A Republican in College

Last week, a young woman took to twitter as young (and not so young) people often do, to share her feelings. Michelle Shampton wrote that “As a Republican in college, I am genuinely afraid to speak about my conservative views in fear of being stereotyped or labeled negatively.”

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Her tweet comes amidst an apparently endless, ongoing narrative from some that American universities are dens of socialist inequity whereby instructors fill students’ head with leftist dogma, resulting directly in mob rule that asserts various left-wing ideas as unquestionable orthodoxy. I would argue that such a view has genuine merit but moves very quickly towards the less interesting and not as laudable goal of throwing some red meat to a hungry audience, filled with incorrect assumptions about professor salaries and how we use our time. I repeat: the view has genuine merit. The compulsion to correct another, to enforce the correctness of an idea, is directly proportional to one’s conviction s/he is “in the right” and this rule applies to either side of the political spectrum, not to mention the various fragments contained within our increasingly outdated binary view of left and right. Unfortunately in the case of Shampton’s tweet, the Internet soon obliged in offering further evidence of this problem (just see the replies to her tweet). She was widely mocked, and many tweets quoted her comments in horror while pointing out that being murdered because of one’s sexual orientation, for example, is far worse than being worried about being stereotyped in college.

Well… yeah. I would agree with that, though I have trouble understanding why one would immediately jump to such a comparison unless it was an accepted truth that it is perfectly okay for conservatives or people holding conservative views to feel they are in the minority while in college. I do not think this should be an accepted truth.

It also strikes me as unfair that this statement was immediately met with replies that implied she supported crimes against LGBTQ people, amid other horrifying acts. She never said any such thing. I imagine no small amount of these responses were inspired by Tim Allen’s recent colourful description of being a conservative in Hollywood “is like ‘30s Germany”, a comparison that is both grossly disrespectful and borderline anti-Semitic in its carelessness and insulting to anyone interested in making genuine historical comparisons (don’t get me started on Trump’s election and 1933, by the way…).

However, Allen made these comments not in a thoughtful op-ed for the LA Times but while shooting back and forth with Jimmy Kimmel on the set of a talk show. He was trying to be funny, and silly. My argument here is not that one can say whatever one wants if it is couched in humour, but to point out that Allen’s comments drew disproportionate attention, which in turn surrounded some entirely valid criticism. I may be wrong, but I find it hard to believe this context did not help shape reaction to Shampton’s tweet.

I’m not interested in policing reactions to the tweet, nor am I qualified to do so. I do, however, want to point out that the reactions to her tweet were extremely unpleasant, and frustrating in how carelessly and often unwittingly they perpetrated a simple act of bullying. If one was to take Shampton’s tweet as a beleaguered cry from beneath chains of oppression, I can see how that would be extremely frustrating. It would also perpetuate a rather unfair critique of academia that, frankly, ascribes almost supernatural powers to the common college instructor in our supposed abilities to bend young minds to our frantic, insidious Socialist will.

I do not believe that American campuses are instruments of indoctrination by a liberal cabal, though I do acknowledge, readily, that conversations on college campuses skew towards liberal biases much more quickly than conservative ones, and sometimes with regrettable results. I also do not believe Shampton was seeking to make this point, though I could be wrong. I do not think this tweet, a short comment of 140 characters or less, don’t forget, made a compelling case. It was a succinct declaration of something this woman felt at that moment, which is what twitter is designed to help share with the world.

However, if she does feel that academia is anti-conservative not just in terms of public conversation but down to its bones, she has every right to think that whether I agree or not. If she was flippantly comparing the plight of being a young conservative in 2017 to that of a gay person in fear of her life because of her sexuality, I would have a problem with that, but I do not see how putting her down or mocking her moves any conversation forward in any way. Speaking as a college instructor, I find the idea that a young person has not yet figured out how to declare her political ideas in a thoroughly convincing way unsurprising, particularly given the reams of evidence much more experienced people, including myself, can often do no better. Furthermore, I welcome this idea. Is not merely understandable, but desirable that undergraduates are still finding their way towards a world view? This should be celebrated and protected. So much of this, I suppose, becomes subsumed into wider conversations about how we use the Internet, but I see no reason why we cannot work towards imposing a moratorium of our own on immediately leaping in to virtually eviscerate a named but essentially still anonymous stranger. The costs would seem less potentially harmful to me than those of benevolent harassment.

