Author: Elyse Manosh

The Spring of ‘65: Walter Harding and William Kelley

Written by David Beyea, Elyse Manosh, Domenica Piccoli and Shelby Schmigel

Our final presentation’s purpose was to tell the story of how Walter Harding brought “the lost giant of American Literature to SUNY Geneseo in 1965.” This “lost giant,” the author William Melvin Kelley, was a professor here in the English department for a brief period that spring semester. To tell this story, we created an exhibit on the Walter Harding Omeka site to add to the ongoing documentation of Harding’s tenure at Geneseo.

Our first and foremost task was to sift through the archives of the Milne Library to gather all documents relevant to our topic. We would not have had access to these archives nor even known where to start without the help of Special Collections Librarian Liz Argentieri, so shout out to Liz! Once we had a good selection of articles relating to both Harding and Kelley, we took numerous hours to select the most relevant documents for our project (consisting of letters, articles, and photos). Then, we scanned them and shared them on a group Google Doc, organizing them into sections of Kelley before, during and after Geneseo. This was probably the most time consuming part of our final project as it was difficult to determine which documents would be relevant, and easy for us to get side-tracked in sifting through these interesting the quirks of past events. In uploading the archives we rummaged through, we found that the “color” upload feature was our friend. At first, we scanned many old newspaper articles and documents in black and white and found the picture was unclear and fuzzy. Something so simple and silly that was  challenging for us, we know, but having to go back and re-scan was time consuming.

Once we scanned our documents, we laid out an exhibit plan to split up the individual collections (pages) to our exhibit. Elyse and Domenica were responsible for introducing the exhibit as well as connecting Harding, Kelley and Thoreau. Dave was responsible for the page providing information on Kelley at Geneseo, all he accomplished, his involvement with the campus, etc. Lastly, Shelby was responsible for Kelley after Geneseo, his legacy and beyond; basically how Geneseo impacted Kelley’s life and what came out of it. After we divided up tasks of who was going to be responsible for what information, we then got started with Omeka.

Initially, Omeka was not an easy platform to use. We had a multitude of questions: Can we all work on this together? Can only one person upload something? Is only one person able to be an Omeka SuperAdmin? As none of us had extensive knowledge of what Omeka is and how it works prior to this class, it took us a bit of time to get that ball rolling. Most of our group met with Dr. Schacht at one point to have a lesson in navigating Omeka.  Omeka requires Dublin Core metadata to organize its files and items. As a group, we decided to assign one person to be responsible for all the Dublin Core to help with keeping it consistent.

With using Omeka, we learned a lot about what worked well and what did not. Some of the “powers” of using Omeka included uploading items without alteration. We did not have to worry  about files being too large to upload, as the uploaded items never gave us a “this item is too large” notification (as we were mostly dealing with small files in the kilobyte variety). Another power of Omeka is the many themes and templates to choose from in organizing and designed an exhibit. We assigned someone to view other exhibits on the Walter Harding website and used their experience to form a framework of how to structure our exhibit, thereby keeping the website as a whole thematically and structurally consistent. This helped to keep all our thoughts on the webpage in an organized and easy to follow manner.  Lastly, Dr. Schacht granting all of our group members access to become SuperAdmins on Omeka was honestly a godsend. This allowed us to all work on the exhibit at once (in a similar manner to a google docs would be).

With all these powers we came to learn, we observed some limitations to Omeka as well.  Omeka requires the use of metadata and Dublin Core, which was somewhat time consuming process for going through all the archives and documents we had gathered. It was relatively easy clerical work, but tedious all the same. In addition, we learned that Omeka is not necessarily a “safe place” for your work. With the granted access that many people have as SuperUsers or SuperAdmins, others can manipulate your page, and work can easily be deleted by mistakenly navigating or refreshing a page. We learned to put our work in separate platform before posting it on Omeka. Lastly, it took us quite some time to become comfortable, not sure that we still all are, with using Omeka. You have to make sure you click “Save Changes” frequently that way your hard work does not disappear (this happened to Elyse when typing up a very long paragraph! Thankfully she drafted it in Google Docs first!).

