Category Archives: digital essay

Following Socrates Online


Following Socrates Online: What the Humanities can Learn from Philosophy’s Successful Online Adaptation


Using digital media to communicate ideas is too often looked down upon by those in the humanities. It makes perfect sense. After all, creating digital things which aren’t just “fluffy” or “empty” takes a lot of work and thought. I can’t just take an essay and make it into a blog and then expect the blog to become well-read. Though some of us humanists have been bumping around with this concept awkwardly for a while—still debating over issues like “is technology a good thing for academia”—philosophers have transitioned really successfully online. My website examines how philosophers have managed to do this so successfully, with hopes that those of us in other, related fields can take hope and think about how we can do the same.

I began with a conversation with my partner (a philosopher) about why philosophers are all over the internet. He knew how to find out all sorts of field-gossip, as well as what universities to avoid applying to (for jobs), and he had a really sophisticated sense of some of the important issues in academia. I wanted this for English, but it’s not really there in the same way.

I did lots of consulting David for important sites (and discussing them with him) during my conceptual process. The actual writing was mostly done in two days (I never felt really ready to write this website), but I’ve been tinkering with the website since before spring break.

Affordances and Constraints
The medium of the website is one of my favorite things about this project. As a person who loves having control over certain things (creative projects ESPECIALLY), it was really important for me to be able to, say, change the font size or pick the exact color scheme I wanted. The website allowed me to do this. I also like the flexibility of adding/subtracting pages at a whim, or even making pages invisible while I work on them (also, I can put them in any order I want!).

There were two constraints which really bugged me, though. First, I could not get the header to look exactly the way that I envisioned (stupid search bar). Second, I haven’t figured out yet how to get a blog to post as one of my pages (I want to avoid the whole “click on this link to see my blog” thing). This will be a summer project.

Shakespr: (Re)creationally Writing Hamlet Online






My project argues, through a case study on Hamlet, that tumblr users in the Shakespeare fandom have constructed their own Shakespeare that reflects both the demystification of the exception Author and the deconstruction of a monolithic, culture-controlling Academy. While tumblr users genuinely seem to enjoy Shakespeare’s work and value the texts immensely, they do not bring a sense of reverence to Shakespeare as typically presented in high school and college classrooms. They engage in the queer readings some academics pursue but that never reach a first-time reader of Hamlet. They place Hamlet next to Ke$ha without batting an eye. And they turn Hamlet‘s narrative into a series of emojiis. (Among other things). Often through collaborative writing , tumblr re-presents, remixes, and remediates Shakespeare. Along the way, the site recreates Shakespeare’s body of work as fun and flexible, and Shakespeare becomes Shakespr.


I suppose I can say that I started this essay (without really knowing it) before I started this course. I have been on tumblr for several years now, and I have been pursuing Renaissance literature (particularly Shakespeare) for about the same amount of time. So, before the course began, I had already had on my blog several posts from other users about Shakespeare. Posts I found fascinating to view.

When I began this course, I knew early on that I wanted to work with tumblr. As I’ll talk more about below, I think that tumblr’s interface – though it might take a bit getting used to – allows for variation in digital composition.

In looking at the Shakespeare posts, I first continued my collection work. I followed as many Shakespeare blogs I could find, reblogged a bunch of posts about Hamlet, used my tumblr at first to curate.

I then went through these posts to categorize the different modes users employed in discussing Shakespeare. It was at this point that I made the divisions: re-present, remix, and remediate. I organized the blog by dramatic vocabulary: preface, dramatis personae, three acts, an epilogue, and source materials. I then got a lot of excellent feedback from my group on how to guide my audience across these divisions.


For me, the main appeal of tumblr is the way in which posts are divided. A post can be text, photo, video, a chat, a link, a quotation, or any variation/combination thereof. Tumblr can be extremely visually appealing as it integrates all of these sources.

But, I would say even more than that, tumblr is immediately public in a way other blogging sites are not. If I tag a post “Shakespeare” the post immediately moves into the website tags, where anyone who is scrolling through or tracking the tag can see it. Users on tumblr also, then, read differently. They usually read in their dashboard – looking at tracked tags or what the people they follow reblog. Generally speaking, they do not encounter a blog by going to the blog home page, but by seeing one post by that user and then looking for more. The interaction this enables made me view my writing as much more public than I otherwise would (especially when I was writing my commentary directly on the posts of other users).


