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Steven Jones: The Priest and the CEO

The digital humanities did not spring up out of the ground, nor was the movement an inevitable byproduct of computing, information technology, or the internet. Instead, the emergence of DH has been a dialogue, an intersection of society and technology that renders in miniature the wider cultural tensions between the digital and the physical.

In his forthcoming book The Priest and the CEO, Steven Jones traces the pre-history of the digital humanities, focusing particularly on a 1949 meeting that has become the mythical origin of the movement.  In this encounter, Father Roberto Busa, a Jesuit scholar, met with Thomas Watson, CEO and chairman of IBM, to propose a collaboration on what would eventually become the Index Thomisticus, a lemmatization of the complete works of Thomas Aquinas. Though often recognized as the founding story of the digital humanities, relatively little serious historical research has been done on this seminal meeting. In his talk at the ARC Praxis seminar on November 13, Jones brought archival research and contextual analysis to bear on an event that has, until now, been more legend than history.

In contextualizing the Busa-Watson meeting, Jones drew a number of connections between the nascent technology at IBM and the “eversion,” or the rise in the early 2000s of digital technologies that made inroads on the physical world. Just as technologies such as GPS and social media refigured interactions between humans and machines in the early years of the 21st century, the mainframe era celebrated its own paradigm-shifting platforms and devices in the 1940s.  However, despite the optimism surrounding IBM’s machines in an era of sales copy and Madison-avenue hype, Busa’s proposal was an audacious one: “I knew, the day I was to meet Thomas J. Watson, Sr., that he had on his desk a report which said that IBM machines could never do what I wanted.”

Famously, Busa used IBM’s own self-assured rhetoric against Watson, persuading him by producing a company poster claiming that “the difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer.” Yet Jones observes that this phrase, which echoes the motto of the British Navy’s corps of engineers, connects the Busa story to a larger postwar milieu. Busa served in World War II, first as a chaplain and later as a member of the partisan resistance, while IBM’s data storage technology served a darker and more controversial role in the war. In this light, Busa’s exchange with Watson mirrors the complex diplomatic relationships between the United States and European powers at the time of their meeting.

SSEC at IBMBusa’s “impossible” project did indeed take a little longer. Over thirty years, the collaboration between the Jesuit and the iconic American firm pushed storage, processing, and retrieval to their technological limit.  Given the state of card technology in this era, even data entry for the index took years. Yet the outcome was entirely novel, a “mixed marriage” between computing and linguistic research. The project wrestled with challenges, such as keyword context, that would become central concepts in the field of data analysis. In 1949, not only was IBM flexing its computational muscle with its innovative SSEC mainframe, but its nascent collaboration with Busa prefigured computers that could work not only with numbers, but with words.

While Professor Jones avoided drawing premature connections between his archival research and recent technology-fueled cultural developments, his work on this historic meeting clearly relates to issues at the heart of the movement. Whether lexical analysis, storage and retrieval, or search, the founding myth of the digital humanities prefigures a shift toward new modes of interaction between people and machines. In reflecting on the origin of the digital humanities, The Priest and the CEO may well give us insight into the movement’s future.

First Annual Graduate Center Archival Research Conference

The Graduate Center’s first Archival Research Conference featured student recipients of one of several different fellowships funded by the Provost’s office. Panels moderated by Graduate Center faculty were followed by an afternoon roundtable featuring New York Public Library and New-York Historical Society archivists discussing the collections they curate.

archival_research_lennihanFriday, September 5th, 2014
CUNY Graduate Center
#GCArchivalResearch

The Graduate Center’s first Archival Research Conference featured student recipients of one of several different fellowships funded by the Provost’s office: the Lost & Found Stipends Program, the Provost’s Digital Innovation Grants, The Advanced Research Collaborative Award for Archival Research in African American and African Diaspora Studies, and The Advanced Research Collaborative Knickerbocker Award for Archival Research in American Studies. Panels moderated by Graduate Center faculty were followed by an afternoon roundtable featuring New York Public Library and New-York Historical Society archivists discussing the collections they curate.

Photos from the conference (via Twitter and Christopher Eng):

In order to showcase the type of research being funded by the Provost’s Office, some of the student presenters have graciously provided their presentations for this conference archive:

The full conference schedule and program follows below.

