Chartering the Unknown

Like Alex, I’m excited for what seems to be a true shop-apprentice approach to learning this whole list of skills, methods, and programs. Before I came to UVa I held a few jobs with a company that hired people based on general knowledge and potential rather than specific technical know-how, and I learned to use new technological tools as my responsibility increased with each position. While I assume we’re accepted to graduate school not for our current knowledge but for our potential to do great work later on, the generally ability v. specific skills parallel doesn’t quite work for a field in which the product is criticism, scholarly writing, or humanistic knowledge (whatever that is). But DH refigures or even expands the endpoints of humanistic inquiry and allows for different forms of education and training along the way. Somebody decided I have the potential for insightful literary analysis, and I’m glad the kind folks in the SLab have decided there’s hope for me to add some technical and managerial tools to my professional toolkit. But it’s also quite new and difficult to have to draft a charter for a project I know almost nothing about so far. How much will the knowledge and skills we gain through the Praxis Program’s weekly workshops change our ideas about  self-governance and credit?

Like Edward, I’m interested in and concerned about interdisciplinarity. One of the model charters we examined suggests an interdisciplinarity that is necessarily collaborative, with participants both “thinking across boundaries” and “communicating with people unlike [ourselves].” I’m much more used to the former but am definitely looking forward to the latter, and to working with people from the same disciplinary background as me (literature) who are now working in “non-traditional” positions. To make this work, I hope we can take the advice of the charter linked above and “map the relevant conceptual territory” early on in order to de- and re-territorialize not only our disciplinary backgrounds but also our individual theories, methodologies, and working idiosyncrasies. (Mine seem to include a tendency toward spatial thinking and obnoxious theory references. Sorry, team.)

Like Sarah, I hope for professional dignity and transparency at all steps in the process. We’re lucky to have our core group all here in Charlottesville, but Sarah is right to point out that our working group doesn’t end there. Since we’re going to be working on crowdsourcing interpretation and since Brooke emphasizes “accounting for the process,” I wonder if we might invite blog readers to help us with our charter as we draft it over the next few weeks. Some crowdsourced input and interpretation by experts and amateurs near and far might keep us apprised of issues we’re overlooking, mishandling, or failing to anticipate.

I admire Annie for looking forward to sharing work and sharing credit. I can already see that she’ll be great at keeping details straight and bringing us down from abstractions and What Ifs. I too hope we can share credit equally, and taking leadership on individual components, whether technical or managerial, seems like the right idea. I’m still hesitant to say much more about how this will all work without talking more about what the particular goals of this project will be. I’m all for various forms of publication and the release of open-source software, but I’d like to talk more about what that software is going to do before we get too far into this charter. This requires even more looking ahead to unknown outcomes than the dissertation prospectus I’m struggling with right now!

I am a 2011-12 Praxis Fellow, a PhD candidate in the UVa Department of English, and a former AmeriCorps member, campus civic engagement coordinator, and criminal defense investigator. My dissertation uses theories of waste and excess to examine American literary responses to disaster from the 1927 Mississippi flood to the present.

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