I am really pleased and excited to be part of a recent initiative led by U.S. Studies Online called #bookhour. Basically it is a monthly discussion on Twitter about a pre-selected title, usually a new/recent release or an American Classic that has been re-released in a new edition. I was asked to join the #bookhour team by U.S. Studies Online co-editor, Michelle Green, who I met at the FWSA Biennial Conference in 2013. It just goes to show how valuable conference attendance can be in terms of the people you meet. Michelle asked me to come on board knowing my background in Chicana/o literature. There are a small number of us working in Chicana/o studies in Ireland and the UK, so I am always eager to find ways to promote the area, and to encourage people to read Chicana/o authors.
The first text I have selected for #bookhour is Mañana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez, an historical novel about “the Mexican girl” in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I have had this one on my “to read list” for a while. But I also chose this book because it poses a good opportunity to bring together Chicana/o and American literature scholars, being a story that rests on the border between those two areas, as well as being a story that takes place near the border between the U.S. and Mexico. One of my favourite quotations about the literatures of the Americas comes from Paul Jay who states that American literary “criticism can best be revitalized by paying more attention to locations that are between or which transgress conventional national borders—liminal margins or border zones in which individual and national identities migrate, merge, and hybridize” (167). If this is the case, then #bookhour is going in the right direction, considering that in the first half of this year it includes works by American, Nigerian, Chicano and Canadian authors.
My first #bookhour will take place on the 28th of April at 9pm. The discussion leaders who will be joining me are Niamh Thornton (Liverpool), a senior lecturer in Latin American studies with a focus on Mexican film and literature, Eilidh Hall (UEA), a doctoral researcher in Chicana literature and culture, and Nicola Moffat (UCC), a doctoral researcher in English literature with a focus on monstrosity and performativity.
Hernandez, Tim Z. Mañana Means Heaven. AZ: U of AZ P, 2013. Print.
Jay, Paul. “The Myth of America and the Politics of Location: Modernity, Border Studies, and the Literature of the Americas.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 54.2 (Summer 1998): 165-192. Project Muse. Web. 17 April 2015.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. 1957. NY: Penguin, 1999. Print.
I am currently a research assistant for a project titled “Scholarship of Teaching for Transitions: A Review of Teaching for Transitions-Related Teaching and Learning Research and Activity.”* This six month project is based in Ireland, and is funded by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. It “aims to provide a snapshot of existing national and international scholarship on teaching for transitions, with a particular emphasis on pedagogies for transitions. The research will concentrate on the student’s journey as it relates to Higher Education, i.e. transitions in, through and out of third level.” One of my key duties is to create an online bibliographic database based on the theme of the project. As this is a six month project the initial challenges were to find an efficient way to gather the relevant resources for inclusion, to organise the results, and finally, to locate suitable software for the creation of the database. This post focuses on the latter of those three, how to build and showcase our database.
In the initial planning stages the team used spreadsheets to help organise bibliographic information that resulted from a systematic review of related literature. It made sense, given the project schedule, to consider software that would be compatible with these. Viewshare stood out immediately as an interesting possibility (as well as spreadsheets, users can generate views using an XML file conforming to the MODS schema, Dublin Core Data, JSON Data, or a ContentDM Database). Created and managed by the Library of Congress, Viewshare is “a free web application for generating and customizing unique, dynamic views through which users can experience cultural heritage digital collections. The intended users of Viewshare are individuals managing and creating access to digital collections of cultural heritage materials.” While the task at hand is to create a bibliographic database rather than a cultural heritage collection, Viewshare’s visualisation element poses interesting and useful applications for the “Teaching for Transitions” project.
Viewshare offers a range of visualisations, including interactive maps, timelines, and graphs. It also allows users to add a range of widgets in the header and sidebars such as lists, sliders, tag clouds, ranges, search bars, logos and text. Adding any number of these to the “view” you are creating develops layers of searchability to your data. This is a key consideration in terms of the “Teaching for Transitions” project. There are a wide range of bibliographic databases available. What we are creating is a “snapshot” that curates existing published research in the area of teaching for transitions between 2000 and 2015. However, to make this data meaningful, we need to go a step further than simply compiling a list of references. Thus, the possibility of visualisation is key to adding a unique edge to the database.
