gotten rid of a strange, unidentified mound that turned out to house an alternative-me. I do think the images in “weird tape in the mail” mitigated this issue somewhat, because you could at least consider an avatar-you rather than reader-you. When Adam Dickinson writes, “you peer into the bowl,” the image of the toilet is visually situated on the screen so that you are, in fact, peering into the bowl. But the line continues, “and it calms you.” Something about telling me how “I’m” feeling is off-putting to me. I can empathize with a narrator who expresses feeling calm (or not) but being told anything is often not something I value in literature.

The command-orientation of hypertext is very “telling” oriented, and I think that’s where the problem lies for me.

On interactive fiction

Later I’ll post my Twine story review per the assigned exercise, but I also wanted to share a discussion post about my experience with interactive fiction. I am a novice in this realm, so reading/playing “SHADE,” for instance, was completely foreign to me. A few observations, which will perhaps spur comments from the more experienced reader/players and sympathy from my fellow novices:

First, anecdotally: I was seated on my futon in my apartment when I opened “SHADE” and seriously, for a few seconds, thought there was some strange voyeuristic business going on when I saw the black bar at the top of the page (“Your apartment, on your futon”). I thought it knew my futon and me. Here’s to fulfilling apartment stereotypes. But I digress.

This game is not intuitive. (But is it supposed to be?) The “about” command only provided more setting and copyright material, and it least for me, it was not obvious which types of things I could and couldn’t do. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing—was there an objective? In games, there are goals and you achieve things, but in narrative, those lines are blurred, and the responsibility certain isn’t on the reader to enact anything. Plus, a story isn’t necessarily about plot; while actions typically drive narrative, they don’t have to. How would the two (action & narrative) be blended in interactive fiction? And how does a reader become a player?

There’s a weird dialectic between player & computer/programmer, here. I am both protagonist of the narrative (it’s “my” apartment) as well as active player and thereby, in some sense, writer of the narrative. The onus is on me to keep the story going, and yet, I have little control over how my actions are described and what consequences they beget. For instance, when I typed “Stand up,” the narrative continued, “You lever yourself upright. Umf. It’s amazing how much lack of sleep feels like a hangover, only without the preceding party.” Andrew Plotkin describes the hangover feeling, but I invoked his description by commanding that my character stand up. In some instances, this was really interesting to experience, but at other times…

I got REALLY frustrated, especially if the game didn’t let me do what I wanted. At one point, I had figured out that the game wanted me (what does that even mean? How does a game “want” me to do something? “The game repeatedly prompted me,” I should say) to drink water. For whatever reason, it hadn’t been revealed to me that a glass was on the counter (I’d looked in the cupboards, where only crackers reside) and I had decided that my best option was to dump out the peanut butter and use the jar as a glass. But the game wouldn’t let me open the jar because it claimed I had no appetite! I couldn’t explain my ulterior motives, so had to give up and put the jar away. (The refrigerator door kept swinging shut anyway…). If this is a game, shouldn’t it just follow my commands? Why is opening the jar contingent upon my appetite? Who is controlling this narrative???? (It’s obviously Plotkin, and as a “reader/player/writer” I found this frustrating).

On top of that, the game kept telling me upon certain commands that I could “see no such thing.” Excuse me? It has also described the apartment as one room, with bathroom and kitchen “nooks.” I’m pretty sure I can see the futon. Why can’t I see the futon? It felt very limiting to be told what I could and couldn’t see. So sometimes I would get existential and tell it to imagine the desert (“That’s a verb I don’t recognize.”). At one point, I told it to look out the window (although I quickly remembered I should open the shade first) but then I was told, “Darkness is already crawling in around the edges of the windowshade. You have no desire to look night in the face. You run your tongue over dry teeth.” Again with the not understanding—or ignoring—my motivations and “desires.” I thought maybe I could get a description of what was outside the window (because I’m curious! Tell me more, narrator!) but instead, I was pointed back towards my “objective”: find some water. As  a typical reader of fictive narratives, I was interested in Plotkin’s descriptions, and eventually, that’s what I went searching for—descriptions of the room, of the trip that was planned, of the scenery outside the window (#denied) but because this is interactive fiction, I had to find water.

