Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The America I Fear

The America I Fear (a poem in progress)

In the America I fear, a woman seeking shelter from partner violence is shackled by the state, detained for expedited removal.

In the America I fear, a mom is pulled from her car, even though she was not the one they were looking for. She’s sent back to Mexico in shackles, her daughters left to fend for themselves.

In the America I fear, we better have our papers in order. They’ll line us up for secondary screening; they’ll take our phones. Are we still welcome in America if we criticize it on Facebook?

America I fear is showing its teeth. Immigrants retreat now to the shadows; the tomatoes we hoped they would pick for us are rotting on the vines, a sticky mess and a sign of lives wasted and families torn.

America, I’m afraid our righteous anger, our protests and our lawsuits can’t stop this; they have the force of law on their side. In the America I fear, they’ll make the laws they want to enforce.

In the America I fear, immigrants will be told to keep their heads down, mouths shut, or bad things could happen. I fear we’ll let this happen. (It occurs to me that I am America, Allen Ginsberg once said.)

In the America I fear, our President speaks of “taking the shackles off” Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They are now free to put millions of immigrants in shackles.

In the America I fear, shackles will be a winning strategy, just as they were once before. Remember when the teeth of their attack dogs were directed at black folks. Today, like Langston Hughes, I too am the darker brother, and I too, sing America. (And fear it.)

In the America I fear, shackles will be a winning strategy at the polls. The immigrants who have been disappeared weren’t voters. Their disappearance will be invisible to many. Celebrated by some.

In the America I fear, all this is televised, all this is televised, all this is televised—and the ratings are through the roof. The America I fear is happening live. The America I fear is already here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Historical Footnote: Militant Suffragettes, Forced Feeding, and Class Identity

A brief historical footnote completely unrelated to President Agent Orange.

I've been working with an honors student on her senior thesis this spring. She's interested in the militant suffrage movement in England (1909-1914 roughly); we've been reading memoirs by the Pankhursts, novels like Gertrude Colmore's Suffragette Sally (published in 1910 -- interestingly, there's no digital version of it online anywhere!), the anti-suffrage novel Delia Blanchflower (archive.org), and combing through old collections of the London Times and Votes for Women (the weekly newspaper closely affiliated with the WSPU).  We're finding lots of interesting stuff, but since I am not an expert in this area I wanted to put this footnote out there in case readers have suggestions or tips relating to this topic they could share.

We got interested in the depiction of the imprisoned activists who engaged in hunger strikes as a mode of resistance inside prison during the peak of the militant suffrage movement.

One curious discovery my student made was that at first this was seen as linked to class identity. In the early 1900s, the women's prison system in England was structured along strict class lines. First class women prisoners ("political prisoners") could wear their own clothes, order food for delivery in prison, have access to books and writing materials, and even receive visitors. Second class prisoners had more limited rights, and third class prisoners (often prostitutes: women suspected of "moral turpitude") lived in pretty abysmal conditions.

Most of the militant suffragettes, starting with the Pankhursts themselves, were middle class (some of the prominent leaders were also upper-class -- titled women like Lady Constance Lytton). But when imprisoned for various acts, from simply being disruptive in public to actually committing acts of vandalism (breaking windows), and rioting, they were thrown into the third class prison. Initially at least (in 1909-1910) many of the hunger strikes that ensued were oriented towards calling attention to this fact -- the suffragettes thought they deserved to be put in the first class facility as political prisoners, rather than be thrown in with the "common" prisoners.

It's also worth mentioning that Edwardian medical technology was pretty primitive; the nasal tubes used in force feeding were pretty crude, and often left scarring. Lytton, in her memoir of the experience of being repeated force-fed, suggests her digestive tract was permanently damaged by this. (See more here)

Later the hunger strikes morphed into something else -- a much more powerful rhetorical tool for calling attention in general to the Suffragists' claims and cause (as Lytton would later describe it: the hunger strike was a "woman's weapon" against the state). In 1910  Lytton went to prison under a pseudonym, disguising her class background. She went on hunger strike and then was subjected to force-feeding. When she came out, her account of how she'd been treated helped raise mainstream awareness of what was happening to the imprisoned suffragettes. She also asserted her commitment to an egalitarian -- middle and working class -- suffrage movement.

It's probably important to mention also that Edwardian medical technology was pretty primitive; the nasal tubes used in force feeding were quite crude, and often left scarring. Lytton, in her memoir of the experience of being repeated force-fed, suggests her digestive tract was permanently damaged by this. (See a bit more here)

Soon, the government would start putting imprisoned suffragettes in first class women's prisons. They also stopped force-feeding suffragettes on hunger strikes (some continued to do so), but shortly after the beginning of World War I the movement largely went into hibernation, reemerging after the war.

So -- as I mentioned, I'm not an expert in this area, and much of what I describe above is new to me. Do any readers have suggestions about either feminist historians or literary critics they think are particularly insightful on these topics? Favorite suffrage (or anti-suffrage! we're interested in both) novels? Suggestions on digital archives or collections we should look at? 


Friday, February 03, 2017

An Open Letter to Steve Bannon, from a Hyphenated American

Dear Steve Bannon and Friends, 

I'm probably wasting my time writing to you. You know that old internet saying, "Don't Feed the Trolls"? Well for the past couple of years I have mostly thought of you and Donald Trump as basically trolls, more interested in scoring political points and tripping up your opposition than in putting forward a coherent ideology of your own.

But then Donald Trump won the freaking election. Now you and he have the ability to shape policy in some profound ways; you have already begun doing it.

It really does not make sense to dismiss you as trolls any longer, since you run the government. So this is an attempt to talk to you and your "alt right" friends seriously for a moment. My hope is that you can convince me that you're not just trolls who have won the lottery through a crazy and terrible fluke. Can you?

I've been watching what you and President Trump have been doing with the various executive orders and trying to understand it. It started with the Wall, and all the over the top language about illegal immigrants that's behind what is obviously a pretty dumb xenophobic symbol. Then last week we had the Refugee Ban and the seven country visa ban, supposedly to fight terrorism, though we all know that's not the real point of it (*cough* #MuslimBan). There are now reports there will be other orders soon -- you want to change the H-1B rules to make it harder for American companies to hire skilled foreign workers. Apparently Trump is also going to go after immigrants who are poor and who have received help from social welfare programs like CHIP.

Is Trump also going to reduce the number of immigration visas overall? (He promised he would in the campaign.) Is he going to go after birthright citizenship? 