Archival-Research-Conference

Schedule

9:00-9:20am — Welcoming Remarks

  • Duncan Faherty (English and American Studies)
  • Provost Louise Lennihan

9:20 – 10:20am — Panel Session I

10:20 – 10:30am — Break

10:30 – 11:30am — Panel Session II

11:30 – 12:15pm — Lunch

12:15 – 1:15pm — Panel Session III

1:15 – 1:30pm — Break

1:30 – 2:30pm — NYC Archivists Roundtable (Elebash Recital Hall)

2:30 – 3:30pm — Reception (Elebash Lobby)


Panel Session I — 9:20-10:20am

C205 — Aesthetics, Politics, and Difference

Chair: Kandice Chuh (English)

  • Denisse Andrade* (Earth & Environmental Sciences, Geography)
    “The Black Radical Movement and the Poetics and Politics of Land”
  • Paul Fess* (English)
    “Slavery and Anti-slavery: Sound and Text”
  • Tonya M. Foster* (English)
    “Umbra Writers’ Workshop: Archives and Extensions—Tom Dent”
  • Saisha Grayson* (Art History)
    “Cellist, Catalyst, Collaborator: The Work of Charlotte Moorman, 1963-1980″
  • Stefanie A Jones* (Theatre)
    “Acts of Provocation: Racial Formation and Twenty-First Century U.S. Commercial Theatre”

C203 — Print Culture and Canon Formation in the Early Republic

Chair: William Kelly (English)

  • Brian Baaki* (English)
    “The Black Criminal in Early American Print Culture”
  • Courtney Chatellier* (English)
    “Archival Research in Early American Literature”
  • Nora Slonimsky* (History)
    “‘The Engine of Free Expression’ [?]: The Political Development of Copyright in the Colonial British Atlantic and Early National United States”
  • Nicole Zeftel* (Comparative Literature)
    “‘The Economics and Poetics’ of the Nineteenth Century Dime Novel”

C197 — Mining Alternative Geographies of Race and Labor

Chair: Herman Bennett (History)

  • Hector Agredano* (Earth & Environmental Sciences, Geography)
    “Railroads, Railroad Workers and Geographies of the Mexican Revolution of 1910″
  • Gordon Randolph Barnes Jr.* (History)
    “Imperial Fears: Planter Ideology, Violence, and the Post-Emancipation Experience in the British Empire, 1800-1900″
  • Megan Brown* (History)
    “Which Integration for Algeria? Eurafrica and the Treaty of Rome”
  • Jenny LeRoy* (English)
    “Capitalizing on the Global South: Eliza McHatton’s Hemispheric Plantation Economy”
  • Frances Tran* (English)
    “Traces of the Coolie: An Archival Encounter”

C201 — Sexuality, Politics, and the Archive

Chair: Alyson Cole (Political Science)

  • Meredith Benjamin* (English)
    “Engaging Feminism’s Archive”
  • Elizabeth Decker* (English)
    “Recovering Edith Summers Kelley”
  • Margaret Galvan* (English)
    “Watching Out for Dykes in Activist Archives and Special Collections”
  • Alisa Wade Harrison* (History)
    “An Alliance of Ladies: Power, Public Affairs, and Gendered Constructions of the Upper Class in Early National New York City”
  • Wen Liu* (Psychology)
    “Untying the Knot: Archiving the Marriage Equality Movements in Taiwan, China, and the US as Recent History”

Break — 10:20-10:30am


Panel Session II — 10:30-11:30am

C201 — Cultures of Political Economy

Chair: Jessie Daniels (Psychology)

  • Flannery Amdahl* (Political Science)
    “Big Brother’s Keepers: Liberal Religious Organizations and the Development of the American Welfare State”
  • Velina Manolova* (English)
    “Queer Interventions in Racial Liberalism in the Writings of Lillian Smith, Carson McCullers, James Baldwin, and Lorraine Hansberry, 1944-1970″
  • David McCarthy* (Historical Musicology)
    “The Appearance of the Comedy LP (1957-1973)”
  • Adam McMahon* (Political Science)
    “President-Led American State Unbuilding 1953-2013″
  • Sara Rutkowski* (English)
    “The Federal Writers’ Project and its Influence on African American Literature”

C203 — Critical Pedagogies: Rewriting of Knowledge Production

Chair: Steve Brier (Urban Education)

C197 — Representing Geographies of the Urban and the Rural

Chair: Cindi Katz (Earth & Environmental Sciences)

  • Jacob Cohen* (Music)
    “Experiences of New England: Urban and Rural in the Music of Chadwick, Ives, Ruggles and Crawford Seeger”
  • Nicholas Gamso* (English)
    “Race, Cities, and American New Wave Documentary of the 1960s and 70s”
  • Marjorie Gorsline* (Anthropology)
    “An Archaeology of Accountability: Race, Power, and Privilege in the Rural Northeast”
  • Cara Jordan* (Art History)
    “Joseph Beuys and Social Sculpture in the United States: Rick Low and Ongoing Residency”
  • Katherine Uva* (History)
    “Dawn of a New Day: New York City Between the Fairs”

