DH Toe Dip: Pecha Kucha

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

Pecha KuchaOkay, so this really isn’t a DH thing, since pre­sen­ta­tions are pre­sen­ta­tions. Still, inspired by Eric Ret­tberg (whose over­all work is fas­ci­nat­ing and unique—there’s no one like the guy), I decided to assign my stu­dents to cre­ate Pecha-Kucha pre­sen­ta­tions that were close read­ings of Emily Dick­in­son poems. (Again, this assign­ment is from the upper-level poetry class I’m teaching.)

If you don’t know any­thing about Pecha Kucha pre­sen­ta­tions, check out this non-academic, discipline-free intro.

Since my stu­dents already have a host of other writ­ing assign­ments, I hoped to widen the class’s poten­tial media for expres­sion, as well as  expand­ing their rhetor­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal skill set. When giv­ing the assign­ment, I let the class know that dis­as­ter and fail­ure were indeed wel­come options, since those would be great oppor­tu­ni­ties for us to col­lab­o­rate in solv­ing prob­lems together. But as so often hap­pens, the stu­dents exceeded expec­ta­tions and chal­lenged me in return; most of the pre­sen­ta­tions were fantastic.

A few observations:

  • Unlike writ­ten jour­nal assign­ments with their estab­lished rhetor­i­cal for­mal­ity, I loved lis­ten­ing to stu­dents sim­ply talk about their read­ing expe­ri­ence and inter­pre­ta­tions, often in a very relaxed, gen­uine, and some­times funny, fashion.
  • The Pecha-Kucha for­mat is guided by restraint, and I’d go so far as to say these are works of art as defined by the Oulipo crew—constraint is con­ducive to beauty.
  • Learn from my mis­take: I fool­ishly had the stu­dents turn these in via a D2L drop­box, and the file sizes caused all kinds of prob­lems. If my brain were func­tion­ing, I sim­ply could have had them upload the pre­sen­ta­tions to YouTube or Vimeo and solved all that. Just be sure you have clear direc­tions on how to get the audio to upload.

So, hav­ing acquired one student’s per­mis­sion, behold this pre­sen­ta­tion that I feel turned out pretty well…


Con­tinue read­ing



by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

What the heck is 'phantasmagoria'?

What the heck is ‘phantasmagoria’?

I am cur­rently teach­ing an upper-level poetry course (hooray!), and given how tricky poetry can be for under­grad­u­ate stu­dents, I fig­ured this was the per­fect time to use PRISM in class. (PRISM is a dig­i­tal, col­lab­o­ra­tive read­ing tool cre­ated by the inspir­ing stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia Library Schol­ars’ Lab.) We hap­pened to be read­ing Illu­mi­na­tions when the sched­ule allowed for this asign­ment, and Rimbaud’s abstract dream­scapes pro­vided the chal­leng­ing con­tent I was look­ing for.

In short, the assign­ment was as follows:

  • Read Rimbaud’s poem “Met­ro­pol­i­tan” (trans­la­tion props to Wyatt Mason)
  • Go to the text uploaded to PRISM by fol­low­ing the pro­vided link (in order to keep the visu­al­iza­tion pri­vate, you need to share the link with par­tic­i­pat­ing parties)
  • High­light the text based on the three facets pro­vided (Blue = Com­pre­hen­sion, Red=Confusion, Green=Concrete Image)
  • After the due date, select “Visu­al­ize” to see the high­lighted poem and the “win­ning” facets and their per­cent­ages. (You can see the num­ber of peo­ple who selected a cer­tain facet, as well as what per­cent­age of the total high­lights each facet contributes.)
  • Write a one-page reflec­tion on the data and any con­clu­sions drawn from it.

I could write a good bit here about how I think PRISM con­tributed to stu­dent learn­ing.  Fur­ther­more, the class as a whole has asked to use the pro­gram again, so I’m going to count that enthu­si­asm as its own suc­cess.  With that being said,  I’m going to let the stu­dents speak below in a series of anony­mous com­ments pulled from their reflec­tions. The one thing I will say, and this was com­pletely serendip­i­tous, was that a large num­ber of stu­dents expressed how relieved they were that they weren’t the only ones who were con­fused by cer­tain parts of the poem. PRISM pro­vided com­fort to those stu­dents in that they could ask intel­lec­tual ques­tions about their con­fu­sion as it related to the text, rather than deal with it emo­tion­ally in a way that shut them down entirely because they felt embar­rassed or inferior.