Based on things you have said in recent months, I would expect that you are indeed planning to do all of those things. Just to recap, here's what you said on a radio interview with Stephen Miller (who also now works with you under Trump). This is from your SiriusXM radio show, from March 2016:

You saw that, what is it, 61 million? Isn’t the beating heart of this problem, the real beating heart of it, of what we gotta get sorted here, is not illegal immigration? As horrific as that is, and it’s horrific, don’t we have a problem, we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country? When you look and there’s got 61 million, 20 percent of the country, is immigrants — is that not a massive problem? (link)
The 61 million you are referring to there is the number of foreign born people in the United States right now, including citizens as well as permanent residents. Here's what I don't understand: why is that number, 20%, so scary to you? Why do you feel "overwhelmed" by immigrants? What, exactly, is the "problem"? 

The United States has a long history of accepting waves of immigration and quickly assimilating those communities into the American mainstream. The massive wave of European immigration between 1880 and 1920 meant that there were many people speaking Italian, German, and Yiddish in American cities for a few years. But their children all spoke English and identified as Americans.

The exact same thing has been happening with the wave of immigrants who have been entering the United States since 1965 -- when Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened the doors to immigrants that had formerly been banned under the racial national quotas that had been instituted in the early 1920s (i.e., the Asian Exclusion Act).

The newer waves of immigrants may be darker skinned and have names like Patel and Zavarzadeh rather than Pazzaglia and Liebowitz. But over time they do exactly what the earlier waves of immigrants did: they move out of ethnic enclaves in and around big cities to the suburbs. Their kids prefer English to their parents' languages, and develop a taste for burgers and basketball. (This is what happened with my own family, which started its American story in Queens, New York, only to settle down in a Maryland suburb. I live in a suburb of Philadephia.) It doesn't always happen overnight, but it does happen: immigrants blend into the mainstream of American life.

Yes, some of us do prefer to stay connected to the countries and cultures of our parents. I grew up with Burgers and Basketball; I am also a practicing Sikh, who would love it if my kids could speak and read at least some Punjabi (though I'm pretty sure my 10 year old would prefer to just spend his Sunday afternoons shooting hoops on the driveway). And I consider myself "South Asian American," which I know might annoy you.

But remember that the endpoint of every hyphenated ethnic or racial identity category is basically one word and one idea: American. Chinese-American, African-American, Arab-American.... The hyphenation is a marker of process; we are all in the process of becoming American. Admittedly, it might also be a marker of a complexity around American national identity that is going to be permanent. But the idea of Americanness can certainly handle a bit of complexity, can it not? What it means to be American has always been complex. (Just ask Frederick Douglass. Really, ask him. He's on Twitter now.)

Back to the point, though: what exactly is your problem with any of that? Why are you afraid of immigrants? Why are you afraid of complexity? Why are you afraid of me? I don't get it.

Let's talk about another issue you raised in your interview from last March, the issue of immigrant IT workers and temporary workers on H-1B visas.

You have turned over the entire American education system — we have cut out art, we have cut out history, we have cut out music. Why have we done it? STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. We have told every minority kid in this country, you got to excel at that. What happens? They get into graduate schools, they can’t get engineering degrees, they can’t get into graduate schools because there are all these foreign students, when they come out, they can’t get a job. (link)
Here you just seem confused and ill-informed. (I was a little surprised to see that you appear to want to bring back more art, history and music to American public schools. I agree! But maybe that's a conversation for another day.)

The simple truth is that it's not that there are large numbers of white American students who are desperate to become software engineers but are being out-competed by Asian immigrants and international students. In fact, at institutions like mine there simply aren't all that many American-born students (of any ethnicity) applying to those graduate programs; many of the Masters' and Ph.D. programs in STEM fields we have would likely disappear entirely if we stopped admitting foreign students overnight.

One more quote from your interview:
Where are we in the Trump campaign with the H-1B visas? Because we got the oligarchs down there, man, and they have got Karl Rove and literally hundreds of millions of dollars, and they are coming with one reason. And they are coming for unlimited ability to go throughout the world and have people come here and compete with kids coming out of engineering schools and IT jobs. If you are in your 40s and 50s right now, people will tell you, they haven’t had a raise in decades in IT. What was supposed to be a great career turned out not to be a great career. It’s because of these visas.
Again, I just think that best you simply don't know what you are talking about. There really aren't a lot of senior engineers who are out of work because of temporary workers coming in who might do the same work for less pay. Last year, around the time you did this interview, we saw headlines along the lines of "Silicon Valley Unemployment Hits New Low". And people with these skills make very good salaries -- most are in the six figures -- with pretty good raises and bonuses.

So are you just making this stuff up? That kind of thing is fine when you're just trolling on your Satellite Radio show, but it's not going to cut it if you're really going to try and push around Tim Cook or Sergey Brin with a bunch of half-baked policy ideas that would demolish the American advantage in IT overnight.

The large numbers of skilled immigrant workers in the IT industry have been a huge asset to companies like Google, Facebook, and Intel. They have been one of the main reasons these American companies have succeeded the way they have. And I would stipulate that they have been able to do this without taking away jobs from American workers. So basically you are completely wrong about most of this stuff related to Silicon Valley and the tech industry.

In short, everything you have proposed so far will be bad for the United States in the long run. If you really don't have anything more coherent to offer than what you said on that radio show, I would suggest you quit working in the White House and go back to running your Trolltastic website (Breitbart.com) and your Trolltastic satellite radio show. You don't have any business making real policies; they are cruel, they are un-American, and they just don't make any goddamn sense.

Sincerely,

A Hyphenated American


Friday, January 27, 2017

Against the Refugee Ban

Yesterday President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that will freeze the entire U.S. refugee program for several months, while ending the Syrian refugee program indefinitely. Long-term, President Trump plans to cut the total number of refugees admitted annually from around the world by more than half (from a max of 110,000 currently to 50,000 in the future). President Trump has also temporarily banned visitors and immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries, including Syria and Iraq, even though, as many commentators have pointed out, no recent Jihadist terrorist incidents in the U.S. featured individuals originating from any of those countries.  

I have a lot to say about the many things that are wrong with the seven country visitor ban, but I'll save that for another time. Here I want to focus a bit on the history of the Refugee program -- and on Syrian refugees in particular. By freezing the Refugee program and refusing to accept Syrian refugees, the U.S. under President Donald Trump is turning away from a proud history of American hospitality, and disavowing any responsibility for the conditions that have led millions of people to be displaced from their home country. The Refugee Ban will be ineffective at stopping terrorism; it also flies in the face of more than sixty years of policy and experience with refugee resettlement. It suggests we as a people are becoming smaller, morally and politically, based on a rationale that at best is incoherent and worst is just a lie.

While President Trump has never been particularly honest about his own views of the Iraq War, on a few occasions he has correctly alluded to the fact that the roots of the conflict in Syria can be traced back to the destabilization of the region that followed the ill-fated U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Moreover, President Obama's encouragement of a popular uprising against Assad, beginning in 2011, helped nudge forward the events that have followed. We did not make the mess in Syria, but we are undoubtedly involved; we helped make the mess, so we should help to fix it.

