Born Digital Generation

Media : Culture : Pedagogy

Vol 15, no. 1 & 2— July and December 2011

Table of Contents

Introduction: Dobson and Boyce


Dobson, Teresa. M., & Boyce, Michael J.

Cite this article (APA): Dobson, T.M. & Boyce, M.J. (2011). Introduction. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from


Media : Culture : Pedagogy

This double issue marks a significant transition: the re-naming of the academic journal, Educational Insights, to Media : Culture : Pedagogy. For twenty-one years, Educational Insights (EI) has been the peer-reviewed journal of the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiry (formerly the Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction), Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. The journal originated in 1990 as a print publication venue for graduate student scholars. In 1995, then co-editors, Gary Rasberry and David Penberg, commenced its publication in electronic form via the emergent Internet, thereby establishing EI as one of the first electronic journals in the world; shortly thereafter, it was re-imagined as "an international journal open to all scholars whose work encourages new ways of envisioning educational issues, pedagogy, curriculum, inquiry, and interdisciplinarity" (About Educational Insights, 2011).

In 2002, Lynn Fels assumed editorship of EI and its transformation continued. Under her editorial purview, the journal became a highly innovative multimedia environment for scholarly publication with a focus on arts-based research. Lynn Fels oversaw the publication of fifteen outstanding themed issues from 2002 to 2010 before taking up a faculty position at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada. Each of these issues evidences careful attention to how the affordances of digital media might inform scholarly work.

As an interim editorial team in a time of transition for both the Faculty and the journal, we, Teresa M. Dobson and Michael J. Boyce, were invited to re-imagine the scope and shape of EI within a climate of fiscal uncertainty. Most evident in the first instance as we examined challenges and possibilities was that Educational Insights has been for many years a highly innovative academic publication: since its initial online instantiation it has moved well beyond "print adaptation" approaches that still dominate within online academic publication. As such, it inspired us to contemplate what academic writing imagined in the first instance for digital environments rather than for print environments might look like, and our call for papers for the double issue we present here sought contributions that might explore this question.

Media : Culture : Pedagogy represents our efforts to envision a viable future for Educational Insights that both emphasizes its past strengths and acknowledges changing interests and support structures within the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. Its title reflects a broad scope of interest: media in all forms, culture as multiple patterns of human knowledge, pedagogy as it exists across a variety of disciplines and at all levels, within and beyond formal institutions of learning, and, finally, the confluence of these concerns. Our first two issues, introduced below, are titled, respectively, "Born Digital" and "Digital Generation."

v15n01: Born Digital

Over the last 20 years a new generation of art and literature born as electronic, or borne within distributive digital channels, has developed in tandem with new ways of defining, measuring and decoding (i.e. "reading"), and alongside new delivery mechanisms for pedagogical methods and practices. "Born Digital" aims to explore these new artifacts and their new distributive form in the context of pedagogy and artistic practice.

A wide range of new forms wherein narrative is restructuring and redefining itself are of interest: Blog novels; E-literature; Narrative within locative applications such as google maps and geo-tagging with GPS; RSS poetics; Narrative in the context of mobile games and social media applications such as Youtube, Flickr and Facebook. Likewise, consideration and analysis of the digital artifacts born out of these media is of interest.

What is involved in producing the Digital as an environmental element, particularly as it stands presumably in contrast with and distinction to the Analogue? Does this distinction in fact hold water? What is "Analogue Culture"? If that sounds strange to the ear, then what is it that makes "Digital Culture" sound so familiar? What opportunities do cultural practices, inscribed as new and fundamentally different in their comprehensive constitution, via both their production and their consumption, present to their practitioners, particularly as heralds of the form?

In the measure that cultural and institutional practices, in relationship with digital tools, applications and content, are constitutive of new types of literacy, do they thereby also constitute new forms of pedagogy? How is this mode of inquiry an opportunity to mobilize what agenda, ideologies, or policies, towards what effect in which areas of interest? How do terms such as these — digital native, digital generation, digital literacy, etc. — work to reinforce within the critical purview a course of action, whether related to pedagogy, administration policy, or cultural practices and production?

This issue, which includes articles by contributors from a range of fields, reflecting a growing and necessary movement toward interdisciplinarity in digital studies, explores such questions. Contributions 1 through 5 together comprise Volume 15, Number 1. Sinclair, Ruecker, Gabriele, Patey, Gooding, Vitas, and Bajer describe their research developing the Mandala Browser, a text visualization tool that enables new forms of digital reading, and contemplate pedagogical applications. Mahood describes her work in undergraduate classrooms with electronic literature that challenges conventional notions of literary reading. Uszkalo describes the way in which digital archives such as Early English Books Online have facilitated the growth of important fields of research such as the study of early modern women writers, a group whose work has been heretofore largely unavailable in print, as well as how such archives have also opened up a variety of multi-modal approaches within such fields. Klobucar discusses the way in which the world might be read through lenses provided on handheld devices, such as the Global Positioning System. Finally, Carpenter discusses her innovative born digital work commissioned by the Conseil des arts de Montreal, Entre Ville.

v15n02: Digital Generation

Recent non-academic publications in the area of cultural studies evidence an interest in the consequences, both optimistic and pessimistic, whether from conscious or unconscious exposure, of an emersion into digital environments (e.g., the effects of websites & texting on reading consciousness, or of using Facebook in school or the workplace). Not infrequently they frame these consequences as an evolutionary pattern affecting a variety of senses, including cognitive, psychological, physiological, philosophical, political, social and cultural. Such analysis harkens back, in some cases, to notions of influence mobilized in the 1930s with respect to movies, and in the 1950s with regard to comic books. It is also in this respect typical of an older established generation attempting to make sense (and seek control) of a younger, emergent generation — in this case, the so-called Digital Generations (Y and Z), who are meant to be representative of those who have grown up “native” to digital culture.

But we are struck by a double sense of Generation: On the one hand, it refers to those people born and living within the same epoch and cultural environment; on the other hand, Generation also means production/reproduction - that which is both generated and generating. Digital Generation in this sense, then, could be considered as a cultural group, a class of products, and a mode of production. This issue, comprised of contributions 6 through 9, explores these referents in the context of their impact upon education, public policy & the arts. Harkness presents a new critical framework for how bloggers work to define their digital identities. Weida explores artists' books and bookwork as "structural and conceptual metaphors for digital spaces of art created and/or utilized by teenagers" (Weida, 2011). Turner investigates how digital media can be implemented to engage high school students in collaborative creative work. Ng-A-Fook considers how curriculum theorists can "draw upon autobiographical writing strategies and emergent 2.0 technologies . . . to understand the aesthetic processes for surfing, screen capturing, and provoking a virtual narrative landscape" (Ng-A-Fook, 2011).


Our sincere thanks go to the contributors to these two issues for their insights, as well as to Monica Brown, Editorial Assistant, for her careful work in preparing the issues for publication.

Teresa M. Dobson and Michael J. Boyce, Editors

01: Sinclair, et. al

Meditating on a Mandala in Class: Studying Shakespeare's Plays with a Visual Exploration Tool for XML Texts

Stéfan Sinclair, Stan Ruecker, Sandra Gabriele, Matt Patey, Matt Gooding, Chris Vitas, & Bartosz Bajer

Cite this article (APA): Sinclair, S., Ruecker, S., Gabriele, S., Patey, M., Gooding, M., Vitas, C. & Bajer, B. (2011). Meditating on a Mandala in Class: Studying Shakespeare's Plays with a Visual Exploration Tool for XML Texts. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from



In this paper we describe the Mandala Browser ( as a born-digital resource for use in the classroom. We provide example classroom exercises for studying the plays of Shakespeare, which provide on the one hand a simple means of examining speeches within a single play (our example uses Romeo and Juliet), and on the other hand a comparison between plays (e.g. all the tragedies). Finally, we provide some further context and resources for enabling what we call digital reading: a subset of text analysis oriented toward searching, browsing and reading text, without requiring more advanced knowledge of statistics and computational methods.



It is estimated that humans will produce an unfathomable 1 zettabytes (21 zeroes) of digital information in 2010 (Gantz et al., 2008). However, the overabundance of data is not a new phenomenon of the information age. Vannevar Bush, the science advisor to the President of the USA during World War II, was already, in 1945, lamenting the disjoint between the quantity of information being produced and our tools for managing and finding that information: “The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships" (Bush 1945). In the same article Bush describes the conceptual Memex machine that would inspire hypertext theorists and researchers and the development of the web. Although we have less ambitious goals, our motivations are similar to those of Bush: we are interested in creating tools that facilitate finding and understanding information in a mass of data. In particular, the Mandala Browser ( described in this article is an attempt to balance power and user-friendliness in the design of a generalized tool for exploring XML files (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1: This Mandala shows the speeches in Romeo and Juliet as dots, some of which (the grey ones) are around the periphery, while others (the ones in colour) have been attracted to magnets in the interior of the Mandala. Here the student has created magnets to attract all speeches by the characters Romeo, Juliet, and Mercutio, with another magnet for any speech containing “sing.” Note that the search choice “words similar to” means that the magnet has attracted speeches with “sing,” “singer,” and “singing,” as well as “single” and “singular.”

Based on a concept originally proposed by Oksana Cheypesh (see Cheypesh et al., 2006), the Mandala is a circular interface that allows people to dynamically construct visual Boolean queries of any XML-encoded text file or text collection. Each text is divided into subsections that appear around the periphery of the Mandala as dots. The divisions can be made at any points where an XML tag provides a possible subdivision. For plays, a natural unit is the speech, while in prose, it is often useful to work with dots as paragraphs (though one could work on words or chapters or any other unit defined by the XML markup). The user of the system can read the text behind each dot by clicking on it. The flexibility of the Mandala as a browser of structured text is a deliberate attempt to respond to two major challenges that have been articulated by a variety of scholars in the digital humanities: how do we make good use of the growing numbers of digital texts, and how does this use differ from the conventional methods of closely studying single texts? The consensus seems to be growing that we have reached a point of critical mass, where new methods of analyzing and discussing texts will become commonplace. For example, Moretti (2005) has adopted an approach that he calls “distant reading,” where he observes patterns of change over time of phenomena such as the length of book titles–that is, he is using digital texts and computing power to answer hypotheses about the history of the book. Ramsay (2003), Unsworth (2005), Crane (2006), and Manovich (2009), on the other hand, suggest that tools for manipulating and visualizing text will provide students and other researchers with new ways, not of answering existing hypotheses, but instead of conceiving and pursuing new hypotheses. On a slightly different trajectory, Anderson (2008) and Halevy et al. (2009) propose that the age of hypotheses is over, and that instead of conceiving mental models for testing, researchers with access to enough data can instead directly observe and report on the patterns that emerge. The Mandala Browser does not commit to any of these perspectives in particular, but generally seeks to enable and enhance a range of reading and analytic practices. For classroom use, the Mandala can serve as the basis for formulating hypotheses either about individual texts or collections of texts. For example, in studying Shakespeare, the teacher might have the students work in depth with a single play, to support literary practices of close reading, or across multiple plays to encourage thinking about patterns across subsets such as the history plays, comedies, or tragedies.

Studying Romeo and Juliet with the Mandala

The Mandala can be used to address both comparative questions and content questions. How much can be done depends in part on the XML encoding. Our examples expect that the play will have the following information marked in the XML: Acts, Scenes, Speakers (or Characters), and Speeches (because the plays are initially in XML, it is relatively straightforward to transform them to a different structure that may work better with the Mandala Browser; the original XML documents are from the WordHoard collection at Northwestern University.

The following are examples of questions that the Mandala Browser can help study:

    Comparative questions:

  • Which act contains the most speeches?
  • Which act contains the most speeches by Romeo, by Juliet?
  • Which character has the most speeches?
  • Who says the following words the most, and what does this imply?

    o Love

    o Hate

    o War

  • Who refers most to the following concepts:

    o Family, families, family relationships (mother, father, sister, brother)

  • Content questions:

  • In what act and scene does Mercutio stop speaking? Why?
  • For the purposes of providing a step-by-step example, we will look at use of the word “love.” In working with the Mandala, a student begins by opening a play and indicating that the dots should represent speeches (Figures 2 and 3). Note that in Figure 3, the panel in the top left of the screen can be scrolled down to reveal that there are a total of 841 speeches in the play, which means that the students using the Mandala will have 841 dots to work with.

    Figure 2
    Figure 2: The Mandala has just been launched but has no document displayed.

    Figure 3
    Figure 3: Here, the student has opened an XML-encoded version of Romeo and Juliet and indicated that each dot will represent one speech. Since there is only one blank magnet, all the dots appear as small, grey circles placed around the periphery.

    The next step involves producing a series of nodes or “magnets” that attract the dots from the periphery into the interior of the Mandala. Figure 4 shows two magnets: one for all the speeches by Romeo and the other for all the speeches by Juliet.

    Figure 4
    Figure 4: The student has created two magnets. Juliet’s speeches appear at the top and Romeo’s speeches at the bottom. Note that the magnets could be created in any order. Their colours can also be modified by the user.

    At this stage it is possible to see that Romeo has quite a few more speeches than Juliet has, with 163 for Romeo and 118 for Juliet (the speech counts are indicated in the yellow label near each magnet). The next step is to begin to examine which of the two characters says what key words, how often those words are spoken by which character, and how often the words occur with respect to the total number of speeches for each character. Figure 5 shows the results for the word “love,” where Romeo says “love” more often than Juliet says it. Of the total number of speeches where the word “love” is used (107 total), 34% of them are spoken by Romeo (37 by him out of 107 total) and 21% (23 out of 107) by Juliet. That is, one-third of all speeches in the play containing the word love are spoken by Romeo, and only one-fifth of the speeches using “love” are spoken by Juliet. However, these numbers don’t take into account the fact that Romeo has quite a few more speeches than Juliet does. In terms of frequency, it is also true that the ratio of Romeo’s total speeches including the word “love” is greater than the ratio of Juliet’s speeches, but not by much. Romeo has 163 speeches in total, and he says “love” in 37 of them, or 22% of the time. Juliet has a total of 118 speeches, and she says “love” in 23 of them, or 19% of the time. Students might then hypothesize as to what this variance might suggest.

    Figure 5
    Figure 5: Romeo says “love” in more speeches than Juliet does, but then he also has more speeches. As a ratio of each of their total speeches, they say “love” almost the same percentage of the time.

    Between them, Romeo and Juliet are responsible for 60 out of 107 speeches where someone says “love,” or 56% of all speeches where someone says “love.” In order to see who is responsible for the remaining 47 speeches, it would be possible to look individually through each of the texts represented by the dots, by using the lasso tool to select all those 47 dots for display in the reading panel on the right (Figure 6).

    Figure 6
    Figure 6: The student here is examining the texts of the 47 speeches where someone other than Romeo or Juliet says the word “love.” The text associated with selected dots appears in the right-hand reading panel.

    Alternatively, it is possible to see one magnet for each of the speakers in the play. The Mandala does this automatically when the user chooses the field “Speaker” and the value “[All Values].” In the case of Romeo and Juliet, the result is a rather large set of 35 magnets—one for each speaker in the play (Figure 7).

    Figure 7
    Figure 7: This Mandala shows one magnet for each speaker in the play. In this screenshot, the magnet labels have been temporarily turned off in order to make the magnets easier to see.

    Once the Mandala has provided one magnet per speaker, we can add a magnet to see who says “love.” It appears in Figure 8 as a dark greenish dot near the apex, with many subsets connected to it. After Romeo and Juliet, the characters who use the word “love” the most are Lady Montagu, Benvolio, and Paris. Somewhat surprisingly, given that she has a great many speeches in the play (in fact, 90), the Nurse only says “love” four times, and Friar John, who is similarly instrumental in the tragedy, only says it in five speeches out of his total of 59 speeches.

    Figure 8
    Figure 8: For the 35 characters in the play Romeo and Juliet, who says “love”?

    As a next step, it is now possible to manually divide the speakers into the genders male and female in order to address the following question: is Romeo’s use of the word “love” characteristic of the other men in the play, and is Juliet’s use reflected by the other women? In a similar vein, we can think of the characters being divided by age or social status. The answer appears to be that use of the word “love” is less connected with any of these factors than it is with patterns of association (if the XML had contained gender, age, or social status markers for each character, this would have been even easier to investigate). Romeo’s mother and his friends Benvolio and Mercutio are both on the high-frequency list, and so is his rival Paris. Juliet, on the other hand, stands out as an anomaly among the people she knows. One implication worth pursuing further is that Romeo and Paris may actually share the use of conventional rhetorical language – suggesting among other things that Juliet’s parents may not have been so far off the mark in proposing Paris as her husband. Further investigation is also possible concerning other key words in the play, such as “death.” It is also often useful to study how and when other characters use the name of a principal character. For instance, the name “Romeo” is used in 82 speeches by other characters, and “Juliet” is used in 40 speeches (13 of them by Romeo). In the same way that we have examined the word “love” in Romeo and Juliet, it is equally possible to investigate other key terms in other plays. One might, for instance, spend time on the word “blood” in Macbeth, or “citizen” in Julius Caesar. In order to evaluate students’ use of the Mandala in studying a single play, it is possible to observe the following actions:

    1. Were they able to load the play correctly?

    2. Could they create the magnets they needed?

    3. Having created the magnets, were they able to correctly explain what they were seeing?

    4. Were they able to select items (speeches) for further study in the reading panel?

    5. With their data in hand, could they provide an hypothesis that explained it?

    6. Could they verify the hypothesis with further reading?

    Features of Shakespeare’s Tragedies

    While the exercises using Romeo and Juliet (or any other play) allow the students to investigate questions that deal with a single play that they may have read in its entirety, this next exercise deals with studying a set of plays as a group. For some students these plays may all be familiar through close reading, but for others the visualizations in the Mandala might provide a first chance to consider all the plays together. The students might be familiar with one or more of the plays, or may be seeing all of them for the first time. In the first step, we load the Mandala with the eleven Shakespearean tragedies listed below. It is possible, of course, to also choose a subset of the tragedies based on some other criteria, or to add other plays as desired:

    1. Romeo and Juliet
    2. Macbeth
    3. Hamlet
    4. Julius Caesar
    5. Othello
    6. Titus Andronicus
    7. Antony and Cleopatra
    8. Coriolanus
    9. Timon of Athens
    10. Troilus and Cressida
    11. There are three different ways to open all the plays at once in the Mandala: 1) load a single XML file that contains all the plays; 2) load a compressed archive (ZIP) file that contains the individual plays; or 3) merge each file one at a time into the Mandala. In all cases, it is interesting to see the variation in the number of speeches, which ranges from a low in Titus Andronicus (565) to a high in Othello (1181). The kinds of questions that can be addressed with a set of plays tend to begin with identifying trends. For instance:

      1. Are any of the acts noticeably shorter or longer than the others in terms of numbers of speeches?
      2. Are the key words that are related to central themes evenly distributed among the acts or among the plays?
      3. For those acts or plays with anomalous frequencies of occurrence of a keyword, what does further investigation of the speeches yield?
      4. As an example, we will walk through an analysis of the linked concepts “perception,” “cognition,” and “expression” in the tragedies, using the frequently-occurring terms “see,” “think,” and “speak.” To take advantage of the Mandala’s ability to create regular expressions, we have also slightly expanded the search by adding a second term for each concept: “see or saw,” “think or thought,” and “speak or say”. In Figure 9, the student has loaded all the speeches in all the tragedies. Note the density of dots around the periphery (10,456 in total).

        Figure 9
        Figure 9: The 11 Shakespearean tragedies have been loaded as dots but only one blank magnet is visible.

        Since we are interested in how these three concepts vary over the course of the tragedies, our next step is to create a magnet for each act (Figure 10). Everything appears to be working correctly in the XML tagging of the plays, since all the speeches are attracted from the periphery and there is no overlap between magnets. We can also see at a glance that Act 5 tends to be somewhat shorter in terms of numbers of speeches than the other acts (1801 speeches in Act 5 and over 2000 in each of the others). This suggests that Shakespeare’s tragedies will tend to be perceived as moving somewhat swiftly to a conclusion, given the expectation for length that has been set up in the audience by the other acts.

        Figure 10

        Figure 10: The student has created one magnet for each of the five acts. These magnets can either be created one at a time, or else they can be created at one stroke by using field=Act and search term=[All Fields].

        With this Mandala prepared, it is now possible to look at how “see or saw,” “speak or say,” and “think or thought” are distributed across the acts (Figure 11). The first thing we can notice is that “think or thought” occur in a total of 398 speeches, while “see or saw” are in 469 speeches, and “speak or say” are in a total of 836 speeches. It is therefore worth considering whether one of the features of the tragedies is that there is less explicit discussion of thinking going on among the characters than there is discussion of observation, and that there is more discussion about speaking than there is about either thinking or observing. To confirm these possibilities, it would be necessary to compare these results with a similar set of magnets for the romance plays or comedies or histories. It would also be worthwhile spending some time in looking for further synonyms, since it is possible that the key words we are using are not giving us the entire picture.

        Figure 11A Figure 11B Figure 11C

        Figure 11: These three close-ups show the subsets, from left to right, of “see or saw,” “think or thought,” and “speak or say” in the five acts of the 11 tragedies.

        Having spent some time considering the breakdown of the tragedies into acts, it is now worth turning our attention to comparisons among the plays. In Figure 12, the student has asked the Mandala to create a magnet for each of the 11 plays. As we have previously noted, it is now possible to see the difference in the numbers of speeches in each play. Othello is the tragedy with the most total speeches (1181 in all), although Antony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus, and Hamlet are all close in size, with over 1100 speeches each. Titus Andronicus is the tragedy with the fewest speeches (total 565).

        Figure 12
        Figure 12: In this screenshot, a magnet has been created for each of the 11 plays. Othello (left in blue) has the most speeches and Titus Andronicus (centre burgundy) the fewest.

        The next step (Figure 13) is to add a magnet for one of the key concepts – in this case, “speak or say”. Of the 10,453 total speeches in all the plays, 836 contain at least one of these words. Since the plays differ significantly in numbers of speeches, it is important not to be misled by the size of the clusters around the pie magnets (which show the subsets). By adding the display of the ratios to the yellow labels, we can see the relevant percentages that can more properly be used for purposes of comparison. Of all the tragedies, Titus Andronicus has the most speeches (10%) that use the words “speak” or “say.” Macbeth and Coriolanus are close seconds, with 9% each. Examining a few of the speeches at random suggests that “speak” and “say” tend to be imperative in general in the tragedies, with people either being ordered to speak or else not to speak. It might be worth further study, therefore, to see if these three plays are unusually focused on themes of expression or secrecy.

        Figure 13
        Figure 13: This Mandala shows the 11 plays and their use of the words “speak or say.” The Mandala is beginning to get quite cluttered, but it is still possible to make some simple observations.

        The next steps in the process would involve similar observations around the other keywords and their relative occurrence in each of the tragedies. At each point, it is important to follow up on the hypotheses being formulated by returning to the text of the plays and reading the speeches. In terms of evaluating students in their ability to carry out this kind of exercise, the possibilities are similar to those for using the Mandala with a single play.

        Digital Reading

        Although the Mandala Browser is a unique and powerful visualization tool for exploring digital texts, its functionality is focused on a relatively narrow band of search operations. The true potential of a digital text is that it lends itself to innumerable strategies for reading and analysis, since its constituent digital bits can be continuously rearranged and represented by computational tools. From very simple tasks (like a keyword search) to more complex tasks (like principal component analysis of semantic fields), the possibilities are only limited by the available texts and tools, and the imagination of their users. These tasks fall broadly under the rubric of text analysis, but the subset of tasks that we have presented using the Mandala Browser might be more usefully referred to as digital reading, oriented toward searching, browsing and reading text, without requiring more advanced knowledge of statistics and computational methods (see A Companion to Digital Humanities for several useful essays on better understanding text analysis for the humanities). What follows is a brief presentation of digital reading and suggested resources that would be complementary to using the Mandala Browser in the classroom (for a more in depth discussion of digital text tools in teaching, see Sinclair & Rockwell [2009]). Geoffrey Rockwell and Ian Lancashire (2005) provide an excellent overview of text analysis for the humanities (see also Rockwell [2003] for a more in-depth article on this topic): We can use computers to present, manage, and learn from electronic texts in ways difficult to do by hand. We can archive large quantities of text and make reliable copies of these archives. We can quickly retrieve passages from a large text database of millions of pages. We can ask where two or more words occur within the same paragraph. We can link automatically to other information from a hypertext. We can quantify writing style or try to identify the author of a disputed work by his or her style. We can compare written works or study the evolution of language usage over a collection of texts. In general, the process of computer assisted text-analysis uses computers to search, retrieve, manipulate, measure and classify natural-language documents for patterns and by author, subject, and genre or type. Digital reading tools are concerned with providing incremental new functionality to conventional reading practices. Students and researchers in the humanities cannot be expected to fully abandon the familiarity of the sequential text -- nor can they be expected to embrace a different epistemological framework; digital reading tools are about enabling new modes of exploration and interpretation rather than, say, proving hypotheses about the formal characteristics of text. One of the most useful resources for digital reading is the list of recipies for exploration offered by the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR), which include a categorized list of instructions for various types of tasks, including the following:

        1. Identify simple themes within a text
        2. Explore colloquial word use in a text
        3. Analyze blog discourse
        4. Many of the tools mentioned in the recipes are freely available online, including the Taporware tool suite ( and HyperPo ( The main view of HyperPo, for instance, keeps the original digital text visible at all times and allows the user to interact with various data views, including word frequencies, concordances, and part of speech information (Sinclair 2003). Most online text analysis tools that allow users to provide their own text collections are designed to work with relatively small corpora up to a size equivalent to about three books. A notable exception to this is Voyeur Tools (, an online environment designed to scale to much larger corpora (see Figure 14). An innovative aspect of Voyeur Tools is that any of the results panels can be exported into remote web-based content and provide live functionality (this could be useful for students wishing to integrate tool results into blog posts, wikis or web-based essays (assuming the software supports the relevant markup tags).

          Figure 14
          Figure 14: Voyeur Tools with 37 documents from Shakespeare (see address bar for URL).


          In this paper, we have provided two examples of how students might work with the Mandala Browser to visualize XML-encoded versions of Shakespeare’s plays. It is possible to develop some interesting hypotheses working with a single play, as in our first example, but it is in some respects more rewarding to deal with a set of several plays, which would be quite difficult to investigate without an interactive visualization. In that context, our second example deals with the subset of 11 of Shakespeare’s plays that are commonly grouped together as the tragedies. The descriptions presented are meant only as examples of the kinds of interpretive processes enabled by the Mandala Browser; the texts offer endless further possibilities for exploration and analysis, especially when combined with other tools for digital reading, such as Voyeur.


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          Shakespeare, W. The Complete Plays. The Nameless Shakespeare collection at WordHoard, Northwestern University. Retrieved from

          Unsworth, J. (2005). New methods for humanities research. Lyman Award Lecture Retrieved from

          02: Mahood

          Drink Me: Student Audiences, the Construction of Value, and the Digital Avant-Garde

          Aurelea Mahood

          Cite this article (APA): Mahood, A. (2011). Drink Me: Student Audiences, the Construction of Value, and the Digital Avant-Garde. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from



          With electronic literature's mix of familiar elements in unfamiliar combinations--elements of film, music video, visual art, video games, puzzles, web pages, prose, poetry, comic books, graphic novels, choose-your-own-adventures stories and so forth--readers are challenged to reconsider what constitutes literature and how they use computers. Even tech-savvy readerly undergraduates can be left unhinged by their early forays into electronic literature. In a comparative analysis of two iterations of the same undergraduate course, this article reflects on the value of actively examining the reading skills and critical/technical vocabularies that are drawn upon when readers move between literary genres--whether from prose to poetry or, more specifically, prose to electronic literature.



          N. Katherine Hayles opens Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008) with a preface entitled “Read Me.” Echoes of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and finding the neatly labeled bottle exhorting the tumbling passerby to drink its contents are conjured by Hayles’ phrasing.

          alice in wonderland
          Figure 1: "Alice taking "Drink Me' bottle." Sir John Tenniel's illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll.

          This echo is fitting: first-time readers of electronic literature may feel disoriented, like Alice, as they work to make sense of the text, images, and sounds commingling on their computer screens. With electronic literature’s mix of familiar elements in unfamiliar combinations—elements of film, music video, visual art, video games, puzzles, web pages, prose, poetry, comic books, graphic novels, choose-your-own-adventures stories and so forth—readers are challenged to reconsider what constitutes literature and how they use computers; or, as one of my undergraduate students put it, “I didn’t realize I was as rooted to the conventional form of a printed novel as I am. E-lit made me redefine how I approach literature and how I use a computer” (E-Lit Survey 2009).

          Donna Leishman’s off-kilter retelling of Little Red Riding Hood overtly embodies the familiar unfamiliarity that frequently characterizes electronic literature. RedRidingHood (2001) compellingly intertwines the vernacular of comic books, explorative interaction, optional narrative paths, and a soundtrack of jazzy drum and bass samples with the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood. Leishman does not use text to tell her story, but effectively retains the base elements that Marie-Laure Ryan (2002) associates with narrative in any medium: “narrative consists of a world (setting), populated by individuals (characters), who participate in actions and happenings (events, plot), through which they undergo change (temporal dimension)” (583). Leishman’s piece is a complex form of interactive visual storytelling—the wolf, the woods, the girl and her basket are all there—but it does not mirror the versions of the fairy tale to which most North American children are first exposed.

          Figure 2: Screenshot from RedRidinghood (2001) by Donna Leishman. RedRidingHood was first published by Leishman on her site in 2001 and it was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One in 2006.

          Roberto Simanowksi describes RedRidingHood as a “hybridization of a traditional fairy-tale narrative: the wolf pre-existing as a picture in her diary, as a dealer at the ‘flesh market,’ an angel which does not stop to rescue her” (as cited in Leishman, 2006). Readers must integrate the images, sounds, and movements in Leishman’s piece with all that they think they know about Little Red Riding Hood in order to achieve visual and narrative closure as they work through RedRidingHood. For the novice reader of electronic literature, these interpretative maneuvers must be learned: “This experience with electronic literature forced me to become a more in-depth reader and to not only focus on text [. . .] but also on music and images” (E-Lit Survey 2009).

