Thursday, 30 April 2009

New site

This blog has been moved to my new website: Margnalia.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Still alive...

After some consideration I've decided to move my regular Marginalia feature into my Twitter feed, which seems more suited to these quick-fire links than composing long blog entries that only repeat what's included in the link in the first place. Click on the image above to view my Twitter page, and feel free to add me.

As for this blog, I will devote my efforts here to writing longer, reflective pieces on a number of issues that concern me: my ongoing research into early modern information overload (and its implications for the modern day), open access (and related copyright concerns), the digital humanities (and the fruits of my digital labour), and any call for papers related to my area of research.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to have more up soon.


Friday, 27 March 2009

CFP: Renaissance Studies and New Technologies

For the past eight years, the Renaissance Society of America program has featured a number of sessions that document innovative ways in which computing technology is being incorporated into the scholarly activity of our community. At the 2010 RSA meeting (Venice, 8-10 April 2010), several sessions will continue to follow this interest across several key projects, through a number of thematic touchstones, and in several emerging areas.

For these sessions, we seek proposals in the following general areas, and beyond:

a) new technology and research (individual or group projects)

b) new technology and teaching (individual or group projects)

c) new technology and publication (e.g. from the vantage point of authors, traditional and non-traditional publishers)

Proposals for papers, panels, demonstrations, and/or workshop presentations that focus on these issues and others are welcome.

** We are pleased to be able to offer several graduate student travel subventions for presentation on these panels. Those wishing to be considered for the subvention should indicate this in their abstract submission. **

For details of the RSA conference see

Please send proposals before May 15 to

Ray Siemens
University of Victoria

William R Bowen
University of Toronto


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Milton & the Book of Nature

When we look back to how the Book of Nature was perceived during the early modern period, it is clear that the scientific progress of the later seventeenth century was firmly rooted in a new reading of the natural world, rendering an older theological approach to nature obsolete. In the closing chapter of my dissertation I will look at how Milton negotiates a divide between two very different approaches to the explosion of knowledge in the post-Gutenberg era; here, I take a similar approach by briefly arguing that in Lycidas the poet anticipates one interpretative model as he engages with another.

In Into Another Mould: Change and Continuity in English Culture 1625-1700, Ken Robinson writes about how the natural world was reinterpreted in the later seventeenth-century:

Whereas the earlier interpretive model approached the world as a unified thesaurus of correspondences and affinities in which part paralleled part and part symbolised whole, the alternative model sought not to unify but to take apart, to distinguish part from part and to discover the taxonomies and laws that order the whole. (91)
Here, Robinson marks the transition from a mystical-religious to an empirical-mathematical reading of nature. In the former, based on “a system of resemblances”, nature is “read” according to a series of metaphors that point to an underlying theological meaning; the latter model is more responsive, judging the natural order based on observational evidence and piecing these observations together to compile a more general “reading”. In some sense, this shift is not dissimilar to the move from the long-standing homeocentric view of the universe to the later Copernican model – human affairs are removed from the centre of orbit and the world is consequently seen to behave according to its own inherent laws, regardless of how this behaviour is interpreted and justified by man. Noting the literary implications of this new interpretative model as the metaphorical conceit gave way to the heroic couplet, Robinson makes the claim that the ‘days of the poet who like Milton thought of himself as inspired or vatic were numbered.’ (92)

In Lycidas, written in 1637 to commemorate the death of Edward King, Milton seems at first to populate his poem with natural phenomena whose behaviour directly react to the fateful drowning of his classmate:
Thee Shepherd, thee the Woods, and desert Caves,
With wild Thyme and the gadding Vine o’ergrown,
And all their echoes mourn.


Nature, responsible for King’s death, is here also portrayed as his mourner, instilling his death with noble tragedy in place of abhorrent senselessness. Of course, it is Milton and not Nature who constructs this meaning, a fact the poet is painfully self-conscious of: ‘Ay me, I fondly dream!’ (56) he cries out, acknowledging in a line that not only were the gods he conjures here not present to save King, but that these beings are mere fantasies with no power beyond the confines of the text. The final lines reinforce this irony: it is revealed that the extraordinary action described in the preceding lines were the product of the uncouth swain’s ‘Doric lay’ (189); of course we knew it all along, but here Milton lets us know that he’s not kidding himself either.