Hospitality and a willingness to welcome refugees has a long and proud tradition in U.S. law. Some of the most important laws might the Displaced Persons Act (1948), the Refugee Relief Act (1953), the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966), and the Refugee Act of 1980. All told, these various acts have been responsible for the admission of more than 4 million total refugees to the U.S. between 1948 and 2009. The large Cuban American population in Florida, the Laotian and Hmong populations in the upper Midwest, and a sizable chunk of America’s Vietnamese and Korean populations are the result of those policies. (If you know Vietnamese people who entered the country before about 1990, chances are they came in as refugees.) And while there might on occasion be some grumbling about these communities, by and large it’s pretty clear that these were successful refugee resettlement projects. The combination of government agencies and non-governmental agencies (such as, in the Hmong case, the Lutheran Church) worked together to help these new immigrants find a place for themselves in American society.

It's worth remembering that the U.S. has felt a moral responsibility to admit these refugees, particularly from nations where the U.S. itself had been involved in creating the problems that led to civil conflict. Thus, the U.S. was especially open to immigrants from Korea in the wake of the Korean War in the early 1950s, and then again to refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia after the war in Vietnam ended in the early 1970s. According to State department data, we admitted more than a half million refugees from Asia between 1975 and 1981, and continued to admit large numbers of Asian refugees through the 1990s (1975-1999: total 1.3 million Asian refugees). Starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s, we were admitting tens of thousands of refugees from various conflict areas in the former Soviet Union – a total of 500,000 refugees between 1988 and 2001. Up until 2001, it was common, even routine, for the U.S. to admit more than 100,000 refugees a year from all over the world; that number dropped dramatically during the early years of the Bush Administration before rising back to approximately that earlier number in the final years of Obama.

America's refugee program has, until recently, been popular in a bipartisan way. As David Haines points out in Safe Haven? A History of Refugees in America:
Although the acceptance of refugees from these communist countries has had some very practical political advantages--good press on those 'voting with their feet' for freedom--even those advantages rest on a moral commitment: to stand for a particular kind of political and economic system and to recognize in word and deed that people fleeing a competing kind of political and economic system (sometimes even an 'evil' system) have every reason to do so, and every right to claim refuge in the United States. (Haines, 5)
During the peak years of the Refugee program, it was seen not as a liberal policy but rather as a proud advertisement for America as a place of freedom and openness that was supported by conservatives: it made America look good. And it's worth remembering that many of the people admitted as refugees, first from Germany, then from Communist Countries (especially the USSR), and then from Asian countries where the U.S. had been militarily involved -- were all seen initially as of the same nationality as our "Enemy," though it was obvious to everyone that there were millions of Vietnamese who were not Communists, etc.

Any rational assessment of the current situation would show that our "Enemy" in the Middle East now is ISIS and a handful of other Jihadist groups, not "Islam" (though Donald Trump, who infamously declared that "Islam Hates Us" last year,  does not appear able to make that distinction). Many journalists have pointed out that the U.S. military has been working closely with the Iraqi government and army to take down ISIS in northern Iraq; we will be similarly dependent on the support of local people if we are to do the same in Syria. .

While we heard a good deal last year about the political crisis European nations have been having over Syrian refugees, it’s worth starting by noting that by far, the countries that are currently holding the largest numbers of refugees are in the Middle East itself.  The numbers are mind-boggling: Turkey has 2.75+ million refugees, Lebanon has more than a million refugees, and Jordan has 1.25 million refugees – only 600,000 of whom are officially registered. Germany and Greece have both taken in nearly 500,000 Syrian refugees each. Canada, our neighbor to the north that has 1/10th the population of the U.S., has taken in 30,000 Syrian refugees. (They have done exceptionally well; read this profile of a Syrian refugee family in Canada from December.)

Meanwhile, as of November 2016, the U.S. had taken in and resettled a grand total of 13,000 Syrian refugees. Given the scale of what other countries are doing to alleviate the sufferings of Syrians in refugee camps in neighboring countries, the number is laughably small. Not only do we have a moral responsibility to the refugees themselves to do more, arguably we have a responsibility to our allies – especially countries like Turkey and Jordan – to alleviate the immense strain that is being placed on them by the huge influx of refugees from the Syrian conflict.

The refugee ban is especially disappointing given what I have been saying about the history of American generosity at earlier moments. Because of that history, we have a highly developed capacity to absorb new immigrants and resettle refugees around the country. I mentioned the very robust network of organizations around the country that have been helping to resettle refugees for decades; there is a powerful and effective infrastructure in place to help Refugees become Americans. These people, who have fled for their lives often because of civil conflicts we helped to create, need us to continue to use it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Mr. Trump... (advice on Inauguration Day)

Dear Mr. Trump,

First, congratulations. You won. You get to be President. The Oval Office, the nuclear codes, all of it. No one today can make fun of you as only a reality television star or only a con-man or only the son and heir of a successful real estate developer from Queens. You've silenced all those mockers. And other than Alec Baldwin, those who are still mocking you as such even now are starting to seem a little desperate: nothing seems to stick. And you keep on winning and winning.

So I'm not here to mock you about the rumored "pee pee tape" or deride you for your bad taste. Millions of Americans in any case seem to prefer your taste in things to mine. Happily it's a big country and there's a million decent things to watch on TV.

Actually, I want to talk with you about something a little more personal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teaching Notes: Multimodal Assignment (Spring 2016)

I taught two sections of first-year writing in spring 2016 under the overarching theme of "immigration." I assigned some fiction related to the American immigrant experience but spent quite a bit of time talking about issues in immigration policy. Our class was coinciding with the final months of the Republican primaries, and we were also bringing election politics -- the debate about illegal immigration -- into our earlier assignments. I had them read a series of Op-Eds relating to the immigration policy debate and also watch recaps of the primary debates.

For the final month I decided to shift gears and help guide students to a research topic that was focused on a historical issue -- in this case, the Mariel boatlift of 1980, which led to more than 100,000 Cuban "undocumented" immigrants entering the U.S. over the course of a few months. I gave them quite a bit of background on the event and also showed them how to research aspects of it on their own using tools like Lexis-Nexis. We spent time in class workshopping paper topics as they were being developed by students, and then the papers were due in late April.

