All posts by gvicari

Final Draft- Stories in Stone: A Justification for Preserving Cemeteries

Here it is (apologies for the slight lateness)!  I’m having some problems with images and formatting, so there will be more changes before tomorrow morning.  The preservation-oriented pages are also forthcoming.

Overview: My essay argues, with the support of a conditions assessment, that historic cemeteries are worthy of preservation not only for their physical historic resources, but for the information they contain about the individuals that made up a community throughout its history.  Drawn to the spooky atmosphere of run-down cemeteries, and perhaps frightened off by the daunting task of restoring them, people are inclined to let them deteriorate.  In doing so, they put at risk valuable information about historic burial customs and memorial aesthetics, as well as data that helps construct the past lives of locals.  I used the cemetery at the United Methodist Church in Haleyville, NJ, as a case study.  My argument is supported by my own survey work, as well as preservation recommendations from professional archaeology firms and the federal government. 

Process: I began this work for my capstone class in January, beginning with a field survey, in which I took pictures and assessed the deterioration that had already happened.  I did research on the different types of problems that I noticed, as well as the appropriate ways to deal with them.  

I didn’t quite know what form I wanted this to take when I decided to use this project for my digital essay, but I knew that I wanted to put together some sort of essay on what cemeteries meant to me in conjunction with pages about the more scientific methods of actually doing conservation work.  

Affordances: Wordpress lends itself really well to having several different pages set up to your liking, which is how I wanted to divide up my digital space. 

Constraints:  I ended up not being able to do the level of survey work (mapping, videos, etc.) that I wanted to do, simply because of time and my own abilities and skill levels.  Additionally, the more scientific aspects of a conditions assessment and a preservation plan are meant to be just that: scientific, objective, and not really open to interpretation if they are going to be carried out correctly.  I eventually decided to just leave them be as non-subjective pieces and stand for themselves as part of the essay. 

Chasing the Cicada

The text I’ve chosen has been one of my favorite long-form articles for a while, in part because I don’t think it wouldn’t work nearly as well as a print narrative.

Chasing the Cicada,” an article from magazine Mentalfloss, follows how one Jeff Kinkle got caught up in a mysterious trail of online clues likely planted by the NSA or the amorphous hacker entity, Anonymous, in order to recruit and suss out talented hackers and codebreakers.

The subject matter itself is interesting, and makes an extremely compelling story.   However, what draws me to read this particular text over and over again is how well the author, Jed Lipinski, crafts the narrative, as well as how appropriate it is to read it online as opposed to in print.

The article flows between sections describing Kinkle’s descent into the underworld of the internet and sections providing background on the different elements of his deep web journey- 4chan, /b/, Tor, Anonymous, and reddit.  While it’s not considered particularly good form to constantly interrupt a narrative with large chunks of background information, the author showcases brief yet informative glimpses into the online life of these internet entities (internetities?  New word, anyone?) and how they are involved in Kinkle’s story.  Although it’s not particularly linear, the story reads like instructions for a recipe- keep adding information and resources to the argument until it all comes together and makes a structured, fascinating article.

When I first read this story several months ago, I was also very impressed with the breadth of research.  While not a formally researched essay, the author draws on sources as varied as Gawker, Carnegie Mellon reports, interviews, and memes and message boards themselves.  He also includes some of the actual coded images that were part of the breadcrumbs that Kinkle followed to the next clue.

Ducks make everything, even deep web hacking trails, more fun.

There’s something particularly meta and through-provoking about reading an article on Anonymous and the deep web on the internet.  It also brings to mind how the web itself, with all of its layers, functions as a constantly evolving digital text.  Lipinsk spends a fair amount of time describing how Kinkle and other 4chan commenters following the trail worked together within comment threads to track and solve clues.  As a sort of open-source conversation, the problem-solving exercise allowed for multiple voices to contribute to the development and construction of the code-breaking exercise.

