September 2018

Monograph plans:

The last revised chapter from my 2013 dissertation, “Thomas Nashe and Early Modern Protest Literature” has been recently published in Marlowe Studies: An Annual. Additionally, The Thomas Nashe Project has, to my great delight, featured additional chapters that I’ve revised as articles in their Bibliography of selected recent works. So, what’s next?

Here’s the “bumper-sticker” version:

My research into “Englishing”  vernacular protest literature from Chaucer’s time to Shakespeare’s has led me to realize that I simply can’t stay away from satire, from classical models, or their medieval and early modern translators and imitators. Presently, I’m developing a book proposal entitled A Tin Age: Englishing Satire (c. 1400- 16??). I will replace the question marks with numerals once I’ve fixed on which arguments from my research I plan to include.

For a comprehensive list of publications, please see my CV. I have also posted selected publications on academia.edu. Moving forward, I will relocate my publications and talks to this site.

2018 Projects-in-Progress

I was delighted to launch The Kit Marlowe Project as one of eight digital exhibits featured at the 2018 Shakespeare Association of America Annual meeting in Los Angeles (3/27/18). The Kit Marlowe Project is a digital space designed to introduce undergraduates with diverse majors to research-based learning and digital humanities practices in the context of studying one of Elizabethan England’s most intriguing literary figures. The site has been designed so that undergraduates may contribute exhibits, encyclopedia entries, and TEI-encoded (Text Encoding Initiative) archival works to a real-world digital project that will be maintained by future classes.

Because I continue creating student-scholar, research-based pedagogical models in my classroom, I need to keep up with my students’ output! I am currently collaborating with students to edit earlier encoding projects for publication on the University of Victoria’s Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) website. I’ve also been co-writing with MoEML’s Janelle Jenstad about our experiences teaching cognate courses at the University of Victoria and Stonehill College – “bibliodigigogy” will be making a comeback! If you are interested in learning more about MoEML’s Pedagogical Partnerships, please visit their site.

In my capacity of Research Partner with Northeastern University’s Women Writers Project, I have recently submitted a web exhibit entitled “Reading Elizabeth I in Women Writers Online” that explores early modern women writers’ treatment of this Tudor Queen. I gave a paper entitled “The Queen’s Two Corpora: Elizabeth I in Digital Contexts” on this work in progress in collaboration with Mary Erica Zimmer at the Women and Culture in the Early Modern World seminar at Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center in February 2017. I’ve also written a blog about this project for NU. Working in the WWO corpora has invited a transatlantic approach to this project that has been extraordinarily exciting. I am eager now to explore the shared points of contact between this project and “Englishing” early literature – across genre, gender, and a giant ocean.

 

 

 

 

Bibliodigigogy

Learning Community: Pop Culture and Bibliodigigogy in Early Modern England

The Team (Spring 2016)

Stonehill College: Kristen Abbott Bennett, Katie Joy (TA)

University of Victoria: Janelle Jenstad, Kim McLean-Fiander, Kylee-Anne Hingston

Course Description:
This class integrates bibliographic and digital humanities practices to reflect on the 21st Century shift into virtual worlds in the context of popular, generically diverse early modern texts. We will research early modern print culture and collaboratively publish an encyclopedia entry on a selected stationer (pending peer review). We will also learn how to access early modern digital texts and have the opportunity to publish an introduction to one of your own choosing on the Map of Early Modern London website (pending peer review). Additionally, students will dig deeply into bibliographic details of the popular texts we’ll study and move beyond using pre-fabricated web tools to learn the ins and outs of TEI and CSS encoding. In the culminating project, students will collaboratively apply their learning by encoding and publishing a digital text on the Map of Early Modern London website (pending peer review).

What you’ll do:

Work collaboratively with your classmates * Publish your work on the Map of Early Modern London website * Learn how to read early printed texts with wonky fonts * Touch history with your own hands in the Boston Public Library Rare Book and MS Room * Use oXygen XML encoding software to digitize and publish a book online * Think about the intersections of early modern print culture and 21st Century digital cultures * Prepare yourself for the next generation of digital culture studies!