In this class, I made the decision to give them a relatively tight set of constraints on the research paper – they were all working on a single topic. Within that topic there were many subtopics I charted out for them. Some were designed to appeal to questions about economics and policy (what economic impact did the rapid influx of 125,000 Cuban immigrants have on the Florida economy?) – designed to get the interest of the business majors in the room. Other subtopics were more focused on more cultural issues and issues of social justice. To what extent does it make sense to see Cuban refugees as undocumented immigrants along the lines of the conversation today? What were the experiences of LGBTQ Cuban refugees in the Boatlift like? Students picked out various subtopics, often in small groups, and worked within the broader framework I had selected.

This approach -- where you give students a topic to research rather than let them pick their own -- is not one I would recommend for everyone. For one thing, it's very difficult to pick a topic that's neither too broad nor too narrow. You also don't want to seem that you're imposing your particular hobby-horse or research area on a group of unsuspecting freshmen. The advantage of introducing some degree of constraint is that you can set up a scaffolding for students -- and a base of knowledge they can draw on -- that means they don't have to go out entirely on their own. You also don't put yourself in the position of having to research a topic with which you yourself may not be super-familiar alongside the students. Finally, I wanted to pick a topic that would stimulate genuine debate, and allow students in the room who identify as conservatives as well as liberals to have something to grab onto ethically and intellectually. American conservatives have long supported an open-door policy towards Cubans wanting to emigrate, and Ronald Reagan's administration ultimately gave the vast majority of those immigrants green cards and then citizenship. How does that square with what conservatives think about these topics today? But the event was also seen as a disaster for Jimmy Carter's administration as it was occurring -- it forced Democrats also to reconsider their attitude towards immigration and hospitality and set the stage for the "New Democrats" who would emerge after Reagan (i.e., Bill Clinton).

About two weeks after students submitted their research papers, I asked them to repurpose some of their research for a multimodal assignment. Finally, I asked them to present their multimodal projects live in class (4 minutes to present, 1-2 minutes for feedback and questions). We took two sessions to work through each of the projects. This is not something for everyone either – those two class sessions might have been used for something else. But I also felt there was something of value there, especially for several students in the class who were either shy or were not confident of their English-language presentation skills. Making them present and defend their research orally might be another “mode” in the “multimodal” assignment.

More Resources:

Introductory Lecture Notes on Mariel Boatlift:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eol9bkN3sZ2aEZLgLf8_N5bh9mkeXueWqHEI6_L9qfM/pub

Google Docs detailed collaborative timeline of the Mariel Boatlift:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GVHQPSlfVZVX1tcdU34BlZQxuQtrG5pUscRIN8mlL5g/edit?usp=sharing


Below is the text of the multimodal assignment I gave my students.




Saturday, December 24, 2016

Visualizing the Trump Presidency. Scenario #3: the Muslim Ban

This is part of a series imagining the likely twists and turns of Donald Trump's presidency before he is actually inaugurated. See earlier Scenarios here and here.

In the first few weeks of the Trump Presidency, the proposal he had mentioned many times during the campaign, to ban all Muslims from entering the country, is effectively stalled.

He repeats the proposal several times in speeches and on Twitter, but his Cabinet officials and advisers all tell him it's actually not possible to do -- just as they had told him before. The best that can be done is the secret Muslim registry and a ban on immigrants from "Muslim-majority countries." So this is what goes forward. (Outrage greets these proposals on the left and in the Muslim American community every time Trump goes to this topic, but it is inconsequential. What we have to say is going to be inconsequential until he actually takes action. Which he will.)


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Visualizing the Trump Presidency. Scenario #2: Trump Nullified

[Note: this is very much a best-case scenario. Also, this post is part of an ongoing series. See scenario #1 here.] 

Scenario #2: Trump Nullified

After a few chaotic weeks in the spring of 2017, the generals who are managing the new President's foreign policy start to blow him off.

Not in so many words, of course. In public and on television, they acknowledge the latest controversies created by the President's incoherent statements that are now roiling across the global media landscape. But they insist that, by following through with a more measured set of policies, they are actually doing exactly what their boss intends. Many viewers miss the subtlety. Those that see it are a little shocked at the sense of contempt the President's own surrogates seem to have for their boss.

Visualizing the Donald Trump Presidency. Scenario #1: The Repeal

I'm going to try a new series of short posts -- daydreams -- imagining events in Donald Trump's upcoming Presidency. Some will be highly plausible, others will be a bit counterfactual and dream-like. The goal is partly self-therapy and partly to contemplate a means of viable intellectual resistance. I would invite readers to give suggestions for future Scenarios, or even to write their own. 

Scenario #1: The Repeal

They will repeal Obamacare even before the inauguration. They will rush to do it, they will not bother in the short run to implement a "replacement" (they will promise in vague terms that a replacement will be coming). There will be alarm amongst people who depend on Obamacare for their health insurance, but it will be ignored by the media. There will be joy and jubilation in the Tea Party; they will even bring out the Revolutionary War costumes and wigs again, and this will be all over the news.

President Trump will sign the Repeal into law in his first week as President.

The Repeal will also of course be "effective 2019," because no one wants to risk the consequences of actually doing this in the current Congressional Term.

They will promise to pass a new and improved version of the Affordable Care Act somewhere down the line. Sometime in 2017, they might actually do this, and call it, yes, "Trumpcare." It will be substantially the same as Obamacare, but it will be sold to Red States as a substantial improvement that is now based on "free market principles," not "government healthcare." No one will notice or remember that actually the Obamacare exchanges constituted a patchwork free market solution.

Meanwhile, the Democrats will be in complete disarray. Every complaint from Democratic politicians will be dismissed with a Tweet or two from President Trump.

All of this will be so outrageous to former President Barack Obama that he will come out of retirement in 2018, and declare that he's running for a third term as President.




  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Spring 2017 Teaching. "Writing Empire: Race, Gender, and Power in British India"

I'm teaching a graduate course in spring 2017 called "Writing Empire: Race, Gender, and Power in British India." 

In addition to regular primary and secondary readings for the course, I'll encourage students to seek out an archival project on a thematic topic related to the intersection of race & gender in Victorian India. This could be an exploration of newspaper archives related to a particular hot-button issue picked out by students, such as the "Rukhmabai" issue relating to Hindu child marriage, debates over laws relating to widow remarriage, issues affecting the mixed-race Eurasian population, etc. Students will be asked to conduct a limited amount of archival research on that topic, and then find a productive way to edit and present those materials online, in a digital format. I will use my work on my digital project, "The Kiplings and India," as a model, though students will not be in any way obliged to contribute to that project. 


Here's the brief course description.

