Reading Matters Logo

Volume 19, Issue 3, Oct 25, 2013

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

In a week when the Board of Regents heard how the average UI faculty member spends 57.57 hours weekly on our twin missions of teaching and research, supported by necessary service (see the Daily Iowan “UI academics underpaid” for a hearteningly supportive editorial), English Department faculty have been putting in the extra time to showcase the joys of literature in all sorts of forums.  One exciting event was the visit of Joy Harjo, who read and played her eukalali to a packed and rapt audience on Thursday evening. Thanks to Barb Pooley and Justin Denman and a host of graduate students for helping with the arrangements for her Ida Beam visit and especial thanks to Linda Bolton for initiating and hosting the whole visit. 

Earlier that day and throughout the week, English faculty and graduate students and the broader community were wowed by the indefatigable and almost-disconcertingly-well-read Wai Chee Dimock.  Thanks to Harry Stecopoulos for organizing and hosting this Ida Beam visit, and to Elizabeth Curl and Justin for support, as well as to all the faculty and graduate students who got to guide her.  In discussion around the lectures and brown bag lunch, it was refreshing to hear her relate research to teaching as she made the case for the responsibility of the scholar to advance both through energetic and imaginative engagement, deploying new frames of reference by breaking down established boundaries.  At an institutional level, she proposed breaking down boundaries between the English Department, the academic library, and the idea of creative writing in ways that resonated for our local circumstances.

One form of such collaboration was illustrated this week by the participation of Brooks Landon and Stephen Voyce in the Panel Discussion on Open Access as part of the UI Library’s Open Access Week, organized in large part by Stephen Sturgeon.  See below for more on the proposals for digital engagement by Stephen Ramsay, the event’s visitor. 

At risk of getting lost in such a busy week was the arrival of Francesca Rendle-Short from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, where she is Program Director of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the nonfiction Lab.  Rendle-Short gave a reading from her recent novel/memoir Bite Your Tongue at Prairie Lights on Wednesday.  Happily she will be a visiting scholar within the department for four weeks, so there will be further opportunities to interact with her. 

Throughout all of this added activity, the regular business of teaching, research, and organization has, of course, been proceeding apace.  The search committee for the staff vacancy interviewed two candidates for the new front desk Program Associate this week and will be interviewing two more next week.  The ad for the faculty search in Nonfiction Writing with a secondary skill in other creative writing went out to MLA and AWP job listings.  CLAS budget release has allowed the allocation to faculty of support for professional travel in the year (see yesterday’s memo).  The curriculum committee has been meeting to work on the department’s teaching roster for 2014-15 and will continue its work next week.  More on all these fronts soon. 

Meanwhile, I am sure that the next two weeks will bring further excitements for the hardworking professoriate as we continue to engage our students and the world with the joys of doing English. 


Programming Matters

Doris Witt reports: On October 22 I participated in a luncheon hosted by The Digital Studio for Public Arts & Humanities featuring guest Stephen Ramsay, Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English and Fellow in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Other attendees at the event included several members of the UI library staff, faculty from the computer sciences, Dean Djalali, and our own Stephen Voyce.  The lively and free-flowing conversation focused mostly on why Professor Ramsay thinks students in the humanities should learn not just to use existing software programs but also how to create (or perhaps more accurately collaborate in the creation of) the programs themselves, the types of classes he himself teaches in programming at Nebraska, and the practical challenges and potential drawbacks of working to turn such a vision into reality.  A key argument Professor Ramsey makes in his essay “Programming with Humanists:  Reflections on Raising an Army of Hacker-Scholars in the Digital Humanities” is that we might do well to think about the ability to program not simply in utilitarian terms—i.e., as a useful skill for the job market.  Instead we might conceptualize programming as serving a pedagogical function analogous to that which most of us already associate with writing:  “The task of writing is part of the normal pedagogy of education in the humanities, because we think of the writing process as the methodology by which the artifacts of the human record are understood, critiqued, problematized, and placed into dialogue with one another.”  For Ramsay, programming is “like writing” in that it “provides a way to think in and through a subject.”  I left the event feeling energized by Professor Ramsay’s enthusiasm if also mindful of two important concerns raised by Dean Djalali (and here I paraphrase):  First, ideally our students would study “everything,” but, of course, they can’t, so how do we prioritize, and how do we help them prioritize?  And, second, is there a risk that students (and faculty) might become so invested in the work of creating their computer “tools” that they will abandon the valuable projects—in the study of literature, philosophy, history, biology, physics, etc.—that those tools were intended to help them pursue?


Publication Matters

Chris Merrill has recently seen the publication of two books of poetry: Boat (Tupello Press) and Necessities (White Pine Press). 


Upcoming Matters

Faculty Meeting: Discussion of the Gateway Course Introduction to the Major. October 31, 2013 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Brown Bag Pedagogical Lunch for Faculty: Teaching Our Classes in a Digital University. November 6, 2013 at 12:00pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

English @Work: Opportunities Abroad for English Majors. November 6 at 3:00pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting: Discussion of Hiring Plan and Priorities. November 7, 2013 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Faculty Colloquium with Eric Gidal titled "Ossianic Unconformities: Bardic Poetry in the Industrial Age." November 12, 2013 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.