Go West, Young Man

I’m very pleased to share that starting August 1, I will begin a new job as Assistant Research Professor of Digital Humanities at Brigham Young University. I will be part of BYU’s Office of Digital Humanities, which is located in the College of Humanities. I will join colleagues who are experts in computer-assisted language learning, computational linguistics, and, of course, digital humanities.

BYU has an extensive history in mixing computers and humanistic inquiry. When I was a student there in the mid-1990s—how time flies!—I remember courses being offered in a Computers and Humanities (CHum) minor. I’ve kicked myself more than once for not taking some of those courses from Chuck Bush and others. The minor has been renamed as Digital Humanities and Technology in the last five years, and offers tracks in digital humanities, print publishing, and web publishing. I’m pleased that I’ll be teaching courses regularly in the minor, including “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” a course with which I have some history. BYU is intensely focused on undergraduate education, and I’m tremendously excited to return to thinking hard about how to teach digital methods to humanities students and to teach humanities methods to students who come from other parts of the university as part of BYU’s Humanities+ / +Humanities initiative.

In addition to teaching, I will continue to do what I have done for the last six years: partnering with other researchers—undergraduates, grad students, faculty, librarians, and other staff—and imagining, designing, managing, and shipping digital scholarship projects. I was impressed with the range of people I met with at BYU who are well on their way with projects in connection with BYU’s ODH.

N.B. You can’t use the acronym ODH without thinking of the National Endowment for the Humanities‘s Office of Digital Humanities. In this time of disastrous budgetary requests on the part of the person who somehow sits at the desk in the Oval Office, it’s important to advocate as loudly and strongly as possible for the work done by that Office’s Director and Program Officers. I have had the great pleasure to participate in two different NEH-funded workshops as well as acting as an occasional grant reviewer, and you would be hard pressed to find individuals more dedicated to the advancement of humanities education and research than these public servants. If you need advice on how to get started on advocacy for the NEH, please see this post and this one by Jason Rhody, formerly of the NEH’s ODH and now Director of Digital Culture at Social Science Research Council. You can also join the Modern Language Association in calling on the government to come to its senses. And if you want to see the impact that the NEH as a whole has had in your particular state, please see this project and accompanying blog post by Patrick Smyth as well as this series of visualizations and discussion thereof by Hannah Aizenman, Tahir Butt, and Jojo Karlin, all GC Digital Fellows in the GC Digital Initiatives Program at the CUNY Grad Center.

Of course, changes in employment means leaving behind work and colleagues. For the last two years, I have been working in the Brown Library and its Center for Digital Scholarship. Recently, I have been managing one of the two flagship projects for Brown’s grant for digital scholarship from the Mellon Foundation. The Alchemy in Code team is working with Tara Nummedal (Brown) and Donna Bilak (Columbia) to create a digital edition of Michael Maier’s 1617 emblem book, Atalanta Fugiens, along with an edited collection of essays. We are designing an experience for this 400-year old multimedia work that will allow readers to view a facsimile of the rare book as well as consult the text in a modern edition, both in the original languages (Latin and German) as well as English. I’ve had the chance to get deeply involved in the management of the encoding of the text into TEI, the music into MEI, and discussions about the UI / UX of the site as well as the custom platform that will support our remediation. Alchemy ins’t the only thing I’ve been up to at Brown, however. This year, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to work with Linford Fisher in the History Department to begin development of the Database of Indigenous Slavery in the Americas. Inspired by the TransAtlantic Slave Trade Database at Emory, we are hoping to reveal the other side of slavery in the history of the Americas: that of native peoples. Working with our talented undergraduate developer, Cole Hansen (’19), on the data models for a group of people who have all but been erased from history has been deeply rewarding and educational. I can’t wait to see how this project evolves as it begins adding data and (fingers crossed) secures funding for further development. I have also had the chance to partner with James Green in Brown’s Departments of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and History on a number of different projects, including Opening the Archives, which is making public tens of thousands of recently declassified documents related to US-Brazil relations from the 1960s-1980s. In another context, I’ve again worked with the Brown Digital Repository and then Susan Smulyan and Jim McGrath at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Jeff Drouin at the University of Tulsa to shore up the foundations of the Modernist Journals Project, a 20-plus year project started by Robert Scholes. I helped develop two visualizations for the Decameron with Nicole Gercke (GS ’15) and Cissy Yu (’17) that draw on data collected by students in Massimo Riva’s course on the same subject. And in the most recent semester, I got to work with Steve Lubar from American Studies and Emily Esten (GS ’18), along with data science student Steffani Gomez (’17), to visualize the catalog of the 1853 New York Crystal Palace exhibition. Steve has written about the research project extensively on Medium.

