Category Archives: conferences

Getting Past Dystopian SF

Another post up on Slate last week:

What should we expect from science fiction? In a recent Smithsonian article by IO9’s Annalee Newitz, author Neal Stephenson criticized the dystopian cynicism that currently pervades the genre. Instead he calls a more optimistic, realistic approach—fewer zombies and man’s folly-style catastrophes, more creative inventions and solutions. In the spirit of being constructive, he’s also taking action. The first step is an anthology of optimistic, near-term science fiction, forthcoming from William Morrow in 2014, that will tackle this challenge head-on. Smithsonian describes the project, Hieroglyph, as a plan “to rally writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, ‘get big stuff done.’”

Digital Humanities 2011

I’ll revise this post later. For now, here are the slides for my presentation in PowerPoint:

And a slightly modified PDF (without all the quote fly-ins):


I’ve finally returned to add to this post. I had a great time at Stanford’s Digital Humanities 2011, and the conference once again impressed me: quality work and a truly collaborative atmosphere. I was lucky enough to be on a panel organized by Franco Moretti and starring Zephyr Frank and Rhiannon Lewis. I thought it was a huge success and I was thrilled to see it written up in the Chronicle.

This was my third year at Digital Humanities and for the first time I really felt like part of a community where I had friends to see and news to catch up on. The effect was of course magnified because I was returning to my “home” institution, which I hardly saw in the last three years of grad school after I moved to Phoenix. I really enjoyed hanging out with the Stanford DH crew at the banquet and I even got a photo credit. I’m grateful to Franco for the panel, Matt Jockers and Glen Worthey for organizing the whole shebang, and the English department for very generously supporting my trip after I was technically no longer a student there.

As for my talk, I think I’ll let the slides and linked abstract speak for themselves. If someone is dying for the voice-over, let me know and I’ll try to find some time. For now, onwards and upwards.

Papers, papers

In all the excitement of the holidays, MLA and then a trip to Egypt (!), I didn’t have a chance to post about an exciting update from the publication front. Since then I also had some good conference news, so here’s the skinny.

I’m really delighted to be participating in an awesome book project co-edited by Lee Konstantinou and Sam Cohen considering the impact of David Foster Wallace. The collection is under contract with Iowa and it got a great writeup in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Very exciting! I’m working on revisions to my chapter right now. My piece will explore how different groups of readers are defining Wallace’s legacy through book reviews and literary consumption.

I had a paper accepted to Digital Humanities 2011! This may not seem like as big a deal until you start reading the comments on Twitter from people who didn’t get in: the acceptance rate was only 31% for panel proposals. I’ve really enjoyed my previous two DH conferences, and I’m looking forward to presenting with fellow LitLabbers Zephyr Frank and Rhiannon Lewis, with Franco Moretti as moderator. The panel is titled “Networks, Literature, Culture” and it’s going to be fantastic. I’ll save you a seat.

London Nerd Tourism

Last night I was thinking about Douglas Adams’ bathtub and I realized I should post about the few touristy things I had time to do while I was in London.

-I visited the National Portrait Gallery and said hello to the Romantic poets, who first induced me to really enjoy studying English. NB: air-conditioned!

-I went on a bat walk. This was exciting for a number of reasons, not least of which was meeting my fellow Batwalkers (distant cousins of the Skywalkers). Also, they hand out bat detectors and keep some sample bats on hand for demonstration purposes. Finally, you get to walk through British parks at night, which is apparently a huge subversive thrill. But the highlight is the audio from the bat detectors, which lend a whole new dimension to the experience.

-I had lunch with my friend Scott at Google’s London offices. The major highlight for me was to brush a hand over Douglas Adams’ bathtub, which now resides among a forest of deck chairs. Baths are, needless to say, very important in the Hitchhiker’s Guide mythos. This one looked sleek and self-satisfied, as if it quietly devoured an AdSense salesperson once every week or two.