          So how best facilitate early encounters with freely distributed electronic literature? Not as I did. Unlike books, electronic literature is primarily encountered via a multi-purpose tool—the personal computer and its myriad affordances—on freely accessible sites that do not readily expose or draw attention to the editorial and curatorial decisions that lead to electronic literature’s digital availability. In my first experience teaching electronic literature, I did not sufficiently acknowledge that electronic literature is framed differently than print literature.

          E-Lit 2008 1.0

          This story begins in a classroom: specifically, my "Culture and Technology" class (English 214) at Capilano University in Fall 2008. It begins as an account of what happened the first time I taught a course without a textbook and there were no required materials for sale in the campus bookstore. The course hinged entirely on the freely distributed Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One, hereafter abbreviated "ELC 1" (Hayles, Monfort, Rettberg & Strickland, 2006).

          But first, the back-story: My training as a literary scholar is in British modernism. The stories of the small presses and the little magazines central to the emergence of literary modernism figure prominently in my explorations as a reader, researcher, writer, and teacher. My own particular interest is in the inter-war networks of writers, reviewers, critics, publishers, and booksellers—often one and the same—and the emergence of a shared set of reading conventions and critical vocabulary. This critical interest in reading environments and the narrative frames and conventions in which our reading practices are located is also rooted in my undergraduate reading experiences. When I was completing undergraduate studies, for example, I read John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1993).

          Drawing on Bourdieu’s sociological approach to the study of literary and artistic works, Guillory argues that canon formation should be conceived as a question of the distribution of cultural capital. He analyzes the function of schools and teaching professionals in the formation of literary canons through an assessment of the means by which educational systems regulate access to literacy and the practices of reading and writing. Throughout Cultural Capital, Guillory emphasizes the necessity of conceptualizing the social effects of canonization while simultaneously asserting that canonicity is not a property of a work itself, but of its transmission.

          First encountering these ideas as an undergraduate encouraged me to think explicitly about my own emerging relationship to the production of literary value. It was exciting to be introduced to a theory of cultural production that situated artistic works within the social conditions of their production, circulation, and consumption. In particular, I was struck by how the theories advanced by Bourdieu (1993) and Guillory emphasized

          not only the direct producers of the work in its materiality (artist, writer, etc.) but also the producers of meaning and the value of the work—critics, publishers, gallery directors and the whole set of agents whose combined efforts produce consumers capable of knowing and recognizing the work of art as such, in particular teachers (but also families, etc.). (37)

          This made sense to me when I reflected on my own evolution and history as a reader: my own understanding of literature was a product of personal, familial and educational instruction, exploration, and reflection; this privileging of the socio-cultural dimensions of cultural production shaped me far more than I realized at the time.

          Now, years later in my own teaching, I like to introduce and map out these relationships with my students. In addition to primary texts, my students frequently read authors’ essays and critical manifestos; letters between authors and their publishers, editors, and agents; book reviews; criticism; and promotional material. We especially consider materials relating to literary awards like the Giller Prize, Griffin Poetry Prize, and Man Booker Prize. While I recognize that these extra-textual materials have critical, cultural, and symbolic value, I had not realized how much sway these primarily paper-based artifacts also had with my students; or rather, I did not know until I took them off my syllabus for the Fall 2008 offering of English 214.

          Student discomfort with the absence of printed material became apparent before the course officially began in early September 2008. Even though this was a small class of ten students, I nevertheless received multiple emails asking why there weren’t any books in the bookstore. I arrived in class on the first day with a box under my arm and confidently handed out CD-ROM versions of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One (ELC 1). I still did not fully comprehend how uncomfortable some of the students would be with the absence of paper. Instead I had imagined that they would appreciate this economical second-year English course with its free web-based anthology and selection of secondary articles archived on the university’s course management system (Moodle).

          Within the first three weeks members of the class began to question my choice in reading material. A number of the students blamed their initial difficulties in understanding electronic literature on it being “free” as opposed to it being “new,” “unfamiliar,” or “experimental.” The absence of monetary value appeared to be equated with an absence of value. This response to “difficulty” and their parallel discomfort with the “new” and “unfamiliar” contrasted interestingly with my past teaching experiences. In the past I came to understand that if students struggled with a text there was a default assumption on their part that the limitations or deficiencies lay with their own abilities and not with the text. Whether a controversial text such as Vernon God Little (Pierre, 2003) or difficult novel like How Late It Was, How Late (Kelman, 1994)—both of which appeared in a recent course on “The Politics of Prizes and Contemporary Fiction”—the students would largely “buy in” in so far as they decided that there was intrinsic literary value, even if they did not individually like or value the book.

          This was not the case here. I needed to address the emerging resistance to electronic literature quickly or risk finding myself in a classroom where we were collectively unable to move beyond "don’t like it" and "don’t value it." In the end I gravitated towards a solution that actively brought the students into the field of cultural production by inviting them to engage critically with producers of electronic literature.

          Earlier that year I had attended the bi-annual conference of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) in Vancouver, Washington. The ELO conference draws a strong mix of e-lit creators, writer-scholars, and academics. The mix of artists’ talks and conference papers offers many opportunities for creative and scholarly cross-fertilization. I approached two ELC 1 writers I met at the 2008 conference, as well as a third ELC 1 contributor who had recently given a talk at VIVO in Vancouver, BC (VIVO is a media arts access centre), and asked whether they would consider participating in an E-Lit Forum with my second-year students. J. R. Carpenter, Donna Leishman, and Brian Kim Stefans all agreed to participate in what would be referred to as "E-Lit Forum 2008."

          We settled upon a three-part structure for the E-Lit Forum, which would be published on the CultureNet@CapilanoU blog:

          1. Meditation: writers commented on their creative output with direct reference to the course material; these meditations were posted twenty-four hours in advance of a pre-determined class.
          2. Questions: students arrived in class having read the assigned pieces of electronic literature and the meditation; we then spent the class discussing the post and engaging in close readings of the work(s) with the aim of generating three to five questions, which would be posted to the CultureNet blog.
          3. Response: writers posted responses to the students’ questions in advance of the next class. The responses were incorporated into the next lecture and discussion.

          J. R. Carpenter began. The students were caught off guard by her opening post. “The Cape: The Back-Story” was 2,064 words long complete with images, secondary sources, and links. Carpenter’s tone was accessible yet thoughtful and carefully considered. The students were surprised at how much time she must have spent generating this highly informative and engaging post, but even more so they were surprised that she had spent the time on them.

          Carpenter’s post signaled the beginning of a shift. The students began to assume their roles as readers with greater responsibility. Now that J. R. had entered into a conversation with them they had a responsibility to respond, and they took that responsibility seriously. This, in turn, carried over into their engagement with the ELC 1 in its entirety. The students came to see themselves as participating in an emergent discourse—especially later in the term when they began working on their research papers and they discovered firsthand how few literary critical articles there currently are on individual pieces of electronic literature and digital poetry.

          Donna Leishman and Brian Kim Stefans posted similarly generous and provocative meditations to the CultureNet blog and thoughtfully answered all of the students’ questions. All three opening meditations historicized the authors’ own relationship to (electronic) literary production and provided an accessible back-story for the students. Through these stories students learned what had drawn individual writers to this mode of literary production while being reminded of the genre’s relative newness.

          Carpenter (2008): I graduated from art school in 1995, and made my first web project later that year at a residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts (as The Banff Centre was called back then). Many of my early web projects were in black and white because that’s what colour photocopies come in. The images in Fishes & Flying Things (1995), Notions of the Archival in Memory and Deportment (1996) and Mythologies of Landforms and Little Girls (1996) were all scanned from my massive collection of photocopies of diagrams and maps.

          Leishman (2008): I came to the field of digital literature in 1999 from the position of a visual artist/designer. My formative training in illustration grounded an interest in sequential art and literary themes. My work then and today draws on literary subject matters, contains chronological cause and effect, and strongly features protagonists. I am a thematic recycler similar a re-framer of often folkloric motifs—with an aim to renew, revitalizes, or debunk, the pre-existing content.

          Stefans (2008): I started programming computers in the very early 80s, on pathetic little things like the ZX-81 and the Vic-20, when I was about ten or so years ago.

          Mostly video games. It wasn’t until high school that I took up poetry, primarily under the posthumous tutelage of Ezra Pound, whose injunction to never waste a word, include nothing that does not contribute to the “direct presentation of the thing,” was very useful for someone used to programming with only 16k available.

          I returned to using computers in the late 90s after the internet hit, and as I became fascinated with the array of graphics, video and animation programs that were becoming available to the consumer. It all seemed to happen when I wasn’t looking, as I had rejected computers as being anti-humanistic when I turned to poetry—or at least anti-social. I dropped out of my English Ph.D. program to re-teach myself computer programming and get in on the excitement of the web.

          The three exchanges were spread over the thirteen-week term with the first post going up in mid-October. We have since archived the exchanges on the E-Lit Forums page of the CultureNet blog and the page has now expanded to include the 2009 edition of the E-Lit Forum that ran alongside the Fall 2009 offering of English 214. My 2009 revision of English 214 drew heavily on my experiences with the first group of English 214 students from Fall 2008, including my false assumptions about their level of comfort with (digital) innovation and courses without print materials, as well as my own evolving relationship with electronic literature.

          E-Lit 2009 1.1

          The second iteration of English 214 was structured around the following texts: A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections About The Book & Writing (Rothenberg & Clay, 2000), Brave New World (Huxley, 1932), the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One (Hayles et al, 2006), Electronic Literature: New Horizon for the Literary (Hayles, 2008), and JPod (Coupland, 2006). The primary texts were accompanied by supplementary materials, including scholarly articles about electronic literature and the aesthetics of difficulty. I also approached three other authors anthologized in the ELC 1 who agreed to participate in the E-Lit Forum 2009: Megan Sapnar Ankerson, Sharif Ezzat, and Chris Joseph.

          A Book of the Book was selected to problematize books and reading. I wanted to remind the students that they had learned how to read and how to “operate” a book—that early frustrations learning this skill may have been forgotten. We spent two weeks reading selections from the Rothenberg and Clay anthology. As hoped, the anthology productively disoriented the students. As one student later noted: “A Book of the Book threw us all for a spin and left many of us confused and muddled. Our expectations for what a novel is and will be before, during and after [the course] had been skewed” (Ferguson, 2009, para. 1). I wanted the students to be actively challenged while reading in the medium—print—that they conventionally associated with literature. Johanna Drucker (2008) has argued that

          navigational elements are historically and culturally specific, and thus learning to read them provides another way to understand the foundational assumptions and ideological values that form and inform a text. Graphic devices, in other words, are a dimension of narrative texts—sometimes more obviously involved in presentation, at other times actively contributing semantic content—available for analyses and interpretation if we can attend to their particulars through an appropriate descriptive language. (122)

          In drawing attention to the naturalized rules and conventions of the printed page I hoped to remind students that many forms of literature (and commentary about literature)—regardless of the medium—can be challenging and arouse uncertainty in readers/viewers. As Davidson (DATE) observes:

          Experimentation in computer-generated writing and hypertext had altered the nature of textuality altogether, rendering the idea of the “visible page” a rather outmoded concept. But the typographic revolution in modernism made possible the conditions for the page’s deconstruction as moveable type gave way to photo-offset printing and now to pixel characters. In a recurring modernist paradox the page must first be seen in order to be made invisible. (79)

          In examining Brave New World, an emphasis was placed on the novel’s critique of cinema. This afforded us the opportunity to discuss the critical concerns that preoccupied filmmakers, filmgoers, and film critics in the early years of cinema. In particular, we discussed early debates about the appropriate relationship between film and storytelling/narrative and whether the cinemagoer was an active or passive agent in the film-going experience. Huxley’s early commentaries on the cinema and its audience were frequently scathing: in his 1925 Vanity Fair essay, “Where Are the Movies Moving?” he claimed that “the darkness of the theatre, the monotonous music” induce in the audience “a kind of hypnotic state” (176). Virginia Woolf’s essay “The Cinema,” published one year later, is similarly concerned with what happens when viewers sit down to watch the “youngest” art:

          The eye licks it all up instantaneously, and the brain, agreeably titillated, settles down to watch things happening without beseeching itself to think. . . . Eye and brain are torn ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples. (269)

          Huxley and Woolf were writing during a period of cultural initiation in which people were learning how to watch/hear image and sound merging in a darkened theatre—just as the novice reader of electronic literature must learn the art of “reading” on the computer screen.

          A five-week unit on electronic literature followed the examination of Brave New World. Students were assigned readings from the ELC 1 in parallel with chapters from Hayles’ Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Depending on length, the students looked at anywhere from two to six pieces of electronic literature per week. The E-Lit Forum 2009 took place during the middle three weeks of the five-week unit. The students registered everything from frustration and skepticism to delight during these five weeks. Reading Hayles and other critics in parallel with pieces of electronic literature helped them develop a vocabulary upon which they could draw while beginning to formulate their own responses to electronic literature.

          After the end of the term, 75% of the E-Lit Survey respondents (n = 18) reported finding the shift from print to electronic literature more challenging than expected. The secondary readings, classroom discussions, and the E-Lit Forum were all important tools in overcoming those challenges. In turn, 70% also reported that their attitude towards electronic literature changed over the course of the five-week unit. One student remarked, “I went from not seeing it as literature to having an appreciation of the literary opportunities it provides.”

          Figure 3: Screenshot from Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw by Donna Leishman. Deviant was first published by Leishman on her site http://6amhoover in 2004 and it was anthologized in the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One in 2008.

          Another observed, “At first I was very skeptical [of] many of the pieces I looked through. ‘Deviant,’ for example, I found difficult to accept as anything beyond an interesting flash game. The class discussions really helped clear up many of the pieces for me. By the time we finished this section of the course I was far more open and willing to look at e-lit as a possible genre of lit and not just some strange off-shoot of video games or cartoons” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Anecdotes of reconciliation were commonplace as students found themselves recognizing—often with a degree of surprise—that they were leaving behind frustration, impatience, skepticism, and a narrow print-bound conception of what could constitute literature: “This entirely new experience of E-Lit helped me break down my bias towards traditional literature, which I realized had become as solid as the Berlin Wall. I had naturally assumed that a book was the only way to genuinely deliver a story” (Cook, 2009, para. 3).

          The term ended with a two-week unit on JPod, which illustrates many of the ideas advanced in the fifth and closing chapter of Hayles’ Electronic Literature. This is a highly digitally-inflected novel, as one might expect from the author of Microserfs (1995). The opening epigraph—“Winners Don’t Do Drugs”—used to appear on idle video arcade games (1); “Part One: Never Mess with the Subway Diet” is proceeded by an entirely blank page with the exception of two words: “Click here” (13, 11); and the novel ends with "Play again? Y/N" (512).

          The narrative is laden with Coupland’s pop-culture rich satire, geek-culture commentary, and layout/design choices, which recreate the visual and information-rich environment that we customarily associate with the Internet. Not unlike Jonathan Safran Froer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2005), and Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000)—all discussed by Hayles in Chapter 5 of Electronic Literature—Coupland’s novel is similarly “engaged in robust conversations with electronic textuality” and reinterpretations of “how the computer layer signifies” (165). Hayles argues that these novels and novels like them

          put into play dynamics that interrogate and reconfigure the relations between authors and readers, humans and intelligent machines, code and language. . . . More than a mode of material production (although it is that), digitality has become the textual condition of twenty-first-century literature. (186)

          In pairing JPod with the final chapter of Hayles’s book, the course closed with a return to the familiar—the print novel—but a “familiar” genre now excitingly problematized by the digital. As hoped, the class discussion, reviews, and essays examining JPod suggestively responded to the ways in which the novel’s “textual surface [is] littered with the marks of digital machines” (186). The students were equally comfortable discussing the novel with reference to Brave New World as they were with reference to electronic literature. In turn, the term’s diverse reading materials were frequently drawn upon in many students’ final position papers.

          Over the course of the semester, each student gave one seminar presentation and wrote two position papers, three reviews, a short essay, a research proposal and annotated bibliography, and a research paper or creative project accompanied by an artist’s statement. At the end of the term, the students were invited to fill out the previously mentioned E-Lit Survey (18 of the 26 students completed the survey) and post a final position paper on the CultureNet blog commenting on any aspect of the course. Collectively, the surveys, reviews, and positions papers reveal the discomfort that many of the students felt with the course material throughout the semester. However, in comparison with the Fall 2008 version of the course, the second group was better able to explore and analyze their highly varied responses to electronic literature in a sustained and methodical fashion. While some students continued to have thoughtfully expressed reservations about electronic literature, by the end of term the majority of the class reported moving from skepticism and frustration to varying degrees of appreciation and pleasure.


          One survey respondent described her English 214 experience with electronic literature as follows: “Intense frustration/rejection > coping > accepting and embracing. The more exposure to it I got, the less frustrated I became because I was able to build a ‘toolkit’ of techniques to tackle the e-lit” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Such experiences were uncommon in 2008 when students’ relationships to the course material appeared to be far more static with little to distinguish their opening and closing positions. In contrast, the Fall 2009 students experienced a shift in their understandings. While I agree with Hayles’s prognosis that “digital literature will be a significant component of the twenty-first century canon” (Hayles, 2008, 159), broadly speaking students still appear to arrive at universities and colleges with heavily print-based understandings of the literary. Students’ widespread comfort with digital technology should not be viewed as an indicator that they will be comfortable with with electronic literature as defined by the ELO: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer” (3).

          The teaching of emergent genres can be exciting, but it depends on fostering an environment in which the students can be comfortable with their discomfort. Incorporating apprehensions and reservations directly into the course through in-class discussion, shared reviews and position papers, and dialogues with the creators of electronic literature afford students the opportunity compare, assess, and reassess their responses to the course materials. In the Fall 2009 section of English 214, the sensation of “comfortable discomfort” was evident in the survey and final position papers alike. This survey respondent nicely captured the need to develop specific skills in order read electronic literature and the way in which the E-Lit Forum contributed to that process: “[The E-Lit Forum] contributed to my ‘detective’ approach to the pieces. I started to see the e-lit pieces in more depth, and with a different perspective. Making up the questions [for the artists] was brutal though—I think this shows that there is specific literary needed to analyze e-lit, and a lot of us were slow to it”. Or, as another student put it, “Behind-the-scenes expositions [give] breadth and useful perspective to ‘challenging’ art. It helps to know where their weirdness is coming from” (E-Lit Survey 2009). Students also found it exciting to be involved in expanding conversations about electronic literature: “It was especially cool to see the authors so excited to be involved with the class, establishing a connection between us and the material we were reviewing and being taught; establishing a link between ‘technology’ and ‘culture’” (Ferguson, 2009, para. 1).

          In turn, the decision to not focus exclusively on electronic literature in the second offering of this course created the space for a more expansive interrogation of what is meant by "literature." Specifically, we had a shared body of print and digital primary texts to compare and analyze (as opposed to working with a generalized or abstracted print canon during comparative discussions, as was the case in 2008). Different reading skills and critical/technical vocabularies are clearly required when readers move between literary genres—for example, from prose to poetry. Post-secondary instructors can rely on previous exposure to more established genres when students arrive in undergraduate classrooms, but this is not (yet) the case with electronic literature. Excitingly, however, an active examination of the genre’s newness can be incorporated into the learning experience during this period in which electronic literature is briefly among the youngest arts.


          Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature.
          Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

          Cook, E. (2009, Dec. 6). The literary berlin wall. Retrieved from

          Carpenter, J. R. (2008, Oct. 10). J. r. carpenter: The cape: The back story. Retrieved from

          Coupland, D. (2006). Jpod. Toronto, ON: Random House Canada.

          Davidson, M. (2000). The material page. In J. Rothenberg & S. Clay (Eds.), A book
          of the book: Some works and projections about the book and writing
          (71-79). New York, NY: Granary.

          Drucker, J. (2008). Graphic devices: Narration and navigation. NARRATIVE, 16(2), 121-139.

          Ferguson, S. (2009, Dec. 4) Position paper 2. Retrieved from

          Guillory, J. (1993). Cultural capital: The problem of literary canon formation. Chicago, IL:
          University of Chicago Press.

          Hayles, N. K. (2008). Electronic literature: New horizons for the literary. Notre
          Dame, ID: University of Notre Dame Press.

          Huxley, A. (2000[1925]). Where the movies are moving. In R.S. Baker & J. Sexton (Eds.),
          Complete essays. Chicago, IL: I.R. Dee.

          Itzkoff, D. (2006, May 21) Insert: headline/jpod-coupland.rvw. Sunday Book Review,
          The New York Times. Retrieved from 05/21/

          Leishman, D. (2001). RedridingHood artist’s statement. Retrieved from

          Leishman, D. (2004). Deviant: The possession of christian shaw artist’s statement.
          Retrieved from of-christian-shaw-under-the-skin/">

          Rothenberg, J., & Clay, S. (Eds.). (2000). A Book of the book: Some works and
          projections about the book and writing
          . New York, NY: Granary Press.

          Ryan, M. L. (2002). Beyond myth and metaphor: Narrative in digital media. Poetics Today, 23(4), 581-609.

          Stefans, B. K. (2008, Nov. 20). Brian kim stefans on kluge, programming, pound,
          and paragraphs. Retrieved from

          Woolf, V. (1966[1926]). The cinema. Collected Essays, Vol. 2 (268-72). London,
          UK: Hogarth.

          Appendix: 2009 E-Lit Survey

          18 Respondents
          Personal Data

          1. How old are you?

          15-19 3 20-24 13 25-29 3 30-34 1 35-39 0

          2. 6 Male or 14 female.

          3. Do you consider yourself technologically-savvy? Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5:

          1 (Below average) 0 2 1 3 (Average) 7 4 9 5 (Above average) 3

          4. Do you play video/computer games?

          13 Yes or 7 No.


          5. If yes, give examples:

          • adventure games – Sypro, Crash Bandicoot (2)
          • anything on (1)
          • Audiosurf (1)
          • Bioshock (2)
          • Braid (1)
          • Borderlands (1)
          • Counterstrike (1)
          • Defense of the Ancients (1)
          • Donkey Kong (2)
          • Echo and the Dolphin (1)
          • Escape from Monkey Island (1)
          • Fable 2
          • Fallout 3 (2)
          • first-person shooters (1)
          • Half-Life (1)
          • Half-Life 2 (1)
          • Harvest Moon (1)
          • Left4Dead (2)
          • Legend of Zelda (2)
          • Nintendo – Mario Brothers (3)
          • Portal (2)
          • Resident Evil (1)
          • real-time strategy (1)
          • racing simulation (2)
          • room-escape games *
          • RockBand (2)
          • role-playing games from late 80s + early 90s (1) **
          • sports games – “FIFA, NHL, basically any EA sports game” (2)
          • Shadow of the Colossus (1)
          • SIMS on the computer (2)
          • Sonic (1)
          • Soul Calibur (1)
          • Starcraft (1)
          • Starfox 64 (1)
          • Streetfighter (1)
          • Team Fortress 2 (1)
          • Tekken (1)
          • Tomb Raider (1)
          • wii (3)
          • World of Goo (1)
          • World of Warcraft (3)

          * “Room escape games have made me accustomed to searching for things that aren’t obvious.”

          ** “I don’t really play anything new nor have I got the equipment to play it on. My NES I got for Christmas in 1989 still works though.”

          6. How do you think this has shaped your response to electronic literature?

          “I think it makes me expect a lit more from electronic literature. It’s not quite as advanced, engaging or pleasing as electronic games I’ve played.”

          “I have expectations of how things are supposed to go when given a console platform and sometimes e-lit does not jive with that.”

          “I find I have much higher (and possibly unreasonably so) expectation of the technological (technical) elements incorporated.”

          “It has given me a good base of knowledge to prepare me for the electronic part, but not the literature part.”

          “I think that my experience with gaming has made me more open to accepting certain electronic works as being potential examples of literature.”

          “I’m more determined to work my way through challenging pieces. I feel like there is some sort of end or goal to reach and this helps me strategically move through the sometimes chaotic e-lit spaces.”

          “Room escape games have me accustomed to searching for things aren’t obvious.”

          “I think that my inadequacies in all things that have to do with technology made it very difficult for me to appreciate electronic literature. I often have a very difficult time trying to even make the piece work the way it [is] supposed to therefore I found the whole experience very frustrating.”

          7. How many novels or other works of literature do you read in a year?

          R1 “tons”
          R2 “mainly read for school”
          R3 2 “read lost of articles, net news blogs, websites, etc.”
          R4 3
          R5 3-4
          R6 3-5 in school; 10-12 out of school
          R7 5-6
          R8 5-10
          R9 5-10
          R10 8-10
          R11 10-20
          R12 12+
          R13 20+
          R14 24+
          R15 20-25
          R16 15-30
          R17 20-50
          R18 20-40 in school; 50-60 out of school
          R19 10+
          R20 50

          8. What is your favourite literary genre?


          • action/adventure (2)
          • classics (1)
          • comedy/humour (2)
          • drama (1)
          • e-lit (1)
          • fiction (2)
          • fantasy (5)
          • historical fiction (1)
          • multi-format narrative (1)
          • mystery/detective (4)
          • naturalist/realist fiction (2)
          • non-fiction (2)
          • (political) thrillers (2)
          • romance (1)
          • satire (2)
          • science-fiction (4)
          • self-help (1)
          • short stories (1)

          Authors mentioned by name:

          • Bukowski (1)
          • Kerouac (1)
          • Kesey (1)
          • Steinbeck (1)
          • H. S. Thompson (1)
          • Vonnegut (1)
          • David Foster Wallace (1)
          • Irvine Welsh (1)

          Electronic Literature

          9. Did you find the shift from print to electronic literature more challenging than expected?

          15 Yes; 1 Yes/No; and 4 No.

          10. If yes, why? If no, why not?

          “I had biases regarding quality expectations as well as loyalty to traditional books and the ritual of reading them.”

          “Like I stated before, my inadequacies in technology made it very difficult for me to appreciate these works because it took me so long to figure out they work that by the time I actually did, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t appreciate the piece. I much prefer print literature which is generally more linear and straightforward.”

          “I didn’t realize that there would be so much to it”

          “I didn’t realize I was as rooted to the conventional form of a printed novel as I am. E-lit made me redefine how I approach literature and how I use a computer.”

          “When it was just print there was only one thing to look at but with e-lit my focus is divided between the different parts that come with the piece.”

          “It is easy to initially reject something foreign just because you’ve never experienced it, and don’t know how to go about wrapping your head around it.”

          “It completely destabilized my idea of ‘literature’. I just found it very frustrating in general.”

          “It wasn’t challenging because I was already computer literate, but it was challenging because many of the pieces were difficult to access or understand.”

          “It’s not challenging; it’s just different. Almost a refreshing change . . . I still prefer print though.”

          “It wasn’t more challenging than I expected but took me awhile to fully understand electronic literature. The artist’s statements helped a lot.”

          11. Did your attitude towards electronic literature evolve over the course of the five-week unit?

          14 Yes or 6 No.

          12. If so, describe the trajectory of your experience with electronic literature.

          “Once I found the pieces that really worked for me, I started to like it more and more. The more I read the more I got in to it. I still think there is far more potential than what we looked at in the ELC1.”

          “At first I was very frustrated with the whole experience, however, the more pieces I experienced, the easier it got. I even began to enjoy some of the later ones; however, I still found them infuriating until I figured out how to use them.”

          “The more pieces we explored . . .the more engaged I became.”

          “I went in thinking I had an open mind and was very accepting of e-lit only to realize I had huge difficulties understanding and appreciating e-lit, and spent 5 weeks learning to appreciate the medium one e-lit work at a time.”

          “The experience with electronic literature forced me to become a more in-depth reader and to not only focus on the text of the work but also music and images.”

          “It showed me more e-lit than I have been exposed to in the past and helped me find some I didn’t hate > previous experience with Patchwork [Girl] drove me nuts.”

          “My patience sort-of . . . lessened. I wasn’t rewarded enough. At first I was intensely curious. As I worked through more pieces, I found that I rarely got more than a feeling of placid curiosity about it.”

          “I kind of get what e-lit is about now when before I had not clue about it. I’m starting to appreciate the time and effort the authors put into making their pieces.”

          “Very standoffish at first but I warmed up to the idea with the introduction of more pleasing pieces – i.e. “Cruising” and YHCHI [Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries].”

          “I went from not seeing it as literature to having an appreciation of the literary opportunities it provides.”

          “At for I thought they were quite boring but now I find them very interesting.”

          “Intense frustration/rejection > coping > accepting and embracing. The more exposure to it I got, the less frustrated I became because I was able to build a “toolkit” of techniques to tackle the e-lit genre.”

          “At first I was very skeptical [of] many of the pieces I looked through. “Deviant,” for example, I found difficult to accept as anything beyond an interesting flash game. The class discussions really helped clear up many of the pieces for me. By the time we finished the section of course I was far more open and willing to look at e-lit as a possible genre of lit and not just some strange off-shoot of video games or cartoons.”

          13. What of strategies did you use to read and make sense of electronic literature?

          * “Read directions > I hate doing this; don’t even when building Ikea furniture, but it’s necessary to understand the pieces.”

          ** “Taking apart the electronic literature: read the text first; then look at the images and music; see how and why they fuse together.”

          14. How did the Fall 2009 E-Lit Forum affect your response to electronic literature?

          “It was interesting. It contributed to my detective outlook on the pieces. I started to see the e-lit pieces in more depth, and with a different perspective. Making the questions up was brutal though – I think this shows that there is a type of specific literacy needed to analyze e-lit, and a lot of us were slow to it.”

          “It was really helpful, made me aware of points that I didn’t initially think of.”

          “It made it more interesting and it made it make more sense in the bigger picture.”

          “Some of the [entries] challenge[d] me to accept that there is some validity to the form.”

          “Helped me a lot. Helped me understand the method and motive behind how e-lit works.”

          “I think it is always beneficial to get insight from the artist behind a piece.”

          “Positively. ‘Behind-the-scenes’ expositories loan breadth and useful perspective to ‘challenging’ art. It helps me know where the weirdness is coming from.”

          “I learned to be less of a stubborn and judgmental cow . . . BE MORE OPEN-MINDED.”

          15. What are the biggest barriers or hurdles for new readers of electronic literature?

          16. How did you access the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1?

          CD-ROM 2* Internet 20

          * One respondent indicated that she used both options to access the collection; whereas the other respondent said that she used it out of “desperation” when the internet was down.

