Sebastian A. Williams

I am a graduate student at Wright State University studying English Literature. My research interests include Modernism and media studies, particularly the relationship between film, photography, radio, and literature. I am a managing editor for the Emily Dickinson Journal, and I work as a content writer for Reynolds and Reynolds as well.

Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.

– John Dewey, “Self Realization as the Moral Ideal”

This quote from Dewey is a good reminder that education can do more than just get us ready for the job market. After all, few literature students enter the field because of the booming employment rates.

Does this quote affect the ways you think about humanities education? About how and what you teach in the classroom?

Striving Toward (Academic) Ideals

Pulled between engagement with the public and the insularity of the academy, many scholars must now decide whether or not to write for more than just a small group of specialists. While Nicholas Kristof asserts in “Professors, We Need You!” that academia is an exclusive club that is now shrinking, thinkers like James Mulholland argue that “popularising research isn’t the only way to make a social impact” (1).  In reality, the universal, uncomplicated ideals surrounding public intellectualism may be nothing more than illusions.

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Digital tools can be used for virtually everything–including bees. You heard right. Bee Lab is a project that uses a range of digital tools to help spread the word about bees and beekeeping. Although it might just seem like a hobby for some, beekeeping has become a serious endeavor for many environmental advocates, especially with the rapid decline of honeybees everywhere.

Open-source electronics, tracking systems, forums, and media releases are just some of the ways beekeepers are spreading the word. In reality, Bee Lab revolves around communication and media, connecting people–including the general public–with the science behind bees. This inspiring project is working to bridge the gap between sciences and humanities, all while working from a digital platform.

New Little Magazines: An Intermediate Space

In reaction to the growing schism between scholarly and nonacademic writing, Evan Kindley asserts that we may be able to learn a thing or two from the tradition of little magazines. Offering a platform for both academics and journalists to reach a wider public, publications such as Public Books and the Los Angeles Review of Books create a productive inter-professional competition that impels writers to rethink their craft. This intermediary space may just be the future of two or more fields.

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Digital Zombies is in some ways a game, and in other ways it is a digital tool for teaching historical research methods. Headed by Professor Juliette Levy at UCR, this project deals with topics such as human-kind’s control of nature and, naturally, zombies. Students develop creative projects and accomplish various tasks by performing research in physical and digital collections. The goal is to get students to think differently about their own historical research methods, as well as different perspectives enabled by digital platforms.

Interestingly, the term “digital zombie” is a name for someone so involved with social media and digital technologies that they become fixated with a “faux reality.” It is also used to describe students who only use sites like Wikipedia and Google to do research, often using digital sources indiscriminately, without ever coming in contact with physical sources.

Learning Academese: As Difficult as Any Language

Academic writing is notorious for its abstract language, at times creating and feeding a gap between the general public and the specialists. For Nicholas Kristof, “to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant” (1). Engaging with a select group in a sometimes cryptic language, academics seem to be isolating themselves from the world at large. Kristof goes on to suggest that academics “know little that is practical about the world” (3), an idea reflected by their sometimes pretentious prose; however, Kristof does not seem to hit the nail on the head. While he criticizes professors for cloistering themselves like monks, I disagree that this is really a central reason humanities departments are becoming more and more marginalized. Systemic issues may be larger than anything Kristof seems to imagine.

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Learning to Focus: Reading Literature and Resisting Distraction

If you love the smell of the library stacks, the look of a leather-bound book, or the feel of crisp paper as you turn pages, you probably prefer physical text to reading on the web. Although there are several advantages to digital technologies that enable you to read from your computer screen, including the quick links made available by hypertext, there are also negative aspects to reading on the web. As Nicholas Carr, Christina Lupton, and Tony Schwartz note in respective articles, digital reading can quickly turn into distracted reading.

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Necessarily Considering DH on an International Scale

Is it necessary to consider Digital Humanities on an international scale? Do certain facts or claims about the Digital Humanities only apply to the US or European educational systems? If emphasis on humanities education and research is becoming more popular in Asia, should literature professors simply move where they will be appreciated?

I was recently speaking to a good friend of mine who now works in Singapore creating curriculum for an international high school. His job is to help students be more creative, with a focus on design philosophy and fine arts projects. What struck me most about his experience was the fact that creativity, critical thinking, and aesthetics were deemed essential to the student learning experience. In many instances, the sciences seemed to take a backseat to the humanities. One question that occurred to me while talking to him was: are the Digital Humanities less promising in other countries and/or cultures?

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Framing the Literature Classroom

In Teaching and Learning English Literature, Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the importance of literary pedagogy as a framing system. Pedagogy not only encourages learning and growth, but it can also affect and frame course content to invite different types of understanding (14). The teaching of literature needs to better adapt to the modern world, addressing issues like postcritical thought, different student experiences, the corporatization of education, and the potential for personal transformations.

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