Is Athleticism a Language?

I’ve become fond of the All or Nothing series that airs on Amazon Prime each summer. For the first two years, it was an inside look, documentary-style of an NFL team, from the draft through the end of the football season. S1 covered the Arizona Cardinals and S2 covered the St. Louis-to-L.A. Rams. This year, the chosen NFL team was the Dallas Cowboys, which was not a team I cared to follow, plus professional football is not as much fun to watch right now as it used to be. Between the concussions, the crackdown on athlete protests, and the seeming lack of any ethics regarding labor practices, my household has backed way off on its NFL watching. So, I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t get a fun documentary to watch this summer. And then I saw that Amazon had produced a season of the program that was shorter, but covered the famed rugby team from New Zealand, the All Blacks.

The NZ All Blacks rugby team squat in a haka dance prior to playing England.

The All Blacks perform their haka before a match in England.

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Summer Update

Bronze sculpture of a bulldog wearing a spike collar and standing on a black slab of granite.

Go Dawgs, even if you look like you’re melting in the Georgia heat. This guy can be found outside Memorial Hall at UGA.

We are at the tail end of July, and as usual, I haven’t completed nearly enough work over the summer break. The fact that I and so many other academics constantly worry about their productivity over what is ostensibly vacation is a topic for another day. Instead, I’d like to talk about the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Digital Technologies and Performance Studies, which I attended back in June. It was two weeks of heat and humidity, but also filled with interesting ideas and new colleagues. I feel quite fortunate to have been able to attend. Continue reading

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Booker T. Washington Checks Out of a Hotel…

Hotel English in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1904.

Hotel English and Army and Navy [Soldiers’ and Sailors’] Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1904. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

1903 was a particularly difficult year for African Americans, as described in Douglas Blackmon’s book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. In that year alone, at least 85 African Americans were murdered by lynching. Several high profile cases of “peonage”–essentially, the continued enslavement of Black persons by private citizens and corporations in the post-Civil War Era–were being prosecuted throughout the South, with little effect.

Blackmon’s book is a fascinating and well-documented examination of the means white Americans developed to keep Black Americans in slavery, mainly (though not exclusively) in the South. One anecdote he relates stood out to me, and the story isn’t directly related to the book’s topic, but included in the narrative as context for the general social temperature of the country in 1903:

“A young white chambermaid at the English Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana, named Louise Hadley, became a brief cause célèbre in May 1903, hailed in the North and the South, after she refused to make up a bed that had been occupied by Booker T. Washington” (238).

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Confronting Tokenism in the Syllabus

Kitty cat with a book open. looking to the left.

This cat looks wary of whatever they’re reading. Seems appropriate.

With the news that heretofore widely beloved author Sherman Alexie is apparently a real monster who has preyed on women–particularly Native women–and threatened to ruin the careers of anyone who reported his sexual harassment, I had to confront my own syllabi, which currently (and previously) feature texts by Alexie. There’s nothing wrong with having assigned him in the first place, and certainly appropriate to rethink his place on a syllabus now. But a tweet thread (which has now been marked private, probably due to Internet Jerkism) forced me to confront exactly what I was doing: looking for a way to replace the “Token Native American voice” on my syllabus. Continue reading

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Critical Thinking & Source Evaluation: It’s Sexier Than You Might Think!

Wooden model figure lying on stomach while reading a book.

Always Be Reading!

First, let me say that it has been a real struggle this semester, and I have pushed blogging way down my “next actions” list. I should be committing to write here much more, and I intend to get back on the weekly schedule I maintained in the past, but the schedule for Spring 2018 has been a tough one.

Despite this, I have been considering the topic of today’s post for a while now, and with the ongoing news about how social media (mainly Facebook, also Twitter) played a large role in the nightmare that was the 2016 election, the time is right to unpack how this relates to the teaching of literature, writing, and the humanities more generally. Continue reading

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2017 Reading List

Happy New Year! We are officially in 2018. I find New Year’s Eve/Day to be a bit of a downer holiday. Celebrating the onward march of time can be a little depressing, but mainly as an academic, January is hardly a new year, or time for a fresh start. It’s just the beginning of the Spring semester. I tend to find renewal and fresh thinking as the academic year prepares to kick off, in the fall.