I’m pretty sure my asking the game to “Imagine the desert” succinctly portrays my struggle.

Despite my frustrations, I do think interactive fiction makes one think harder about the different roles of narrative. Who ultimately controls the story? What is a narrator? A writer? A protagonist? A reader? In interactive fiction, as I mentioned, there seems to be a combination of narrative description as well as objectives & goals. This prompts us to consider what the objectives & goals of non-game (non-interactive) fiction are. I just finished reading Moby-Dick for the third time, and I can’t help but wonder how it would play out if I read/played it interactively (“Pick up harpoon”).

But at the same time, isn’t all reading interactive? I’ve always thought that Melville prompts us at several moments to consider our own quests of reading alongside Ahab’s quest for the white whale—aren’t we all just looking for enlightenment? Perhaps the metaphor of gaming and reading is actually effective, then. I tried and tried and tried to find ways to get that poor sad sack on the futon some water, and maybe it’s the same as trying and trying to find meaning in a difficult passage. The power of description is ultimately with the writer (who doesn’t understand or know the reader’s motivations—who drinks water out of a peanut butter jar anyway?) but the reader/player, then, must make sense of his or her own experience.

I’m curious to see what experienced gamers/readers of interactive fiction have to say about the value of objective-based play-reading. What can be learned from this experience? Is it just fun? How does having a role in the action influence reading?

The Old Manse vs. The Chateau

Over spring break, I visited a friend in Boston and we spent a day in Concord, MA, visiting the homes of our favorite 19th century writers. Though apparently tourist season doesn’t begin until mid-April and none of the homes were open to visitors yet, it was still surreal to walk around Concord and imagine the lives that had been led there. I obviously considered sticking QR codes all over the place, but ultimately decided I didn’t feel right leaving my mark–maybe something about preserving my idyllic view of the past? Despite the fact that I traversed Walden Pond with iPhone in hand and Instagrammed up a storm (which is to say, I very much remained in the 21st century) it just seemed like these spots didn’t deserve the blemish of my sticker and accompanying blog post. But I digress, and will share my photos anyway:

Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord home

At Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord home

The Old Manse

The Old Manse

Ralph Waldo Emerson's grave marker (accompanied by his wife and daughter)

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grave marker (accompanied by his wife and daughter)

Stones marking the cite of Thoreau's cabin in the woods

Stones marking the site of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods

and a gratuitous scenery shot, since Walden Pond was pretty unbelievable–


At any rate, it was a lovely trip back in time. I also came across this advertisement while walking around downtown Boston–

IMG_1466A perfect example of a QR code used in advertising! A new apartment complex was clearly being built and scanning the QR code takes you to the building’s site. The slogan there, slightly obscured by a pole (I haven’t quite mastered the surreptitious picture-taking-while-walking move yet) says, “If you scan it, it will build.” I can’t decide if it’s clever or not.

But on to the actual assignment!

I live in The Chateau Apartments at New Hampshire and the beltway, and the spot I chose to mark is the entryway sign, which welcomes me home every day. It is always a welcome sight, especially because the sign is usually adorned with colorful balloons (though not today when I took my picture, of course) and I weirdly think it’s super endearing.

Obviously moving out to Maryland from St. Louis for my first year of graduate school was a big transition, and I had to find a place to live in 36 hours. The concept of “home” means a lot to me, so I’m thankful to have found a place (with such a glamorous name!) to hang my hat. This picture I took coincidentally matches the “Street View” of The Chateau Google Maps provides (linked above) and clearly marks the apartment complex.

I took this picture while driving, hence the crookedness.

I took this picture while driving, hence the crookedness.

When I got home from spring break yesterday afternoon, I had major car debacles and delayed flights to deal with, so driving up the hill to The Chateau sign was particularly comforting. It’s no Old Manse, but it’s still all mine!

To again reference my extreme Instagram usage, I’ll also note that I almost always add my location to my photos and thus, “The Chateau Apartments” are clearly marked and represented in the digital archive of my life. Instagram recently came out with a “Photo Map” feature which visually shows you where you most often take photos. The further you zoom in, the more specific the locations get. So, for instance, I’ve taken 194 photos in Silver Spring, and 148 of those were at–you guessed it–The Chateau Apartments. It’s interesting to consider geographically (and quite quantitatively) where we spend our time, and which spaces in our lives we prioritize over others.


