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.
I am moved to write this post after watching Rory O’Neill’s speech in the Abbey Theatre. O’Neill’s speech follows on from comments he made about homophobia on the Saturday Night Show which prompted RTE to pay out €85,000 to the Iona Institute Catholic lobbying group.
O’Neill’s description of oppression in Ireland is familiar to many of us. His account of standing at a pedestrian crossing and feeling the need to check one’s self due to the expectation that a slur or an object (or both) is about to be hurled out of a car in his direction is something that I can certainly relate to. From the time I cut my hair short I quickly realised that a segment of the population is unnerved, even insulted by the sight of a woman daring to appear in public without long Rupunzalesque locks, heels and a pretty dress. I stand at every pedestrian crossing holding my breath, cringing inwardly, waiting for one of the following: “dyke,” “muff-diver,” “lezzie,” “fag,” “fanny licker.”
According to the powers that be, RTE, Iona, the government, it is wrong to talk of such oppression, and worse to claim any hurt from being on the receiving end of it. Apparently those most damaged by homophobia are the perpetrators rather than the victims. I find this hard to believe when I think of the many times I have been publicly accosted. I find it hard to believe that the car full of giggling strangers who don’t know my name, who I am, or what my sexual orientation is ride off into the sunset feeling worse than I do.
I remember sitting on a bus when an inebriated man twice my size towered over me and proceeded to tell me that all I needed to be set straight was a real man, and that he would come to my home and show me exactly “what a real man could do.” I remember hurrying away from that bus to the safety of my Fiancé’s car and feeling so thankful that I was going home with an evolved gentleman.
I also remember being offered a job on condition that I change my hair to “something more suitable for dealing with the public.” I turned it down.
I could recount so many instances where I have been made feel terrified and oppressed due to my gender and the way in which I choose to present myself to the world. Do I really believe that for each one of these instances a group of repressed Catholics are flagellating themselves amid throes of emotional agony due to homophobia? No. How could anyone?
RTE have donated to €85,000 to continued oppression against those who do not conform to conservative Catholic “values.” I can express this from the safety of my laptop; but Rory O’Neill took a very brave and necessary stand in the Abbey Theatre. For that I salute him and will feel less alone the next time I stand at a dreaded pedestrian crossing.
Over the Christmas break I binge-watched several “teacher movies,” one of my regular holiday hobbies along with re-reading the Little Women series and the Harry Potter collection. I never had a Mr Keating (Dead Poets Society) or a Ms Gruwell (Freedom Writers). I certainly had several good, even excellent, teachers throughout my education, but never one who made the classroom a site of potential for major personal and social transformation.
In many ways films like Dead Poets Society (1989), Dangerous Minds (1995), Mona Lisa Smile (2003), Freedom Writers (2007), Precious (2009) and The English Teacher (2013), while at times a little far-fetched, often represent the ideal that many young teachers dream of embodying when first faced with the daunting task of education. These films depict teachers, sometimes very naïve ones, attempting to engage with students who are completely close-minded or cut off from education due to society and/or personal circumstances. Entire classes filled with 20+ students await every opportunity to blatantly ignore or undermine their ever hopeful educator, and ultimately the teacher gently breaks down the barriers and forms incredible bonds with her/his former aggressors. Many “teacher movies” present us with protagonists who go against the grain of the institution or the advice of their loved ones to educate their unruly students, often to the detriment of their careers and/or relationships.
These mavericks and miracle workers were the bread and butter of my younger self as I dreamed of a humble spot at the top of a classroom to call my own. I wouldn’t be so daring as Mr Keating to invite my students to climb upon my desk for fear of injury; my delicate stomach would keep me from riding the biggest roller-coaster with my students à la Ms Johnson; although, I have always dreamed of delivering a hearty rendition of the “[t]here are no victims in this classroom” scene from Dangerous Minds! However, I think the fighting spirit of these teachers against all manner of obstacles reflects at least some of the whats and whys of teaching.
Taking money from our own pockets to fund materials and reward students is a reality. Caring enough about a student to visit their family is a regular occurrence. Managing to get through to the most unruly students does happen. Unfortunately, as is portrayed in Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds, losing a student to the insurmountable stresses of their particular situation is a real possibility.
For all their melodrama these movies pinpoint many of the hopes and fears we teachers feel:
- To inspire our students, even one, to make positive changes in their lives
- To educate them about important issues in the world
- To give them tools to navigate the ups and downs of life
- To instill moral values and independent thinking.
- That our guidance may ultimately fail them
- That the ABCs and 123s of a curriculum will not be enough to prepare them for the outside world.
A life-altering educational achievement like the one we see unfold in Freedom Writers is certainly rare. However, re-watching these films time and again always reminds me of the many reasons why my own education has always been of such value to me, and the many things I wanted to bring to the classroom. One of the best moments I have had as a teacher was a student telling me that I was one of the key reasons she chose to pursue a degree in English. This, and the many assignments that reveal that a student has really got what you were trying to teach them are the many everyday satisfactions that we can take from our role in the classroom.