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Tori Lane

Tori Lane is a second year M.A. student of Literature at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She is interested in modern and postmodern literature, new materialism, and affect theory.

Academics as Public Intellectuals: A Problem of Space and Time

James Mulholland sympathizes with the academic push toward a more public engagement. He recognizes that academics are “told to imagine [the public’s] desires and to conjure ways to fulfil them,” and that it “is an important strategy that every academic should pursue.” Indeed, we are meant to remain aware of current social discourses, and allow our interests and research to engage with those conversations. More importantly, we are urged to discover something new. So, Mulholland continues, “we must be allowed to resist this impulse, too. We can’t anticipate what intellectual discoveries will become essential answers to the public’s future questions.” In other words, by trying too hard to be timely we may miss a bigger opportunity in the future–which he highlights with an example of how gender studies scholarship was used in judicial proceedings years after it was produced.

The core of the issue here, as Mulholland puts it, is that “We don’t always know what form public scholarship should take,” and we cannot know what the public is ready to hear or digest. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges an academic faces when trying to take their work into the public domain is not an ego-centric fear to “dumb-down” their work, rather a real-time disparity that develops between public and academic audiences. The inability to know the form the public scholarship should take could, in fact, limit the scholar’s academic scholarship trajectory. That is not to say that the public audience isn’t capable of understanding the academically labored work, but that there is a time and a place for such work to make its way into the public. Like Mulholland, I too would fear that the best time and place to have some debates is not always in the here and now. Again, though, we come back to the long standing problem of finding a balance between the public intellectual and academic laborer within the same central body–can we and should we be both?

Digital Pedagogies

digital pedagogiesThis image, shared from an article at teachthought.com, contends that the digital pedagogue is a particularly open minded individual posited toward inspirational expansion. I, myself, find that I engage with digital interfaces in my classroom and teaching. However, my range of motion therein is limited. That is to say, I know how to make assignments available to my students in a digital realm, but in some ways it ends there. This short quote highlights the principles of the digital humanities that scholars like Jesse Strommel contend are the strengths of a digital pedagogy model in the classroom.

This article highlights four of Strommel’s main points regarding the digital humanities and pedagogy:

1. It centers its practice on community and collaboration

2. Must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries

3. Will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather a cacophony of voices

4. Must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education

These four principles show how digital pedagogy is less about technology, but more about what technology may have been teaching us since it has come to the forefront of our critical and social engagements in the digital age. This sense of community, openness, plurality, and use not only stands to shift the atmosphere of a classroom, but also aligns with the way we look at (and what we look for in) Literature.

Perhaps, the coolest tool we can gain from conversations surrounding the digital humanities is quite simply a pedagogical model that is both timely and timeless.

 

The University of Florida’s Public Humanities projects, and others like it, work to open the apparent door between the academy and the public. As we have recently discussed, and defended in our class discussions and our own blog posts here, there is an apparent push in academia for engaging students in both academic and public discourses. UF uses a Tumblr page for one public platform. That begs the question, though, how public is Tumblr? While it is user friendly, it seems to me that Tumblr may not be the best audience for these initiatives. UF also has a Twitter account. As academics try to shift toward a more accessible, public readership, how much of that is trial and error in finding a space to occupy both within and beyond the Academy?

 

Graduate Students: Semiprofessional Intellectuals

Evan Kindley’s article “Growing Up in Public: Academia, Journalism, and the New Public Intellectual” wrestles with the debate between relevance and accessibility that is contingent on the separation between “‘the public’ and ‘the academy’” and how a shift in the discourse, for Kindley, “provides an opportunity to help more people understand our activities as scholars and why they’re important” (468). I, myself, have recently found myself in a sort of internal struggle with this very problem. When I asked one of my mentors, “Does what we do matter?” with a genuine feeling of concern in my mind, and on my face. In turn, she shrugged and smiled. The short answer is this, it matters to us. But if we cannot share it with others, we run the risk of being obsolete. There is no real need to compete or argue over who might be better equipped to be a public intellectual, or even to redefine it. As Kindley notes, “[i]n the best case scenario, both sides are challenged to produce better work by adjusting to norms not native in their professions, thus raising the level of discourse of cultural criticism as a whole” (469). But is this just an intellectual utopian fantasy that we might never be able to actualize?

Of course, the space the public intellectual occupies is different than where the academic rests. The conventions of the academy challenge the academics ability to enter the public sphere reputably, and without stepping on anybody’s proverbial toes. More pressing for the academic in training, where, as Kindley notes, “public writing [is] not discouraged, but delayed: it [is] seen as a valuable activity, but one that ought to be pursued once one’s disciplinary bona fides were in order” (471). This is indeed a problem that us graduate students seem to face. When is the right time to bridge this gap? Are graduate students allowed to exist in both these spheres? More importantly, do they have the time and the means to do so? If the humanities academics want a more public presence, then shouldn’t that be incorporated alongside the traditional professionalization of academics in their graduate programs? We are the producers of the knowledge, the future of the disciplines, why would we hold our voices back?

HUMANities

I chose the humanities because this space made sense for me. This academic life that feels as though it is constantly shifting where there always new knowledge to be gained, and a general buzzing excitement for lofty ideas taking shape in our minds. These are my people. As I gathered more knowledge, and began to apply it to my writing, I began to excitedly accept the closing of my audience base. I would say things like, “All I really want out of life is to write things that, like, twelve people understand and want to respond to.” This must mean that I have found my niche. This means I have achieved something, unlocked a new life level, and am ready for the steady ascent up in the world of academia. But it sure feels awfully isolated, pretentious, and lonely.