C205 — Forum on Digital Initiatives and Fellowships

Chair: Matthew K. Gold (English)

  • Amanda Licastro (English)
    “The Writing Studies Tree”
  • Natascia Boeri (Sociology)
    “Community IT Centers and Organizing Women Workers in Gujarat, India”
  • Micki Kaufman (History)
    “Quantifying Kissinger”

Lunch — 11:30am-12:15pm


Panel Session III — 12:15-1:15pm

C197 — Diasporic Cultures and Identity Formation

Chair: Sujatha Fernandes (Sociology)

  • Anahí Douglas* (English)
    “African American Ex-pats and Exiles in Mexico”
  • Aídah Gil* (History)
    “Arthur, Arturo, and the Archive: A History of a Historical Imagination”
  • Abigail Lapin* (Art History)
    “Afro-Brazilian Art, Architecture and the Civil Rights Movement in Brazil, 1960s-80s”
  • Rocío Gil Martínez de Escobar* (Anthropology)
    “Bordering States, Bordering Race: Afro-Indigenous Struggles for Recognition in the Coahuila-Texas Borderland”

C203 — The Performances of Citizenship and National Belonging

Chair: Eric Lott (English)

  • Devora Geller* (Musicology)
    “Mamele on the Yiddish Stage and Screen”
  • Sissi Liu* (Theatre)
    “Monkey King Performances as Alternative Discourse of Asian Americanness”
  • Kristin Moriah* (English)
    “Dark Stars of the Evening: Performances of African American Citizenship and Identity in Germany, 1890-1930″
  • Melissa Phruksachart* (English)
    “Cherry Blossoms in Bryant Park: Mediating Asiatic Racialization on Cold War Television”
  • Hallie Scott* (Art History)
    “The Driftwood Village and the Truckin’ University: Experimental Architecture Education on the West Coast, c. 1970″

C205 — The Long Project of Abolition & Black Radical Resistance

Chair: Donald Robotham (Anthropology)

  • Laura Bini Carter* (Anthropology)
    “Embodied & Inscribed—Gwoka: Guadeloupan Social Movement and UNESCO Immaterial Heritage of France”
  • Sean Gerrity* (English)
    “Uncovering the Literature and History of U.S. Slave Marronage: An Archival Study in Virginia and North Carolina”
  • Timothy M. Griffiths* (English)
    “Other Black Households: The Archives of Queer Black Affective Formations”
  • Lydia Pelot-Hobbs* (Earth & Environmental Sciences, Geography)
    “The Consolidation of the Louisiana Carceral State, 1970-1995″
  • Wendy Tronrud* (English)
    “Buried Alive: Researching William Walker and Thomas Gaines”

C201 — Lost and Found

Chair: Ammiel Alcalay (English)

  • Lauren Bailey (English)
  • Philip Griffith (French)
  • Gabrielle Kappes (English)
  • Kai Krienke (Comparative Literature)
  • Megan Paslawski (English)
  • Alex Wermer-Colan (English)

Break — 1:15-1:30pm


NYC Archivists Roundtable — 1:30-2:30pm

Elebash Recital Hall

Welcoming Remarks by President Chase Robinson

Chair: Polly Thistlethwaite, Chief Librarian CUNY Graduate Center

Panelists:


Reception — 2:30-3:30pm

Elebash Lobby


* ARC Archival Research Grant Recipients

Names marked with an asterisk (*) received research funding through the ARC Knickerbocker Archival Research Grant in American Studies or the ARC Archival Research Grant in African American and African Diaspora Studies.

Additional grant recipients not listed above:

  • Vanessa Burrows (History)
    “The Medicalization of Stress: Hans Selye and the Transformation of the Postwar Medical Marketplace”
  • Omar Ramadan-Santiago (Anthropology)
    Performing the Third Race: Rastafari and the Racial Imagination in Puerto Rico

Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant Recipients

Names marked with a dagger (†) received funding through the Provost’s Digital Innovations Grant Program for the 2013-14 academic year.


Lost & Found Stipend Recipients

Names marked with a double dagger (‡) received funding through the Center for the Humanities Lost & Found Stipend Program for the 2013-14 year.

‘I own I love the vegitable world extremly’: The Gender of Genre and Women’s Natural History Writing, 1688-1808

View Diana Epelbaum’s (English) presentation from the Graduate Center Archival Research Conference.

