Category: In other words

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.1 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.

For job seekers, this is my advice to you:

"Do not underestimate your skills" and a photo of a boy scout and a girl scout comparing badges
http://www.flickr.com/photos/girlguidesofcan/8488348265/

The skills that you mastered working towards your PhD are skills that are directly transferable to other careers. Doing sustained research, mastering new subjects, synthesizing and explaining complicated ideas, making arguments in persuasive language—all of these are things that many professions value.

"Stay away from fearmongers and vultures preying on your anxiety" and a photo of a vulture.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahunapulej/4840287872/

There are people out there who prey on your your anxiety and drive it through the roof. Stay away from them. If your fear creates money and opportunity for them, recognize that their position is not for your benefit.

"Doing something other than teaching is not failure. Being miserable because you never get that job is." and a photo of a sign that says "Miserable Corner"
http://www.flickr.com/photos/prairiemom/1221908897/

If what you dreamed of was teaching, if what you believed you were training for was being a professor, it can be hard to do something else. But if you are miserable because you are adjuncting, stop adjuncting. You haven’t failed if you do something other than teaching. There’s meaningful and engaging work in many places, but you’re not going to find it if you’re convinced all you can do is teach.

"Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy" and a photo of a boy in a science mask wearing gloves and holding a bucket of mud

Don’t wait to build your resumé until after you’ve finished building your c.v. Working in a campus office, assisting in a program, creating a workshop, editing a publication—all these things will expose you to new potential careers and will teach you new skills that you can point to. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy. It’s advice that works for Ms Frizzle and it’s advice that works for you. If you don’t push beyond the familiar, you won’t discover the other things that you enjoy and are good at. And if you fail, you’ve learned something new that you can put into practice the next time. Failure doesn’t have to be big to be worthwhile, but fear of failure is going to keep you from being happy and well fed.

Faculty, this is what I have to say to you:

"You are the 1%" and a photo of a Lego mini-figure holding a 1% sign and standing with piles of coins.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/great8/6820722517/

The fact that you are standing faculty means that you won the lottery. You might have earned your luck, just like I made mine, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t also incredibly fortunate. You are lucky in ways that your students likely will not be. Do not lie to them. You won the lottery. Telling students that they’ll make it if they just try isn’t doing anyone any favors and it’s just planting insidious seeds that will bloom when they don’t get the job they want or they get the job they think they want and don’t like it.

"Are you running a vocational school or a graduate program?" and a photo from the 1940s of women in a vocational school learning to weld.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/5531929109/

Think about whether the program you’re running is a vocational school for R1 professorships. Graduate training has tended to create replica of the faculty who run it. But most PhDs are not going to become R1 faculty: they’re going to teach at liberal arts colleges or at regional schools with 4-4 loads, they’re going to work #altac or #postac jobs. Do you need to write a book to get your PhD? Do you need to require endless 25-page seminar papers to ensure students have learned something? The majority of jobs do not require book-writing or seminar-paper-writing skills. They might require advanced research skills, the ability to synthesize fields and to make persuasive arguments, or project management experience. Those skills are not incompatible with being a literature scholar. But they rarely count in PhD programs.

"You might not be able to advise altac seekers, but you can offer support" and a photo of a statue of Bob Newhart sitting in a chair and a man lying on a sofa looking at him.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalsextant/34811579/

You cannot give advice on achieving jobs you never had. But you can support students who are seeking experiences beyond teaching. If they have a job working in a non-profit, don’t tell them that’s taking away their time for research and their time for teaching. That’s valuable work. It can even be intellectual work. You cannot know what makes up your students’ lives and their decisions are not yours to belittle.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard from faculty over the years, from when I was a grad student up through just last year:

  • I was scolded for not applying for a 4-4 job in the rural South, a job that I’d decided as a then-single Jewish woman was not going to allow me to be happy.
  • When I was an independent scholar at my national conference, I was told that it was nice that I’d come to “play with them.” At that point, I had already published a book. The person condescendingly being nice to me had not.
  • After I’d spent 5 years successfully creating a well-recognized and praised program, I was asked when I’d be leaving for a tenure-track job. My career isn’t second-best. It’s not a consolation prize that I’m suffering through until someday I get to be an assistant professor.

Don’t say these things. Don’t be condescending. Don’t be obtuse. Don’t be blind to the realities of the incredibly difficult market for tenure-track jobs and don’t belittle the richly rewarding opportunities out there off the tenure-track.

"Create the colleagues in and out of the academy that you would like to have" and a poster with the text "Make your own luck"

I tell #altac seekers they need to make their own luck. Faculty need to do that, too. Make your own luck—produce the colleagues in and out of the academy that you would like to have.

