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Weekend Reading: Mr. Autumn Man Edition

3b07162rWell, fall is coming, at least here in New England, where I’m quickly morphing into Mr. Autumn Man. Here are some links for a semester well underway:

  • I’ve several times confessed an affection for Henry David Thoreau on this blog, so I was thrilled to read Frank Chimero’s “The Inferno of Independence”, which weaves Thoreau into a long, insightful meditation on creativity, loneliness, independence, and community. While he’s writing primarily for the tech crowd, Chimero’s ideas about both giving and being willing to accept help resonated for me as pertinent to higher education.

    A lot of things can be held against Thoreau, mainly his privilege. Thoreau came from a well-to-do family that allowed him the finances to build that cabin in the woods, and, of course, it takes a certain amount of affluence and privilege to be able to “opt out” of the dominant culture, stand back, and critique it. Still, Thoreau was a man with clear principles that embraced those with less opportunity than himself, and attempted to define the good life as something accessible to anyone. He valued convening with nature, going slow, stepping back, and—this is the donut part—accepting help. Thoreau was independent and he isolated himself, but he was not alone. Each week, his mother and sister would come to the cabin with pastries and donuts. And you know what? Thoreau ate those goddamn donuts.

  • In my field, the annual jobs list was recently released, which means graduate students around the country are contemplating the horrific job market and in many cases wondering why in the world they chose a field with such uncertain outcomes. If you advise any of these stalwart souls, Rebecca Schuman’s “Horrible Job-Market Platitudes (and How to Retire Them)” should be required reading. Schuman exposes the lie behind many common bromides and recommends more constructive ways to talk with our graduate students about their futures.

    These days, even candidates who have a platinum CV, a superlative pedagogical record, and a scholarly disposition might garner but a handful of interviews. And with odds that are sometimes 500 to one, it’s just not enough. When every search has a glut of “truly spectacular” applicants (as one committee chair bemoaned to me last year), there is no way to know who will be the right fit. This engenders helplessness in both job seekers and the advisers who want to support them.

  • Along similarly depressing lines, Gary Rhoades’ “Adjust Professor Are the New Working Poor” begins with the now-infamous story of Margaret Mary Vojtko at Duquesne University and from there expounds—yet again—the amorality of a university system that increasingly relies on exploitative labor practices.

    Adjunct professors, as part of a growing army of working poor, are at the center of the academic labor movement, just as fast-food workers are now at the center of the larger labor movement. We are in the midst of deciding the extent to which we are an inclusive society that will live up to our nation’s promise that hard work pays off.
    The question is: How will we treat working people? Will we, the richest nation on earth, continue to structure employment in ways that reduce large segments of society to near Dickensian conditions of existence? Or can we muster the collective will to appropriately remunerate and honor the work of all working Americans?

  • On a lighter note: I’m a book/text/typography geek, and was happy to see David Crotty’s post at the Scholarly Kitchen, “The Basics and History of Typography.” The post is even better because it pointed me to Butterick’s Practical Typography, an entire course on the subject that can take as little as ten minutes or as much time as you will give it. Fun for days.

    With the advent of desktop publishing back in the 1980′s, typography went from an arcane skillset known only to designers and printers to something we should all understand as we try to master the powerful tools that computers provide us for layout and design. But something was lost in the translation, and for most, typography remains as much a mystery as ever.

  • If you’re interested in digital humanities and literature, you’ll be interested in the 2014 edition of fellow ProfHacker Mark Sample’s annual guide to DH sessions at the convention.

    A list of digitally-inflected sessions at the 2014 Modern Language Association Convention (Chicago, January 9-12). These sessions in some way address the influence and study of digital tools and texts in language, literary, textual, and media studies, as well as gaming, pedagogy and scholarly communication. The list stands at 76 entries, making up 9% of the total 810 convention slots. Please leave a comment if this list is missing any relevant sessions.

  • In a purely self-serving item, I was honored to read Arika Okrent’s writeup of one of my research projects for one of my favorite blogs, Mental Floss. In true internet style, it’s a top ten list: “Top 10 Viral Hits of the Pre-Civil War Years.”

    For as long as there have been means to distribute information widely, there has been the potential for information to go viral. These days, we have easily measurable indexes of virality—pageviews, tweets, shares, and likes, to name a few, but scholars are discovering other ways to quantify virality for the pre-internet era. The Infectious Texts project at Northeastern University aims to foster a clearer understanding of the circulation of ideas in the 19th century by looking at the viral spread of newspaper and magazine texts.

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