“A vagrant of the sea”: Introducing Morgan Robertson

I teach at a beautiful campus on the southern shores of Lake Ontario in Oswego, New York. Oswego is a place of remarkable history. Its geographical position relative to waterways and other supply routes through central New York made it the target of military tussling between French and British forces during the Seven Years’ War and between American and British forces during the War of 1812. The Oswego Canal, completed in 1828, connected the epic Erie Canal system to Lake Ontario, thus accelerating Oswego’s contribution to the anthropogenic remaking of the Great Lakes ecosystem that’s been ongoing since the seventeenth century. Oswego was a launching-point to Canada for those traveling on the Underground Railway; its library, founded in 1853 on a principle of universal access for all persons, regardless of “their race, complexion, or condition,” is the oldest continuously operating public library in New York State (“About Us.”). In 1943, Oswego became the site of the single World War II refugee camp in the United States.

Continue reading ““A vagrant of the sea”: Introducing Morgan Robertson”

Victorian Education: April 28-29, 2017

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the joint conference of the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada and the Victorian Studies Association of the Western United States, whose theme this year was Victorian education. As the conference Storify attests, we gathered for two days of conversation about research and teaching on a wide range of associated topics, including Victorian food education and activism; the relationship between queer identity and instruction; representations of embodied learning; religious and imperial education systems; and the production of school textbooks. The great weather in beautiful Vancouver—defying forecasts for unremitting drizzle—made those two days even more delightful. Continue reading “Victorian Education: April 28-29, 2017”

Teaching the Dramatic Monologue

If your syllabus looks anything like mine, at least once a semester you’re dusting off your Tennyson and Browning skills and teaching the dramatic monologue. My personal favourites to teach are “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover” (Day One) and then “Tithonous,” “Ulysses,” and “St Simeon Stylites” (Day Two).

This semester I decided to do something a little different. I have the privilege of teaching my Victorian literature class in one of the fancy new classrooms at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. My 40-person class has six big touch screens, and as a result we’ve been able to do a lot of hands-on work in small groups leading into discussions with the whole class. Continue reading “Teaching the Dramatic Monologue”

Our Calculating Cousins

or How the Gendered Wage Gap and Child Labour Killed the British Computer Industry before it Even Started*

All I ever want to do these days is talk about late-Victorian offices (much to the chagrin of my partner and students, I’m sure), but I have already laid bare my soul on the subject of vertical files and press books on this blog, so thought I might stray a bit into a frank eye-to-eye chat about the American influence on late 19thC British census taking and the history of computing (it’s these frank eye-to-eye chats on the history punchcards, ink wells, and clerk’s stools that, I think, try my students so much, but bear with me. So far they have shown me great latitude and patience and I hope you will too. I will let you know in future posts if they ever reach their breaking point). I have a keen interest in the social history of computing, and get real pleasure from ferreting out the points where computing might have taken a left turn or a right one, giving us some other version of the colonial, gendered, or racialized state of computing that we live with today.

Hollerith Machines. IBM
Hollerith Machine. IBM
One of these pinch points was the development and commercialization of census taking technology. The British were census-takers extraordinaire. The Royal Statistical Society was formed in 1834 and they had a centralized General Register Office by 1837, led by novelist Thomas Henry Lister, who, alongside statistician William Farr, guided the 1841 census. The British continued to use Farr’s labour intensive system until 1911 when the British census was mechanized. The mechanization process was not a British affair (Campbell-Kelly). In 1894 former superintendent of the US Census Office, Robert P. Porter and his former employee Continue reading “Our Calculating Cousins”

Teaching the Yellow Nineties Online

Screenshot shows the homepage of the Yellow Nineties Online.
Screenshot of the Yellow Nineties Online.

A couple of years ago, Connie introduced us to The Yellow Nineties Online, a project edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff at Ryerson University dedicated to producing a TEI-edition of late Victorian periodicals including not only the Yellow Book but also periodicals like the Evergreen and the Pagan Review. Since that post, I’ve used The Yellow Nineties Online in two of my courses this past winter term (we don’t even pretend to call it a spring term here in Calgary!), and I thought it would be a good follow-up to blog about my experiences in the classroom here.