I’ve made my QR code and allowing that I can find a functioning printer in Tawes, will adhere it to the sign tonight, pictures forthcoming. I wonder if anyone will actually walk close enough to the sign to ever notice it? (The sign is the in the middle of the traffic circle entryway).

Update: I’ve affixed my QR code with copious amounts of tape to the back of my Chateau sign (for the sake of subtlety). Here’s hoping someone notices!



Hi all,

I recently wrote a paper for 611 on MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses. It was the “Experience and Other Evidence” Paper, if any of you are familiar. At first I thought I’d just post the whole thing, since it isn’t very long, but then I remembered that no one wants to write their own 101 assignment, let alone read someone else’s (until we’re teaching 101, of course!).

I did some really interesting research, though, because the debates surrounding MOOCs are so fresh and ongoing. A couple of weeks ago, NITLE hosted a “MOOC MOOC,” a MOOC about MOOCs, which academics and scholars participated in via online platforms like (you guessed it) Twitter, Google docs for group note-taking, and so on (check out this Storify, also cited in my bibliography, for a detailed account of the #moocmooc). American Council on Education recently approved five Coursera MOOCs for course credit, which is one step towards higher education further legitimizing online education in place of traditional classroom courses. Sites like Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle, and the NYT have thus been flooded with posts pro and more often against the rise of the MOOCs.

Those in favor of MOOCs (Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris stood out to me) seem to be avid proponents of “MOOC methodology,” if not MOOCs specifically. The main premise of many of their posts is that in a MOOC structure, the instructor of a course must give up some authority (as he/she is less in touch with students and vastly outnumbered) and thus, the onus is on the students to structure the course as it meets their needs, to build connections with one another, and  to facilitate their own “dynamic interactive experience” (Peter K. Powers, via Storify). Stommel and Morris argue that we can learn about learning if we consider MOOC methodology.

I do think we can learn a lot about teaching on-ground and blended courses from the MOOC debates. That being said, I’m still not a proponent of MOOCs taking over or supplanting traditional higher education in any “total” capacity. Johann Neem discusses the “institutional culture” of college at length in his article about the “individualist fallacy,” and I think he really pinpoints how being in a college/university campus atmosphere affects your attitude towards learning and knowledge in general. My thoughts are, if you can “log out” of your computer, you are most likely going to “check out” of learning.

Anyway, I don’t want to get too far into the debate here, because it’s kind of a messy one (no two MOOCs are created equal, so it makes it hard to generalize arguments about them) but wanted to provide my bibliography to you guys in case anyone is interested. To the teachers out there, I highly recommended checking out the Hybrid Pedagogy articles. Hybrid Pedagogy is a very interesting online journal and there are tons of great ideas about that MOOC “methodology.” Also, please sound off in the comments if you guys have any experience with online courses (teaching or taking) or thoughts on the debate. I’d also love any additional sources you’ve come across! I’ve got that “Final Position Paper” coming up…

Bibliography is after the jump! Didn’t want to totally clog the blog’s main page. I have diligently reinserted links into article titles for your viewing ease and pleasure. Continue reading

My first transcribing/encoding experience

Bentham JB/002/312/001Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 4.48.28 PM

When I first glanced at the exercise for today, I wasn’t sure exactly what transcribing would entail. The tutorial videos were very informative, and the first video made the process seem relatively easy. But when I watched the second video, I thought, “I have to ENCODE this, too?” Typing words is easy. Encoding, to me, has always seemed like writing in an entirely new language.

However, I am very into toolbars. (I mean that). As such, I thought the encoding process of transcribing Bentham was totally doable, even on my first try! I typed the line breaks since they were so numerous, and made one typo ( <lb> instead of <lb/> ) at one point, but I caught myself when I viewed the preview. Other than that, the toolbar was incredibly easy to navigate, especially because I had a very simple page sequence with very few “additions,” no “strikethroughs,” and NO unusual spellings, illegible words or questionable words on my end!

