MLA: Rhetorical Historiography and the Digital Humanities

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

Presiding: Janice Fernheimer, Univ. of Kentucky

1. “Touch Memory Death Technology Argument: Reading Onscreen,” Anne Frances Wysocki, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Title changed. “Spacing Out: Rhetoric, Digitality, Memory”

building book-length digital piece

juxtapose memory with 20th and 21st C architecture of memory technologies

Audience will maneuver among choose and X

Plan: Background to focus and then suggest (3 short juxtapositions) a quick take on rhetorical memory, contrasted with current memory technologies and X.

How am I obligated to have memory in 21st C?
What am I obligated to remember in a century of external memory?

2 grammatical aspects: use of I and active verbs

Use of I:
Interested in –Individual construction of memory through texts. (hypermedia)
External texts don’t flow free from us. What do we remember internally as result of creation? How might creation of online text reverberate back onto us? esp if we think of textual production as a work of memory.

Arts and Memory
1. routine based, background

2. narrative, affective, situated in present

3. traumatic
“actively narrated as drama” or “b/c it remains outside subject”

focus on indiv memory but not ignoring social or cultural memory
notions of cultural memory, esp in relation to indiv memory, surface critically

Use of active voice:
Hard not to feel prodded into active voice.

Production of digital texts, how now because of networking abilities, productions which required corporate resources can now be produced by individuals.

Wealth of Networks Yochai Benkler (book)

Mashed-up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable

Active audience participation in production.

Electronic music product… visited… part of an exhibit “Nirvana: Bringing Punk to the Masses”
Production of texts together now.

ref. another call to active digital production– xxrnard Stiegler (and Irit Rogolf?)
mass media creates audience’s memories for them
by creating can network, control, formalize, and perhaps destroy them
indiv who only have external memories cannot participate in what holds culture together, the co-constitution of the I and the we
Only those who both produce and consume can participate in such co-constitution.

History of rhetorical memory:
architectural and spatial memories, 5-6th C
dissolved with print, 15th C

Mayan calendar, ex.
Such systems helped folks memorize, things they composed and others’ works as well.

Throughout their use, broke what was chosen to be remembered into chunks, to make them memorable/visceral.
Placing those chunks into a first architectural structure. (memory palaces)
move among these chunks

neo-platonists turned architectural support for memory into abstract pictures, thinking this allowed them to understand the cosmos

Creating an architectural system. Working on it. How to find it again later.
Systems for invention and memory.

Against that background, 3 perspectives to take on current memory practices:

21st C tech allows us to label “life-caching”
put them in, tag them, organize them, chronological order
1980s folks have been working on ways to remember everything
camera worn all day every day, etc

Could show us that we do indeed have memories.
Took photographs and was photographed: “I wouldn’t have memories if I hadn’t written letters.” Abu Ghraib

Thought “cyborgian savants” mylifebits, but now can’t find anything

2nd perspective: free-floating memories, memories without landscapes
computer games
impossible to succeed without a map, but don’t have to narrativize (conceptual elements–think on this)

Gaming experiences can be expanded and narrativized, but they rarely are. Re-enacted as drama.

Video game architecture can be seen as memory spaces.

3rd perspective: 2001 Jewish museum in Berlin
requires you to enter through an 18th C museum
cross a long hallway
climb a three story concrete steps (which continue into a wall), which you must get off to go to the exhibits
passageways that are almost impossible

Museum uses body-addressing strategies.
like Eisenem’s Holocaust Memorial

memorial structures from last 50 years

These sites envelop visitors within affective intent.

Given how the events commemorated are already so emotionally weighted, spaces can be understood as structures for narrativizing trauma. Attach my bits of pieces of memory within it. Thus creating I and cultural memories.

This is the sense of the project starting.
Kinds of connections hoping to make. Possibilities of digital construction to make possible connections between our own and others’ memories.

2. “Digital Archives as Rhetoric: Emerging Opportunities for Research and Design,” William Hart-Davidson, Michigan State Univ.; Jim Ridolfo, Univ. of Cincinnati

Talk on 4 years of work: Archive 2.0
Could we do something with the collection?

Samaritans exist. Living people. Despite 1922 National Geographic article saying they would not exist.
Only 720 now though. (Up from low of 120) 5 families. Intermarry.

Half community lives in Palestinian and Arabic speakers.
Half community lives in X and Hebrew speakers.

