Kennesaw State University has agreed to restore an art installation that officials ordered removed from its art museum last month. The work dealt with the the homestead of Corra Harris (1869-1935), an author who gained unusual prominence in her era for a female writer -- and whose career took off when she penned a piece widely viewed as a apology for lynching, full of racist stereotypes. The homestead is controversial at Kennesaw because the university accepted it as a gift to preserve in 2009 -- over the objections of some faculty members. University administrators ordered the installation about Harris removed from an exhibit that was celebrating the opening of a new art museum on campus -- and that decision has been denounced as censorship by many artists and others.
A statement from the university said that the exhibit will have explanatory information, and that the university's leaders "reaffirm the administration’s full support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Our intention is to use this entire experience as a learning and engagement opportunity for all of our stakeholders." The university statement also included a statement from Ruth Stanford, the artist and an associate professor at Georgia State University, saying that she agreed with the decision to restore the installation.
Via email, Stanford was more critical of the university. "I am happy that my work is going back in the show so that viewers can see it and form their own opinions. However, despite my best efforts I feel that KSU largely continues to control the conversation. The conversation should be about censorship, and KSU does not want to talk about that," she said.
Also via email, the university responded to Stanford, and said that the university has in fact communicated about all issues that have been raised. "We have openly communicated the university administration's perspective and articulated the rationale for the action that was taken through three different media statements. We have responded to each and every individual media inquiry that we have received since this issue first developed. Members of the museum staff also have remained in frequent and consistent communication with the artist to ensure that the line of communication has remained open," the statement said.
"Finally, campus officials have directed that the related programming that the university has pledged to conduct will address all aspects of this controversy -- beginning with the acceptance of the gift and including the present controversy."
Officials at the University of Southern Maine and Southern Oregon University have announced retrenchment plans, in response to state budget cuts, that eliminate faculty jobs and academic programs -- and that are controversial.
At the University of Southern Maine, President Theodora Kalikow on Friday announced a plan to eliminate majors in American and New England studies, geosciences and recreational and leisure studies plus an arts and humanities major at the university's Lewiston-Auburn College. The plan would eliminate the jobs of 20-30 faculty members and 10-20 staff members. The Morning Sentinel reported that many faculty members are opposing the cuts and questioning the process by which the plan was developed.
Southern Oregon University will eliminate its physics department as part of a plan to cut 25 faculty positions, Ashland Daily Tidings reported. Officials said that they hoped to find a way to reinstate physics, linked more closely to regional hiring needs.
The National Science Foundation has selected Fay Lomax Cook, a professor at Northwestern University, to be assistant director for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences. The NSF is a major player in supporting social science, although some Republicans in Congress have questioned that role. Cook is a faculty fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and a professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern.
In today’s Academic Minute, Sina Rabbany, professor and director of bioengineering at Hofstra University, discusses new insights into how blood vessels acquire characteristics, and how they might be used to transform how we repair damaged organs. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
A couple of weeks ago I decided, after prolonged dithering, to rent space in the digital warehousing district known as "the cloud." One of my laptops held at least five years' worth of material -- digital page proofs for books, JSTOR downloads, extensive photographic documentation of the lives of our cats, etc. -- running to about 14,000 files, or more than 50 gigabytes. Having all of it in one place seemed to tempt fate.
It also meant that use of my digital archive was restricted to times when that rather clunky laptop happened to be convenient. The biggest advantage of storing a file in the cloud is being able to retrieve it on any computer or e-reader that has web access. The savings in exasperation alone are considerable. A feeling of creeping senility kicks in when you end up with two or three copies of a paper that you probably already downloaded, but can't remember for sure (so just to be safe...) or spend part of a trip to the library gathering the same citations you collected a few years ago.
The one disadvantage -- in case anyone else out there has a similar digital hoarding problem -- is that first you have to upload everything, and it can take a while. The task does not require much attention. But even with sending batches of a hundred files or more at a time, it took a long weekend. That doesn't count the labor of sorting and labeling the files and weeding out duplicates, which, like housekeeping, is an ongoing process that never really ends.
After this long march into the paperless future, my study ought to look as aesthetically spare as an Ikea store display -- not crowded with cardboard boxes full of documents from projects both in progress and in limbo. But I'm not there yet and probably never will be. With a scanner and a few more weekends, all the files could all be rendered into PDF. For that matter, some of the material that took me years to locate, and not a few bucks to acquire, can now be downloaded in that format for free.
It's the same text, of course, yet somehow not the same document. The PDF lacks the aura of the original: the constant, lingering reminder that, in the past, readers held this specific document in their hands, focused attention on it for their own particular reasons, and decided that it was worth keeping.
Contact with the original document enriches the experience of reading -- thickening it with added layers of historicity. That said, it's also convenient to have a digital version of it on hand, to annotate or to share. But by the time I finished reading Lisa Gitelman's new book Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press), even the humble PDFs downloaded on a JSTOR binge began to seem interesting in their own right as a variety of social and cultural artifact.
Gitelman, a professor of English and of media, culture, and communication at New York University, finds the contrast between print culture and digital culture much less compelling than a series of developments from the past 150 years conditioning how we understand documents of whatever variety, whether published with ink or in bytes. My hunch going in was that the author would give a fair bit of space to one more rehearsal and critique of Foucault's treatment of the concepts of document and archive in The Archeology of Knowledge. The eyes fairly glaze at the prospect.
Instead, Gitelman practices a kind of conceptual archeology without obeisance to the master, in an argument that stands well on its own.
To sum it up all too quickly, then: Discussions of print culture typically concern published matter of a few general kinds, such as books, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers -- in short, mass-produced texts through which authors communicate with an audience.
But another category accounted for up to a third of the output of printers in the United States by the end of the 19th century: the "job printing" done for the government, industry, and small businesses, providing them with batches of application forms, tickets, order books, rent receipts, posters, and so on.
This layer of "print culture" was part of the basic infrastructure of modern bureaucracy and of advanced capitalism -- as essential to modernity as the circulation of books and magazines was in creating the "public sphere" (Jürgen Habermas) or the "imagined community" of the nation-state (Benedict Arnold). The concept of "author" hardly applied to the documents turned out by job printing, and they didn't typically have "readers," either, certainly not in the sense a newspaper did. But they were integral to everyday life -- and with the passing of time, they could become historical evidence, the raw material of scholarship.
Here the analysis begins to spin out a couple of threads that, by turns, twist together and move at odd angles to each other. Gitelman goes on to trace the efforts of academics in the 1920s and '30s to develop standards for making scarce primary sources available to the scholarly community (using emerging tools such as microfilm) while also establishing standards for cataloging and citing documents circulating through non-print modes of reproduction (for example, carbon copy or the hectograph).
Marketing of the Xerox machine in the early 1960s originally stressed its usefulness as a replacement for job printing. But by the end of the decade, copy shops were sprouting up around college campuses, precisely to meet the need for small-run reproduction of scholarly materials that American learned societies had anticipated in earlier decades.
By the time you reach the book's final chapter, on the rise of PDF, the relationship between the history of ground-level print culture and that of its Ivory Tower analog seem linked in so many suggestive ways that the advent of digital culture seems like just one part of an intricate pattern. Most of the stimulation of the book comes from Gitelman's narration and juxtaposition of developments across several decades, which unfortunately can't be captured in paraphrase.
It's the first of the author's books I have read, but it won't be the last.