          17. What were your favourite kind(s) of e-lit pieces?

          18. What were your least favourite kind(s) of e-lit pieces?

          19. Should the Electronic Literature Organization charge for access to the ELC1?

          1 Yes or 16 No. 2 conflicted (on account of the artists need to “eat”)

          20. How does the ELC1 being freely available affect your sense of its literary value?

          21. In the future, will you actively seek out electronic literature?

          11 Yes or 6 No. 2 Uncertain.

          22. If yes, where will you look for electronic literature?

          23. Would you being willing to pay for electronic literature?

          5 Yes or 11 No. 3 Conflicted.

          24. Your sources for recreational reading materials? Rank in order of preference.

          Sources 1st choice 2nd choice 3rd choice 4th choice
          Library 4 5 5 5
          Bookstore 4 5 6 2
          Friends + Family 4 5 8 1
          Online 4 2 0 12

          25. Where or who do you go for reading suggestions?

          26. Who and/or what kind of forces create literary value?

          03: Uszkalo

          "The which is also new": Accessibility, Economics, and Electronic Early Modern Women’s Writing

          Kirsten C. Uszkalo

          Cite this article (APA): Uszkalo, K. (2011). "The which is also new": Accessibility, Economics, and Electronic Early Modern Women’s Writing. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from



          This article argues that, in terms of early English scholarship that has been re-born digital, accessibility and economics not only influence which texts from the Early Modern period are studied, but also have an impact on which writers from the period are selected for study, as well as by whom. The article emphasizes the historical significance and contemporary relevance of Early Modern women's writing, and then gives an overview of three different subscription-based digital resources located within research university libraries that provide access to publications by early English authors: the Text Creation Project and Early English Books Online (TCP-EEBO), the Women Writers Project's (WWP) Renaissance Women Online (RWO), and Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (Orlando).


          What lack you Maister mine?
          some trifle that is trew?
          Why? then this same wil serve your turne
          the which is also new.
          Or yf you minde to reade,
          some Fables that be fained:
          Buy this same Booke, and ye shall finde,
          such in the same contained.

          — “The Printer to the Reader” The Copy of a letter, lately written in meeter, by a yonge Gentilwoman: to her unconstant Lover, London, 1567, by Is. W.

          Isabella Whitney is one of the earliest women to appear in the English populous print record. There had, of course, been writing by women before Whitney wrote.[1] Manuscript texts dictated by women and written down by men, like Julian of Norwich’s revelations (c. 1437), or The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1430), appeared in the fifteenth century. Katherine Parr may have produced The Lamentacion of a Sinner, made by the Most Vertuous Ladie, Quene Catern (1547) as part of writing by a circle of devoted women, which included Anne Askew.[2] Anne Askew’s trials were published by John Bale in Lattre Examinacyon (1547) and again by John Fox in Actes and Monuments (1563). Elite women like Mary Shelton, Mary Fitzroy and Margaret Douglas collaborated on and circulated compilation texts like the Devonshire Manuscript (c. 1530s-1540s) and educated women like Lady Jane Lumley produced translations of Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis (c. 1554) and Anne Locke produced translations of John Calvin’s sermons (1560) in the sixteenth century. Publications by early English common women speak to the literary debates of the time, their participation in them, and their own biographies. The seventeenth century, which saw the birth of the English Querelle des Femmes, fueled by the interaction between Joseph Swetnam and Rachel Speght, likewise marked the advent of women into print in England.[3] They wrote in defense of themselves, their gender, and outside of devotional literatures, which were perceived as appropriate venues for women’s creative attention.

          There is only one known copy of each of Whitney’s texts, but students find in Whitney something that transcends the almost four and a half centuries between the publication of her first poems and their own interaction with her reprinted text. Whitney’s poems suggest a woman who is betrayed by a lover, inspired by philosophy, and out of money. If Whitney is an every-woman, then non-elite English women published because they couldn’t see a reason to stay quiet anymore. Moreover, they had something to say and suspected it was worth being paid for. In understanding Isabella Whitney, it helps to understand how her writing fit into what was being published at the time, what she wrote, and who she was. How she fits into the canon matters. She is a maverick; Whitney functions as an early pioneer for non-elite women’s writing. She holds her own alongside male authors inside The Copy of a Letter, and alongside many of the men who published in this period. The content of her writing matters. A Copy of a Letter and "The Manner of her Will, and what she left to London" appended to her collection A Sweet Nosegay (1573) are savvy and smart; she published a verbal map of London before John Stow’s Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1598). Whitney is read as constructing a radical utopia, an urban autobiography, a single girl’s guide to writing in London, and a (mother’s) legacy.[4]  Her biography matters. She may have been (by today’s standards) middle class. Writing may have run in the family; her brother is assumed to be Geoffrey Whitney, who wrote A Choice of Emblemes (1586).[5] Whitney is not erudite but is evidently educated; she is poetic and pensive, but most importantly, she is articulate and angry.

          Early modern feminist scholarship is dependent on the accessibility of reprints. The voices of early modern women authors have begun to appear in earnest in the last twenty years.[6] Graduate level classes on early modern women writers are taught at a number of universities, facilitating an “interest in, retrieval of and study of women writers [that] continues unabated and remains the dominant mode for the study of gender in the national literatures.”[7] Anthologies of women’s writing and companion volumes provide comprehensive overviews of the period and the women who have written in it.[8] The anthology is a critical resource to use in the classroom. It keeps students and instructors on the same page, makes sure there is a shared language, and provides context and scope. When writing by women was at its peak in the middle of the seventeenth century, it still accounted for only about one percent of the literary output, between 1640-1700.[9] As such, despite a movement towards representation of more women’s writing in The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Volume A & B) and in the Oxford Anthology of English Literature (Volume I & II), inclusion in these works is still akin to marginalization.[10] Critical editions look to provide primary texts with the critical apparatus necessary to understand them in context. In order to understand these women, we need to access their texts and their biographies. The digital resource can provide both.

          Stephen G. Nichols argues that digitization “reconciles the conflicting obligations of manuscript preservation with the need for access to vulnerable artifacts. For the first time in history, we have a means for preserving objects that simultaneously diffuses them to new and larger audiences.”[11] The digitization of early modern women’s writing has made it accessible in ways that may have pleased some writers: works such as Lady Mary Wroth’s prose romance Urania (1621), Margaret Fell’s many political/devotional tracts, including Womens Speaking Justified (1666), and Aphra Behn’s plays, like The Rover (1677), and her poems, like “The Disappointment” (1680). All these works were written for a print publication. It may have likewise scandalized writers such as Katherine Phillips, whose poems were collected and published in Poems by “the Incomparable, Mrs K. P.” (1664) without consent. But digitization has done more than make the texts of women writers available, although this has been a critical recuperative act. Digitization of these texts has normalized the writing of early modern women; they are in many ways as accessible, if still not as visible, as the their early English brothers.

          Literary dominance has been wedded to reproduction as much as it has been to production. It is easier to research women writers whose texts are easily available with a few key-strokes. Digitization has also opened up a number of multi-model approaches into these texts. Digitally aided research assumes, in part, that students begin research at a search engine, and therefore with user-driven research queries. Delineated by the production and accessibility of positive hits, and influenced by the concerns that went into producing them, user-driven research means that at its optimal, the user can simply find what she is looking for, as opposed to researching what has been traditionally available. Computer-assisted textual research is more than search engine scholarship—type and click / cut and paste—although the ease of accessing, interacting with, and copying texts is an integral part of the contemporary research process. Reading online demands and offers non-linear thinking and non-hierarchical research strategies.[12] Finding and exploring the numerous linguistic layers in an early modern literary text and tracing its connection to other texts that influenced it likewise requires flexible research and thinking strategies.[13] These are skills born digital students have acquired through their interactions in a complicated and demanding digital world.[14] In terms of researching early modern women’s writing, algorithmically-aided research[15] has the potential to unbind the canon by allowing readers to make connections between networks of meaning into which early modern women naturally and necessarily fit.[16] Moreover, interaction with digital texts allows women writers to come out of their closets more easily; users can look through collections to find authors and texts to find specific references. The search-string gives the researcher agency;[17] the digital resource provides accessibility.[18] Studies of early modern women are dependent on both.

          There are a myriad of resources freely available online, like Google Books,[19] and a number of subscription-based resources, like Perdita Manuscripts: Women Writers, 1500-1700, and Iter’s Bibliography of English Women Writers, 1500-1640.[20] This essay looks at three different subscription-based electronic resources found within research university libraries that facilitate the study of published early English authors and their writing: the Text Creation Project and Early English Books Online (TCP-EEBO),[21] the Brown Women Writers Project (WWP)’s Renaissance Women Online (RWO),[22] and Cambridge’s Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (Orlando).[23] Together, these resources create a three-dimensional model of the literary sphere in which women wrote, the texts that they created, and the women who created these texts. Although each of these resources provides in and of itself an excellent picture, the three of them should be used in tandem to illustrate the ways in which early modern women lived and worked in literary worlds.[24] Even when used together, EEBO, WWO, and Orlando do not offer enough of a critical apparatus to help guide new researchers unfamiliar with these works to easily contextualize them. Scholarship with these resources can and should be combined with excellent print offerings to enhance both.[25] However, providing a guided experience is not the agenda of any of these tools; exploration and discovery is.[26]

          Digitized texts are not faithful copies, nor are they translations or alterations. The paper body of the text, traded in for the electronic file, is neither a clone nor an entirely new creation, but rather a manufactured product. The transcribed text is as influenced by the hands that encode it now as it had been by those who had originally typeset it. This is essential, but it is not utopian. The material conditions that helped create these texts, influence them. In terms of the presentations of early English women’s writing, some of the same material conditions that kept women’s writing marginal continue to do so. A number of decisions are made with respect to how to choose texts to create a corpus, how to tag and encode those texts, and how to handle the cost of maintaining and improving such a resource. Encoding is structuring a text, but it is also, like tagging, a form of editorial work. Although invisible to the user, the decisions made at this stage influence the presentation and interaction with the text. The means of production likewise influence the text; although these resources are easy to access, they are not easy to make. Beyond hosting and maintenance, the cost of production of the interface and text means that the early English woman’s text needs to be paid for, as it always has had to be.

          Those who have crafted these electronic resources have changed the way we can do feminist scholarship. In the last twenty years we have begun to fill the empty spaces on the bookshelves (made of wood and memory), which Virginia Woolf suggested should have held the lives of women who lived before the eighteenth century, but which did not. These resources have done much to liberate women’s writings—normalize it—and by virtue, normalize the women who wrote. Accessibility to literacy and literary means of production matters in terms of scholarship on early modern women writers. Early modern English women embraced the latest technology, the press, and the advent of cheap print that accompanied it, in order to publish. When censorship was at its weakest during the middle of the seventeenth century, writing by women boomed: access led to agency. Similarly, a rebirth of interest in writing by early modern women happened around the time of the birth of the internet.[27] The digitization of women’s writing appeared quickly thereafter.[28] The English woman writer was re-born and re-born digital.

          Re-placing Women within the Literary Spheres: EEBO-TCP

          EEBO-TCP re-situates women’s writing within the larger literary landscape in which it first appeared. Early English Books Online (EEBO) is the largest digitized collection available of early English texts printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and elsewhere between 1473-1700: the total number of records in EEBO is now around 127,729. In cooperation with EEBO, the Text Creation Project (TCP) has transcribed and encoded (using TEI lite) 25,285 of these early English texts.[29] This makes EEBO-TCP worth discussing. For a digital resource, it has received a fair amount of scholarship. However, the successes of EEBO-TCP as a resource can perhaps best be seen in the numerous scholarly footnotes that reference the resource.[30] Digitization opens up the possibility of real-time access and interaction with texts that previously could only be accessed in the archives, on microfilm, or as reprints, which are labour and cost intensive.[31] Transcription and encoding are even more so.

          Neither the digital scan, nor the encoded and transcribed text, are flawless products. The visual presentation of scanned copies is dependent on the quality of the original. In some cases, that quality is quite low, making parts of the text near illegible.[32] Despite an attempt to maintain a 99.995% character accuracy, some transcribed and encoded texts have similar problems. Martin Mueller argues that some of the texts transcribed by the TCP with an error rate of 2% or more “are simply too disfigured to be accepted by scholars as texts with any claim to reference quality.”[33] Where the keyboarder has been unable to read the character, “[...]” appears, sometimes quite often, which, though of little help, does not claim to be an accurate reproduction either; the author must turn to the scanned text herself.[34]

          Despite their commitment to digitizing “seminal authors,”—TCP texts are predominately by male authors—those looking for early modern women’s writing may find their best chance of locating published texts outside of the archive through this resource.[35] The new Introduction series looks to explore lesser known works. The major benefits of EEBO-TCP for feminist scholarship are the availability and searchability of women’s text within an ever expanding digital library. For researchers, free from the microfilm viewer and outside of the archive, the key word can delineate research. That any text that fits into the search parameters will be returned, seems a pretty obvious statement; however, this has radical repercussions within a field that has been defined by the creation, proliferation, challenge to and expansion of a literary canon. The keyword search is genderless. The digital text is genderless. The search engine makes in many ways invisible the distinctions that separate male from female authors. The results provided, however, are always already in some way gendered.

          The results EEBO-TCP returns will be gendered, simply based on the volume of available data by male authors. In many ways, it will also always reproduce dominant discourses. EEBO-TCP is based on the Wing and Thompson Tracts microfilms, collections that grew with no particular desire for representation of women writers. Hilda L. Smith and Susan Cardinale identified just over 1,600 works by women referenced in the Short Title Catalogue (STC) and available on microfilm.[36] As such, important female authors who are not part of these collections are conspicuous in their absence. Whereas texts like Isabella Whitney’s The Copy of a Letter (1567), Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Miriam (1613), and Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania (1621) appear, Amelia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611) has yet to be transcribed. Three of Ester Biddle’s tracts, eight of Margaret Fell Fox’s tracts, and Barbara Blaugdone’s An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone (1691) have been transcribed, yet Anna Trapnel’s tracts have yet to be transcribed. This problem of finding female authors is made worse by the fact that one cannot organize the display of results in EEBO-TCP based on keyword frequency, although the system does keep track of the hits in each text. There is no way around simply wading through the volume of texts looking for women writers. The downside of inclusivity in an ever-expanding corpus is that, if one does not know who they are looking for, it gets very difficult to find her. What is scanned can be transcribed, however. Happily, the Text Creation Project welcomes scholars to request texts for transcription. Feminist critics and scholars looking for marginalized authors should contact TCP with the relevant information and ask that their request be put in the next batch of texts for transcribing and encoding.

          Re-presenting Women’s Texts: Renaissance Women Writers Online

          The electronic early modern English woman materialized because of the efforts of Brown University’s Women Writers Online. Projects like Renaissance Women Online (RWO) have insisted on the relevance of electronic and accessible versions of early modern women’s writing. With RWO we have one of the most comprehensive collections of published women’s writing from the Renaissance electronically available. The Women Writers Project (WWP) was born out of a frustration with the continuing absence of women’s writing within anthologies and thus the practical omission of women’s writing from the classroom. In deciding to create an electronic reading space instead of a competing print anthology of women’s writing, the WWP opted to produce what had been absent from early anthologized women’s writing: the full text. RWO aspires to present faithfully transcribed versions of texts, errors and all: WWP presents, “instead of a tiny, compressed sample of women’s literate culture, the student might find a closer approximation to the thing itself: huge, unmanageable texts; difficult texts; long, beautiful texts; absurd texts; poignantly misguided texts; fascinatingly dull texts; texts whose footnotes are the most interesting thing of all.”[37]

          RWO provides teachers an excellent approach to teaching an electronic volume of women writers, and gives students access to the texts themselves in a form that is neither foreign, since it is transcribed, nor standardized, since the original spelling and pagination can be referenced. A number of important editorial decisions were made along the way that allowed for the wedding of scholarly presentation and digital text. Most crucially, RWO provides scholars full-text searching of the early women’s writing within their corpus. The length of some of the volumes, as well as the often emphatic and ecstatic style of authors like Anna Trapnel, means that students are able to see how terms are used in individual texts and across women’s writing. The term “prophet” shows up 285 times, and it is used in a relatively constant way as a biblical reference or within religious rhetoric. A notable exception is Mary Robinson (Darby)’s reference “that an English woman, like a prophet, is never valued in her own country. In Britain they were neglected, and scarcely known; on the continent, they have been nearly idolized!” (65 fn 25). Conversely, the word “witch” appears 95 times in the corpus, but it is used much more flexibly: Anne Newport (Royall)’s later work, Letters from Alabama (1830), describes a bewitchment case, complete with the vomiting of “pins, knots of hair, and other unaccountable substances,” a trial, and an acquittal, which was finally solved when a gentleman “detected the lady drawing the brandy” from a barrel in her home, “the real witch” was discovered (131). These references speak to the evolution of terms that had distinct social meaning and were public titles before and during the English Civil War.

          The supplemental materials for the RWO texts provide reference without framing the texts. Although not a complete complement to each of the texts, the Introductions to Works in Renaissance Women Online are encyclopedic entries, broken into Overview, Introduction, Connections (with other works and topics), Notes on the Text, and Biographical Sketches. These introductions were written a decade ago by some well published authors in the field of early modern women studies, and include Suzanne Trill’s introduction to Anna Trapnel’s Strange and Wonderful News (1654) and Margaret J. M. Ezell’s introduction to Katharine Evans and Sarah Chevers’ This is a short Relation (1662). RWO’s Essays likewise include papers such as Teresa Feroli on “Prophecy,” Hilary Hinds on “Radical Sects,” and Nigel Smith on “Writing During the Civil War.” As such, although representation of important and verbose writers like Elizabeth I and Margaret Cavendish stand out, and the inclusion of the major writers of the English Querelle des Femmes are all represented, RWO’s civil war collection is one of its core strengths. Featuring the writing of Hester Biddle, Mary Cary, Katherine Chidely, Eleanor Davies, Margaret Fell, and Anna Trapnel, the resource gives scholars an important, if abridged, snap shot of how non-elite women participated in the religious debates and publishing sphere in the middle of the seventeenth century. The lives of the writers matter to students and scholars alike.

          Re-bearing Women’s Lives: The Orlando Project

          The practicalities of living and writing have always been enmeshed for women. The lives of these women should not be extracted from their writing; it is the basis for much of the many topics we see in women’s texts. Biography then is more than background in the study of early modern women’s writing — the corpus and the corporeal were interlinked. This is not to essentialize the lives of women, making them bodies that wrote as opposed to minds that thought—rather, they embodied cognition, and the societies they lived in helped to form their thinking and writing. We need to look back at their biographies to better see the thinking that produced the texts, and the texts that produced the women and the writing.

          The Orlando Project was born out of a desire to recuperate literary history and assert the importance of “undervalued writing by women. ” This is a goal they hoped to accomplish by focusing on women’s writing as a center of literary history, “weaving together a host of distinct narratives linked by synchronicity,” and exploiting “the power of the new electronic medium.”[38] Thus, at its basis, Orlando re-situates women’s writing within women’s lives and worlds. This is accomplished in two ways. At its most apparent, Orlando provides detailed biographical information on women writers—recorded moments from their lives can be seen alongside references to their texts. These biographies vary in length and detail, based on the amount of available information from critical biographies and sources like the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Organizable in terms of overviews and timelines, scholars can get a quick sense of who these women were and what they wrote.

          The dimensionality of women’s history comes through a series of hyperlinks, which illustrate the ways in which women’s lives intersected; tagging her amounts to an editorial act. These intersections are identified by the <intertextuality> tag, “which uses an introductory Author Summary tag and just three major semantic tags—for Production, Textual Features, and Reception—to organize all of the material contained in a document about a writer’s literary career.”[39] In the case of Isabella Whitney, she is linked to Jane Anger’s Jane Anger: Her Protection for Women To defend them against the Scandalous Reportes of a late Surfeiting Lover, and all other like Venerians that complaine so to be overcloyed with womens kindnesse (1589); both women were published by Richard Jones. Although bibliographical evidence on Jane Anger has never been found, and thus her position as an early English woman writer has never been confirmed, Jones’ publication of Anger and Whitney suggests his awareness of the marketability of women’s writing. Orlando makes apparent the connections that facilitated women’s publications.

          Orlando also allows for unique searching of women’s lives by the <life> tags, which normalize the entries, but also suggest the importance of family, education, friends and associates, and politics in framing authoring by women. One particularly innovative approach is the <occupation> tag; few women writers lived by their pen, and in turn the occupation of the author not only argues for her professional credibility, but also allows readers to research the literary output of women who shared the same daily occupations. Women known for their connection to midwifery through publications like Jane Sharpe, The Midwives Book; or, The Whole Art of Midwifery Discovered (1671) and Elizabeth Cellier’s To Dr. ___ an answer to his queries concerning the Colledg of Midwives (1688) can be found alongside Hester Essex (Shaw).[40] Essex was practicing as a midwife in London around 1610 and was officially licensed as a midwife before 1634. She helped to lead a petition, with some sixty midwives, against Peter Chamberlen, who attempted to incorporate midwives under his leadership. Her text, A Plaine Relation of My Sufferings (1653), appears as a digitized scan in EEBO. Essex does not publish midwifery texts, but claims to have lost over £3,000 earned from midwifery in a fire.[41] The economics of Midwifery are very much a part of the practice. The cost of working and the necessity of getting paid were part of the issues around the publication of women’s writing; they still continue to be.

          Re-paying Women’s Writing: The Economics of Access

          To all the Bookebinders by Paulles
          because I lyke their Arte:
          They evry weeke shal mony have,
          when they from Bookes depart.
          Amongst them all, my Printer must,
          have somwhat to his share:
          I wyll my Friends these Bookes to bye of him, with other ware.
          —"The Manner of her Will, and what she left to London" from A Sweet Nosgay, Or Pleasant Posye. London,1573. by IS. W

          Whitney’s reference to bookbinders and printers is more than clever cross promotion, although it is certainly that: she does refer specifically to her printer. It speaks to the economics of print culture and the necessity of supporting women’s writing in practice as well as in principle. Whitney recognizes that printers need customers as authors need printers. “Mony” needs to come in for “Bookes” to depart. Likewise, digital resources don't just appear; they have intellectual, pedagogical, and financial histories and futures. The means of production matter, as they always have mattered, for the production of women's writing, and also for facilitating research on writing by early English women. The means of production also matter in terms of making visible the very substantial effort and expense that goes into producing subscription digital projects. Like all projects, these electronic resources fulfill only two sides of the work triangle for scholars; they are fast and easy, but they are not cheap. They are expensive to produce and expensive to access. This has created a great deal of anxiety in terms of the creation of new tiers of research; those who can afford to access these resources can afford to challenge the canon. Those who cannot are at a significant disadvantage: access has its privileges. The most productive way to ensure access to these resources is simply to advocate for their purchase and maintenance. In many cases, institutional libraries, which are suffering from the same budget cuts experienced across campuses, need to hear that researchers are invested in and actively using the digital early English textual resources they are budgeting for. This can be accomplished by the use of digital resources for early English texts on class syllabi. Syllabi that use these resources speak to the necessity of accessible early modern women’s writing and its role in women’s history and the literary canon. Using these resources to supplement print publications also provides the substantial benefit of keeping students from paying for textual resources that are otherwise already covered through their institutional library’s subscription, by their tuition and fees.

          There is likewise a hesitation to discuss the economics of publishing and using scholarly resources. The value associated with digital projects, like that associated with scholarly research and publications, is difficult to quantify, and the costs of the resources widely differ based on institutional sizes. As such, the following broad-brush economics suggest only some costs associated with production and access.[42] Institutions (or library consortiums) can purchase the EEBO files, the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloguing), and pay a maintenance fee to keep access through ProQuest’s interface. Buying the EEBO files means that a university would have ownership of the files and metadata and can host the files on a local server. This cost varies immensely. In 2000 the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), in Illinois, USA, had 35,612 full time equivalent students (FTE). At this time, UIUC paid $65,625 for EEBO (amortized over three installments). In 2008, they added the MARC records, at a cost of  $52,715. UIUC is also a TCP partner; they paid $50,000 for TCP I, and $50,000 for TCP II. The online access fee for UIUC is $3,415 as of Fiscal Year 09 for an FTE of 41,127 FTE.[43] In 2004, Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia, Canada, had 16,790 FTE. At that time SFU negotiated through the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries Consortium to purchase EEBO for $60,075, and paid $32,640 to cover data being added to the database over the next 5 years, and $32,950 for the MARC records. They paid a TCP membership fee of $37,500. The online access for SFU for an FTE of 19,781 2008/2009 was $1850 a year.[44] Institutions can also subscribe to the services. Subscription means that institutions pay an ongoing annual fee to have their users access those files and interface. For a 4-year academic institution with 10,000 FTE, the subscription price for EEBO in 2008/2009 would be approximately $6,950.

          TCP has been able to produce digitizations and transcriptions through using a partnership model. In order to access TCP texts, TCP text creation is based on a partnership model; the partners share joint ownership of the transcribed texts. Payable over five years, becoming a TCP partner for Phase II costs between $50,000 for an Association of Research Libraries institution and $12,500 for a smaller undergraduate institution; the cost for an Undergraduate institution only with fewer than 2,500 FTE is $12,500. These fees can be paid outright, or are payable over five years, with a planned price increase in July 2010. For example, for institutions with fewer than 15,000 FTE, the joint cost of EBBO-TCP for subscription/owner membership year would be $9,450.

          Up to this point the cost of transcribing, digitizing, and encoding the first 25,000 texts has been $6.8 million. These costs have been a relatively even split between the costs accrued by out-sourcing the bulk keyboarding overseas, and the costs of having editing and encoding done in Oxford and Michigan by university graduates, many of whom have advanced degrees. As such, the per-book cost for producing a transcribed and encoded digital text comes out to $272. With a collaboration of more than 150 libraries sharing costs, and with ProQuest matching those subscriptions with another 20%, each text costs each partner institution less than two dollars, a price that includes ownership of the text.[45]

          Individuals cannot subscribe to EEBO or become TCP partners. EEBO and TCP do have an agreement to make their transcribed texts freely available after five years from the beginning of the encoding process, and a five-year embargo on the transcriptions. The first five years have passed on the original 25,000 texts, and the embargo period has just begun; the texts transcribed by the Text Creation Partnership will be in the public domain on January 15, 2015.[46] The clock for the transcription and encoding of the Phase II 44,000 texts has begun.  The ten-year clock countdown to their becoming open source will begin after their completion as well. Within approximately fifteen years, the entire TCP corpus will be open source.

          WWO and Orlando work on a subscription model, but have been funded predominately by grants. They produce text, but also academic research; encoding is only a part of their output. Both resources use graduate and undergraduate labour for data production, and have produced academic papers, presentations, seminars and volumes beyond the transcription and biography that appears online.[47] The Women Writers Project runs on a subscription model with the top tier pricing at $1,650 a year for an institution with 25,000 or more students, and $110 for an institution with fewer than 500 students. The yearly cost for an institution with 10,000 or more students is $1100. WWO can be accessed by individual subscribers for $50 a year, with a rate of half of that, or $25 for students. The project features 308 texts; an individual subscriber accesses texts at a cost that equals $0.16 per text per year. Including the 106 introductions and the 15 essays, an individual subscriber can access the resource at a cost of $0.12 per text per year. WWP received over $2,124,122 in grants and matching funds from funders including Brown University, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and Apple Computer Inc.[48]

          The Orlando Project has a subscription ranked from $2,950 at the high end to $1,050 at the low end. The yearly subscription rate for a school with 10,000 FTE is $1,050.  The price for an individual subscription is $105 dollars per year. With 1,231 entries, access to individual entries divides out to $0.09 a year for an individual subscriber. Since its inception, the Orlando Project has received over $2,118,000 million dollars in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, as well as personal donations, software donations, and substantial University support in kind.

          The way in which EEBO-TCP, RWO, and Orlando are extending how early English literary studies are researched means that we have reached a point where scholars who do not have access to these and other searchable large scale full-text digital resources, are simply at a disadvantage. Women’s writing, like all writing, is intrinsically wed to feasibility and affordability, in terms of both production and reproduction. It is easier for scholars and students alike to research canonical authors like John Milton because there are simply more online summaries, peer-reviewed essays, and secondhand critical editions of Paradise Lost available; in a market saturated with Shakespearean scholarship, finding resources is likewise easy and cheap. Digital resources that support discovery and exploration of women’s writing have produced a more equal playing field in terms of accessing collections of traditional and non-traditional literary forms.[49] Although we have begun to see results from the open access scholarly movement, almost all high quality primary textual corpuses come with a cost attached. However, these resources offer some of the best routes to challenging a digital canon that looks suspiciously, in scope and content, like the print canon feminist scholars have been successfully challenging for the last few decades. In terms of early English scholarship that has been re-born digital, accessibility and economics have a stake in who gets to do the studying and who gets studied.


          [1] Whenever possible I have used textual and bibliographic information found through the Text Creation Project and Early English Books Online (TCP-EEBO), the Brown Women Writers Project (WWP)’s Renaissance Women Online (RWO), and Cambridge’s Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (Orlando).

          [2] The manuscript for Lamentation of a Sinner was declared abominable by Askew’s interrogator, Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Martienssen, Anthony K, Queen Katherine Parr. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973: 220.

          [3] Also see Jane Anger: Her Protection for Women. London, 1589; Joseph Swetnam, The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant women. London, 1615; Rachel Speght, A Mouzell for Melastomus, London, 1617.

          [4] See Crystal Bartolovich, “‘Optimism of the Will’: Isabella Whitney and Utopia’” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (2009) 39:2,407-432; Jean E. Howard, “Textualizing an Urban Life: the Case of Isabella Whitney” in Early modern Autobiography: Theories, Genres, Practices, ed. Ronald Bedford, Lloyd Davis, and Philippa Kelly. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006. 217-233; Laurie Ellinghausen, “Literary Property and the Single Woman in Isabella Whitney’s A Sweet Nosgay” SEL. (2005) 45:1, 1-22; Wendy Wall, “Isabella Whitney and the Female Legacy ELH, (1991) 58:1, 35-62

          [5] Betty S. Travitsky, ‘Whitney, Isabella (fl. 1566–1573),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Online. Accessed 10 Dec, 2009.