Diana Epelbaum

English Ph.D. Program
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Presented at the First Graduate Center Archival Research Conference
September 6, 2014

Uncovering the Literature and History of US Slave Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp: An Archival Study at the University of Virginia

In thinking about marronage as an alternative to the more standard narrative of escape to the North that has been codified by the canonization of the slave narrative as the prevailing representation of the US slave experience, voice, and subjectivity, my research is guided by the following overarching questions: What happens to our understanding of slave resistance, collectivity, autonomy, and the geographic coordinates of freedom when we consider representations of maroon slaves and communities in antebellum US fiction?

Sean Gerrity

English Ph.D. Program
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Presented at the First Graduate Center Archival Research Conference
September 6, 2014

In the broadest sense, my proposed dissertation will examine representations of maroon slaves and maroon communities in antebellum United States fiction. By maroons I mean slaves who escaped their bondage and secluded themselves in the dense, inhospitable, and oftentimes nearly impenetrable swamps and forests of the southern United States, often for many years at a time or permanently. Instead of movements into free states, I am interested in lateral and southerly movements within slaveholding territory to places of relative autonomy where escaped slaves established lives for themselves within the juridical reach of the chattel slavery system but outside of its immediate terror, control, and white domination.

In thinking about marronage as an alternative to the more standard narrative of escape to the North that has been codified by the canonization of the slave narrative as the prevailing representation of the US slave experience, voice, and subjectivity, my research is guided by the following overarching questions: What happens to our understanding of slave resistance, collectivity, autonomy, and the geographic coordinates of freedom when we consider representations of maroon slaves and communities in antebellum US fiction? How do these representations challenge critically entrenched notions of the means for slave freedom as they are articulated by the canonization of the slave narrative and its coupling of literacy with liberty? How do representations of marronage offer alternative ways of imagining the experience of enslavement and the routes to and means of slave freedom and autonomy in antebellum African American writing and writing about enslaved African Americans? By pursuing these questions I aim to complicate the North/South, free/unfree binaristic geographical axis through which enslaved and emancipated black subjectivities have predominantly been imagined in US literary and cultural studies.

I arrived at the archives of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia looking for literary and historical sources related to marronage in Virginia. In particular, I was interested in the Great Dismal Swamp region, estimated to have consisted of over one million acres spanning southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina before human activities like logging, shingle making, and canal building interrupted the ecosystem. A critical consensus exists suggesting that the Great Dismal Swamp was probably home to the highest concentration of maroons at any given time between the colonial and antebellum periods. But the structure of the archive reproduces nineteenth-century strategies for denying the existence of maroons in the United States. By this I mean that the search terms “maroon” and “marronage” will only yield results for twentieth-century secondary sources on maroons because Southerners deliberately avoided these terms when referring to the fugitive inhabitants of the swamps and forests around them. Maroon was a word already associated with militant runaway slave communities in places like Jamaica, Suriname, Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries, and Southerners had no interest in drawing a parallel between these radically disruptive fugitives and the ones in their midst. Maroons were also ignored by Northern abolitionists, who preferred for a variety of reasons the compellingness and marketability of the slave narrative’s trajectory from descriptions of the brutality of slavery in the South to the advantages of freedom in the North. Thus, maroons only become legible in the archive when we learn to see through the semantic dissembling and deliberate ignorance that have obscured them from view.

This has meant first identifying search terms that will produce archival sources related to what we now call—and should properly be called—US maroons. Working backward from texts like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Dred, Martin Delany’s Blake, and antebellum periodical pieces by David Hunter Strother and Frederick Law Olmstead, among others, which deploy the vocabulary used by Southerners to obliquely describe maroons and their activities, I was able to assemble a preliminary list of such terms. Some examples are: bandit, banditti, truant, fugitive, runaway, outlier, depredations, skulking, and lurking, often in a Boolean search combination with swamp, forest, or “obscure places.” These searches began to produce results, though of course further vetting was needed since words like fugitive and runaway, in particular, were primarily used to refer to runaways in the conventional sense as opposed to maroons as I am defining them.