Maintain two liturgical languages: Samaritan Hebrew and Aramaic

Did not have a large diaspora, but their texts did. (Europe, North America)

2008-2009 was start-up. Doing project as rhetoricians.
1. Provide access to digital versions of the codices/scrolls at MSU
2. Create a working model of a culturally-sensitive repository of Samaritan texts
3. Support a variety of learning activities including online teaching, learning, and research
4. Follow a model of system development consistent with best practices of user-centered design

Project Phases:
1. Stakeholder interviews
Asked them to draw things for us. Meta data, architecture

2. High-fidelity mockups, interactive prototype
turned the drawings into this

3. Field research
Brought them to Samaritans.
Received considerable amount of feedback and how to make them better.
Wanted to see all Samaritan mss digitized, b/c would have geo-political repercussions.

4. Prototype
Scanned selections of 40 pages.
Joint decision by Samaritan stakeholders and professor stakeholder

What people do with texts…
We’ve found that the iterative design process and the tools we create… find communicative value/provided a rhetorical perspective to the other.

Biblical Samaritan scholars were interested in how Samaritans used them.
Samaritans were interested in knowing how scholars used them.

Jim Rodolfo speaks:
Anne’s presentation was fortuitous.

Way we came to think about how our approach in this and our positionality (rhetoric and writing studies) working with other stakeholders, now think of it as three groups of stakeholders.
Samaritans, scholars, and our institutional stakeholders (archivists and librarians)

One of strange things of project, primary players who we were interacting with were always asking who we were. We were studying them. But they wanted to know who we were and what others were doing.

What I brought to talk to you is an anecdote of that.
Thrilling discovery, revealing about writing studies and what they can do

Given that preservation and access… not oppositional missions… if digital… important for us to see that they become spaces for enacting cultural practices…
This is imperative for Samaritan people. Where their culture will survive.

By studying the way these texts are
and used
in particular cultures (Bazerman “The Case for Writing Studies” 2002)

Scholar profess left a note on left hand side of codex, knowing that the Samaritan person was coming, for Benni.
Wanted the Samaritan to see it, but he was curious and embarrassed because it looks like a stain. Archivists and professor thought the stain was an artifact of the poor storage (under football stadium). Thought it was a water stain.

Samaritan flipped open, passage from Leviticus, name of God appears a few times. But as is common in liturgical position of Samaritans, they chant a portion of Scripture every day.
The movement the celebrant makes, to be humble, is as you read, you touch the face and then you touch the text. The stain was a mark from 1500 years of use.
So these marks showed what the celebrants read the most.


Interesting thing about that:
will tweet about this, with hashtag of this session (which is what?)

Transforming archives into digital requires knowing how cultural stakeholders and scholars use or would use.

Samaritans exist, but only 722 of them.
If their cultural tradition is going to survive, these are the cultural interactions that need to happen.

Writing Studies, and English studies

showed us what a visual archive can do
maintain a visual of the usage in the past
mark these stains with a video of Benni doing the movement

teaches us a broader idea
Location of Culture Baba
texts live in culture
attempting to isolate texts from cultures, this is cultural violence
locating it in a location that makes sense to scholar and archivist violently separates it from the cultural stakeholders and their use/location of texts.
With a physical text, perhaps necessary. but digital text allows us to undo the violence and re-connect the work to the cultural users.

3. “Feminist Historiography and the Digital Humanities,” Jessica Enoch, Univ. of Pittsburgh

My discussion will be less detailed and more broad strokes.

Digital Humanities is new to me. Feminist Historiography is my field. Spent last year to study DH and see what lengths feminists might have with it.

Kenneth Burke’s identification A Rhetoric of Motives
identification (connecting A and B) v. division (separating A from B)

survey both fields, investigating reasons for division, ways to re-connect–identification

Open lines of digital humanists and feminist historians

stakes are high
DH generated a great deal of excitement: journals, DH division in grant work
compounding this are major scholars, Perry, Stanley Fish
“should completely change what it means to be a humanities scholar” (Perry)

One estimate suggests $6M for DH funding this year.

Detailed review of feminist historiography shows more division than identification.
No mention by any FH about DH.
Her article was 180-article review.

Few points of identification between the two.

Don’t make this just because it is hip and funded.

Instead, look for meaningful modes of identification. So Fem Historians can enrich DH.

Articles by Alexis Ramsey and Patricia Sullivan and X talk about feminist historians and digital

Reasons for division:

FH- recover forgotten women
DH– archive and mine canonical figures

FH– work in local archives, comm. libraries, and grandparents’ attics
DH– build robust archive that hold “Big Data” (30M searchable words in Lincoln Project)

HOWEVER, there is one word that should bring us together.

The word is methodology.

Every FH worth salt, methodology is a key term for the work.
Scholarly history defined by methodology.

Barbara Biesecker “Coming to Terms”
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell “Biesecker Can’t”
Xin Lu Gale “Historical Studies”
Cheryl Glenn “Truth, Lies, and Method”
Feminist Historiography in Rhetoric. Special issue of Thetoric Society Quarterly 32 (2002).