Here are some com­ments from my stu­dents. Judge for your­self whether or not this is a tool you would use in your class­room. I will def­i­nitely be using it again, and am already see­ing some pos­si­ble appli­ca­tions in my cre­ative writ­ing classes. Con­tinue read­ing


DH Toe Dip: Character Networks in Gephi

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

A Beginner’s Guide to Gephi and Char­ac­ter Networks

Last fall, inspired by Franco Moretti’s must-read pam­phlet over at the Stan­ford Lit­er­ary Lab, I decided to turn my stu­dents loose on character-network assign­ments cre­ated in Gephi: a free, open-source visu­al­iza­tion tool. As with most tech­nol­ogy I was ini­tially hes­i­tant, fear­ing that cur­ric­u­lar objec­tives would be sac­ri­ficed on the altar of tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, yet pos­i­tive results put these fears to rest and this assign­ment has def­i­nitely earned another go in my classroom.

How high is the learn­ing curve? If your needs are as basic as mine were, you’ll hit the ground run­ning in Gephi. Free to down­load and easy to install, Gephi includes an invalu­able Quick Start Guide that stu­dents can uti­lize inde­pen­dently (there are also these handy tuto­ri­als).

Dr. Jekyll

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Gephi

The impor­tant thing is that we started small. The first stu­dent group to take on this project cre­ated a char­ac­ter net­work for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novel com­pact enough to pro­duce a fairly con­tained net­work, as seen in the mod­est results. In cre­at­ing this small net­work, stu­dents tracked only the type and num­ber of char­ac­ter inter­ac­tions, which were then rep­re­sented as nodes with weighted edges in the Gephi visualization.

What the class saw in the Jekyll and Hyde visu­al­iza­tion did not expand much beyond what we gleaned from read­ing the book, but prompted us to think about the ques­tions we ask of texts and how to frame those ques­tions in order to cre­ate more inter­pre­tive, infor­ma­tive, and use­able net­works. For exam­ple, the group that worked on Dr. Jekyll felt they might gain more mean­ing­ful results by recon­fig­ur­ing their data to reflect indoor ver­sus out­door inter­ac­tions in the novel, an adjust­ment that is easy to han­dle in Gephi’s user-friendly inter­face. Con­tinue read­ing


DH Toe Dip: The Serendip-o-matic

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak


Image: Serendipity NYC, courtesy of doioffend (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Image: Serendip­ity NYC, cour­tesy of doiof­fend (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Dra­matic Intro

As the new aca­d­e­mic year begins, I thought a quick look at Dig­i­tal Human­i­ties (DH) projects, tools, and resources was in order, espe­cially those that might prove use­ful for stu­dents, teach­ers, staff mem­bers, and researchers alike. (In other words, I hope to write a lot more of these.)

My moti­va­tion is twofold: first, I appre­ci­ate when peo­ple do the same for me; that’s how I know about resources like Voy­ant Tools, Com­mons in a Box, Gephi, and Juxta. These are good things that any­one can use, and I want to help spread the word while solic­it­ing teach­ing ideas and feed­back (a la the superla­tive ProfHacker).

Sec­ond, and of equal impor­tance, are calls for the DH Com­mu­nity to become more polit­i­cally vocal and to artic­u­late spe­cific, some­times col­lec­tive posi­tions on impor­tant cul­tural con­di­tions and events. I agree with this call. But I also believe mak­ing is a form of speech (as speech is a form of mak­ing), and that this artic­u­la­tion is already hap­pen­ing, regularly—we must posi­tion our­selves to hear it. When indi­vid­u­als or groups make and give some­thing to the pub­lic to use, for free, in the fur­ther­ance of their own expres­sion, whether it be for edu­ca­tion and/or activism, a pow­er­ful state­ment is made. Sup­port­ing the poten­tial for expres­sion is often as impor­tant as the expres­sion itself. 