The Curious Expedition and plans to come…

I missed this on Tuesday, but Rock Paper Shotgun named The Curious Expedition as best “roguelike” game of 2016 as part of their consistently excellent annual Advent Calendar.

Congratulations to The Curious Expedition and its developers, Riad Djemili and Johannes Kristmann!

I’m quite taken with the game myself and must write about it soon. I am planning to give it to my world history students this coming spring as the assigned text for a short assignment. I’m not sure just yet what form that will take, and but I have to figure it out soon and look forward to sharing. For now I will point out what attracts me to the game for the purposes of discussing world history.

You choose a historical figure, such as Marie Curie or Johan Huizinga, and depart for a corner of the “unexplored” world (in eighteenth and nineteenth century parlance) to uncover a map full of jungles and wild beasts, hidden temples and “natives” who will trade with you. Essentially, The Curious Expedition will give my students the chance to simulate the act of discovery within a specific discourse of western identity and the modern. This is something Bob Whitaker and I discussed once on the History Respawned podcast when talking about the ways that No Man’s Sky chooses to present information to the player and simulate the act of discovery.

There’s a long way to go in figure out how this will work, and I have no choice but to play the game some more as I conduct my research.

I have a couple of posts to write, really: what I hope to get out of The Curious Expedition and how it is becoming easier to assign games anyway. It is easier and easier to find interesting games available on PC and Mac (and sometimes on iOS/Android, too), and the indie games revolution means there are plenty of games available.

It also makes for a more controllable student reading experience. See here for Graham Smith’s take on this particular game’s accessibility:

It’s a game you can pick up and play immediately. You don’t need to play a tutorial, it has crisp graphics and a simple UI, and a single session can be brought to a satisfying conclusion in 15 minutes.

Perfect. As much as I would like to give my students No Man’s Sky, have them play it for twenty hours and then come back to talk about how the game, despite being set in space in a vaguely defined future, essentially recreates extremely old-fashioned modes of creating ownership of the world through discovery and subsequent orientalism, that’s a big commitment to assume from my students. It is also a major assumption about the hardware they have available and what they are willing and able to spend money on.

So, The Curious Expedition it is! I look forward to writing more about it… soon…

Mad Archivists, Doing More, and Space (#dlfLAC)

This past weekend I attended the Digital Library Federation Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference (dlfLAC) and spent a lot of time reflecting on how I am approaching concepts of project-based learning. In particular, I quite enjoyed a talk given by Patrick Wallace, Digital Projects & Archives Librarian at Middlebury. Patrick built his talk around the concept of the “mad archivist,” a member of the campus community with a specific responsibility but who is asked to do many, many things and who has the potential to do more still. Specifically, this relates to individuals (particularly archivists or other library personnel) tasked with responsibilities grouped under an umbrella title that has the word “digital” thrown in with other words that may or may not lead to some coherent professional identity.

In short, this means that digital archivists, digital lab coordinators/leaders/facilitators, librarians working in digital humanities are effectively expected to do… well, everything. This played out rather well in Patrick’s talk as he shared with us a list of qualifications, experience and interests commonly found in job descriptions posted for various roles in the digital humanities: it was a long list. However, rather than be frustrated or intimidated, such a reality should encourage experimentation and the willingness to go abroad, beyond the home country of a narrow set of expectations.

