A Dawnland Voices Wordle

My colleague James Finley produced this word cloud by running the entire manuscript for Dawnland Voices–the 600-page anthology of regional Native writing I’ve just finished editing–through a tool called Voyant.  (Click “Voyant” for a clearer picture.)

Like the tag cloud at the left (which shows only how often I have tagged particular topics on this blog, myself), this little wordle represents the most frequently-used words appearing in the anthology.  Many people retain a healthy ambivalence about the usefulness of word clouds, but they’re at least an engaging prompt for conversation.

In the one above, the three largest terms come as little surprise.  I do enjoy seeing “land” and “print” in the same relatively large color and size, since one of the things I’ve learned while reading a lot of this literature is that Native literature and Native land are really inseparable (an argument brilliantly elaborated in Abenaki historian Lisa Brooks’s book, The Common Pot).  I also like seeing so many words that underscore the continuous presence of Native people in this region: “time,” “years,” “long,” “history,” and of course “children” and “today.”  Note, too, the presence of so many terms describing kinship and community.

At first I wondered why only four tribal nations seem to have made it onto this wordle.  It’s not that Mi’kmaq, Wampanoag, Passamaquoddy and Mohegan authors are necessarily better represented in the anthology, since each tribal nation gets more or less the same number of pages.  But it is the case that many of the Mi’kmaq and Wampanoag writers we selected are historians.  In these writings, then, they refer over and over to their people in the course of a single piece.  This is a little different in, say, some of the Abenaki writings; there are certainly a lot of talented Abenaki writers, but they include a good number of creative writers–in particular, poets, who don’t always invoke the term “Abenaki” quite so often.  Writers like Joseph Bruchac and Cheryl Savageau sometimes invoke their own term for homeland, “Ndakinna”; or they depict specific Abenaki places, like the Pemigewasset River.

None of that is terribly scientific, of course!  [If I had to guess how “university” made it in there, it would be that James included in this wordle the bibliography for the whole book, which includes a lot of university presses–academic publishers being often (though not always) more willing than commercial ones to take care of otherwise marginalized authors.]  If you’ve never tried a wordle, especially you writers: see what it flushes out of your poems or short stories.

A New Digital Anthology of Regional Native Writing

This is a fairly academic (but short!) piece I wrote for an NEH Institute of Digital Humanities, which I attended last summer at the University of Denver.  It serves as an introduction to the digital anthology that my students, some Native collaborators and I have started.  The anthology will always be a work in progress, but it’s especially fledgling now, so all comments are most welcome!

This project sits squarely within the new movement calling itself #transformDH. From the standpoint of what are often called “diversity” concerns, digital scholarship and projects have tended to follow fairly predictable patterns. In my own field, literature, the most visible and best-funded projects began with canonical (#deadwhite!) authors: the Rosetti Archive, the Blake Archive, the Whitman Archive. Close on the heels of these, to be sure, have come new projects informed by critical ethnic and gender studies, including some pursued in our IDH workshop: Angel Nieves’s Virtual Freedom Trail, Leo Flores’s work digitizing Puerto Rican collections, Charles Foy’s history of eighteenth-century African-American mariners.

Still, only very recently have scholars working in critical ethnic and gender studies started to coalesce within DH, to articulate how this work challenges or confronts the field’s establish(ing) parameters. Alexis Lothian (English, Indiana University of Pennsylvania) described the rise of #transformDH in a Winter 2011 essay for the Journal of Digital Humanities, just months after the American Studies Association hosted panels devoted to diversity and DH. Some scholars, like Lothian, were concerned that DH has ignored the “many politicized queers and people of color engaged in scholarly work in and out of the academy [who] do use digital tools and think critically about them and even create them.” Others, like Moya Bailey,(Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Emory University) worried about deeper, “implicit assumptions about what and who counts in digital humanities as well as. . .structural limitations that are the inevitable result of an unexamined identity politics of whiteness, masculinity, and ablebodiness.” Since then, Adeline Koh (Literature, Richard Stockton College) has been cyber-rallying #transformDH scholars who want to interrogate these politics.

Writing of Indigenous New England started with a conventional print anthology: Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Writing from Indigenous New England, forthcoming (2013) from the University of Nebraska Press. I edited this tome, which runs 600 pages long, with 12 tribal community consultants: elders, scholars and historians who selected, annotated and contextualized a wide range of indigenous-authored texts, from early petroglyphs to contemporary blogs. Long before we submitted the final manuscript, we started feeling the limitations of print: we wanted a living document able to expand (in response to both new historical findings and new literary production), to change (in response, again, to new findings about historical accuracy, or new community-driven questions about texts), and to stimulate (and include) new debate and conversation. It seemed obvious that a digital platform, and the crowdsourcing made possible by such platforms, would only enhance our work of literary collection, editing and interpretation.

With few resources immediately available, we have started with Omeka.net, tailor-made for this kind of project. Tribal collaborators have chosen texts they would like to see included, and UNH students have done the work of uploading these items, describing them, curating them, and then re-submitting them to the consultants for approval. Our first full “exhibit,” a partnership with some local historical societies, basketmakers, and the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, focuses on Abenaki baskets, and asks readers and viewers to consider nonalphabetic forms of literacy as part of indigenous literary traditions. Future exhibits will be initiated by external partners, not (top-down) by me or my classes. If future funding appeals pan out, I hope to offer training for tribal historians and writers to use Omeka so they can load their own documents remotely and independently. For this phase, we’ll form an advisory board and develop an explicit, indigenous-centered protocol for intellectual property rights, using, for instance, a licensing system like the one attached to the wonderful new Mukurtu platform.