Seriously, I have seen some of the words my classmates are dealing with and I’m not sure how I ended up with JB/002/312/001, which appears to have the most pristine cursive handwriting I’ve ever seen. I went to the “un-transcribed” links and this was the first folio I tried! But enough gloating about my beginner’s luck. I enjoyed the encoding experience, not because it forced me to try something I thought would leave me befuddled (and it didn’t) but because it forced (literal) close reading. Zoomed in, read-each-word close reading. With such diligent attention to words (and punctuation! oh, the punctuation) one can’t help but consider the choices the writer made as he or she composed the text. I’d imagine that transcribing and encoding poetry is especially illuminating in this way, as each line break and em-dash is noted in code. None of these are particularly new or astute observations, but it was, of course, fruitful to experience them first hand.

Happy snowquester, everyone!

Folger Visit Photos

I got a couple requests to put my pictures from last night up on the blog, and I figured I’d share the non-collaged originals:



image-52 image-53 image-55

(Those of us trekking to the metro from the Hawk & Dove were at least pleased to pass by the scenic Capitol on our way!)

What an awesome hands-on visit to the Folger–thanks to all who played a role in organizing it!

“Computer-enabled play” — hacking The Marble Faun

(I steal “computer-enabled play” from Irizarry, quoted by Ramsay on pg. 36 of Reading Machines).

The reason I was drawn to include the phrase “computer-enabled play” in my title was because that is really what I felt like I was doing throughout the exercise: playing, fiddling, fooling around, testing out, exploring, etc. Similar to what Mary expressed, I found that some of these experiments were overwhelming (or annoying) in their unfamiliarity, but I soon discovered that if I “played” with the tool enough, I could eventually gain some insights into The Marble Faun in a new way (i.e., different insights than I would have garnered from reading the text in a traditional manner).

Wordle and WordItOut seemed especially “playful” with their fun names, bright colors and graphic visualization. As I’ll probably reiterate several times in this post, these tools did require some “fiddling,” though.





For both tools, I used the full text of The Marble Faun, from the Project Gutenburg plain text online version. With WordItOut, I appreciated the function to tweak the list that was generated. I could view the list in ascending count order, alphabetically or randomly (though I’m not sure how the last two would aid in a critical analysis). I was able to increase or decrease the number of words. Also, unlike Wordle, WordItOut allows you to see the generated word list in both list and visualization form, which was helpful when I wanted to copy the list for further exercises.

As others have observed, with narrative forms (novels), it seems that names and other pronouns seem to be most prominent. In a story like The Marble Faun, it was actually interesting to see which character was the most represented: Miriam. (The Marble Faun is sort of like modern day sitcoms that center on a group of friends–so imagine that we Wordled an episode of “Friends” and discovered that “Rachel” is the largest name–what does this tell us about the group dynamic?). In The Marble Faun, the drama centers on MIRIAM. I thought it was interesting that Hilda is the second largest name–so in a novel which actually has fewer female characters than male, the females still win out in nominal presence.

Other prominent words seemed to thematically center on art (not surprising; the characters are artists living in Rome) and time (not surprising; Hawthorne often focuses on the interplay of past, present and future reality). Wordle and WordItOut thus demonstrated for me the point Ramsay notes more than once, that at a base level, digital tools might merely confirm analyses we have already made.

Upgoer 5

Up-Goer 5

After struggling with the “define digital humanities” Up-Goer 5 challenge before beginning the exercise (how unnatural for literary scholars to prioritize simple, oft-used words over our sophisticated vocabularies!) it was interesting to use the tool to investigate a pre-generated text. I used my list from WordItOut, but removed the names as I didn’t think they would propagate any new insights (i.e., it would be no surprise that “Hilda” is not in the top 1000 used words). What I did find, though, WAS intriguing.

Of 97 words produced by WordItOut as “most used” in The Marble Faun, only eleven did not make the Up-Goer 5 top 1000 word list. These were: sculptor, Rome, marble, among, itself, whom, Roman, nor, poor, tower, and indeed. I’m guessing that Rome and Roman are too specific (proper nouns) to merit top-1000 usage, while sculptor and marble as nouns also seem too obscure (we don’t talk about sculpture very generally or often). Nor, whom and indeed are rather sophisticated uses of grammar, so their absence doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have an explanation for among, itself, poor, or tower—any thoughts?