As for Thoreau, wow, did we learn a lot! First, the title of Kelley’s book, A Different Drummer, was influenced and derived from a quote by Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” More generally, we also learned that one of the nation’s leading scholars on Thoreau was SUNY Geneseo’s very own Walter Harding. We knew this man’s name from the Harding lounge in Welles, but this project put that name to life. In the quest to pursue the understanding of Thoreau’s work and life, Harding reached out across the nation for fellow scholars who represented Thoreau’s ideas. Through Harding’s invitation, a friendship formed between the two scholars (Kelley and Harding himself) and enriched the student community in the spring of 1965 at SUNY Geneseo.

If you ever get a chance to, we recommend you all go check out the Special Collections documents on Harding and Kelley, as many of them relate to Thoreau in many ways. We are very thankful to have the opportunity to add to the ongoing celebration of Harding’s impact upon the study of Thoreau and upon the Geneseo Campus.

The Adventures of an English Major in a STEM World

STEM. As English majors, many of us are probably used to hearing this field like it’s our older, cooler brother that we will never live up to. There undoubtably exists a hierarchy of fields to study and work in. In my opinion, here’s a solid (albeit unfortunate) representation (excuse the language in it, though; I just found it!):

I’m interested to see if people agree with the way this hierarchy is laid out. Personally, I was surprised to see Business Studies and Economics so low. This observation leads me to my point: while everyone has their own view of each field’s value (everyone has their own “hierarchy”), what discipline almost always seems to be coming in strong at the bottom?

That’s right. Ours!

Many English folks who feel the same way take a stabbing at STEM. “Put the STEM people in their place!” raged one of my friends. Don’t get wrong: I understand the frustration that is clearly fueling remarks like this one. It’s tiresome to routinely feel under-appreciated by society, especially people closest to you. For instance, your uncle at Thanksgiving who gives you the “…oh…” look when you remind him what your major is, your bio major friend who laughs at you for thinking that your homework is so hard, and maybe one of your parents who urged you to reconsider and proceed with caution as you declared your Lit major.

While these back-handed compliments and condescending storm clouds follow us, allow me to argue that it is important to not let these get to our head. The worst thing we can do? Give flack right back to STEM. Society needs everyone’s talents to function holistically, and that includes the dear humanities…and yes, STEM! Though hierarchies of all the fields (like the one above) are everywhere, they ultimately are propelling the issue of competition between disciplines. Only when we realize every field exists on equal grounds is when our society will function at peak performance. The more people bash the humanities, the less students will want to study them, so the less we will see new books, music, art, and media.

Let’s learn to embrace each and every discipline and try to make efforts to diminish the hierarchies that exist inside our own heads. In fact, doesn’t it get tiring having to argue all the time?

(Oh, wait…we can vouch that is does. After all, how many argumentative essays have we composed? I know I stopped counting.)

From Walden to WordPress

I’ll be honest: the reason why I registered isn’t about to blow your socks off. I’m a second semester senior and, well, I needed one last English elective. Anyone else?

That’s not to say that this class has proven to be as mediocre as my reason for taking it. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. When I think of the most interesting things I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning of the semester, the first thing that comes to mind is the witchcraft that is VirtualBox (yes, I mean witchcraft in the most endearing way possible). I’m mesmerized that we can run an entire “sub-computer” inside our computers. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a world existing within a world. Another interesting thing I’ve learned is that, according to Gleick in The Information, one of the earliest known “languages” is African talking drums. Maybe this is just me being not musically inclined, but the fact that musical instruments can send complex understood messages back and forth between villages far apart, and over even longer distances by relay, is something I never thought about before. Perhaps what I’ve found most intriguing from this class is what seems to be our takeaway every day. Electronics don’t have to be the pitfall of paper books or even the humanities as a whole. In fact, electronics are arguably the very thing the humanities need to stay preserved.

