Suburban Academic

Musings of a domesticated scholar

Category: digitamazing (Page 2 of 2)

Miscellany and Money

It has been too, too long since my last post.  Some updates:
I’m still mapping
My sisters, husband, brothers-in-law, and I surprised my dad for his 70th birthday in Austin thanks to the mad coordinating skills of my stepmom, Heather

For those of you interested in the intersections between digital and print worlds, here is a link about the “listsicle” of Thomas Nashe, who wrote in the late sixteenth-century on “Eight Kindes of Drunkennes” Listsicle Article

For those curious about how exercise can “change your DNA”– can you smell the spin?– check out this little ditty about what we already know: working out is the best thing ever, and people who don’t do it are lame. Feeling guilty? You should!

[skip transition] I’ve noticed– in news and in recent articles floating about my laptop– an increased curiosity in changing perceptions of wealth.  For instance, Mitt Romney seems rather unapologetic about his gazillions, and his wife doesn’t consider herself wealthy at all (see abc article here). 

Mitt and Ann Romney, image from The Telegraph

But according to Michael Dean Crews, The US would not be the first nation to pull extraordinary wealth from the flames of socio-religious condemnation.  In his master’s thesis, he examines “the various ways that the perception of bankers and banking in Florence changed from the 13th to the 15th century” within “three categories, scholastic attitude, law, and public image, and utilizes a socio-intellectual style of historical inquiry.”  
He continues:

Dante in Florence

“The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the positive acceptance of banking from a formerly profane vocation was due to a more advanced understanding of industry and economics, a more relativistic interpretation of theological and juridical sources, and an aggressive campaign by the humanists to redefine moral values and to reshape the Florentine culture and urban landscape in order to bring esteem and power to the elite bankers. ” The rest of the article is here.

Sounds familiar, no?  Allow me to be clear– I’m passing no judgment on Romney or the Florentine bankers; I’m only drawing a parallel.  

Yet banking isn’t the only arena to benefit from the reworking of wealth’s righteousness.  In 2007, John R. Black published an article called “Tradition and Transformation in the Cult of St. Guthlac in Early Medieval England” in The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.  In it he finds that: “[a]nalysis of the variations introduced into the hagiographic corpus, both textual and iconographic, for a saint’s cult over the course of the medieval era demonstrates the vitality of that corpus, reveals the cultural significance of the variations introduced, and offers insights into (re)conceptualizations of sainthood.” 
St Guthlac and Demons, Guthlac Roll (13th century)
Fascinating? Yes. Relevant to this post? Almost.  
Here’s the good part: “Such analysis elucidates, for example, the ‘evolution’ of St. Guthlac from ascetic solitary to promoter and defender of a wealthy religious establishment.” Article here.
I wonder, then, if the Republican voters, and later, the larger body of American voters, will reorder the narrative of Romney’s wealth (if they need to).  What other forms might his money-making take in the public eye?

Until soon, patient readers!

Mapping Books and Book Maps

Recently I’ve been reading criticism on criticism: discussions and dissections of both editing practices and bibliographic theories.  I’ll spare you the necessary pedantry of the first and the can’t-say-anything-without-an-anecdote-and-a-few-qualifications peddling of the latter, but know this:  editing medieval texts and studying histories of the book are highly, even hotly, debated.  The debate, or at least the writing about the debate, is compromised by cultural theorists who I can only imagine are incapable of leaving the house without wondering if doing so is a political act of some kind.  Now, don’t get me wrong– I admire theorists (I think).  But in these particular readings, on whose margins I’ve written “blah” and “ridiculous– get on with it,” they can’t seem to get out of their own way.

Onward, to the fun stuff.  I’ve noted that both editing texts and studying them as historical, cultural, social, and of course physical objects are debated practices.  But, thanks to my shameless, social network- sanctioned stalking, I came across this, the answer to it all:
Its first sentences of “About this Project” anchor the work as relevant, responsible, and freaking genius: “This is the first literary history of medieval Europe to be attempted in English.  Eschewing conventional, anachronistic organization by ‘national blocks’– English literature, French literature, etc.– it considers literary activity in transnational sequences of interconnected places.”  Here is a perfectly accessible, interactive, digital project about book history in medieval Europe. Its commitment to fighting anachronistic impositions of scholars is as remarkable as its use of Google Earth; the satellite image reminds us of how removed we are from what we study– the map, and the globe, of course, were much different then.  
I particularly love that this is a group project.  Collaboration addresses one issue that comes up in editorial and bibliographic treatises: the limitations of editor, or even the canon, as agents with agendas.  
This site, of course, articulates this move: “Emphasis upon a multi-centered Europe draws us away from certain grand visions of a singular, pan-European culture developed in the twentieth century…”
Placing a timeline on a map (while keeping the linear index on the side) is a simple act, but one that makes all the difference.  When you click on the flags, a write-up of that location’s role in textual production pops up.  You can read them each separately, or in order and in conversation with the others.  The editors have made a choice, but allow you to make some, too.  
I wonder, then, if this can be the next step in book production.  I spoke briefly with a friend of mine, Will, about why digitalization hasn’t really flourished in our fields–mine medieval, his Russian.  He painted this awesome picture in my mind of some high school kid reading a Russian novel and being able to click on words, places, and names he didn’t know.  Once clicked, the link would connect you to a website, or at least a captioned image, of that unknown, and the reader could follow that link out of the book or return to it.  Of course, this would be (and in some very limited cases so far, is) wildly helpful to readers of Old and Middle English.  Don’t know this word? No problem: here’s the root and translation.  Need some help with the declension? Click here.   Can’t this happen?  Why isn’t it?
In a world of digital everything, why are footnotes and other editorial moves the last to follow suit?
I’m wondering, too, if books could start looking like that map above.  What would happen if we deconstructed works and mapped them out– “Chapter 3 takes place here” so we could read them spatially, instead of just linearly?  Could any editor get away with that, and at what cost?
Until next time, may your books’ book-ness never be taken for granted.

