09 July 2015

Over at Medieval Ecocriticisms, I've just posted my notes for remarks given in a round-table session on "the Twitterati" at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds last night. Here's the link, if you'd like to go have a look.

Thanks to Carla Thomas for organizing a great session, to my co-presenters Dorothy Kim, Jonathan Hsy, Kristen Mapes, and Angie Bennett Segler, and to a fabulous and engaged audience.

07 July 2015

Live-Tweeting Presentations and Lectures

Live-tweeting presentations is getting more and more prevalent. By and large I think it's a good thing: people who can't attend a given session or paper can learn about the key points made and look for published work from the presenter if they want to know more.

From a personal point of view, live-tweeting helps me follow a talk better. When I'm thinking in terms of conveying important points from a lecture in 140-character blurbs -- including attribution and hashtags -- I have to pay very careful attention in order to be tweet responsibly. Also, when other people are tweeting the same lecture, they often tweet points that I've passed over, so the record of the presentation is enriched by the presence of several tweeters.

That said, I'd like to propose some guidelines for responsible and effective live-tweeting.

1. Use the published conference hashtag plus a session number hashtag so that people can find and follow your tweets.

2. In your first tweet of a paper, identify the presenter by full name and provide the title or the topic of the talk. If you know the presenter or the information is provided, use the twitter handle.

3. In subsequent tweets, always attribute. People following your tweets need to know who is saying what, including in discussion at the end of a session. If you don't know a questioner's name, you can attribute a tweet to "question" or "comment" so it's clear it's not a statement made by one of the panelists. But attribute additional comments from the panelists. (When I live-tweet, I type the last name followed by the hashtags into the first tweet and then copy them so that I can paste them into subsequent tweets, saving typing time.)

4. If you don't agree with the paper, or you don't think the information is well presented, don't tweet. No one needs a paper trash-tweeted, whether a nervous graduate student or a senior scholar. Disagree privately in discussion at the end of the session, or contact the presenter directly. If you're going to disagree publicly, do it respectfully, after taking time to think over your position with respect to what you've heard.

5. If you are presenting and don't want your paper live-tweeted, or photographs tweeted of slides you're presenting, tell the session chair, who should then announce your reservations to the audience. If you enter a session late, it's probably best to refrain from live-tweeting a paper in progress, in case you've missed such an announcement -- or in case you've missed contextual information from the start of the paper that affects comprehension and interpretation.


6. If you are asked not to tweet, or not to tweet point-by-point, or not to tweet photos, don't do it. Be respectful of your colleagues.

Please let me know what you think.

05 July 2015

Just Say No To Compulsory Heterosexuality

Humans of New York posted a photo two days ago of a young teenager near tears. The caption: "I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me."

If you have a child, you've seen compulsory heterosexuality at work. A girl baby and a boy baby combat-crawl around, trying to get a handle on mobility, and someone says, "oh look, she's flirting with him." A boy toddler makes friends with a girl toddler, and someone talks about his "girlfriend." And so on, until she's thirteen and realizes she's attracted to girls and thinks she's the only one in the world.

Did you ever hear someone talk about a boy having a "boyfriend" at three?

Yeah, no, didn't think so.

But you know what? If you have kids, or work with them, you can push back. No, you don't have to suggest that a girl who can barely walk and talk has a girlfriend: why sexualize tiny kids? I'm in favor of letting them be kids.

But we can make sure our kids know gay adults. We can give them books about trans kids. We can model a variety of expressions of gender identity. Dads can take 3 a.m. feedings and clean toilets. Moms can assemble the furniture from Ikea.

When we talk with kids about their futures, we can be neutral about whether they'll be gay or straight or bi. With little kids, that's fairly abstract, though if we talk about marriage, we don't have to assume they'll marry someone of the opposite sex.

As they get to be pre-teens and teenagers, there are those important conversations about dating and consensuality. During those conversations, we don't have to assume, and speak as if, their explorations of physical intimacy will only be with people of the opposite sex.

The photo of that boy gets me all choked up. But we don't have to keep perpetuating a culture that makes young people feel so isolated and afraid if they realize they're not straight.

01 July 2015

We're Not Finished Here

Seventeen years ago this week I had recently finished my PhD and had signed a contract to begin a job at a smallish private university in New Jersey. I went off to the International Dyke March in New York City. A photographer with a press pass pointed his huge lens in the direction of my friends and me, and I panicked.

My job talk had been a queer reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, on the theory that if they didn't want to hire me after hearing it, then it wasn't the right institution for me.