To be specific, I’d like to discuss our use of Walden in this course. Thoreau wrote Walden hundreds of years ago, but the text is anything but obsolete. It didn’t die with Thoreau because resources such as the Digital Thoreau website have helped to keep it alive (and even bring it more life!). The fluid text edition and the opportunity to annotate are what make Digital Thoreau so interesting to me. The fluid text edition makes me think of Thoreau as a student who is tirelessly revising an essay. This “student” vibe I get illuminates him, in a way, as more relatable than the rather distant persona of one of mankind’s most revered writers. (May I parenthetically add that I think it’s super impressive that Dr. Schacht got access to all these revisions and copies. This may be naive of me, but, how did he finesse that?!) Annotating is the second feature possessed by Digital Thoreau. “[Connecting] with readers in the margins of Thoreau,” according to the description online, is a tool that speaks to the ed major in me. I’m interested in the idea of choice, here: choosing sections of Walden that I find particularly interesting and sections that my brain finds a way to relate to our course. I’ve even seen Walter Harding’s comments scattered. I’m in the Harding/Kelley project group, so seeing this celebrity (for lack of a better term) come to life puts our project into perspective. One of my annotations pulled the following quote from Economy 15-29:

It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization

In the margins, I explained how this quote makes me think of the argument many people from older generations use to hold on to traditions. Here, Thoreau sides with these folks, claiming it would be advantageous to live a “primitive and frontier life” even as life is advancing around you. I think of older adults who refuse to engage with the technological progress our society is making. I’m not even talking exclusively about our grandparents; my Dad, for example, hates to admit that his iPhone helps him with things he cares about (like talking to my sister and I or looking up dinner recipes).

In this course, we have discussed the importance of holding on to where things came from (as The Information argues) while simultaneously welcoming new advances. It is at this intersection of remembering and welcoming that I’ve learned lives digital humanities. Prior to this course, I knew online textbooks were cool and I noticed the rise of e-readers. If you had asked me to define “digital humanities,” that’s probably the shaky answer I would’ve provided. That was the extent of what I knew to be digital humanities: e-readers. Right now, as I sit and type this blog post, I want to give myself a massive face-palm! I’ve learned the digital humanities holds more significance than merely my trusty Kindle. It is a field that bridges the ever-present gap between technology and the study of humans. It is what allows society to progress. We need this intersection because society is never getting rid of technology, and it’s never going to stop studying humans.

From Walden to WordPress, the humanities are everywhere. I’m sure the iPhone isn’t disappearing anytime soon, either.

Blogging as an Unconventional Assessment

As an education major, I feel as though I’ve been trained to detect the significance of assessment format in all of my classes. Similarly to a professor subconsciously thinking every small movement in their crowd of students is a raised hand, I’m conditioned to notice how my classes are being assessed. Do we have quizzes every week, an oral presentation, a group project, and a final? Do we just have a midterm and a final? Do we have weekly discussion posts with the opportunity to miss three?

While some may look at a course syllabus, shrug, and save it to the deep dark abyss of their Downloads folder, the standard education major likely gets out their magnifying glass instead. We consider how we are being assessed and if these assessments adequately test knowledge and understanding across the board for all students. Everyone has different strengths in the classroom. The quiet kid could tank a solo oral presentation, but they could earn the highest grade on a cumulative paper test. “Smart” does not have one profile. Therefore, it’s important to consider the ways in which students are being asked to demonstrate their skills.

Okay, so now that I’ve used my soapbox for preaching, allow me to step down and actually get to my point. I really enjoy the opportunity to blog in our class. We get to blog…for a grade! Blogging is a way of writing without feeling like you’re getting an unwelcome flashback to your English Regents: you know, the one where you’re sitting in that sweaty classroom writing so fast you think your fingers will shrivel up. Blogging is accessible because it’s on WordPress: an online platform available anywhere; a fact that, in my opinion, masks the daunting feeling of writing an essay. We’re writing to a similar word count, and we’re still expected to maintain the standard conventions of English grammar, yet we’re invited to write colloquially. Like we’re having a conversation. With as many. Paragraph breaks. As we want. This doesn’t sound like a standard “assessment” to me…gee, I think I even forgot what that word means.