Identification #1: Digital Archivization

FH might collaborate with DH for how to build archives.
But concerns based on archives for FH (and others) that are already out there.
Many archives allow FH searches.

While FH used to have dearth, now digital recovery opportunities are everywhere.

DH scholars now have a “sea of databases.” How do you make sense of that?
Concern “proactive, not a reactive archival methodology.”

Methodological management is imp.
Archival and digital searching: what does it allow for and preclude?

How might we recognize digital archives as problematic?
How might we get to archives that don’t have finances for digitalization?

FH should collaborate with DH because they share their concerns.

Identification #2: Digital Tools and Data Mining

terminological and methodological division– FH don’t use same words.
FH seem opposed to DH language. Bulk between vocabularies.

Methodology could re-connect.

Ngram Viewer…
tool that allows searching of digital archives by Google

Aspasia (historical female very important)
1880s and 1890s came up and was strong, high
“Pericles and Aspasia”
also shows texts that she was mentioned in

Tool is fun and addictive.
Whole-heartedly concur that it is “gateway drug to DH”

Allows FH to do something they haven’t been able to do before.
Supports exigency that female rhetors have been forgotten.

Forgetting is not erasure. It is remembering differently.

Offers methodology for seeing how female rhetors were remembered differently in the past, when they were not forgotten.

All tools are gender, race, and class cultured.

Use tools “with a renewed investment in feminist theory.”

How did digital tools come into purpose and why did they make them? What were their goals?

Identification #3: Multimodal Scholarship

Digital scholars may say that DH should do work DIFFERENTLY.
Make full use of visual, aural, and dynamic media.

Multimodal scholarship is more public, activist, and accessible.
Pull readers in by full emersion.

Sharon Daniel “Public Secrets”
Amazing. Don’t do it justice.

Even though feminist historiographers would find it interesting, would prefer to leave it up to DH because the learning curve for using this tech is too high.

However, can engage in a different way.

FH have analyzed and written about women’s non-traditional rhetorics, but have rarely engaged in them ourselves. Engaging with DH would shift our focus to methods through which we offer it.

Multimodal scholarship pulling users in, engaging them emotionally.

Identification for FH, necessity to “interrogate emotional attachments to research subjects”

What are the responsibilities for FH to interrogate attachment to both studies and audiences?


for Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson:
How did these archives arrive?

Great-grandson of original donator to Michigan State University came to join the archive experience.
Unusual because scholars traditionally lied and tricked folks out of their collections.

for Wysocki:
Land-based connection, geography connection? You didn’t talk about it. Are you looking at it?

No one in museum studies that I have found references the geography connection.
But I am studying this.
Navajo in New Mexico, for example.
Moving through and connections between movement, also in terms of the gesture of Benni in the reading.
Game architecture, spaces for movement and spaces where stop and do something.

for Enoch:
New tech that often benefits women, because can give cheaper access.
You seem to be talking about a way that DH is good. But the archives are expensive to get access to. So isn’t that going to short-change FH again?

obscure Chicago newsletter
are expensive
but issue is the lack of identification
FH has said: “You don’t write history through multimodal corridor and we don’t do research this way.”
How are people using databases to do FH?
We need to be looking at the possibilities of using and engaging with the DH tools and archives.
We haven’t been engaging with these.
Learn methods better -> including digital archives

for Enoch:
also depth of gendering to approaches
Need to say “I’m going to learn it.” cyber-feminists argument
Need to discuss, examine gendering of these archives. What would a feminist creation of these archives look like? including scripting languages, building of tools, etc.

Have to be at the table. How is “sentimentality” being described in this emotional search of the archive?
Need to learn the tools and the languages…

for Enoch:
Camera showing how the archive is searched, examined, and created.
Show the process?

When applying for grants, do theirs look better because they are doing digital and I’m looking at attics?

from H-D: big implication is that these are projects that require infrastructure and how we deal with…
Haven’t published a single-author work in 4 years. Because the DH collaborative is essential. Epidemiologist and computer programmer…

from Wysocki: Don’t want to lose those small scale projects.
Need to get the taste for “not the grand projects,” but show the labor that goes into them. Keep the room for “I only know how to do X.” (like HTML)

3 thoughts on “MLA: Rhetorical Historiography and the Digital Humanities”

  1. Dr. Davis,

    I just found your site by searching for images of attics and photographs. I am a genealogist and I currently have a blog entitled “Ancestors in the Attic” which is evolving into actual business. I love the photo on your blog of the grandparents attic and was wondering if I may borrow it for my site which is under construction.

    Thank you,

    Teri Wheeler

  2. Teri,

    This is not my image originally. It was similar to one the speaker was using and came from

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