"Writing Empire: Race, Gender, and Power in British India"

This course will explore 19th and early 20th century texts related to British colonialism with an "intersectional" lens. Broad questions to be considered include: What role did liberal 19th century British feminism play in helping to consolidate -- or critique -- an ideology of British Imperialism? How can we understand the early Indian nationalist movement specifically with regards to the representation of Hindu and Muslim women? How do interracial relationships and cross-cultural structures of desire and intimacy factor into the history of the later unraveling of the British Empire? To address these questions, we will introduce ideas from postcolonial theory and specifically postcolonial feminism, and apply them to a set of primary readings that includes both well-known authors like Rudyard Kipling, Wilkie Collins, and E.M. Forster, as well as more marginal figures like Flora Annie Steel and Pandita Ramabai. In addition to primary texts, a portion of the course will introduce students to research methods in order to access archival materials related to the British empire; this archival unit will also entail some digital humanities concepts and methods.


Likely Primary Texts (we may not do *all* of these):

Rudyard Kipling, Early Poems, Indian journalism, select short stories (The Kiplings and India
Rudyard Kipling, Plain Tales From the Hills (1900) (Gutenberg version
Flora Annie Steel, On the Face of the Waters  (1897). (Archive.org version
Meera Kosambi, Ed., Pandita Ramabai's American Encounter (1889 / translated 2003) 
Krupabai Satthianadhan, Kamala: The Story of a Hindu Life (1894) (Archive.org version
Rabindranath Tagore, Chokher Bali  

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868) (Gutenberg version)
Sara Jeannette Duncan, The Simple Adventures of a Memsahib (1893) (Archive.org version)
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)
E.M. Forster, Biographical materials and India-related essays
Florence Nightingale, Letter on the Madras Famine of 1876 (5 page famine report)

Secondary Criticism  (Preliminary list -- mostly supplementary/optional reading)
(Excerpts from these available on CouresSite)


Victorian/ Postcolonial 
Patrick Brantlinger, Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies (2009)
Priya Joshi, In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India (2003)
Nathan Hensley, Forms of Empire: The Poetics of Victorian Sovereignty (2016)
Tim Watson, "The Colonial Novel" (from The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel)
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1993)




Gender and Race

Indrani Sen, Woman and Empire: Representations in the Writings of British India 1858-1900. (2002) 
Shuchi Kapila, Educating Seeta: The Ango-Indian Family Romance and the Poetics of Indirect Rule (2010) 
Krupa Shandilya, Intimate Relations: Social Reform and the Late Nineteenth-Century South Asian Novel. (2017) 
LeeAnne Richardson, New Woman and Colonial Adventure Fiction in Victorian Britain: Gender, Genre, and Empire. (2006) 
Claire Midgley, Gender and Imperialism (1998) 
Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India, 1850-1920 (2005)

Poverty and Famine

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (2002), Chapter 1
Leela Sami, "Starvation, Disease and Death: Explaining Famine Mortality in Madras 1876–1878" (2011) 
Sukanya Banerjee, Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (2010). Chapter on Dadaji Naoroji's "Poverty and Un-British Rule""
Margaret Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine (1997). Chapter 4, "Literature of the Bengal Famine" 
Louise Penner, Victorian Medicine and Social Reform: Florence Nightingale Among the Novelists (2010). Chapter 4: "Engaging the Victorian Reading Public: Nightingale and the Madras Famine of 1876  
Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981). Chapter 6: "The Great Bengal Famine.""Appendix D: Famine Mortality: A Case Study" 
Meghnad Desai, "The Economics of Famine" (in Harrison, Ed. Famine [1988]) 
William Digby, Famine Campaign in Southern India, 1876-1878. (1878). Digital Copy on Hathi Trust 
B.M. Bhatia, Famines in India: A Study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India (1963). Chapter 3: "Famines and Famine Relief, 1860-1879"



Rudyard Kipling

Zohreh Sullivan, Narratives of Empire : The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling (1993) 
Charles Allen, Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling (2008)
Christopher Hawes, Poor Relations: The Making of a Eurasian Community in British India (Chapters 5 and 6)
Jan Montefiore, "Kipling's North Indian Travels" (From In Time's Eye
Harish Trivedi, "Kipling's 'Vernacular': what he knew of it -- and what he made of it" (From In Time's Eye) 
Don Randall, Kipling's Imperial Boy: Adolescence and Cultural Hybridity (Introduction) 
Thomas Pinney, Kipling's India: Uncollected Sketches 1884-1888. (Introduction)

Flora Annie Steel

Violet Powell, Flora Annie Steel: Novelist of India (1981) 
David Wayne Thomas, "Liberal Legitimation and Communicative Action in British India: Reading Flora Annie Steel's 'On the Face of the Waters'" (ELH 76.1: 2009, pp. 153-187)



E.M. Forster

Jenny Sharpe, "The Unspeakable Limits of Civility: A Passage to India
Benita Parry, Delusions and Discoversies: India in the British Imagination 
P. N. Furbank, E.M. Forster: A Life 
Antony Copley, A Spiritual Bloomsbury: Hinduism and Homosexuality in the Lives and Writings of Edward Carpenter, E.M. Forster, and Christopher Isherwood 
Parminder Kaur Bakshi, Distant Desire: Homoerotic Codes and the Subversion of the English Novel in E.M. Forster's Fiction.  
Sara Suleri, "Forster's Imperial Erotic." in The Rhetoric of English India






Bagchi, Barnita. "'Because Novels Are True, And Histories Are False': Indian Women Writing Fiction In English, 1860-1918." A History of the Indian Novel in English. 59-72. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2015.

Stephen Knight, "The Postcolonial Crime Novel" (from The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel)




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Teaching Notes: "Religion and Literature" (Fall 2016)

This fall I taught a course for advanced undergraduates on "Religion and Literature." In it, I assigned Milton's Paradise Lost (the first five books), a substantial selection from William Blake, Iris Murdoch's The Bell, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Overall, a pretty successful class on a topic I have been thinking about for much of my career. The following is a lightly edited version of the opening day lecture I wrote up for my students. 


Let's start with the following poem by William Blake:
“The Garden of Love” (from Songs of Experience)

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars, my joys desires.

English and American literature has been deeply connected to debates over religion, going back to the medieval period. Even as Christianity seemed to recede in public life in the modern era, prominent writers continued to write about it, sometimes expressing their passionate dissent from various religious orthodoxies -- as we see in Blake's poem "The Garden of Love" above. For Blake, the formal institution of the Church (represented by the Chapel that's been built in what used to be a garden) is first and foremost an institution of interdiction and denial ("Thou shalt not"). Its principles of self-denial and its championing of suffering are a species of death for Blake. And yet he resists them not in the name of atheism or secular humanism -- but in the name of a much more personal, text-centered interpretation of Christianity. Blake's Christianity was not centered around the idea of Christ's particular suffering on the cross, but on the idea of a divine gift in the form of human prophetic genius in dialectical relationship with the restraints that are placed on it.