A list of benefits of classroom blogging could extend as long as the line in Cricket’s on a Sunday morning. It exercises student creativity, promotes self expression, promotes interaction, keeps uptake task of regular writing, improves communication skills…

On that note, a bagel and cream cheese sounds pretty good right about now.

From the Girl With the Best Halloween Costume

Fourth grade. That’s about when the intersection of computers and the humanities first dawned on me. I’m referring to a literal intersection wherein one uses a computer to write literature — I’m not quite sure if that was the intended interpretation of the assignment prompt, but hey, what’s an English class without a variance of interpretations?

My relationship with computers essentially started because I loved literature. I loved it so much that I wanted to create my own one day, and therefore adopted the mindset that there’s no time like the present to do so. Don’t mind me as I introduce a shameless plug: when prompted in an ice-breaker activity, my fun fact is always that I wrote four books by fifth grade. By books, do I mean Microsoft Word documents no more than 100 pages? Absolutely. Was one Halloween costume during this era an author (yes, I literally dressed up as “an author,” complete with a construction-paper-cutout Pulitzer Prize badge)? You bet.

Now that you have a proper image in your mind of who I was as a child, you have a general idea of what my afternoons probably looked like. I would get home from school, get any homework out of the way, go upstairs to our family-shared 2005 Dell Desktop…and write. I still have a copy of my most acclaimed work, Fifth Grade Never Ends. Ironic given the title, this was the “book” I wrote in fourth grade. My parents told my teacher about it, who arranged an “author reading” in which I would read my book aloud to my classmates every day after recess. Everyone got a copy, and my teacher even held an author signing. The entire scenario was one of the nicest gestures anyone had ever done for me up to that point. (Ms. Donofrio, this is a shoutout to you!)

My relationship with computers can be implied as a comfortable one from this story. My machine gave me the tools I needed to express myself in a way I loved. It also enriched my relationship with literature (the humanities, you could argue) itself by becoming the vehicle to produce my own writing. It is also worth noting that I used to run several blogs and websites on which I published some of my writing. I used WordPress and another website that I can’t remember anymore, but for my website, I had learned basics of HTML! So, as we’ve started to skim the surface of coding in this class with Atom, it looks vaguely familiar to me. I came into the course with a familiarity of WordPress and a quasi-familiarity of HTML, so using a blog as an alternative for writing hard-copy papers is something I find comfortable!

I touched on my loving relationship with my good ol’ Dell back in the day. As for my relationship with my current MacBook, sorry Dell, but I’ve moved on to better things. I understand the ongoing debate of the worthiness of Apple products and the dangers of the Apple monopoly. First and foremost, I admit that I am fully under the Apple spell. I suppose it goes without saying that I enjoy the accessibility of Apple. With three products (phone, laptop, and watch), I haven’t had any overbearing issues (with the exception of the planned obsolescence of the iPhone to make way for the new models, which yes, is frustrating). I never considered myself a “tech-whiz” — I call CIT when I need help just like the rest of us. I also just learned that you can access your iCloud account by literally typing in “iCloud.com.” If computer comfortability was a spectrum, though, I would place myself in the middle of “average” and “Steve Jobs.” It’s fun to learn more about your machine with a group of people. Personally, I’ve gotten a kick out of using Slack as a way to communicate efficiently with my peers and the professor; in a class this size, it makes so much sense!

I look forward to extending my computer comfortability and awakening some HTML memories with you all. Who knows? Maybe by the end of the semester, I’ll drop my blog web address from sixth grade so we can bond over my awkwardness.