As I teach at a public institution that ranks among the lowest in the nation for state support, and that is experiencing cutbacks that are nothing short of frightening, I have been thinking a good deal about the unfortunate tensions that seem to be arising between digital humanities and ethnic studies. When programs are on the chopping block, ethnic studies and related programs are always the first to go. Meanwhile, the very word “digital” brings the dollar signs to university administrators’ eyes. Some of their support might be for genuine DH; more seems to be driven by some bizarre fantasy that as the e-courses flow, so will the cash (Coursera’s attrition rates be damned). But either way, all parties concern will need to be newly attuned to issues of social and economic injustice. Our “own” Angel Nieves has insisted that when it comes to diversity in DH, access and inclusion aren’t enough. How can DH projects help build capacity in disenfranchised communities? How can they create closer promixities between people with privilege (including some university students and professors) and people without (including un- or under-employed community members with historic knowledge and skills)? Can DH pull against, or offer creative responses to, the radical upward re-distribution of resources we are currently witnessing in the academy?

An open bibliography of regional literature

Here is a link to my bibliography of regional Native American literature, on which I’m eager to entertain comments and suggestions!

I have been building this bibliography in Zotero, a tool I really can’t praise enough.  Designed by the geniuses at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, it is a free, open-source citation manager that really puts others (EndNote, RefWorks) to shame.  Zotero is not only a cinch to use*; it was designed with the express aim of allowing scholars and readers to share their work in progress.  In this interesting podcast, historian Dan Cohen talks about one of the impulses behind the design: he recalled a moment when, as a graduate student, he entered his dissertation adviser’s office, and the professor rapidly fired off a list of the top books, articles and archives he’d need to consult to become an expert on his topic.

Why, Cohen wondered, should anyone have to learn a secret handshake to get at this kind of knowledge?

Further, (Siobhan wondered), why would a scholar think that she could assemble a definitive bibliography of anything all on her own?  If there is one thing I’ve learned while reading, teaching and researching about Native American literature, it’s that so many interesting works fall through the cracks, and are likely to be missed if you adhere only to the usual channels (mainstream publishers, large library databases).  You find a great deal more by visiting local communities where Native people live–browsing local shops, libraries and historical societies; and, most of all, talking to people who either own or remember that old volume of poetry from the 1930s, now long out of print.

Taking a bibliography like this online has the power to expand those conversations even further.  So I am eager to hear from readers, writers, and fans of this literature: what’s missing?

*for academics: honestly, I could cry thinking of the hours I’ve wasted, assiduously typing in source information to my own bibliographies and re-formatting articles for publication depending on individual journals’ demands.  Zotero automatically grabs all the publication info for you and stores it in an iTunes-style window;  it lets you drag and drop those citations across new bibliographies and into your Word Documents; and it automatically generates Works Cited pages for you.  This is the kind of work computers were supposed to save us. . . .

Early Native Writers on the Web

I’ve been absent from this blog for a couple of months, because I have been absorbed in a new class on early Native American writers.   My students and I are reading much of this work online where we can find it, because one goal of the class is to start assembling a digital archive of regional Native writing.  There is nothing quite as fun, or as humbling, as sitting around a computer lab with 30 incredibly smart 20-year-olds as they hunt through and evaluate this material, so I thought I’d start sharing some of it here.

A lot of digital literature projects have tended to adhere fairly closely to the canonizing practices of print books and anthologies.  In other words, it seems, the first authors to get archived in cyberspace are usually those already considered “major,” like Walt Whitman, William Blake, William Shakespeare, and so on.  So it’s no real surprise that THE two most studied and taught early Native authors are also the most accessible online:

Samson Occom (Mohegan; 1723, 1792)

Dartmouth College has begun digitizing some of the documents in their extensive collections of Occom papers, with a focus on Eleazar Wheelock and his other students.  This is unfortunately not the most user-friendly interface: the documents are scanned in jpeg format only, not transcribed or text-encoded, so they’re not particularly searchable (nor, in some cases, very readable).

A more readable, more fully contextualized approach is given on the University of Maryland’s Early Americas Digital Archive, where Heather Bouwman and her students at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis have transcribed and edited just two of Occom’s sermons.  If you really want full access to Occom’s writing, with ample footnotes and explanatory contexts, it seems you still have to go to print: The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan, edited by Joanna Brooks, is still indispensable.

William Apess (Pequot; 1798-1839)

Apess’s writing is much more widely available online, and in a variety of formats, too.  His published works all show up in the Internet Archive’s Open Library, a wonderful project that offers several different editions, and makes the text available in a wide variety of formats (pdf, plain text, etc; you can even export to your Kindle).  My students were enamored of the ability to read the book online, where the site has a high-quality replication of the original and lets you actually “feel” like you’re turning the pages.  They also liked that you can search for a term in the book (e.g., “savage” or “Christian”) and get a “timeline” of the word’s occurrence at the bottom of the screen.  Additionally, the Open Library also has some very good index functions: you can, for instance, click on “Mashpee Indians” and see links not only to other books on the subject, but also a timeline showing the publishing history on that topic (at least within Open Library selections), which can be very illuminating.

A favorite Apess text for digitizing, it appears, is his Eulogy on King Philip, and you can get some decent historical contexts for it from sites like the Voices of Democracy Project.

In my next post I’ll discuss some of the less-known texts and authors my students are looking at in cyberspace; but I’m also very interested to hear from readers: what Native literature have you found online?  what are your favorite formats?  what would be on your wish list for an online archive of Native writing from New England?

Mapping Native New Hampshire

Blogging, I’ve found, can be highly addictive, and can lead you straight into other time-consuming digital hobbies. I’m becoming interested in collaborative mapping. How would it change the way people look at, say, a “white” (not!) state like New Hampshire, if a group of people INDIGENIZED this space. . .?

I would be very interested to hear recommendations for additional links!