A Few Things from 2020: Teaching Notes, Digital Projects; "Survival is Insufficient"

Obviously, a wild year. 

The main thing I am really proud of this year is actually parenting. My work as a professor -- teaching, advising, administering the English graduate program, doing digital projects -- all continued by remote, more or less, but for much of the year that work took a back seat as the urgency of the need at home presented itself. 

With respect to work, everyone reading this knows how difficult it was to get new writing and research done this year -- with libraries closed, conferences canceled, kids at home, and of course the generalized state of anxiety and distraction.

Somehow during the summer, I began to find ways to get a few things done here and there. Preparing for a new version of a graduate Digital Humanities course, I worked on two textual corpora. That work has also catalyzed some new projects that I'm excited about (and you'll probably hear more about them in the future). 

While my usual conference travel dried up after February, I was happy to attend MLA in Seattle in January. One blog post that came out of that was this account of some panels on Postcolonial Ecocriticism I was able to attend. Another theme for the year was a series of events related to Graduate Studies and the future of the Humanities. I was on a workshop related to that topic at MLA in Seattle, then another panel on that topic for the (virtual) National Humanities Alliance conference in October. And I'll be doing another workshop on that as a pre-conference event for the virtual MLA in January 2021. 

I also did some Zoom keynotes and virtual talks this fall -- not quite the same as regular talks, but not bad. 


Digital Projects

A pretty good year for Digital Projects. 

I put together two open-access textual corpora, the African American Literature Text Corpus, and the Literature of Colonial South Asia Text Corpus.

I debuted "Collected Poems of Henry Derozio," with a preface from Manu Samriti Chander. You can see the Twitter thread announcing it here.

My project, "Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance," was reviewed in Reviews in DH, by Amy Earhart. 

I also wrote a grant proposal (for a grant that I ended up not getting); I'm thinking of rewriting it for a different grant process. 

I wrote a couple of stand-alone blog posts related to Mira Nair's adaptation of A Suitable Boy here and here. I was quoted in a New York Times feature story about the adaptation in November here


Teaching and Advising 

Decolonizing (Digital) Humanities. My fall graduate seminar. This didn't go quite as I expected: I had in mind that we would work with the two corpora I mentioned above, but instead of working with both I decided it would make more sense to just do one. So we focused on the early African American literature corpus, and learned a little about how to work with text files and do some preliminary text analysis with Voyant Tools. We also talked about the process for acquiring texts -- using OCR software, processing and cleaning texts that have been scanned to page image format. Along those lines, I wrote up a "Text Processing 101" explainer here, with students in mind. 

We did a unit on thinking about the Canon using some simple quantitative analysis. We looked at definitions of the Anglo-American Canon and the role it plays in shaping English department syllabi -- and we discussed its exclusivity. We also used the Open Syllabus project to check our perceptions of the changing Canon against some actual data (short answer: the Canon isn't changing all that fast). 

We did a pretty extensive unit on Race and the Digital humanities, drawing on scholarship by people like Roopika Risam, Amy Earhart, Kim Gallon, Safiya Umoja Noble, Vincent Brown and others. As part of that, I encouraged students to explore primary archival research (digitally) using the early African American newspaper database. 

Given how important Scalar has been to my digital projects, it's of course natural that I asked students to learn how to use this platform and produce their own projects for it.

One unit in the class involved studying and analyzing social media discourse; we read some chapters of the book #Hashtag Activism along those lines. I applied for and got approved for a Twitter API Developers account and a CrowdTangle account. CrowdTangle in particular is pretty rich -- I definitely plan to do more with it in the future. I wrote about some of the Social Media material here

Also as part of that class, I invited external guest speakers Roopika Risam and Amanda Golden to join the class. Both were amazing visits & really added richness and texture to our discussions. 

I also taught a 1-credit "Intro to Graduate Studies" course this fall. This is a pretty low-stakes mini-course that new graduate students take as an overload alongside three other graduate seminars. 

In the spring, I taught our department's "Working With Texts" course, which is essentially an introduction to the English major. I also taught a 2-credit (half-semester) online course called "Global Cinema." 


My Ph.D. student Sarita Mizin defended her dissertation in July. Happy to see her now gainfully employed as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire!

This is the second year I've been serving as the Director of Graduate Studies in the Lehigh English department. It's been challenging to welcome a new cohort of students in the middle of Covid-19, and even more challenging to help graduating students move forward with their careers in the most challenging job market situation we've ever seen. I'm proud of the work the faculty have been able to put into keeping the program moving along even under Covid-19. We're admitting new students to the graduate program next year.

I should also mention that the decision to eliminate the GRE as a requirement for admission led to a substantial increase in applications, including especially an increase in underrepresented minorities and international applicants. I spoke at an internal event for Lehigh faculty and administrators about this and presented some of our data about the results of the change. 


(Zoom) Guest Lectures and Keynotes

September: I gave an invited talk at Pondicherry University, India, as part of a pretty vast series of global Digital Humanities talks. The topic was "From Index to Access: Digital Archives in Theory and Practice." 

October: I participated in a workshop at the National Humanities Alliance Conference on graduate education. 

I was happy to do a guest lecture for my friend Amrita Ghosh's Postcolonial Theory class at Linnaeus University, Sweden. 

December: I gave a virtual Keynote Address at Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi. "Digitizing Derozio: Mapping the Local and Global Contexts of an Anglo-Indian Poet." 

December: I gave an invited talk at Islamia University, Bahawalpur, Pakistan, called "Imagining the Last People: Apocalyptic Plagues from Mary Shelley to Station Eleven


Overall, a slow for publication output, though I think that's only understandable given the challenge of finding time and space to work, especially over the summer. 

I have a new piece coming out in the Modernist journal The Space Between related to Claude McKay's communist poetry that I'm excited about. 

I had two chapters I had submitted to collections that went through final revisions this fall. I'm hoping the books they've been accepted to will be out sometime in 2021. 

One of the keynotes I gave this fall, "Digitizing Derozio," is supposed to be revised soon for publication. 

Future Projects: I've been contemplating a third book related to the idea of the "Archive Gap," which I've written and spoken about quite a bit in Digital Humanities contexts in the past few years. I spoke with some editors about the project at MLA in January, and in general, I had a lot of ideas and momentum for this project in the early spring, but then Covid-19 hit and everything kind of stopped. With another DH course taught after that all happened, I now have a clearer sense of focus for that project and am hoping to make headway on it in 2021.  

I also have an essay drafted -- nearly finished -- on Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy's approach to decolonizing the Canon that I would like to wrap up and send out in 2021.