A few days ago, I stumbled across a Twitter conversation about House of Leaves. That’s generally enough to get my attention. The people involved were an added enticement. But the conversation among Jesse Stommel, Chuck Rybak, Sean Michael Morris, and Paul Benzon took a different direction when Paul asked, if anyone had “theories on what’s up with the MZD numerical tweets?”
This was the first that I had heard anything about this, so I quickly checked out Mark Z. Danielewski’s tweet stream. And it was very quickly apparent what Paul was talking about. MZD’s last 8 tweets have been a string of numbers. When I looked at them, my immediate thought was that they had to be linked to The Familiar, his 27-volume serial novel that should start being published in 2014. My second thought was that these numbers looked suspiciously like latitude and longitude.
I had a little bit of time that morning, so I quickly ducked into Google Maps to see what I could find out. The first of his numerical tweets appeared on 17 January 2013: 48-371204-9-7265. I decided to replace the dashes with commas and periods, and entered these coordinates: 48.371204,9.7265. A spot in the forest southwest of Schelklingen, Germany was the result. Easy enough. The second site was in Alles-sur-Dordogne, France.
The fourth tweet was a little more complicated, as it presented an em-dash instead of a dash in the middle of the tweet: 63-84823—20-8712. I decided that the em-dash was most likely a way of signaling a negative value for the longitude, and tried 63.84823,-20.8712. That seemed to work, placing me in Iceland; but to be sure, I removed the negative value, and found the spot in the ocean off Sweden. The sixth tweet contained a similar em-dash, and similarly dropped me in the ocean when I removed the negative. The same thing happened with the most recent tweet, which featured a negative sign at the front of the longitude.
So here are all eight locations:
View MZD Tweets mapped in a larger map
The locations are rather diverse, although only on three out of seven continents thus far. I suspect that we’ll see more places mapped soon. MZD has been tweeting once every two weeks, so I think in another 10 days or so I’ll be adding another location to this map.
It’s certainly possible that I’m completely wrong about these numbers being spatial coordinates. And they don’t begin to explain why he is tweeting a blank, black image along with every set of numbers. But if I’m wrong, I’ll be in good company. Someone blogging at schinjislist.blogspot.com had noticed the tweets before I did and had come to the same conclusion about them being best understood in relation to a map. There is, naturally, a post on the MZD forums, on the subject as well. Update: And, it turns out, some steganographic analysis that has been done on Reddit. 10 points to Paul for finding that as well.
It’s worth looking around the locations. Zach Whalen noticed, for example, that there seem to be several loops or circles near each point. That would work well with some of MZD’s thematics. But again, allways, and allready one must be wary of apophenia.
Cross-posted from http://www.ach.org/beyond-digital-cfp-mla-2014
Recent MLA Conventions have featured many sessions about the digital humanities, considering their impact on methodology, pedagogy, bibliography, race, and the profession itself. What is sometimes forgotten, however, is that the output of digital analysis is not itself the goal; rather, it is a means to an end, and that end is the interpretation of a text or corpus (understood widely). This session—organized by the Association for Computers and Humanities (ACH)—seeks to re-establish this understanding and conversation, defamiliarizing the conversation about the digital and making it re-familiar to the larger body of MLA participants.
This panel will feature presentations that offer interpretations of texts, language, literature and/or literary history that definitely began with a digital approach. Crucially, however, we will ask presenters to speak not about their methods but instead about their interpretation, results, and conclusions.
Speakers will give brief talks (5-7 minutes, depending on number of participants). Speakers will also be invited to write brief blog posts to be shared on their own websites as well as that of the ACH about their methods and approaches. These posts will be shared at the session but will not form the subject of the conversation.
Send 300-word abstracts and bio to brian [dot] croxall [at] emory [dot] edu by 27 March 2013 at 12pm EST. N.B. All panelists will need to be MLA members (or have their membership waived) by April 7th.
I am organizing this session on behalf of the ACH. Since the ACH is an allied organization of the MLA, this session is guaranteed for the 2014 MLA.
Last week, I had the opportunity to give a talk with Jason Jones at Emory, where we are both alums and where one of us still works. The English Department had invited Jason and his wife to campus to speak on different topics. When they asked Jason to give a ProfHacker-oriented talk, he suggested that he and I tag-team. (Never let it be said that the man is not gracious.) In kicking around ideas for how we could structure the talk, my mind went—as it often does—to that adaptation of adaptations, the 1999 Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles joint, 10 Things I Hate About You. Given the general ProfHacker vibe of positivity, as well as the goal of making public the unexplained assumptions of working in and around universities, Jason and I opted instead to call the talk “10 Things Academe Won’t Tell You.”