Contrary to Robinson’s assertion that poets like Milton were doomed to obsolescence, it can be seen that Lycidas anticipates the stark empiricism of the later seventeenth and constructs a painfully self-conscious, moving narrative from this vision.

Milton, John. John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Hackett Publishing Company, 2003.

Robinson, Ken. “The book of nature.” Into Another Mould: Change and Continuity in English Culture, 1625-1700. Ed. T. G.S Cain & Ken Robinson. London: Routledge, 1992. 86-106.


Saturday, 7 March 2009

Marginal Notes, vol. 2

Apologies for the delay - I'm currently working on a funding proposal, and catching up on my Open University "Reading Classical Latin" course, so it's been a busy period for me. Still, without further ado, here's a collection of noteworthy links. I've organised them a little better this time, but expect these updates on a bi-weekly basis in future.

So to begin...

Higher Education
Thomas Benton argues that it's just not worth going to grad school anymore in his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He puts this down to "a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary", but I can't help but wonder if the same applies to many professions in today's economic climate.

Speaking of the tough economic climate, the New York Times asserts that the Humanities must justify their worth as higher education institutions are faced with painful cuts - implying that the Humanities are somehow less valuable than other disciplines and therefore need to explain why they are still necessary in changing socioeconomic times.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond the arts and humanities have seen a dramatic decrease in research funding following this week's announcement of how funding will be distributed as a result of the RAE (see the full tables for how much funding was allocated to each discipline here). Although it all seems pretty bleak, Anthony Grafton rightly points out that if we don't start posing the tough but necessary questions now, then "we will see another generation’s relationship [w]ith the university ruined by our refusal to face and discuss facts."

On the brighter side of all this, Geoffrey Rockwell reminds us that these next few years will present opportunities as well as challenges: "Let us build something that celebrates what we do together rather than begging apart", he says, and proposes some credible starting theses. He ends with a rousing call to arms:

"Do research not regrets and hold out your hand to those less fortunate as you would want a hand held out to you. Be liberal in your arts and humanity and the liberal arts will thrive"
Here here!

Digital Humanities
As I think about what sort of employment I'd like to take up when my PhD is all over, I do wonder about the possibility of doing work on digital research tools at some (fantastical) higher education institution someplace. Imagine it - to obtain funding to write code to create a programme to be used in the pursuit of humanistic learning, and then write papers on how these tools might be used for the benefit of teachers and researchers. Well, Caveat Lector has a similar vision, but implies that the odds are stacked against those like myself who see this as a credible employment option: "A very, very few digital humanists will run the entire vicious gauntlet and survive in regular humanities departments". At the same time, the University of Lethbridge is playing with the idea of establishing a course which provides "skills, knowledge, and experience a typical undergraduate ought to have if they were to be certified as being basically competent in contemporary web technologies alongside their core domain", indicating that these are necessary skills for graduates, and such skills are nurtured in certain (praiseworthy) institutions.

Speaking of web technologies, it's worth noting that Zotero 1.5b1 has just been released, and much is already being written about how we can use its new features together with other applications in meaningful ways.

Finally, in a lengthy but engaging piece posted last year, Kathleen Fitzpatrick proposes a new way forward for academic publishing in the digital age. Fitzpatrick's appropriation of scholarly terms within a digital framework ("scholars must consider how peer review might usefully transform into something more like peer-to-peer review”) reinforces the need for institutions to reassess their outdated modes of academic review and publication, just as the electronic publishing units should seek to adopt "a broader view of textual structures, seeking not just the replacement for print-on-paper but an updating of the codex for a networked environment". Well worth a read.

Website Focus
The Guardian has recently put together a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read, usefully broken down into categories including "Science fiction & fantasy", "War & travel", "State of the Nation" etc - thanks to bookn3rd for pointing it out. Also sourced via bookn3rd is a remarkable online exhibition called Making Visible Embryos; compiled by the University of Cambridge's Department of History and Philosophy of Science, the site illuminates key questions and concerns by "contextualizing images [of human embryos] that have become iconic or were especially widely distributed in their own time" - weird and wonderful stuff.