-I saw Keats House, the cottage where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, moved from persistently to gravely ill, and wrote some fine poetry. They’ve even got the (replacement) tree under which he composed Ode to a Nightingale, a poem that presages the entirety of Yeats in eighty lines.

All in all, a great trip!

Back to work

I returned from London on Monday and have been slowly gearing back up into work mode. DH2010 was a great conference experience and I met a lot of people I’m hoping to keep in touch with. I think my talk went pretty well and it seems like more people are doing work similar to mine this year, which is comforting.

And, since Digital Humanities is such an impressively techie and well-organized affair, they’ve already got an audio interview that I did right after my talk posted online. I understand that more materials from the conference will be posted on in the days to come; it would be great if they post slides from presentations that I missed. It will have to console us until next year’s conference…at Stanford!

London Dispatch

I’ve once again fallen way behind in my blogging, but fortunately I have much to report. I’m writing from Digital Humanities 2010, where I’ll be presenting my latest research on Saturday. The conference is in London and it’s been exciting and a little befuddling to wrestle jet-lag amidst an exciting array of panels and posters.

The paper I’m giving is on Toni Morrison, the subject of the recently completed Chapter 2. It’s in its fourth iteration now, after a trial run among the friendly brains at Stanford and great panels at ASU’s Southwest English Grad Students conference and ACLA. At each point I’ve been refining my methodologies and slides (lesson one: visualization is endlessly finicky).

As before, this is a case study where Morrison’s work is really a jumping-off point for an exploration of her reading publics and the nature of literary fame. When I presented at DH2009, I was still working out how to approach these questions and adopted a kind of shotgun strategy, using every data set and methodology I could think of to see what worked. That paper, on Thomas Pynchon, had a lot going on: networks of Amazon recommendations; Wordle images based on word counts of book reviews; bar graphs of library copies; graphs of MLA citations and comparisons of MLA, Amazon and newsgroup publications by year.

Most of these ideas were interesting, but only some of them ‘stuck’ for me. The cyclical nature of academic and other kinds of publication, for example, was revealing to see but a point that probably only needs to be proven once. This year I’ve decided to focus on the richest results from the past and push the envelope. My paper will look at the social lives of Morrison’s novels, and the ‘social’ networks they inhabit online. I’ve worked hard in the past year to create collocation-based networks and to use network analysis to identify the most significant nodes and clusters in Morrison’s ideational networks online. These are the most interesting, and the messiest, of my datasets, and network analysis has revealed some surprising patterns that I’ll be sharing on Saturday.

So that’s the major news. I have a couple of other projects cooking that I’m going to write up when I have some solid bulletins to report.

Talking in Tempe

I had a great time speaking at the Southwest English Graduate Student Symposium on Saturday, or SWEGS, according to its intimidating acronym. This was a great way to introduce some of my research on chapter 2 of the dissertation, which is a case study on Toni Morrison’s ouvre. It was great to meet some other members of the local English grad student community, and I was shocked (and pleased) to encounter a fellow panelist who’s also looking at Amazon’s recommendation networks, and I’m looking forward to sharing ideas with him down the road.

This was the first stop in the 2010 road tour, which will include Stanford, New Orleans and, hopefully, London. I’ll be updating the presentation with new bells and whistles as I make more progress on some new ways of looking at references in book reviews.

Until then, back to the mines.

I have arrived

It’s been quite a while since I updated this blog, so here’s a rapid review.

I’ve completed a draft for my dissertation chapter on Thomas Pynchon.

I’ve got a messy first half of an introductory chapter too, but I’m trying hard not to think about just how much revision that’s going to need.

All of this has snapped into close focus with the end of the academic year and my presence this week at the University of Maryland for Digital Humanities Conference 2009. After months of solitude interrupted mainly (if regularly) by the dogs, I find myself surrounded by people thinking about the same questions I’ve been wrestling with. Cool!

I’ll be presenting on Thursday and panel-hopping for the rest of the time. I’m also looking forward to meeting and re-meeting luminaries of my Twitter and podcast world.