This is one of the articles I send people who want recommendations for excellent long-form feature stories.  I know it’s not technically about writing and creating texts, but I think that it’s a great example of how texts about the internet can exist online, and are all the stronger for doing so.

Draft 1

Here it is!  It’s not very fleshed out now and actually looks quite boring, because all of my sources are (mostly) in print and I’m trying to wade through all of them.

Summary: Historic cemeteries are valuable resources that hold boundless information and data for modern researchers, as well as sentimental value to families of those interred there.  Sadly, many fall into disrepair due to the passage of time, natural weather processes, and human error.  When this happens, the historic information about the community and the people who lived there vanishes.  While the Haleyville United Methodist Church cemetery in southern New Jersey is well-taken care of, natural and chemical processes are beginning to take their toll and deteriorate the headstones on the site.  My preservation plan will set a course of action that will facilitate current and future preservation goals through 1) identifying the issues and solutions, 2) providing a context for understanding and appropriately approaching this particular cemetery, 3) providing resources and recommendations for care, and finally, 4) arguing for the importance of preserving graveyards as memorial spaces and historic resources.


Gaps or Problems: I’m still working on when I’m going to get my family group and deterioration mapping together– hopefully it’ll be done Thursday or at the latest, early next week.  I’m rather unsure how to map things on my own, so this will be an adventure.  Also, there’s not much content up just yet.  A good deal of my sources are currently on paper, so I’m working on pulling them all together and putting them in a coherent digital form.  The text that’s up there is chunks of the presentation I’m preparing for my class on this project, so it covers the basic factual gist of what I’m going for, but doesn’t go into too much detail just yet.  Also, there will be lots more pictures.  I’m going to work more on this throughout the week, so look for more things to pop up as the days go by.


  • Do you think it would be helpful to have videos from preservation organizations embedded in the pages in order to showcase how the preservation work is actually done?
  • Do you think that a website format is intuitive, in that people can follow the order of what pages they’re supposed to go to as they read more?
  • In terms of my argument, what do you think is the best way to display that?  A separate page on the site?  Argue the point throughout each individual page?  What would work best for you as readers?
  • I know that a lot of this is really technical talk and once the actual content is up instead of just placeholders, it’ll get a lot more detailed.  That being said, I’d like if you see something that isn’t clear or a concept you don’t quite understand, let me know so I can define it. 



White Students and Black Words

One of the most striking aspects of Banks’ discussion was his advocacy of using digital media and the humanities to bridge the gaps between generations and to form stronger communities.  As a student of historic preservation, these are questions that we work with every day in our efforts to make preservation sustainable and inclusive.  However, like the field of digital humanities and digital writing, preservation is largely dominated by white scholars and professionals.  This isn’t to say that there is no minority presence in the field, of course.

Throughout Digital Griots, Banks is invested in the idea that African Americans should have an evolving rhetoric that is “on their own terms,”  using “social epistemologies and subjectivities” directed towards “Black publics or [. . .] cultural geographies (156).”  Essentially, created for a black audience, by black authors, and engaging with topics that are relevant to their community- an important framework for any culture.  With this in mind, I wonder if the weight of African American rhetoric and sources  or the importance of an individual as a griot/te change if their work is being used or interpreted by someone who is white?

As an undergraduate, I really didn’t do very much work with any sort of ethno-centric rhetoric.  Honestly, it just isn’t something in which I am or have ever been particularly interested.  The majority of the exposure I got to non-white writing or media was through my history classes and later in graduate school, use of African American oral histories in survey work.  While none of the people interviewed were likely individuals who could be formally called griots (and they certainly weren’t the DJs that Banks mentions), their oral histories and tradition are important elements of preservation research that are used at an increasingly regular rate.  Especially where black and minority voices have been oppressed by racism or other forms of discrimination, one of the best ways to gain accurate insight into their community’s experiences for the record of history is to speak directly to individual people and let them share their story in their own way.  In our field, however, the students “remixing” these words and thoughts for their papers are often white.

