As the academic year concludes, the pace of mainstream commentary on the coming revolution in academia seems to be picking up. Here are a few recent things worth reading:

And finally, here's something good on the related question of publishing's future:

Twitter becomes a key real-time tool for campaigns

This article raises an interesting question: at what point does the "value" of digital publishing lie not so much in the content that is published, but in the medium through which such content is published?  

Put another way, which is more substantive: the actual  tweets that people write with the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate (the "content"), or the general fact that there exists a Twitter account with the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate (the "medium of publishing")?

To complicate things even further: can the hashtag #dontdoublemyrate simultaneously reflect both the medium of publishing (i.e. the Twitter account, itself) and the underlying content (that being the actual text, "dont double my rate")?

The bully pulpit has a new kind of altar call: “Tweet them. We’ve got a hashtag. Here’s the hashtag for you to tweet them: #dontdoublemyrate.”

President Obama repeated that Twitter hashtag twice more during a Tuesday speech opposing an increase in student loan interest rates. For good measure, he even had his Chapel Hill, N.C., audience chant it back to him.

Thoreau Video Game

Earlier today on Twitter I saw someone post about a Henry David Thoreau video game.  Laughing to myself and thinking it wasn't entirely serious, I clicked on the link to discover I was wrong.  

The article doesn't have a lot of specific information on the project, but talks about how USC was recently given a $40,000 grant to create a video game based on Walden and Thoreau's time spent living on the lake.  

Of all the subjects to create a video game on, this is definitely one of the last ones I would have predicted.  It'll definitely be interesting to see it when it comes out.

As described here:

... Thoreau ... meticulously observed the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord, Massachusetts, between 1851 and 1858, recording them in a set of tables. When Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing discovered Thoreau's unpublished records, they immediately realized how useful they would be for pinning down the impact of the changing climate over the last century and a half. The timing of seasonal events such as flowering dates is known as phenology, and the phenologies of plants in a temperate climate such as that of Massachusetts are very sensitive to temperature, say the scientists. Studying phenology is therefore a good indicator of ecological responses to climate change.

Here's a story that speaks both to the changes in how people interact with media and creativity discussed by, among others, Yochai Benkler and Clay Shirky, and to the question of copyright's effects on culture explored by Lawrence Lessig. Examining the world of Star Trek fan fiction (fan television?) could be an interesting way to arrive at your own thesis about some of these matters; it could also make for a good Storify.

The Supreme Court has ruled on whether the company Myriad Genetics can patent two genes connected with breast and ovarian cancer, a case I blogged about in 2010 and again last year. (At least, they've sort of ruled, telling the appeals court that reversed a lower court's ruling invalidating the patent to give the case another look.)

This case, together with the larger question whether some intellectual property claims represent an attempt to patent Nature itself, would make interesting material for a Storify or a conventional essay.

The Department of Justice's investigation of possible collusion between Apple and five major publishers to fix e-book prices has raised some interesting issues.

Here's our old friend Scott Turow, President of the Author's Guild, which brought suit against Google's Book Search project in 2005. Earlier this semester, we looked at Turow's NY Times op-ed (co-authored by Paul Aiken and James Shapiro), "Would the Bard Have Survived the Web," which argues that the kind of "cultural paywall" erected by copyright law is essential to the flourishing of literary art such as Shakespeare's.

At techdirt, Tim Cushing is more than skeptical of Turow's argument.

At Slate, Matthew Yglesias steers something of a middle course; he sees the Author's Guild as unwilling to face the inevitable but also thinks the DOJ's case against Apple and the five publishers as "borderline absurd."

Anyone interested in assembling web resources and providing perspective on this developing story in Storify?

While We're On The Subject...

I just thought a few supplemental videos were in order since they haven't been posted yet.

As we head into our discussion on Wealth of Networks and Power of Networks...

As we leave the realm of copyright, culture, and Lawrence Lessig...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The rationale for PIPA...

A loosely connected to our purposes, but nevertheless very interesting talk on internet censorship...

And, of course, a video on Thoreau's journal...


Where does copyright come in?