To ensure that this software is the right fit for the project, I ran several tests to see what functionality was available for the creation of a bibliographic database. The following are screenshots of a test featuring several visualisations and widgets available:
In the next few weeks I will be creating the final database which will contain hundreds of bibliographic entries under the theme of “Teaching for Transition.” These references have been curated from EBSCO, and each entry will contain the original URL in order to guide our database users to the source information. If users come to our database only to be redirected to another, why create this database in the first place?
Firstly, the database provides a focused snapshot of research on transitions in higher education. It comes at a point when teaching for transitions is quickly gaining prominence as an area of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning during a particular period of time. . The team members have made a number of annotations to the references that will be included, allowing users to ask an array of questions of the data. Therefore, we are providing a useful resource for those wishing to undertake their own research in this area.
Moreover, the use of visualisations to aid users in their searches provides a range of avenues through which users can gain meaning from the snapshot of research that this database will showcase. For example, the use of bar charts and pie charts can portray such information as the breakdown of journals publishing work on transitions, or the percentages of articles that focus on particular types of pedagogies used in teaching for transitions. A timeline is useful for plotting the development of the scholarship over the 15 year period that we are focusing on, highlighting any surge or dearth of scholarship at any point in the date range. The possibilities are as plentiful as the data you choose to upload.
To conclude, we hope that the use of visualisation-based software will cast the existing research on teaching for transitions in new relief. While this database will provide bibliographic information in a traditional list format, we hope that the range of visual search formats will also be of benefit to scholars. This database will be live and ready to use by the end of May 2015. In the interests of transparency we will also make the metadata available for researchers who wish to build on the groundwork we lay. To find out more about how Viewshare has been used to showcase other projects, click here.
*This project is led by Dr Bettie Higgs (Geology, Teaching and learning, UCC), and the team includes Daniel Blackshields (Economics, UCC), James Cronin (Arts, Social Sciences, Continuing Education, UCC), Dr Marian McCarthy (Education, Teaching and Learning, UCC), Prof. Tony Ryan (Medicine and Health, UCC), Dr Catherine O’Mahony (Teaching and Learning, UCC), Prof Shane Kilcommins (Law, UL), Dr Kathryn O’Sullivan (Law, UL).
I recently co-taught a module on Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences (PG6011/DH6014) with my colleague Paul O’Shea in University College Cork. We designed and delivered this one day intensive workshop aimed at introducing research postgraduates (MA MPhil, PhD) to a range of digital tools and skills that they can use to enhance and disseminate their research. Paul and I also co-taught Editing Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences (PG6010/DH6014) in the first semester. These modules are co-ordinated by Orla Murphy.
— Orla Murphy (@omurphy16) November 14, 2014
When I began my PhD I took this module and it transformed the way I viewed and approached my research. A few years later, it was a pleasure to oversee the module alongside Paul. We designed a schedule that balanced conceptual discussions with practical activities. The challenge was to produce a curriculum that would be palatable for those who needed a complete introduction as well as challenging for those who already used digital skills and tools for their research. To this end we decided to use a crowdsourcing project as part of the practical element. Using Letters of 1916, students were asked to transcribe several letters in class and as part of their assessment (many thanks to Karolina Badzmierowska for joining us via Skype to introduce the project). Students who already had knowledge of XML would see it in use in an interesting way, and be able to consider the challenges of encoding letters written in various formats. Students with no prior knowledge of XML would be presented with a gentle but challenging introduction.
Paul and I decided to live tweet the class using #TeachTEI as our main hashtag, as well as #TeachingInPublic and #Letters1916. Given the collaborative nature of our approach, and our feeling that digital humanities represents a democratic turn in research practices and dissemination, we see #TeachingInPublic as part of that transparency. In the Prezi he made for the workshop Paul calls this “breaking out of the box.”
Additionally, live tweeting allows us to take the conversation outside of the classroom. To this end, I created the following Storify which gives more details of the workshop contents.
There are lots of posts out there offering useful hints and tips about finishing a PhD thesis. Having recently submitted my own, I decided to write about my experience of finishing. Rather than provide a “top 10 tips” type of article I’ll highlight a few of the major moments and experiences I had.