Tumblr is not designed for a linear essay. One of the constraints I dealt with was how to link clearly and easily across all of my posts so that users both familiar and unfamiliar with the site could navigate my essay. The other main constraint is in the writing process on tumblr; when things are posted, they are (generally) complete posts. So I did have to respond to one confused (and slightly aggressive) anonymous message about how my blog was working.

Overall, I have absolutely enjoyed this writing process and project, and might have already started a more long-term blog about being a graduate student more broadly…(plug).

I look forward to talking about my work and hearing about everyone else’s!

Turning Over a New Leaf

Link: Turning the Digital Page: An Exploration of Remediation and Online Archives

YB cover photo

Overview: In my digital essay, I aim to analyze the (method)ologies of online resources which compile and remediate archival texts, using The Yellow Nineties Online as a case study to examine the ways in which digitizing encodes form and content, and therefore changes the audience interaction. As per the site’s “Welcome” page, it logically centers itself not only around the study of decade of the 1890s, more specifically around the periodicals of that decade, and more specifically still about the particular periodical that gave the decade its “yellow” moniker–The (infamous) Yellow Book. My digital essay discusses these digitally re-born texts and deals with issues such as form, adaptation/homage, simulation/skeuomorph, and materiality.

Process: This project began its life as a traditional 20-page seminar paper I had done for a class in Fall 2012 so I’d already done a lot of research, writing, and thinking about digital archives in general and The Yellow Nineties Online in particular by the time I decided to revisit the topic this semester. The main challenge for me was taking that first incarnation and looking at it from a completely different angle–not that of “genres” of digital archive (my initial argument, tailored to said class), but rather looking at the ways in which the site frames content, form, and user engagement. These three themes are the one that I have tried to thread throughout each of my posts and which tie the digital essay together as a whole.

Affordances: This project works so much better as a digital essay than a paper that I’m profoundly glad I had the opportunity to transform it! Because I am working to analyze an online resource, it was helpful to work in the same medium–particularly as it is one that facilitates greater use of images (something I’m always looking to do since I work so heavily in visual culture) and enables the use of hyperlinks– these two affordances (or rather, the lack thereof) were the main constraints in writing this up as an seminar paper in the first place.

Looking back at my original paper, I also noticed that it formed less of a coherent argument than a series of observations about the site and its methodological moves. The project worked well enough as a traditional paper, but splitting it into sections in my digital essay not only helped me to re-think the different topics I was actually considering, but also allowed me to make those points much more succinctly without worrying over-much about whether I was presenting a unified whole–it was unified by virtue of admitting its nature as a looser collection of interrelated facets.

This project is something I hope to tinker further with and link to my as-of-now under-development professional WordPress site. I also plan to send the link to the creators of The Yellow Nineties Online (which I am simultaneously excited and terrified to do).

Constraints: The infelicities of my chosen Wordpress theme (including but not limited to problems with font size/color, spacing, linking, arrangement and display of pictures, etc.) did take some amount of time and troubleshooting to wrestle into submission (I won’t say all of that wrestling was particularly good-humored).

Besides technical difficulties, the second challenge (mentioned above) was how to “digitize” my original essay, particularly in terms of organization. I cannot even guess how many different subheadings I created and discarded, split, and combined as I tried to organize my themes as clearly as possible without feeling like I was spending too much time on one and giving short shrift to others. These many changes to page themes (and therefore titles) unfortunately also had the unintended effect that most of my body pages still bear now-defunct titles in their web address. This annoys me somewhat, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it now.

Overall, however, I’m really pleased with how the essay turned out, aesthetically and organizationally.

Several Layers of Writing about Writing. About Writing



“Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative” is my way of grappling with the discomfort I felt when I found out that my collection of essays, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, would come out in paperback this summer. I realized that, along with excitement and gratitude, I felt a startling dismay. I set three goals in writing and publishing my digital essay: first to work through my own ambivalence and to puzzle through why I found the story I had worked so hard to get into print troubling now; second to give voice to the way that grief and narrative changes over time; and third (probably the least important) to use a different platform to help publicize my collection and reach new readers.

medium front page


I began by writing some reflective vignettes. They came out in whatever form they wanted to. When I reached the end of one, I would just hit enter a couple of times and start something else. Of course, I can do that ad nauseam (and judging by the number of people who visited my essay on [Medium] only to flee when they saw an estimated reading time of 14 minutes, perhaps my final version is still too long!). But when I had a few thousand words, I stopped and starting trying to find the threads to weave together into a coherent whole.