I had ambitions of writing up my portion of the talk or recording it, but I didn’t get the time to set up the latter. And knowing how busy I am at the moment, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be getting around to the former any time soon. Still, we wanted to share the slides. And, y’know, if you wanted to hear the full talk—an hour-plus of ProfHacky goodness—Jason and I are open to invitations. (You might also think about inviting Jason’s wife, Aimee Pozorski, as well. She spoke about maintaining research productivity while working at a regional institution. That’s about as ProfHacker as it gets.)
Just to whet your appetite, here’s the promotional blurb:
Higher education is like the backdoor to Moria that Gandalf can’t quite remember how to open in The Lord of the Rings: It’s set up to give you access, but only on the condition that you already know how to get in. (The implicit suggestion that academe can resemble an abandoned deathtrap now filled with orcs, trolls, and balrogs is left as an exercise for the reader.) But what happens when you don’t know the secret word, or misconstrue the ancient writing? In this entertaining, provocative talk, Brian Croxall and Jason B. Jones will unpack some of the hidden knowledge of higher education–the things that everyone assumes you know and so will never bother to teach you. Delivered in the plainspoken style associated with the ProfHacker blog, and covering topics such as research productivity, well-designed syllabuses, work-life balance, faculty governance, gaps in mentoring, and the truths of the job market, Brian and Jason will guide you on the quest for a degree, job, and/or tenure.
For the record, then, here are the 10 Things Academe Won’t Tell You:
- how to get your writing done
- how to break the faculty/student mutual non-aggression pact (and why you should want to)
- how to design new assignments thoughtfully
- how to survive daily work as a faculty member
- how to get people to notice you
- how to survive meetings
- how to get a job that isn’t a tenure-track professorship
- how to mentor and be mentored
- if you want to get something done, you can
- no one will ever tell you, “Enough!”
By way of addressing what we see as a gap in the edited collection that Rachel Bowser and I announced last year, we are soliciting abstracts for essays that consider in one way or another representations of the city in steampunk. The term “city” should be understood widely to signify large and small urban spaces and need not be limited to a particular geography or time period. As texts, essays could consider one or more of the following: literature (including YA lit), film, graphic novels, anime, as well as fandom and performance.
The essay will be part of an edited collection exploring steampunk in its literary, filmic, material and fan culture instantiations. The editors have met with multiple university presses who have expressed enthusiastic interest. Completed essays will be expected in early summer 2013.
Possible subjects could include the following:
- The role of crowds in steampunk
- Urban geographies in steampunk
- Steampunk and technologies of the city
- The dirty spaces of steampunk
- City as mechanization
- Steampunk and bureaucracy
- The difference between the cities and the countryside in steampunk
What follows is my talk for a session at the 2013 MLA on “How Did I Get Here? Our ‘Altac’ Jobs.” As always, I’m super excited to be at the MLA and to be speaking about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: new models of employment for PhDs and the training of graduate students. I’m thrilled to be speaking on the panel with a group of alt-ackers whose range of employment far exceeds the usual suspects of digital humanities fields: Donna M. Bickford, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Kathryn Linder, Suffolk Univ.; Liana Silva, Univ. of Kansas; and Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library. Brenda Bethman and Shaun Longstreet are organizing and providing the scaffolding.
As you’ll see, part of my slides are comics; if it’s not apparent, they are drawn in the style of Randall Munroe’s XKCD. I looked at a lot of his different panels to figure out how to create better stick figures. The idea of the “minor differences” of alt-ac and tenure tracks was inspired by Matthew Inman’s line of Minor Differences comics, which he draws at The Oatmeal. Finally, I got the idea of using hand-drawn pictures for slides from Eric Rochester‘s talk at Digital Humanities 2011 on the panel “The ‘#alt-ac’ Track: Digital Humanists off the Straight and Narrow Path to Tenure.”
Hi everyone. First off, if you want to tweet what I say, please go ahead. (In fact, I consider it a breach of decorum and hazardous to my SEO if you DON’T tweet what I say.) My Twitter handle is simply my name. And if you want to read along with what I’m saying, this talk just went live on my website at briancroxall.net.
One of the difficulties of the alt-ac track is that there generally isn’t a lot of good advice about how to get there. This situation arises because the people traditionally providing career advice are those who on the tenure track. (And let’s face it: sometimes that advice is out of date.) This Catch-22 of career advice is part of what motivates this panel, the #alt-academy project, and a growing pool of other resources.
So in this spirit, I’ll talk briefly about how I got started in my alt-ac job. But first a caveat: I’ve found that when we talk about alt-ac we tell stories about how we got here. But in many ways these narratives are useless as they inevitably describe an idiosyncratic path that cannot be duplicated.
What becomes useful in such accounts, however (and hopefully), is the transmission of possibility: this story is about pointing out that there are different pathways. If you’re interested in an alt-ac career, you’ll have to figure out your own way, but you should know that there are lots of options that diverge from the tenure track.