Some #altac resources

To get a sense of what #altac work is like, these resources are an excellent starting place.

I focused in my talk on the value of seeking #altac work. I did not spend time on the difficulties and disadvantages of such careers, but those are worth considering as well.

 

  1. Miriam Posner was supposed to skype in but technical difficulties meant that she could only contribute via twitter. []

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.1 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:

They met hustling on YouTube when they were 13 and 15, respectively, and they’ve been doing social media things together (off and on) since. They’ve built YouTube accounts, making money off advertising. They created Facebook pages such as “Long romantic walks to the fridge,” which garnered more than 10 million Likes, and sold them off. More recently, Di Petta’s company, Swift Fox Labs, has hired a dozen employees, and can bring in, according to an Australian news story, 50,000 Australian dollars a month (or roughly 43,800 USD at current exchange rates).

Madrigal’s piece focuses primarily on the ethics of the pair making money off of unattributed photographers’ work. (Unsurprisingly, they are entirely nonchalant about their appropriation of such photographs.) That aspect of these posts is part of what bothers me. (Unsurprisingly, as an English PhD who works in a library, I’m a firm believer in attribution.)

Another aspect of those accounts that makes me batty is their casual relationship to the truth. Matt Novak, in his Paleofuture blog, has written about some of the most ridiculous of viral photos, tracking down what they really are, rather than what their posters purport them to be. In “9 Fun Facts That Are Total Lies” and “7 (More) Fun Facts That Are Total Lies” Novak reveals, shockingly, that Teddy Roosevelt didn’t ride that moose across that river and that Nikola Tesla wasn’t a swimming instructor. (Disappointing, I know.)

Matt Novak sorts out the real Tesla from the fake.

As Novak explains,

Nikola Tesla was many things: a pool hustler, a gambling addict, a eugenicist, and a legendary genius. But despite what you may have seen recently in the miscaptioned photo above, Nikola Tesla was never a swimming instructor.

The photo is actually from 1898. And while the photo does bear a resemblance to the genius inventor, it’s almost certainly not him.

By 1898, Tesla was neck-deep in robotics, radio, and X-ray research. The man was also quite wealthy, enormously famous, and an obsessive tinkerer not known for taking leisurely swims. It seems highly unlikely that he took up a day job as a swimming instructor. But I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if someone was working on a graphic novel with a similar plot at this precise moment.

I can’t stand going through these feeds to find more too-good-to-be-true images, but I’m sure that you could, faithful readers. First, however, you’d have to get over your shock that a huge portion of what they post—and making up their most popular content—are pictures of celebrities. The Beatles as teenagers! Michael Jordan in college! Paul Newman with a beard! Kurt Cobain! Marilyn Monroe—again and again and again!

I only know about these accounts because people retweet them a lot (even, most horrifyingly, people whose jobs involve a respect for metadata and historical accuracy). At first I thought the accounts were just odd—who knew there was such a pent-up demand for old photos?—and then as they started proliferating, they starting annoying more and more. I muted them so that they wouldn’t show up in my twitter feeds, but they continue to bother me (it’s hard to mute them all, since there are so many of them).

Neither Madrigal nor Novak get at all of what bothers me, although they each get a part of it. So let me tell you what gets my goat.

Feeds like @HistoryinPics make it impossible for anyone interested in a picture to find out more about it, to better understand what it is showing, and to assess its accuracy. As a teacher and as someone who works in a cultural heritage institution, I am deeply invested in the value of studying the past and of recognizing that the past is never neutral or transparent. We see the past through our own perspective and often put it to use for our own purposes. We don’t always need to trace history’s contours in order to enjoy a letter or a photograph, but they are there to be traced. These accounts capitalize on a notion that history is nothing more than superficial glimpses of some vaguely defined time before ours, one that exists for us to look at and exclaim over and move on from without worrying about what it means and whether it happened.

But history is not a toy. It’s not a private amusement. And those of us who engage with the past know how important it is and how enjoyable it can be to learn about it and from it. These accounts piss me off because they undermine an enterprise I value.  Historical research—indeed, humanistic inquiry as a whole—is being undermined by the constant plugging of economic value as a measure of worth, the public defunding of higher education, and the rampant devaluing of faculty teaching.

And so @HistoryInPics makes me angry not for what it fails to do, but that it gets so many people to participate in it, including people who care about the same issues that I do. Attribution, citation, and accuracy are the basis of understanding history. @HistoryInPics might not care about those things, but I would like to think that you do. The next time you come across one of these pictures, ask yourself what it shows and what it doesn’t, and what message you’re conveying by spreading it.