          [6] These include Betty Travisky’s Paradise of Women (1989); Kissing the Rod, ed. Germaine Greer et al (1988); In Her Own Life, ed. Elsepeth Graham et al (1989); Elaine Beiline’s Redeeming Eve (1990); Gail Kern Paster’s The Body Embarrassed (1993); Eve Rachel Sander’s Gender and Literacy on Stage in Early Modern England (1998); Michael Carl Schoenfeldt’s Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England (2001); Lucinda M. Becker’s Death and the Early Modern Englishwoman (2002); Patricia Demers’ Women's Writing in English (2005); and Laurie Ellinghausen’s Labor and Writing in Early Modern England 1550-1660 (2008).

          [7] Newman, Karen. “Wik-Crit: Gender, Comparative Literature and Early Modern Studies,” Comparative Critical Studies (2009) 6:2, 165–181. Esp. 174.

          [8] See Helen Ostovich’s and Elizabeth Sauer’s Reading Early Modern Women: An Anthology of Texts in Manuscript and Print (2004), Paul Salzman’s Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (2007) and Early Modern Women’s Writing: An Anthology 1560-1700 (2008); as well as Arturo Pacheco’s A Companion to Early Modern Women's Writing (2002); and Laura Lunger’s The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women's Writing (2009).

          [9] See Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Katharina M. Wilson and Frank J. Warnke, Athens: U. of Georgia Press, 1989. Esp. X.

          [10] The Broadview Anthology of English Literature should be commended on its earnest and successful work towards representation.

          [11] Nichols, Stephen G. “Born Medieval”: MSS. in the Digital Scriptorium, Journal of Electronic Publishing (2008); 11:1. Online. Accessed November 15, 2009.

          [12] Wendy Sutherland-Smith. “Weaving the literacy Web: Changes in reading from page to screen,” The Reading Teacher. (2002); 55:7. 662-669

          [13] Shannon L. Reed and Kirilka Stavreva. “Layering Knowledge: Information Literacy as Critical Thinking in the Literature Classroom” Pedagogy (2006) 6:3, 435-452. Esp. 11.

          [14] Steven Johnson. Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: Riverhead, 2005

          [15] Stephen Ramsay. “Algorithmic Criticism,” in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

          [16] We see this kind of work well-articulated in social web’s visualizations, in terms of social networking. Dan Edelstein and Paula Findlen’s Mapping the Republic of Letters traces early English philosophical networks and Harvard University’s AfricaMap allows for a view of enriched historic maps. AfricaMap online, accessed November 15, 2009.

          [17] Barron’s argument that there are “likely to be multidirectional relationships between learning activities across contexts when they are taken up as a result of interest,” suggests that the research and discoveries afforded by exploration based on interest, as seen in search-string research, could drive more learning opportunities. See “Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecologies perspective,” Human Development. (2006). 49. 193–224. Esp. 201.

          [18] Inquiry into the problematic nature of digital production deserves more attention than I can give it in this essay. Numerous digital resources have not come nearly far enough in terms of their own problematic production: on a macro level, the internet has been driven by a desire to deliver higher resolution pornography; on a micro level, computer coding, even within the academy, is still predominately a gendered job.

          [19] Google has digitized close to 300 on the English Renaissance, and more than 250 books on witchcraft.

          [20] Perdita can be found online at:
          Iter can be located online at:

          [21] For the main site for EEBO see: For the main site for EEBO-TCP see:

          [22] For the main site of the Brown Women Writers Project see:

          [23] For the main site of the Orlando Project see:

          [24] Recognizing the necessity of wedding biography with text, the Brown Women Writers Project and the Orlando Project have been in consultation about the feasibility of linking resources. “The WWP and the Orlando Project.” Online. Accessed December 3, 2009.

          [25] H. Semertzidou and A. Togia. “Electronic and Digital Resources in the Humanities” Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship. (2009) 10:2. Online. Accessed December 1, 2009.

          [26] For a call for necessity in bringing a keen editorial eye to electronic editions, see J. Stephen Murphy. “The Death of the Editor,” Essays in Criticism. (2008) 58:4, 289-310. Esp. 300.

          [27] Although it has a long history, according to the Internet Society, the Internet outgrew its research origins in the early 1980’s when it began to include commercial interests and its user communities kept broadening. Barry M. Leiner, Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. Roberts, Stephen Wolff. “Histories of the Internet: A Brief History of the Internet.” Online. Accessed December 6th, 2009.

          [28] The Women Writers Project marked the twentieth anniversary of its original funding in 2009.

          [29] Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML); Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

          [30] For some recent examples see: Frances James’ “‘A Christal Glasse for Christian Women’: Meditations on Christ’s Passion in the Devotional Literature of Renaissance Women,” Journal of International Women’s Studies (2009) 10:3; Fiona McNeill’s Poor Women in Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Cordelia Beattie’s Medieval Single Women: the Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007; Jacqueline T. Miller’s “Ladies of the Oddest Passion: Early Modern Women and the Arts of Discretion,” Modern Philology. (2006) 103:4, 453-473; Micheline White, “Women Writers and Literary-Religious Circles in the Elizabethan West Country: Anne Dowriche, Anne Lock Prowse, Anne Lock Moyle, Ursula Fulford, and Elizabeth Rous,” Modern Philology (2005), 3:2, 187-214.

          [31] For more information on the economic model that EEBO-TCP uses, see Shawn Martin’s “A Universal Humanities Digital Library: Pipe Dream of Prospective Future,” Digital Scholarship, ed. Marta Mestrovic Deyrup, New York: Routledge, 2009. 1-12.

          [32] Diana Kichuk follows the evolution of the resource. See “EEBO Metamorphosis: Remediation in Early English Books Online (EEBO)” Literary and Linguistic Computing (2007) 22:3, 291-303. Also see Anderson, Kristine J. “Doing Translation History in EEBO and ECCO,” Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17. (September, 2008) 6.1-28. Online. Accessed December 1, 2009.

          [33] Martin Mueller. “Are the Text Creation Partnership texts good enough for research purposes?,” Sat, 10/17/2009 - 11:25. Online. Accessed December 10, 2009.

          [34] See Anon. A Declaration in Answer to Several Lying Pamphlets concerning the Witch of Wapping. London, 1652. Also see Anon. An Account of the Tryal and Examination of Joan Buts, for being a Common Witch and Inchantress, London, 1682

          [35] Online. Accessed December 2, 2009.

          [36] Smith and Cardinale’s collection is based on Wings's Short-title Catalogue (1945-51); the microfilms of Early English Books, 1641-1700; and The Thomason Tracts (1640-1661). And as such, should correspond to EEBO-TCP, providing an excellent cross reference. See Women and the Literature of the Seventeenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography based on Wing's Short-title Catalogue. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 1990.

          [37] Julia Flanders “Learning, Reading, and the Problem of Scale: Using Women Writers Online,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. (2002) 2:1. 49-58. Esp. 50.

          [38] Susan Brown, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy, Sharon Balazs, and Jeffrey Antoniuk, “The Story of The Orlando Project: Personal Reflections,” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. (2007) 26: 1, 135-143. Esp. 135.

          [39] Susan Brown, Isobel Grundy, Patricia Clements, Renee Elio, Sharon Balazs, and Rebecca Cameron, “Intertextual Encoding in the Writing of Women’s Literary History,” Computers and the Humanities. (2004) 38. 191–206. Esp. 193.

          [40] Two of Cellier’s texts are available in RWO, and EEBO and TCP have 15 combined hits for Cellier. EEBO has a scanned copy of Sharp’s text, and RWO has a transcribed copy.

          [41] Ann Giardina Hess, ‘Shaw, Hester (bap. 1586?, d. 1660)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Online. Accessed Dec 1, 2009

          [42] The following numbers are in US currency.

          [43] Many thanks to Wendy Allen Shelburne, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for providing the above figures.

          [44] Many thanks to Gwen Bird, Associate University Librarian, Collections Services, Simon Fraser University, for providing the above figures.

          [45] Aaron McCollough, “Bedfellows in Mass Digital Conversion: Ten Years of Text Creation Partnership(s)” INKE 2009: Research Foundations for Understanding Books and Reading in the Digital Age. Victoria, BC October 23, 2009 – October 24, 2009.

          [46] “EEBO-TCP Partnership Phase I Closes Jan. 1, 2010.” Online. Accessed December 5, 2009.

          [47] The Orlando History of Women's Writing in the British Isles has three volumes, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2010: Isobel Grundy, Vindicating Their Sex: Pre-Victorian Women's Writing in the British Isles; Susan Brown, Contradictions and Continuities: Women's Writing in the British Isles, 1820-1890; Patricia Clements, Jo-Ann Wallace, Rebecca Cameron, FreeWoman: Modern Women's Writing in the British Isles. Publications associated with Orlando can be found online at

          . In collaboration with Oxford University Press, The Women’s Writers Project produced sixteen volumes of women’s writing. Publications associated with WWP can be found at:

          [48] “Women Writers Project Grants.” Online. Accessed December 3, 2009.

          [49] Marta L. Magnuson. “Electronic Women's Grey Literature in Academic Libraries,” Collection Building. (2009) 28:3, 92-97

          04: Klobucar

          "The Man Who Mistook His Phone for a Map”: Aesthetics, Knowledge and Information Management

          Andrew Klobucar

          Cite this article (APA): Klobucar, A. (2011). "The Man Who Mistook His Phone for a Map”: Aesthetics, Knowledge and Information Management. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from



          This article examines social interactions enacted via mobile network technology such as GPS as exemplary of Kant's notion of transcendental subjectivity: that is, "to walk among digital coordinates is to navigate a constantly changing array of potential events and locations." In this way, the signifiers used to indicate a subject's position within a mobile network connect their "physical surroundings to a a rationalised framework of those surroundings, the formal, 'transcendental' reality of each potential path to be taken." The article then elaborates on a Kantian interpretation of human subjectivity vis-à-vis contemporary mobile computing devices (such as the iPhone), and discusses the epistemological implications of the information management systems that govern such technology--in particular, how mobile computing devices alter our view of the process of human reasoning. This account of information "as a cultural model of knowledge in and of itself" is then situated in within late medieval/early renaissance scholarship on aesthetics, objectivity, and knowledge.


          It is common to associate the rapid changes and advances in social media technologies evident in both mobile computing and electronic publishing with much broader social transformations concerning the role of information in everyday life. Without contributing to the increasing number of critical observations made over the last year concerning attention deficit disorders among children and the growing preference among us all for screen time over face-to-face interaction, it seems nevertheless relevant to explore further our evolving relationship to information in terms of various cognitive deficiencies classified collectively by the field of psycho-neurology under the term agnosia—the inability to recognise or determine objects and patterns from physical stimuli despite having fully functioning sense capability. Such symptoms, in other words, convey a distinct cognitive condition best described as an extreme preference for “integrative” thinking over that of a more holistic nature. Epistemologically speaking, the distinction seems quite profound. In fact, it may not be inaccurate to contrast the two modes of thought just as one might discern night from day. Under the integrative approach, identity is arrived at via a kind of ongoing, real-time assemblage of various independent acts of perception; holistic interpretations by contrast prefer to summon identities from prior memories, filtering out the details of experience to conjure a more personal, socially sensible understanding of whatever objects are at hand.

          One of the more historically popular examples of this malady remains Oliver Sack’s curious case history of Dr. P, the infamous “man,” who, in one of the neurologist’s best known studies, “mistook his wife for a hat.”[1] In the narrative, the unusual condition provides, for Sacks, an especially valuable opportunity to study the neurological complexity of object recognition, revealing it to derive as much from human memory and imagination as one might expect it to be a function of vision-related functions. Dr. P, Sack’s patient, exhibits a sudden incapacity to understand or identify objects, but Sacks informs us, this condition had nothing to do with the patient’s ocular health. In fact, when Sacks asks his patient to identify a glove held before his eyes, Dr. P readily confirms visual recognition. Yet, asked to describe the glove, the patient observes, “a continuous surface infolded on itself with five outpocketings,” further imagining its use or function to be a kind of change purse—one specifically constructed to hold five different sizes of coins. As absurd as Dr. P’s observations obviously seem to our own cognitive perceptions, Sacks emphasizes the profound abstract logic exhibited by P, noting the similarity of his symptoms to those experienced by patients suffering from damaged right hemispheres of the brain, the anatomical area responsible for various emotional, more identity-related processes of recognition. Sacks is quick to compare Dr. P to a computer when qualifying how he responds to visual phenomena, both being, in Sacks’s opinion, devoid of any capacity to imagine or emotionally construct identity and concept beyond basic quantifiable attributes. Today’s mobile computers and their relationship to our lives seem different.

          Who can forget the first time he or she experienced the disconcerting, yet simultaneously awe-inspiring configuration of one’s location as mediated by the Global Positioning System. The moment may have arrived via the comforting guidance of an onboard navigational device, plugged into our dashboards, leading us through a tangled web of forced merges and ramp exits in some unfamiliar exurban Interstate sprawl, or it may have manifested as the familiar blue, pulsating dot on a Google map, blithely reaffirming our chosen geography of the moment. Regardless of its mode of expression, GPS remains notable in these particular contexts for its increasingly sophisticated capability to render symbolically the best account yet of Kant’s notion of transcendental subjectivity. Where else but on mobile networks can our social interactions emphasize as acutely the simultaneous experience of the material world and a corresponding projection of some kind of virtual self within a distinct ontological space of shared discourse.

          It is tempting to argue at this point that such technology emphasizes overall a more relational, Habermasian interpretation of Kantian objective “truth” as a mode of communication; it’s not difficult to see, in fact, that much of the social drive to augment technologically our “real life” experiences and engagements within the physical world invokes less a vision of communal interaction than Kant’s original conception of human nature as an autonomous, self-determined faculty of rational being.[2] The capacity to frame our experience in real time within multiple sets of pre-constructed databases provides, in turn, a very effective means to interpret even our subtlest gestures as ends or objectives both in and of themselves and within the context of some larger understanding of the world around us. The simultaneity of act and its depiction, of signal and its interpretation, it seems, assures this autonomy. 

          Unlike a printed map, an animated, GPS-enabled set of coordinates does not signify pre-ordained narratives as journeys to be perpetually followed in the two-dimensional, linear fashion accordingly allocated to them. Instead, to walk among digital coordinates is to navigate a constantly changing array of potential events and locations. Whatever route we choose to enact, the blue dot signifies, by virtue of its synchronized connection to both a subject’s physical surroundings and a rationalised framework of those surroundings, the formal, “transcendental” reality of each potential path to be taken—much like Kant envisioned rational being as the universal capacity for self-understanding and thus self-rule.

          The unique ability of the human subject to imagine general or “categorical” modes of conduct constituted for Kant the very source of that subject’s sovereign will as a rational being. Importantly, this rationality is not pre-determined in Kant’s view, but can nevertheless invoke universal ends with respect to human experience, for it represents simultaneously an individual and broader social need to formulate unconditional measures of sense and understanding in the world. Such reasoning may no longer inform scientific methods or even much of modern knowledge in general; the very idea of linking objective principles or laws to something as hard to quantify as individual will doesn’t inspire the same amount of confidence in science as it may have two centuries ago. Yet it is exactly this rationale that continues to inform most models of human mobile computing interfaces currently in development. In fact, in many ways, the professional field of mobile computing seems duly committed to maintaining a particularly active relationship between the subjective processes of human experience/awareness and knowledge construction. 

          From a Kantian perspective, our traditional associations of social media technologies with modes of interpersonal communication rapidly begin to shift in favour of an emphasis on epistemology. Technical advances in mobile software applications constitute wholesale investments in more than the telecommunication industry; they contribute most significantly to what might be called the social character of modern knowledge itself. Thus we see in the GPS echo, however visually rendered, not just a systematic abstraction of human location—the global, satellite-run surveillance, if you will, of individual telephony—but also a set of distinct rationalised relationships concerning human interaction within a coordinated space. 

          To attribute to mobile computing a certain grounding of subjectivity is to acknowledge at the same time the intrinsic capacity of subjectness itself to rupture or suspend any permanent sense of ideologico-historical continuity derived from such technologies. At an experiential level, that is, as a mode of sensual experience, subjectivity remains exclusive of either form or category, a dialectical relationship that is central to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). It is here, in fact, relatively early in the work that Kant introduces the significant, if ambiguous, role imagination plays in the conscious act of abstracting the empirical from the sensuous, followed by the categorical from the empirical. 

          This three-step process begins specifically with an act of “synthesis,” which Kant defines first as “the process of joining different representations to each other, and of comprehending their diversity in one cognition,” and then qualifies as “the mere operation of the imagination—a blind but indispensable function of the soul, without which we should have no cognition whatever, but of the working of which we are seldom even conscious.”[3] The imagination thus plays what might be called a crucial middle step in the construction of cognitive sense, after which a necessary “reduction” to form must occur before the proper level of understanding occurs. Taking a closer look at this reductive component in the process, to abstract some level of meaning from experience, that is, to reason categorically, automatically suggests a moment of “imaginative” synthesis before cognizance condenses one’s perspectives into categories of understanding or knowledge. Hence, Kant’s transcendental subject is inherently mercurial, a creature of the imagination—perhaps even ghostly. The self is “seldom even conscious” of its active engagement.

          Few characteristics could describe better the complex set of identities one regularly engages when employing mobile communication interfaces. It seems hardly debatable that a minimum level of disbelief is to be officially suspended if we are to follow through with the GPS representation of our surface to satellite co-ordinations: to see, in other words, ourselves in the blue dot. For Kant, however ambiguously, this concept of the imagination and its power to interpret, to synthesize (while the self apprehends) the world helps constitute a subjectivity perpetually capable of alternatives and options. In fact, the transcendental subjectivity emerges without pause as a necessarily indistinct interplay between the synthesizing and categorising functions of the human mind. Each function is firmly dependent on the other; at this level of thought, though purposeful in any and all categorical aims, subjectivity is unavoidably indefinite. It has to be; its very core is process-based, a constantly shifting set of interactions between sensation and its apprehension. Indeterminacy is its best defined quality. 

          How else could the Iranian state invoke something very near a second popular revolution through social media technologies? Only the possibility of an unstable, thus changeable, political subject, can inspire the levels of social action that took place in the summer of 2009. Such representations of agency as conveyed or communicated through social media technology suggest an array of mobile networks, organisations and, perhaps, quasi-communities that are significant, not because they reveal the existence a priori of actual functioning collectives, but because they support levels of interpersonal engagement and interpretation beyond one’s immediate material circumstances. Accordingly, the capacity of these communication technologies to help re-position or “re-coordinate” the sovereign self depends to a large extent on their inherent faculty to prohibit its coordination overall. Kant’s transcendental subject, as theorised in his Critique, enjoys a distinct prominence in the augmented reality of GPS-enhanced mobile computing, its uniquely ephemeral relationship to both the world and its empirical classification emerging strangely intact in the interface models that continue to evolve.

          Mobile computing, on one level, constitutes the most effective (and potentially complete) mode of social administration since the invention of the watch provoked a universal representation of time. And, true to the emergence of this earlier social tool, the manner in which these ever-expanding communication networks accomplish their ideologico-historical authority over the subject follows a similar tactic: strategies for managing and controlling mobile social engagement usually aim perpetually to distract the individual with a deluge of pre-constructed discursive choices in navigation as quickly and efficiently as transmission speed will allow. Again, the Iranian crisis reveals just how necessary a constantly “coordinated” engagement with this networked self actually is. To leave this state of subjectivity in process risks any number of potential symbolic engagements occurring. 

          The data phone, as both a commodity and a community, remains at the moment administered almost solely by telecommunication conglomerates like Verizon and AT&T, and, yet, given the range of data interfaces and different levels of access to electronic information networks now distributed over cell frequencies, the symbolic identification of the device with verbal communication seems less and less accurate. In fact, few experiences seem more annoying these days than receiving an actual telephone call on our telephones, especially when they are in the process of being used to coordinate other media applications. Of all possible media interfaces available in the world of mobile computing, none, it seems, is less appreciated than the conventional telephone. 

          Over the course of the last decade, driven by a specific anxiety concerning its possible obsolescence as a mode of verbal communication, the telephone’s development suggests nothing less than a complete metamorphosis from its technological origins in telephony to its current state as a collection of myriad programmable symbolic functions. However, as Stanford University Professor and software developer Ge Wang notes, even the recent tendency among technologists and cultural theorists alike to consider the latest generation of mobile phones to be nothing less than a form of portable computer, is ironically restrictive; “it’s not just a small computer anymore,” he argues, “it’s actually a personal intimate device.”[4]

          The efficacy of these “electronic companions” as a form of navigational aid cannot be clearer, speaking as it does to the ongoing, millennia-long evolution of the mechanics of navigation from the celestial guidance of stars to the comforting security of the folded subway map. Yet such pragmatic concerns do not fully convey some of the more complex, intricately symbolic transferences of meaning encountered within new social media technologies, given their increasingly sophisticated epistemological capacity to interpret the material world rather than merely represent it. 

          There is another irony in play here; while these technological enhancements within the fields of navigation and cartography appear, on one level, to demonstrate continuous improvement in the precision and speed of modern information access, on another level, if we give in to the distractions, one can’t help but see the somewhat cyclical return to a Hellenic view of the heavens as both technological mechanism and cosmological narrative. A dual function—a double vision, if you will—of our surrounding technologically augmented environs as a database to be interpreted and analyzed, and as preset ideologico-historical coordinates to be somehow assimilated into our lives, which bestows upon mobile computing a poignant capacity to “render” social being in ways most deities of classical mythology would certainly envy.

          Contemporary social critiques of such processes tend to remain ideologically over-determined thanks to traditional liberal humanist perspectives emphasizing the social and psychological loss of individual privacy and self-determination. But Kant’s more intricate concept of subjectivity (summed up later by Husserl as "the paradox of . . . being a subject for the world and at the same time being an object in the world"[5]) reveals a strikingly complex set of issues. If we overlook the various ontological questions informing these newer, more elaborate interactions with social networking technology, we risk a utilitarian-inspired simplification of an obviously multifaceted, cognitively expressive relationship informing the organisation of information and its subsequent use in the construction of knowledge. It is subsequent to these technologies that an ever impressive array of ontological contradictions seem increasingly basic to our day-to-day, physical experiences. 

          The unease, if not actual dread, with which we often regard these issues remains, as we’ve seen, general to much modern epistemology. It is exactly this dilemma, in fact, that inspires Hegel’s impressive description centuries ago of the modern self’s orientation to knowledge as a kind of permanent darkness or “night” where human rationality, while key to understanding the material world, achieves such aims by suspending any and all subjective relationships to it. In his manuscripts of “Jenaer Realphilosophie,” Hegel writes, “[t]he human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present.”[6]

          Thus we have in Hegel a most remarkable paradigm of human subjectivity where the possibility of cognitive freedom cannot be sustained without a corresponding sense of self-detachment from the actual process of cognition. In other words, the capacity to conceive freely beyond sensual experience must by definition imply the simultaneous phenomenological loss of that same experience. As Hegel further points out, this dilemma permeates much of Kant’s earlier epistemology, but remains subordinated to the earlier philosopher’s overarching emphasis on the self’s subsequent capacity to integrate one’s perceptions and interpretations within broader intellectual frameworks. Hegel, of course, is not opposed to this integrative faculty within both the human mind and the ensuing social order it designates; without it, we would have no formal system of learning or culture, and all socio-historical relations would inevitably succumb to individual states of madness. At the same time, Hegel, unlike Kant, cannot simply bypass the crucial epistemological value inherent in these more disruptive and unruly attributes of the human imagination. In his Preface to the Phenomenology, he writes,

          The activity of dissolution is the power and work of the Understanding, the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. The circle that remains self-enclosed and, like substance, holds its moments to-gether is an immediate relationship, one therefore which has nothing astonishing about it. But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom—this is the tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure “I”.[7]

          Clearly, the key competence signified by human cognizance is not the ability to unify or systematize, but rather its contrary penchant for selection and particularity. Knowledge, Hegel seems to say, originates in negation—or more specifically, the capacity of contemplation and analysis to negate or dismantle structure, not follow it. The physical sciences, despite any pedagogical or professional incentives to rationalize evidence for the sake of discursive continuity, offer a similar epistemological stance. In fact, the term “science” itself, deriving from the Latin word scientia for “knowledge,” can be traced ultimately to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root verb “skei,” meaning to cut, separate, or discern.[8] Interestingly, the same root can be seen in the Greek verb skhizein, meaning to split apart or to rend, from which the term “schizophrenia” evolves. Needless to say, the fact that the words “science” and “schizophrenia” share a common root would have been hardly ironic to either Hegel or Kant. If knowledge is associated specifically with factual discernment, then doesn’t any pretence to objectivity demand, to some extent, an attitude of subjective dislocation—perhaps even disorientation?

          Consistent with this logic, laws or theories yielded by such an attitude will also remain in conflict with any broader, universal narrative or framework of pre-determined sense, much like the repulsive force that occurs between two magnetic points of the same polarity. Thus we find ourselves as modern, scientific observers and practitioners contemplating, post Hegel, the promises of epistemological dislodgment as a necessary precondition for rational objectivity, which is at the same time completely consistent with a state of madness. Yet it would be inaccurate to suppose that these two overlapping conditions signify some kind of psychological choice for the self qua self to make.

          As we saw earlier, for Hegel, the process of empirical reasoning is symptomatic of both conditions operating as complementary qualities of a single state of being: by engaging in factual discernment, the human subject simultaneously invokes his or her own epistemological disruption, bringing on, so to speak, a kind of ontological “night”—what Hegel qualifies rather elegantly as an “empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity.” As cognizant selves constantly negating our subjectivity for the sake of knowledge, we find ourselves in a position remarkably similar to Ridley Scott’s Nexus-class “replicants” in his film Blade Runner (1983), learning for the first time just how profound our ontological disaffection from our own experiential reality remains. When one such Replicant, Rachel, learns that her pretence to human existence has been just that—a pretence—that her memories of her life as a young girl, of her parents and even her most private experiences are, fictions, false narratives inserted via implants into a maze of cerebral circuitry, she can only turn and run, panic-stricken, abandoning to the floor a photograph she had once believed to be her own mother. Is this not the same reaction that properly and understandably accompanies each scientific discovery or hypothesis stumbled upon by the modern individual? As the various historical and geo-spatial contexts we inhabit continue to evolve in ever increasing detail and complexity, thanks to ongoing technological advancements in our capacity to render and reproduce information, any collective consideration of our existence begins indeed to resemble Hegel’s unsettling description.

          Our intellectual capacity to reason abstractly is not subsequent to any predefined ontology of the self as a rational being. Far from it. The origins of objective knowledge lie instead in a much more chaotic swirl of cognitive engagements with the external world—a “spirit” or state of being, for Hegel, that is better compared to non-sense or even madness. Hegel writes, “[t]he life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself.[9] Much like the figure of Osiris, the Egyptian God of the afterlife responsible for all organic processes in the world (including both birth and decay) the modern “spirit” achieves its unique power and identity only upon its dismemberment. It must necessarily remove or detach itself from the material world violently, piece by piece, building new understandings only by parsing every observation, every object into smaller and increasingly elementary components. 

          Clearly, while Kant thought he had solved empiricism’s problematic relationship to ontology and a priori paradigms of knowledge, his transcendental housing of subjectivity seems instead to have initiated a much more sophisticated set of philosophical debates concerning the inherently contrarian nature of rational objectivity. A more in-depth analysis of these dilemmas, along with their particular relevance to modern knowledge, however, would do well to consider an even wider historical lineage extending back to late scholastic and early humanist thought, where, parallel to the formal philosophical re-emergence of the concept of “information,” a revisionary approach to the function of material evidence in epistemology can be seen to arise. 

          The term information itself enjoys currently a ubiquitous presence in practically all cultural discourses, denoting an almost unquestioned source of intellectual, aesthetic and economic value. The development of information’s importance to knowledge, however, bears witness to an even broader series of ideologico-political transitions, some of which can be seen in process today within discourses and areas of study previously less affected by the demands of abstract reasoning. The work of literary theorists like Frank Moretti, for example, provides an exemplary 21st-century approach to narratology and literary criticism using epistemological concepts more commonly associated with the fields of information management and knowledge representation to reconfigure how the novel might be usefully interpreted and assessed with respect to electronic modes of presentation, as opposed to print or analogue formats. For Moretti, visually and spatially oriented paradigms like maps, charts, graphs, etc., have become important critical tools within literary criticism, now that contemporary electronic information networks have expanded to include an increasing variety of different forms of cultural production. The fact that Google Maps software currently allows literary and visual art concepts to be seamlessly incorporated into geographical frameworks invites a reconceptualisation of space and location as literary terms and a corresponding spatialisation of aesthetic concepts.

          It is Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), however, who is most readily associated with the origins of these concepts in their modern context, given his early exploration of the term “information” as a specific mode of cognitive interaction between what he terms the intellect (intellectus) and physical perception (sensus) in the service of knowledge.[10] In Thomastic philosophy, modern western thought acquires some of its fundamental preliminary discursive precepts. For many epistemologists, Aquinas and his work in practical philosophy bring to western thought something akin to a representative figure for what is a much broader, patrimonial collection of ideas and traditions, stretching across an array of humanist/proto-humanist disciplines emerging in 13th-century northern Europe.

          Many similar concerns regarding objectivity and knowledge, for example, can be located in the numerous challenges in European culture and ideology that seem to qualify innovations in architecture, sculpture, literature, the fine arts and even law of this period. A fuller, more in-depth study of these rising parallel interests within late mediaeval/early renaissance culture in a tacit, objectively meaningful sense of nature (not to mention, a subsequent appreciation for the seemingly unique human capacity to cognize it) may ultimately provide a useful context for a history of information as a cultural model of knowledge in and of itself. Historians of science like Lorraine Daston, Robert Richards, and Peter Galison[11] provide important introductions to this type of historical project, analyzing specific periods in European modernity with respect to the concept of objectivity as a distinct relationship to knowledge that, like any other epistemological stance, owes its social legitimacy as much to particular ideologico-political frameworks as to intellectual ones. For Daston, for example, the very term “objectivity,” as it comes to delineate both a category and an application of knowledge within modernity, signifies a distinct, yet protracted “epistemic shift” in western thought that develops steadily over 600 years between the 13th and 19th centuries. 

