june 2013: cake, dialect, digitization, and tolkien

in addition to snorkeling, swimming, some seriously overdue momming, and a long reading list (literature, some pre-fall planning, and a list i’m co-reading with my recently turned ten-year-old), my research agenda remains active this summer. MBDA continues to advance, and i’m writing two different discussions of the project which require serious reflection on the intersections between theory, methodology, and practice. one is more narrative focused (the convergence of history and story, a motif poignant in description of the life and work of Martha Berry), one more theory-meets-practice-meets-tech (critical to advancement and redefinition of the archive, a theme pressing in my thoughts and evolving constantly thanks to some excellent writings which push us ever further into new terrain, e.g., “We are archivists, since we have to be. We don’t have choice. This decision is already made, or determined by the contemporary technological condition…”).

i’m also directing the Pennsylvania Dialects Project (PDP). i’ve continued to localize my research agenda, and PDP is rooted in rural central Pennsylvania, my current home, my university’s home, and the focus of PDP’s research purpose. we’re at the very early stages of the project, but because i’ve woven it intimately within my teaching and research agendas, and because i have some exceptional student collaborators, the study is proceeding remarkably well.

i was rereading Eat, Pray, Love recently (an excellent antidote to funkiness – and i don’t mean the groovy kind – which apparently i still have need of) and laughed quietly to myself when i bumped headfirst into Gilbert admonishing “You are, after all, what you think.” serendipitous? sought out unconsciously? i’m open to all kinds of interpretations… but, however it happened, lately, i’m a little chocolate cake meets democratization of information meets history and story collide meets documentation of dialect is critical to eradication of dialect prejudice, which, by the way, is alive and well. oh, plus: it’s very cool to pull the linguist card when your child is into J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. very. so i’m also a bit hey darling, did you know that tolkien was a linguist… too.


finishing on a good note

it’s been fifteen l-o-n-g weeks of challenges this semester. i’ve been mired in some time and labor-intensive university administrative responsibilities, the kind that require turning over old stones and peering into dark crevices, the kind that remind you that an academic institution can somehow juxtapose inspiring heights with some pretty dank lows, the kind that ask you to document what’s happening without empowering you to do anything about it. i admire those willing to take this kind of thing on full time, especially those impressive few who elude cynicism.

on a brighter note, MBDA launched this spring — the programmer and i worked too many hours to count; we had an excellent sprint, and we’re both admittedly a little tired. but was it worth it? absolutely. HUGE kudos to our amazing project team for a successful launch!

from a teaching perspective, the semester was unusually challenging. it’s not uncommon to guide undergrads through a crisis or two each semester, but more than a few of my students struggled with serious personal issues this term, and it was difficult to leave my concerns about them behind when i left campus for home every day. it’s not clear to me why this semester was different, but i am reminded that teaching is often serious and complex in ways i don’t anticipate and that educators have responsibilities that can’t be defined by learning objectives or measured by outcomes assessment. many of our responsibilities are traditionally instructional to be sure, but many more, if less tangible and more elusive, are no less significant.

good moments? a few, actually…

it’s not exactly academic, but running a half marathon with my nine-year-old son while his brother (my older son) ran the full 26.2 and meeting half way through the course (which overlapped) was pretty spectacular. my runner’s high lasted for days! how to keep a nine-year-old motivated for 13.1 miles? a rockin’ playlist that makes you laugh. here’s a sampling from ours:

  • Newton: Streamline
  • Cake: The Distance
  • Bad Religion: I Want to Conquer the World
  • P-Square: Chop My Money
  • Yanni: The Storm
  • Knoc-Turn’al: Muzik
  • The Temper Trap: Sweet Disposition
    and Love Lost
  • Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major
  • Mamadou Diabete: Joukouya
  • Revenge: Minecraft Creeper Song

reading this hilarious (and somehow sage) quote in a book my sister recommended: “worrying is like praying for what you don’t want,” a quote i’ve now discovered is so ubiquitous as to be cliché, was also a good moment (it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when a phrase like that really resonates with you). that same book admonishes: “you are what you think.” and yes, i confess, this too resonated with me. did i mention it’s been a tough fifteen weeks…

finally, a few weeks ago when i was contemplating how to best negotiate a difficult decision and weighing it out a bit too assiduously, having a senior colleague offer me some of the best professional advice i’ve ever received: “chill out” was humbling and awesome. it’s difficult to grow cynical when someone you respect puts things in perspective for you like that, but it’s easy to be grateful. and i am.


meeting my son during my 13.1 and his 26.2

mapping MBDA

In the midst of debugging our site upgrade and thereafter finally turning toward site styling. Despite the bugs and incomplete design scheme, archive data is solid. We’ve mapped c. one-third of the scanned and published collection (and there’s quite a bit more yet to scan and publish) and geolocation data (shown in the map below) is just beginning to offer a very cool visual of Berry’s far-reaching influence:


discovering Martha Berry

Just finished a fairly comprehensive draft of Discovering Martha Berry for MBDA, which is scheduled to be released publicly in April. The piece is not yet garnished with images or other visual flourishes, but it was wonderful to write, and equally intriguing to mine the archive for sources. Berry is an incredibly interesting subject, and I find her – simultaneously – elusive, extroverted, vivacious, intense, and witty. Though I’ve spent c. 2.5 years working intimately with her writings, I’ve yet either to tire of her or precisely to pin her down. And the fun is just beginning, it seems, as there’s so much more yet to learn once we open the project for public editing.Martha Berry

We have much left to accomplish before April, but MBDA’s participatory editing plugin is nearly ready for Omeka 2.0, and, with a bit of luck, the programmer will have successfully upgraded the dev site to 2.0 this weekend. Now that is progress to celebrate!