For many of Blake's peers, his radical beliefs and personal practices (he refused to enter Churches for much of his adult life!) would actually have placed him outside of Christianity. It’s worth remembering that in England at least, the Church of England was the “Establishment” Church throughout this period: the Monarchy and Parliament were directly connected to the Church. Non-Anglican Christian sects -- Roman Catholics, and Protestant “Dissenters” (Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Methodists…) were banned from holding public office, and there was widespread discrimination against them in many walks of life. It wouldn’t be until 1835, for instance, that Catholics would be allowed to vote or serve as members of Parliament in England. English Jews wouldn't get the same privileges until 1858.

With Milton in the 17th century, through Bunyan, Blake, Defoe, and Swift in the 18th century, and going further through the 19th and 20th centuries there is no shortage of canonical writers who have seriously engaged issues of religion in their works. Books like Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) are thickly saturated with religious references. People often overlook these when they talk about Robinson Crusoe – whose eponymous hero starts off rebelling against religion. His life as a castaway can be interpreted in the novel as punishment for his sins. Later, he has a “conversion” experience; his subsequent rescue might be seen as a reward for that good behavior.

There’s a shift in the approach to religion in the 19th century. During this period, many of the great canonical novelists (especially George Eliot and Thomas Hardy) are preoccupied with the decline in influence of the Church on everyday life. A writer like Eliot agrees with many of the moral ideas of Christianity, but from an early age she rejects organized religion and makes the case to friends and family that the teachings of Christianity should be seen as mythology rather than literal truth. If we had more time together in this course, we could look at novels like Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1894), and Eliot’s novel Adam Bede (1859) – which both show ordinary people turning against the values of the Church in favor of a more common-sense idea of personal morality. The sense of a Church in decline is also very much present in mid-20th century novelists like Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark. Here we will look at Murdoch’s fascinating novel The Bell (1958), in which the novel’s heroine finds herself on a kind of spiritual quest. Can the Church reassert itself, and can religion/Christianity once again play the defining role in the lives of modern people (and especially: modern women) that we believe it played in the Medieval period?


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Op-Ed in Indian Express

I recently had an Op-Ed in Indian Express called "The President is Coming." In case it disappears from the internet at some point, here is the text of the essay. According to Indian Express, as of November 29, 2016, it's been shared 107 times. 


The President is Coming

When my 10-year-old son woke up to the news that Donald Trump had won the American presidential election this past week, he was extremely upset. He said, “I think Donald Trump is going to make us leave our house and go out of the country.” I had a lump in my throat. Though we are of Indian origin and are practising (turban-wearing) Sikhs, my son and I are both American citizens. He was born in Philadelphia. I tried to reassure him the best I could: nothing can happen to us. Don’t worry.

Even with some hesitation that morning, I succeeded in calming down my son, but I was projecting a confidence that I really do not feel right now, as an Indian-American and as a member of a small religious minority group under a Trump presidency.

Over the course of his campaign, Donald Trump made many statements that were alarming to immigrants from all over the world. Some of the comments ought to be alarming to Indian immigrants and Sikhs in particular. To begin with, there is the infamous proposal to ban all Muslim immigration, and possibly create a “registry” of Muslims already in the country. This programme is, to begin with, both unconstitutional and morally wrong.

But what if it were to come to pass? Though non-Muslims might expect to be spared in a Trumpian anti-Muslim crusade, the reality is that most Americans simply do not know the difference between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims.

The massive wave of anti-Muslim feeling that would follow the implementation of these policies would likely lead to public hostility against all brown immigrants.

The prospect of mass deportations of illegal immigrants would also have a major impact on South Asian communities in the US. The stereotype of an undocumented immigrant may be someone who is from Latin America. But in truth, Asians are the fastest growing community of undocumented immigrants in the US right now. Of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants thought to be in the US at the present moment, at least one million are from Asian countries, including approximately 5,00,000 from India alone. There are many Indians who entered on a student or tourist visa, and overstayed; they are now considered undocumented. They work at small shops and hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants; they drive taxis. We see them on weekends at mandirs, masjids and gurudwaras.

President-elect Trump has also indicated that he intends to restrict legal immigration. There are strong hints that a Trump administration could drastically reduce the number of permanent residency visas (green cards) issued in the coming months. Temporary business visas like H1 and B1 visas might also be affected. Trump has said as much directly, though his statements on the subjects tend to be overlooked compared to his stand on illegal immigrants.

Many readers may be wondering about the Republican Hindu Coalition, a group in New Jersey that hosted a fundraiser for Trump earlier this fall. Trump did appear at a Bollywood-themed Hindu function in New Jersey but that should not indicate that his presidency will be good for US-India relations. In fact, Trump has a very shaky grasp of world affairs, revealing in interviews and debates that he has only the barest of knowledge of what is happening in places like Syria and the Crimea — and no one has even bothered to ask him about Kashmir or where he stands on India-Pak relations.

Indians hopeful about a Trump presidency should not be naive. Trump has a long history of taking people’s money and giving nothing in return. This was his business model in Trump University, which was supposedly a “school” for educating aspiring real estate investors. In fact, the “university” is now out of business, with a fraud case pending even after Trump’s election. He had a regular habit in his building projects of refusing to honour his contracts; he has been sued hundreds of times for non-payment. Finally, any Indians expecting gratitude from Trump for the small amount raised by Indian supporters during this campaign should also be aware that Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton by an overwhelming margin.

As of right now, these are speculations based on Trump’s statements and behaviour over the past year and a half. Trump has changed his position on key issues many times, and we do not really know yet much at all about what Trump will actually do when in office. That said, based on everything we have seen thus far, we should expect a wild ride. Indian companies that do business with the US or that rely on travel visas should be concerned. Anyone waiting for a green card or even a work authorization permit had better be ready to wait a very long time.

The uncertainty Indian Americans are experiencing now, immediately after the election of Trump, might be comparable to what we felt immediately after 9/11. Then, as now, there was an immediate spike in hate crimes directed against Muslims and those perceived as Muslim. But even more than that, what concerned us was that we felt uncertain then about our place in American society. With roughly half of American voters in the recent election supporting a man who regularly shows contempt for non-white immigrants, we are experiencing a version of that uncertainty again.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Parable of a Kleptocracy

Kleptocracy (n.): A form of government rulers use their power and influence to enrich themselves while in office.  

Kleptocracy is by definition something that never happens here, in Westland -- it happens over there, in corrupt Otherland. Here are a few aspects of the Kleptocracy in Otherland:

There, in Otherland, wealthy men campaign for office while hawking their products and promoting their properties. They commit fraud that costs thousands of people their entire life's savings, and shrug it off if caught. They pay bribes to try and make fraud cases go away, and shrug it off if caught. This sense of impunity and imperviousness to shame might seem strange to us, but their culture is very different from ours, in Westland. We must try to understand the ways of Otherland.