          The earliest indications of this shift appear in a variety of contemporaneous writings by different philosophers in the scholastic tradition, including Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and William of Occam, among others. Daston qualifies this particular movement within scholastic epistemology further by emphasizing the growing philosophical interest it signifies in modelling or mimicking knowledge as an independent rational human activity over representing it directly. In the latter epistemological framework, the process of learning or acquiring knowledge is not to be distinguished from employing preconceived principles of reason, whereas the scholastic shift signifies a much more indirect and aesthetically implicated relationship to epistemology. 

          When one considers a rational framework for learning as an object in and of itself—that is, as a construct that interprets or reflects (as opposed to embodies) formal epistemological principles, one radically reconfigures the fundamental relationship between human cognition and universality, in effect, initiating a host of newly significant conflicts between the two approaches to knowledge and reason. As noted before, such concepts were not confined to late mediaeval writing, but can be equally identified in the experimental grammar of gothic architecture as it came to dominate the structure and design of some North Europe’s most significant cathedrals, including those constructed at Paris, Chartres and, of course, Amiens. In Medieval Architecture, Medieval Learning: Builders and Masters in the Age of Romanesque and Gothic, Charles Radding and William Clark discuss what they call the similar “mental processes” that Gothic builders and scholastic philosophers shared, producing, in turn, a remarkable set of integrated systems in response to mutual aesthetic and intellectual concerns.[12] To see Gothic architecture in and of itself as a “mental process” is, as Radding and Clark suggest, an important precept to recognising how the very discipline of architecture began to mature as both an art form and a kind of rational framework, allowing it subsequently to invoke more abstract epistemological issues. 

          This epistemic review of knowledge as a kind of cognitive event, whereby meaning derives not from a static, universal system, but rather from an individual capacity to summon and interpret patterns, abstractions, objectivities, etc., from the physical world, logically invokes a much more complex relationship between the human intellect and any broader, metaphysical paradigm of reason, for it emphasizes the paradoxical importance of artifice in the contemplation of truth. To understand objectivity as epistemologically meaningful, in the sense that the physical world can somehow manifest a broader, perhaps even universal, significance, places equally important limits on human interpretation as an ongoing attempt to rationalise sensibility and perception—and it is within the context of this particular dilemma that the term “information” as a form of potential knowledge seems to gain increasing cultural value beginning in the 13th century. The writings of Aquinas are especially useful here, demonstrating some of the clearer, more exemplary expressions of reasoning behind this gradual reconsideration of human cognition as a distinct epistemological function. 

          Aquinas, as was common with scholastic thinking, derives his philosophical reflections on knowledge primarily from Aristotelian metaphysics, where cognition appears as a kind of associative mode of reasoning, dominated by provisional, often applied interests or aims, and thus considered secondary to higher truths derived from moral principles and belief systems. True knowledge understood reason to be driven by purpose, and thus focused on not just the material particulars of the world, but rather the distinct dignity concerning humanity’s place in it. Aristotelian epistemology, in other words, distinguished firmly between knowing an object as an element of consciousness and merely apprehending its material attributes. The latter mode of identification was, of course, available to any number of creatures in existence, while the former could be considered the unique privilege of a wilful subjectivity endowed with the ability to comprehend his or her circumstances holistically, imbibing them with purposefulness and higher meaning. 

          What Thomastic thinking brought to this model of knowledge was an increased focus on the role of the knowing subject as an active interpreter of “reality,” building epistemological similitude via the combination of sensual perception with intellectual abstraction. In his well known Summa Theologica (1225-1274), Aquinas specifically compares animal instinct, by which creatures are able to distinguish aspects of their environment as either harmful or favourable (predatory beasts inspire instant flight among potential prey; a bee discovers pollen and immediately collects it for the return flight back to the hive), to reason, guiding human reflection when it “juxtaposes things in order to compare them.”[13] Hence, the cognitive capacity to “abstract” (a term deriving from the Latin “trahere ab”—to select or draw from), for Aquinas, shared with instinct a reflective relationship to the external world, in that both processes comprised a kind of active engagement with physical objects and situations. Rather than trigger automatic reflexes, however, the intellectual modes of reflection unique to the human self represent a far more powerful and advanced relationship to the material world—one that invokes levels of insight distinct from the actual objects being observed and any imagined formal purpose or value they may subsequently summon. In this way, the Thomastic paradigm of abstract knowledge presents an intriguing departure from a more traditional Aristotelian metaphysics, offering a framework of reasoning neither sensual nor pre-determined, but instead markedly removed from both realms of existence. For Aquinas, the capacity to comprehend one’s world compared best to an act of translation—a reconstruction or “conversion” of sensation via the imagination, or what Aquinas termed “conversio ad phantasmata.” This combined movement of abstraction (“abstractio”) and conversion (“conversio”) quite effectively recognized the human self’s ability to rationalise his or experience, while at the same endorsing such efforts as important (if not necessary) applications of broader, universal concepts and forms. 

          The Thomastic emphasis on humanity’s rational faculties was, even 700 years ago, hardly new to western metaphysics. Deriving formal theories and concepts from physical experience had long provoked within western culture ample consideration of the human imagination’s potentially extensive role in the construction of knowledge. As mentioned previously, before Aquinas and 13th century scholasticism, however, most philosophical discussions remained anchored to what they considered to be the larger significance of a pre-determined logic or system constantly influencing all everyday engagements with the material world, lending them purpose and principle. Aquinas’s contrary stress on the obligation of imaginative faculties to rationalise the world indicates an increasing intellectual pressure on mediaeval epistemology to recognise the importance of technical knowledge and its capacity to generate both ideas and terminology (terminus technicus) of considerable socio-historical worth, and it is in this context that the term “information” begins to acquire both the intellectual and cultural value it has since come to possess in the modern period. 

          Aquinas’s reference to the concept of “information” in his writing is sparing, though quite crucial, as we shall see, to his epistemology, deriving most likely from the Latin “informatio” as used by Cicero to identify the mental images a person may generate of his or her physical surroundings and the objects composing it. If human rationality constituted to some extent a selective drawing, i.e., abstraction, of general qualities from material experience, such images would indeed demonstrate an important epistemological tool. Picturing the world, conjuring shapes and forms from sense perception, translating phenomenal experience into general concepts, may not reveal any ultimate cosmological principles behind such observations, but Thomastic thinking remained doubtful that this level of insight was even possible. Instead, any drawing of purpose beyond one’s physical sense of being seemed more logically (and accurately) discussed in terms of the self’s own motivation to determine ideas and principles objectively, in other words, a kind of rational projection of objects existing in and of themselves—a process Aquinas, following Cicero, describes specifically as the "in-forming" of matter with meaning via intellectual reflection. Thus does the term information begin to acquire the increasingly poignant correlation to knowledge it holds today, recognising principles of meaning not as any pre-ordained purposefulness, but rather as a distinct, if latent, potentiality for ever extensive understandings of the world as an object of interpretation. 

          The scholastic investment in information as epistemological tool was slow to develop. Aside from Aquinas, the term has little political or intellectual purchase, appearing only sporadically throughout the Renaissance and Reformation periods in English writing. Shakespeare, for example, includes it in his works only twice, the most Thomastic use materializing in Coriolanus Act IV sc. vi. In this scene, the two tribunes Brutus and Sicinius confront specific rumours that Coriolanus, previously vanquished from Rome, has returned to seek revenge on the city by invading it with new enemy military forces. Doubting such gossip, yet wary of its historical precedent, the senator Menenius exclaims:

          Cannot be! We have record that very well it can, And three examples of the like have been Within my age. But reason with the fellow, Before you punish him, where he heard this Lest you shall chance to whip your information And vent the messenger who bids beware Of what is to be dreaded.

          The term’s appearance continues fairly haphazardly until Samuel Johnson’s relatively high interest in it, using it 28 times in his writings, including, of course, his Dictionary project of 1755. There, he details three major definitions of the word, even presenting Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as exemplary of its most common lexicographic context: that where information refers specifically to the manifestation of “intelligence given or the practice of instruction.” The play’s use of the term emphasizes, for Johnson’s purpose (and our own), various related concepts: for example, the slave’s information provokes an invitation to “reason with” him, to listen to what he has to say; information comes via a messenger. While the senators at first exhibit a state of ignorance and expectation, they have access to a common knowledge, the value of which derives specifically from its capacity to disrupt or break apart conventional expectations with “what is to be dreaded” (Cannot be!). 

          That Johnson would find the term’s usage to be particularly valuable is hardly surprising given the nature of this project. “Information” fits in well with his attempt to complete the first formal standardisation of English lexicological usage. And he, more than any author at this time, likely understands the powerfully disruptive nature of language as an inherently polysemous framework of reference. Johnson’s formal definition of “information,” in tandem with the term’s increased rate of appearance within western intellectual culture helps initiate what Michel Foucault designated as the “modern episteme,” where, according to the theorist, the very role of language in knowledge construction ceases its “representational” relationship to ideas and embraces a newly dispersed quality.[14] Foucault writes:

          Once detached from representation, language has existed, right up to our own day, only in a dispersed way: for philologists, words are like so many objects formed and deposited by history; for those who wish to achieve formalisation, language must strip itself of its concrete content and leave nothing visible but those forms of discourse that are universally valid; if one’s intent is to interpret, then words become a text to be broken down, so as to allow that other hidden meaning in them to emerge and become clearly visible; lastly, language may sometimes arise for its own sake in an act of writing that designates nothing other than itself.[15]

          It’s not difficult to see Foucault’s relegation of language to a state of dispersal as distinctly symptomatic of Hegel’s original comments on the faculties of cognizance and understanding as literal forces of negativity and dismemberment in and of themselves. Information remains consistent, it seems, in its power to disrupt and dislocate one’s sense of one’s world—leaving us in the process within a constant state of cognitive disorientation. 

          Of course, it is tempting, upon reflection, to seek to avoid the epistemological consequences of information—to turn and run, as it were, in order to preserve a more coherent, subjectively integrated perspective. To do so, however, is tantamount to joining the doomed ranks of Menenius’s nervous tribunes, poised as they are to “whip” the messenger for the implications of the message. As well, it is within this same context that we must inevitably face the subsequent difficulty of objectively locating just where (or even if) such a perspective may actually exist. Much as Blade Runner’s Rachel, the Replicant who thought she was human, soon learns the truth of her wholly constructed, “replicated” nature, we, too, eventually come to realise that every information database derives its credibility and epistemological value in part from the same negation of subjectivity or “self-ness” informing our original state of cognitive disorientation. Not only does rational objectivity, it seems, not ensure our freedom as cognizant agents, it foregrounds a much more intricate and elaborate notion of the self as automaton loyally in service to the demands of objective understanding.

          The logic behind this transformation, of course, remains general to all technological advancement, digital or analogue. It appears, most transparently perhaps, in the emergence of knowledge representation techniques in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with the first attempts to graph and chart visually measured information. If the modern concept of information can track its gestation period to Thomastic philosophy, its figural birth arrives with William Playfair’s significant attempts to map economic and ethnographic facts relevant to British population surveys. In 1786, the very first use of statistical graphs appeared in Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas. The book’s scope intended to provide an inclusive study of England’s economy in the late 18th century, and to this end Playfair discovered a series of new and useful presentation modes in bar charts and histograms. The capacity of such figures to demonstrate complex shifts and movements of data in an extremely condensed and efficient manner proved to be enormously beneficial to economic analyses.

          Two centuries later, we stand even more cognitively dependent upon such resources, smartphones in hand, mind’s eyes following our blue dot alter egos to the latest dining recommendation. To live and function within our current state of epistemological agnosia, conversing over an increasingly dispersed, decentred, polysemous communication network is in many ways to embrace the ontological night Hegel assigned to modern subjectivity. Only our original psycho-neurological context, derived from one of Oliver Sack’s better known narratives, shares with Hegel some sense of the possible fear and unease accompanying this particular epistemological paradigm. There, to return briefly to the intriguing case of Dr. P, the term “integrative” remains suitably symptomatic, indicating a distinct incapacity of the self for holistic thought. Elsewhere throughout our information-centric culture, to be integrative evokes a mostly advanced, if not superior, approach to knowledge. In this context, the strange tendency exhibited by Dr. P to integrate his information, rather than identify it holistically, evokes a strangely alluring state of pure objectivity, allowing one consistently to see the most common items anew, time after time, freely stripped of all traditional associations. In this paradigm, no glove is ever really a glove, no phone, a phone; rather, all objects suggest ever shifting aggregates of parts and attributes, discontinuous, without purpose, yet still somehow coherent.



          Aquinas, T. (2009). Summa Theologica. New York: BiblioBazaar.

          Foucault, M. (1973).The order of things. New York: Vintage.

          Habermas, J. (1990). Moral consciousness and communicative action. (C. Lenhardt & S. Nicholsen, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

          Haven, C. (2009, March 9). Stanford researcher uses cell phones to make music. 9 March 2009. Stanford University News. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from

          Hegel, G. W. F. (1979 [1807]). Phenomenology of spirit. (A. V. Miller, Trans.). London: Oxford University Press.

          Husserl, E. (1970). Crisis of european sciences and transcendental phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

          Kant, I. (2008 [1781]). In M. Weigelt (Ed.), Critique of pure reason. (M. Muller, Trans.). New York: Penguin.

          Radding, C. M., & Clark, W. W. (1992). Medieval architecture, medieval learning: Builders and masters in the age of romanesque and gothic. New Haven: Yale University Press.

          Sacks, O. (1998 [1970]). The man who mistook his wife for a hat: And other clinical tales. New York: Touchstone.

          Science. (2001). In D. Harpe (Ed.), Online etymology dictionary. Retrieved October 23, 2009 from

          Verene, D. P. (1985). Hegel's recollection. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.


          [1] Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, New York: Touchstone Press, 1998, 3.

          [2] See Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. C. Lenhardt and S. Nicholsen, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990.

          [3] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 78.

          [4] Ge Wang quoted by Cynthia Haven in "Stanford researcher uses cell phones to make music." 9 March 2009. Stanford University News. 23 October 2009.

          [5] Husserl, Crisis of European Sciences.

          [6] G.W.F Hegel, “Jenaer Realphilosophie,” in Fuhe polutische Systeme, Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1974, 204; quoted in Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1985, 7-8.

          [7] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, 1807, London: Oxford UP, 1979, 18-19.

          [8] “Science,” Online Etymology Dictionary. Ed. Douglas Harper, 2001.

          [9] Hegel, 19.

          [10] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia q.78 art. 4, New York: BiblioBazaar, 2009, 390.

          [11] See for example, Daston and Galison’s Objectivity, Zone Books: 2007 and Robert Richard’s various critical histories of Darwinian Science.

          [12] Charles M Radding and William W. Clark, Medieval Architecture, Medieval Learning: Builders and Masters in the Age of Romanesque and Gothic, New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1992, 3.

          [13] Aquinas, 390.

          [14] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, New York: Vintage, 1973, 304.

          [15] Foucault, 304.



          05: Carpenter

          This City Between Us (Redux)

          J. R. Carpenter



          J. R. Carpenter's "Entreville" (This City Between Us) is presented here as a self-enclosed piece. This means that it appears outside the format parameters of this journal. When you click on the image of its original instantiation above, or the title, a separate window will open presenting the work. To return to M : C : P you need simply click on "Presented by M : C : P" at the top of the page under the main title, or else simply close the newly-opened window.

          Cite this article (APA): Carpenter, J.R. (2011). This City Between Us (Redux). Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(1). Retrieved from


          06: Harkness

          The Self-Aware Blog(ger): The Cultural Impact of Digital Identity

          Darren James Harkness

          Cite this article (APA): Harkness, D.J. (2011). The Self-Aware Blog(ger): The Cultural Impact of Digital Identity. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from



          This article presents a new critical framework for how the blogger works to define her digital identity. I will implement a theoretically-based approach to untangling the blog-self using a layered implementation of Jacques Lacan, Alfred North Whitehead, and N. Katherine Hayles. A process not dissimilar from Lacan’s mirror stage theory of identity formation is encountered by the blogger as she blogs; however, unlike the Lacanian subject, her identity is in a constant state of construction and deconstruction, flickering between the "Ideal I" and the "Social I" reflected back at her. Lacanian identity is troubled by the posthuman body, which lacks presence/absence, and is unable to resolve its identity. The blog-self is a new self. She must be recognized to be understood.


          In the introduction to Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation by Gerard Genette (1987), Richard Macksey argues that paratexts are “the liminal devices and conventions, both within the book (peritext) and outside it (epitext), that mediate the book to the reader” as well as the “framing elements” of the text that help create meaning for the reader (xviii). The blog’s content is important, but it is only a small part of the analytic problem when looking at the larger issue of identity. In her article A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium, danah boyd (2006) “invites scholars to conceptualize blogging as a diverse set of practices that result in the production of diverse content on top of a medium that we call blogs” (1).

          She goes on to argue that:

          By conceptualizing the blog as a medium instead of a genre, it is possible to see how blogs are more akin to paper than to diaries. It is not the conventions or content-types that define blogs, but the framework in which people can express themselves. Using paper, people document their lives. The same is true in blogs. Using paper, people take notes. The same is true in blogs. Paper and blogs are used for everything from creating grocery lists to publishing innovative research, drawing pictures to advertising furniture for sale, tracking personal bills to writing gossip columns. Mediums are flexible, allowing all different sorts of expressions and constantly evolving.

          Although this analogy allows us to see blogs as flexible conduits for the creation of identity, when looking at blogs as paper, as platforms, we are also aware of how that paper is configured. We use different papers in different ways: lined paper is purposed for writing, sketch paper for drawing, ledger paper for numerical data. One can think of the relationship between a blog and the software that runs it in similar ways to that of a diary and the paper it is written on. The average user would not spend time thinking of the elements of an interface within the blog software they are using, but its design determines the way that they will blog, and acts as one force shaping their identity. Another shaping force is, of course, the bloggers themselves.

          Arguing for the creation of identity through medium is not without its dangers: identity is a very subjective, full, and locative term. Identity has different critical meanings within different disciplines: certain philosophers mark “identity” as that which simply differentiates one item from another; in terms of an individual’s identity, they prefer to use the term “personal identity”—a particularly troublesome term, fraught with questions (Olson Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology);[1] certain branches of psychology break identity into self-identity, social identity, cultural identity, and gender identity. When I refer to a blogger’s identity in this article, I am speaking primarily of her online identity. The blogger’s identity conflates presence and absence, representing the blogger even when she is not physically present at her blog. Yet, identity is the right term; bloggers frequently self-identify with their blogs; boyd argues it is “the facet of them that is captured through the practice of blogging.”

          This article will present a new critical framework for how the blogger works to define her digital identity. I will implement a theoretically-based approach to untangling the blog-self using a layered implementation of Jacques Lacan, Alfred North Whitehead, and N. Katherine Hayles. A process not dissimilar from Lacan’s mirror stage theory of identity formation is encountered by the blogger as she blogs; however, unlike the Lacanian subject, her identity is in a constant state of construction and deconstruction, flickering between the "Ideal I" and the "Social I" reflected back at her. Lacanian identity is troubled by the posthuman body, which lacks presence/absence, and is unable to resolve its identity. The blog-self is a new self. She must be recognized to be understood.

          Viviane Serfaty’s The Mirror and the Veil (2004) looks at the American online diary as a location for personal and social influence. Serfaty suggests that the computer screen acts as both a mirror and a veil for the blogger, allowing readers to see themselves reflected in the blog, while limiting the access they have to the blogger herself. The work invites the application of Lacanian theory, though this is something from which Serfaty herself tends to shy away. She spends only one chapter in a section on social support on Lacanian theory, where she uses the mirror stage as a means for the blogger to provide a “mirror to others,” who can in turn provide a “mirror to himself” (57). However, this application of Lacanian mirror theory, although useful, does not give a completely accurate depiction of how the blogger’s identity develops. An exploration of how the electronic body complicates Lacan is required.

          Donna Haraway pioneered discussion of the electronic body and how it muddies the borders of subjectivity in her work A Manifesto for Cyborgs (1991).[2] In it, she discusses how the borders between the physical and the informational can blur. The blog—in fact, any electronic communication—certainly works to blur this line; it gives the blogger an informational presence even when they are not physically at their computer. However, Haraway’s ideas provide a jumping off point into looking at how the digital space of the blog, the software, combines with the needs and capabilities of the audience and the blogger, both in terms of structure and information, to help create the medium of the blog. The audience and blogger are paratextual elements in the creation of blog as medium; like infrastructure, these are central to the development of her identity as blogger; they function as a mirror, reflecting her own image. However, bloggers’ identity is more complex than either Haraway's or Serfaty's theories might imply.

          The blogger creates an identity based on the act of blogging, but also through the process of seeing herself being seen, and writing and witnessing herself having her ideas and confessions witnessed. Identity in social media is self-reflexive, fluid, and multivalent. In order to catch a glimpse of the fleeting and flickering multi-faceted blogger identity, I will create a multi-faceted approach to blog-subjectivity using the following theorists: Lacan, who wrote on the formation of identity through the mirror stage; Whitehead, who conceived of the subject-superject that signals the death of subjective immediacy; and Hayles, who posits that the coding of language replaces Lacan’s floating signifier with a flickering one, therefore breaking the boundary between presence and absence. Ideas from each of these theorists can be combined to create a compound analysis of the subjective blogging experience, and how it reflects the issues at stake in the subjective experience of blogging.

          Lacan’s lecture The Mirror Stage (1949) is useful for uncovering the first layer of the blogger’s experience. The Lacanian subject looks first at an external reflection of itself, the “Ideal I,” and then at its community, the “Social I,” in a desire to create its identity. Lacan’s mirror model, in which the subject is essentially static, breaks down when applied to the blogger, though, because the blog-self is grounded in informational space, rather than physical. In Lacan, the infant misidentifies its reflection as the other; for the blogger, the "Ideal I" and "Social I" blend as she looks at her reflection. The image in Lacan’s mirror blurs when we move in closer to see the details of the blog-identity.

          Whitehead’s concept of the subject-superject, developed in Process and Reality (1929), provides a little more clarity. The subject-superject is a gestalt of subject and object (the object of its experience), which together form an entity. Whitehead defines the subject as an entity composed of the objects of its experiences. He frustrates the definition, however, by stating that a subject may also be an object of experience for another entity. One can understand this by saying that the solar system is a subject, composed of the planets, but also the object of the Milky Way. In Whitehead, outside of one’s own physical body, the subject does not understand itself as being composed of the objects of her own experience (Nobo, 1986). Whitehead, writing in the 1920s, could not conceive of the way the digital age would affect the act of being, and how the entity would experience herself. Blogging locates the entity in an informational space where the body and the self have different parameters, because while the electronic subject shares mental space with the physical subject, it is located outside of the body and thus available for self-reflexive observation. This difference in being creates a recursive loop where the blogger is both the subject and object of her own experiences, able to observe herself in a way the physical subject is unable to.

          When we look at the blogger, we look at an electronic entity, an electronic body that is at once present and absent. In order to understand the electronic body, I will add a final plane to my theoretical construction of the blogger. N. Katherine Hayles, in How We Became Posthuman (1998), provides a frame that can be used to expand Whitehead’s subject in order to cover the blogger; the electronic entity understands herself as being composed of the objects of her experience, something Whitehead’s subject is denied. This self-reflexivity combined with the constantly moving subject position resets the Lacanian development of identity, causing the blogger to flicker continuously between "Ideal I" and "Social I."

          Peering at the Mirror: Lacan’s Mirror Stage

          Lacan placed the formative power of identity in the external body; an individual first gains identity through recognizing his own body reflected in a mirror (Écrits 4), but as a “misidentification of himself with the other” (Muller & Richardson, 1982, 30) that is reflected by the child’s speaking firstly in the third person (32).[3] By experiencing his exterior self in reflection he ceases being a collection of objects and starts becoming an individual entity. Lacan calls this the “Ideal I,” a “primordial form [precipitated] before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject“ (Écrits 4). Lacan writes that the mirror stage is “an identification” that sets the individual in “a fictional direction which will always remain irreducible for the individual alone” (4). He argues there is a jouissance (a “jubilant assumption of his specular image” (4) ), which occurs for the individual in this stage. I would argue there is a new jouissance in the blog; there is a joy in learning how to operate within this new self. Like the infant, the blogger is learning how to communicate.

          Lacan sees the mirror stage as a developmental phase, one the individual quickly grows out of when she enters the social. At this point, the individual shifts away from a reflection of the self as the defining force behind her identity, and centers instead on a social gestalt. The Lacanian subject and the blogger construct identity through the observation of others (in both senses of the phrase). The individual bases her identity on those she observes around her—the “illusion of autonomy” that hides the “consciousness of the other” (6); however, her identity is also affected by how she is observed by those around her. It is through the conscious and unconscious responses to (and of) those around her that she shapes her identity. Unlike the infant, however, the blogger constantly flickers between observation of the self and observation of others. The Lacanian mirror is a static entity; once the infant has recognized herself in it, she moves away. The blogger returns every time she starts a new blog entry.

          The blogger’s mirror stage does not resolve in the same way as Lacan’s infant; she forever flickers between "Social I" and "Ideal I," constructing and deconstructing her online identity. This is an online identity being built-up and taken apart. The blogger creates a new identity when she starts her blog, an identity that is fundamentally different from the one she inhabits outside of the blog. This blog-self is a posthuman hybrid of text and thought, which is simultaneously present and absent because it transgresses the boundaries between physical and informational. The adult who blogs already has a self-concept, but it is constructed around more traditional social relationships, such as coworkers, friends, and family. Her identity as blogger creates a second self for which she must create a new self-concept. Jill Walker (2005) in her article, "Mirrors and Shadows: The Digital Aestheticisation of Oneself," describes this process of creation as “discovering a version of my digital self that I had not before been acquainted with” (3). She sees blogging as “the first step in choosing to express ourselves rather than simply allowing ourselves to be described by others” (6).

          The digital self appears as a commonality in many blogs. Eden Kennedy is the writer of Fussy (; but until 2006 she did so under the persona of "Mrs. Kennedy," a subset of her offline self. Leah Peterson, a blogger who has interviewed other bloggers to examine the motivations behind their writing, interviewed Kennedy. Kennedy admits,

          The deeper answer would be that I grew up in a family where I didn’t feel comfortable talking about personal issues, and so to blatantly overcompensate for that constraint I went and found a public place to spill. Making the private public is enormously liberating. But then I also feel I have to make a joke out of it all. It’s stupid. But it’s a formula that seems to work.
          ( 2005)

          Eden Kennedy is happy to write of her own life and thoughts, but only in an immediate manner. Events with her family are for the most part absent.[4] She does not blog about her parents, saying “the way I see my family isn’t necessarily the way they should be represented on the Internet.” Blogger Sue V. in her weblog, confesses, “I know that what I portray on my blog is real, however it's definitely just one side of me.” (

          Rebecca Blood, on the other hand, has created the identity of a blog historian through her weblog, what's in rebecca’s pocket? ( In her interview with Leah Peterson she says, “I am [comfortable being considered an authority], if only because I have been around from almost the start . . . I usually don’t write about personal things. I’m a pretty private person.” ( 2006)

          The blog-self frustrates Lacan’s model of identity in several ways: the blog-self exists not as a physical entity, but as an informational one; in addition, it is both dependent on and independent of the blogger herself. The Lacanian subject is dependent on a physical reflection and a static location; although the subject misidentifies the "Ideal I," it is unquestionably separate from the entities that help define the "Social I." The blog-self has no physical component—it exists purely in informational space. The reflection the blogger sees and identifies with flickers between her image and the image of her community. Her subject position is constantly in motion.

          Looking into a Two-Way Mirror: Whitehead’s Subjectivity

          With social media, however, we need another way of looking at identity. Whitehead, a mathematician and philosopher of the early twentieth century, began the Process Philosophy movement with his 1929 treatise Process and Reality. Whitehead’s writing is concerned with the process of subjectivity and experience. He is referenced primarily in the study of metaphysics, as he directed his investigation towards the subject and subjectivity as a way to unfold theological problems. The part of Whitehead’s work that stands out with respect to the current matter, however, is his discussion of the subject-superject. He describes the subject-superject as a condition wherein an individual is “at once the subject experiencing and the superject[5] of its experiences” (1932, 43). It “acquires objectivity, while it loses subjective immediacy” in the process of becoming an entity and its subjectivity is “perpetually perishing” (44).

          In short, the subject-superject is simultaneously subject and object. Jorge Luis Nobo explains that “a conscious human subject does not normally identify itself with, nor does it understand itself as composed of, the objects it consciously experiences—except of course, in respect to its own body.” (385) He argues that Whitehead’s line of reasoning is that “the empirical subject and its datum are alike ingredients in the one occasion of experience” (386). Reality is composed of like objects, according to Whitehead, all “enjoying objective immortality” (Sherburne, 1966, 15). Jill Walker in Mirrors and Shadows: The Digital Aestheticisation of Oneself (2005) argues that blogs “are a form of self-presentation and -reflection that is cumulative rather than presented as a definitive whole” (5). The “weblog consists of a continuously expanded collection of posts, each of which is a micro-narrative or a comment that tends to express an aspect of the writer” (5). The blogger is the self-aware sum of her experiences, the subject-superject, and through the act of blogging, is able to achieve her own kind of ‘objective immortality.’

          The subjective for Whitehead is a constantly decaying moment; it coexists with the objective in creating the experiential entity. In terms of the blogger, the subjective experience is found in self-reflexivity. Serfaty in The Mirror and the Veil: An Overview of American Online Diaries and Blogs (2004) discusses self-reflexivity in online diaries, saying it can “therefore be said to be the representation of inner spaces as well as of the self-consciousness of the post-modern writer, for whom writing primarily is an exploration of the system of signs constituting language” (34). Serfaty argues that this self-reflexivity is “crucial to the slow construction of meaning diarists are engaged in;” they become “at the same time the observed and observer: they become the observers of their own lives and play the part of the observed for whoever interacts with them” (35, 64). The blogger needs to be a part of and apart from her blog in order to construct her identity around it.