It is important to point out that not everyone is so lucky as to be essentially left alone to go mad; indeed, this is a common problem for librarians and faculty who are eager to try new things. It is also worth nothing that a concern over potential lack of imagination can be rather crippling. I often wonder “but what can I do?” The answer is usually found in work already being done. My decisions to bring in podcast and video game assignments come directly from my own interests, particularly in the classroom. The main takeaway from Patrick’s presentation for me was the celebration of an ethos of “create, create, share and share widely.” In other words, try all kinds of things, give yourself credit that, yes, this is “work,” and that opportunities will present themselves.

The one counter-argument that should arise here is one of the more important ones: where do we find the time for such exploration? It came up at a few of the talks I attended. How do we get students involved? Perhaps more crucially, how do get faculty involved? You end up with a particular type of faculty member able and willing to join you on an exploration: she has just received tenure and she is willing to fundamentally alter a significant pillar of her pedagogy or perhaps even her research profile. This is, indeed, a particularly narrow demographic in academia in 2016.

It’s a high bar, and one that deserves a fuller discussion. I can already think of more such pessimistic counter-arguments, but for now I find myself intrigued and not a little bit inspired by Patrick’s sharing of this “mad archivist” idea. And I’m not even an archivist. In particular, I find such approaches refreshing when thinking about “interdisciplinary” work and what that is supposed to look like. Rather than wrinkle the skin between my eyes and squint at imaginary objects in the distance when the topic comes up I think, perhaps, I will instead set out to work on the idea and find out what it is when I get there.

This all coincides nicely with changes to my thinking since becoming an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. Things really do work differently here, or at least, they can if you want them to. Working in a place that focuses so heavily on teaching gives me an advantage, I think, in creating more opportunities to go mad.

Holding Space

Patrick Wallace, Digital Projects and Archives Librarian at Middlebury

How to be (or foster) a mad archivist

I like his coat and tie

  • Why a “mad archivist”?
  • The laboratory, in theory and practice
  • Discussion!

The digital archive might have a wild unstructured idea behind it

  • He has been given a lot of latitude at Middlebury on what projects to focus on

Nice compilation of skills the digital archivists are supposed to know

  • Everything, basically

Love his slides. Great use of comic-style images

Archivist as a dreamer

  • Futurist, idealist, strategist

Libraries at LACs have people who will wear lots of hats

  • Talks about hiring people with strong personalities, clear idea of their work
    • SWEET Star Trek reference with “an ensemble crew” slide

Mad archivist as technician

  • Hacker/inventor/mnemonic geek

Kludge leads to solutions

  • Always more ideas than time
  • Few problems demand perfect solutions

Institutional authority vs. agency

  • Easier to apologize…

Mad archivist as outlier

  • Trans-everything, front facing…

Establish an identity

  • Create a mission statement for your “lab”
  • Pursue your own goals
  • Draw lines between consultation and collaboration
  • Own your own work (but license freely)
    • Makes fascinating comparison with a science lab where everyone who picks up a beaker gets official credit

Importance of making time

  • Learning is work, research is work, tweaking is work, documentation is work…

Prepare for experimentation

  • Linux + sudo privileges
  • Storage space
  • Off-network sandbox
  • Special hardware

Take notes

  • Use to observe difference between productive and wasted effort

Metrics of madness

  • For digital collections, success is measured by volume, reusability, quality, and accessibility

He pushes things out to the Internet Archive (specifically shouts out their Python library)

Share everything!!!!

  • Research, workflows, code, content
    • “be promiscuous with your archives”

Presentation template by SlidesCarnival

How (& Why) Did They Make That?

Session Map

  • Overview & Introductions
  • Archiving Campus Controversies & Student Criticism on the Web
  • Digital Humanities as Community Engagement in the Digital Watts Project
  • Voices of Industrial America: A Distance Digital Liberal Arts Seminar
  • Journal of Tolkien Research: An OA Peer-Reviewed Journal on Digital Commons
  • Facilitated Discussion
  • Open Q&A

Ten minute talks.