On Onus of Ownership

I’ve enrolled in Fiona Somerset’s “Radical Textualities” at Duke this spring, and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to get some real manuscript experience!  This week we are reading about variance, censorship, and the “great editions” of multi-layered medieval texts.  In an article resisting the bibliographic obsession of previous Wycliffite scholarship, Somerset writes: “In lollard textual culture’s mood of radical variance, every version of a text interpolates, excises, or modifies the content they have in common, or else lifts part of it into a different setting.  Often it is impossible to trace how the work developed, in its remaining copies.” She focuses on different kinds of books than others working in lollardy usually have; she therefore appropriately hones in on different modes of book production, “that began in the earliest phase of the [lollard] movement, but persisted when the more organized activity that produced large-scale collaborations in England had come to an end”whose “products are more idiosyncratic and decentralized… [and whose] most common venue of assembly is the personal or household anthology…” which was truly piecemeal.
As most of you know, I’ve had a hard time pinning down a dissertation topic/genre/century, but I do keep returning to manuscript work.  As most of you can imagine, this presents any scholar with the genuine issue of accessibility.  Although Duke and UNC have great collections, getting to them can be more difficult than first supposed.  I’ll come back to the accessibility problem soon.

We spent the first couple of classes hashing out ideas about cutting and pasting, remixing, refiguring, re-apropriating (and no, that’s not redundant here) manuscripts, printed books, and digital media.  Where do processes overlap?  What do reworking poetry or biblical exegesis, say, have to do with remixing music or other media?  And how does any of this matter now, and to whom?
A visual break from, to prevent any rabbit-hole vortex of crushingly deep ponderings on this topic:

Of course, central to these questions of remixing is ownership, which I like to distinguish from authorship.  Somerset articulates resistance to a bibliographic impulse in literary studies that coincides with a lesson I taught last week.  I assigned Hegel to my freshmen (muah-ha-ha) to get them into an appropriate mindset about the nature of the course.  I intentionally left off the title and the author so they wouldn’t just say “hey, this is boring/difficult/whatever– I’ll just Google it.”  Some of them, I found, had pasted in parts of the passage in order to identify the author, and we had an open conversation about this urge to know about the author in order to feel equipped to read the work.  Incidentally, this was the same day as the Wikipedia blackout– a coincidence whose coolness was sadly lost on some of them.  
Nevertheless, it seems that authorship is visiting some sort of vengeance upon me for all those papers I wrote that “killed the author.”  In a time when so much information is free, freely edited, and freely exchanged across different media, what does it mean to be an author, a commentator, a cut-and-paster, a plagiarist?  Authorship isn’t always ownership, and that could create great demands on all the other stewards of texts.  What do we owe to audience?  To the text’s author? And how much do economic elements of textual production affect its “authenticity” or reliability?  What does the author owe the rest of us?  How influential is money-making to text-making, and why?
Moreover, what are we to make of our transition from this:
No CTRL + C here.
to this?
Is free and full access even conceivable?  At what cost? 
How do we move between prosperity of resources nearly impossible to find (or even to know exist) in our world’s best libraries and responsible, equitable accessibility?
Bodleian curator, looking far too cool to let us see this book from the Mary Shelley exhibit.   

Could it be that those Stanford professors have it right after all?

The Art (s and Crafts) and Science of Facial Recognition

Woo-hoo! It’s almost Halloween, one of my favorite holidays.  Per a long-time, long-distance tradition with my mother, my first move was to sit “the family” down to watch Tim Burton’s strange and inspiring The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Disney (Touchstone), 1993

I’ve found no better way to get in the goblins, ghosts, and ghouls mood than watching this movie.  To my horror, it was Drew’s first time to watch it all the way through; he nevertheless found a noble way of commemorating its important place in our newly married tradition.
Impressive, no?
And Drew’s not the only skilled at recognizing and rendering graphics across disparate media. 
(How’s that for a segue!)  According to this article in LiveScience, Tel Aviv university is using computer software “based on facial recognition technology” to recognize– and importantly, reunite– “hundreds of thousands of fragments from medieval religious scrolls that are scattered across the globe” (Pappas).  Evidently, the program can distinguish handwriting, spacing, and even peculiar properties of the pages themselves.  
This new software isn’t just for people who love old and dusty esoterica for ancientness’ sake.  The Cairo Genizah (storage room for Jewish holy texts), for instance, “contains merchant’s lists, divorce documents, and even personal letters” which will give scholars “a firsthand look at hundreds of years of history in the Middle East.”  Indeed, scholars are even trying to use this technology to study the Dead Sea Scrolls, shown above.  For those interested, here is a LiveScience article about the Dead Sea Scrolls’ digitization.
Well, that’s all for now.  Until next time, stay ever-watchful; there’s no telling what you might piece together.

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