With that very dra­matic pref­ace com­pleted, on to the first “DH Toe Dip”: the Serendip-o-matic

The Thing

Serendip-o-matic was pro­duced by the intense “One Week|One Tool” project, where a group of smart, ded­i­cated mad sci­en­tists hun­ker down for a week and cre­ate some­thing the pub­lic can use; I repeat, they imag­ine and build the tool in a week. (!) As the name of this tool indi­cates, serendip­ity is the goal—if you’re just a plain dip­ity like me, this is wel­come news. You can take any text—your own writ­ing, a schol­arly arti­cle, the full dataset of Dolly Par­ton lyrics—paste it into the Serendip-o-matic, and then kazam-a-bob,  the magic hap­pens. Here is that magic, described by the mak­ers: Con­tinue read­ing


A Few Words on Faculty “Textbooks”

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

"Text Fist": Andrew Mason

Text Fist”: Andrew Mason

Yes­ter­day, Slate ran an inter­est­ing piece on what is an impor­tant and con­tentious issue: fac­ulty assign­ing self-authored texts. When I was a mem­ber of my campus’s fac­ulty sen­ate, let’s just say that we had one or two mildly con­tentious dis­cus­sions about this. There are things to be con­cerned about: in the worst cases, a fac­ulty mem­ber can nakedly profit from their stu­dents and have no prob­lem doing so—I think we see this most with encour­age­ment from the text­book indus­try, when fac­ulty accept an “author credit” for revis­ing a chap­ter of a larger text in exchange for assign­ing the book. In the best cases, not only is the fac­ulty mem­ber a lead­ing expert in their field, but assign­ing their own text leads to sig­nif­i­cant stu­dent sav­ings, espe­cially when the book is in paper­back form.

Now, as much as I like any Gilderoy Lock­hart ref­er­ence, espe­cially since it allows me to revisit my deep dis­like of Ken­neth Branagh’s full body of work, I’d like to respect­fully dis­agree with Rebecca Schuman’s advice that stu­dents should imme­di­ately drop into Def­con One and “get out now.” This may turn out to be the best advice when con­fronted with a ver­i­fied Lock­hart man­i­fes­ta­tion, and I can surely think of a few exam­ples, but there are good learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties here for stu­dents that would be a shame to miss.

Full dis­clo­sure: I have never assigned a self-authored text, and I did drop a class in grad­u­ate school because the pro­fes­sor not only assigned his own work, but spent the major­ity of our first three-hour meet­ing read­ing from it. (!) (“Um, I’m just going to run down to the vend­ing machine… in the next state over.”)

So, what should a stu­dent do if they have con­cerns about this issue? Use it as an oppor­tu­nity to learn about pol­icy and gov­er­nance, both at the fac­ulty and stu­dent level. Con­tinue read­ing


On Teju Cole’s “Hafiz”

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

One Way: Michael Theis

One Way: Michael Theis

I like Teju Cole. His will­ing­ness to speak with power and simul­ta­ne­ously exper­i­ment with his craft largely define the term “artist.” Like many, I was very inter­ested when Cole pub­lished “Hafiz” on Twit­ter, specif­i­cally incor­po­rat­ing retweets as his nar­ra­tive, point-of-view vehi­cle. Twit­ter, much like other social media, is a space where genius is imme­di­ately con­ferred, or worse, con­dem­na­tion sweeps peo­ple away in the solar flare of a quar­ter hour; given that, how could a writer exer­cise con­trol in a medium where con­trol feels anti­thet­i­cal? And if the point is to rep­re­sent com­mu­nity as a trope in a space where com­mu­nity is real, what are the results? Is some­thing mean­ing­ful being said in that space that con­veys a larger mes­sage about how sto­ries (say, a tor­nado) unfold on Twitter?

Wired mag­a­zine has an inter­view with Cole where “Hafiz” is also repub­lished in full. After read­ing the inter­view along­side the story, I found myself puz­zled. I wasn’t exactly sure what put me off bal­ance; the best I can say is that either what Cole said in the inter­view didn’t quite describe “Hafiz” as pub­lished, or more likely, Wired didn’t quite know how to ask him to dis­cuss some­thing so dif­fer­ent from pub­lish­ing a piece in The New Yorker. If this is indeed the case, then the by-product is breath­less report­ing on the spec­ta­cle of sto­ry­telling instead of the story itself. Yes, for decades and decades post­mod­ern fic­tion has fab­u­lously merged the spec­ta­cle (form) and the con­tent, but that’s pre­cisely what inter­ests me about “Hafiz” and how it’s being dis­cussed by both author and audi­ence. I’ll do my best to untan­gle what strikes me about “Hafiz” as nar­ra­tive spec­ta­cle… Con­tinue read­ing