          Bloggers are a curiously introspective group, often and repeatedly examining their motivations behind writing a blog. Jenn, the author of Reappropriate ( wrote in a 2007 post that as bloggers, “it is our responsibility to interrogate what we hope to gain out of blogging and to continuously re-examine our intentions.” Reconstruction published a special issue on blogging in 2006 (, and asked a handful of bloggers to write an article on why they blog. The responses varied:

        5. Michael Béreubé says he is fond of blogging because it helps intellectuals gain “the mediating skills that we knowledge-merchants have to learn” because “the response from readers is more immediate”
        6. ET from View from Iran writes that she first started the blog to communicate with family, but soon found it to be “a way to have a conversation that would be difficult to have any other way” with the rest of the blogosphere.
        7. Sokari from Black Looks notes that a “starting point in reflecting on identity, blogging and me is to ask the question, ‘Where does my writing come from and where does it take me?’ . . . Neither the blog nor my identities are mutually exclusive.”
        8. Viviane Serfaty in The Mirror and the Veil: An Overview of American Online Diaries and Blogs (2004) writes “the screen is transformed into a mirror onto which diary-writers project the signifiers of their identity in an ongoing process of self-destruction and reconstruction” (14). She later writes that the blog is a mirror, in the Lacanian sense, not for the blogger but rather for her readers, “inviting others to act as a mirror to himself” (57). For Serfaty, the blogger is looking out from behind a one-way mirror she has invoked.

          I would like to modify Serfaty’s idea, and suggest the blogger sits in front of multiple-mirrors created, in part, by the software she has decided to use. However, the image reflected is not that of her readers alone, although certainly they are there: the image presented is of an electronic version of herself among electronic versions of her readers. The problem, of course, is that the electronic versions of the blogger and her readers indicate an absence as much as they indicate presence.

          At the beginning of this article, I discussed how the blogger is both present and absent because their identity exists as an electronic identity. Lacan and Whitehead both require presence in order for their models of subjectivity to work; how do we apply them when the blogger is absent? Hayles offers a way in which we can solve the problem of absent presence through her description of flickering signifiers. Hayles extends Donna Haraway’s cyborg theory in her discussion of posthumanism. She describes the posthuman as an entity that “privileges the informational pattern over material instantiation,” “thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate,” and “configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines” (2-3). If the body is the “original prosthesis,” then the blog can be seen as an additional prosthesis we learn to manipulate as a way of extending our consciousness; the blog is an extension of the physical body into the electronic.[6]

          boyd, in Broken Metaphors: Blogging as Liminal Practice (2005), suggests the blog itself is the blogger’s identity, giving them “a locatable voice and identity in a community” (11). In their study on weblog communities, Lilia Efimova, Stephanie Hendrick, and Anjo Anjewierden write, “weblogs are increasingly becoming the online identities of their authors” (2). The problem, then, is to place this within the Lacanian model; how does the online identity work with Lacan’s model of identity, when the subject has lost its subjective immediacy?

          Hayles argues in Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers (1993) that language becomes a code when made electronic due to the programming involved in transforming language from its original form into an “informational structure that emerges from the interplay between pattern and randomness” (30). Unlike the paper-based text familiar to Lacan, electronic text is neither concrete nor static; it exists in a constant state of flux—encoding and decoding, continuously deconstructed and reconstructed through the blog software. Hayles argues,

          Information technologies operate within a realm in which the signifier is opened to a rich internal play of difference. In informatics, the signifier can no longer be understood as a single marker, for example an ink mark on a page. Rather, it exists as a flexible chain of markers bound together by the arbitrary relations specified by the relevant codes. . . . a signifier on one level becomes a signified on the next-higher level (31).

          To illustrate how the signifier flickers, one need only follow a typical blog entry from entry to display. The first step in any blog entry is to enter it into the blog software’s interface. Unlike writing with a pen and paper, the form the entry takes in the blog entry interface does not necessarily match up to the form it will take when read later. The example below illustrates one such interface, from the Movable Type software (


          Figure 1: Entering a new blog entry in Movable Type
          Figure 1: Entering a new blog entry in Movable Type


          When the blogger has written her entry, she clicks the save button, and the entry is encoded into query parameters to be passed through the blogging application as a URL. For the above, it may look something like the following:


          Each field within the entry interface is given a unique identifier within the query string; the text we placed in the blog’s interface is translated as the following parameters in the URL:


          The parameters pass along the body of the post, along with its title (Welcome to my blog) and the time it was entered into the software (8:20:19 pm on June 16, 2007). The query string also contains other information pertinent to the blog entry, such as to which blog the entry appears in or whether to allow comments for the entry.

          The query string instructs the software to load a script that takes the raw values of each parameter and places them into temporary holding places called variables. Depending on how the blog software was developed, the raw values might be translated into properties of an entry object, such as:

          $entry->entry_title[7] = $_REQUEST[‘entry_title’];

          or it may be translated into an array, such as:

          $entry[‘entry_title’] = $_REQUEST[‘entry_title’];[8]

          This temporary holding place allows the programmer to condition data before it is stored in the database.

          After collecting the relevant entry data from the query string, the script passes the information to its database engine. Though database engines vary from software to software, the format generally looks like the following:

          INSERT into entry (entry_author, entry_title, entry_body, entry_authoredon) values(1,’Welcome to my blog,’’This is the first entry of my blog. Awesome!,’’ 2010-06-16 20:20:19’);

          The text may also go through a further transformation, replacing HTML Entities, such as apostrophes, quotation marks, and special characters with their ASCII code equivalents. For example, an apostrophe is replaced with &#039; or an é with &#130;. At the end of the process, the original entry looks something like this when stored in the database file:


          Figure 2: Database File Readout
          Figure 2: Database File Readout


          This is, of course, very different from the original text; though it does contain human-readable text, it is completely divorced from context.

          The reverse process occurs when preparing the blog entry that a site visitor will see. Generally, when a visitor requests a blog entry, a script will request the entry from the database by its specific identification number (entryid in the above examples) through an SQL statement:

          $query = “SELECT * from entries, categories, users where entries.entryid = 13 and categories.categoryid=entries.categoryid
          and users.userid = entries.userid”
          $mysql_data = mysql_query($query,$db);

          The script then stores the returned entry data as an object or array, as in the following example:

          $entry_array = mysql_fetch_array($mysql_data);
          $entry_title = $entry_array[‘entry_title’];
          $entry_body = $entry_array[‘entry_body’];
          $entry_authoredon = $entry_array[‘entry_authoredon’];
          $entry_author = $entry_array[‘users_name’];
          $entry_category = $entry_array[‘category_name’];

          Finally, the script creates HTML-based text using the site’s configured templates:

          <table width=”100%” cellspacing=”0” cellpadding=”0” border=”0”>
          <tr valign=”top”>
          <td width=”70%”>
          <? echo $entry_body; ?>
          <td width=”30%”>
          <? echo $entry_title; ?>, authored on <? echo date(“F d, Y”,$entry_authoredon); ?> by <? echo $entry_author ?>. Posted to the <? echo $entry_category ?> category.

          and displays it to the site visitor. In the above example, the visitor would see something like this:


          This is the first entry of my blog. Awesome! Welcome to my blog, authored on June 16, 2010 by Darren.  Posted to the Blog category.


          Language has become code exactly as Hayles suggested it would, and goes through several stages of encoding and decoding between its author’s creation and its viewing by the site user. At each stage of encoding, the text is divorced from its context, disassembled and reassembled anew. The presence of the blogger is divorced from the text itself in the time it takes to save the entry to its viewing by a reader. Sokari, founder and principle writer on blog Black Looks, writes that “because of the medium, this presentation can never be complete. So many signifiers of ourselves are missing, the visual, our body language, our personal lives, anxieties, pleasures, family, friends, hobbies, work and the reality of our daily lives.”

          Lacan conceived of the floating signifier to describe how words within a sentence could move between sign and signifier, at least until the sentence is completed. Since language is in a constant state of flux in the blog, always shifting between text and binary, and the blogger can change the text at any time (with no literate record of its change), the division between sign and signifier is much more tenuous.

          Hayles uses the flickering signifier to discuss why there has been a shift from a focus on presence / absence to pattern / randomness, because the issue of presence/absence does not serve to “yield much leverage” when “the avatar both is and is not present” (1999, 27). In his MA thesis, Interactions through the Screen (2004), Marcelo A. Vieta uses Haraway and Hayles to discuss the posthuman self, saying “critically sensitive individuals can usurp the cyborg and posthuman narratives in order to reconstruct our subjectivity and, thus, our sense of self” (26-31). The blogger is at once present and not present because the avatar of her identity is persistent through her blog entries. She simultaneously takes on the subjective roles of author and reader, flickering back and forth between the "Social I" and the "Ideal I."

          The Lacanian process of identity formation is denied resolution and the blogger is left to chase the tail of her identity’s constantly shifting subject position. A process not dissimilar from Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory of identity formation is encountered by the blogger as she blogs; however, unlike the Lacanian subject, her identity is in a constant state of construction and deconstruction, flickering between the ideal and social “I” reflected back at them. Lacanian identity is troubled by the posthuman body, which lacks presence/absence, and it is unable to resolve its identity.


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          Whitehead, A. N. (1932). Process and reality: An essay in cosmology. New York: Harper & Bros.


          [1] Olson writes that the term is “not a single problem but rather a wide range of loosely connected questions” of personhood, persistence, evidence, and population.

          [2] Alternately called “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” and “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Although Haraway does address the culturally familiar concept of ‘cyborg,’ the term as used in her manifesto is a more generic one, geared towards describing an individual that crosses the border between organic and mechanical. She expands her theory to point to physical/information, and finally signal/noise as further borders to blur.

          [3] A parallel to this occurs in the blog; though the blogger often writes in the first person, there is often much third person inserted into the blog itself; the blog is sometimes named after the blogger—as in—or contains a line after each entry with the blogger’s name (or pseudonym) inserted into it, such as “Posted by Dutch,” which is added to every post at Sweet Juniper.

          [4] Until the death of her father, that is. On December 13, 2006, Kennedy shifted her identity from Mrs. Kennedy to Eden Marriott Kennedy. When her father died in May of 2007, she started blogging about her trip back home and her experience with her family.

          [5] It is notable that Whitehead does not define what he means by ‘superject’ until almost 30 pages later. A superject is “the atomic creature exercising its function of objective immortality.” (71)

          [6] Serfaty discusses the role of the body in the online experience in her chapter, “Male and Female Cyberbodies.” Her analysis, however, is focused on the untangling of gender in the online space, and the role of the physical body in the online diary.

          [7] Generally, whether stored as an object property or array, entry data will be given identifiers that match their database identifiers. This isn’t a requirement by any means, but rather an issue of convenience for the programmer, especially when working with objects.

          [8] The examples given are pseudo-code, and not drawn directly from any particular blog software in order to save space. Blog software draws on complex programming structures, which draw on several different internal functions to save entries. 

          07: Weida

          Born from Books: Digital Spaces of Adolescent Art and Echoes of Artists’ Books

          Courtney Lee Weida

          Cite this article (APA): Weida, C.L. (2011). Born from Books: Digital Spaces of Adolescent Art and Echoes of Artists’ Books. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from



          Many adolescents interact with text in a digital fashion via Kindle, the Gutenberg Project, and/or Google Books with greater frequency than traditional books. This article explores artists' books and bookwork as structural and conceptual metaphors for digital spaces of art created and/or utilized by teenagers. Artists’ books can be categorized as art and artifact—as materials of historical record, commentary, and personal expression. While book arts often engage in self-conscious reconceptualizations of text and image, digital media such as wikis, blogs, and online social networks dovetail, extend and/or reflect/are reflected by questionings of the book format as well. This article examines digital spaces (places?) of youth culture and artistic expression such as Myspace, Facebook, deviantART, and others. Artists' books often challenge traditional forms of publishing and codex, addressing questions of media and message parallel to ongoing issues of technology in our digital age. Digital spaces of art utilized by adolescents take on a similar autonomy, marginality, and liminality to limited edition and/or self-published artists' books. At the same time, both artists’ books and young artists’ websites contain a certain element of awareness of the viewer/spectator within narratives and documentary structures, serving as uniquely interactively engaging contexts of art education.


          So we made our own computer
          Out of macaroni pieces
          And it did our thinking
          While we lived our lives

          —Musician Regina Spektor, in “The Calculation”


          Introduction: Digital Disconnects and Yearning (Learning) to Read

          I recently asked a group of high school students during a writing workshop to create collaborative poems by hand that described works of public art they had visited, with careful choices of typography, font color, and text size. I was both perplexed and pleased when some students asked if they could type up their poems, photograph the artworks on their cell phones, and post images and texts online, rather than publicly exhibit and perform a hand-written poem afterward (as I had intended). As I teach, I am increasingly aware that I am what futurist writer Marc Prensky (2001) refers to as a “digital immigrant” (np). I am one of those liminal individuals raised with card catalogues, and yet reasonably fluent in ever-emerging digital collections. I remember being given the choice to hand-write or type my papers in school, and I continue to be torn between the computer and off-line tools as an educator and an artist.

          Students may have a different experience of reading, viewing, and creating through the machine than they do manually, with their own hands. Books may exist as frames for our thinking and learning, but they do not always persist in the same formats and functions as they once did. In fact, scientist Mike O’Dell noted in The Unified Theory of the Web (2002) that an equivalence of 30,000 books is in transit over the Internet at any given moment. Blending technology and craft, Regina Spektor’s lyrics (quoted above) evocatively and problematically call to mind the sort of borrowing, crafting, and referencing that takes place within the intertextuality of artists’ books and digital spaces. As educators weave between physical and web-based media on the book, they may find that digital resources often do both more and less than they anticipate. Education researchers Liz Campbell and Kerry Ballast (2011) assert, “when a teacher imagines the vastness of information and the sea of people who are accessible literally at the fingertips of digital natives, possibilities are endless” (18)."

          Perhaps the most well-known digital forum and resource for bookmaking with young people is Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s website, Making Books with Children. Like the sites of the Center for Book Arts in New York and Brooklyn’s Booklyn, Susan’s digital presence includes educational resources such as tutorials and diagrams, which are best understood in physical practices of folding and cutting. Her site also features a detailed bibliography of resources, specialized information for teachers, parents, and students, as well as additional interactive and timely content delivered through a listserv and Facebook page. Susan’s personal artwork meaningfully encompasses diverse reconsiderations of the book. She approaches the book as an aesthetic object (where blank pages are part of larger sculptures), as well as through digitally-abstracted designs of the photographs and hand-lettering of Emily Dickinson poems. As a sidebar, this series of works could be viewed as part of a class project around poetry, history, and artist books. Other related content for such a project might include book-arts theorist and artist Johanna Drucker’s (2004) claim that the artistically inscribed early notebooks of Emily Dickinson are prototypes of today’s book arts. Similarly, Robert Warner commemorated Dickinson’s words and images with an artist book.

          Figure 1
          Figure 1: "The Wondrous Nearer Drew" (Emily Dickinson Series) by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord (2010). Reproduced with permission from the artist.

          These processes and symbols of book-making and literacy are replete with the possibilities and problems of the book as an archaic object, and the book re-envisioned digitally—predicaments that I believe are of use to the inquiries and explorations of the classroom. The artist book is a rather antiquated artifact among ever-changing digital documentation, generating a parallel creative process of historical inquiry and contemporary innovation. For the purposes of this article, I will focus upon web classifications relating to artists books within descriptive contexts from traditional print media, including the following: (1) digital personal diaries, (2) online artistic portfolios, (3) scrapbooks and/or yearbooks on the web, and (4) digital contexts of artists books. It may be noted that these categories were formed with attention to artistic expression and adolescent development, but that other classifications and sub-categories are entirely possible (and encouraged) for other educators.

          Livejournals and the Online diary

          I will confess that I am a Livejournal devotee. Livejournal is a blogging tool created in 1999, through which users can create a reverse-chronological series of entries about their lives. Livejournalers can select friends to read their journals, or parts of their journals, or may make entries only viewable to themselves. In my years of using Livejournal, with one for making an account of my personal life and poetry, and another devoted to documenting my research from graduate school years to becoming a professor, I have been impressed with complementary qualities of organized archives and the formatting capabilities of the site. One of the more delightful experiences of using Livejournal is altering its given formats: creating one’s own backgrounds, fonts, or styles in a way that echoes scrapbooking or journaling by hand. This customization is also possible on Myspace.

          Livejournal and other blogging resources use the web’s unique function to share artistic and/or personal expression with a selected audience almost immediately. I am reminded of Anaïs Nin’s journals and her choices over the course of her life regarding if and when to share them with friends, colleagues and, finally, the general public through publishing. If, as Audrey Niffenegger (2007) writes in the National Women’s Museum for the Arts’ text on book arts, “to make books is to time travel, to magically acquire the ability to be in many places at once" (13), then books may be temporally linked to the Internet in terms of simultaneous connectivity and shared community. Livejournal enables a more immediate and selectively different kind of publishing than is possible with print—one in which some material is public and other passages may be obscured. While I prefer paper zines as a confessional diary format because of the preciousness of the paper page, spaces like Livejournal can organize and concretize the process of journaling for students while still leaving a lot of artistic choices open-ended.

          Further, Livejournal is also a site for communities, centered and searchable by interest. Users might explore artists’ books through a community of the same name, or a related community that centers on the overlap of comics and artists’ books. I recently found a gem-like community of “pretty books” on Livejournal, which serves to catalogue any book that is seen by community members as particularly beautiful in its design. Entries from users are often both linked to and embedded with a wealth of images pertaining to artists’ books. We might view these communities as digital bookshelves, shared personal collections in an age in which city dwellers (and professors and/or anyone unable to afford all the books they may wish to own or store) can share and exchange memories, reflections, and other traces of books.

          Although my interests and affiliations as an artist and educator are primarily focused upon visual and print literacy, there are additional educative benefits of engagement with digital communities that bear mention. Specifically, Carol Brydolf (2007) has written of the struggles of schools to negotiate issues of safety, privacy, and free expression when our students are increasingly spending leisure time on Livejournal, along with Facebook, Myspace, and Xanga. We may begin to examine our own informal and formal manifestos as educators in terms of our online presence and those of our students. How can social networking enhance our content-area teaching? How will we help guide our students in the important task of critically examining content online? What guidelines can we provide our students to be compassionate, thoughtful readers and contributors in these communities? A closer examination of identity, community, and web journaling is especially useful in the often anonymous, disembodied web.

          Digital Portfolios and Scrapbooks

          In addition to journals, I would like to call attention to issues of expression through deviantART —the name of which alone suggests a subversive, teen-friendly space for artistic alternatives. Sites like deviantART enable artists to upload images of their own art, or to download works by other artists free of charge. Interestingly, by viewing and rating the work of others, one can also create personal collections or galleries of work. This is a flexible and personal archive that demonstrates the usefulness of the web in terms of aesthetic thinking and artistic connoisseurship.

          Online art galleries often enable great interactivity; users can comment on your artwork, generate new galleries of their own favorites, ask questions about techniques, and so on. DeviantART may also be useful for planning lessons not only because educators can build sub-galleries of particular ideas or themes, but also because students can engage with criticality through actual critiques.

          On Etsy, one can also “curate” a gallery comprised of many different works of craft within a self-selected theme. Beyond curating craft, the web may also engage issues of consuming it, for students may buy and sell art on It is interesting to consider the look, feel, and phrasing of various sites where artwork is exhibited and sold. For example, deviantART features the word “art” along with categories that suggest the fine arts. Meanwhile, Etsy may be seen as more of a craft community, with an emphasis on the handmade.

          Figure 2
          Figure 2: Silk Rumpelstiltskin Shawl, featured on, by Emily McNeil (2011). Reproduced with permission from the artist.

          As with deviantArt, Livejournal, and Etsy, Facebook also contains hundreds of communities relating to art, including the content of book arts and artists’ books. It is not only the ways in which we document and sell our creative expressions, but also our very creative processes that are impacted by digital resources. “Back in my day,” I have told my students, photographs were not as readily taken or shared. The advent of digital cameras along with digital exhibition or family photo spaces like Flickr, Picasa and others, has radically changed personal photography practices. We photograph group outings and other life events more frequently than we used to, and we can almost instantly share these photographs with others through Facebook or similar sites, in the form of digital albums. Both physical photo albums and digital ones share learning possibilities in classification and arrangement. Further, photo albums can become more like scrapbooks or yearbooks when online users post comments or “tags.” However, physical scrapbooks encourage artists to make decisions regarding print size, page formatting, and further personalization and aesthetic discernments around the codex. For example, if your students created a year’s worth of Facebook photo albums, which photos would they select to edit, print, and mount into a scrapbook? Issues of representation and craft can be engaged in this way.

          Although Facebook started as a purely academic community, where sign-ups were limited to those with a “.edu” email address, art educators have also recently begun exploring the possibilities of imaginary identities in pedagogy. Veteran middle school art teacher Amber Ward (2010) has used so-called Fantasy Facebook so that her students can create idealized, imagined profiles. By constructing identities rather than representing their actual selves, students can create their appearance, beliefs, and goals imaginatively and choose to be “friends” with deceased and living figures. In my view, inviting students to exercise such freedoms from realistic portrayals of identity in a space they are accustomed to enables them to be creative storytellers and generate worlds and characters that are meaningful, creative, and empowering. Further, it playfully teaches about the possibilities and problems of the Internet as a space for anonymity, authenticity, and a blurring of representations.

          Book Arts Listservs and Digital Reading

          Figure 3
          Figure 3: "Altered Encyclopedia ('"E" is for Eve") by Courtney Lee Weida (2010). Reproduced with permission from the artist.

          Beyond Facebook, one of the most representative digital resources within youth culture outside of the classroom includes the Grrl Zine Network, a Yahoo! group that frequently lists opportunities for both young zinesters and book artists. There are also a variety of book arts listservs and communities that may call attention to the meta-process of reading about reading artists’ books. Digital Humanities scholar and English professor Steven Jones (2006) has asked some useful questions pertaining to digital reading:

          What if we problematize some of the basic terms we casually use, like email or Web? For example, what is email like in terms of its experience, its perception? Is it text only or graphical? Is it fast, slow, easy to read, hard to understand? What does it mean to its users? (xiii).

          These inquiries draw attention to the unique visual culture of email as well as the literacy habits we may employ as readers/audience. Stephens and Ballast (2011) have observed that students “are heavily embedded in a tech-rich world” and yet “do not believe that communication over the Internet . . . is writing” (8). This perception underscores the importance of examining our digital habits of reading and writing, in combination with defining images and text we peruse and create online.

          Not all considerations for reading and writing of digital texts are positive. Jaron Lanier’s (2010) manifesto about the web cautions that some approaches to digital culture threaten to “turn all the world’s books into one book” (46). Certainly, cultures of remixing, mash-ups, and endless cutting and pasting may confuse the boundaries of borrowing with creating for young students who are just learning about artistic production and authorship. However, Ralf Klamma, Yiei Cao, and Mattias Jarke (2009) have observed that collaborative digital efforts like Wikipedia can also create empowered “prosumers,” those creators that navigate roles of both producer and consumer. As educators, we can help to build a participatory digital culture that enables young people to engage communally as well as critically while they create. As Ellen Lupton (2006) notes, "the ability to publish is one of the key privileges of a free society” (16). We may begin to emphasize for our students how and why web publication is unique, and balance encouragement with healthy skepticism.

          Digital Qualities in Artists’ Books

          Existing printed artists’ books illuminate digital cultures and youth cultures as they illustrate the importance of the book arts as well as digital literacy. Johanna Drucker and Susan Bee’s A Girl’s Life (2002) is an unusual and wonderfully perplexing artistic book, comprised of collaged clippings that echo children’s primers of the past, along with teen magazine imagery, and several references to popular and digital culture. The plot of this somewhat disjointed collaged work entails a “plague of passionate data streamed through the flesh connection” (np) of its characters, within various forms of media, including: beepers, tabloids, webcasts, television, movies, and even alternate realities. Further, this work also references “tender buttons,” perhaps in homage to the poetic phrase by Gertrude Stein, as well as the literary criticism surrounding it by the late book artist and literary critic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. An examination of this sort of intertexuality reveals its function as a kind of hypertext, with a discursive flair that echoes the digital realm. Certainly, this work parallels the mixing of different formats of digital storytelling as defined by Klamma et al (2009), combining “narrative with digital content such as photos, streaming videos, and recorded sounds” (630) in non-linear possibilities. Meanwhile, the variety of narrative features of text and image in creating books engages unique frameworks of looking, reading, and thinking, all of which are appropriate to the digital realm.

          The Internet may be the most accessible way for many art historians and students to encounter artists’ books. Consider the work of Henry Darger, for example, which was viewable in museums and galleries as individual pieces, but was originally conceived of by the artist as a narrative. Students can explore Darger’s art in various ways through related webpages that address sequencing and his artistic intentions. Additionally, many works of art encourage students to examine the roles of books in contemporary society and digital cultures. As I write this, Tim Tate’s 2008 Memories of Reading series is on view in the Fuller Museum of Craft. These works are composed of tiny video monitors that show books whose pages are turning and burning, with the monitors encased in blown glass globes, evoking perhaps snow globes as well as scientific or museum specimens. I cannot help but think of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and his predictions about technology and the screen in opposition with books, and knowledge itself. These works are particularly curious and layered source material for students to begin to investigate the histories and futures of books.

          Figure 4
          Figure 4: "Memories of Reading") by Tim Tate (2008). Reproduced with permission from the artist.

          Conclusion: Borrowing From Books

          Although we no longer need to create books by hand in contemporary times, perhaps one of the most valuable insights bookmaking offers blogging, twittering, and other forms of Internet publishing is the importance of creating a thoughtful and finished artistic product. Book artist educator Paul Johnson (1998) has written “the book form is meaningless without serious attention given to what goes inside it” (1). If we consider digital formats as frames for narrative and artistic content, we may begin to help students to distinguish between micro-blogging as a practice or exercise, and the process of developing a polished book or blog. For example, one art project called PostSecret (linked to Facebook and other sites popular among teens and young adults) combined postcard-sized submissions of secrets and confessions from anonymous individuals into a collaborative book and blog. The acts of collecting and making meaning from these individual scraps might be understood as the kind of cognitive constellation we may form in collecting and contemplating the bits of data available online.

          Meanwhile, works like Tom Phillips’ Humument are long-term book projects in which the same original text may be altered creatively for years. Phillips’ bookwork is interesting in a temporal sense because it is inspired by an 1892 text, A Human Document, and because Phillips began altering this source material in the 1960s, long before the advent of the public Internet. Since that time, Phillips has continued to paint and alter this Victorian book in different versions, and the web enables readers to explore various iterations through slideshows, digital images, and related essays on the Humument website. There is a lot of exciting conceptual interplay that is possible between digital cultures and creative practices of the bookarts that is yet to be fully realized. For example, Craig Detwelier (2010) has noted “narratologists see games as the next stage of storytelling, tracing the continuity from campfires to theatres to arcades” (10). I propose that teachers seek out such unusual connections and compose unconventional histories and futures, as they explore the different formats of literary and artistic expression that students are revising and re-creating online.

          As educators and fellow learners, we may simultaneously desire and need what Sherry Turkle (1995) refers to as the “dynamic, layered thinking space” (29) of the computer along with some sort of handmade or handcrafted product of our own. Web researcher Kirsten Foot (2006) has observed that “we can view the Web as both a 'site and surface' for communicative action" (88). This revelation underscores the artistic dimension of online publishing I have attempted to examine in this article, for we may approach websites as a sort of canvas, back-drop, and/or scrapbooking page for images and creative expressions. Ellen Gates Starr (2010) has coined the term “digital artisans,” which I find useful in describing the technological context of the Internet in relation with the craft impulse of creators that remains and coexists. While the notions of canvas and artisans bring to mind tactile, hands-on possibilities that are not directly possible with the computer, we may find conceptual and social links in cyberculture that become the context for the work we do with our hands elsewhere. As technologist David Weinberger (2002) has noted, the web paradoxically is bodiless and yet often references bodies. Similarly, Niffenegger (2007) has emphasized, "to make books is to create physical forms for ideas . . . the book has been the body of human thought for many centuries, and when we make unusual books, artists' books, we are messing with that body" (13). By creating actual books and extending their forms and functions to digital displays and literacies, we may begin the messy, corporeal work of rediscovering and redefining our identities and visions.


          Brydolf, C. (2007). Minding myspace: Balancing the benefits and risks of students’ online social networks. Educational Digest, 73(2), 4-8.

          Campbell, L. & Ballast, K. (2011). Using technology to improve adolescent writing: Digital make-overs for writing lessons. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

          Detweiler, C. (2010). Halos and avatars: Playing video games with god. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

          Foot, K. (2006). Web sphere analysis and cyberculture studies. In D. Silver & A. Massanari (Eds.) Critical cyberculture studies (88-96). New York: New York University Press.

          Johnson, P. (1998). A book of one’s own: Developing literacy through making books. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

          Jones, S. (2006). Foreword: Dreams of fields: Possible trajectories of internet studies. In D. Silver & A. Massanari (Eds.) Critical cyberculture studies (ix-xvii). New York: New York University Press.

          Klamma, R., Cao, Y., & Jarke, M. (2009). Storytelling on the web 2.0 as a new means of creating arts. New York: Springer.

          Lanier, J. (2010). You are not a gadget: A manifesto. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

          Lupton, E. (2006). D.I.Y. design it yourself. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

          Niffenegger, A. (2007). What does it mean to make a book? In K. Wasserman (Ed.), The book as art: Artists' books from the national museum of women in the arts (12-13). Washington, DC: National Women's Museum for the Arts.

          Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. Retrieved August 2010 from

          Starr, E. (2010). Art and labor. In G. Adamson (Ed.), The craft reader (156-160). New York: Berg.

          Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the internet. New York: Simon and Schuester.

          Ward, A. (2010). Fantasy facebook: An exploration of students’ cultural sources." Art Education, 63(4), 47-53.

          Weinberger, D. (2002). Small pieces loosely joined: A unified theory of the web. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

          08: Turner

          Mind the Gap: Scaffolding Successful Collaboration in an Inner City High School Setting

          Shirley Turner

          Cite this article (APA): Turner, S. (2011). Mind the Gap: Scaffolding Successful Collaboration in an Inner City High School Setting. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from



          Today’s teens see internet tools as their communication devices of choice and in order to fully engage them in learning it is optimal to integrate their choices into our pedagogy. As a constructivist educator I believe that high school education needs to adjust to youth culture’s co-opting of technology. This article investigates how digital media can be implemented to engage students in collaboration using a case study situated in inner city high school classes including an extracurricular citizenship program. I will argue that not only does it strengthen students’ attachment to their teachers, but also that the use of online forums meets adolescent developmental needs as defined by Gordon Neufeld. My belief that communication is a key issue in the teaching / learning process informs this study of students’ enthusiasm for the use of digital resources, and pedagogy that will support the use of these tools for educational ends. Online forums provide new opportunities for learner autonomy and collaboration that complement the limitations of face-to-face interaction in the classroom. Integration of digital experiential learning modes into education is essential to engage and motivate youth in the current generation.