In the same way that Banks discusses “selection, arrangement, layering,” and “blending” in the context of musical arrangements, different voices in communities perform these same functions to talk about their experiences (35).  Stories are remixed or blended as different people tell and re-tell them, and then again changed as they’re added into various contexts and arguments.  It occurs to me that the stories of black interviewees- and indeed, all interviewees- are authentically, completely theirs until they are remixed and re-used by somebody else.  Despite the fact that the initial words and ideas belong to the interviewee, they are appropriated and taken out of their context for use by somebody else.

I know that’s very likely confusing and doesn’t really engage with the digital aspect of  the book, but I was curious to explore this thought a bit more (and I will probably update this again when I’ve had more time to think about it).

4 Questions You May Not Know I Had About Lists

The internet appears to have an obsession with “listicles.”  If you spend any time on sites like Buzzfeed, Cracked, ThoughtCatalog, or MentalFloss, you know what I’m talking about.  Listicles are lists that are detailed enough to be considered an article- hence, the portmanteau of “list” and “article.”   Most notably, the aforementioned sites have made them a part of their daily repertoire.  There are even sites like Listverse, which is dedicated solely to lists on just about everything related to culture, science, history, technology, and life in general.  I am interested in exploring these detailed lists and their place in digital writing.

Lists as we think of them tend to be practical or a way to keep track of things, such as shopping, tasks to complete, things you want, or guests for an event– all things that exist in a personal and useful context.  Internet lists like the ones seen on Cracked, MentalFloss, and occasionally Buzzfeed tend to be trivia-oriented, and generally have some sort of educational value (Cracked’s 21 Beloved Famous People Everyone Forgets Did Awful Things or Buzzfeed’s 42 Incredibly Weird Facts You’ll Want to Tell People Down the Pub).  You’ll often see practical applications as well, like “workouts you can do at home,” or my favorite, the constant stream of 20+ item lists of unbelievably wonderful-sounding recipes put out by BuzzfeedFood.

However, there are a lot of irrelevant, distracting, and useless ones out there. Who really needs to see Buzzfeed’s “26 Disney Characters Reimagined as Hogwarts Students,” or ThoughtCatalog’s “The Girl You’re Pretending to Be on Instagram”?

13 Watercolor Sloth Versions of the Game of Thrones Characters?   I got a little time…


Texts: My primary texts/materials will be the aforementioned websites (Cracked, Buzzfeed, ThoughtCatalog, Listverse, etc.), as well as shorter, more to-the-point lists.  I’ll also want to look at print versions of “listicles,” as they show up in magazines and other print media as well.

Question/Problem:  I’m most curious to know…

  • What makes this listing style so popular online, especially in a context that could be seen as distracting or pointless?
  • Why do people decide to use this instead of just writing about stuff without dividing it up?
  • What stylistic choices- tone, use of images, length, etc.- do writers use?  Are there differences when you look at online vs. print?  One website vs. a different website?  Staff posts vs. community posts?
  • Ranked, thematic, and random listicles- how do they differ stylistically?  Why?

Format:  A list or series of lists, of course!  Likely on a WordPress/Tumblr sort of platform.

Model Texts: Once I decide if it’ll be just one big list or a series of small ones, I’ll decide if I want to model after a certain website’s format, or not.  I would like to try to imitate the general style of Cracked or Buzzfeed.

Questions/Concerns: I have a tendency to think of something and get very excited about it without thinking it through totally.  Plus, I often am too narrow or too broad in my topic choices, or don’t ask the right questions.  In this case, I also chose something that I may not be quite qualified to talk about, as I don’t study language or writing in a great depth.  I just have a general frame of an idea, and will probably need to flesh it out a bit more or pare it down.  I’m really interested to hear what you guys think, or any thoughts you have to offer.

