October 30, 2020

Whalen Publishes Digital Poem

A screenshot of a digital poem showing rows of dark gray letters arranged around a five-sided blank space in the center of the screen.

Screenshot of Whalen’s digital poem “pent house”

Zach Whalen, Associate Professor in Communication and Digital Studies, has published a digital poem titled “pent house” in the journal Taper. Submissions for this issue were meant to address the theme “pent up” as a way of thinking about life in a pandemic, and works are constrained to no more than 2KB of code with no external libraries. “pent house” excerpts letters from the gene sequence of SARS-Cov-2 and arranges them in a five-sided spiral.

Whalen Publishes Essay on Computer-Generated Creative Writing

Associate Professor Zach Whalen

Zach Whalen, Associate Professor of English, has just published an article in a special issue of The Journal of Creative Writing Studies on “Creative Making as Creative Writing.” His article, “The Many Authors of The Several Houses of Brian, Spencer, Liam, Victoria, Brayden, Vincent, and Alex: Authorship, Agency, and Appropriation,” is an artist’s statement reflecting on how creating a computer-generated book like Whalen’s 2017 work The Several Houses of Brian, Spencer, Liam, Victoria, Brayden, Vincent, and Alex invites readers to reconsider the idea of what it means to be an author. Whalen’s book draws on several different databases to create an essentially infinite variation on the nursery rhyme “This is the House that Jack Built”; these databases contain the work of hundreds of contributors, so Whalen argues in this article that the novel is best considered a collaboration among many instead of the work of a single individual or computer. https://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol4/iss1/

Whalen Presents at Two Conferences

Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen

Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen

Zach Whalen, Associate Professor of English, gave two professional presentations over the summer. In June, he gave a talk titled “Against Blogging” at the Domains 2019 conference. He reflected on the decline of blogging as a digital writing assignment and speculated on possible futures for digital writing in the classroom. In July, he went to Cork, Ireland for the 2019 conference of the Electronic Literature Organization. There, he presented about his ongoing research on computer-generated text, specifically the “National Novel Generation Month” community of practice (NaNoGenMo). He will be continuing that project this fall as a URES 197 project with the help of some research assistants.

Blevins and Whalen Present at Conferences

Assistant Professor of English Brenta Blevins

Assistant Professor of English Brenta Blevins

Brenta Blevins, Assistant Professor of English, and Zach Whalen, Associate Professor of English, with Lee Skallerup Bessette, Learning Design Specialist of Georgetown University (previously Instructional Technology Specialist at UMW). recently gave presentations that constituted a panel at the 2019 Computers and Writing Conference, held at Eastern Michigan University in East Lansing, MI in June 2019.

The panel, entitled “The Digital Studies 101 Website: Developing and Using an Ethical ‘Un-Textbook,’” described teaching Digital Studies 101 at UMW using the Digital Studies 101 DGST101.net website, which is a common, free, open educational website used in lieu of a physical textbook. In describing the development and uses of the UMW Digital Studies 101 website, the panel addressed the ethical priorities, pedagogical benefits, and curricular opportunities for UMW’s Digital Studies program. The presenters described the programmatic history and impetus for the initial development of the website; presented on continuing development, instructor use, and pedagogical implications of the website; and addressed student use of the website.

Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen

Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen

The DGST101.net OER resource has had 30,000 visits since 2016 and supports the #OpenEdVA initiative and the Commonwealth’s goals around open educational resources (OER).

This trio also presented a poster on this same topic at the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) in Pittsburgh, PA, in July 2019. There they had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Digital Humanities faculty and staff from around the world.

At the same conference, Blevins also presented her project “Developing Avatar Ethos in Mixed Reality Protests” analyzing the rhetorical strategies recent protesters in Spain, France, and South Korea employed using Mixed Reality, a medium that combines virtual elements with material objects. When in-person gatherings have been legally banned or prohibited by such existential threats as terrorism, protesters have used digital technology to create virtual avatars for demonstrating at physical protest sites. While the three analyzed protests all successfully used Mixed Reality to achieve traditional protest aims related to political and environmental activism, these technologies in the future could be disrupted or employed by counter-protesters, to attack or misrepresent protesters, or otherwise subvert demonstrations.

Finally, at the same conference, Whalen also presented a paper as part of a cross-institutional panel on “What Do We Teach When We Teach DH across Disciplines?”

Whalen Publishes Essay of Media Archaeology in Digital Studies

Associate Professor of English, Linguistics, and Communications Zach Whalen

Associate Professor of English, Linguistics, and Communications Zach Whalen

Zach Whalen, Associate Professor in the Department of English, Linguistics, and Communications, recently had his article “Teaching with Objects: Individuating Media Archaeology in Digital Studies” published in The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy: https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/teaching-with-objects-individuating-media-archaeology-in-digital-studies/.