Continue reading “Teaching the Yellow Nineties Online”

A Pressing Problem and a Vertical Solution

Mr Squercum's office. Image courtesy of The Victorian Web
Mr Squercum’s office. Image courtesy of The Victorian Web

One of Lionel Grimston Fawkes’ engravings for Anthony Trollope’s 1875 novel, The Way We Live Now, features Mr. Squercum, a lawyer, lolling in his office. His desktop is a mess of paper, with more sheets affixed with push pins to the office walls, and still others spilling out of pigeonholes. It doesn’t look as though any of the papers on his desk are bound save, perhaps, those in either books or folders of some sort resting atop the pigeonholes. Trollope had, of course, been writing about office life for years, chiefly in sympathy with the much put-upon clerks, those responsible for “the management of little details, the answering of big men’s letters, the quieting of all difficulties” (The Three Clerks 36). Even the most odious office workers, such as Mr. Kissing in The Small House in Allington (1864), get Trollopian compassion (I say this tongue firmly in cheek) for the weight of their work: Kissing’s “hair was always brushed straight up, his eyes were always very wide open, and he usually carried a big letter-book with him, keeping in it a certain place with his finger. This book was almost too much for his strength, and he would flop it down, now on this man’s desk and now on that man’s, and in a long career of such floppings had made himself to be very much hated” (545 emphasis added). Continue reading “A Pressing Problem and a Vertical Solution”

NAVSA 2014

Banner for NAVSA 2014, "Classes and Classifications, showing butterflies
The banner for NAVSA 2014, http://navsa2014.com/.

Along with other Floating Academy bloggers, including Daniel Martin, I’ve just returned from NAVSA 2014 in London, Ontario.  It was a wonderful conference as always, and we all owe a huge thanks to Chris Keep and the conference organizers at Western.  I realized that I have now been attending NAVSA for ten years.  Where did that time go?  I attended my first NAVSA as a graduate student and observer back in 2004, when it was at the University of Toronto.  As a Canadian, I have to say that it’s great that NAVSA, the North American Victorian Studies Association, is in Canada every three years or so.  Little did I know in 2004 that NAVSA was a young organization at the time, founded in 2002.  This year, the presidency was handed over from the inimitable Dino Felluga to Marlene Tromp.  As I remarked to a grad school friend, we pretty much came of age in the profession as NAVSA did.  Now that I’m a few years out of grad school I value NAVSA not only for the intellectual exchange but also as an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and scholars I’ve met throughout the years.  Though, as I noted back in 2012, it’s a big conference, and if you want to make sure you see people it pays to make plans for coffee or dinner in advance!

A few trends that I noticed at this year’s NAVSA were many papers touching on animal studies (including Gillian Beer’s keynote), the great popularity of Dickens (even more so than George Eliot) and the increased presence of social media.  But, rather than trying to summarize the whole conference myself, I thought I’d do something different and make a Storify of all the tweets.  Enjoy!

Close Reading Christmas Comedy

Mr. Fezziwig's Ball by John Leech. Image courtesy of  Philip V. Allingham and the Victorian Web http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/carol/1.html
Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball by John Leech. Image courtesy of Philip V. Allingham and the Victorian Web http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/carol/1.html

One of my Digital Humanities classes is working on a digital archive of A Christmas Carol. In addition to encoding and annotating each stave, they will be creating introductions to the text, to John Leech’s illustrations, and to a few key early 20th-century adaptations (from the first film version (1901), to Edison’s adaptation (1910), and Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore’s radio play (1939) to a TV version narrated by Vincent Price (1949). I will spare you the rationale for these particular choices (“why no Victorian theatre adaptations?” you ask, to which I say “is there no copyright? Are there no license fees?”) and will zip right along).

I have given many Victorian Studies lectures in Digital Humanities classes. I am a Victorianist by training and passion, and while Digital Humanities classes tend to focus on digital methods and building as a methodology, they rely on a deeply humanist engagement with the material and cultural past. In short, the humanities part of Digital Humanities mandates that DH projects, while D, must be about and through H. This time ‘round, I decided to give the students a contextual lecture about class, the workhouse, and early Victorian childhood, with a little excursus on early-Victorian Christmas traditions (or lack of them—Cratchit and his daughter Martha only get to pick their employers’ pockets, as Scrooge put it, on the 25th of December and not on the day before or after, as they might have 100 years on). Not all my students have a background in Victorian literature and culture, or even in English, but the child Dickens, Tiny Tim, and indeed, even junior Scrooge, make for very sympathetic lecture material, so all went well. Continue reading “Close Reading Christmas Comedy”

Digitizing Nineteenth-Century Women: All or Nothing?