And so as to not leave you on an angry note, I leave you with the following recommendations. Want some old pictures to laugh at? @AhistoricalPics is a hilarious, spot-on mockery of the trend. Looking for a twitter feed that will call attention to interesting historical tidbits while also providing accurate information and reliable attributions? @SlateVault, curated by actual historian Rebecca Onion, is a vault of treasures indeed. If those don’t give you enough outlet for your whimsy, try @libraryofaleph, which tweets verbatim the captions of images in the Library of Congress, allowing your imagination to run wild and then letting you search the Library of Congress yourself.

Follow these accounts and resist the others. You’ll thank me in the long run.


 

  1. I despise them so much I’m not going to link to them or list them all. You’re clever. You can figure it out. []

#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.)1

My own contribution was to share some of the responses that came in to a survey I did on the connections between #altac work and gender. At the time I put the slides together, I had 61 responses, primarily from women working in or searching for #altac jobs, but also including responses from men and from people employed in traditional academic jobs. As I said in my presentation, this wasn’t by any means a scientific survey and I was primarily interested in people’s own experiences of their situations—the survey prioritized their qualitative answers over quantifying them.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw from their answers. In some ways, they contradicted each other—some folks ended up in #altac jobs because they presented more flexibility for family work, while others felt that the regular hours of #altac jobs (compared to traditional professorial work) meant that they had less flexibility. One recurring factor was the amount of time it takes from PhD to tenure, with a number of respondents feeling like their need to support their family or their desire to start having children before the age of 40 led them to search for #altac work.2

In the slides shared below, I presented some of the general statistics from the survey and highlighted some typical and notable answers.  If you’d like to see the full survey results, I’ve now made those public as well. And if you’d like to contribute to the survey, it’s still open. I’m not sure what else I might do with this information, but I do think it’s an important topic and that there’s more to be done in thinking about the intersections between #altac work and gender issues.



  1. For more context, including a rough definition of what “#altac” is, see the MediaCommons project, #Alt-Academy; you might also find useful Katina Roger’s list of #altac resources. Please note that I am not focused on the work of adjuncting here; I encourage you to visit the Adjunct Project for more on that subject. []
  2. There was certainly a perception that female faculty wouldn’t be having kids before they had tenure, although I’m not convinced this is in fact the normative practice of female academics. []

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:

The CONTRIBUTOR hereby grants to the PUBLISHER the exclusive right to reproduce the Work in the Collection in volume, electronic and web form in all languages throughout the world during the legal term of copyright for the WORK.

… under this Agreement the CONTRIBUTOR shall assign all rights in the Work to the PUBLISHER and the copyright shall be in the name of the PUBLISHER.

Given my previous experience, I contacted the editor of the volume to share my discomfort with the terms of the contract. I didn’t have a way of contacting the publisher—the note accompanying the contract had only the first name of someone who put it in the mail with no further means of tracking her down. So I asked my editor if he would put me in touch with the publisher (this is the method I followed last time). He volunteered to take the conversation up with them if I would share with him some examples of acceptable contracts. So I sent him what I’d signed the last time and went back to carrying on with everything else in my life.

This is where things got muddled and drawn out. I’d left the ball in his court and either he or the publisher forgot all about it until six months later, when my editor wanted my final version. I reminded him that I was waiting to hear from the publisher about an acceptable contract before I was dedicating time to polishing the essay. So now add in another month of waiting to hear from the publisher.

After the second time he asked me for the essay without my having been contacted by the publisher, I asked for the contact information to talk with the publisher directly. And things picked up steam immediately. I emailed the publisher with a brief statement of my desire to move quickly on new terms for a contract:

Dear PUBLISHER,

I am writing about my contributor’s contract for an article to be in COLLECTION. As you know from EDITOR’s earlier communications, I have expressed to him my unhappiness with signing a contract that assigns copyright and all associated rights to PUBLISHER. I am eager to move forward with settling this issue, so I am writing directly to you to see if we can find a resolution.

Since I have not received a new contract from you, I thought a faster way to proceed would be for me to attach an addendum to the original contract you sent. I have chosen an addendum created by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (http://www.sparc.arl.org/). The addendum was created for use with journals, but it also works well for edited collections. In the interest of moving our conversation forward quickly, I have attached a copy of that addendum to this email so that you will have a chance to review and respond to it.

I hope that this will provide us a way to finalize the contract so that I can pass my contribution onto EDITOR for inclusion in his volume. It’s a wonderful collection and I will be proud to be a part of it.

yours,
etc.

Her immediate (within a couple of hours) response to my email was to send me the boilerplate of their alternative agreement. It let me retain copyright while granting them the exclusive right to reproduce and/or distribute my contribution. I was almost satisfied, but not entirely, so I wrote back:

This template is generally fine. But I do typically ask to retain the right to circulate my work for teaching purposes (non-commercial, of course) and to archive my work on my website (also non-commercial, naturally). Can we add in clauses to that effect?