But to take a moment to look back at 2017, I’ve stolen the idea behind this post by Erik Loomis at the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog. My list is quite short compared to his, but the reasons for that are: 1) I am a painfully slow reader; 2) I teach a 4-4 plus 2 courses in the summer, so my work load does not provide nearly enough reading time; 3) these are books I read in their entirety, unlike Loomis’ list, which includes books he read only parts of in his research, or for class prep. So here they are, in no particular order: Continue reading

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A Twitterary Approach to Poetry

Sometime earlier this year, William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say” became something of a phenomenon on Twitter. The 1934 poem, simple in its Imagist style, is now a funny meme, getting remixed, reinterpreted, and set to music all over the social media platform. While it is now starting to irritate many users, I think the emergence of this meme is a delightfully postmodern love letter to the poem itself, and to poetry more broadly. First, here’s the original text: Continue reading

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What Does Conservative Theatre Look Like?

Image of a Bald Eagle

Bald eagle: MURICA!

I am teaching an upper level elective, American Drama, this semester. My students are about to embark on their final projects, which are “play recovery” projects. The students had to find a lesser-known play they thought could be placed into “the canon” of American drama, and produce several assignments based on this recovery. I’m excited to see what they come up with! If you want to check out some of their blog posts about their projects, you can read them at: American Drama Blog. Continue reading

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The Theft of Marsha P. Johnson

Over the past few weeks, it has come to light that a new documentary about the legendary transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson was made in a highly unethical fashion. The still-developing story about The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is a sad one, and one which I think has clear overlap with academia. In fact, I think seeing this story through the lens of academic research further emphasizes the unethical behavior of the film’s director, David France.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can read a good article about it at Mother Jones. The broad strokes are that France relied on footage gathered and in some cases, found, by Reina Gosset, who had been gathering video footage and other materials about Johnson for years, partly with the intention of making her own documentary. France never credited or paid Gosset for any of this work. The fact that Gosset is a trans woman of color and France a cis white man only further highlights how messy this ordeal really is.

For his part, France claims that the materials on Gosset’s Vimeo and Tumblr pages were not really germane to his film, despite an assistant saying this material was, in fact, copied to hard drives belonging to the production:

“Furthermore, France admits that Gossett’s Vimeo channel, which consists of 19 videos, was one of several that his crew examined during the course of their filmmaking process and video from that channel may have appeared on their ledger to keep track of available footage. But he maintains that Gossett did not hold the copyright for the archival footage of Johnson that appeared on the channel and that it also appeared elsewhere. He says his team legally obtained permission from copyright holders for the footage that ultimately appeared in The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

I’m afraid that Kamran [the assistant] misunderstood the process of research and documentary filmmaking,” France tells Mother Jones. “The deeper question is: Did we learn anything from finding those videos on her Vimeo page? And that answer is no.”

France doesn’t deny using and incorporating the material into his larger research, he just claims he “learned nothing new.” If we take him at his word, this doesn’t technically amount to plagiarism, but it is an unethical theft of someone else’s hard work. When a scholar goes to an archive, for example, they dig through folders and boxes of material. They have to scan endless amounts of documents and photos, and make careful judgements about what is useful and what isn’t. When they write a paper or develop a project based on that research, they don’t own the copyright. That has to be credited to the archive, or the entity which owns the rights to that material. However, the research–the act of finding these documents, collecting them, sifting them, and prioritizing them–is their own work. It takes time, effort, and money to do this work. To take someone else’s efforts without credit, and then dodge complaints by saying “well they don’t own that stuff, anyway,” is a gross misunderstanding of the value of work and research.

This year, I spent two days in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. You can read about that here. If I were to post some of my PDFs from that research trip, or publish a blog with a comprehensive list of my findings, I would have to credit the Collection where I found them. I don’t own that material. But if a person came by and downloaded or copied what I posted here, and then incorporated all of that work into another project, without crediting me, that would be the same kind of unethical behavior David France is exhibiting here. It would be wrong.

Gosset found this footage; she labored to bring the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson to a larger audience. That labor needs to be at least acknowledged, if not outright compensated. Otherwise, France is nothing more than a cheap thief.

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Angels in America at the Actors Theatre

Program for 2017 run of Angels in America at the Actors Theatre, Louisville, KY

Angels In America, 2017

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to see Part 2, “Perestroika,” of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. As I have mentioned several times in this blog, I teach Angels regularly as part of my 20th century American literature course. Students tend to respond to it really effectively, and it is a near-perfect example of postmodernism, which is helpful for literature students to unpack.

The play is seeing something of a resurgence lately, after years of not being performed very much. It’s a fairly long theatrical experience, two full-length plays (if both are produced, sometimes theatre only do Part 1, “Millennium Approaches), lots of scene changes, a complex wiring setup required for the Angel character, etc. But, as the play has reached its 25th anniversary, and with the advent of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, Angels seems to have renewed vigor. Continue reading

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