Academic Obsolesence

I’m having some struggles understanding exactly what Fitzpatrick is trying to say (and this is also more of an update rather than my thoughts on the entire book).  Plus, I’m rather outside the world of academic publishing.

One thing that stood out to me the most, aside from her excellent zombie metaphor, was Fitzpatrick’s understanding of crisis surrounding “the valuation of humanities within the university, and of institutions of higher education within the culture at large” (13).  One of the biggest complaints that I experience about academia from both ends of the spectrum is that the brilliance of the ideas are lost not only because of the communication barrier, but because of the difficulties and politics that come with publishing of any sort.  I, and apparently Fitzpatrick, felt like this communication breakdown, as well as the internally policed system of academic publishing that she describes, is really just a self-perpetuating system that keeps  academia irrelevant to the greater population.

I’m sorry this isn’t more insightful or lengthy at the moment- I’ll  hopefully update with a bit more as I attempt to decipher what exactly Fitzpatrick is saying.


When is spoken word a remix?

On Saturday night, I went out to dinner for a friend’s birthday.  In the space of dinner, drinks, and the car rides to and from Baltimore (about six or seven hours all told), we quoted at least nine or ten different movies or shows- probably more.  Archer, Parks and Recreation, Lord of the Rings, Anchorman, Futurama, and The Godfather all found a way into our conversation, usually to make a humorous point or affectionately mock one of our party.  Four out of the six people present are serious gamers, so quotes from video games made their way into the discussion as well. Someone even asked the waiter if he could make the “James Bond cocktail.”

None of us had invented those phrases or ideas, but we had requisitioned them and incorporated them into our daily life – the ultimate remix and integrated RW culture.  Lessig notes that digitization had “removed the constraints” that kept media tied to it’s physical files in the analog world (38).  Experiencing different types of media and then passing it along through spoken word until it becomes a part of mainstream life even further removes certain types of media from the digital equation.  They just become part of our collective psyche, making our culture into a remix like the ones that Lessig talks about.

I guess what I was thinking about is, at what point does this happen?  When does something become so deeply ingrained in our everyday culture that it is no longer considered as being “remixed?”  When do phrases or media  from copyrighted works stop existing as  “stolen” or “easily available” (44) and start just existing as things that are a part of culture?  I don’t think that there’s a copyright law against spoken word unless it’s preserved on film or in a sound clip, but we were technically adding those things to our conversation and claiming them as our own for that moment.

When I was a final-semester senior  here at Delaware, I served as a Writing Fellow at the  Writing Center.  I worked with a class of fifteen Chinese students (I think they were first years), and one of the first and most pervasive issues we encountered was attribution.  Evidently, schools in China teach what sounds like a more extreme form of the way that Lessig’s friend Ben wrote– a  “collage” that utilized quotes, proverbs, or phrases that were the words of others with little or no attribution.  They were, in effect, remixing the words of experts, leaders, and other individuals to support their argument and have a new meaning.

It particularly struck me, because not only is that behavior accepted, but (on all accounts) seems to be encouraged and is a practice that applies across much, if not all of Chinese culture.  Oral tradition and stories are very important, and have become an element of Chinese culture that is simply regarded as that: a contributing part of their national identity, heritage, and history. Using someone else’s words is seen as a mark of respect to the original creator.  Comparatively, in the western world, people can become very upset if they aren’t given the proper credit.

I apologize for the fact that this likely didn’t make a whole lot of sense- I had a lot of problems making coherent long-form connections to Remix.  On a side note,  has anyone ever been sued or had copyright infringement laws leveled against them for using movie, song, or TV show quotes in regular conversation?  I’d be curious to know. I imagine the corporations and lawyers would make an absolute fortune every time someone did.

Sainted Dead and Holy Relics: Manifestations of Catholicism in the Confederate Lost Cause

Apologies for my lateness, friends– I forgot how clunky iMovie is  and it ended up taking me far longer than I expected to sort my settings out.