Firstly, I had been told many times about “the fear” and “the pressure” that would plant itself without warning in my mind and push me towards the finish line. It’s real. Although I was working towards my final deadline (January
2015) for about a year before, it was in August of last year that a real drive towards the finish line kicked in. All of a sudden I was banging out 1,000+ words a day, and ploughing through books and articles I needed to read. I organised Shut Up and Write sessions in my university. These were great, not only for the amount of writing and editing I did in them, but also because they allowed me to meet up with my friends and colleagues, thus taking the edge off the sometimes painful loneliness that the majority of us feel at the end. #AcWriMo conveniently fell just two months before my submission date and this motivated me to tie up some loose ends and do a heap of editing. I wrote to the point where my arm ached. I strapped on a TENS machine and just kept going.
I think this maniacal rush to the end is responsible for something that surprised me the most. I insurmountable wall of stress that I expected to be confronted with never really happened. Mostly, my stress manifested itself in some of the weirdest dreams I ever had! I think I was so tired at the end of each day that the only outlet my stress had was within my subconscious mind. To give a sample of my stress dreams, one involved the devil who appeared to me horned, with red skin glowing like hot coals, and a big porn star moustache (thanks Orange is the New Black). He told me he had come to take me to hell because I was finishing my thesis, and pronounced a dear friend of mine who had recently finished hers, “the epitome of evil.” Madness! Another involved me running into my supervisor’s office to beg for help, only to find her sitting inside a glass box, motionless and unresponsive. The most disturbing one involved me sitting at my laptop to write my introduction only to find that my fingers started to fall off, popping off one by one and bouncing of the screen. There were many others, as well as, my Fiancé informed me, a lot of sleep-talking. But my waking hours were spent machine-like at my computer pulling my thesis together.
Once I had the full draft, one of the best decisions I made was to get it proofread. My colleagues Gwen Boyle and Paul O’Shea were incredibly generous with their time and spotted various errors and inconsistencies that my, by then, weary eyes would not have found. I also proofread it, looking closely at a chapter per day. I read it aloud and this really helped me to find typos and awkward phrasing. I also took a few days off – something I did not think I would be able to do! I was at the proofreading stage over the Christmas holidays and giving four full days to festivities was one of my better decisions as a PhD candidate. Not only was I able to enjoy Christmas, but I returned to my thesis refreshed and ready for the very final push. The break also put a degree of objective distance between me and the thesis. This is essential when proofreading your own work. Over-familiarity only leads to oversights!
Finally, the day came when I was ready to draw the line and submit. I had been told that there would be mixed emotions, but in those final weeks I couldn’t imagine anything other than joy at the end. When I pressed send and my thesis went to the printers my heart sank and I felt like I had lost a limb. For a few hours after I was in a daze. I couldn’t believe it was done and I couldn’t imagine being without it! The next day I submitted it and felt underwhelmed but pleased. It took a few days before I could fully appreciate and enjoy the feeling of submitting my thesis. I was of course helped along by a few luxurious lie-ins and that new Stephen King novel I had saved for my post-submission read!
The banana is one of the most popular and ubiquitous fruits in the world. Walmart sells more of them than any other product. The word “bananas” has entered our language not just to refer to the fruit, but also as a slang word for something crazy or bizarre. In terms of imagery it’s slippery skin has become a comedy staple. Moreover, its phallic shape has given rise to a myriad of sexual connotations. However, the banana is the eunuch of the fruit world being sterile after thousands of years of human interference. Despite being an ongoing hotbed of mirth and eroticism their lack of genetic diversity leaves them highly susceptible to disease, and therefore constantly on the brink of extinction.
Furthermore, the phallic banana is most often placed in the company of women of colour. A dangerous triad of primitivism, imperialism and racism have brought about a long history of associating people of colour and other colonial subjects with primates (think of monkeys often depicted with a banana in hand), and women of colour as highly sexed and deviant. Let us not forget the disturbing recent history of human zoos that haunt the world over in which Africans and Native Americans were held in captivity and placed on public display, often alongside other animals. Consider these racist stereotypes and you unearth a long history of discrimination that has seeped into pop culture.
