Category Archives: Victoriana

Why is a Victorianist teaching at Georgia Tech?

I was asked this very question during one of my first classes at Tech this week.  When I introduced myself as a scholar of nineteenth-century literature, my students looked puzzled:  what was a Victorianist doing at Georgia Tech?  And why, they asked, was I teaching a writing class focused on the concept of being “born digital”?  I found myself called upon to make the same connections in the classroom that I make all the time in my own research and, on occasion, at conferences and in interviews.

It’s easy to answer the question on a superficial level:  I’m not only a scholar of literature, I’m a scholar of language and, therefore, a scholar of communication.  I am also a writer and a researcher and all of these skills qualify me to teach writing (though it’s interesting that I — and the majority of my writing teacher colleagues — have never actually taken a writing class).   So that could answer the why am I teaching writing part, but it doesn’t get to the deeper connections between my expertise in Victorian literature and my interest in the specifically digital pedagogy associated with teaching writing at Tech.

When I think about what is so interesting about the nineteenth century, I think of the sense of excitement, of discovery and progress we get from the newspapers, letters, novels and essays of the period; the feeling that new and amazing things were happening that were pushing the Victorians faster than ever before into a technology-filled future of possibilities.  The way that technology like the steam engine and the printing press created networks of information and, almost overnight, transformed local and global communication, mirrors the way the internet and digital technologies have connected our contemporary world.

And so when I teach about our digital world and the way it has revolutionized communication, I am thinking about the Victorians and the new world opened up to them by train travel and the telegraph — a world that was transformed in notions of distance and time — and, commensurately, a world that seemed both promising and threatening in the possibilities it presented.  In my writing classes, then, we think about the basics of communication and rhetoric and how they work in all the different media and how they are transformed in the era of digital communication.

I’m also thinking about materiality and the way Victorians commodified and fetishized it  (museums,”Great” exhibitions department stores etc.),  and the way we are dealing with losing it through digitization.  In my “Born Digital” class we’re considering the ramifications of digitization on museums and exhibits, on book production, and on information storage.  This focus on materiality is also reflected in my work on Steampunk, a literary and cultural movement which anachronistically strives to restore the notion of craft to contemporary technology by refashioning it “nineteenth-century” style.

In so many ways, then, the excitement and the reservations of the Victorians regarding the explosion of technology in their time are mirrored in our own.  And it is in thinking about how the Victorians’ attitude towards the rapid transformation of systems like communication and information processing affected their ability to move forward  that we can reflect upon our own.

So when I walk into a first-year writing course focused on the digital era, I am bringing with me all of the Victorians’ excitement and all of their reservations about a world transformed by technology.  Think of it like this:  I may be wearing a corset, but that’s an iPhone in my pocket.

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Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching, Victoriana

Welcome!

Welcome to the Arcades.  I’ve created this space as a place for me to do some informal musing on topics related to my research and teaching, with the goal that frequent short writing will keep my ideas flowing and my writing skills honed.  In fact, just writing this introduction I’m having to think so much about the flow of my prose, what “voice” I should have in this space, how to organize spontaneous ideas into coherent posts – it’s already working!

I’ve titled this blog “The Arcades” because I envision it as a vast space to wander around, framed and supported by the many thrusts of my ideas and interests.  I also think of it as a Victorian space, a space designed to be both ornamental and eminently practical (many arcades were designed as shelters for pedestrians).  Arcades also make me think of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and — to bring in my interest in the digital — arcade games.  The picture on this blog’s header is of the Cleveland Arcade built in 1890 and captures the sense of space with structure that I hope this blog will be for me.

I’ll be writing about Victorian literature and culture as it relates to my research, but also as I see it intersecting with my other interests in Neo-Victorian and Steampunk literature, and my teaching in the digital humanities.  I can also envision posts dealing with general pedagogy, course design, and teaching with technology which are all topics I’ll be considering on a daily basis as I teach first-year English at Georgia Tech.  And finally, as a candidate on the job market, I will be chronicling my experience in the job search and using this site as a place to direct people who are interested in my teaching and research.

I’m also going to set myself some challenges related to reading and writing.  My first is my goal to complete a revision of an article draft that I have been working on this summer.  More on that to follow, but I will use this space to keep myself motivated about my writing and to set myself writing goals.  Secondly, I plan to write a weekly review on new journal articles and academic texts which relate to my research and to Victorian scholarship in general.  And finally, I have set myself a “Victorian Novel Challenge” — I’m planning on reading (or re-reading as the case may be) 50 Victorian novels (or collections of stories or poetry) by fall 2011.  I will post my reading list here and chronicle my progress in regular installments.  This would be a whole lot easier if I were a Modernist…

So, come on in, wander around, and say hello.  This is a big space, I wouldn’t mind some company.

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Filed under Books, Books, Books, Digital Humanities, Miscellaneous, Professional, Teaching, Victoriana, Writing about writing