What’s left behind (in the top 1000) is interesting when you consider the words as “topics” of interest (in the sense that oft-used words might represent broader themes): life, heart, friend, good, human, world, love, art, idea, moment. Not only are they huge topics in Hawthorne’s text, but also, apparently, in everyday speech.



On to CLAWS, the realm of tagging. This, I did not find playful. I was rather confused, though finding the accompanying “tagset” key was somewhat illuminating. I didn’t have the patience to count the different types of word forms, but that could have been interesting to see–were Hawthorne’s 100 most-used words from The Marble Faun mostly pronouns? (probably). Singular nouns? Comparative adjectives? Etc. etc. So I can see how CLAWS could be a useful tool, but I didn’t like the aesthetic of the list that was generated (no spacing, no counting) so, admittedly, I moved on.



TAPoR, while also intimidating with its unfamiliar interface, was “playful” in its potential for “fiddling,” as I previously described. The more I played around with it, the more I found ways to make it work for me. After scrolling through the word lists in the lower left-hand corner (sorted Frequency vs. Count vs. Trends) I clicked on “heart” to see what came up.

I don’t really understand the graph in the upper-right hand corner, though I know you can view two words at once to—I presume—compare frequency at various points in the book. For instance, I viewed “woman” and “sympathy” together and saw a very similar pattern, suggesting that woman & sympathy are often discussed in tandem. This is not surprising, given that Hawthorne’s romance could really be considered a sentimental novel and he’s constantly talking about the female characters’ womanhood and capacities for sympathy (e.g. Hilda is very sympathetic, Miriam not so much). What confused me were the “segments,” though I suppose you could generate the graph so that it represented chapters, if you knew how to finagle that breakdown. That way, you could see where, in the novel, topics were discussed with higher frequencies. “Heart,” for instance, skyrockets at the end of The Marble Faun, according to this “Word Trends” graph.

I also got the hang of the concordances tab and found these lists extremely interesting. Under “heart,” I could observe the following concordances:


These are only a few examples (from 89 instances of heart in the first volume of the novel) but SO INTERESTING! I’m especially intrigued by instances like “knowledge,” “brain” and “think” surrounding the presence of the heart, since we get that tension between cognition and emotion there. Trust and secrets regarding the heart don’t surprise me at all given the nature of the novel, nor does the presence of the “beautiful.” Hilda’s concordance is also not surprising—the trio of “Hilda,” “heart” and “life” is only too perfect. (I know I’m not being very clearly critical here, but I’m sure you can see the potential for developed analytical writing on these topics).

One question I had while using TAPoR concordances: TAPoR doesn’t select the immediate surrounding words, but rather “keywords.” For instance, “secret/heart/burns” comes from the sentence: “There is a secret in my heart that burns me!—that tortures me!” This is a pretty good example—we presumably don’t care about “in,” “my” or “that,” but how are the keywords chosen? Does the software just eliminate prepositions? Do we lose the presence of “torture” here? Compare to an example like “only/heart/sought.” The sentence from which this concordance is generated is, “But if it were only a pent-up heart that sought an outlet?” To me, “pent-up” seems important, while “sought” and “outlet” are equally important. So, I’m just wondering (and perhaps someone can actually tell me) how the concordances work—how are the surrounding terms generated?

I could really see myself using TAPoR in the future (though, again, the interface doesn’t really appeal to me and I wished I could have enlarged everything–but these are minor complaints of a whiny variety). As someone who was widely unexposed to DH tools before this class, Ramsay’s Reading Machines and our exercises have legitimately moved me “Towards An Algorithmic Criticism.” The text, in its descriptions, examples and analysis of digital tools and their impact on/interaction with literary criticism was seriously illuminating. We were prompted to consider how

“the effect is not the immediate apprehension of knowledge, but instead what the Russian Formalists called ostranenie—the estrangement and defamiliarization of textuality” (3)

regarding our experience with the various digital tools today, and it certainly applies. “Estrangement” and “defamiliarization” certainly describe my “computer-enabled play” with The Marble Faun today. We are distanced from the text when the computer intervenes, transforming prose into lists, visual graphics, concordances, and line graphs. BUT this does offer, though not immediate, new “apprehension of knowledge,” I believe. From reading Hawthorne’s prose, I do not “know” whose name appears most often in the text, even if I can guess. Conjecture becomes fact, and fact leads us to points of inquiry, new questions regarding “why?” More articulately put by Ramsay on pg. 62:

“If something is known from a word-frequency list or a data visualization, it is undoubtedly a function of our desire to make sense of what has been presented. We fill in gaps, make connections backward and forward, explain inconsistencies, resolve contradictions, and, above all, generate additional narratives int he form of declarative realizations.”

