Medieval Materialisms at the Zoo-Day 2: Transgressions

If there’s one way in which I would characterize Friday’s materialism sessions, I’d say they were “transgressive,” in that each panel sought to overturn or undermine, or just plain do away with the boundaries between disciplines, between objects, and between epistemologies.

The day’s sessions were:

  1. Quantum Medievalisms by postmedieval, organized by yours truly
  2. Transgressive Materialities by the Material Collective, organized by Heather Coffey and Holly Silvers
  3. Material Iberia II: Shaping Bodies in Literature and Art across the Abrahamic Traditions by the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, organized by Jessica Boon

Each of these sessions was sooo good that they could be summarized in a full blog post. See the storified tweets from them here:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 5.35.59 PM Continue reading Medieval Materialisms at the Zoo-Day 2: Transgressions

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Medieval Materialism at the Zoo, Day 1: Bodies, Institutions, and Mediation

Day one of #medmaterialism was an exciting one, to say the least!

I’ve storified my tweets of the whole day here:

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To roundup all the panels I attended, only half of which were explicitly oriented toward materiality, here is a short list of where I went throughout the day:
  1. The BABEL Retrospective on 25 years of Carolyn Dnishaw’s Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics 
  2. Romance Materiality II: Romancing the Material
  3. Romance Materiality III: Materialize or Material Lies?
  4. Revisiting Remediation–with my paper!
What I found really interesting throughout the papers in each of the panels was their intense focus on both bodies–usually human–and signification throughout. For instance, in thinking about Melusine, Angela Florschuetz was emphasizing the way in which the material bodies of Melusine and her offspring were somehow not being taken as materially significant. They had serpent feet, lion claws coming out of their faces, misplaced teeth, third eyes, etc., and yet throughout the narrative there is no indication that these bodily deformities impeded their basic functioning in the world. Instead, these material realities were reduced to signs of the cursed “seed” from which the children came, a genealogy the family seemed unable to overcome.

Continue reading Medieval Materialism at the Zoo, Day 1: Bodies, Institutions, and Mediation

Medieval Materialism at the Zoo!

As many of you know, several groups made a coordinated effort to plan a pseudo-thread of panels on medieval materialism for the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies starting tomorrow! The Medieval Institute responded to our desires by honoring our pseudo-thread in scheduling, which means, if your little materialist heart desires it, you can attend a materialism session for EVERY. SINGLE. SESSION. throughout the conference.

Woo hoo! Way to go Medieval Institute!

And that, my friends, is exactly what I plan on doing with two exceptions–the one where I give my own paper Thursday night at 7:30 on “Revisiting Remediation”–a panel taking up the question of whether or not the DH bubble has burst and what’s next for digital medieval studies. (#s169 Barnhard 205), and of course the one on Piers Plowman on Saturday afternoon (I’m looking at you Karrie Fuller working on Dd.1.17!! Can’t wait!).

#medmaterialism

Otherwise, I will be attending (or chairing) a materialism session for every single session and live tweeting our pseudo-thread under the hashtag #medmaterialism. I encourage other medieval materialists to also hashtag the same so that we can follow the conversation about medieval materiality on Twitter!

Continue reading Medieval Materialism at the Zoo!

Disrupting the Archive

I don’t want to be overly reflective, but I do want to take a moment to remark on what it was like to be on the “Disrupting the Archive” panel at #GWdh15, George Washington University’s annual Digital Humanities symposium that, this year, was on “disrupting DH.” As M Bychowski points out in her blog, the symposium itself was conceptualized as a way to think about both what is DH, and what is the power of DH?

What happens when academics, activists, and publishers join forces to rethink how we research, teach, and generate knowledge? How can digital humanists mobilize online media and social networks to radically transform the spaces of the ARCHIVE, the CLASSROOM, and the IVORY TOWER?

The first panel was specifically about DH in the archive, and the ways in which it disrupts the archive, with papers delivered by myself and Dorothy Kim (to be posted later). Continue reading Disrupting the Archive

A Little Digital Reading of SOTU

Ok, so not Piers at all, but a little digital quickie on the State of the Union address and responses by the president and a few others. I used the simple text-mining tool Voyant to check out some word frequencies and make a few basic comparisons: To begin, we’ll check out a word cloud of the full transcript of Obama’s speech: SOTUraw What you’ll notice is that most of the words with the highest frequency are, of course, basic words that make our language function: pronouns, conjunctions, articles, prepositions.  In order to filter those out, we choose to “edit stop words” for English and we get a cloud that is more reflective of the substance of the speech: Obama Continue reading A Little Digital Reading of SOTU

On Co-creation and Building IV:

This blog is dedicated to Karl Steel; I cannot think of a better person with whom I would want to build and collaborate and co-create.

