at this table

this tableA long time ago, I encountered this table while staying at the Friends’ House in Beacon Hill (in Boston).  Way back then I remarked how much I’d like to have such a table for entertaining someday.

Our current kitchen table isn’t quite that large, but it does handily seat at least eight people once the leaf is inserted.  And lately we’ve had a houseful of visitors from overseas, stretching that capacity to the maximum.

As I pondered that this afternoon (while hearing the happy noises of friends coming from downstairs) I realized just how much I enjoy entertaining and how I had imagined this future for myself many times: to break bread with good and generous people, who are at ease and hopeful about their lives.  People who know how to laugh and relax…and then wash the dishes together afterwards…

She was told never to do these 5 things while she was getting a PhD in History, but she did them anyways. Click here to see what happened.

This list of links is for a round table that I’m participating in at the #WAWH conference this afternoon about writing online as a graduate student. So to mix things up a but I thought I’d try a bit of upworthy-style academic clickbait (instead of a PowerPoint)…

1) blog everyday

Confessions of a blogger historian

The blogging life

2) get personal

My bio

Writing about disability and religion and divorce and family (and poetry and flowers…)

3) get distracted by side projects

Technological tools for historians

The Making History Podcast

4) tweet at and about academic conferences

Getting Twitterpated at academic conferences

The Past’s Digital Presence Conference twitter feed

5) accept a FT alt-ac position instead of ‘going on the market’

Moving from a virtual space to an academic office space

Ten things I’ve learned from being a university administrator

Being interested and sharing, at DHSoCal

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A few years ago, at THATCamp SoCal, a handful of us generated the idea for a regional Digital Humanities network.  Since then, the idea has gained momentum and we now have affiliates from nearly every university campus in Southern California represented our group.

I made the Word Cloud, above, from the notes of our latest gathering at UCSD.  As you can see from the Wordle, there are several key topics that emerged: teaching, projects, syllabus, students, data, funding, program.  What struck me the most from this are the words “interested” and “sharing” which point to how each attendee came to the meeting seeking a better understanding about how DH is being taught and practiced at other institutions and is interested in sharing what they are doing at their own.


Lessons from Ted Nelson

When I prepped my syllabus for the “Introduction to Digital Humanities” class that I taught last year, I included Ted Nelson’s article “Complex information processing: a file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate” because I wanted my students to gain some historical knowledge about how modern-day computer interfaces developed from the ideas of visionary thinkers like Nelson.  At the time, I was unaware that Nelson would be a Visiting Fellow on our campus or that I would have the luxury of becoming personally acquainted with him.

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Ted Nelson, who coined the term Hypertext.

My students struggled a bit with the Nelson article.  Not only was it long, but his ideas didn’t seem to spark much interest.  As we discussed his piece together, I pointed out just how revolutionary his thoughts were in 1965, but that seemed to have little impact on their thinking.  Moreover, his ideas about hypertext, or links between words and documents seemed so obvious to their minds that it was difficult to underscore their significance.  So I took a different tactic and we created a list of all of the characteristics of Nelson’s imagined platform: it would be connected and iterative and creative and collaborative.  It would “grow indefinitely, gradually including more and more of the world’s knowledge.”

“Do you know of any platform like that?” I asked.

The response: Wikipedia.

When I shared their reply with Ted a few weeks later, he seemed frustrated.  And I could see why.  Wikipedia, although a valuable resource and an excellent knowledge repository, is not a creative space.  Indeed, it tends towards being rather scripted and formulaic, as well as hierarchical in ways that don’t gel with Nelson’s vision.

My students’ response to my question about Project Xanadu points to the unrealized nature of Nelson’s early vision–we remain locked into ways of digitally writing that replicate paper and although many of us read e-books or use text-based apps of various kinds, they are simply re-presentations of analog modes of creation.  But it also points out a far larger problem: that the development of our computer interfaces and software feels like a “given” to most students.  They have difficulty imagining that computers could have developed a different way or with an alternate mode of interaction.  Which concerns me about how they may imagine their own future–as a series of inevitabilities rather than as dynamic and evolving threads of occurrences on a canvas that they can manipulate and shape to their liking.


Mary Monday: renewal

Returning to my “Mary Monday” poetry series, from oh-so-long ago….

How I wish that I’d read this poem before I spent three hours at the DMV last week, getting my stolen Driver’s License replaced:

(from the Writer’s Almanac):


by Jeffrey Harrison

At the Department of Motor Vehicles
to renew my driver’s license, I had to wait
two hours on one of those wooden benches
like pews in the church of Latter Day
Meaninglessness, where there is no
stained glass (no windows at all, in fact),
no incense other than stale cigarette smoke
emanating from the clothes of those around me,
and no sermon, just an automated female voice
calling numbers over a loudspeaker.
And one by one the members of our sorry
congregation shuffled meekly up to the pitted
altar to have our vision tested or to seek
redemption for whatever wrong turn we’d taken,
or pay indulgences, or else be turned away
as unworthy of piloting our own journey.
But when I paused to look around, using my numbered
ticket as a bookmark, it was as if the dim
fluorescent light had been transformed
to incandescence. The face of the Latino guy
in a ripped black sweatshirt glowed with health,
and I could tell that the sulking white girl
accompanied by her mother was brimming
with secret excitement to be getting her first license,
already speeding down the highway, alone,
with all the windows open, singing.


I became an avid user of email pretty early on, in 1993.  Back then most people had interesting ASCII signatures under their names.   I did not have ASCII art skillz, so I decided on something simple (let’s call it ‘minimalist’) for my signature.  Nearly every email message I signed as:


And I still do that, with the exception of my professional correspondence, which generally ends in a:


or a


or a


I don’t remember why I chose a tilde as my defining signature character, but I suppose it was because it seemed to give my signature a bit more of a flourish than a dash.

On Failing (with technology)

I’ve been going through the dozens of “draft” posts that have never seen the light of day.  This is one of those (from November 2012), which I didn’t post because at the time I was hesitant to admit some of my tech-frustrations…

For the first few weeks of the semester I had a running joke with one of my colleagues, where I would come back from class and she would ask me what I’d broken that day.  Because, for whatever reason, nearly every digital tool that I was trying with my students ended up having a major snafu when I presented it to them in class.

There was the class wordpress blog that ended up stalling when I asked all of the students to post comments simultaneously, and the SIMILE timeline tool that broke whenever the students tried to add events that extended over a period of time, the day that I introduced Prezi that also coincided with the very hour that they rolled out an unannounced upgrade to the menu structure of the software, and numerous fails with using Blackboard tools (the wikis and discussion boards simply weren’t robust enough to be accessed by 25 users at once).  Finally, yesterday, I learned that when I asked my students to all create wikipedia accounts, we learned that they screen by IP address for new registrations and had put a 24-hour hold on any new accounts being added from our classroom.

Fortunately I’m fairly patient with technology.  Since I’m fussing with it nearly all-day long, I’ve learned that there are almost-always workarounds.  Even when they mean using pen and paper (and typewriters).