 

Sequence of Events:

Unit 1: In the Author’s Absence? Early Modern Print Culture
In our first unit, we’ll work with The Stationers’ Register to learn about printing practices in early modern England. We will also go to the Boston Public Library Rare Book and Manuscript Room to work with material books from the period and learn how to conduct document analyses. You’ll learn about the idiosyncrasies in the spelling and formatting of these works – and how they’re not so different from the ways you text, tweet, Snapchat, and Instagram. (In fact, in 1558, “to twit” meant “to taunt” (OED) – makes us rethink our posts, no?). At the same time, we’ll learn how to navigate Early English Books Online, English Short Title Catalogue, British Book Trade Index, Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, and Shakeosphere. Your culminating project will be carefully research and collaboratively write an essay about one stationers’ output for publication on the MoEML site (pending peer review).

Unit 2: Early Modern Pop Culture
Have you heard the hit tune: “A Looking-Glass for Lascivious Young Men”? Well, in this unit, thanks to the English Broadside Ballad Archive, you will! We’ll read rarely studied texts to get a real idea about what people actually read at the turn of the seventeenth-century. In addition to ballads, we’ll read how-to books, pre-Googlemaps directions about the best route from York to London, plus plague and punishment proclamations, and funny laws about wool-winding. For your culminating project, you will write an introduction to a little known text you find using EEBO and edit it carefully for publication on the Map of Early Modern London website.

Unit 3: Thomas Dekker’s “The Wonderful Year” (NOT)
In this unit we’ll read, transcribe, collate, and use TEI and MoEML guidelines to encode Thomas Dekker’s popular pamphlet “The Wonderful Year (1603): Wherein is showed the picture of London ly-ing sicke of the plague” in partnership with our colleagues at the University of Victoria for publication on the MoEML website (pending peer review). At the unit’s close, you’ll write a metacognitive reflection essay about how your encoding experience changed, illuminated, and informed the way you digest digital information.

Thomas Nashe, DH, and me

When I recently returned to Tufts for commencement, a friend still in the English grad program was surprised by my active use of digital humanities tools for research and teaching; she knows how much I love spending time in archives. On reflection, my early research on Elizabethan satirist Thomas Nashe directly anticipated what I like most about working in the digital humanities – getting “under the hood” of a text or corpus, taking it apart, figuring out how it works, and then re-framing extant arguments to create original scholarship.  Nashe utilizes extraordinarily dense intertextual networks that juxtapose prose, drama, poetry, chronicle history, chorography, philosophy, multitudes of Latin tags, and topical in-jokes that required me to learn about early modernism across disciplines and often languages. He also frequently deploys allusions to classical, medieval, and contemporary works as defensive postures designed to occlude subtexts of often seditious criticism of his Queen, her court, and Crown politics. Until his works were summarily banned in 1599, these maneuvers worked.

DRE_NasheSpiritAnimal
This image was designed by “the whimsical arm” of Digital Renaissance Editions, a project that publishes open-access critical editions of early modern English drama.

Nashe remains my spirit animal in part because one cannot read his work in isolation. That is to say, if Nashe makes sense, then he makes sense in conversation, in the context of these multitudes of intertexts. The Thomas Nashe Project is currently using digital tools for authorship attribution. Someday I should like to see a database vast enough to analyze Nashe’s works in the context of of his intertexts – and that day is not too far off.

My journey from Nashe to working with digital media distantly echoes media guru Marshall McLuhan’s. McLuhan pioneered digital media studies after writing his Cambridge dissertation about Thomas Nashe and the Learning of His Time. McLuhan’s dissertation examined Nashe’s work in the context of the classical trivium: grammar, dialectic, and logic. What struck me when I read McLuhan’s diss was how deeply intertwined writing styles and the writers’ theological and political positions were.

McLuhanandMe

McLuhan understood that the parallel explosions of information technology at the turn of the seventeenth-century and the turn of the twentieth offer an ideal opportunity to think critically about how knowledge is created in the public sphere.  Print culture directly informed early modern rhetorical practices across discourses and vice versa. He is also said to have been highly amused when a print run of his influential text The Medium is the Message was misprinted as The Medium is the Massage. I too prefer “massage” – digital media does not directly translate or convey information, but represents an act of mediation, and subsequently interpretation.  Whether the intermediary is a human or a computer, there’s always more to digital media than meets the eye. And, one can discover much by using DH tools to explore any kind of digital artifact’s metadata – the stuff under the hood.