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)
Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Over the past couple of years, my attention has been caught by new projects that digitize the letters of Victorian women writers.   I’d like to share two of them here, The Olive Schreiner Letters Project and the Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge.  To me, these projects fulfill the best promises of the digital humanities, to make texts by marginalized writers freely and widely available.

The Olive Schreiner Letters project makes almost 5000 letters of the feminist and socialist writer, best known for the novel, The Story of an African Farm, freely available online.  The letters, held in 16 archives across three continents, have been transcribed, double-checked, and marked up in TEI.  The editors describe their impressive workflow here. (For more on the technical aspects of editing a digital edition of letters, see Miriam Posner’s helpful blog post, How Did they Make That?). Similarly, Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan, and Helen Schinske have collaborated to offer for the first time the unpublished letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge, carefully transcribed and double-checked, as an antidote to the partial information we have had about this popular mid-Victorian woman writer.  I wish this archive had been available a few years ago while I was writing a chapter on Yonge, and can only say that it has already proven helpful to me in contextualizing women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century marketplace.

Continue reading “Digitizing Nineteenth-Century Women: All or Nothing?”

Wondering at Then-New Media

Phenakistoscope
Phenakistoscope
The countdown is on, the ball is dropping—I am almost ready to holler “Happy New (School) Year!” and head into the classroom. I am teaching a Reading Popular Culture course this semester, and, so between rounds of rubric and syllabus design have been wracking my brains to figure out how to get my students engaged not only with new media, but also with old media.

Alan’s most recent post got me wondering how to get my students to engage with Victorian and twentieth-century media in a way that helps them see a medium as new, cutting edge, the Google glasses of its time (or indeed, perhaps more exciting than Google glasses. The glasses seem, by and large, to be met with a world weariness: “Another gadget? They look so terribly uncool”). Alan, quite rightly, warns against being sucked in by nineteenth-century newspapers’ celebratory accounts of then-new media. That said, while I would Continue reading “Wondering at Then-New Media”

Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader

Screenshot of 19thC Disability:  A Digital Reader
Screenshot of 19thC Disability: A Digital Reader

Following up on Connie’s post on “Editorial Traces:  The Yellow Nineties Online“, I’d like to take this post to introduce another digital project, Nineteenth-Century Disability:  A Digital Reader.  The project is an interdisciplinary, open-access scholarly resource on physical and cognitive disability in the long nineteenth-century.  Leading and emerging scholars in nineteenth-century disability studies (including the Floating Academy’s own Jennifer Esmail and Daniel Martin), have chosen texts and objects important to the field, and annotated them with introductions, footnotes, and suggestions for further reading.

Continue reading “Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader”

Editorial Traces: The Yellow Nineties Online

Cover of volume 5 of The Yellow Book
Volume 5 of The Yellow Book by Patten Wilson. Courtesy of The Yellow Nineties Online

Years ago (yes, years!) Jennifer asked if I’d like to write up a brief intro to The Yellow Nineties Online, a site dedicated to a fin-de-siècle periodicals, the project on which I cut my digital and project-management teeth. My pearly whites have been in for quite a while now and so it is with a smile of pleasure that I write about the project.

The Yellow Nineties‘ editors, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff, are among the Victorianists who have embraced the potential of both digital texts and online resources. They belong to a fine tradition: digital editing expanded through the 1980s as the result of what Matthew Kirschenbaum calls “the pitch-perfect convergence between the intense conversations around editorial theory and method … and the widespread means to implement electronic archives and editions.” Continue reading “Editorial Traces: The Yellow Nineties Online”

Melancholia and the Digitization of Victorian Culture

We’ve been talking recently about the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada’s 2013 conference in Vancouver a few weeks back, so I thought I would add a few of my own thoughts. The conference was a truly fantastic and welcoming weekend of Victorian studies on the topic of Victorian humanity and its others. I learned a lot, and had a great time connecting with some good friends and colleagues.

From a personal perspective, though, one paper in particular really made me think about what it is that we do in Victorian studies, and why our field has embraced wholeheartedly a cultural and print studies turn in literary criticism. At the risk of sounding kind of self-promotional, that paper was by my wife, Allison Fieldberg, who read some new work on silence and the ethics of the novel genre in the Brontes. Strangely, despite the fact that we’re both Victorianists and spend probably far too much of our time together talking about Victorian literature and literary and cultural criticism, we don’t often get a chance to share our ideas with each other, especially as they appear in our formal writing. Continue reading “Melancholia and the Digitization of Victorian Culture”