Women are second-class citizens in primitive Otherland. They are required to be sexually available to the leader for his enjoyment. The leader frequently assembles large numbers of women deemed to be "attractive" to men, and then sadistically ranks and quantifies their physical attributes on a 1-10 scale, humiliating and berating those women he deems inadequate. This might seem disgusting to us, but people in Otherland have not yet heard of feminism. Women are also forced to walk on uncomfortable shoes that elevate their height. 

Despite rules that forbid it, the rulers of Otherland appoint family members and loyal cronies to high positions in the government irrespective of their qualifications for the job. Those family members also continue to manage the leader's business while he is busy with his official duties. (In fact, the rulers of Otherland are not that busy; they spend much of their time on Twitter, criticizing comedians who have satirized them.)

In this imaginary Otherland, the wealthy ruler also regularly takes time off from running the country to make arrangements with businessmen from Other Otherlands to sell new products that will make all these men become even richer.

In this far off, barbaric Otherland, the wealthy ruler even leases buildings from the government and turns those government buildings into hotels, while also appointing the administrators who are responsible for determining the rent of those buildings. The wealthy leader will also personally profit on high room rates from those hotels, as lobbyists and foreign leaders attempt to curry favor with him. 

All of these practices might seem horrifically corrupt, uncivilized, and barbaric to us here in Westland. But we must understand that Our Ways are not Their Ways. We hope that the people in this society learn about the benefits of Democratic Checks and Balances, but it may take many years before that happens in such a primitive, backward society.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Digital Humanities Exhibits at #MSA18: An Annotated Overview

I'm at the MSA this year to talk about my Claude McKay project as part of a Digital Exhibition.

The format is unusual: in one of the main halls of the conference hotel, the organizers set up large-ish monitors. Presenters bring their own laptops and, for a single morning of the conference, demonstrate their work to conference attendees as they come and go from regular panels. You don't give full-length talks, but that makes sense for many digital projects -- the open-ended format allows you to be more interactive and exploratory than is possible in a conventional conference talk.

Here are some of the exhibits that were on display at #MSA18 with my brief annotations:

Mapping Expatriate Paris. I got a chance to talk to Clifford Wulfman and Joshua Kotin from Princeton, who have been building a polished, very useful site based on Sylvia Beach's lending library records at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. She kept the lending library records for many users. These contain books signed out but also the addresses of members of the lending library. One interesting discovery: many of the users of her lending library were actually not poor, left-bank bohemians, but members of the French upper class. (Check out this page to see a map and discussion of the left bank/right bank addresses of Shakespeare & Co. lending library patrons.)

Modernist Archives Publishing Project. I got to talk to Alice Staveley of Stanford about this project. It's an impressive archive of the output of the Hogarth Press -- its books, but also secondary materials like account books and correspondence. There was much more printed by the Hogarth Press than just Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury mainstays; among the many authors and texts I'd never heard of were a number of Indian authors whose works I'd like to explore. Many of the texts in this archive might be technically under copyright, but many of the authors' families have granted permission for the digital presentation of their works. I was impressed by the level of care and attention to details in this well-funded project.

Marianne Moore Digital Archive. The majority of Marianne Moore's poetry is under copyright, but this site is planning to put forward some really interesting ancillary materials, including Moore's notebooks and the Marianne Moore Newsletter, which contained sketches Marianne Moore made in her notebooks as well as analysis and rare historical-biographical engagement with the author.

Modernist Networks (Modnets). I didn't get a chance to talk to the folks doing this project in person but the goal is pretty clear -- they're aiming to be a hub for modernist studies digital humanities project and also a kind of vetting / peer-review mechanism along the lines of what we see with sites focusing on earlier periods. Currently they have 59 federated sites and links to more than 78,000 objects. (I will submit my own project to them for peer-review / federation once it's a little further along.)

Modeling Modernist Studies (Topic Modeling Modernism/Modernity). Jonathan Goodwin's interesting topic modeling project exploring keywords and concept-clusters in the flagship journal of Modernist Studies. It's a continuation of a kind of meta-scholarly analysis he was doing earlier with his modeling of the language of MLA job listings. I got a chance to talk with Jonathan about the project and I hope to play around more with some of the newer topic modeling tools he's been using at some point. 

Modernism in Baltimore: A Literary Archive. I did not get to talk to the folks behind this project. Still, the idea here seems fairly straightforward -- they're collecting artifacts and historical materials related to literary modernism in Baltimore (the contributors also appear to have an interest in architecture and the arts more broadly). As of now the home for this is a Facebook page, though some resources are stored at Baltimoreheritage.org.

Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism / Linked Modernisms. Stephen Ross, whom I met at DHSI last year (he teaches at University of Victoria and is currently President of the MSA), is the general editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (a large-scale digital / subscription-based encyclopedia project). He's been taking the metadata generated by that project to produce an open (non-paywalled) resource called "Linked Modernisms." As of this morning the main link for the project seems to be broken, but you can read about the project here.

Open Modernisms. Another project from the University of Victoria. It's a collection of modernism studies syllabi. At this point just starting out, it looks like. (But I have some syllabi I want to send them... Readers, consider contributing!)

I enjoyed talking to Brandon White of UC Berkeley about his project using WordNet and NLTK to analyze the plot and evolving thematics of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom (incest, bigamy, race/miscegenation...). I don't see a link to his Compson project online, so I don't think it's public research yet.

William S. Burroughs Digital Manuscript Project at  Florida State University. Unfortunately the Burroughs archive is, for copyright reasons, largely behind a password-protected firewall. But I got to talk to Stanley Gontarski and Paul Ardoin about the project at length, and I was really impressed by the level of attention and care they have put in -- there are some really powerful tools for analyzing and comparing versions and studying Burroughs' intertextuality. In short, a really powerful resource for serious Burroughs scholars. (Anyone reading this interested in using the site should contact the site editors; they can get you a temporary password to access FSU's amazing Burroughs materials.)

Using a Visual Understanding Environment to Understand H.D.'s Networks of Influence. Celena Kusch is co-chair of the international H.D. Society. I got to talk to her about using a software package called the Visual Understanding Environment to study the social network around the writer H.D. Fascinating project and a software package I definitely want to explore a little myself, perhaps for my Kiplings project.

American WWI Poetry Digital Archive. I talked to Tim Dayton of Kansas State at length about this excellent archive of more than 400 books of American World War I poetry. This morning, unfortunately, I can't seem to find a link to the project itself anywhere. (I think this project is currently being migrated from Scalar 1 to Drupal or perhaps Scalar 2.)

