Alt-Ac conference at PSU

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So, so glad that Penn State was willing to make space for this vital conversation. Alas, I could only catch one panel, but I did manage to hear great talks by Paul Erickson of AAS, Patricia Hswe of Penn State Library fame, and the inimitable Rebecca Schuman on their various paths — from happy and intentional to painful and indirect — to so-called alt-ac careers. I unfortunately missed the Q&A (had to go teach), but the conversations were unusually and refreshingly intimate and honest.

Kudos to Sean Goudie and the Center for American Literary Studies for putting this together.

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LASTS DH conference at PSU

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At Helene Huet‘s urging, I wandered into day two of Penn State’s Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit (LASTS) this past Saturday. Though a Digital Humanities neophyte, I thought it might be worth checking out a gathering of Penn State’s leading DH minds (even more compelling when you consider Penn State’s prominent position in the DH pantheon).

I’m glad I did. I heard really compelling and provocative talks by Brian Croxall, Chris Long and my colleague Katie Falvo (on DH and graduate education), as well as an incredible lightning talk by Helene on her awesome and ever-more-robust Mapping Decadence project.

No need for a full summary of the conference here. Thanks to some intrepid live-tweeting by the participants (#LASTS), you can follow the conference retrospectively on Twitter.

I did, however, leave the event with one lingering question, a variation on Audre Lorde’s “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Call me a digital skeptic, but I worry that by inviting technology into the classroom on the scale advocated by some of the speakers, we invite the ideology of Silicon Valley with it (tech entrepreneurs’ insistence, for ex., on quantification and data analysis as the only valid modes of knowledge, their devotion to ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘market solutions’ to nearly also social ills, their neoliberal commitment to ‘disruption’ over tradition, competition over cooperation [or workers’ right, for that matter — cf. Uber, Foxconn, etc.]).

Obviously, I don’t want to push this analogy too far. Books and the written word have long been instruments of power. But I’d be a sorry scholar if I didn’t acknowledge that language and print can and have been harnessed for liberatory ends as well. Perhaps the same is true of digital tools. Perhaps they’re merely means, their ideological ends yet to be determined.

Consider, for ex., the purported (and likely exaggerated) role of social media in everything from Tahrir Square and OWS to Ferguson and today’s Scottish independence vote. On the other hand, consider the beholden-ness of Vine, Twitter, Facebook — even the WordPress platform on which I currently type — to their shareholders. One needn’t too much creativity to imagine a situation in which a popular social media classroom assignment might become the subject of a targeted marketing campaign. In other words, at what point does ‘meeting students where they are’ morph into providing data fodder for digital marketing firms?

Consider me, therefore, a skeptic when it comes to the place of digital tools in the classroom — one tantalized, if not convinced by the notion, that one of the greatest virtues of a humanities education resides in putting humans in conversation in a space unmediated by technology.

I look forward to thinking more about this topic at future forums like LASTS.

“The Tangled History of Beards” on BYU Radio

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Many thanks to Marcus Smith and everyone else at BYU Radio for making yesterday’s interview — my first live chat — with The Morning Show a success. Audio and write up here. The interview was part of a larger episode on ‘The History, Evolution, and Meaning of Masculinity.’ I look forward to listening to the full episode when I get a chance. For the record, I found Marcus an exceptional interviewer. He clearly did his homework and asked questions that easily set me up for (what I hope were) good answers. Almost certainly among the most positive media experiences I’ve had thus far.

New sample syllabus …

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I’m pleased to announce the arrival of a new sample syllabus on my teaching page. If that isn’t enough to inspire excitement, perhaps my title banner will do the trick.

Trainor_130 Banner

The design no doubt bears a more than passing resemblance to the banner on my dissertation page — my artistic abilities and imagination apparently have rather modest limits.

In all seriousness, though, I hope a few visitors might give the syllabus a glance and pass along their thoughts on how I might improve it for the Spring semester.