But many still ask: what are the digital humanities? Digital Humanities Quarterly offers a useful definition on their “About” page:

3Es

I like the three “E’s” in this definition and I would argue that the goal of digital humanities is to explore, evolve, and engage in ways that help us re-frame our conventional understandings of information processing and knowledge making.

Tufts’ own Perseus Project offers a watershed example of digital humanities in action – I have seen the project evolve from hero to hydra as they work toward their goal of making the “full record of humanity” accessible. The Perseus team has devoted extraordinary amounts of time to translating, transcribing, and encoding pre- and early modern texts. (And, I’d like to thank everyone involved for continually helping me stretch my Latin proficiency.)

Perseus’ digital curation efforts – like those at The Folger Shakespeare Library, The Map of Early Modern London, and The Kit Marlowe Project  are critical for cultural preservation. Plus, these digital resources provide opportunities to explore how patterns of language and knowledge making emerge across works, time, and discourses in ways that material texts cannot.

At a DH talk I gave with my colleague Mary Erica Zimmer at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center in February 2017, the moderators invited the seminar attendees to introduce themselves by name, affiliation, and discipline.  When the introductions reached Northeastern’s Syd Bauman from the Women Writers Project, he replied: “undisciplined.” Syd might be on to something.

One talks much about “interdisciplinarity” in the context of digital humanities. But the prefix, “inter,” or “between,” suggests precisely the kinds of gaps one encounters institutionally. More often than not, “interdisciplinary” courses are a pastiche of content areas and methods that illuminate shared practices and points of content – and that’s great! (I’ve taught a few of these myself.) But the prefix “inter-” insistently informs disciplinary difference.

Such disciplinary difference appeals to educational systems and institutions because it facilitates creating manageable taxonomies, specifically, manageable taxonomies that can be assessed. But knowledge does not evolve along disciplinary boundaries. Scholars understand this fact.

DH platforms and projects do not simply connect the space between disciplines – as the “inter,” the prefix to “interdisciplinary” suggests. These connections enact not just links, but extensions of knowledge that are extensible – like the XML (extensible markup language) we use for markup.  To be fair, knowledge has historically been extensible, but written representations of knowledge have conditioned humans to think linearly and two-dimensionally.

Until now.

The Perseus Project’s ambition to make “the full record of human knowledge available” is wildly exciting – in part because they’re clearly not worried about scope-creep! In all seriousness, at the crux of every project I’ve worked on is a desire to aggregate as much data as possible so that one may explore the evolution of knowledge in the context of its inception. By building increasingly large datasets of that reflect “the record” of human knowledge, we will have the opportunity to recognize contingencies that make discoveries possible, we will realize that what seems like a fixed “record” is anything but.

I can’t help but think that by translating knowledge into the language of computer networks, we transform it into energy. 

Already, DH projects emerging around the globe are, like Gutenberg’s printing press, agents of change, traversing discourses and simultaneously extending them node by node to revolutionize the way we make knowledge today — or, perhaps, better reflect the way knowledge has always already been made.

– Kristen Abbott Bennett, 16 March 2018

Return to KAB/EMC

 

Teaching in the book of the world

I just kicked off another six course semester teaching at three institutions. Yes, Hamlet, I’m well aware that this way madness lies.

Despite the variety of subjects across my teaching load, there’s a core element of urgency associated with the ideas we’re exploring and the projects we’re developing — at least I think so. As an early modernist who has spent a fair amount of time studying print culture and is presently exploring the evolution of the English vernacular from Chaucer to Shakespeare, I believe there are very strong shared points of contact between the Gutenberg and Internet Revolutions. In classes, I sometimes call them “Information Revolution 1.0” and “Information Revolution 2.0” to underscore the similarities. I’ve heard other teachers debate the merits of students’ desires to “relate” to what they’re learning. I think we should help them relate to the materials they study. I believe that getting them to recognize their places in the history of ideas, especially those ideas that people continue to fight and die, for not only engages them in the course at hand, but also helps them think critically and compassionately about their places in a world largely characterized by division and instability.