Still, the university is in a pretty red county in a deep-purple state, and a careful academic analysis is different from photos with a bunch of women in various states of dress. Or not. I had met most of my future colleagues only at a long day of interviewing, and I had no idea how they might react if they saw that photo. And it was a tenure-track job. I didn't want to screw it up before I even arrived on campus. After I'd been on campus for a few months, the department rattlesnake let me know I wasn't the first choice candidate. Who knows?

The Supreme Court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land brings us a long way away from that day. It followed some smaller steps. Clinton's dictum of "don't ask, don't tell" for gays in the armed services now seems completely backward, as does Obama's slow movement toward gay rights.

But like the removal of the Confederate flag from many municipalities and state houses in recent days, marriage equality is a beginning, not an endpoint. Gays and lesbians can still be fired in many states. Churches are burning across the South, and people in power are silent.

We still have a lot of work to do. I don't want any gay or trans kid to fear coming out to her parents, or be shamed by his classmates, or get beaten up by acquaintances. I don't want any mother to have to fear for her sons. I want full inclusion for people who are disabled, who are trans, who have chronic illnesses. Not tolerance: acceptance and respect.

And I want us to quit using plastic and eating the animals.

Does that make me an outrageous idealist? Well then.

22 June 2015

The Charleston Shooting and Making Medieval Bodies

I've been thinking a lot about Charleston this week, and all the other recent shootings and cop-on-civilian violence. Trying to figure out how I can engage beyond ranting at friends and family.

I'd already been thinking about making my (MA-level) Middle English literature course about bodies -- normative bodies, "other" bodies -- and it occurs to me that I can push that in the direction of figuring out how we got to this place where we believe some bodies are more important than others.

Potential texts for the syllabus:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Canterbury Tales: General Prologue, Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, Miller's Tale, Prioress's Tale
Troilus and Criseyde?
The Second Shepherds' Play
Sir Orfeo
The Knight with the Lion
The Hereford Mappa Mundi
The Tale of Two Married Women and the Widow
The Book of Margery Kempe
Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Maybe one or two of Marie de France's Lais

selections from The King's Two Bodies
Karl Steel's essay on making the human
something by Carolyn Dinshaw
selections from Metzler's book on medieval disability
excerpts from Lisa Lampert-Weissig's book on medieval poco
Asa Mittman's essay, "Are the Monstrous Races Races?"
Gillian Rudd on Sir Gawain
An essay from Medieval Masculinities
Something on medieval anti-semitism

It's probably too much. Maybe I'll ask each of the students to choose two of the essays, and report on them for the rest of the class.

I'm open to suggestions. I'd love suggestions, in fact.

19 June 2015

Dylann Roof and Mainstream Racism

Dylann Roof: "you've raped our women, and you are taking over the country."

Donald Trump on Mexicans: "They're rapists.... I will build a great, great wall on our southern border."

Jeb Bush on what he likes to read: "I like Charles Murray books to be honest with you." Murray is the author of The Bell Curve. He claims:
social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.... disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior.
The rationale for the Confederacy:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...
South Carolina still flies the Confederate Flag. Still think Dylann Roof is a lone wolf?

12 June 2015

Most Commonly Used Words: All the Presidents

Luke DuBois at Hindsight Is Always 2020 has charted the most common words used by each of the presidents. The results are historically embedded, but the differences are fascinating. Here's the most common word used by each president:

Washington: gentlemen
Adams: France
Jefferson: limits
Madison: enemy
Monroe: parties
Adams: mutual
Jackson: bank
Van Buren: results
Tyler: Texas
Polk: Oregon
Taylor: empire
Fillmore: deem
Pierce: central
Buchanan: slavery
Lincoln: emancipation
Johnson: republican
Grant: products
Hayes: coinage
Arthur: likely
Cleveland: treatment
Harrison: wages
Cleveland: reserve
McKinley: Puerto
Roosevelt: corporations
Taft: procedure
Wilson: processes
Harding: relationship
Coolidge: veterans
Hoover: unemployment
Roosevelt: democratic
Truman: Soviet
Eisenhower: nuclear
Kennedy: alliance
Johnson: tonight
Nixon: truly
Ford: barrels
Carter: US
Reagan: deficits
Bush: idea
Clinton: 21st
Bush: terror

DuBois doesn't include Obama in his analysis, but the Boston Globe made "wordles" for several of his speeches. His most commonly used words in speeches from 2009 to 2011: nation, people, Americans.

Interesting contrasts among back-to-back presidents: limits / enemy, mutual / bank, slavery / emancipation, alliance / tonight, terror / nation, truly / barrels. Other than that, no comment.