In these projects, as well as the day-to-day work of the library, I have had the fantastic fortune to work closely with some of the best and most humane colleagues anyone could hope for. Bruce Boucek, Crystal Brusch, Ben Cail, Ann Caldwell, Andrew Creamer, Birkin Diana, Kerri Hicks, Ned Quist, Patrick Rashleigh, Joseph Rhoads, and many others here at the Brown Library have been generous in sharing their thoughts and expertise with me. I’ve perhaps learned the most from Elli Mylonas, senior digital humanities librarian extraordinaire. I will miss them all sorely.

I will also miss being part of a library. Libraries are where I’ve worked for the last seven years and are, as I wrote when coming to Brown, a logical and important part of digital scholarship. I hope to help cultivate strong connections between BYU’s ODH and the campus’s libraries (which have one of the best YouTube presences imaginable). Libraries are both where scholarship starts and where it ends up, so it’s critical to partner with them every step of the way. 

Finally, I find myself surprised to be starting a job that may ultimately lead to tenure. That said, this is a 12-month faculty position on a professional, rather than professorial, track. Add that to my starting this job at age 40, maybe I still qualify as a little bit alt.

I can’t wait to tell y’all about what I get up to at BYU!

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Printable Pedagogy and 3D Theses: ACH’s CfP for MLA 2018

Over the last decade, at roughly the same time that digital humanities methods and tools have appeared in language and literature classrooms and research, universities have made investments in 3D printing and makerspaces. And in a similar way to digital humanities, those working in modern languages might not immediately see how they could use fabrication technologies in their teaching and research.

For its session at the 2018 MLA Convention, ACH invites proposals that highlight how 3D printing, soft circuits, or other methods of physical fabrication are used to teach languages or literature or to conduct linguistic or literary research. Speakers will give brief talks (4-6 minutes, depending on number of participants) that address the praxis of printing and the metaphysics of physicalization. While a discussion of what you made and how you made it will naturally feature in these talks, it is more important to discuss how the act of making contributed to the understanding of languages and/or literatures. In this way, this session is cousin to the ACH’s 2014 session at the MLA.

Please send abstracts of 250 words (not including references) to brian [dot] croxall [at] brown [dot] edu. Abstracts should be received by 5pm EST / GMT-5 on 15 March 2017. N.B. All accepted panelists will need to be current MLA members—or have their membership waived—by 7 April 2017.

Since the ACH is an allied organization of the MLA, this session is guaranteed to be accepted for the 2018 MLA.

Cross-posted from ach.org.

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Screwing Up DH101: My Talk at MLA 2017

Title slide. Two screws pointing up through a piece of wood with the text, 'Screwing Up DH101 | #mla17 #s376 | @briancroxall | Brown University'

tl;dr: I gave another talk about digital pedagogy. Here it is.

About two weeks ago, I spoke at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia. I was part of a panel titled, “DH 101: Revisiting the ‘Introduction to Digital Humanities’ Course.” The panel was organized by Matt Gold and Lauren Klein on behalf of the MLA Forum TC Digital Humanities. My co-panelists included:

I was particularly excited to present with Kathi, as we co-organized a panel on digital humanities pedagogy for the 2012 MLA. But it was great to get to know the work of these colleagues, and the exciting and different ways they are leading development of digital humanities pedagogy at their different schools, ranging from Ivy Leagues to community colleges.

There’s a part of me that hesitates to put this talk up because I talk (at least in part) about an assignment that I have discussed in a previous talk that I’ve published here on my blog. But this presentation gave me a chance to talk through the changes that I had made over the years to the course, and to do a little bit of theorizing—a very little—about what it is that I think matters in digital humanities pedagogy. Spoiler: it’s the last sentence. There’s an essay or blog post to be written about my resistance to “doing things twice,” as that has been an animating tension for me in the development of this and other courses. But I’ll have to save that for another day.

As always, my work is Creative Commons-licensed. Let me know what you think!

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Announcing Like Clockwork

A few years ago, my good friend and colleague Rachel Bowser and I put out a call for papers for an edited collection on steampunk. Today, we are pleased to say that Like Clockwork: Steampunk Pasts, Presents, and Futures will be published this fall by University of Minnesota Press. In fact, you can order it now. And check out this cover!

The cover of *Like Clockwork, which shows a brass colored automaton with a number of gears and dials in its head. The edges of the book have gears running up and down it.

In many ways, our book leaves the question of “what is steampunk?” aside as we already tackled that question in our special issue of Neo-Victorian Studies on Steampunk, Science, and (Neo)Victorian Technologies. Like Clockwork asks a different question: “why steampunk?” and, perhaps more importantly, “why steampunk now?”  why did steampunk explode in popularity in the first years of the twenty-first century? What is it about the aesthetic, the themes, or the crosscutting of anachronistic technologies that speaks to so many around the globe? Why did steampunk only become a thing—and a thing that IBM’s social analytics predict will continue to grow—more than 30 years after its invention in the early 1970s?