I’d like to point out a couple of other passages which stuck out to me and helped me frame algorithmic criticism this week:

“The computer revolutionizes, not because it proposes an alternative to the basic hermeneutical procedure, but because it reimagines that procedure at new scales, with new speeds, and among new sets of conditions” (31).


“Rather than hindering the process of critical engagement, this relentless exactitude produces a critical self-consciousness that is difficult to achieve otherwise” (34).

And, to end, perhaps a point that generates and necessitates discussion: in opposition to “ambiguity,” the computer “demands an answer” (67). Is this a limitation? Shouldn’t there be room for ambiguity in literature, even if it doesn’t fit into an automated output? Ramsay continues, “…the computer demands abstraction and encapsulation of its components” (67). Again–is a limitation present, here? Are all texts (/words/phrases/data sets) discrete, with potential to be “encapsulated?” Does the computer miss something the subjective mind would not?

The Marble Faun

For this week’s exercise, I chose Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, because I’m currently reading the text in book form and thought it would be interesting to compare the digital versions alongside my current “textual” reading experience. The text was readily available in multiple formats on Project Gutenburg, HATHITrust and Google Books. As Cliffie noted, Project Gutenburg offers the most versions available for download, though HATHITrust also offers versions for PDF download with a “partner login.” I explored this option since I figured the university would be affiliated, and I was correct. After logging in with UMD, I was able to download a full PDF of the text. Google, too, offers PDFs of certain texts for download, as well as ebooks (free or at cost) through Google Play.

Because several different versions of the text were available through each platform, various sources were available. The Project Gutenburg eBook did not specify which copy-text it reproduced, but rather cited its own 2006 release date and noted its being “Produced by” Michael Pullen and David Widger, who I would presume are the text’s editors. The Google Book I chose was a Penguin Classics version, which clearly (because the pages of the original text were reproduced and therefore reflected typical publication details) stated its copyright, editors, publishers, etc. The Penguin Classics version is that of the Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, associated with the Ohio State University Press. The “Two Volumes in One” edition of The Marble Faun I eventually settled on from HATHITrust (there were 3 pages of options) was an “Illustrated Library Edition” published in 1876 by James R. Osgood and Company; the digitized version was provided by Google Books and the original came from the University of Virginia (both institutions were cited on each page with a digital watermark). Out of curiosity, I checked my Oxford World Classics version, which, like the Penguin Classics, comes from the Centenary Edition of NH’s works and is reproduced with the permission of Ohio State University Press.

The PG eBook has little to no formatting in terms of “design,” but pages must be clicked through. The “click-through” versus “scroll” layout is interesting, since it is perhaps closer to the feeling of turning a page. Some “pages” are longer than others, but I couldn’t seem to pinpoint why—chapter divisions didn’t dictate this, since not all started on a new “page” but were rather just denoted with a title and break. Paragraphs, however, were never broken up, and neither were sentences. This, I should think, does aid in a continuity of reading. The Google Books Penguin Classics edition replicates the textual layout very accurately, though I’ve just noticed it’s not a full preview. I’ve switched over to a Houghton & Mifflin version from 1900, which, in terms of format, is more interesting anyway. Though there are clearly scanning issues (crooked pages, etc.) illustrations are reproduced, as are original (though original with whom, who knows) underlines and marginalia. This text comes from the University of Wisconsin, and has clearly been read—and annotated—before. The HATHITrust Marble Faun didn’t seem to have many formatting issues, though this version was the slowest to load. The pages were more “centered” than the Google Books version (better scanning/uploading?), but the text was denser (inky, almost) and slightly harder to read.