          An anthropological definition of culture is based on symbolically constructed meanings, which can include artefacts and behaviours, with an underlying assumption that these are shared by members of that culture through communication[1]. In fact, language is a symbol that is easily overlooked in North American educational settings since we assume that English is the student’s language of choice. If we reference Greek definitions of education before subject specialization, there are three dimensions: logic, rhetoric and grammar[2]. Both rhetoric and grammar encompass communication in differing forms and thus I believe it to be essential to the educative process. The challenge is to integrate the burgeoning cultural norms of the digitally engendered traits possessed by the current generation with subject-specific knowledge in order to generate understanding. However, there is also a need to investigate how these varying forms of media can be used to generate not only subject-specific meaning, but also an appreciation of the importance of social interconnection grounded in our bodies and environment. Societal grounding forms the basis of subcultures that share common cultural traits such as youth, and this study explored a variety of communication strategies to enhance group cohesion with the further goal of producing representations of their experience to attract others into the extracurricular program.

          As a teacher who has used emerging technology for over half of my professional life, I am interested in the way that today’s youth uses digital media to connect with each other and their world. Teens’ acceptance of the internet into their communication repertoire, and the importance they place on it as a tool, appears to be seamless in that they do not distinguish between it and other modes of communication, as the majority of my generation do, as a separate or different tool. In addition, the majority of their messages have only superficial value, revealing that there is potential to increase their capacity for sustained dialogue that in the best case scenario can lead to effective collaboration. My belief in the importance of teaching who I am[3] and showing my own passion for learning resulted in my willingness to be an immigrant in both this digital subculture and the Canadian education system. My interest in the social dimension of this process arose from my observation that adolescents appear to value the relational aspect of the internet above the content-based aspect. I find an abbreviated form of Neufeld’s attachment theory useful in analyzing these relationships. The initial modes are sameness and belonging that can manifest as loyalty. Once an emotional connection has been made, these can further develop into significance and “being known.” In my experience, the way that channels of communication are established is critical for both teaching and cultural adjustment. When the process facilitates collaboration, then it can act as the nucleus for community-building.

          I immigrated to Canada in 1995 based on the recommendation of a professor of anthropology that I met on vacation in Madagascar. At the time I had just finished a contract in Tanzania that involved setting up in-service teacher training for physics and math teachers in rural areas. We talked extensively about education over a month-long period and in Neufeld’s terms we developed an attachment based on my feeling of being understood as an educator. She suggested that the Canadian system fostered many of my educational ideals and practices and, following several subsequent visits to Canada while I was working in Portugal, I chose to emigrate with the support of her sponsorship. I believe that many students follow a similar path when it comes to selecting electives. They form an attachment with a teacher, often based on being recognized for the role within a junior science class (belonging), or being valued for their contribution (significance), which results in them choosing to continue in that subject area. They trust that the others' opinion of their abilities is reliable and only prepare themselves superficially for the transition, often simply in terms of whether they know others who are making the same choice. On arrival in the class, they work on a set of expectations based on their previous experience of the subject area in a manner similar to an immigrant trying to work with their previous set of cultural assumptions. For both, the experience can be quite baffling if there is neither clear guidance nor the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue. In my case, due to my lack of connection with the Canadian educational community, it took me a year to complete the paperwork and find a job as an educator.

          My personal journey has been a lengthy process that really started to progress once I worked in a single location for more than two years, which enabled me to form professional contacts based on making a contribution, moving me to Neufeld’s upper levels of significance. In my experience as an immigrant, both digitally and in the Canadian school system, my most valuable information came from my contemporaries who worked with the same student population. In order to initiate this communication, I had to overcome my feelings of vulnerability and be prepared to ask questions that would improve my ability to operate effectively in my new environment. In a similar vein, I feel that it is important first to give my students the opportunity first to belong to their classes, and to then provide openings so that they can contribute to each others' understanding of the subject material. In this case study, performed from 2005 to 2007, I focused on improving question-asking capacity based on the belief that it would also improve their articulation of scientific ideas. The first step in this direction was to stimulate interaction in the classroom setting so that the students knew each others' names and had some experience engaging in dialogue, preferably in a subject-specific context. I used the framework of peer instruction developed by Eric Mazur (1997) for teaching Physics on a conceptual basis to stimulate face-to-face peer interaction and increase social interactivity as a cooperative learning strategy in my classes. Secondly, in order to provide a rich source of topics that engaged my students in processing the course content in a way that would have an impact on their marks, I used an online homework service with strict deadlines that individualized assignments numerically, thus giving my students a reason to work together. This practice increased class chat room postings by 300% in my study group compared to my control group. I believe that my success in this endeavour largely stemmed from using web-based tools to move both myself and the students into Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development[4]. Effectively, this involves both parties moving into different roles within the learning setting. As a teacher, I have learnt to become more facilitative in my teaching style while my students have been given the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise with digital tools and observe me in a learning role. In its most successful moments, the interplay between my content-based expertise and their enthusiastic exploration of communication strategies has led to a mutual collaboration in determining the best use of the various facets of my class chat room.

          I believe that the development of interpersonal communication skills has been overlooked in the use of digital tools for science education, where numerical outcomes are more often used as a baseline for evaluation. Many teachers make the assumption that students are able to express themselves adequately in digital settings—an assumption that I caught myself making in a previous study. In recent years, there has been a move towards extending literacy skills throughout the curriculum, and my use of a conceptual approach to teach Physics 11 is an example of this development. The use of asynchronous tools further promotes students’ opportunities to reflect and articulate their learning to each other. Although youth are confident in their use of digital tools for social interaction, it is my observation from my control group that many of the messages are superficial, especially when addressing scientific concepts. In addition, their postings often tend to be self-serving, referencing the teacher as the expert rather than exploring the class or cohort as a community of learners. My methodology attempted to tackle these issues by analyzing social presence in online exchanges.

          According to Neufeld (2004), one must be cautious in generalizing about teens’ ability to participate in community, as attachment theory indicates that they are still in the process of differentiation and separation, and thus not always able to fully participate in an integrated, individual fashion. For this reason, I was particularly interested in analyzing the social presence component of the forums. As a text-based learner, I consider computer-mediated communication (CMC) to lack social-context cues, such as body language, which I find essential to classroom management and feedback. In my own process of seeking information, I often use non-verbal cues to decide whether it is timely to inquire further. However, I am aware that my students’ familiarity with digital media places them in a different cultural context, and the use of asynchronous threads allows the user to respond at an appropriate time based on their mental / emotional processes. As a consequence, I subjected the forum responses to analysis using Rourke et al’s content approach (1999), which has three broad categories: affective, interactive and cohesive factors. In order to evaluate the extent to which my inquiry was stimulating the creation of a community, I took 126 postings from the Physics 11 forum, and the same number of postings from a control Chemistry 11 course that had a similar composition of students but with whom I did not stimulate peer-to-peer interaction, use online homework services, or employ cooperative learning activities.

          Figure 1 summarizes the data analysis of 126 postings taken from the inquiry group of Physics 11 students’ forum and the control group of Chemistry 11 students’ forum. Both the postings and the length of individual threaded discussion topics from the Physics 11 forum tended to be longer and more detailed than those from the control group, such that a greater number of topics needed to be extracted from the control groups forum in order to have an equal number of student postings to analyze.

          Figure 1
          Figure 1

          Interactive responses demonstrate that the other participant(s) is paying attention to the response, which provides a feedback mechanism acknowledging the initial posting and providing vital social glue for the online community. This category showed the least impact with only an 18% increase for the Physics 11 students compared to the control group. I believe this reflects the overall engagement of all students with a process in which they are using a media of choice, although it should be noted that there were three times as many postings on the test group forum than the control over the same time period of three months.

          Affective responses are characterized by the expression of emotion or vulnerability, sometimes depicted with emoticons. There were 36% more affective responses in the Physics 11 test group than the Chemistry 11 control group, which implies that the face-to-face interaction allowed the students more confidence in expressing their feelings. Given that Neufeld’s highest attachment mode of being known involves including feelings in making a contribution, I believe this is a significant factor from a community-building perspective. It correlates with a similar increase in cohesive responses which showed a 40% increase. Cohesive responses exemplify language use, which indicates a sense of group commitment (the belonging mode) by use of names, salutations and addressing the group as “we,” “our,” or “us.”

          Returning to the question of my inquiry—how can digital media be implemented to engage students in collaboration—this analysis verifies that the forums displayed the indicators of a “community of inquiry” as defined by Rourke et al (1999). The interplay between affective responses that demonstrate vulnerability and cohesive ones that express group consciousness, underpinned by the sheer volume of postings (625 over a three-month period—with 4 020 log ins), indicates that the Physics 11 classes were a prototype learning community with teens extending themselves beyond their comfort zone to help one another. Using Neufeld’s modes of attachment, my students were showing a clear sense of belonging to the group and were moving into the mode of significance—a conclusion that was borne out by exit interviews during which some of the participants discussed collaboratively working on scholarship applications in grade 12. An asynchronous digital forum provided an effective virtual medium for collaboration when coupled with the appropriate scaffolding of social interaction in face-to-face settings. The other crucial element appeared to be the provision of a rich source of topics that engaged the students in articulation of the subject content. In this case, this was provided by an online homework service with its concomitant deadlines acting as a strong motivating factor. The most effective implementation emerged from the intersection of three factors: the ICA forum, a structured source of content-rich topics, and the use of scaffolded social interaction within a pedagogy based on cooperative learning strategies.


          Cultivating connection

          When evaluating best practice one must bear in mind the profile of the target group. In the case of high school we are dealing with pubescent adolescents whose maturity varies widely. Neufeld’s attachment model (2007) is useful because it gives us some guidance in the stages of maturation. Primarily, in order to thwart the flight from vulnerability that he identifies as permeating our current youth culture, the students need to be given opportunities to express themselves affectively as well as cognitively. The challenge is that few of them appear to be willing to risk making mistakes cognitively when engaging in learning opportunities. This is a consequence of their newly awakened sense of separateness, which is often perceived as self-consciousness, and a sense of loss that leaves them struggling to cope with complex emotions as their attachment system undergoes developmental changes. Youth culture pursues invulnerability through distraction and entertainment, which are largely provided in an inner-city setting by digital media. This media also provides a tool for communication, which fulfills their need for attachment if they are delaying the maturation process. Neufeld and Mate (2004) suggest that this is likely for the majority of inner-city youth, since the indicators of the emergent self track[5] are relatively scarce in youth culture, based on his studies in North America—and the socialization track, through the substitution of other adults or roles, appears to be deteriorating into peer orientation. When we consider using digital media in education, it is necessary to frame our efforts within this context. He recommends the cultivation of a culture of connection within which to work with our students. We need to find a way to foster attachment between educators and our students; my experience in this inquiry is that using internet forums can provide a safe space for this activity. The social presence indicators show a positive correlation, which suggests that the forums provide a context for connection both between peers and with the teacher. The very use of digital tools opens a mechanism of instruction via attachment between the teacher and student because of the youth culture’s identification with the media.

          In order to provide opportunities for affective expressions of learning I became involved with an extra-curricular citizenship program during this case study. Most of the students who were the key facilitators of peer interaction, acting as nodes in the networking online, belonged to a mini school program from grades eight to 10; I was approached by a number of them who wanted to try backpacking as the outdoor component for the award program in which they were participating. The end result was that I took leadership of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program[6] in the school and worked with the mini school cohort towards some different learning outcomes. As a group, we continued to use online forums for our planning and communication, which included trip logistics. However, I saw these trips as an opportunity to move away from the digital enhancement of their sensory systems—McLuhan likened electronic devices to an externalized nervous system—and return to not only physical embodiment but also to a primary experience of the natural world. No digital devices, other than cameras, were allowed on these excursions, for the sake of focusing the participants on each other and the wilderness settings into which they ventured. The advantage of our online interaction was a group cohesion, which created a safe space for the students to explore these new environments—and the fact that they approached me was an indicator of my pre-existing attachment with the group. The overnight outdoor trips provided a rare chance for my students to pursue an activity associated with “invulnerability,”[7] while, at the same time, practicing mutual support. In this approach, I attempted to foster a deeper level of connectedness between my students and their environment by expanding their personal experience (both internally and externally). The results have been spectacular; from the initial group that I encouraged through all three levels of the program, half of them have returned as youth leaders to be role models for the younger generation of participants. One student, particularly gifted in digital media, spontaneously constructed a short video of his experience and used it to act as an ambassador to promote the program As a result, the program has quadrupled in overall size and the number of prestigious gold level awards has steadily increased from none in 2005, prior to my involvement, to 22 in 2010. In addition, the lower levels of the award have doubled from their previous best in 2004.

          Comparative Table

          Duke of Edinburgh's Award

          2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
          Bronze 356 304 301 341 377 438 433 527
          Silver 208 207 256 266 240 262 268 323
          Gold 64 86 102 103 111 100 148 134

          Vancouver Technical School

          2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
          Bronze 23 1 0 42 32 27 27 42
          Silver 0 13 1 8 20 25 21 23
          Gold 0 0 0 7 11 13 21 30

          The production of digital media related to their trips by several generations of participants has enculturated the award program within the school environment. The students’ use of their media of choice has extended access to affective learning outcomes, including personal goal setting, character building, supportiveness, and perseverance, as noted by the Lieutenant Governor of BC in the silver award ceremony (November 2009). In this case, a video provides a representation of the collaboration experienced by the moviemaker as a participant.[8] It is a powerful symbol of the circularity of the individual learning process within a collaborative group setting. Using McLuhan’s Laws of Media (1992),[9] it could be likened to the law of retrieval, in that an individual story is being told in a way that has inspired others to pursue a similar experience. In this way, I believe that it overcomes the law of obsolescence concerning digital media, which appears, according to general opinion, as a loss of depth in connection (in the sense that it promotes the concept of connection beyond the digital environment). The symbolic representation of these wilderness expeditions reinforces youths' assumption that digital resources improve access and connection, but it challenges them to move beyond the limitations of the mediated experience.



          This inquiry has shown that the use of digital media is most effective when it is combined with the modalities of face-to-face scaffolding of collaborative strategies and individualized content-related assignments in an inner-city high school setting.

          Figure 2
          Figure 2

          The three modalities need to be combined for successful collaboration to occur. Face-to-face skill development can include both foundational content mastery for the assigned tasks and social skills using small group cooperative strategies or extra-curricular group settings. My experience suggests that the students must learn to work with other members of the class in groups that are not always self-selected. The content is verified by use in assigned tasks; in the case of the inquiry, this was the software generated individualized homework and the synthesis of this data processing, which was consolidated through the discursive use of a digital forum (see Figure 1). For the citizenship award program, the content was the planning process, and was verified by real-life feedback of preparedness in the outdoor trips. This process only becomes truly collaborative when the individual students are able to be socially present in the digital medium, such that there is a group dynamic that reinforces the shared purpose of the individual interactions. This completes the circle of modality intersections, as social presence online has been shown to correlate to the scaffolded practice of task-oriented interaction within the classroom. The outdoor component emphasized this in concrete, physical terms, although the progression through the three levels of the award allowed for progressive learning as the trips increased in length. The evidence for collaboration is anecdotal but includes digital representations.

          One of the major challenges of working with teens is accommodating the development of their autonomy. The multiple modalities of digital media allow a facilitative approach to addressing learning activities. Since I began my work with asynchronous forums six years ago, the number of web tools that allow collaborative work, and that enhance it beyond simple text, have multiplied. However, the prerequisite for successful engagement and use of these tools remains the same; the scaffolding of communication skills, including the management of the vast amount of data available online. My success in providing this scaffolding was based on stimulating peer interaction, using both concrete and online cooperative learning activities. This pedagogy meets some of the other needs of the developmental process, especially when the inquiry questions have open ended answers, or the students are working with different variables within the same problem. Thus, the use of the students' own resources, which were sufficient even in this inner-city setting, to supplement concrete classroom experiences, provides a route to engaging them in the educational process.

          The key to working with students in this way is to incorporate their developmental goals of separation and self-direction into the assigned tasks (be they cognitive or affective). Working in small groups with an individual component creates a space for them to focus on their personal preferences, while making room for initiative and originality. It also allows them ownership in the learning process within the larger timeframe and evaluation criteria. Current web tools allow scrutiny of the process of collaboration in addition to the end product, which enables formative evaluation during the process, furthering the possibilities of consultative styles of instruction. When activities are focused in collaborative work on a regular basis, using scaffolded communication skills to create the foundation, enhance the process and, ultimately, represent the final product, then we are moving away from “bolting powerful digital tools onto the existing system” (November, 2008), and towards changing learning dynamics with teen developmental needs in mind.



          Daniels, H. (Ed). (2005). An introduction to vygotsky (2nd Edition). London, New York: Taylor & Francis Routledge.

          Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing higher education." Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2), 87-105.

          Mazur, E. (1997). Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

          McMahon, K. (2006). McLuhan’s wake [DVD]. New York, NY: Disinformation Co.

          McLuhan, E., & McLuhan, M. (1992). Laws of media: The new science. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

          Neufeld, G., & Mate, G. (2004). Hold on to your kids. Toronto, ON: A. A. Knopf.

          Neufeld, G. (2007). Making sense of adolesence [DVD]. Vancouver, BC: Mediamax Interactive.

          Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco, CA.: Josey-Bass.

          Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Garrison, R., & Archer,W. (1999). Assessing social presence in asynchronous text-based computer conferencing. The Journal of Distance Education, 14(2), 50-71.



          [1] As discussed by Brian Schwimmer, in his Cultural Anthropology Introductory Module Overview, University of Manitoba (1996).

          [2] As described by McLuhan’s early work from McLuhan’s Wake [DVD].

          [3] Parker J. Palmer (1998).

          [4] See Hedegaard’s "The Zone of Proximal Development as Basis for Instruction," from An Introduction to Vygotsky (2005).

          [5] The emergent self indicates that an adolescent is synthesizing their experiences and using them to identify their individual needs/ desires, so as to create their own persona as opposed to modelling themselves on others.

          [6] Information about the Duke of Edinburgh Program may be accessed here:

          [7] Invulnerability, according to Neufeld, is a mechanism that prevents being overwhelmed by feelings when a teenager is dealing with their emerging sense of separateness. When the feelings become too uncomfortable, such that one feels vulnerable, the defense is too block the process by the use of counter-will, tuning out, or numbing out/denial. As such, teens may pursue extreme activities that are out of their personal comfort zone, which has given rise to the “no fear” peer culture.

          [8] This video ( is the work of a participant in the gold level of the Duke of Edinburgh Program kayaking expedition & provides a lens for her experience of the trip in the context of the program.


          09: Ng-A-Fook

          Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics

          Nicholas Ng-A-Fook

          Cite this article (APA): Ng-A-Fook, N. (2011). Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics. Media : Culture : Pedagogy, 15(2). Retrieved from



          This article considers how curriculum theorists can draw upon autobiographical writing strategies and emergent 2.0 technologies (Comic Life, Googling, etc.) to understand the aesthetic processes for surfing, screen capturing, and provoking a virtual narrative landscape. To do so, this article provokes the inter/disciplinary digital topographies of Canadian curriculum studies anew while remaining unfaithfully faithful to the concept of an old name like currere, in terms of its discursive narrative genealogies. As such, the article begins by tracing the vertical and horizontal autobiographical relationship to the vertical and horizontal digital narrative genealogy of the Provoking Curriculum Studies conference. The article then situates the tracing of such autobiographical and digital narrative snapshots to the theoretical concepts of currere and Denkbild. In turn, the article asks curriculum theorists to consider how they might frame future digital experimentations with curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, to provoke an uncommon countenance within the larger recurring narrative movements of Canadian curriculum studies.


          The study of currere, as the Latin infinitive suggests, involves the investigation of the nature of the individual experience of the public: of artifacts, actors, operations, of the educational journey or pilgrimage.
          Pinar (1975/2000, 400)

          The Denkbild therefore works to create an image (Bild) in words of the ways in which it says what cannot be said. In it is a snapshot of the impossibility of its own rhetorical gestures. What it gives us to think (denken) is precisely the ways in which it delivers an image (Bild) not only of this or that particular content, but always also of its own folding back upon itself, its most successful failure.
          —Richter (2007, 13)

          TODAY spring announces an unseasonable lateness, yet still breaths its promise of a summer charm across the concrete coldness of this urban landscape. The end of May is nearing. Here in Ottawa, within the receding shadows of a rising sun, the Anishinabeg elders inspirit provocations of their absent presence across this capital territory. Multicolored tulips stand firmly in front of parliament hill, dancing festively, occasionally shivering, against the invisibility of a northern breeze. Meanwhile, Samuel de Champlain stands astutely on the shoulders of Canadian history behind our National Arts Gallery, scanning the shores of the Kichi Sibi, mapping out the scars of colonial trading routes where our collective memories of settlers’ dreams still bleed through time, cutting their narrative histories into the meandering banks of its tributaries. During this digital narrative navigation, the regional stories we tell ourselves as curriculum theorists, travel from initial terroirs, migrating across the backslashes of our inter/disciplinary territories, and then returning to our intellectual capital online here at M: C: P:. Such curricular recursive movements, their historical migrations across this Canadian topos, have resulted in a sustained effort to bridge and provoke a transnational conversation, always complicated and provincial among us curriculum scholars.

          With the creation of the Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction in the early 1980s, under the leadership of Ted Aoki, the University of British Columbia inspired a reconceptualization of curriculum studies across Canada. As Ted moved back to the University of Alberta to become Chair of the Department of Secondary Education, he continued to nurture the growth of curriculum studies in innovative ways. Since then, scholars at UBC and other Canadian universities have pushed the limits of curriculum inquiry in ways that are unmatched in other countries. The Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies played a large role in this generative era of change: an era of ideas, innovation, and increased scholarship that formed a strong Canadian curriculum scholarship identity. With this symposium, the conference planning committee believes we are provoking a new era of curriculum theorizing. (Irwin, 2003, n. p.) Eight years ago, the University of British Columbia initiated the first Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies co-sponsored conference under the general theme of “Provoking Curriculum,” with the sub-theme of narrative experimentation. In turn, this conference was created to encourage creative presentations and conversations around interpretive and critical approaches to curriculum theorizing. The first conference celebrated the illustrious career of Dr. Ted Aoki, and the publication of his writings (see Aoki, 2003; Pinar and Irwin, 2005).[1] Since then, two other conference proceedings have taken place. In 2005, the University of Victoria hosted the second of such gatherings, which focused on “Trans/forming Narratives.” In 2007, the University of Calgary sponsored the third rendition of this conference in Banff where scholars, including myself, provoked our curricular narratives with themes of “Shifting Borders and Spaces.”
          At the town hall meeting of this last gathering, I suggested that the University of Ottawa could be the next site for this biennial pro/vocation to take place. Nonetheless, as a newly appointed professor, I was unaware of the logistical implications associated with organizing a professional conference. Consequently, my dean thought I was crazy to take on such a daunting curricular task. In turn, she gently advised me to focus my scholarly efforts instead on publishing. Nonetheless, recognizing the overwhelming situation that I had unknowingly gotten myself into, she provided the conference committee with the organizational services of our amazing marketing team in kind. We are interested in narrative as a mode of inquiry, rather than simply as a form of data. When we narrate, we construct meaning by linking events in particular ways. There are always multiple stories to tell about events and thus multiple meanings to be made. Stories told can always be retold, changing the meanings we live by, and how we are in our worlds. We invite participants to make the familiar strange by reflecting on the narratives of their research, teaching, and everyday practices. Some provocative questions to ponder: What is it to think narratively about what is already there, what you are already doing in practice? How did you come to engage in the ways that you do? How did those practices come to have the form they have now? (Rasmussen, 2005, n. p.)
          Our theme for the 2007 iteration of the Provoking Curriculum Conference is "Inquiry in the Age of Shifting Borders and Spaces." We invite you to be part of this conference, to inquire into, theorize, grapple with, re-conceptualize, and re-present various aspects of inquiry to consider how it might constitute "good" learning, evocative teaching, and critical exploration into cultural contexts. (Smits, 2007, n. p.)



          Cette conférence fournit une occasion unique pour provoquer et complexifier nos conversations par rapport au curriculum, cœur organisationnel et intellectuel du contenu, du contexte, et du processus éducatif. (Ng-A-Fook, 2009a, 4)

          In an effort to eliminate traveling to Ottawa twice within the same year, the conference was rescheduled to take place at the end of May 2009, rather than February as previously planned, to coincide with CSSE at Carleton University, which curriculum scholars were also attending. This was the first time that the Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference would take place outside the western territories of Canada. Furthermore, hosting the conference at our university provided a unique occasion to provoke a multilingual and multicultural rendition of this conference at an officially sanctioned bilingual university. Past conference organizers, like Hans Smits, expressed the difficulties he and others previously had in soliciting francophone participation. Although scholars from Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario did participate, francophone representation remained fairly limited. Nonetheless, as conference chair, my hope was that our gathering within this capital institution would afford international, immigrant, indigenous, English and French speaking curriculum scholars a common time and place to share our uncommon countenance of lived experiences both within and outside the field of Canadian curriculum studies.
          In an effort to continue bridging such conversational sustenance, as curriculum scholars we then gathered over two beautiful spring days to provoke inter/disciplinary countenances of our respective regional distinctions within the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Through our historical and intellectual pro/vocations of a Canadian topos, we sought curricular ways to find an uncommon common place to begin the difficult work of reaching into and across our inter/disciplinary terroirs of difference (Chambers, 1999, 2008; Pinar 2008). In turn, many of us shared our experimentations with representing curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of writing, what Chambers (1999) and Pinar (2007) call the vertical and horizontal topographies of the particular places and regions we both live and work within. Here verticality is, Pinar (2007) explains, the historical and intellectual topography of a discipline. Whereas horizontality, he suggests, refers to analyses of present circumstances, both in terms of internal intellectual trends as well as the external social and political milieus influencing the field of curriculum studies. The 4th Biennial Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference encourages experimental presentations that enable understanding of uniquely Canadian curricular issues. As curriculum theorists committed to educating the public in this current era of social, technological, environmental and curricular globalization, how might we then locate such understanding within the field of Canadian Curriculum Studies? Focusing on the significance of curriculum history to understanding Canadian curriculum in the present and imagining curriculum in the future, our conference is An Uncommon Countenance: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives within Canadian Curriculum Studies. (Ng-A-Fook, 2009b, 4)

          Studying the verticality and horizontality of such inter/disciplinary topographies, as Pinar (2007) makes clear, affords us opportunities to understand a series of scholarly moves both outside and within what Chambers (1999, 2003) calls the topos of Canadian Curriculum Studies. Therefore at this conference gathering many of us asked ourselves how our understandings of such historical and intellectual topographies “are inscribed in our [curriculum] theorizing, as either presence or absence, whether we want them there or not” (Chambers, 1999, 148). Thus our challenge as curriculum theorists, Chambers (1999) reminds us, “will be to write a topography for curriculum theory, one that begins at home but journeys elsewhere” (148). Furthermore, while mapping out part of that topography for the first International Handbook of Curriculum Research, Chambers (2003) emphasized that indigenous education remains particularly contentious and underrepresented in (mainstream or contemporary) Canadian curriculum scholarship. As a first generation immigrant to Canada, with transnational dual citizenships, who in turn claims hybrid cultural identities, indigenous education was and remains both contentious and underrepresented within my educational experiences inside and outside the institutions of schooling.

          As curriculum theorists then, how might we reread—both vertically and horizontally—the inter/disciplinary topographies within Canadian curriculum studies anew while remaining unfaithfully faithful to the concept of an old name like currere, in terms of its discursive genealogies? And, how might we frame our experimentations with curriculum theorizing as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, as currere, which in turn works to provoke an uncommon countenance within its recurring narrative movements? In response to such pro/vocations, let us turn our narrative heading toward a curriculum theorist’s vertical and horizontal migration within “An Uncommon Countenance: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives within Canadian Curriculum Studies.”

          At the Crossroads of currere in Recurring Movements

          Thus, as Canadians, we may not recognize our own literature, land, and history, our uniqueness—our own curriculum and its theory—even when we are living in the midst of it. This invisibility is even more poignant, and dangerous, perhaps, in that it keeps us from seeing what is here as being of any value.
          —Chambers (1999, 140)

          currere in recurring movements?
          —Aoki (2005, 457)

          I am riding a colonial train, writing digitally on a laptop, and looking out the window from time to time at the Ontario countryside. The sun is slowly setting over the horizon. The conference is over. I make my way to join my family at our summer rural residence in Wasaga Beach. Now daydreaming within the rhythmic swaying of our cart, I gaze out at the reflective dreamscape of curriculum theorizing, pivoting within its theoretical anteroom, while trying to understand my associations with its inter/disciplinary structures. “The dreamer’s ‘landscape’ is often a mood,” Tuan (1993) tells us, “induced eerily by a particular feature (house, tree stump, dead bird) rather than by a topography” (10). And, “even when the dreamscape seems to have a distinctive topographic character,” Tuan suggests, “the dreamer lacks the ability mentally to remove the self” (10). In short, he concludes dream is immersion where “the dreamer is a captive of the milieu and time in which she finds herself” (10). Here is where currere affords us an opportunity to reflect recursively in the recurring movements of such captivating milieus and then graphically represent our immersions in their respective intellectual moods. During the summer of 2000, I returned to university to further my professional intellectual development as a high school educator. At that time, our union was challenging the Ontario government’s (Mike Harris) restructuring of curriculum policies (standardized outcomes and testing), amalgamation of school boards and educational administration, as well as increasing a high school teacher’s overall workload from six to seven periods of teaching. As a new teacher finishing up a long-term occasional contract, securing work for the following year did not look that fortuitous, nor did working within this bureaucratic and systemic reorganization of schooling. Consequently, I enrolled into the Master of Education program at York University.
          The first time I wrote autobiographically for an academic setting, was on my way to Baton Rouge for an educational conference. The theme of the conference was called “In Praise of the Post-modern.” The conference celebrated Bill Doll’s 70th birthday as well as his post-modern contribution to the international field of curriculum studies.