Essentially, my video tries to give a (very) bare-bones explanation of a paper I’m giving in a few weeks about how the Religion of the Lost Cause deviated from the Protestant values and structures of its traditional Southern heritage and moved into the territory of Catholic ritual in its efforts to remember and memorialize the dead and the cause.

Here is my video–> Sainted Dead and Holy Relics

Here’s my abstract for the paper as well, should anyone need more in-depth information! –> VicariAbstract


x3- Books and Video Games as Interchangeable Vice

Davidson’s book got me thinking a great deal about how I experienced learning as a child and what it would have been like if the tables were turned.  As an elementary school student, I was “the bookworm.”  I carried at least one book on my person at all times and was caught reading Goosebumps under my desk in my first-grade math class on more than one occasion.  Eventually, the school librarians gave me a special dispensation of sorts where I was allowed to take out five or six books per week while everyone else only got to take out two.  I read to the exclusion of almost every other activity, and my teachers and parents encouraged me to read as much as I wanted.

My younger brothers, however, were a different story.  Although they were never opposed to reading, in grade school they would have much preferred to play video games.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, parents and teachers looked upon video games with skepticism, which Davidson attributes to concern stemming from the Columbine incident (147).  Much to my brothers’ constant irritation, video games were a privilege at home- you had to ask Mom’s permission to play them, and you were restricted to an hour or so of playing time.  There were no Call Of Duty-esque games in the house until about 2006, when the older of the two was about fourteen, and even after that, both boys had very restricted gaming time.  In the absence of homework or chores that needed to be done, they’d be told to go “read a book.”

Davidson asserts that “games have been considered an important tool for teaching complex principles and honing sophisticated forms of procedural thinking,” and that such activities can teach players to recognize “all parts of a problem, all possibilities for winning and for losing, [. . .] and the best set of responses (procedures) to maximize success” (146).   Science has apparently proven that they improve multitasking abilities, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and metabolic function, (149-50).  I was not aware of any of this, to be honest.  I’ve never been a gamer, and I don’t see the attraction.   However, now that I understand a bit more of the science behind how games work, things make a bit more sense.

It makes sense now that both of my brothers are great with team work and have a more positive view of dealing with other people.  On the other hand,  I loved the isolation and pure imagination that came with books, and am typically a bit more apprehensive of working with others.  Where I love endlessly discussing strange theoretical ideas and minutia, both of my brothers enjoy and are skilled in the application and processes of creating a cohesive product.  All three of us are skilled, but in markedly different ways.  Of course, all of this begs the question:  Do games and books attract people of a certain personality type, or do they have a heavy hand in creating them?  For space’s sake, I won’t go into that.

In the above clip, from the 2006 Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” the Doctor encourages his companions– including Queen Victoria herself– to arm themselves with books and knowledge in order to defeat the werewolf-like creature that is terrorizing Torchwood Estate.  In this context,  the books are defensive mechanisms, preparing the Doctor and his companions to deal with the aggressions of a dangerous enemy.   If books were demonized even half as much as video games have been, education and childhood for children around the world would have been markedly different.  If those tables were turned and books were limited and seen as a vice because they were regarded as dangerous and violence-inducing, the Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Queen Victoria might have been in a very different sort of situation.

I was fortunate to have teachers who understood how important reading was to me, and more than one of them made a point to encourage reading, response, and analysis as a part of their curriculum.  My third grade teacher created an optional advanced reading activity group for about twelve students, in which we read different books and had our own special binders for discussion and response.  Davidson seems to agree with my opinion that reading is one of the most important ways to encourage imagination and curiosity in learners of all ages, calling the kindergarteners “the luckiest children on earth” (98).  Not only do they they have the privilege of quiet time to spend reading whatever they choose, but they have an educator who recognizes and encourages independent, self-directed learning.