During our class on Tuesday, I was reminded of an article I had read a couple of years ago that seemed relevant to our discussion.  I'm not sure if this is the exact article, but it provides all the background.

It discusses the legal battle that has been occurring between the Israel National Library and the two daughters of Esther Hoffman over the ownership of a series of papers, including unpublished manuscripts, journals, and letters of Franza Kafka, the noted 20th century writer.  When Kafka died in 1924, he entrusted all of his work to his close friend Max Brod, making him promise that he'd burn all of his unpublished, unfinished work after he passed.  Brod escaped Prauge, where he and Kafka had lived, when the Nazi's invaded and fled to Tel Aviv, Israel with the papers.  Here, he broke the promise to his close friend and kept the work, publishing several of the novels and giving the rest of the work to his secretary, Esther Hoffman.  When Hoffman died a few years ago, she passed the papers on to her two daughters.

The Israeli National Library intervened when the daughters attempted to sell some of the work.  The Israeli National Library claims that the works represent a large part of their culture and heritage, much of which was lost during the Holocaust, and that it is essential that the works are revealed and stored in Israel.  Currently, the works are being kept in private safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich, Switzerland.  The daughters are arguing that they are their legal possessions and they should personally choose what they do with the manuscripts.  An offer from Germany's literary archive to purchase the manuscripts has added further tension, uncovering negative feelings that Israel still holds for them from World War 2. 

While the work has been examined since by select experts since the beginning of the trial, mentioned here, the works are still unavailable to the greater public.  

What I found interesting was that if the works were published, and copyright followed specifically, that the author's rights to their work expires after 70 years, then the manuscripts would already be public domain.  In this case though, they are unpublished - meaning that copyright can not be applied to them.  None of the articles I found on the subject made any mention of "hypothetical" copyright swaying the judge's position on the matter.

How do you feel about copyright in regard to unpublished works?  Should they remain the sole property of those in their possession, or do those people have the right to pass them on to the public?  Does Israel have any right to demand that the Hoffman sisters hand over the works to them, or should they be free to do with them whatever they want?  Also, how should copyright be handled with works published after the original author has already died?

How The Computer Will Save Poetry

Christian Harder, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, wrote an article this past summer entitled "How The Computer Will Save Poetry."  In the article, Harder discusses the emergence of "conceptual literature," and more specifically, "conceptual poetry."  

On the Internet, conceptualist literature takes on kaleidoscopic form, completely alien to the severe world of print: Pieces often feature aural experimentation, kinetic text, and diverse visual display. Commonly, viewers will guide a poem rather than simply reading it, becoming investigators -- rather than bystanders -- of art. These various digital combinations of form escape all reductive definitions of medium, and invite a reconsideration of literary practice.

Specifically, Hader presents the argument that, because the internet is "free from the politics of publishing," the author is able to expand their artistic scope in a way that fosters a reconsideration of the entire creative process.

Instead of asking, “What can I write?” the digital author asks: “How can I write?” In an age where popular print novels are bland regurgitations of romantic forms, this question has become invaluable.

Or, perhaps as better put by Kenneth Goldsmith, whom Hader cites as a "figurehead of conceptualist poets:"

Language as material, language as process, language as something to be shoveled into a machine and spread across pages, only to be discarded and recycled once again. Language as junk, language as detritus. Nutritionless language, meaningless language, unloved language, entartete sprache, everyday speech, illegibility, unreadability, machinistic repetition. Obsessive archiving & cataloging, the debased language of media & advertising; language more concerned with quantity than quality. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?

With all of this as a backdrop, I would like to discuss the relationship between "conceptualist poetry" and digital technology: to what extent can we separate the intellectual movement that underpins "conceptualist poetry," from the "tangible" or "practical" nature of technology?  Is technology the sole inspiration for the movement?  Or is technology only a means through which the movement, in and of itself, is being expressed?

The Social Implications of the Digital Humanities

As we move forward in this course, I think it is worth our time to have a discussion concerning the various implications that may arise from the continuing merger of technology and education.  