Archiving Campus Controversies

Historical records librarians create cannot be neutral

Time can heal, issues can be quaint

  • Not always… he shares the 1988 incident that basically led to Greek organizations being kicked off campus

They archived YikYak! He mentions “Sombrero Girl”

  • The “bathroom wall of the cellphone”, YikYak

Wallace’s discussion of how to handle the seniors’ “crush lists” and privacy

  • Who has a right to be forgotten, who decides?

Importance of being bold in the face of institutional resistance

Share it when the time is right and not be timid

  • Uses Feminist Action at Middlebury twitter account

The Digital Watts

Melanie Hubbard from Loyola Marymount University

Some interesting stuff; project helped get library started on digitizing its material

Argues project shows us how information science and humanities are good/natural together

  • I would agree

Raises the point that neither she nor the faculty member are historians… (Dermot Ryan is an Assoc. English prof)

Metadata creation process the greatest challenge faced

  • Repeats issues mentioned earlier
    • Library didn’t want it too academic, wanted to make sure the information reached the Southern Los Angeles community

Issue of terminology

  • Watts Riots/Watts Uprising/Watts Rebellion/Watts Revolt
    • In the end, source content drives label in individual cases, they went with Watts 1965 as the collection title

Fascinating. I wonder about money, frankly.

Voices of Industrial America

He shares the website with us and ALREADY it is clear to me this is something different. It looks built up from the start as an online course. It’s not the same as just replicating online courses.

They built this through COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges)

COPLAC and Digital Liberal Arts Seminars

  • Team-taught, multi-campus, undergraduate digital liberal arts seminars
  • Funded through Teagle
  • Two sections of Century America in spring of 2014-2015
    • Second iteration created 3 courses in 2016
  • Mellon gave them 550k to teach 12 new courses in 2017-2019

Diverse group of faculty, lots of different backgrounds (started with history, grew)

Chose 1870-1914 as a time frame because they wanted to avoid WWI, WWII

Teachers in separate locations, students in multiple locations far away (from Massachusetts to Florida)

Skills

  • Archival/primary source research
  • Technical skills
  • Metadata
  • Digital curation
  • Public presentation
  • Critical thinking

They’re not really talking about how this actually works….

She is going through their workflow

  • Clearly identified deliverables, timelines

Metadata, blog posts by students reflecting on metadata

Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance

  • Project contracts to develop understanding
  • Synchronous communication
  • Historical context
  • Technology and skill building

“I think we were able to develop chemistry”

  • They had six students

 

Tolkien Journal

Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services at Valparaiso

  • He speaks today as a Full Professor
  • Has a PhD in Musicology; also holds degree in Library Services

Currently 50-75 well known Tolkien scholars worldwide, and many popular enthusiasts

  • There are “only” a few journals
  • Tolkien Studies, which is expensive
    • A problem as many scholars work outside the traditional academic landscape
  • He was approached by Catholic University Press to chair a new journal

He really likes the tools (correcting misspellings after publication, viewership stats and so on)

  • So basically…. A blog! This is very cool.

He can publish as soon as he’s done with the review process…

  • He doesn’t wait for issues
    • No six month waits… (hey, it gets worse than that!)
    • Multimedia is not a hindrance; photo and video can be included

Journal is now in its third year…

He recommends the Digital Commons system… strongly

Planning to Share: Open Educational Resources (OER) for SLACs (dlfLAC notes)

Mackenzie Brooks (Wash & Lee, Digital Humanities Librarian, Asst. Prof.) and Brandon Walsh

  • Liberal Arts context
  • Resources can be professionally legible (to academics but also to language within your organization (ie tied to your official role)
  • Plan up front for different stages in a project’s life
  • What is OER? What do these words actually mean?
  • Local context vs. wider audience
  • What are you already doing?