I suppose I started the path to my alt-ac job in the spring of 2009, when the term “alt-ac” did not yet exist. After being unsuccessful on the MLA job market for the second year in a row (one interview, woot!), I applied to two Associate Director jobs—at a large university initiative and at a Digital Scholarship Lab. And what do you know, I got interviews!
In the end, I didn’t get either of these jobs, but it helped me recognize that I had marketable skills that exceeded the boundaries of the discipline that I had trained in. While applying for tenure-track jobs in the Fall of 2009, I also applied to alt-ac positions including the CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) post-doc, which places recent PhDs in academic libraries for one or two years.
From 2010 until this past summer, I was a CLIR post-doc at Emory. In that role, I worked to establish DiSC—our Digital Scholarship Commons—which was funded by the Mellon Foundation to explore the intersection of digital humanities and libraries. I also worked with the Library’s Outreach team in connection with emerging technologies, social media, and more.
What’s tremendously useful about the CLIR post-doc is that it provides a pivot point. A PhD program tends to prepare you to do one thing. After my post-doc, I was prepared to do a few more. I could have easily gone back to tenure-track positions but now I also had the experience to apply for jobs in libraries, DH centers, and more.
And I’ve been lucky enough that Emory decided they wanted to keep me around. I had developed a skill set that included project management, event planning, and knowing how the university worked. The result was a permanent, alt-ac job that was new to me and a new (and innovative) position at the university. I work primarily in DiSC, but I’m also lecture-track faculty in the English department.
So, that’s a boiled down version of the path I took to get here today. You can read more in detail in my contribution to the #alt-academy collection. But since my path’s idiosyncracies make talking about it only potentially useful, for the remainder of this presentation I’d like to cover something else about alt-ac. In particular, the minor differences between the tenure and alt-ac tracks. Let’s start with how each side begins life.
Of course, this is reductive. Just like there’s more to do in grad school than simply reading, there is more to do to explore an #altac path than simply blogging (or even tweeting). You prepare for an alt-ac career by trying lots of different things while in grad school. Take a part-time job somewhere in the university that is not related to your field. Do what you can to explore grant writing or project management. Talk to a librarian or development person.
Eventually you finish grad school. (Right?) And then you find a job. When it comes to finding jobs on the tenure track, we have the JIL. When it comes to the alt-ac track, there isn’t anything as centralized. You’ll want to check the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. You’ll want to look at HASTAC, H-Net, and PODnetwork. Cast a wide net. And my experience suggests your friends will find jobs for you once they know you’re looking. Most of what I’ve applied to falls into this category.
Friends are useful because it turns out that there are LOTS of alt-ac positions. In fact, one of the best places to look is on your very own campus. You DON’T have to move to Northwest South Dakota State to get a job! Again, start when you’re in grad school. You can work in Admin part-time as a grad student and that will give you the experience that you really will need to get that same job once you need something full-time.
Once you have the job, it’s important to realize there are some differences in how you’ll be perceived. People generally know what an “assistant professor” does (even if they radically misunderstand their salary). People really have no idea what a “DH Strategist” is, even other people on campus. (Really, I shouldn’t have drawn the alt-ac side looking so cool; it’s very difficult to explain what I do to people. But when else am I going to get to draw a light cycle?)
One of the immediate benefits of the alt-ac track that I discovered is what feels like a more manageable work-life balance. On the tenure-track, I knew I could always be writing or reading another article. My evenings now feel like they belong to me, and I do what I want without feeling guilty. Granted, sometimes I choose to work on my own projects and writing that are no longer part of my day-to-day job.
Of course, the freedom of those evenings does come with a price. I might work a 9-5 job, but it’s a 9-5 every day of the year. Granted, summers on the tenure track aren’t anything like the well-paid vacation that Joe Biden thinks we get.
We all know that those summers “off” (and unpaid) are really there for the tenure-track people to get their research done. And it never feels like enough time. It’s important to realize, however, that except in very rare cases, research is not the priority of alt-ac jobs. It literally won’t be in the job description. In other words, you can’t go into this category of employment and expect to have all the perks of the tenure-track.
One of these tenure-track perks is that by and large, you are the God of your own work environment. If you don’t like how an assignment is going, just change it! You don’t need approval. But if you work on the alt-ac track, you’ll find yourself working by committee frequently. And you’ll have to get used to having a boss.
You’ll also have to get used to slightly different patterns of promotion within the alt-ac track. Some portions of the university world have clear promotion pathways; others don’t have anything like it, since these are totally new jobs. But you’ve got to remember that you deserve a career path in alt-ac as well as the tenure track.
To conclude: in pointing out some of the minor divergences between the tenure- and alt-ac tracks, I am not trying to say that one career path is inherently better than another. But there are differences—Robert Frost to the contrary—and choosing your path wisely will, in fact, make all the difference.