And her again immediate answer was, Yes, how about adding in this clause?

And so, dear reader, I signed the contract. Here’s the key language in what I ended up with:

You grant to us (the Publishers) the exclusive right both to reproduce and/or distribute your Contribution (including the abstract) ourselves throughout the world in all languages in printed, electronic or any other medium, and in turn to authorise others (including Reproduction Rights Organisations such as the Copyright Licensing Agency and the Copyright Clearance Center) to do the same, in consideration of one free copy of the published Volume which includes your Contribution.

As is customary, after publication of the Volume and upon your written request, we will grant permission for the republication of your Contribution in any recognized scholarly or professional journal or book, including any work by you, subject to full acknowledgment of first publication in English by the Publishers in the present Volume.  Third parties wishing to use the Work in a journal or book may be required to pay a permission fee for such use.  In cases where the republication of your Contribution is in a publication written or edited by you, whether singly, jointly or severally, the fee will be waived.

Three months after first publication of the Work, the Contributor shall have the non-exclusive right to post the Work on his/her personal/institutional website subject to the inclusion of the copyright notice, full acknowledgement to the PUBLISHER, and the Work shall not be made available for sale. In addition the Contributor may circulate the Work for non-commercial teaching purposes only.

Copyright in the Contribution shall remain yours and we will acknowledge this in the Volume.

So I think this is a happy ending. I retain copyright, the ability to self-archive after a very short embargo, and the explicit right to circulate for teaching purposes.

The lessons I take from this round of negotiating are the following:

1.  Publishers will often (if not always) have alternative agreements prepared and waiting in the wings. They ask for more than they need but they’re ready to present fairer terms.

2.  Don’t let your editor be in charge of the process, even if they say they want to be. As well-meaning as they might be, they’re usually not going to fully understand what you want and they have a lot on their plates. Do get contact information from them so that you’re dealing with the correct person at the press and do keep them in the loop, especially if you run into problems.

3.  I learned this last time but it’s worth reiterating: know exactly what it is that you want. The clearer you are with the publisher about what you need, the easier it will be for them to grant it. And know, too, where you draw the line. I’d prefer not to have any embargo (last time, my piece wasn’t embargoed), but I would’ve accepted a 1-2 year embargo. It’s possible I might’ve assigned copyright to them if I’d kept a long list of rights to myself, but I wasn’t eager to go down that path, so I was prepared to withdraw from the collection.

4.  The other big point I want to make, especially to those of you who, like me, might be conflict-adverse: this is not a conflict! In most instances, you and the publisher want the same thing: to get your piece out there! The request is easy to make—I’ve included my correspondence so you can cut-and-paste and adopt it for your own purposes. Publishers will have encountered these requests before and in most cases, they will have responses and better contracts ready. If you’re unsure of how to move ahead, read what others have done (there are some great comments and links on the first of my posts in this series).

And my plea to you is the same as it was last time I wrote about this: PLEASE DO THIS TOO! Read your contracts, ask for what’s yours, and we will all be happier. Retaining copyright and the ability to archive your work does not impede publishers’ ability to make a buck off their publications. But it does make it easier for you to circulate your work in the ways that you want to. I don’t think personal or institutional repositories are the ideal way to make scholarship open and affordable, but it’s undoubtedly better than leaving your work owned in perpetuity by someone else.

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.

I confess that I will miss working with undergraduates. I created the Library’s undergraduate program seven years ago and have taught some really wonderful students since then. We explored book history and the joys of researching in special collections together and they energized me in a way I suspect few of them realize. (I am occasionally lucky enough to run into former students who have gone on to graduate school or who continue to be invested in reading and libraries and those moments are, without fail, delightful.) Undergraduate programming will continue at the Folger under the auspices of the Folger Institute, and I’ve promised to teach the Spring 2014 seminar, so I’m not completely cutting my ties to that world.

My own scholarly work will continue to explore how we can bring undergraduates into special collections and how we can share the excitement of exploring material text culture. And—second announcement alert!—before I start in as the Folger’s Digital Media Strategist, I’ll be taking a three-month sabbatical to work on a project about teaching early modern printing. I’ll share more about that down the line, but if you’ve used my syllabus in your own teaching, it would be really helpful for me to hear from you. And if you teach a class—or would like to teach a class—that might avail itself of a textbook on early modern printing, I would really really love to hear from you! Please email me, leave a comment below, or run a broadside off your press and mail it to me!

I continue to believe that special collections are a source of rich and inspiring information to all of us and that both undergraduate research and digital tools are ways to explore and discover those resources. I look forward to sharing more of that with all of you and with working on behalf of the Folger to bringing its richnesses to the public.

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.