A One-Item List for Tenure-Track Faculty

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

Image: staxnet

Image: staxnet

On the very first day of 2014, I waved the white flag on peo­ple pit­ting adjunct fac­ulty against tenured/tenure-track fac­ulty, largely because 99% of the result­ing dis­cus­sion was com­pletely unhelp­ful to any­one and demon­strated one clear trend: a lack of knowl­edge about power in insti­tu­tions of higher edu­ca­tion. I can’t rehash that in full (I did sur­ren­der after all), so I’ll just link to it, with the “fun facts” table prob­a­bly being the most use­ful part.

Now we’ve had another flare up, which I’d be happy to ignore if I didn’t remem­ber how green I was when I started on the tenure track, and frankly, how sus­cep­ti­ble I was to bad advice because I sim­ply didn’t have enough knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of the com­pli­cated struc­tures I was work­ing in. There is a lot of bad advice out there, much of it com­ing from peo­ple who think they under­stand a person’s assigned pro­fes­sional duties bet­ter than the job hold­ers them­selves. Sure, there are times when this may be true, but these instances are few. More impor­tantly, bad advice can get peo­ple fired.

So, in the spirit of the list nar­ra­tive… Here is the one thing that all tenure-track fac­ulty should be doing right now! (Drumroll)

1. Do the job you were hired to do.

If you are a tenure-track fac­ulty mem­ber and this piece of advice sounds good to you, feel free to stop read­ing here. If you are inter­ested in a few qual­i­fi­ca­tions, expla­na­tions, and split­ting of hairs, there’s more “below the fold.” (I’ve always wanted to say that.) Con­tinue read­ing


In a Lonely Place (Uncreative Writing)

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

in-a-lonely-placeAs some­one who teaches cre­ative writ­ing, I recently did my pro­fes­sional duty and explored the “uncre­ative writ­ing” ideas of Ken­neth Gold­smith. This led me to his com­pan­ion anthol­ogy, Against Expres­sion, co-edited with Craig Dworkin. Since much of my writ­ing has been labeled uncre­ative before even hear­ing of this move­ment, imag­ine my relief. Mar­jorie Perlof has also writ­ten pos­i­tively about this move­ment, so I can safely assume that she’s also prais­ing me in the process (in a net­work theory/Kevin Bacon sort of way).

With all of that said, I will now, on the world stage, pre­mier my first “offi­cial” work of uncre­ative writ­ing. This mas­ter­work, which is free to any­one in a rush to anthol­o­gize it, is the full mar­gin­a­lia from my used copy of Dorothy B. Hughes’s clas­sic noir, In a Lonely Place.


In a Lonely Place, or, A Novel in Marginalia

[Twenty-seven silent pages]

damn, she really doesn’t like him lol Con­tinue read­ing


The (Next) Next Poet Laureate

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

The Next Next Poet Laureate

The Next Next Poet Laureate

It is com­mon knowl­edge that The Library of Con­gress hangs on my every word. If there’s a week that passes with­out some­one over at the LoC call­ing me up and ask­ing for direc­tion, then I cer­tainly don’t know about it. Still, it appears that James Billing­ton, the actual librar­ian of Con­gress, has gone ahead and named Charles Wright the next Poet Lau­re­ate of the United States—without check­ing with me.

Now, this post isn’t about Charles Wright’s work–it’s about the posi­tion of Poet Lau­re­ate and how that might con­nect to the fact that the major­ity of U.S. cit­i­zens could give a fat frog’s ass about poetry. Maybe, just maybe, the Poet Lau­re­ate could help alle­vi­ate that defi­ciency in some way (which is why Natasha Tretheway’s being named to the post was so encour­ag­ing). Here’s the deal: you need more than a dec­o­rated poet for the honor; you need a poet who can enthu­si­as­ti­cally attract peo­ple to poetry as both cre­ators and audience.