And Finally...

Hark! A Vagrant is a webcomic by Katie Moira featuring an array of famous (and indeed infamous) historical figures. Ever wondered how Mary Shelley felt in that remote Swiss villa with Lord Byron and her husband? Find out by clicking the image above!

Last week I finally received my copy of Eluvium's boxset, Life Through Bombardment. Eluvium, a.k.a Matthew Cooper, is an ambient electronic musician who incorporates a variety of instruments into his ethereal palette, and the boxset (containing all of his releases) was well worth the money and the wait. The artwork was drawn by Jeannie Paske, and I strongly urge you to visit her website to see more samples of it. If Elvium's work sounds like something you could get into, then why not try downloading the following track from his latest release, Copia (right-click and save): Prelude For Time Feelers


Sunday, 22 February 2009

A logo for your perusal

Put together a logo today (see above) for the purpose of including it in a screencast I spent all day working on. Do let me know if you object to the colour scheme.

As for the screencast - once it's finished and I'm happy with it I'll link to it on this blog, in the hope that I might just get some feedback on the content, and on the screencast itself.

Marginal Notes will follow as soon as I get a moment to compile the entry. Sorry!


Friday, 13 February 2009

Marginal notes

The first in a new weekly feature here, highlighting several key news stories and various ruminations scattered around the web relating to early modern studies, open access, American politics, digital humanities, and other topics of interest to potential readers of this blog (those, I'm assuming, who share at least some of my interests).

The aim of these link-heavy posts is to summarise my web-based reading for the week, and also serves the useful function of forcing me to update the blog less sporadically than usual. I will, of course, write specifically about my own research interests in addition to what is gathered in these regular updates. So here goes...

Milton in the library
In relation to the image at the top of this blog entry (it's a quote from Areopagitica found in the Reading Room of the New York Public Library, sourced via the Milton-L mailing list), here's another one a little too large to post directly here - this one's to be found in the library at McGill University, and the quote is taken from The Reason of Church Government.

Rebuilding higher education in Iraq
News from my own university's website, with a Milton tie-in (the order of these snippets is deliberate). A high-profile group of scholars and politicans recently met with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al Maliki, to discuss scholarships worth $1 billion earmarked to help Iraqi students travel overseas to pursue higher education in English-speaking countries. The group includes prominent Miltonist Professor Gorden Campbell of the University of Leicester, who is also the founding chair of the British Universities Iraq Consortium (he's the one with the impressive facial hair on the far left).

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access
Here's website which draws together an alliance of organizations supporting "open public access to taxpayer-funded research". Though it focuses primarily on research within the sciences and medicine, The Alliance for Taxpayer Access website highlights several key Acts which any active supporter of Open Access should do their utmost to oppose, including one I mentioned last week...

Protect the NIH Public Access Mandate From the Conyers Copyright Caricature
Stevan Harnad pipes in about the bill I mentioned last week which seeks to undo the NIH Public Access Act, effectively screening publicly-funded research from those who have invested tax dollars into these projects. I would echo Harnad's call here: head on over to the "Require open access for publicly-funded research" petition and let Obama know that the scholarly community supports public access to taxpayer-funded research.

Judge a president in three weeks? Breathe....
Speaking of Obama, here's a well-written piece arguing that it is folly to judge the new Commander-in-Chief based on the ups and downs of his first weeks in office - his Presidency will be based on "solid stuff and also the less tangible", ranging from the success of his recently-approved Stimulus Plan (albeit in a compromised form which tragically cuts back on funds designed to aid higher education) to the nature of his character in a crisis.