*

My own Claude McKay project was a modest first version of a site that will eventually have more primary texts (the two Jamaican collections of poems are coming soon!) and more robust network diagrams (probably using Giphy down the road). It was gratifying to talk about the work with a number of people walking by my booth; thank you to everyone who took a few minutes to stop by and say hello. Most people seemed to get it, and saw the value of the network diagrams / thematic tagging that I and my graduate students have been doing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Claude McKay: New Site, Expanded Project (w/Network Diagrams)

Harlem Shadows: Claude McKay's Early Poetry
http://scalar.lehigh.edu/mckay/

I've recently been working on rebuilding a collaborative class project on Claude McKay's Harlem Shadows in the Scalar platform. As I've been putting the new site together, I've also been adding fresh material to the project, including a number of McKay's early political poems. (I've also been using Scalar for my Kiplings and India project.) It's a powerful platform, especially with regards to metadata, annotations, and tagging. It's also designed to allow you to create multiple "paths" through overlapping material. In McKay's case the Paths feature comes in particularly handy as he tended to publish the same poems in different venues; it's revealing to see which poems he tended to republish and which he quietly "put away."

The new site can be accessed here. I would particularly recommend readers play around with the Visualizations options on the menu at the top corner of the screen.

Here is the text of some new material I've added to the site, analyzing, in a very preliminary and informal way, a couple of network diagrams I generated using Scalar's built-in visualization tools.

* * *

Below I'll present two different network diagrams I've derived from Scalar's built-in visualization feature. One looks at the clusters created by thematic tags, the other looks at the relationship between poems published in different venues.

Skeptics of Digital Humanities scholarship sometimes see objects like network diagrams and wonder what they might tell us that we don't already know. And indeed, even here, to some extent, the diagrams below do show us visually some things we might have been able to intuit without the benefit of this tool.  I should also acknowledge that the thematic tags we have been using are somewhat subjective. We have the poem "A Capitalist at Dinner" tagged by "Class" but not by "Labor." Others might structure these tags differently and end up with diagrams that look different. 

That said, there are some surprises here. In McKay's poetry I'm especially interested in thinking about the connections between the two streams of his writing from this early period, which we might loosely divide into a) political poems (including race-themed poems and Communist/worker-themed poems) and b) nature-oriented, pastoral and romantic poems. At least in terms of publication venue, there is quite a bit of overlap between these two broad categories. McKay excluded the most directly Communist poems from his book-length publications, but he included—often at the urging of his editors—poems expressing decisive anger at racial injustice in American society. And even in the body of poems published in magazines like Workers Dreadnought there are hints of the nature themes in poems like "Joy in the Woods "and "Birds of Prey." The network diagrams show us a series of other poems as well at the "hinge" between the two clusters. These poems might be particularly worthy of special attention and study in the future. 


A. Thematic Tags.

Take a look at the following network diagram showing the relations between a limited set of thematic tags, generated by Scalar using the built-in visualization application. The image below is a static image, but if you click on VISUALIZATIONS > TAG on the menu in the corner of this site, you'll get a "clickable" diagram that is also live and manipulable. The body of poems included here is comprised of all of the poems from Harlem Shadows as well as about fifteen of the early poems not included in Harlem Shadows



(See the full-size version of this diagram here)

What does this diagram show? First, we should note that the red dots show tags, while the orange dots show poems. As of November 2016, only eight thematic areas have been tagged: Race, Class, City, Nature, Home, Sexuality Homoeroticism, Labor. (More Tag information from the earlier, Wordpress version of this site is currently in the Metadata for individual poems, and is discoverable using the search function on this Scalar site. Try searching for "Birds," for instance.) 

What Can We Learn? 

1. Thematic Clusters. First and most obviously, certain themes are "clustered" together. Nature and Home have many overlaps, and thus appear clustered. Sexuality and homoeroticism also form a cluster. And finally, the tags focused on Class, Labor, and city life also form a natural cluster, though the clustering is significantly less tight than the others.

2. Centrality of Nature. An obvious discovery is that "Nature" is one of the most common tags in McKay's early poetry. This was a surprise to the students in the Digital Humanities class (given that we think of McKay as a black poet with militant/leftist politics, we might expect those themes to be more dominant). Of course, many of the poems marked "Nature" also overlap with race, class/labor, or sexual/queer themes. The surprise in finding so much discussion of Nature—and specifically McKay's interest in writing about birds—might remind us that we actually need to read a poet's poems before rushing to narrowly define them (i.e., as a black, political poet). (I would encourage visitors to look at Joanna Grim's essay exploring the "bird" theme in Harlem Shadows)

3. Home. Many of McKay's poems in this period thematize his memory of life in Jamaica. Thus, a few of the poems (for instance, "The Tropics in New York") reflect McKay's nostalgia for his pastoral upbringing from the vantage point of someone now living in a much larger, modern urban setting. 

4. Poems with three or more tags. I'm interested in the poems that presently have three or more tags: "The Barrier," "The Castaways," and "On the Road." These are poems that scholars may not have paid very attention to in the past, but diagrams like the one above might lead us to think of them as newly important as they bridge some of McKay's most important themes from this period. (Again, the number of tags is a bit arbitrary and at present an artifact of the way metadata has been tagged. At most this information might nudge readers to pay a bit more attention to some poems rather than others, not to make any sweeping conclusions about the poems as a whole.)

I would encourage users of this site to play with the live visualization tool and send me (Amardeep Singh) any screen captures that seem interesting or telling. 


B. Publication Venues

This diagram is a bit more messy. It contains nodes for publication venues (which are organized on this Scalar site using "Paths"). These appear in light blue in the diagram below.  Users can access a "live" version of the diagram using VISUALIZATIONS > CONNECTIONS in the menu in the corner above. 



(See the full size version of this diagram here)

What do we see here? (Note: the blue dots represent publication venues. The red dots represent thematic tags. The orange dots represent individual poems. The green dots are media files uploaded to this site. Readers should probably try and ignore the green dots.)

Essentially there is a larger cluster around Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems and Harlem Shadows, and a smaller cluster around the Workers Dreadnought path and the Early Uncollected Poetry path I've constructed on this site. Perhaps not all that surprisingly, the sexuality and homoeroticism tags are mostly entirely disconnected from the labor & class oriented poetry published in magazines like Workers Dreadnought.  But there are some poems right in the middle between the two clusters that seem especially interesting to consider -- poems like "Joy in the Woods," "The Battle," "Summer Morn in New Hampshire," "Birds of Prey," and "Labor's Day" that appear with strong connections both to the "Nature" tag and to "Class" and "Labor" tags. Though few of these poems have been looked at closely by critics, they are in some ways the key to understanding the two major aspects of Claude McKay's poetry in this period.