On page 129, Davidson poses the concept of a year-end “boss-level challenge,” a project (or several smaller related projects) produced from the cumulative learning and particular skills of each student.  It makes so much sense that I’m astounded it hasn’t been implemented more widely in the mainstream.  Instead of testing arbitrary and generally irrelevant knowledge, such a project would give students a platform to develop useful skills like reasoning, communication, the importance of community outreach, and research.  Basically, it sounds like a masters’ thesis for kids that is almost more applicable to real-world situations than an actual master’s thesis.  Whether the project incorporates the skills and ideas they learn from books or video games, all that matters is that it would measure their useful life skills and arm them to be productive contributors to society.

I realized that I never actually got to talking about a classroom educational experience, but I will say that I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school.  If educators had realized the apparent potential that video games have for developing skills applicable to the classroom and real life, I feel like I would have had a very different and more diversely enriching school experience.  I wouldn’t trade my love of books and the enrichment that they’ve contributed to my life for anything.  However,  Now You See It has forced me to consider the value of video games, which I have generally viewed as useless and a waste of time, and think about how learning would be different if it was books that were considered dangerous vices.

reddit: The Virtual Coffeehouse

After finishing Writing on the Wall, my life’s new goal is to either locate or become the proprietor of a real-life coffeehouse that operates like the ones Standage describes in Chapter 6.  Whether or not they actually existed, the idea of an “egalitarian new intellectual space” (104) where all can exchange new knowledge in diverse fields and imbibe my favorite caffeinated beverage sounds like heaven on earth.  In the words of Liz Lemon:

Liz Lemon always knows what’s up.

Sadly, I can’t think of a single real-life commercial establishment that functions as such.  I have never in my life been in a chain or independent coffee retailer that fosters the actively social “speculative environment” of their predecessors; they are more often filled with people glued to their technology, books, or other distractions in an otherwise social and public place.

Where I do find those environments, or at least analogous cultural structures, is in the virtual world.  Like the alleged coffeehouses in the days of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, certain online communities function as networks driven by discussion and transactions that are based around knowledge sharing.   As the resident reddit enthusiast, I have to admit that upon reading the chapter on coffeehouses, the self-professed “front page of the internet” was the first comparable website that came to mind.

In June of 2012, redditor /u/Dapper77 described reddit as “a place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.”  Subreddits, or topic/theme-based forums within the site, parallel the coffeehouses that developed a specific client base.  Like Jonathan’s, which drew seventeenth-century businessmen, /r/history attracts historians and history enthusiasts for questions, debate, and other content that is relevant to their interests.  The site has areas for users to talk about literally almost anything they can think of, and if a subreddit doesn’t exist, you can create it.  Best of all, it’s all free!

The diversity and availability of content options can mean different things for different people.  Personally, I like it for the opportunity to learn new things about any topic that strikes my interest.  Serial killers, suggestions for slowcooker recipes, adorable corgis, colorized historical images, and tips on skincare routines:  I can find information and communities immersed in each topic online.

Like the coffeehouses, most of our myriad social networking or information-sharing sites have been vilified as “distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work” (111).  At least with reddit, you’re (generally) learning something new, whether or not it is actually useful information.  Plus, the site hasn’t been overrun with irrelevant content such as ads and games, like the fictional “Friendface” from British Channel 4’s The IT Crowd.

While the environment of intellectual sharing and discussion is one of reddit’s strong points, there are certainly detracting factors.  For instance, there will always be people whose sole purpose in life seems to be posting responses that are rude, offensive, or generally irrelevant or irritating.  Often, these exchanges function like the one that Standage describes on pages 40 and 41, particularly the “comment thread” between Severus and Successus.

Additionally, instead of having face-to-face, real-time interaction, users are separated by time and space, which negates the socialization aspect that makes the idea of coffeehouses so attractive.  If you wanted to get really meta, you could go to a coffeehouse and use reddit from there!  As someone who is often most comfortable interacting with strangers through friendly, down-to-earth intellectual discussion, and assuming that they did actually exist, I look forward to the day when coffeehouses make a triumphant return!