ESTS Conference: I <3 Amsterdam

Just returned from an exceptional few days in Amsterdam, where the ESTS Conference was held last week. The Dutch are wonderful hosts. Without exception (at the conference and throughout Amsterdam), whether assisting with conference details, technology, or more touristic ventures, the people were gracious. My* recommendation: when you go, buy a tram pass and explore this beautiful city!

While larger conferences offer a wider sampling of digital scholarship, for me it was a genuine pleasure to spend a few days immersed exclusively in textual studies. Many of the talks were thematically consistent, focused on integration of technology within editing methods/editorial models and dedicated to exploring how our work as textual scholars is advancing and evolving in pace with emerging technologies. Among the highlights were talks describing significant potential for computer assisted paleographic analysis, interactive chronology of textual composition, data annotation, a CMS designed for and by editors, and editions which reflect careful (& honest - this should be obvious, shouldn’t it?) consideration of audience.

My own talk introduced MBDA’s participatory metadata editing model. The talk exposes MBDA’s in-progress work (as well as our open development model), and it was excellent to receive very good questions that anticipate the challenges of:

  • crowd control
  • how we might ‘game-ify’
  • audience
  • incentives for participation
  • how we are acknowledging community participation

We’d been working through these kinds of issues prior to the conference, and our interdisciplinary project team has ensured depth and diversity of perspective, but – especially as we move ever closer to pre-launch testing (scheduled for Jan/Feb 2013) and our spring launch (April 18, 2013) – serious and critical feedback from experienced editors refines our project lens and improves not only the view, but how we see it. Dank u, ESTS.

*my son’s recommendation: NEMO.



Henry Ford, Open Access, & 4th Grade

Having worked extensively on MBDA this semester and having been especially vocal about project-related milestones during recent dinner conversations, it wasn’t entirely surprising when my son asked me to tell him a little more about MBDA and to explain the progress we’ve been making…

‘Why is it so important, mom?’ he wondered.

Two reasons,’ I replied: ‘Access and modeling.’

But I should step back a moment and note first that his fourth grade class had been talking about Henry Ford and had been studying Ford’s contributions to the automotive industry. When my partner Garrick (who also happens to be MBDA’s programmer) heard this, he drew him over, pulled up the MBDA dev site, and showed him letters from and photographs of Henry and Clara Ford. A very cool teachable moment.

Thanks to that interaction, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to explain later that it would be very difficult for him and his classmates in Pennsylvania to travel to the Berry College Archives in Georgia to read the letters written to and from Ford. But a digital collection like MBDA (open, freely available) creates opportunities for people from across the globe to access all kinds of letters and manuscripts and important documents —

And at the dinner table with a nine-year-old, a project like MBDA enables us to take a discussion of Henry Ford from the abstract to the concrete (Ford did, after all, donate autos and tractors as well as significant sums to the Berry Schools, and documentary and photographic evidence excellently illustrates this history).

The importance of modeling is more complex to a nine-year-old, but ours did appreciate that, in some very, very small way, kind of like Henry Ford’s assembly line, MBDA’s participatory editing model can be used to improve the processes of editing, accessing, and engaging with historical texts. And our guy: ready to sign up as MBDA’s first fourth grade editor.

sabbatical and literature

Travel to Cameroon and Ethiopia in May and June evidently influenced my extra-curricular reading selections. And this fall I’m on sabbatical, so, in between research and writing, I’ve actually had time to read many of the works I’d hoped to get to. But I think even if I hadn’t recently been in Africa, and even if I weren’t on sabbatical, I would have carved in time for the volumes that have most recently made my best reads short list.

While I don’t think historical fiction or even historically situated (isn’t it all, anyway?) literature can substitute for study of history, politics, and human rights issues, the historical and political significance, profound and moving narrative, and compelling figures introduced in these works can, I think, bend us a little closer to understanding, easing open what might otherwise remain an indifferent or ignorant disposition.

Four of the volumes on my list are fiction, one non-fiction, but all five humanize groups we don’t – and maybe can’t easily – know given the geographic and ideological distance between the US, the Middle East, and Africa. The portrayals of human behavior, simple joy, and tragic suffering in each are impossible to ignore and even more difficult to forget —

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan) – The story of two women, Maryam and Laila, whose lives intersect with one another’s during the height of unrest as Afghans endure the political shift from Communism to the Taliban during the mid to late twentieth century. Abuse, horrific violence, and deepest friendship and self-sacrifice.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Ethiopia, US), Medicine, Civil War – Shiva and Marion, conjoined twins surgically separated at birth; a story of misogyny and genital mutilation, immigration and the politics of discrimination in medicine, the consequences of ignorance and the absence of adequate medical care in a third world country, and of family and brotherhood.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya), Islam – The author’s own story of being raised Muslim and the degrees of imposed belief that shrouded her identity. Vivid and for that very reason distressing yet essential.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Colonization, Christianization – A tale best read in Africa, I think, where the significance and consequences of colonization are seen and felt. Controversial and heavily critiqued by some Cameroonian scholars, who argue that Achebe has unjustly portrayed Africans as weak; I don’t wholly agree, though, having found the west shamed and guilt-laden by the troubling narrative.

Map of Love by Adhaf Soueif (Egypt, England, US), Colonization, hegemony, cross-cultural marriage, loss, and longing.