Of course it must be noted that not all iterations of the banana are racist or even erotic. Some, like Gwen Stefani’s idiomatic use of bananas in “Hollaback Girl” is simply surreal and evades definition. However, the pairing of women of colour and the popular yellow fruit is rarely innocent and usually for the purpose of entertaining and, in some cases, “educating” armchair geographers whose knowledge of other races and cultures is rendered and shaped through biased publications.
In light of this I have compiled a Storify of just a few of the cultural expressions of the banana. These range from the innocent and comedic to the erotic and racist:
I first saw Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years (2012) when it was screened at the FWSA Biennial Conference in June 2013 at the University of Nottingham. The film focuses on the time the African American, feminist, lesbian, warrior, poet, Audre Lorde spent travelling back and forth to Berlin between 1984 and 1992, and her influence on the Afro-German community.
The documentary is made up of home movie footage taken by Dagmar Schultz (director), and after the screening, a member of the audience asked Schultz if she had filmed Lorde with the intention of making a film with it; Schultz told us that she just felt that Lorde’s presence was important, her time in Berlin was important and she was moved to record it. I am thankful that she did, because Schultz has presented us with something very important: a historical document of a period in Lorde’s life that many of us knew little about, a view of a transformative moment in Afro-German History, and also a fascinating, warming, and healing exchange between a transnational feminist sisterhood.
The film is a collage of dinner parties, social events, public lectures, and planning meetings for several Afro-German community groups Lorde inspired. This is peppered with audio sequences set to still photographs in which Lorde is no longer speaking with her friends or to an audience within a particular shot; instead her voice is stripped of its original setting and she becomes the most prominent narrator of this posthumous documentary, signalling the longevity of her prose, poetry, thinking and activism.
The Berlin Years also gives generous time to Lorde’s significance as a unifying figure; many scenes feature Lorde discussing the notion of difference and encouraging her listeners, both onscreen and the viewers, to approach differences of race, gender and sexuality in positive and progressive ways. We see Lorde as muse who inspired many Afro-German women to write about their experiences and record their cultural history, for example, Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out (eds. May Opitz, Katharina Oguntoye, Dagmar Schultz). More importantly, the documentary represents the exchange of knowledge and ideas that Lorde encouraged.
At the heart of The Berlin Years is the woman-centred community that Lorde fostered during her time in Berlin. As her health deteriorates the most striking scenes are those in which she is surrounded by women who care for her, comfort her and listen to her. We see Lorde taking simple pleasure in activities such as making necklaces or preparing and serving food for her friends at a time when her appetite was waning. All of these moments involve sharing and giving back in some way (the extras included in the DVD provide even more of these scenes). Ultimately we see the kindness and generosity, as well as activism, that can flourish when women come together to, in Gloria Anzaldúa’s words, “do the work that matters” (The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, 314).
Check out some reactions to Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years at the FWSA conference here:
Is there anything more annoying that getting that book that will almost certainly be an essential part of your Works Cited/Bibliography only to discover that there is no index!? We all know that we can not read every single book we cite from cover to cover. We don’t have the time, and quite frankly, we don’t always have the patience! Therefore, when someone tells you that you should read the bits about the theme of X in Book Y it is natural to flip to the back of the book and check the index unless all the information is contained in one or two chapters. Of course, with Google Books at our fingertips it can make the search through an index-less book a bit easier. But we all know the limits of the preview. Oh, how cruel the world can be!
Quite simply, indexes speed up the research process. We cannot always rely on chapter titles, or even book titles, to tell us exactly what a given book discusses. Often, these cleverly punning chapter titles are fun to read, but give little away about their actual content. A well-stocked index can lead the researcher to the sections s/he needs while at the same time giving an overall flavour of the book and demonstrate connections between various subjects addressed within which may even lead to full cover to cover read.
Something almost as frustrating as no index at all are name indexes…..no themes, keywords or other issues….just names! That’s great if you are looking for a person, but otherwise what is the point! Therefore, not only should all academic books have indexes, but they should have fully comprehensive indexes that cover all the potential needs of the reader. Academic books are being priced more and more out of reach of many scholars. When you scrape together a week’s rent to buy that must-have new monograph or edited collection an index is at least a small and useful consolation prize.