At Wentworth Institute of Technology, we are wrapping up a unit on the emergence of Enlightenment thinking. Since 2014, my Spring semester teaching at WIT has taught me that the first-year students frequently resent spending a second semester jumping through a hoop outside of their major — especially a writing-intensive hoop! There is no English major at the university and  I learned quickly that these students don’t respond well to conventional English classes like the ones I taught in grad school. I’ve had to change-up the game.

All English professors know that form and content are interdependent, and that’s a driving principle in my pedagogy. I avoid textbooks in favor of assembling readings and activities that encourage students to take diverse approaches to a central concept. In this class, I introduced the Enlightenment as a response to the socio-political and religious turmoil that characterized the Renaissance. The world had been turned upside down (and doesn’t every generation feel that way!) and people were desperate for stability, desperate for fixed knowledge. Science comes out of the closet and Descartes anticipates structuralism by dismembering mind and body.

The students perk up. Science and reason appeal much to my Applied Math, Construction Management, Architecture, Engineering, and Computer Science majors. The opening gambits to Discourse on Method seduce them further — “Hey, Descartes said we can learn empirically! We want to learn from the book of the world!” — Although I must help them understand that Descartes’ methods wouldn’t have emerged without his oh-so-humbly-described study at the best universities, they begin to recognize that learning takes many different forms.

My WIT students are really smart. They’re all there because they have great problem-solving skills. Sure, most admit they have never read for fun and do not enjoy reading. But I would argue that most public schools discourage reading by teaching to the standardized tests that are a pox on students’ intellectual and creative development from the primary years through secondary school. I am frequent witness to this phenomenon as a teaching supervisor in the Boston Public Schools, but I’ll talk about that another time. In sum, it’s not entirely their faults that they don’t enjoy reading. And, shame on any teacher who disparages students for not liking books. First, it’s our job to teach them. Second, not everyone likes what we like. But if we can give them skills to negotiate reading critically, and perhaps with a bit more confidence than they had than when we met them, that’s a win.

And that brings us back to my introduction of the Enlightenment. Descartes and I led my students into a discussion about how, during the long early modern period, knowledge evolved into a wondrous commodity disseminated by print. People of (many) classes could obtain knowledge by reading in their own language! We learned how intellectual revolutions lead to social and political revolutions, and how rhetoric inspires ACTION.

Tom Paine tells my students that “these are the times that try men’s souls” (The Crisis). Yes, they were. But, wait! “These” times are too! We’re in the midst of a similar information revolution — a global revolution! We still have print culture, but digital media has qualitatively changed the way we receive and process information. At this point in the course, Paine’s “Crisis” becomes a medium for conversational exchanges with the text. Students work in groups of three as they learn to develop individualized annotation methods using digital tools, to question what they read, to find reliable sources to cross-check their findings, to talk about their discoveries, and to present their insights to the class, inviting further discussion.

More prosaic expressions of Enlightenment thinking, such as those represented in this 1704 facsimile edition of The Athenian Oracle, also help students connect the dots between these social media revolutions. The Oracle is a greatest hits edition of The Athenian Mercury, a publication that was driven by public contributions. People would send questions – any kind of question – to the “Athenians,” a group of well-educated gentlemen with wide-ranging expertise, who answer readers’ questions.

AthenianOracle
The Athenian Oracle: Being an Entire Collection Of all the Valuable Questions and Answers. Vol 2, 1704, Google Books.

I chose this particular edition because the first question brought us directly back to Descartes and underscored the connections between philosophy and pop culture. We practiced grappling with the Latin long-s in the course of reading the text aloud and discussed our open fascination with what troubled individuals in the  18th Century, and how many of us are still troubled by similar problems. Students were then given an assignment to read, choose a question they found interesting, and reflect on the question in the context of how one might think about it, or answer it today.

One student was interested with the reader who asked: “What is the reason that when you lay a Leaf of a Tree over any hollow place, suppose the fore part of your Hand, half graspt, and with the other Hand strike upon the Leaf, it shall break with a Noise like a Pot-gun?” The student then commented: “I believe the author of this question is saying that its worth questioning anything in life. Even though we have an idea about why a lot of things happen with the developments in science and physics, we still can’t say we know for sure why the world that we live in works the way it does. This caught my attention because I can relate to wanting to question even the things that we often times take as given.”

