The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

Scholarly Serendipity

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Academy, Education, Literature, writing | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Dan Cohen recently delivered a talk on what scholars want from a digital library at a Digital Public Library of America meeting. Reading his observations of scholars and their research habits forced me to reflect on my own research habits and my frequent reliance on serendipity in the stacks.

Cohen’s first point is that scholars want reliable metadata about books and other objects in the digital library. After all, we must assume that the information associated with a text is accurate before we can begin to trust the content of the text.

His second point is that most digital archives of scholarly material remove the element of serendipity–accidentally stumbling upon a source while searching for something else or discovering that a book had been mis-shelved but the text in its place fit in perfectly with your project–from much modern research.

Jonathan Rochkind’s first comment on Cohen’s article hints toward this, but I believe that most of my serendipitous finds in the library stacks have been because of metadata error. On several occasions, a mislabeled book sent me to shelves that I otherwise would never have visited only to lead me to a text that fit a need I didn’t yet know I had had. Too often, keywords were of no help in the initial searching but combing a general area once a good text was stumbled upon was usually fruitful.

Cohen and (I am sure) other participants in the meeting offered solutions to the problem of serendipity such as “more like this” links, “sample collections,” and even social connection spaces, and I believe all of those would help allow serendipity to run its course–especially if we allow some metadata to remain incorrect. Even if they’re digital, you never quite know what you’ll find in the stacks.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Oldtasty]


MAP/ACA Conference

Posted: November 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Academy, grad school, Literature, Scholarship, writing | 3 Comments »

Just last weekend I had the good fortune to attend the Mid-Atlantic Pop/American Culture Association Conference in Boston, MA. Besides finally getting visit the lovely city of Boston, I was able to spend some time with Sam and Brooklynne who were incredibly kind and allowed me to crash on their couch and they also showed me around town.  The weather, save for Friday, was excellent and I felt fully welcomed by Boston.

The conference was a very good experience.  My presentation went well and those few who dragged themselves out of bed for the 8.30 am session seemed interested enough in the ins and outs of nerdcore hip hop.  During the question section, I was given some great ideas for ways to augment my research and perhaps expand it to a study of nerd culture on the whole, using nerdcore as a gateway.  For a first conference paper, I think it went pretty well.

As far as the conference as a whole is concerned, I had a pretty dandy time. I was able to hear several dozen papers from scholars who hail from all across the country and a few international speakers.  With few exceptions, the presenters were excellent and I was pleased to learn about many subjects that I haven’t yet gotten to study.  Since it is an interdisciplinary conference, the scholars come from many different humanities-oriented departments so it affords a much greater collective body of knowledge than a strict English conference.  Indeed, my favorite two sessions were categorized under Fashion and Art, respectively.  Within the next week or so, I plan to post about an artist discussed in the final panel I was able to attend.

Overall, it was an excellent weekend. I got to meet many interesting people and encounter unique ideas and perspectives.  Thanks, MAP/ACA.


Upon Reading "An Open Letter"

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Art, Literature, writing | Tags: , | No Comments »

Texts have a curious way of affecting their readers differently at different points of their lives.  (I’m tempted to take this off toward a discussion of Stanley Fish’s notion of interpretative communities, but I’ll resist–though I’ll link to the wiki that is decently comprehensive on the matter)

Never have I thought about my shifting tastes as a reader, but upon reflection my preferences and emotional availabilities have most certainly changed through the years.  During my younger years I was pulled toward stories of action and adventure because, I can only imagine, as a child your future is wholly an adventure. Nothing is set and your personal story can take an infinite number of different shapes.  Moving through middle and high school, I was most affected by narratives that worked through shifting familial roles, especially between father son.  It’s not as if my relationship with my dad was strained (in fact, it was [and is] quite the opposite), but as I grew toward manhood our relationship shifted closer and closer to a friendship, more than that of authority figure and subordinate, and any story that allowed me to better identify those emotions was particularly stirring.  Now that I am married and more-or-less an adult, I am more often struck by stories of marriage, family, and career.  I think it’s only natural that the stories that I can best identify with in the moment stand out most to me.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of reading “An Open Letter” written by Kathy Rhodes to her husband, shortly after his unexpected passing.  There is an openness to her prose that simply gutted me at my desk;  since I am in public I had to maintain a sense of propriety but it took all the force of my will to keep tears at bay.  Her honesty, love, and still-nagging guilt read clearly throughout the letter and her personal bravery is certainly apparent.

Though the letter was originally found on her blog, it can also be found in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 3 published by The Creative Nonfiction Foundation.


Snowballed Work Ethic

Posted: May 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: grad school, Scholarship, work, writing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Dave Ramsey, the fairly popular Christian financial adviser, frequently tells those in debt to use his debt snowball plan.  Boiled down, he suggests that instead of paying whatever you can to the highest interest loan, you pay as much as possible toward the debt with the lowest balance.  Once that account is repayed, the debtor should then apply all of what was being put toward the freshly repaid debt to the next lowest balance, thus snowballing payments until the debtor owes no more.  Mathematically this seems illogical, but he reasons that people need momentum to get out of debt, and there’s little better than success to keep one going.

Since my time has not yet come to pay the piper called Sallie (though your time is coming, dear lender), I have decided to try to implement the snowball method and apply it to work ethic.

Often, when I finish a large project I’ll plan to kick back and celebrate its completion by not applying myself to anything for a few days.  This plan, were it to become reality, would not be a bad thing.  Unfortunately, I too often put off any work for several weeks and dig myself a deep hole of procrastination.  To remedy this, my plan going forward is to use Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball plan to ameliorate my work ethic.

For about a month, I have been using a hacked moleskine notebook to implement the GTD system (Getting Things Done) to better organize my thoughts, tasks, and duties with limited success.  My moleskine hack is specifically suited for me and my quirks, but I believe that GTD is a system that many could benefit from.

That being said, going forth I will use my notebook to tackle small tasks as they come along and continue that effort, applying it to larger tasks, in an effort to get more done.

Do you have any particularly successful methods of organizing your tasks and thoughts?


Thesis Update

Posted: February 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: PoMo, Scholarship, Thesis, writing | Tags: | 1 Comment »

I have finally made some progress on this whole finishing my thesis and actually graduating business.  I spent the better part of last year focusing on a thesis topic that a) wasn’t very interesting to me, 2) wasn’t very original, and d) wasn’t coming together in what would be a defensible thesis proposal so imagine my joy when I present my newly crafted thesis idea to my directing professor and he seems excited by the prospect of working on it with me.

I won’t go into the depths of my thesis, but I plan to explore walls as texts both in literature and popular culture.  My primary concern is that I may have to rely on gawker.com for a significant portion of my research. Would that forever disqualify me from the ranks of scholars?