Last blog I got carried away with the argument that

we must build to know.

And it’s true.  Whether it’s building an experimental set-up that allows us to collect measurements of some kind, whether it’s a form of art that allows us to see some aspect of ourselves or our world that we couldn’t quite see before, or whether it’s simply a palate of post-structuralist theories that allow us to analyze a literary text,

we all use an apparatus to produce knowledge, to take a “measurement” of the universe, in whatever way seems interesting or useful to us.

The thing I love about working across a few disciplinary boundaries, and using computational tools is that it allows me to invent the apparatus I want to  ask the questions I want to ask–which usually tend to be questions I feel vehemently that everyone should have been asking all along, and yet I find to my chagrin that they haven’t beenI mean really, how could we not have been talking about what Piers circulates with in the manuscripts? How is that not it’s most immediate textual context?  Doesn’t it seem obvious?  Well, I guess it isn’t.

Continue reading On Co-creation and Building IV:

On (Collaboration and) Building III: We Must Build to Know

In her book Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad defines an “apparatus” as any configuration “specific material reconfiguring[] of the world that do[es] not merely emerge in time but iteratively reconfigure spacetimematter as a part of an ongoing dynamism of becoming.” (142)

In Barad’s account, which spins of of Neils Bohr’s philosophy-physics, the “measuring apparatus” for an experiment is the specific set-up that is used to take a particular measurement.  What Barad points out, by way of Bohr, is that the apparatus itself is a part of the material configuration that produces a measurement.  She doesn’t simply mean what the social constructivists mean–that a phenomenon is “made” by the naming of it.  Rather I understand her to be pointing to the fact that a “measurement” becomes a possible articulation of the universe only when a measuring apparatus is in place.  And more particularly, that the type of apparatus one uses determines the type of measurement one can get.

In terms of the sciences, this is a very practical consideration.  Take, for example, the work on parchment surfaces that I put up earlier in the summer. In order to take a “measurement” of the parchment’s surface, I had to build an apparatus.  Ok.  I had to have a physicist build an apparatus (my days of building apparatuses in labs seem to be largely over…sort of…at least of building apparatuses with lasers).  Our apparatus only allowed us to take a certain kind of measurement, that was accurate on a certain scale, and that may or may not have answered the question we set out to address.

But the success of that apparatus is not really the point.  The point here, is that an apparatus had to be built in order to ask the question I wanted to ask of parchment surfaces.

Continue reading On (Collaboration and) Building III: We Must Build to Know

On Collaboration and Building II: Digital Architecture and BL 35157

In order for a digital project to really live up to its potential–the possibilities it has over print–it has to include an infrastructure. We have already been working on creating structured data, but now we have to think about building a repository for that data.  As long as data is confined to a particular space–be it a book, laptop or even cloud service–it is accessible only through the entry points that medium makes available.

Many formats make it easy to access information, but difficult to put that information into relationship with other information. What is more, that information is largely from a single source (an author) and cannot be changed or updated as new information comes available, nor can it be altered by anyone other than the author.

That is the power of digital projects: by building an online architecture for your data, you make ongoing collaboration and community-sourced data possible.

Continue reading On Collaboration and Building II: Digital Architecture and BL 35157

Wave. Particle. Duality. : The Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

For those who are interested, or those who missed it, or the overlap between those two groups, here is the Wave. Particle. Duality. Theory Performance from BABEL On The Beach.

Session 19. Wave. Particle. Duality. [THEORY-PERFORMANCE]

Organizer: Angela Bennett-Segler, New York University

Flâneur: Stacy Alaimo

3:30 – 4:30 pm

Humanities & Social Science Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor, Room 6020)


A critical performance detailing the results of a collaborative digital and (meta)physical experiment on the nature of matter and meaning across quantum physics and the humanities. This non-traditional panel will take up the central paradox of the physical universe, that of matter’s inherent duality as always simultaneously both particle and wave, and formulate a vocabulary from the group’s collective engagement with the New Materialism of Karen Barad (agential realism) that allows us to discuss the fundamental entanglement of the material and discursive in knowledge production.

  • Ada Smailbegovic (New York University): Wave *by video link
  • Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY): Particle
  • Brandon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): Duality
  • Sandra Danilovic (University of Toronto): Apparatus of Subjectivity *by video link
  • Ashby Kinch (University of Montana): Scale of the Subject

Continue reading Wave. Particle. Duality. : The Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

Visual studies in the Piers Plowman manuscript corpus.