Another chose the question: “What is love?” This student then wrote: “I believe this question is relevant in today’s society, especially because I feel like a lot of people don’t know the difference between love and lust. The advice given in the reading can still be applied today since it is says that “love is a mixture of friendship and desire, bounded by the rules of honor and virtue” (15). The only problem with the advice is I think it was implying that true love can only exist between opposite sexes. Obviously, this is not true, anyone can love whoever they want regardless of sexual orientation.”

(These students’ responses are so inspiring that you probably think they were painstakingly curated. They weren’t. Admittedly, I chose two students I had in class for English I last semester; I knew they could write decent sentences. Not all responses were as insightful as these, or as socially aware as the second, but they were consistently interesting.)

Yesterday we laughed about the irony of trying to excise love from pathos and rationalize the greatest and most illogical gift humans possess. We then returned our attention to the text as a digital artifact representing early-ish print culture. Students wondered at how much spelling, punctuation, and typographic conventions have changed over the years. I shared anecdotes with them about how many individuals throughout the long early modern period expressed anxiety about the impact of print culture on the integrity of the English language. Of course, English is one of the most polyglot languages in the world, but some used to worry that print was fostering the decline of public discourse and sending everyone to hell in a handbasket.

My students facial expressions changed as revelations dawned. Last weekend, the president of the United States allegedly called Africa a “shithole country” and the tweets that followed rocked the world. Communications media has again contributed to the devaluation of public discourse. Yet we’ve survived it before, and we will again. Our media have changed, but we face similar challenges to those of the Oracle querists. Admittedly, our challenges have been compounded by the speed at which information, and misinformation, travels.

What have my students learned so far? I’ll have more insight when they generate essay prompts next week that interest them. For now, I hope they’ve learned something about the way they take in and process information. They have told me directly that the Oracle assignment forced them to read differently, to read slowly so they could interpret the unfamiliar forms and content. I hope they’ve learned that reading carefully and thoughtfully may take more time than they may have given it in the past, yet it can be rewarding. Despite the fact that our news feeds often make our world feel like a scary place, I hope also that they’ve learned that most generations have found it the same. We aren’t alone. Further, by opening conversations that foster rational debate tempered by compassion, we can negotiate the world together – whichever way it’s turned ’round.

– Kristen Abbott Bennett

 

 

The world turned upside down…again.

As each year passes, I do my best to resist judging 365 days of wildly disparate events as “good” or “bad.” Life, like most of my literary arguments, is a both/and scenario. I haven’t been spending much time on social media (and, by extension, my “new” web blog) because the wildly fluctuating emotional responses to world events in my feeds were simply too much to absorb. On reflection, I see that my own broken world-view likely inspired me to pursue research on Ciceronian, Stoic, and Nashean versions of cosmographical contemplation last summer. It’s a useful practice that may come in handy now. As our calendar rather arbitrarily turns from one year to the next, it might be helpful to think about how the world looks if we fly up out of the atmosphere and see it from the universe’s perspective. On the one hand, we might think: “Wow! We’re part of something truly special and possibly divine.” OTOH: “Wow! The Roman Empire is a pinpoint” (paraphrasing Cicero), or “Our armies are like ants on a field” (paraphrasing Seneca). During the early modern period, we witness many lamenting the “world turned upside down.”

MacrobiusMapcropped
Macrobius’s illustration in Commentarii in Somnium
Scipionis

It is a constant and common trope that has been repeated through the ages. Yet one might also ask “was it ever turned right side up?” I think many of us know, at risk of over-simplifying a complex problem, that our present global turmoil results simply (there, I said it) from humans being humans. It’s been a long time in the making and a long time coming. The new administrations in the US, UK and elsewhere are plainly symptomatic of this evolution.

That said, I suggest we take advantage of this fresh start and think about how one might practice perspective in 2018. Personally, I think a bit of stoicism might help us face up to our reality without over-sentimentalizing problems. We need strength and conviction to move forward with dignity plus, for those of us who are scholars and teachers, to help our students do the same. 2017 was not so different from many other years – there were ups and downs, sure. Moreover, 2018 may not depart much from its predecessor. But it offers an opportunity to find balance, so that we might stay perched – however precariously – on our magnificent globe whichever way it happens to be turned.

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