Reinventing the Academic Journal: First, Take Down Your Website
A recent entry in Jo Guldi's blog inscape highlights the need for publishers of academic journals to take take steps to adapt to the changing environment of knowledge dissemination in the digital age, a notion related to themes examined extensively in my own ongoing research. In discussing the ways in which journals might integrate more organically with some Web 2.0 applications already discussed in this blog, she comments: "...a scholar using zotero, jstor, google scholar, and delicious can instantaneously find other scholars' opinions of a particular article, the names of the disciplines and sub-disciplines they think it applies to best, and other articles of similar note to that particular scholar." The possibilities of this Web 2.0 interoperability have intrigued me a great deal in recent days, and is a notion I will blog about once I'm able to articulate my thoughts on this matter.

Academic Publications 2.0
Luis Von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon University writes on a similar topic to the one discussed above, asking if "a combination of a wiki, karma, and a voting method like reddit or digg [can] substitute the current system of academic publication?"

The Rise of Twitter, Academic Unconferences, and announcing THATCamp 2009
Dave Lester, in his Finding America blog, narrates an account of a fascinating to-and-fro which took place among various digital humanists on Twitter this week, the micro-blogging social network site (and yes, I'm on there myself, followed by all of two people). For those who aren't keen to scroll through his wall of text, here's the point I find so fascinating:

As it turned out, all my internet friends were busy working on a new project, called A Better CFP. The sequence of events leading up to this moment was simple. Matt Gold (@mkgold) of the CUNY Graduate Center tweeted the question: “How is it that the Penn CFP list still isn’t working? Does any other centralized CFP site exist?” Hours later, Dave Parry (@academicdave) of UT Dallas replied: “@mkgold re:CFP. Not that I know of, but we could just build one. Want to?” And shortly after, a wiki was setup to collaborate on this new project. To date, eighteen different people around the country (and world, for that matter) have contributed to the wiki by sharing ideas about the site, its design, and possible software implementations while considering a feature-set for both its initial launch, and our pie-in-the-sky ambitions.

In the not-to-distance future I will write at some length about the possibilities of utilising Web 2.0 applications to enhance accessibility into research projects. I'm still in the early stages of figuring out what these possibilities mean to me, but stay tuned and hopefully you'll see some outcomes soon enough.

And finally, The Onion reports...


Friday, 6 February 2009

On first steps and second thoughts

Following a Herculean struggle, I seem to have finally thrashed out a 150-word summary of my thesis as it stands at this point. I was asked to do this for the Postgraduate Research section of Dr Philip Schwyzer's A Cuppe of Newes blog, where you can survey a "sampling of current PhD projects in the field of early modern studies in the Department of English, University of Exeter". My struggle arose from the realisation that whatever I write down will ultimately feed into the funding application I'm currently working on - that is, it pinpoints my thesis more narrowly than ever before whilst simultaneously declaring it to a wider research community. I don't feel as though I can go back on my word on this one...

Ghosts in the Machine: Early Modern Print Culture in the Digital Age
Concurrent with recent scholarship building on the work of Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan - early pioneers in the study of the cultural effects of technological change - and with a particular focus on the private library collection, curiosity cabinet (and its later incarnation, the Kunstkammer), and the application of Ramist techniques, my study aims to reassess the efforts of Renaissance poets, scholars and collectors as they sought to transpose the mnemonic devices of pre-Gutenberg oral society to the new (information) technology of typographic print. In a wider literary context, my research draws upon works such as Thomas Heywood’s Gunaikeion and Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion as examples of the early modern database and hypertext, demonstrating that not only were current trends in the digital world anticipated in the literary heritage of early modern England, but that much can be garnered too from seventeenth century storage-and-retrieval systems as we embark upon the second information revolution.

The more I read it the less certain I am. I'm definitely still in the early stages of research but, given imminent funding application deadlines, there's an overwhelming necessity right now to articulate my thesis as clearly and as convincingly as possible. This is the first step, I guess, but is it clear? Is it convincing?

On another matter, one of the authors of a report commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) examining the implications of open access publishing recently concluded that "public money is being put into research, but then the people are being stopped from accessing it" (source: Times Higher Education). Well, the penny finally drops - if only the publishing industry saw the light too, as they most certainly did not this week following the re-introduction of a bill in the US House of Representatives "aimed at limiting the open-access publishing policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health" (source: GenomeWeb Daily News). One step forward, two steps back; at least Stevan Harnad is still counting his chickens