So what’s up with the process? This sen­tence from the New York Times gives us a behind-the-Congress look:

Explain­ing his choice, James Billing­ton, the librar­ian of Con­gress, said that as he read through the work of a dozen or so final­ists, he kept com­ing back to Mr. Wright’s haunt­ing poems, many of them gath­ered in a Dante-esque cycle of three trilo­gies known infor­mally as “The Appalachian Book of the Dead.” (Empha­sis mine)

I have to ask: why limit con­sid­er­a­tion to the page? If you’re look­ing for some­one to spread the word and pros­e­ly­tize, wouldn’t it make more sense to lis­ten to the work? Instead of read­ing the pub­lished poems in a quite room as a form of delib­er­a­tion, why not go to the poetry as it is per­formed? Could a ‘slam poet’ be named the U.S. Poet Lau­re­ate? Why not?

So, as a way of facil­i­tat­ing this process (and, one time only, I will do this free of charge), I will now name the next next Poet Lau­re­ate: Tay­lor Mali (or some­one just as dynamic).

First, the man works with young peo­ple for a liv­ing. Sec­ond, he is an amaz­ing per­former. In all the years I’ve been teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing, the day that stu­dents first hear Tay­lor Mali is always a water­shed. Jaws drop. The excite­ment he gen­er­ates is tan­gi­ble, and he’s one of the few poets whose work I hear dis­cussed in social cir­cles out­side of poetry. If you don’t know Tay­lor Mali’s voice, the audio­book Con­vic­tion is where I got started, and the follow-up Icarus Air­lines is also very strong. Even if you don’t rec­og­nize the name, you’ve likely encoun­tered viral repost­ings of Mali’s work, such as “What Teach­ers Make,” “The Impo­tence of Proof­read­ing,” “Voice of Amer­ica Voiceover,” and my per­sonal favorite, “Tony Stein­berg: Brave Sev­enth Grade Viking War­rior.”

Lis­ten to any of the above titles at the pro­vided links. I dare you to not be captivated.

So, picker(s) of Poet Lau­re­ates, let’s try to acknowl­edge that poetry exists beyond the page and finds life in the human voice. A lit­tle pop­ulism wouldn’t hurt. In other words, Library of Con­gress, don’t make me come down there.

With that ser­vice per­formed, behold:




Teaching in the Shiny Future

by Chuck Rybak/@chuckrybak

National Library of Ireland via the Serindip-o-matic

National Library of Ire­land via the Serindip-o-matic

Last week was won­der­ful: I attended the Dig­i­tal Human­i­ties Sum­mer Insti­tute (DHSI) in Vic­to­ria, British Colum­bia, where I met gag­gles and flocks of geniuses, played Cana­dian kick­ball with Scott Wein­gart, and tried to learn as much as I could about how I might apply net­work the­ory to my teach­ing. I’m inter­ested in dig­i­tal human­i­ties, regard­less of tent size or appel­la­tion, and I also work at an insti­tu­tion that is exclu­sively under­grad­u­ate where the human­i­ties are concerned—so dur­ing DHSI my ear was par­tic­u­larly attuned to how peo­ple talk about teaching.

This year’s con­fer­ence included “Birds of a Feather” talks, where two or more speak­ers pre­sented briefly on a topic and then the forum opened for ques­tions and dia­logue. The first ses­sion, on some per­mu­ta­tion of “The Future of Dig­i­tal Human­i­ties,” was remark­able to me for one rea­son: forty-five min­utes into the ses­sion, none of the speak­ers or audi­ence mem­bers had men­tioned teach­ing or stu­dents; I don’t believe the word “teach­ing” had lit­er­ally been spo­ken. I tweeted from the back row, as is my wont, and the hash­tag stream flowed down the room’s large screen. Inter­est­ingly, some mem­bers in the audi­ence picked up on the tweets ask­ing “What about teach­ing?” and asked the pan­elists about this. In short, the ques­tion was deflected, or pos­si­bly mis­un­der­stood, or maybe not of inter­est. It felt like one of those moments where some­one makes an obscure ref­er­ence in a con­ver­sa­tion and the rest of the par­tic­i­pants pause their way into awk­ward silence. And even when teach­ing was explic­itly mentioned—by pre­sen­ter Erin Tem­ple­ton in the Birds of a Feather ses­sion two days later—she had to exert con­sid­er­able effort to ask the audi­ence, “Where is teach­ing in the future of dig­i­tal human­i­ties?” This was largely derailed by the first ref­er­ence to the MLA report on the future of human­i­ties PhD s (who hap­pen to be, well, stu­dents). Con­tinue read­ing