Abstract: “Media archaeology presents a framework for understanding the foundations of digital culture in the social histories of technological media. This essay argues that a pedagogy focused on individual, physical artifacts of technological media involves students in constructing a constellation of insights around technology’s mineral, global, and human history as well as its ecological future. By describing and reflecting on a series of assignments and exercises developed for my “Introduction to Digital Studies” class, I show how the intimacy of specific devices can connect to the exigencies of technological media through the lens of media archaeology. The core of this experience is a group project where students take apart an artifact like an old smartphone or game console, attempt to locate the origins of each component in that artifact, and present those origins in a map and timeline. The risks and rewards of this assignment sequence actively engage students in designing their own learning and encourage them to think critically and ethically about the media they consume, the devices that provide the foundation for that consumption, and the global economy of human labor that makes it all possible. In a step-by-step consideration, I consider how the practical and logistical challenges of this assignment sequence support the learning goals I identify as crucial to Digital Studies.”

Whalen Presents Research on Computer-Generated Narrative

In August 2018, Zach Whalen, associate professor of English and director of the minor in digital studies, traveled to Montreal to participate in the annual conference of the Electronic Literature Organization. At the conference, Whalen presented research on using computational text-analysis to study and interpret the work of a community of practitioners who use code to generate novels every November in an event called National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo).

Whalen also performed a reading of his own NaNoGenMo 2017 book titled The Several Houses of Brian, Spencer, Liam, Victoria, Brayden, Vincent, and Alex, an 800-page long “children’s book”


Whalen, Blevins, and Skallerup Bessette Present at Computers and Writing Conference





Skallerup Bessette

Zach Whalen, Associate Professor of English; Brenta Blevins, Assistant Professor of English; and Lee Skallerup Bessette, Instructional Technology Specialist, recently gave presentations that constituted a panel at the 2018 Computers and Writing Conference, held at George Mason University.

The session was titled “Locating Digital Writing Space,” and the presenters talked about the origins of the Console Living Room project, using Augmented Reality with students to expand and complicate their sense of that space, and the ethos of Domain of One’s Own as digital writing space.

Davis Publishes Book and Article

Janine S. Davis, assistant professor in the College of Education, has published a text titled Building a Professional Teaching Identity on Social Media: A Digital Constellation of Selves. The text was initiated during her work on the Digital Scholars Institute in 2014-15 and was completed during her Jepson fellowship year in 2015-16. The text features a foreword by Martha Burtis, director of the Digital Knowledge Center. Also in the text are mentions of the Domain of One’s Own project and citations from both an interview with Jeffrey McClurken, professor of History & American Studies and Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation, and work by Zach Whalen, associate professor of English.

Davis also published an article with a colleague, Victoria Fantozzi, in the journal Mentoring and Tutoring. The article, “What Do Student Teachers Want in Mentor Teachers?: Desired, Expected, Possible, and Emerging Roles” will be published in the fall, but an online version is available at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/XcegWJ89ZPz8W6TnWrjR/full

Foss and Whalen Co-edit Essay Collection

Professor of English Chris Foss and Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen (together with Jonathan W. Gray, Associate Professor of English at John Jay College/City University of New York) have published a book of essays titled Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives. The book appears as part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Literary Disability Series (series editors David Bolt, Elizabeth J. Donaldson, and Julia Miele Rodas).

This book invites readers to consider both canonical and alternative graphic representations of disability. Some chapters focus on comic superheroes, from lesser-known protagonists like Cyborg and Helen Killer to classics such as Batgirl and Batman; many more explore the amazing range of graphic narratives revolving around disability, covering famous names such as Alison Bechdel and Chris Ware, as well as less familiar artists such as Keiko Tobe and Georgia Webber. The volume also offers a broad spectrum of represented disabilities: amputation, autism, blindness, deafness, depression, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, speech impairment, and spinal injury. A number of the essays collected here show how comics continue to implicate themselves in the objectification and marginalization of persons with disabilities, perpetuating stale stereotypes and stigmas. At the same time, others stress how this medium simultaneously offers unique potential for transforming our understanding of disability in truly profound ways.

Foss Speaks to Columbia University Seminars

On October 16, Professor of English Chris Foss was a featured speaker at the joint meeting of the Columbia University Seminar on Disability, Culture, and Society and the Columbia University Seminar on Narrative, Health, and Social Justice in New York. Along with fellow co-editor Jonathan W. Gray, he talked about their essay collection Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives, forthcoming in February as one of the first volumes of Palgrave’s new Literary Disability series.

Image (by Georgia Webber) from cover of _Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives_

They also each offered detailed presentations on their individual chapter contributions to the book. As Foss explained, his chapter, “Reading in Pictures: Re-visioning Autism and Literature through the Medium of Manga,” considers the prospect that manga texts provide a more material means through which to communicate the lived experience of autism, perhaps even encourage a more properly “autistic” reading experience. Exploring how the more conceptual and less linear qualities of Keiko Tobe’s multi-volume series With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child (together with the multimodal reading experience they foster) speak to numerous aspects of autistic embodiment, the chapter effects an open-ended critical articulation of autism and manga (in dialogue with both autistic writers and sequential art scholars) characterized by a mapping around of space from which to consider multiple possibilities.

Sorely missed was third co-editor and lead author of the book’s Introduction, Associate Professor of English Zach Whalen, who was unable to attend because he coincidentally had to be in New York that same day for the meeting of the Modern Language Association’s Committee for Information Technology.