some #altac advice

I was recently part of a panel organized by Holly Dugan at George Washington University on the topic of #altac and #postac careers. The storify from the tweets is worth reading through for the insights from my fellow panelists, Alyssa Harad, Evan Rhodes, and Meredith Hindley, and for comments from the audience. The first part of my talk was a reperformance of the “make your own luck” pecha kucha I did for MLA 2013 and have already shared here, but since I felt the urge to share some advice for students and faculty on the topic of pursuing #altac careers, I thought I’d post those. Continue reading

it’s history, not a viral feed

For months now I’ve been stewing about how much I hate @HistoryInPics and their ilk (@HistoryInPix, @HistoricalPics, @History_Pics, etc.)—twitter streams that do nothing more than post “old” pictures and little tidbits of captions for them. And when I say “nothing more” that’s precisely what I mean. What they don’t post includes attribution to the photographer or to the institution hosting the digital image. There’s no way to easily learn more about the image (you can, of course, do an image search through TinEye or Google Image Search and try to track it down that way).

Alexis Madrigal recently wrote a piece for The Atlantic revealing that @HistoryInPics is run by a couple of teenagers who are savvy at generating viral social media accounts to bring in money:  Continue reading

#altac work and gender

At the most recent Modern Language Association convention (held in Chicago, January 9–12, 2014), I organized a panel (session 757) on “Alt-Ac Work and Gender: It’s Not Plan B.” Stephanie Murray gave a wonderful talk with a feminist perspective on thinking about the metaphor of the jungle gym as a way of exploring the dynamics and value of alternative-academic careers. And Amanda French delivered a moving and powerful paper that used email as an example of the value of “empathy work” as compared to “authority work.” I don’t know what their plans are for sharing their presentations, but there’s a Storify that captured some of the tweets from the session. (Brian Croxall was part of the original panel proposal, but other commitments at the conference meant that he unfortunately had to withdraw. He published his proposed talk—which I hope he might someday expand!—on his site.)  Continue reading

more lessons on negotiating a contributor’s contract

So the start of Open Access Week seems like a good prompt to share with you my latest round of negotiating with a publisher for a better contributor’s contract. I’ve written about earlier versions of this exercise before, from the initial steps to its happy conclusion, but so far it’s not something that feels natural and I repeatedly hear from others that they don’t know how to go about this.

The most recent exercise involves a commercial press that does a lot of scholarly publishing and a collection of Shakespeare-related essays. The contract I was sent (one page via snail mail) asked me to assign copyright to the publisher in exchange for one copy of the finished collection, with no provision for archiving or distributing the piece for teaching purposes. Here’s the key language:  Continue reading

drumroll please….

I introduce to you the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Digital Media Strategist . . . Me! This is a new position in the newly-created division of Digital Media and Publications at the Library and it should offer lots of exciting opportunities to explore how the Folger’s digital resources develop. Those of you who have been following this blog and my twitter feed will know that I’ve had an ongoing interest in how digital tools might enable new ways of interacting with special collections, ranging from online publications (like the research blog I created for the Library, The Collation) and social media (like @FolgerResearch) to imagining not-yet-realized possibilities like topographies of books and smell-o-meters and virtual vaults. I can’t say yet what directions this new position will take me in, but I am excited to explore what I can do to make the Folger’s digital presence and offerings as inspiring and revolutionary as their physical holdings.  Continue reading

fragments

Last week, at THATCamp CHNM, I somehow found myself giving a 5-minute talk with slides. If you’ve been to an unconference, you know this is a crazy thing to have done—the joys of THATCamp is that you don’t give or listen to talks read at you. Instead, you discuss and make things. But in this case, this was an experiment proposed by Tom Scheinfeldt to see what happened when you uncoupled slides from talks, with one person writing the talk and one person building the slide deck having only the title of the presentation in common. (As it turned out, I ended up doing this with slides from Tom, which he advanced as he heard my talk, and automatically timed slides created by Mark Sample.) In any case, the experience was weird and mildly terrifying: THATCamp isn’t a space where I’m used to behaving like a talking head, and I had no idea what Tom or Mark had done or how it would fit with what I had done. I’m still not entirely sure what they did—the one time I turned to glance at the images I think I saw a photo of naked folks standing around a campfire, and that was so distracting I turned and faced forward again. But there’s a kernel of something real in my talk, an idea that I’ve been mulling over and that I’ll be returning to in the next year or so (if all goes well, I’ll be talking about this at a conference this fall and writing about this for a forthcoming collection on Shakespeare and performance). So to keep it from disappearing into the ether, I share with you my text:

Fragments of study

Think of the most remarkable performance you’ve seen. Think of everything you remember about it—what it looked like, what it sounded like, how it made you feel, the holistic experience of it. Now imagine writing about it. Describe it, record it, explain it. This is what people in my field do—my field being, in this instance, the study of modern productions of Renaissance drama. One of the big exciting things at the moment is the development of apps and online editions of Shakespeare’s plays, sites that combine the text of the plays with clips of performances. Instead of just reading Macbeth, you can experience it. Here’s Joe Shmoe reciting “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”; now here’s Kiran Singh doing the same speech in a different production. These fragments of productions give a sense of access to live performance in a way that most readers of a script cannot achieve on their own.

If we take seriously the idea that Shakespeare’s plays continue to resonate with us centuries after they were written, then we have to take seriously the understanding that they do so because we continually reinhabit them and make them speak to us anew by performing them. It’s not the words that are timeless, but the voicing of the words that reinscribes them for each time. If we teach in literature classrooms, if we read in armchairs, then we have to find ways of conveying the importance of performance to our reception of Shakespeare.

But clips of performance are only clips; they reproduce fragments of something that is more than the sum of its parts and in breaking that larger whole into smaller bits, they diminish what it means. Talk to any actor and ask whether there’s any connection between what they do in the last act to what they did in the second act. Talk to any director and suggest there are no patterns and resonances across a production. See what sort of response you get.

And yet this is what we do when we study performance in this way. We quote moments of it, and we move on.

And this is what we do when we study literature, is it not? We quote moments of it, and we move on.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is [.....]

I understand why we do this. How do you quote a whole? Don’t we have to break it down into smaller pieces to serve as our landmarks? How do you make sense of what is large and magnificent and full of meaning without finding details to hang onto?

But I want to pause and ask: what damage are we doing by breaking the whole into fragments? Why do we prioritize the convenience of clips over the messiness of art?

Maybe I needn’t be so melancholy about this. It’s also true that fragments can be tantalizing, full of exciting possibilities that make you want more. Some of the most exciting finds in my field are fragments of objects—my field in this instance being early modern book history. There are bits and pieces of old manuscripts and printed works that survive only in remnants. There are inky fingerprints left by printers, fragments of identities long since lost to us. Archaeologists, art historians, historians, literature scholars—we all dwell in fragments and discovery.

But I think that’s precisely the difference. The fragments that survive? They’re links to a past that would otherwise be lost; they spark our imagination and light our curiosity. But the fragments that we create out of other people’s creations? They serve us. We use them to make our points, we scatter them behind us, we move on.

[....] a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Or maybe not nothing—I certainly don’t want to claim Macbeth’s viewpoint as my own. But maybe we should be resisting the ease with which we fragment art to dissect it.