I took the essay through four distinct drafts. Several chunks from my earliest drafting did end up in the final version. The hardest part was deciding how to navigate the disjointedness of writing about writing about loss. I wanted my readers to experience some discomfort, but I didn’t want it to be so much that they were completely thrown off.

Then the question arose of platform. I put the entire essay draft up on a wordpress site I created for general book promotion. But it didn’t work there, and visually it was too long of an unbroken stream of text. My peer group suggested putting it on its own site and then just linking as needed.

Finally, I ended up publishing the essay on Medium because I loved the simple, clean aesthetics of the site, and I also wanted the ability to add it to various collections on the site.

Medium screenshot 2

Affordances and Constraints:

Writing my essay online and on Medium specifically offered the ability to link,  to promote my work in a community, and to revisit and revise it later. I like the way the whole essay looks and reads. It’s like a beautiful, very pared-down magazine.

Interesting constraints came up when I tried to embed links in the essay. Medium’s simplicity does come at a cost; it was not possible, as it is in WordPress, to set links to open in a new tab or new page. So anytime a reader clicked on a link, it would take him or her away from my essay. I ultimately decided, rather than risking the loss of readers, I would place asterisks and then have a “links” section at the bottom of the piece.

The Badness Catalog

TBC Screenshot
Click This Image to Go There!


The Badness Catalog is a hybrid digital essay and ongoing project (more on that in “Affordances”). The project argues, in essence, that writing on the internet, and particularly writing that at first appears to be “bad” (unconventional, grammatically erroneous, et cetera) is actually performing serious discursive work, and often takes on a deeper, symbolic meaning than its obvious features. In short, The Badness Catalog argues that meme-phrases (things like “I can’t even”) point to deeper meanings, often unique to life on the internet. Instead of reading them as degenerate writing performances (basically, instead of disciplining them as bad performances), we might read them as deliberate rhetorical or discursive choices, indicating a specific phenomenon or signaling membership in an online community. The Catalog takes a serious, but often humorous, look at these phrases and tries to illustrate how they can be used.


In my head, I began with my impatience for “Grammar Nazis” on the internet–particularly when those lexical fascists are so fixated on a prescriptivist use of the language that they ignore that new meaning is made in “mistakes” (also, incidentally, I was frustrated by how frequently incorrect the Grammar Nazis were). So I rallied to the defense of these “bad” phrases, because in using several of them, I began to realize they serve an important function–they often describe phenomena that are the result of life on the internet, like “I can’t even”‘s breathlessly dorky enthusiasm, or the flat, perhaps sardonic tonality expressed by a lack of punctuation in certain contexts. I drafted a brief manifesto (originally entitled “The Mission”) and began writing posts. I didn’t necessarily want people to read this in a linear fashion, especially since I fully intend on adding new posts frequently, compiling a sort of menagerie of internet phrases and the phenomena they signify.

In a strange way, I knew the politics of the mission before I really had people or scholars in mind. The site acts as a sort of public pedagogy–a resistance to prescriptivist grammarians and those who imagine a literacy crisis. It took quite a bit of soul-and-hard drive searching before I traced the genealogy of my sentiments back to an interaction between Min-Zhan Lu and a bunch of other comp/rhet scholars and my cultural-studies/postcolonial training, and so I re-wrote my mission statement (now the “Why Do This?” page) to be the scholarly manifesto of my project. The “What Is This?” page is the general population explanation, the PR release–the “Why Do This” page is the scholarly heart of the matter.

Incidentally, I coined what I thought was a new term, “multiliteracy,” but it turns out other scholars beat me to it–and thankfully, they meant almost exactly the same thing I did.

Affordances and Constraints:

Because I’m not exactly a pro at web design, I had to settle for a pre-made WordPress theme–and it’s a wonderful theme, but it imposes a bit of a linear structure on a nonlinear idea. Ultimately, I had to make certain affordance choices in order to present The Catalog as something that continues on–it’s not a one-off WordPress site, but an ongoing project. This meant that I had to really emphasize the new content, which meant moving the manifesto off the front page, since repeat readers don’t need to see that every time. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to hide it from new visitors–hence my constant anxiety about “Why Do This?”, which got moved, renamed, and rewritten half a dozen times, with infinite thanks to the Woodchucks for reading it more than once.