          In February of 2001, I flew from Toronto to New Orleans. Once there, I had a two-hour layover at the downtown bus station, before taking the next Greyhound for Baton Rouge. While waiting at this southern terminal, I experimented with the aesthetics of writing an educational autobiography for a course paper due the following week.

          For the first time, I realized that writing one’s educational autobiography provided a place for encountering self and other. In turn, I was able to give some narrative organization for graphically representing the psychic dynamics of my educational experiences. Once these experiences were written down, I was able to reread them, and then analyze their educational significance. During the synthesis of such analysis, I worked in turn to re-enter the present and question how such past educational assumptions continued to oppress one’s self and others.

          —Ng-A-Fook, (2001)
          My free associative daydreaming jumps forward through psychic time to a small window in my study. I am there, looking out toward a garden, not yet planted, at the back of our house. At the edges of this dreamscape, I foresee our family awaiting Demeter’s seasonal announcement of a time for planting. The conductor’s voice then momentarily brings me back. “Would you like something to eat or drink?” she asks. After this brief exchange between self and other, I return to daydreaming on my educational experiences of the conference proceedings, and remain immersed within this captivating milieu of hindsight.

          In October of 2008, I met Chloe Brushwood Rose for the first time at the Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice in Dayton, Ohio. Over dinner one night, we discussed the possibility of organizing a discussion panel entitled “New Questions in Curriculum Studies: Exploring Educational Experiences in Transnational Times” for the Provoking Curriculum Studies Conference. In turn, we organized two sessions with Roland Sintos Coloma, Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez, Lisa Farley, and Sara Matthews to address this theme at the conference as relatively newly appointed professors. And, both Jennifer Gilbert and Awad Ibrahim were our generous discussants.

          Yet, in order to pose “new” curricular questions, if there is such a thing, one must be aware of the historical topographies they emerge from (see Aoki, 2005; Chambers, 1994, 1999, 2003, 2006, 2008; Cole, 2006; Daignault, 1983, 1992; Dion & Dion, 2004; Donald, 2004; Gidney, 1999; Haig-Brown, 1988, 1995, 2001, 2008; Irwin, 2004, 2006; Jardine, 1992, 2000; Smits, 2008; Sumara & Davis, 1999; Sumara, Davis, & Laidlaw, 2001; Tomkins, 1981, 1986/2008 as examples). And through such study “we must be suspicious,” Derrida (1991/1992) reminds us, “of both repetitive memory and the completely other of the absolutely new; of both anamnestic capitalization and the amnesic exposure to what would be no longer identifiable at all” (19). Nonetheless, within the vertical and horizontal dynamics of this suspicious space is a psychic place where we can experience and share in each other’s intellectual otherness.

          Here is also where our curriculum theorizing can simultaneously migrate both vertically and horizontally across international topographies of curriculum studies (see Apple, 1990; Doll, 1993, 2006, 2008; Egéa-Kuehne, 1995, 2001; Huebner, 1975/1999; Kliebard, 1970, 1977; Greene, 1971, 1977; Grumet, 1987, 1988; Miller, 2004; Munro, 1998; Pinar et al., 1995; and Pinar, 2004, 2006, 2007 as examples). Through such migrations a few months prior to the conference, I began studying the writings of Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer, two Jewish exiles with marginal associations to the Frankfurt School before, during, and after their violent encounters with the Nazi regime (Richter, 2007). At that time, I was seeking to understand how the aesthetic dynamics of their philosophical writings might help a next generation of curriculum theorists to provoke a paleonomic form of curriculum theorizing as Denkbild (Benjamin, 1978, 2002; Kracauer, 1969, 1995). Paleonomy, Derrida (1982) suggests, is “the maintenance of an old name”—like currere, for example—in order “to launch a new concept” (quoted by Richter, 2007, 1). Perhaps all serious engagement with “philosophical and aesthetic concepts and their political and historical traditions may require,” as Richter (2007) suggests, “a form of paleonomic work” (1). Nonetheless, before we take up the concept of Denkbild, let us migrate anew across the vertical and horizontal topographies of an old concept like currere.

          We can trace currere’s vertical topography through one of its many historical genealogies within the field of curriculum studies, that is, toward its Latin infinitive form: to run the course. During the 1970s, Pinar and Grumet took up this old name and launched it as a new conceptual framework for curriculum studies (see Van Manen, 1978). They began to pose new questions of curriculum, of its discursive trends, and of its respective theorizing. Drawing on autobiography, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and feminist studies, these two scholars sought to disrupt the epistemological narrative sirens of mainstream social science research (see Grumet, 1987; Pinar & Grumet, 1976; and Pinar et. al, 1995; and Pinar, 1975/2000). Here curriculum, at least then for Pinar (1975/2000, 2001) and now for me, is no longer understood educationally as a noun but instead reconceived as a verb, as currere. In 1975, Pinar edited and published a book called Curriculum Theorizing: The Reconceptualists. Pinar republished the book in 2000 and changed the title to Curriculum Studies: The Reconceptualization to highlight that although the authors found within this edited collection share a common theme of curriculum studies, their educational and political engagements differed. Nonetheless, two specific chapters within this collection of essays provided my initial conceptualizations for engaging an autobiographical methodology for studying and writing about educational experiences.

          In "Search for a Method," Pinar provides the reader with a methodology for educational research that differentiates itself from the “positivistic, so-called empirical research methodologies,” that at the time he believed to occupy center stage within education (416). In this chapter he introduces us to the crossroads of currere, namely: 1) regression, 2) progression, 3) analysis, and 4) synthesis. Might we stress here that currere is a methodology, and not a method for writing linear narrative progressions from regression to synthesis (see Doll, 2006, 2008). Instead it is, as I will attempt to perform throughout this paper, a recursive assemblage of autobiographical snapshots, a complicated conversation always momentarily situated (Pinar, 2006), taking place within the temporal fluidity of third space (Wang, 2009), and sometimes offering their graphic materialization at the narrative crossroads of these four signpostings.

          In "Analysis of Educational Experience," Pinar emphasizes the following recursive movements at the crossroads of currere:

          First to render one’s own educational experience (these terms include what Dewey calls educative and miseducative experience) into words, using associative forms of minding. The second is to use one’s critical faculties to understand what principles and patterns have been operative in one’s educational life, hence achieving a more profound understanding of one’s educational experience, as well as illuminating parts of the inner world and deepening one’s self-understanding generally. The third task is to analyze others’ experience to reveal what I call basic educational structures or processes that cross biographical lines. (389)

          Since writing this chapter, Pinar (2001, 2004) has refined his initial conceptual framework of currere. Later Pinar (2004) tells us, that his methodology “provides a strategy for students of curriculum to study relations between academic knowledge and life history in the interest of self-understanding and social reconstruction” (35). In turn, he asks us to consider the following types of questions during the free associative renderings of our narrative reconstructions:

          What has been the nature of your educational experience? What areas of study have interested you, at what times in your life, and what psychological factors were operative that might account for that interest? What teachers influenced you, and which ones did not, and how do you account for the differential effects. What “place” in your psychic life does your academic career play? (1975/2000, 390-391)

          I was first introduced to the field of curriculum studies and its respective historical discursive trends during a course entitled Introduction to Curriculum Studies. The course instructor just happened to be William Pinar who was a visiting professor that summer term at York University. My lived experiences within this course were indeed an intellectual turning point for me (Marshall, Sears, & Schubert, 2000). Bill introduced us for the first time to currere, as a legitimate form of educational research within the disciplinary structures of schooling. Today with these questions in mind, I stand at the historical edges of our field, pivoting within the recursive temporal movements of currere, scanning its horizons for regressive, progressive, analytical and synthetical signpostings. And at the edges of this temporal flow, I seek to understand how we might graphically represent these narrative signpostings as an aesthetic form of curriculum theorizing, as the materiality of writing, which in turn respond to such questions. Here I seek to understand the limitless possibilities of what Gilmore (1994, 2001) calls the technologies of autobiography.
          Back at the narrative crossroads of currere, one can read its regressive signposting, as a direction to a side street or an alleyway where one can take autobiographical snapshots of free associations and read them against for example, the panoramic backdrop of an urban landscape. The narrative push for such free associative sightseeing is to try and walk within the random presence of the past, where the rendering of “a genuine photograph [of our memory] precludes the notion of completeness” (Kracauer, 1969, 49). And here camera-reality, Kracauer (1969) tells us, parallels the reality generated by free associations in terms of its structure and its general constitution. Like camera-reality, free association is partly patterned, partly amorphous—a consequence in both cases, because of “the half-cooked state of our everyday world” (Kracauer, 1969, 58). Throughout this paper, I incorporate such temporal free associations through textboxes and narrative snapshots generated with software like Comic Life, which in turn lead us to other narrative alleyways. Five years ago I was hired as a tenure track professor of curriculum theory within the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Prior to accepting my appointment, I went to study as an international student with William F. Pinar at Louisiana State University within its unique Curriculum Theory Project. Over the course of my studies I sought to understand, among other things, the aesthetic and political dynamics of curriculum theorizing with scholars like Petra Munro Hendry, Denise Egéa-Kuehne, Claudia Eppert, and William Doll Jr. Prior to the 1970s, "curriculum theory and theorizing," Macdonald (1971/2000) tells us, "may be characterized as being in a rather formative condition, for essentially there are no generally accepted clear-cut criteria to distinguish curriculum theory and theorizing from other forms of writing in education" (p.5). Therefore with these curriculum theorists I studied the historical and intellectual discursive distinctions of curriculum theorizing within the American South—no monolithic place to be sure. And, working alongside graduate students like Hongyu Wang, Brian Casemore, Rita Ugena Whitlock, Sarah Smitherman, Laura Jewett, and Sean Buckreis, I tried to situate and analyze my educational experiences of this southern place through the theoretical and aesthetic dynamics of currere.
          As a curriculum theorist, and former science and history teacher, at Louisiana State University I studied the ways in which my teachings of colonialism’s cultural, historical, and national narratives suppressed and continue to silence the stories of the colonized. In turn, my doctoral research sought to share the life narratives of the Houma elders in order to illustrate their lived experiences inside and outside the colonizers’ institutional systems. The Louisiana State apparatus historically dictated educational exclusion through its infamous policies of racial segregation. Consequently, Houma elders were often excluded from Louisiana’s publicly funded institutions. Although public institutions of schooling house an ensemble of knowledges and practices that reproduce and inscribe colonialism’s culture, they also provide spaces to teach alter/native historical narratives, where we might learn about the different indigenous nations who continue to challenge the colonization of their traditional lands. The potential social significance for revisiting indigenous histories via life narrative research is that it becomes a way for transforming both the content and the purpose of history. (Ng-A-Fook, 2005, 2007) At the turn of the 20th century, I began my academic career as a graduate student and burgeoning curriculum theorist at York University. In my thesis, I utilized currere as a strategy for bridging an inter/disciplinary and complicated conversation between women and gender, postcolonial, indigenous, and curriculum studies (Ng-A-Fook, 2001). In turn, working with Celia Haig-Brown, I studied Pinar’s (1975/2000) autobiographical, Smith’s (1999) decolonizing, and Bishop’s (1996) participatory research methodologies to critically question the half-cooked state in which my educational experiences as an immigrant child took place inside and outside of what Althusser (1971/2001) calls the ideological State apparatus of Canadian schooling. Such institutional socialization worked in part to shape my historical and racialized ignorance of, and toward, the socioculturally diverse indigenous nations living here on these territories since time immemorial. Our autobiographical snapshots of such regressive free associations can be “virtually endless, issuing from a dark which is increasingly receding and extending into an open-ended future” (Kracauer, 1969, 45). Yet how might we socially reconstruct such regressive narrative recessions toward the future?

          If we return to the crossroads of currere, where time hovers within what Wang (2009) calls the narrative chronotopes of third space, we may pivot toward a progressive signposting. From there, is a narrative cobbled road leading through an archway, infinitely beyond the horizon of our psychic abode, beyond historic time itself. Nonetheless, while pivoting at this signposting, one can look through its archway, capturing narrative snapshots of the future, always fleeting, but nonetheless taking place within the present.

          Back at the centre of the crossroads of currere, there is also an analytical signposting that leads to an art gallery, where its daguerreotypic exhibit narrates the autobiographical past and future together expressing themselves in the present. Within the inter/disciplinary contexts of currere, a daguerreotypic exhibit is where each autobiographical snapshot has multiple analytical possibilities, and where a curriculum theorist’s discursive assembling of each frame of reference—whether within Marxist, autobiographical, indigenous, postcolonial, and/or queer studies—works in turn to depict a faithfulness authenticated only by the presence of the narrative representation itself (Kracauer, 1969).

          The synthetical is another signposting, leading to a coffee shop, an organic bakery, a local market, or totem pole just down the street from the crossroads of currere “where ghostly signals flash from the traffic and inconceivable connections between events are the order of the day” (Benjamin, 1978, 183). Here is where a curriculum scholar frames past, present, and future narrative snapshots, where images of their limitations and possibilities flash, as we re-enter the present moment hopefully with a sense of greater self-knowledge in inconceivable ways.

          Yet this synthetical framing, as Kracauer (1969) makes clear, “marks a provisional limit; its content points beyond that frame, referring to a multitude of real-life phenomena which cannot possibly be encompassed in their entirety” (59). Much like Wang’s (2009) recent theorization of chronotopes, at the crossroads of currere, the narrative directions of these signpostings “are infinitely multiple” and “the plurality of time/space” is always present (2). Furthermore our autobiographical interactions with “external time, internal time, and pedagogical time” at these crossroads sets into motion what Wang (2009) calls “a dynamic of freeing the present from its unquestioned assumptions and unaware stuck points in the past and of destabilizing the future beyond” a fixed narration toward a final destination (3). Just at this moment of daydreaming about the dreamscape of curriculum theorizing, the train conductor announces our impending arrival at Union Station.

          Picture 1 Shortly after arriving, I make my way to the downtown bus terminal just off Bay Street to catch the next Greyhound to Barrie. There, Laurie Anne and our two boys patiently await for us all to then return to Wasaga Beach. We will spend the better part of the next two weeks planting rows of peas, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and cabbage with their Baba in the garden. In the afternoons during their naptime, I will return to the anteroom of curriculum theorizing about such lived experiences. But for now, let us walk away from this dreamscape of currere toward representing its respective narratives as an aesthetic form of Denkbild.

          Curriculum Theorizing as a Digital Form of Denkbild

          Denkbilder are neither programmatic treatises nor objective manifestations of a historical spirit, neither fanciful fictions nor mere reflections of reality. Rather, the philosophical miniatures of the Denkbild can be understood as conceptual engagements with the aesthetic and as aesthetic engagements with the conceptual, hovering between philosophical critique and aesthetic production.
          —Richter (2007, 2)

          On an early Sunday morning, just months before the conference is to take place, I make my way down to the Byward Market with our two sons. I was hoping to take snapshots of our capital landscape and potentially find a cover image that would in turn narrate our conference theme. I must have walked pass that totem pole on York Street a hundred times—never once noticing its exiled presence in front of the Ottawa School of Art. Nonetheless, on this day, I take a snapshot of totem pole and its uncommon countenance reaching up toward the sky. My hope is that in some way its “captured” digital image will encourage our future conceptual experimentations and engagements with the conference theme as an aesthetic form of narrative production. Later that afternoon, while my two sons were taking a nap, I utilize Comic Life to create a digital narrative of our conference cover story. Prior to assembling this narrative montage, I utilized the Google search engine to find digital images and documents related to past Provoking Curriculum Studies Conferences. I then took screen captures of these digital images and imported them into Comic Life. In turn, these digital narrative montages provided a vertical and horizontal frame of reference around the totem pole at the centre of the crossroads of this cover story. Here is also an example how we might experiment with digital images as a form of Denkbild to provoke representations of the narrative verticality of Canadian curriculum studies. Picture 2
          Picture 3 Let us now briefly turn to the scholars directly and/or marginally associated with the Frankfurt School, like Benjamin and Siegfried, who experimented with Denkbild as “a poetic form of condensed, epigrammatic writing in textual snapshots” (Richter, 2007, 2). Their philosophical meditations fastened themselves upon seemingly peripheral detail, on marginal topics like a sock in a drawer, a one-way street, an angel of history, an arcade, displacement, exile, extraterritoriality, and homelessness for example, usually without a developed plot or a prescribed narrative agenda, yet charged with theoretical insight (Richter, 2007).

          Benjamin described his friend Kracauer as “a relentless outsider” and “a marginal yet revolutionary ragpicker of history” (quoted by Richter, 2007, 116). Here today, might we also envision ourselves as curriculum theorists, standing at the crossroads of currere, ragpicking between daybreak and sundown, rereading the multiple literacies of an urban landscape, translating its historical narrative scraps, and tossing them, while grumbling and growling, into our theoretical carts (Benjamin, 1999).

          Yet not without letting one or another of those faded cotton remnants of colonialism’s culture, float derisively away, down the tributaries of its rivers. Therefore as a ragpicker migrating across the shorelines of this capital, how might we pick up its transnational narratives, retrieve them from the ditches and alleyways, and reread the topographic landscape of an uncommon common countenance we call Canadian Curriculum Studies? Might we also narrate the marginal countenances of curriculum theory, its terroirs, and provoke their absent presence, like a sock in the drawer of an uncommon history, making its common presence disappear, even as its ceaselessly demands to be unveiled. In response to these curricular questions, let us move this narrative setting to the southwest corner of the Byward Market. And, walk over toward its historical flowers, like the tulips shivering in front of our parliament, and take a snapshot of a red cedar totem pole, standing at its edges, representing indigenous exile within the violent turbulence of past, present, and future colonial times. Where… we might ask anew questions in transnational times.

          That afternoon, once I created these screen capture montages, I then played with the various representational themes in Comic Life, such as Marvel, to reframe the aesthetical representations of the historical digital images generated by Google’s re-search engine. However, I had difficulty tracing the various digital topographies of The Totem Pole of Canada, its uncommon narrative countenances. So on sunny afternoons, I left the confines of my office, walked downtown to sit on a bench in the Byward Market, and listen to a raven’s stories of experiencing colonial immigration and exile.

          Sock in a Drawer

          The first cabinet that would yield whenever I wanted was the wardrobe. I had only to pull on the knob, and the door would click open and spring toward me. Among the nightshirts, aprons, and undershirts which were kept there in the back was the thing that turned the wardrobe into an adventure for me. I had to clear a way for myself to its farthest corner. There I would come upon my socks, which lay piled in traditional fashion—that is to say, rolled up and turned inside out. Every pair had the appearance of a little pocket. For me, nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior. I did not do this for the sake of the pocket’s warmth. It was “the little present” rolled up inside that I always held in my hand and that drew me into the depths. When I had closed my fist around it and, so far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game, which brought with it the unveiling. For now I proceeded to unwrap “the present,” to tease it out of its woolen pocket. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen: I had brought out “the present,” but “the pocket” in which it had lain was no longer there. I could not repeat the experiment on this phenomenon often enough. It taught me that form and content, veil and what is veiled, are the same. It led me to draw truth from works of literature as warily as the child’s hand retrieved the sock from “the pocket”
          —Benjamin (quoted by Richter, 2007, 10)

          Picture 4 Its regressive narrative leads us simultaneously across the vertical and horizontal topographies of our country to The Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in Hazelton, British Columbia. In 1991, the Ottawa School of Art commissioned this community’s spiritual guidance for carving the aesthetical expressions that now make up this Totem Pole of Canada. The raven and its trickster stories then accompanied this red cedar, as it migrated across our transnational highway toward this capital landscape. Upon their exiled arrival, and for the right sum, various cultural groups could have their national symbols of origin tattooed across its wooden body. In turn, the aesthetic expressions on this pole, their carved narrations, took two years to write. Once finished, Stone (1993) suggests, it became a totem of modern totems representing those that now legitimately and illegitimately inhabit this land.
          This Totem Pole of Canada was then raised in front of the school as an aesthetic expression, hauled up by modernism and its technology, its wooden narratives bolted to a steel spine, sunken deep into a concrete pad between the sidewalk and street (Stone, 1993). Here is where our raven, a scavenger of narratives, now rests with an uncommon countenance above its shoulders, trading trickster stories of iron/y with the Hudson Bay Company just across the street, greeting tourists taking snapshots of it sitting within the receding shadows of global empires. Tricking them, telling them that this totem pole is, and is not, a totem pole. Picture 5

          From an alleyway behind the back of the totem pole, I take snapshots of progressive curricular signs. Like the future, its back is open, where one can see its steel spine. “This is,” Stone (1993) tells us, “because it was made to go against a wall in front of the school, a spot chosen after the organizers looked at a chart of gas lines and underground wires and so on” (B6). The pole then had to be moved out to where you could now see its exposed innards (Stone, 1993). Now freestanding in exile at the crossroads of this market place, it symbolizes a narrative of cultures—indigenous, Greek, German, Dutch, Lebanese, Turkish, etc.—bolted together by a Canadian story not yet finished.

          Picture 6 In turn, this Totem Pole of Canada records what Richter (2007) “calls an historical moment at the same time that it interrupts” colonial history, “perpetuating the very thinkability” of such history, “even as it breaks with the logic” of its historic unfolding (107). While this former Red Cedar has found an urban home, and its current totemic form, its lived curriculum for me represents multiple narrative displacements—where, its historical exile is “captured” as digital image on the cover of the program. In turn, this image tells us of its own departure from history by capturing time most fully by removing itself from the materiality of historic time itself (Richter, 2007). The way in which, for instance, its comic narrative representation on the cover memorializes it, by removing it outside the temporal flow of historic time within the landscape of an urban abode. Standing at the edges of this theoretical alleyway, pivoting within its space and time, I wonder how we might frame our experimentations with curriculum theorizing, as currere, as an aesthetic form of Denkbild, that works in turn to uncover an uncommon countenance bolted together in recurring movements of Canadian Curriculum Studies, always unfinished, where its future narratives are still yet to come.

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          Richter, G. (2007). Thought-images: Frankfurt school writers’ reflection from a damaged life. CA: Stanford University Press.

          Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. New York & London: Zed Books Ltd.

          Smits, H. (2007). Retrieved from call REV-3.pdf

          Smits, H. (2008). Is a canadian curriculum studies possible? (What are the conditions of possibility?): Some preliminary notes for further inquiry. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6(2), 97-112.

          Stone, J. (1993, April 28). Totem project within reach; [Final Edition]. The Ottawa Citizen, p. B6.

          Sumara, D. & Davis, B. (1999). Interrupting heteronormativity: Toward a queer curriculum theory. Journal of Curriculum Inquiry, 29(2), 191-208.

          Sumara, D., Davis, B., & Laidlaw, L. (2001). Canadian identity and curriculum theory: An ecological, postmodern perspective. Canadian Journal of Education, 26(2), 144-163.

          Tomkins, G. (1981). Stability and change in the canadian curriculum. In D. Wilson (Ed.), Canadian education in the 1980s (135-158). Alberta: Detselig Enterprises Limited.

          Tomkins, G. (1986/2008). A common countenance: Stability and change in the canadian curriculum. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.

          Tuan, Yi-Fu. (1993). Passing strange and wonderful. Washington, DC: Island Press.

          Van Manen, M. (1978). Reconceptualist curriculum thought: A review of recent literature. Curriculum Inquiry, 8(4), 365-375.

          Wang, H. (2009). The chronotopes of encounter and emergence. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 25(1), 1-5.


          [1] While pursuing a doctoral degree as a Canadian international student within the Curriculum Theory Project at Louisiana State University, William Pinar and Rita Irwin invited me to copy-edit Aoki’s collection of essays.


          Born Digital


          Teresa M. Dobson and Michael J. Boyce

          Teresa M. Dobson, an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, is one of the co-editors (with Michael Boyce) of this double issue of Media : Culture : Pedagogy. Her areas of research interest are digital humanities, digital literacy, and literary education.

          Michael J. Boyce, past Managing Editor of Educational Insights, is author of two novels, Anderson (2010) and Monkey (2004), both published by Pedlar Press. He earned his PhD from Concordia University (Humanities) and works as a freelance writer, editor, and consultant.

          Read their article:


          Stéfan Sinclair, Stan Ruecker, Sandra Gabriele, Matt Patey, Matt Gooding, Chris Vitas, & Bartosz Bajer

          The Mandala research team is comprised of researchers and assistants from universities across Canada who, collectively, have expertise in humanities computing, multimedia, graphic design, computer science and English. Their interests lie in the analysis, display, and reception of text and graphics through technology.

          While the project began in 2003, at various stages of development, the team has had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of researchers, professors and students in the design, programming and testing of the Mandala. The research team at the time of writing of this article consisted of the following:

          Stan Ruecker, Associate Professor, University of Alberta, English and Humanities Computing
          Stéfan Sinclair, Associate Professor, McMaster University, Communications and Multimedia
          Sandra Gabriele, Associate Professor, York University, Design

          Research Assistants:
          Matt Patey, MA in Communications and Multimedia, McMaster University
          Matt Gooding, BSc in Computing Science, University of Alberta
          Bartosz Bajer, Candidate, MSc in Computer Science, York University

          Read their article:
          Meditating on a Mandala in Class: Studying Shakespeare’s Plays with a Visual Exploration Tool for XML Texts


          Aurelea Mahood

          Aurelea Mahood teaches English at Capilano University in North Vancouver BC where she chairs the university’s Liberal Studies BA. Her research interests include British modernism, interwar women’s magazines, digital poetry, and electronic literature. Her current research project explores late modernist collaborations in radio and other emerging technologies. She co-authored Modernism: An Introduction (Edinburgh University Press, 2007) with Mary Ann Gillies.  When not surrounded by piles of printed matter, Aurelea can be found riding and running local trails in the Lower Mainland. For Aurelea on bikes, see her 2009 article in The Capilano Review's Moodyville issue. 
          Read her article:
          Drink Me: Student Audiences, the Construction of Value, and the Digital Avant-Garde


          Kirsten C Uszkalo

          Kirsten C. Uszkalo is a specialist in seventeenth-century literature, early modern cultural studies, and digital humanities. Her projects look to unpackage the tensions and interplay between diverse spiritualities of 16th- and 17th-century England and their provocative intersections with scientific, medical, and cultural institutions of the period. Her work is interdisciplinary in nature and calls on theoretical approaches taken from cognitive science and social neuroscience as well as the tools and research practices of digital humanities. She is currently writing about the intersections of witchcraft, prophecy, possession, and bewitchment in early modern English culture and developing digital platforms and visualizations to facilitate pattern tracing and user comprehension in university level research.
          Read her article:
          "The which is also new”: Accessibility, Economics, and Electronic Early Modern Women’s Writing


          Andrew Klobucar

          Andrew Klobucar, assistant professor of English at New Jersey Institute of Technology, is a literary theorist and teacher, specializing in internet research, electronic writing, semantic technologies and Web 3.0. Recent publications include “Between the Pixel and Word: Screen Semantics,” Hyperriz: New Media Cultures (Spring 2010) and “Moodyville: Tweet This, Digg it, Add to, Stumble it,” TCR: The Capilano Review 3.8, (Spring 2009).

          His writings on experimental literary forms and genres continue to analyze the increasingly important role technology plays in contemporary cultural practices in both print and screen formats. More recently, looking at semantic technologies for the Web, he has worked on developing software for writing instruction and written on the use of programmable media in classroom instruction.
          Read his article:
          "The Man Who Mistook His Phone for a Map”: Aesthetics, Knowledge and Information Management


          J. R. Carpenter

          J. R. Carpenter is a Canadian artist, writer, performer and researcher currently based in the UK. A two-time winner of the CBC Quebec Short Story Competition, her short fiction has been broadcast on CBC radio, translated into French, and published in numerous journals and anthologies in Canada, the US, and the UK. Her first novel, Words the Dog Knows, was published by Montreal-based Conundrum Press in 2008 and awarded the Expozine Alternative Press Award for Best English Book. Her collection of code narratives, GENERATION[S], was published by Vienna-based Traumawien in 2011. Her pioneering works of electronic literature have been presented in museums, galleries, journals, festivals, conferences, and collections around the world and can be found on
          Read her article:
          This City Between Us (Redux)


          Digital Generation


          Darren James Harkness

          Darren James Harkness currently works as a web developer and project manager for Athabasca University's e-lab, researching and implementing innovative new uses of web-based technology to deliver quality online instruction and research. He is well-versed in social media and web technology, is active in supporting web standards, and has written books and articles on the Apache web server, social media, web design, and Intranet development.

          Darren completed his MA in Humanities Computing in 2008, focusing on a theoretical study of the development of online identity in blogging. His research interests continue to be focused on issues of identity and social media.

          You can learn more about Darren at
          Read his article:
          The Self-Aware Blog(ger): The Cultural Impact of Digital Identity


          Courtney Lee Weida

          Courtney Lee Weida is an assistant professor of Art Education at Adelphi University, where she teaches courses on gender, book arts, and arts research. Her teaching experience in K-12 includes visual art and poetry within schools, camps, museums, and afterschool programs. Recent research addresses gender issues, zines, graphic literature, and cybercultures.
          Read her article:
          Born from Books: Digital Spaces of Adolescent Art and Echoes of Artists’ Books


          Shirley Turner

          Shirley R. Turner is a faculty associate who works with pre-service teachers in the Indigenous Perspectives Teacher Education Module within the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. She received the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009 based on her work with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program and building questioning capacity using virtual environments with her science classes at Vancouver Technical Secondary School. She is interested in the intersection of science education with media environments and the development of pedagogy that incorporates alternative ways of knowing. She contributed to Becoming a Teacher (Pearson 2010), and is currently exploring pedagogy that bridges indigenous and scientific approaches to knowing nature.
          Read her article:
          Mind the Gap: Scaffolding Successful Collaboration in an Inner City High School Setting


          Nicholas Ng-A-Fook

          Nicholas Ng-A-Fook is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum Theory within the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. He is the founder of A Canadian Curriculum Theory Project. Dr. Ng-A-Fook is currently working on a collaborative Making Digital Histories pilot initiative that examines how curriculum theorists, educational historians, and pre-service teachers can work together to develop the necessary innovative research methodologies, praxis and respective digital literacies to critically consume, produce and disseminate historical knowledge on the Internet.
          Read his article:
          Provoking Curriculum Theorizing: A Question of/for Currere, Denkbild and Aesthetics