Use of a stipend to incentivize faculty…

Brandon is talking about his working closely with a History professor on the construction of her class

  • He did digital text analysis materials (this was going to be part of the class)
  • She did the History stuff, basically.

Developing resources can be educational opportunities

  • Historian learned Markdown, Github

UCAH (University Collections of Art and History) stuff looks great.

  • Interdisciplinary lesson plans
  • Published on WordPress, shared on Facebook
  • Grant funded by ACS to provide modest stipends to toolkit creators
  • Faculty/librarian collaboration
  • Website is http://teachingwithucah.academic.wlu.edu/

Platform selection platforms; phases are not necessarily clearly separate

  • Gitbook.com
    • Uses markdown
      • Basically if you can write, you’re golden
      • Good for teaching markdown
      • Data is ours, site framework is hard to edit
        • This is a problem because it is new and there are some problems.
  • Jekyllrb.com
    • Takes markdown
    • Prioritizes website creation
    • Requires a background in programming
    • Integrates well with GitHub Pages for hosting

Audience point: it’s key to remember that FERPA does apply when students are putting themselves out there

  • I should double-check this… I think I’m fine as long as we’re not grading things.

WordPress might be a good place to start, and take Jekyll from there with an established workflow…

  • I’m not clear on what advantages Jekyll has… I must look this up…

Digital Scholarship Infrastructure (dlfLAC notes)

Middlebury ran a Data Camp in their winter term

  • Doing 2.0 this coming January
    • Difficulty of attending a four day workshop
  • They have done mapping workshops

Integrated Model for Support of Digital Scholarship

These three speakers are all from Rhodes

  • They want to show us pictures; lovely picture of Rhodes

Location in Memphis central to Rhodes identity

Student research not considered separate from engaged learning

  • Engaged is their language for CBL? She is specific it means engaged in the community

IT and library are merged

  • 24 people w/in community of 2,000 students and 500 faculty and staff
  • Administration is proud of their “lean” status
    • Some sympathetic chuckling in the audience… 🙂

dlfLAC posts this week!

Yesterday I spent an entire day in conference panel discussions focused on archival research and digital methods seeking to contextualize the relationship between both, with a wide range of discussions flowing out from that basic point. Presenters discussed moral challenges and obligations facing archivists, shared their own experiences in seeking to incorporate digital methods into their work, sought advice and help from peers on how to further progress their work as archivists while also including students and faculty… there was a lot going on, and this was just a pre-conference.

I attended, alongside three colleagues from Centre College, the Digital Library Federation Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference, mercifully abbreviated to dlfLAC. It was a great day and I have a lot to think about, but I will need time to digest it, as my PhD advisor used to say. I very much want to share the thoughts that such digestion produces here, and so there will be some more dlfLAC content coming out this week. I am going to start by sharing my notes. If you would like to see all of my dlfLAC posts in one place, either click on the “dlfLAC” tag below or search for “dlfLAC” above.

A couple of quick notes about those notes: I am going to try and publish my OneNote notes directly to the blog. It may go well, it may… not. Even if we get away with this from a formatting point of view, my note-taking style is not the most immediately intelligible, functioning mostly as a complex hybrid of mnemonic and (when I use handwriting) hieroglyphics. You can find the schedule here. I am sharing notes on the following talks:

“Looking Backwards and Forwards: Key Findings from CLIR’s Assessment of NITLE”

“How to Be a “Mad Archivist”: Digital Project Labs, FOSS Tools, Radical Collections, and the Value of Creative R&D.”

“Grinnell In China : Bringing Undergraduates to Archival Research”

“An Integrated Model for Support for Digital Scholarship: Building Capacity among Faculty, Students and Staff”

“Planning to Share: Open Educational Resources for Small Liberal Arts Colleges”

“Closing plenary: “How (And Why) Did They Make That?””

Hopefully you can bear with me and get some use of it. As always, feel free to get in touch either via email or on twitter.