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a genre that celebrates the similarities and disjunctures among times took a while to find its own moment, but our collection identifies specific trends and events to which steampunk as a genre, a fan culture, and art movement respond. The essays in the book address these subjects as well as disability studies, postcolonial studies, digital humanities, Victorian culture, urban studies, performance, graphic novels, film, cultural trauma, and even the question of whether steampunk is “punk enough”:

Introduction

Rachel A. Bowser and Brian Croxall, “It’s about Time: Reading Steampunk’s Rise and Roots”

Steampunk Spaces and Things

David Pike, “Steampunk and the Victorian City: Time Machines, Bryan Talbot, and the Center of the Multiverse”
Roger Whitson, “How to Theorize with a Hammer; or, Making and Baking Things in Steampunk and the Digital Humanities”
Catherine Siemann, “The Steampunk City in Crisis”

Steampunk Bodies and Identities

Kathryn Crowther, “From Steam Arms to Brass Goggles: Steampunk, Prostheses, and Disability”
Stefania Forlini, “The Aesthete, the Dandy, and the Steampunk; or Things as They Are Now”
Diana M. Pho, “Punking the Other: On the Performance of Racial and National Identities in Steampunk”

Steampunk Reading and Revising

Mike Perschon, “Seminal Steampunk: Proper and True”
Lisa Hager, “The Alchemy of Aether: Steampunk as Reading Practice in Karina Cooper’s Tarnished and Gilded
Joseph Weakland and Shaun Duke, “Out of Control: Disrupting Technological Mastery in Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air and K. W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices”

We’ve been thrilled to work with great authors throughout the project and the fine folks at Minnesota. We can’t wait to see the book in print and to be throwing out to the rest of y’all from the sides of the book-tour dirigible.

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Assignments and Architecture: Pedagogy in the Digital Age

Title slide that reads 'Assignments and Architecture' with a hand-corrected print-out on one side of the screen and a upward-facing shot of a building on the right half. The link on this image is for the assignment as the photograph of the building is one that I took.

tl;dr: I gave a talk about digital pedagogy.

Today I want to share a talk. That’s not all that unusual, as I’ve been in the habit of posting such presentations since I began blogging here in 2009. What’s unusual about this one—at least for me—is that it’s a talk that evolved as I gave it as a keynote at three different universities.

Although it’s taken me longer to post this talk than I would have liked, I want to share my framework for theorizing digital pedagogy. This is the rubric I use when working with faculty here at Brown to design new classroom research projects. We can create new and exciting, team-based research projects for our students. Once you’ve tried this, it’s really hard to go back.

I first spoke about “pedagogy in the digital age” at Fordham University in November 2013. I was invited by Glenn Hendler, who is chair of the English Department, to give this talk as well as a more practical workshop on teaching with technology in the classroom. It was one of the first times I had been given the opportunity to tackle either subject in such a broad way, and the setting of Fordham in NYC definitely inspired the direction that the talk took—that, and an episode of 99% Invisible that I had just listened to. I very much enjoyed the conversations at Fordham and was glad of the chance to put together my thoughts about digital pedagogy into a more coherent argument.

When I was asked a few months later to give the keynote at the September 2014 Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit (LASTS) at Penn State, I took the chance to further refine the talk and its argument. I was invited by Christopher P. Long, who was at the time Associate Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education at Penn State and who has since moved to Michigan State as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. I’ve always admired Chris for the genuine excitement and positive energy he brings to conversations, so I was flattered and happy to spend the time with him and the Penn State community. (Also, land-grant schools tend to have the best ice cream.) My visit for LASTS was combined with a talk at the Center for American Literary Studies’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac, which I wrote about previously. My keynote was recorded, if you want to see the high kick at the end.

Shortly after the presentation at Penn State, I was thrilled to be invited to speak at both St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota (home of Malt-o-Meal; the whole town smelled like Marshmallow Mateys!). The two colleges have received a Mellon Foundation grant for collaboration between the two schools, which sit opposite one another across the Cannon River. One of the outcomes for the grant was the Bridge Crossings Events, which focus on integrating and supporting digital technologies into teaching, learning, and research. I made some more changes to the presentation, as well as did some research on the architecture on both campuses, and joined faculty, librarians, and IT staff at both schools in February 2015 for a discussion of Digital Humanities on the Hill. I really enjoyed my visit, thanks to the great library and IT staff at both schools, although I was shocked at how little winter gear people in Minnesota needed compared to a guy from Georgia. If you’re into comparative media experiences, you can also watch the video of this version of the talk. No high kick, I’m afraid.

Again, my thanks to Fordham, Penn State, and St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges for inviting me and giving me the chance to pull together years of praxis into three performances.

N.B. It’s worth saying that there are two images in this slide deck that are potentially NSFW: artistic photographs of nude sex workers, circa 1912.

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