In terms of the viewing setup, I liked the HATHITrust options for “Classic,” “Scroll,” “Flip,” “Thumbnail,” and “Plain Text” views. “Flip” is almost comical in its cartoonish reproduction of a book (though the pages then become so small that you wouldn’t be able to read the text, while “Plain Text” is more like PG’s formatting. “Classic” and “scroll” are the easiest for reading, though I did use “Thumbnail” view to check out all of the prefatory pages at once.

As far as I could tell, none of these platforms allowed for a reporting of errors. The closest option is that Google Books allows you to “review” the text, so I suppose one could also report frustrations with errors, etc., if only for other potential readers. I’ve already mentioned some features I like—HATHITrust viewing options—but each platform has several functional perks. I don’t have a Kindle, but PG’s Kindle downloads are clearly a useful resource, since Kindles allow you to keep the text in your own collection (on a single device) and annotate as you please (depending on the version of your Kindle). If reading the eBook version of a PG text online, you can keep “bookmarks,” but I wasn’t quite sure how this worked—if you could bookmark pages within a text, or only text themselves. When I clicked “My Bookmarks,” PG remembered which texts I was reading (Volumes I and II of The Marble Faun) but it didn’t seem to notice which page I was on. PG allows one to “Go To” a certain page, but there aren’t any search features for finding certain words or phrases within the text. Google Books and HATHITrust offer many more search options. With GoogleBooks, there is a simple search bar, for finding words or phrases (which than appear highlighted in yellow and noted in the scrolling bar). Google Books converts chapters into hyperlinks on the contents page, so that you can jump to various chapters and sections. You can also access these jumps via a drop-down bar above the text. With a Google account, you can add books to your library and view your history, you can make lists, such as “Favorites,” “To Read,” “Reading Now” and “Have Read,” and like I mentioned before, you can write reviews. Many of these features are replicated with HATHITrust, and there’s also a “Share” feature in the left-hand column. I would imagine it’s easy enough to copy the link to a PG or Google Book, but I thought it was interesting that HATHITrust supplies a “Permanent link” for each of its texts, in clear view for the reader.

Aside from the Preview restrictions I experienced with the Penguin Classics version I originally viewed with Google Books, I didn’t experience any restrictions. It’s nice working in the 19th century, because so many things are part of the Public Domain (my HATHITrust version of The Marble Faun noted this, with a link to explain the details of the Public Domain) and available through (very) open access. I particularly enjoyed PG’s note to readers, “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.”

I agree with Kathryn’s concluding comments below–online reading seems to have a long way to go. Right now, I think these sources are excellent for those readers who wish to read digitally, but not necessarily academically. This is a bit of a personal preference, but I’ve used online resources far more often for critical texts I want to preview and search for themes and terms, rather than for full literary texts I wish to read from start to finish. I remember once when I was abroad reading an entire collection of George Moore’s short stories on PG, but that was because I didn’t want to purchase more books than I could take home with me (which does point to the financial and material benefit of these online resources). But in terms of my anecdotal introduction, I will definitely finish The Marble Faun with my text edition from Oxford World Classics, which I can carry with me (I don’t have an ereader), annotate and keep on a physical bookshelf.

Very much an “Introduction”

First, I’ll reintroduce myself — I’m Susie Compton, a first-year PhD student specializing in 19th century American literature, primarily the writers of the American Renaissance (with Emerson & Whitman tying for first place as my favorite American geniuses). I had a very traditional undergraduate experience majoring in English, since my department at Wash U offered lots of survey courses (“Shakespeare,” “Modernism,” “American Literature to 1865″) to fulfill requirements and, I would say, emphasized the canon over non-canonical works. I also was not forced or prompted to explore theory too much, so while I do feel that I have a good foundation in literature, my arrival to graduate school has very much been an exploration of what else is out there. As such, digital humanities is very new to me, and I will wholeheartedly embrace being the novice in the classroom.

I’m about halfway through the readings and I’m already excited. Clifford has already noted the emphasis on “doing” in digital humanities, which I also noted as an important element of the DH realm. It’s something I’ve mentally struggled with before, because I’m a fairly digital person who utilizes social media and technological tools, but how would I make these tools work for my academic side? (You’ll note that I chose to create a new Twitter handle, @academicsusie, to differentiate from the more everyday musings of @susiecompton — I don’t know why I feel this compartmentalization of digital identities is necessary, but I think it will help me focus my various “feeds”). Because I specialize in the 19th century, I’ve also struggled with bridging that gap between the 19th and 21st centuries. Nigel’s Twitter bio is wittily apt: “I like really old things and really new things. Everything in between in just filler.”