Vietnam and American Manhood

I invited my colleague Stacey Peebles to chat with my “Vietnam: War and Memory” class today, and we had a great time. Stacey focuses her work on, among other things, representations of war in film and, in particular, soldiers’ experience and memory of war.

My students have just finished watching The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now and we had a lot of fun stuff to cover. At one point, Stacey introduced the students to the work of Susan Jeffords (I just borrowed The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War from Stacey), and talked about masculinity in American discourse following the American war in Vietnam.

That in turn reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time on Sylvester Stallone’s Cold War period. That post will come, I promise, but for now I’m off to read some Jeffords and have a think about how traumas of Vietnam for American manhood evolved in the 1980s. More next week.

Class across the ocean and in the classroom

Eliot Bamford wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian today about class in America and class in Britain. This is something I run into quite a lot when I teach here in the US; despite being Irish and not British (more of that in a moment) I carry some specific assumptions about class with me when I touch on issues such as social cohesion, community identities and, of course, the appeal of socialism to large populations in China. That is to say, I am not thoroughly familiar with how Americans discuss class.

In his piece, Bamford discusses this problem, which for him is internalized just as his class identity was internalized in the first place.

I like to tell people I grew up in the shadow of a coalmine because it sounds so very salt-of-the-earth, dragged up by the bootstraps: a quintessentially English working-class existence. When we moved, just under one mile away to a bigger home with a larger garden next to my grandparents, it seemed we, as a family, had progressed. My friends would visit and comment on how the home was “posh”.

Two things strike me about this quote: for one thing, class identity is pretty clearly linked for Bamford to others perceive him, or perhaps how that perception confirms a personal narrative of self-worth. It also fits a certain cultural norm of not wanting to appear to have airs or to feel above one’s station. This kind of social arithmetic, which will feel familiar to many living in Britain, has little place in the United States. Being coy about one’s achievements, for example, takes on a different form from similar self-deprecation in Britain and Ireland; in the US one can be coy but also more receptive to public praise. I am of course relying here largely on anecdotal experience of my own but I do believe there is a lot to it. Bamford is essentially sharing his own individual experiences and much of it rings true.

Secondly, he talks about transformation through class as being key to that self-perception of identity, a transformation he later discovers does not, in fact, transcend his original class identity in the eyes of his compatriots in other parts of the country. It really is worth reading the entire piece to get a clear sense of that. It reminds me of my friend Ben Williams, who would ask students at DePaul University to self-identify by class. Middle-class identity proved the unanimous winner. There is no cachet to being working class, something that is disorienting for someone like Bamford:

…most New Englanders took my comments in good humor and annoyingly consigned them to “English humor” and quaint “ye olde” quirks. Yet my class identity, which I had previously elevated, had no place in the discourse.

Personally, I notice this particularly in American political speeches. Candidates for office talk about the middle class as a quasi-mystical group of transformative agents that will save the country while simultaneously needing help and support. No one talks about working class, and no one really talks about the poor. Instead, we focus on the jobs people work (“the single mother who works two jobs”) without extending that to any kind of class analysis.

Being Irish complicates things a little further. Somewhat (okay, very) ahistorically, I fall into an assumption of egalitarianism through poverty shared by the majority of the Irish population prior to the Celtic Tiger coming to life in the early 1990s, and so I tend to lean towards the idea that class is nowhere near as important for the Irish as it is for the British. I actually still believe that, but the cultural trappings of class identity can be definitive, particularly in the form of having some clear connection to humble origins, the “salt-of-the-earth” of which Bamford speaks. In the US, such talk exists though it varies from community to community and the change can be jarring.

In the classroom, I’ve found this to be fertile ground. Discussing the emergence of the middle class and the social upheavals of Industrial Revolution Britain gives me opportunities to share anecdotes with students and to talk about the desire to identify with those like you. It also feeds into broader political movements and by no means is restricted to those from the “right” background. Thus arrives the figure of the self-made man, and food for thought for another blog post.