On a macro level, I feel that we as a society need to consistently reinforce to ourselves the notion that the internet is a privilege -- one that services the wants and needs of world's more affluent social classes.  I bring this up only because it seems all too easy to sometimes ignore the detriments, and focus solely on the benefits that technology has brought and will bring to education and academic scholarship.

What needs to be talked about, however, is the "digital divide" -- that our use of technology is only creating a wider gap between the world's rich and the world's poor. 

Interestingly, though, the argument seems to exist that should "we" be able to bridge the digital divide, we can also -- least to some extent -- raise the standard of living for those individuals currently in poverty:

In developing countries, with large segments of the population living at extreme levels of poverty, the first question that must be asked is whether it is reasonable to invest money in technology training, instead of using the same money to improve the living conditions of those in dire need. I believe that these interests are not contradictory. One way to reach a long-term solution for low socio-economic groups is to bridge the digital divide.

In addition, these students face the same challenges as those in developed nations. The emphasis in frontal presentation, or typical classroom teaching, with students listening to what the teacher tells, is not conducive to real learning. Learning theorists agree that we learn by doing. Schools should devote much more of students' time to project activities related to real life and to the application of curriculum contents. Each student must build his or her own models of knowledge. Technology facilitates that.

To me at least, we currently appear to be at a crossroads: technology will incontrovertibly advance with respect to education and otherwise; we as a society just need to decide whether or not we should distribute the "wealth" across the economic and social spectrum.

Tenure and Digital Humanists

I recently came across this article, which describes the challenges that digital humanist scholars face when applying for tenure:

According to a new series of essays by prominent digital humanists, commissioned by the MLA journal Profession and made freely available in advance of this week’s convention, humanities disciplines have acknowledged (to the point of redundancy) the need for a system for evaluating professors whose output is nontraditional and erected on the strange soil of the digital landscape.

But practical change has come more slowly. While the work of digital humanists increasingly is seen as indispensable, it also remains impenetrable to most of their colleagues who sit on tenure committees, say the Profession essayists.

The article goes on to affirm that aside from the lack of methodology that exists for evaluating digital humanists, a major problem lies in the fluid nature of digital scholarship, in itself: when something is published online, it can be continuously edited, and therefore is never truly "finished." 

With this article in mind, I would like to raise the following questions: How do you think university faculty will approach this issue of granting tenure for digital humanists?  Will such a lack of methodology prove to be a barrier for digital humanists looking to occupy a greater space in "mainstream" academia?  Or, contrarily, will the need for methodology to evaluate digital humanists only work to expedite the growth (and mainstream acceptance) of the digital humanities?  

Fish on DH

Earlier this month, Stanley Fish, one of the most influential literary critics of the past 50 years, devoted two of his blogposts at the New York Times to digital humanities.

In the first, he described what he characterized as the "vision" of DH as "theological":

The vision is theological because it promises to liberate us from the confines of the linear, temporal medium in the context of which knowledge is discrete, partial and situated — knowledge at this time and this place experienced by this limited being — and deliver us into a spatial universe where knowledge is everywhere available in a full and immediate presence to which everyone has access as a node or relay in the meaning-producing system.

In the second, he concludes that

whatever vision of the digital humanities is proclaimed, it will have little place for the likes of me and for the kind of criticism I practice: a criticism that narrows meaning to the significances designed by an author, a criticism that generalizes from a text as small as half a line, a criticism that insists on the distinction between the true and the false, between what is relevant and what is noise, between what is serious and what is mere play.

A question to keep in mind as we explore DH this semester in Engl 390 through the lens of Thoreau's Walden, and subject Walden to some of the methods of DH: How fair is Fish's critique?

From the New York Times:

The folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax was a prodigious collector of traditional music from all over the world and a tireless missionary for that cause. Long before the Internet existed, he envisioned a "global jukebox" to disseminate and analyze the material he had gathered during decades of fieldwork.

A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads.

More here...


UCLA just won a court case over DVD streaming of Shakespeare plays, but the decision is actually a bigger victory for another school the University of Michigan which is being sued by the Author’s Guild over its ambitious project to scan and preserve millions of library books.

The significance of the UCLA case is not, as many have reported, about what consumers can do with technology, but instead about universities’ immunity from federal lawsuits.