While perusing Day in DH blogs, I came across a link to The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, where I read about case studies using the Walt Whitman archive, textual transmission, scholarly collaboration, etc. I’ve obviously always been aware that there are huge digital projects focusing on the 19th century out there (Martha Nell Smith is in our midst, after all) but to come across this collection of essays while exploring what is an unfamiliar world of DH, it helped to ground me in what I already know.

But enough personal narrative; my “introduction” to DH through our various readings has provided me with a few key ideas about “what DH is.”

It’s certain that there’s an overlap between these fields and that which has been called digital humanities—between scholars who use digital technologies in studying traditional humanities objects and those who use the methods of the contemporary humanities in studying digital objects—but clear differences lie between them. Those differences often produce significant tension, particularly between those who suggest that digital humanities should always be about making (whether making archives, tools, or new digital methods) and those who argue that it must expand to include interpreting. (Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “The Humanities, Done Digitally”)

I’ve already mentioned the theme of “doing,” or “making,” but I’m also interested in digital interpretation–what I would describe as using digital tools to interpret what is already available to us as a text. I think this area of digital humanities is where we welcome the DHers who can’t code or build archives, but they are fluent enough in DH “theory” (which I’ve yet to be able define) to capably use the tools others create. So DHers aren’t “every medievalist with a website,” but every scholar who can navigate the digital realm of humanities.

Jamie Bianco’s “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One” helps in thinking about creation vs. criticism (or making vs. interpreting). He writes,

Tools don’t reflect upon their own making, use, or circulation or upon the constraints under which their constitution becomes legible, much less attractive to funding. They certainly cannot account for their circulations and relations, the discourses and epistemic constellations in which they resonate. They cannot take responsibility for the social relations they inflect or control. […] Tools may track and compile data around these questions, visualize and configure it through interactive interfaces and porous databases, but what then? What do we do with the data?

So, within DH, there are clearly tools, tool-makers, data, and interpreters. Tool-makers and interpreters can certainly overlap, but like I said, I don’t think they have to. And, like Bianco implies, a tool is useless if not examined. An archive is more than a resource, it offers potential for fresh interpretation — and more “doing.”

Rafael Alvarado acknowledges that DHers have varying levels of “technical expertise,” opining that,

The digital humanities is what digital humanists do. What digital humanists do depends largely on academic discipline but also on level of technical expertise. [...] The task of the digital humanities, as a transcurricular practice, is to bring these practitioners into communication with each other and to cultivate a discourse that captures the shared praxis of bringing technologies of representation, computation, and communication to bear on the work of interpretation that defines the humanities. (Day of DH)

So perhaps we can all be DHers in our own ways (this, not surprisingly, coming from the novice with little to no “skills”) and the point of DH, as Alvarado says, is to put us into communication with one another, in order to more collaboratively interpret our areas of literary interest. Having made an effort to participate in DH on Twitter for approximately four days now, I can already see how rich this communication is (it’s kind of insane). Every ten seconds, it seems, there’s a new link to follow, a new blog post to read (not to mention the archived blogs you could retroactively explore), etc. I liked what Ernesto Priego wrote in his Day of DH blog post re: blogging:

In blogging, “yacking” is “hacking”. More importantly, “yacking” is “hacking” because it is meant to happen in a network: a blog, in my view, should not aspire to be the centre of anything, but to be a node in a larger constellation of nodes.

This type of thinking inspires me to believe that DH is one of the least self-centered realms of academia. In my mind, almost nothing is more self-indulgent or narcissistic as writing a blog, but it seems true that in the DH world, sharing and communicating negate the existence of a center (as Priego says) and instead formulate a “constellation of nodes.”

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve gotten too far in “defining” Digital Humanities for us here (I think I focused more on “What is a DHer”), but it’s certainly been a fruitful “introduction.” And, as I said, I’m only about halfway through our reading, so we’ll see what else is out there–and what everyone else has to say!