April Conference Report: Methodologies in Victorian Studies

I attended two terrific conferences in April that have spurred me to think about methodological questions in the field of Victorian Studies. The first one, “The Victorianists Workshop: New Approaches to Archives, Methods and Pedagogy,” which took place at Western University, was the first conference I have attended where attendees were asked to think specifically about methods instead of presenting a conventional research paper. The CFP encouraged us to consider the “developments of new critical methodologies, archival resources and pedagogical practices [that have] radically transformed Victorian Studies” and then, at the conference itself, we presented short, 2-3 page papers on our own work as it intersected with these new developments. Continue reading “April Conference Report: Methodologies in Victorian Studies”

VSAWC

VSAWCThe Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, Victorian Humanity and its Others, has come to a close. It was held at Coast Hotel in Vancouver, a location that has, ladies and gents, left me feeling a little nostalgic. I attended my first VSAWC meeting at the Coast in 2009 — my first visit to Vancouver. Fellow Floating Academician Daniel Martin gave me a tour of Stanley Park over a lunch hour and was kind enough to introduce me to the Victorian Studies who’s who of Western Canada.

Since then Daniel has moved east and I’ve moved west. It was great to have mini FA reunion at the conference: Daniel, Jennifer Esmail, and I Continue reading “VSAWC”

THATCamp: Just Go!

I just attended my second THATCamp, a digital humanities “unconference,” in Boston.  And I have to say, even if you know nothing about the digital humanities, you should just go to one!  By nature, they are a lightweight conference that’s easy to organize, which means they are popping up everywhere.  Check here to see if there’s one near you…

This model of attending an academic conference in an area of specialization you have little to no expertise is quite different from other models in the humanities.  Before I presented my first Victorian studies paper at a national conference, there was a lot of preparation. I’d already been in grad school in my field for two and a half years, I’d read the key texts in the field, and I knew the major figures in Victorian studies.  I would never have thought of opening my mouth at an important Victorian studies conference if didn’t already know the difference between Isobel Armstrong and Nancy Armstrong. Continue reading “THATCamp: Just Go!”

NAVSA 2012

I’m a little intimidated to try and blog about this year’s NAVSA.  We’ve talked here about the pleasures of going to smaller conferences–two of my favourites are the CUNY Annual Victorian Conference and NVSA.  Posting about those is never too bad, because usually you’ve seen most of the panels, so you have some small claim to authority.  But NAVSA is huge!  This year I think there were around 500 participants and up to twelve consecutive panels over ten sessions, not to mention networking lunches and workshops!  So, my post here is a small snippet, feel free to chime in in the comments as it’s entirely likely that people experienced entirely different NAVSAs.

First of all, this year’s NAVSA was probably held in the most beautiful conference center I’ve ever been to, Monona Terrace, a Frank Lloyd Wright building overlooking Lake Monona.  And the late September weather was perfect in Madison–complete with an autumnal farmer’s market on Saturday morning.  There were a number of ways (as always) that people could take the networking theme.  I liked hearing about technological networks (the telegraph, the postal service), and how their forms might relate to literary forms, and was particularly drawn to work being done on kinship and publishing networks. Continue reading “NAVSA 2012”

Steampunk in Victorian studies

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kyle-cassidy-steampunk.jpg

I’ve been noticing a persistent, sustained interest in steampunk in the various mainstream outlets of geek culture (a phrase I use with affection) such as the Gawker blog io9. (For example: http://io9.com/5917187/gorgeous-portraits-of-steampunks-jetpack+wearing-superwomen) We could probably list dozens of examples of steampunkery in popular culture, from video games to movies to prog-rock concept albums and so on if we wanted to. I have a different question, though — one I’m asking as a fan and marginal practitioner of Victorian studies rather than someone trained and based in it. Has there been much substantial work on steampunk from within Victorian studies, as distinct from fields who study science fiction in the present? Is steampunk something that matters, or should matter, in Victorian studies these days, or has it run its course — and if so, what was that course? Continue reading “Steampunk in Victorian studies”

Zotero!

I have made the resolution to use software to manage my citations more than once.  At the beginning of my MA I took a course on Endnote and dutifully used it to produce my master’s dissertation, which probably wasn’t necessary seeing as it was a twenty-five page dissertation with about thirty works cited.  At the beginning of my PhD, I took a course on Refworks and started gathering material there, but didn’t stick with it.  All in all this was okay; I actually found the recent week I had to spend sorting out my references for that project rather soothing on the whole.  I think it gave me the feeling of being productive without having to reflect on the quality of my arguments and analysis. Continue reading “Zotero!”