Right now, the biggest constraint I have is organizing my project according to the theme WordPress gives me, which means there’s a way of thinking built in to the site. I’m big on multiliteracy, and so that made me “have a sad,” to quote the LOLcat.

Not to mention the fact that I can’t change the font size. I kid you not.

My face when I couldn't change the font size.
My face when I couldn’t change the font size.

What this form was wonderful with doing was treating and maintaining images–the format is .gif friendly, displays header images on posts without those images having to be in the post, and there’s not a lot of aggressive graphic design interfering with the presentation of the images. Embedding html elements gets a little wobbly, but WordPress and the theme I chose clings happily to practically anything visual. The form also allows a banner menu, footer elements (for categories) and categorical reorganization–meaning the reader can screen posts by category easily, helping with the whole nonlinear thing.


Tweetku: a Digital Essay

Tweetku Logo


My digital essay attempts to do three things: to consider the relationship between Twitter and poetry, to create a framework for understanding how Twitter communities function, and to tell the story of @TheTweetku and #tweetku. All of these ideas come together in my essay as a consideration of what value Twitter offers to contemporary digital writers and writing communities.

I began with a personal quest in @TheTweetku to popularize the term “tweetku” and to join what poetry and haiku communities already existed on Twitter. As I began to develop this identity into my digital essay, I did background research on Twitter in general and then in its use for community-building, especially through hashtags, specifically. At the same time, my journeys through Twitter’s #haiku communities led me to a growing micropoetry movement that had found purchase on the social media site. I decided to organize my essay around these two concepts in order to contextualize my personal experience with @TheTweetku and give a useful framework for analyzing the #tweetku community.

Though the writing process itself was particularly slow-going for me, I relied quite a bit on the feedback on my classmates through the pre-writing stage and revisions of partial drafts.

Affordances and Constraints:
Practically speaking, using WordPress allowed me to embed tweets easily, which I never would have been able to do in print and especially not with the interactive functionality.  I was also able to write in a more immediately accessible voice, aided by links to more blogs, websites, and newspaper articles than printed scholarly work.

Most of the difficult issues came with attempting to translate my traditional idea of an essay into digital terms. Organization was one area in particular that I struggled with as I tried to negotiate linearity and transitions between pages in my digital essay. The same is true of citations, although I actually had a lot of fun figuring out digital equivalents to in-text citations.


Finding Even Ground: Tutoring Multimodal Texts in the Writing Center


OVERVIEW: In this video, I explore how multimodal texts affect writing center tutoring pedagogy. Incorporating interviews with both teachers and tutors, I challenge the notion of “traditional” texts and argue for a genre based understanding of multimodal assignments. This project grew out of my experiences working within a writing center, both as a tutor and as an administrator. And while my own experiences led to my interest in the topic, the interviews that I conducted for the video really shaped my argument and the project as a whole. Through talking to other people about their experiences working with multimodal texts, I was able to gain a better understanding of both what the problems were and what we could do to help fix them.

TutorComputerPROCESS: Because I’ve never created a video of this length before, a large part of the process was acclimating myself to the form.  I began the process by conducting the interviews, because I really wanted these to help guide my thinking. After they were done, I wrote the script that would fill in the space around them. I then created (very) rough storyboards to try and figure out how I wanted it to all fit together. Finally, I started making the actual video itself, which proved to be incredibly recursive. Every element that you see in the final version was done at least 2 or 3 times, some of them many more.

AFFORDANCES: The greatest affordance of this medium was being able to fully incorporate other voices. While collaboration is important in all work, I feel like it is particularly crucial to writing center studies. By weaving interviews into my own essay–and by having people actually speak for themselves–I think that the video form better captures the collaborative nature of my work than a print essay ever could have done. I also think that the video form will make this essay more digestible/shareable in the future. As many of you know, writing center tutor training often involves watching short videos, and I could see this video easily being incorporated into that training format.

CONSTRAINTS: The biggest constraint was balancing out images and words. It was hard to find a balance between not being too literal with the images yet still remaining on topic and useful. Similarly, linking images and sounds were difficult because I wanted to make sure that the images were helping guide my argument, but I didn’t want the video too become too cluttered or too busy that it would detract from the words that I was saying