Some permutation of these terms, the specifics of which I cannot now recall, led me to a text I’d like to elaborate a bit on today, an 1856 play based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s second antislavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, published the same year. Entitled Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, A Drama in Four Acts, the work was authored by H.J. Conway, Esq. exclusively for the stage at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in Manhattan. The printed version of the play was released by New York based John W. Amerman Printers in 1856, and this was the original text I read. A bizarre marriage of an already strange and somewhat episodic, disjointed 600+ page novel featuring a heroically portrayed maroon insurrectionist; the rowdy, mass cultural appeal of Barnum’s entertainment industry; the blackface minstrelsy tradition that had been booming in New York since the 1840s; and the success of stage adaptations of Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this play’s existence was and remains rather mind boggling to me. It’s hard to imagine just how the crowd on the play’s opening night would have reacted to the titular character Dred clutching the mutilated body of a fellow bondsman who had been killed by slave hunters and proclaiming in unison with his maroon compatriots:

A Brother’s blood! A Brother’s blood,
By cruel white men slain!
Aloud to Heaven it sends a cry,
Shall it cry in vain?
    No, no, we swear, [Elevating their rifles]
    No, no, we swear,
Just vengeance we decree;
Blood for blood shall be our cry,
We swear on bended knee. [Thunder claps]

A low comedy part was written for some-time Barnum star General Tom Thumb, the “world-renowned and celebrated man in miniature,” whose likeness adorns the cover of the play. Nevertheless, the play is militantly antislavery and we are meant to sympathize with Dred’s plight in a an over the top, melodramatic death scene in which he calls for ruthless vengeance against slave masters and complicit Northerners who acquiesce to the South’s demands. The next stage of my research on the play will focus on its critical and popular reception, and it will be an integral part of my dissertation chapter that uses Dred as its set piece to initiate an exploration of the novel’s cultural work and its impact on the attitudes of the reading public and theater-going populations’ toward maroons and their experiences as a facet of US slavery. Maroons existed as a kind of open secret in Southern society, but citizens’ knowledge of them is harder to assess in the North. For me, this almost entirely forgotten and understudied play will serve as a generative start toward beginning to investigate these questions moving forward.

“Chronicles of Illustrious Women”: A Feminist Approach to the Spanish Conquest in the Americas

Challenging the dominant patriarchal narrative of the Spanish conquest in Latin America, Dr. Patricia Tovar’s project incorporates the history of women as wives, landowners, businesswomen, servants, warriors, foes and friends.

“Women’s studies are not just about women—but about the social systems and ideological schemata which sustain the domination of men over women within the other mutually inflecting regimes of power in the world, namely those of class and those of race.”

-Griselda Pollack, “Feminist Interventions in the Histories of Art: An Introduction.” In Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art (Routledge: London, 1988), 1-17.

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Challenging the dominant patriarchal narrative of the Spanish conquest in Latin America, Dr. Patricia Tovar’s project incorporates the history of women as wives, landowners, businesswomen, servants, warriors, foes and friends. Focusing in part on the geographic area of Santa Maria, a colonial settlement in present-day Columbia that lasted fifteen years, Tovar’s project recounts the conquest through the lens of Spanish, indigenous and enslaved women, joining several contemporary scholars (such as art historian David Lubin) who defy the conventional domestic or promiscuous portrayal of women in the early modern period.

On Thursday, Tovar introduced her talk by debunking common myths about the early conquest, including the one recounting that prostitutes, servants and indigenous women were the only women present in the New World. Tovar provided countless examples of women holding diverse positions in the Americas. One of the most striking stories is of Isabel de Barreto, a Spanish woman who led an expedition from Peru to the Philippines after her husband, the ship’s captain, died en route. Another one is Columbus’ official request for thirty women to travel on his fourth voyage to the Americas.

Deeply interested in cross-Atlantic relations and kinship, Tovar argues for women’s vital role in the settlement of the New World and their part in maintaining strong ties with ruling women of Spain. In fact, Bobadilla women in the New World were very close to Isabel de Castilla and are found in Latin American until today. While some Spanish women who traveled to the New World are romanticized in novels (one of the only currently available published texts about them), Tovar’s study brings to the fore primary documents—including contracts, passenger lists, travel documents, death registrations, requests to the crown, maps, chronicles of expeditions—that she consulted at the Casa de Contratación in Madrid. These reveal accounts about infidelity, adultery, and requests for funds.

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Within the feminist sphere, Tovar is also concerned with marginalized groups of women, including indentured and African slaves, and indigenous peoples. She described the caciques, women warriors who killed men, and fables of islands populated only by women. This multicultural focus adds a layer of complexity to her project; in fact, since Tovar is relying primarily on accounts by Spanish women, how will she draw an objective analysis of these further marginalized groups? During her talk, Tovar discussed the problematic sources, as they clearly reflect the women’s personal ambitions and relate conflicting stories. Some documents do shed light on this problem, such as one that discussed Spanish men being brought to justice for rapping enslaved women.

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Throughout her talk, Tovar posed some guiding questions: How was gender and family organized during the conquest? How was femininity constructed in the New World? What were the relationships between marginal and dominant women in this contested space and at this time? It will indeed be very interesting to read Tovar’s socio-biographical narrative of these cross-cultural relationships.