Recently, humanities scholars have noticed that this way of situating the academic voice is, in fact, problematic. As humanists, we should be the most human in the academic world. That is to say, the people most concerned with what it means to be human. Maybe we are, or we think we are, but in practice we have all become isolated, pretentious, and lonely; as Ian Bogost puts it, “Humanism does not deserve to carry the standard for humans, for frankly it despises them.”

Bogost continues, stating that  “We don’t make reform our mission because we secretly hate the idea of partaking of and in the greater world, even as we purport to give it voice, to speak of its ills through critical esoterics no public ear could ever grasp.” That is to say, the very disciplines with which we align ourselves keeps us out of a constructive dialogue with the world around us. While I do not purport that academics and activism go hand in hand, it seems that what Bogost is pushing toward which is a position with which I tend to agree, it seems that there is a dividing wall placed between academics and the rest of the world that needs to break down. If all the knowledge that we have and produce as humanities scholars has been made largely incomprehensible to humanity, what then are we actually doing?

Mind Maps

Mind mapping is a creative way to organize one’s thoughts. This skill that many of us learned in elementary school can still be useful in higher education. I often encourage my students to try different brainstorming methods beyond a free-writing exercise that often seems to be the go-to in writing classrooms. However, with the increasing reliance on electronically submitted projects I fear the process of scanning a hand drawn mind map, and converting it into a .pdf keeps students away from exploring this as an option.

Ideament is an app created to bring the mind mapping exercise into the digital world. It allows users to create a mind map, save and export as a .pdf, and also toggle between an outline and a flow chart/mind map; all through the convenience of their iphone or ipad.

Mindfulness: Creating Space in a Digital World

mindful

As we become more and more steeped in a technologically connected world, scholars are turning their attention and work toward understanding both the benefits and challenges with reading on the internet. Much of the conversation revolves around distraction, as noted by Nicholas Carr and Tony Schwartz. In the New York Times article “Addicted to Distraction,” Schwartz calls attention to “[t]he brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification [which] creates something called a ‘compulsion loop.’ Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect” (Schwartz). Ultimately, Schwartz sets out to break the compulsive cycle that he has attributed to constant connection to the internet.

Many of us can relate to the sentiments Schwartz expresses in his article, the compulsive checking emails, and clicking from article to article on the internet. We may even justify these behaviors, that we are reading something and it is entertaining, or informative etc. Schwartz, though, is concerned with the ways it shapes our life, and those of us who are compulsively using the internet have actually developed a sort of addiction to it.

As people we might have a difficult time acknowledging how the internet shatters our focus, as Carr deftly points to in his article. He writes, “[d]azzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.” Because it is often instantaneous, and always available, it is difficult to move out of that space, or that ‘compulsion loop.’ Ultimately, Schwartz commits himself to a detox ritual in order to shift his habit of mind toward a more healthy relationship with the internet.

Schwartz reveals that this was not an easy task. In fact, he did not immediately succeed in his internet detox. Eventually, he reveals that he has “retained [his] longtime ritual of deciding the night before on the most important thing I can accomplish the next morning. [Promising to work] for 60 to 90 minutes without interruption. Afterward, [he takes] a 10- to 15-minute break to quiet [his] mind and renew [his] energy” (Schwartz). This is a deliberate moving away from the allatonceness that the digital humanities often considers a strength. This shift toward technological mindfulness moves the scholar, the professional, the technologically engaged person into a slower paced environment. This new space allows for an active engagement with the digital world, but a more balanced and healthy one. How might we, as educators, incorporate some of Schwartz’s into our course objectives, activities, and teaching philosophies?

 

Robots Reading Vogue

Robots Reading Vogue is a collaborative project between arts librarian, Lindsay King and digital humanities lab affiliate Peter Leonard through the Yale Digital Humanities Lab. The large data mining project purports to be useful for disciplines from gender studies to computer science. The visual data represents various changes throughout the magazines history ranging from cover art to word co-occurance. Vogue‘s long and rich publication history (over a hundred years, according to the project’s website) provides a wealth of data to be selected and analyzed.

Since its inception, Robots Reading Vogue has worked several different inspiring projects like these awesome student projects!

 

Digital Phenomenology

In the article “Text: A Massively Addressable Object,” Michael Witmore celebrates the work he and his colleagues have been doing in the digital humanities. Their 1,000 text compilation of quantifiable, data driven digitized text is no small feat. However, he calls attention to the primary problem scholars face when handling these digitized texts, and managing them as objects.

Witmore contends that these large compilations of digitized texts are “massively addressable at different levels of scale.” Where “addressable” means that “one can query a position within the text at a certain level of abstraction…[and] implies different levels of abstraction (character, word, phrase, line, etc.), which are stipulative or nominal…they are, conventions” (Witmore). That is to say, in this new way of organizing text as digitized, data objects we are able to make different conclusions about the literature that extends beyond the established mode of critical analysis of what a text represents.

Moreover, Witmore contends that we need a new way of reading which he describes “as the continual redisposition of levels” (Witmore). He proposes that scholars “need a phenomenology of these acts, one that would allow us to link quantitative work on a culture’s ‘built environment’ of words to the kinesthetic and imaginative dimensions of life at a given moment” (Witmore). In other words, Witmore recognizes the digitized text as an actual object for analysis and interpretation that is capable of being interpreted similar to some of the historically established modes of analysis. However, there is an intellectual gap between the way we conceive data, and its interpretation than the way we have interacted with physical books. According to Witmore, there is a need that extends out of the digital humanities to bring the physical, phenomenological, kinesthetic and imaginative as a means to interpret these large sets of quantifiable data.

While Witmore makes a productive call to action, he doesn’t exactly provide a viable solution to his problem. How might we imagine, or re-imagine examining and interpreting the quantifiable conventions that the addressable text presents?

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