Monthly Archives: January 2011

Exceptional Students

College professors do a lot of writing that often goes uncounted in the various bookkeeping systems we use to tally performance in the profession. Letters of recommendation constitute one category of such hidden writing, and they can be a source of real pleasure. Recently, I wrote three sets of such letters for former students, and all three brought smiles to my face, each for very different reasons.

One student had majored in History and is applying to Ph.D. programs. Writing in support of her applications gave me an opportunity to recall not only the pleasures of working with her in courses that ranged from introductory level surveys of various periods in U.S. History and U.S. Women’s History to Senior Seminar but also a wonderful experience presenting with her at a conference focused on changing libraries. We talked about an assignment in which I had asked students to read some diaries that College Archivist and Special Collections Curator Zeph Stickney has collected and to contextualize them using class readings and books that had been digitized as part of the Harvard University Library Open Collections Program’s Women Working, 1800-1930, Collection. I described the assignment, and the student described her experiences working on it. She was the star of the conference. Other professors and librarians and academic technologists and administrators who attended were impressed with her ability to pinpoint key concerns about the online collection of sources, concerns that the librarians shared. The conference was a wonderful experience for me; I so enjoyed seeing this student shine.

Another student had majored in Women’s Studies and is applying to a Social Work program. She, too, had taken a range of courses with me, from introductory level U.S. Women’s History courses to an advanced course on Sex and Culture in the 19th-century United States. I didn’t have a conference experience to recall for this student, but I was delighted to have a moment to remember that course and her work in it. We read a lot of books in that course, and every week pairs of students led discussions. One of my favorite memories of that course was when this student and her co-leader asked their classmates to cast the movie version of a book called The Murder of Helen Jewett, a wonderfully researched and well-written narrative about a young woman from Maine who moved from a post as a domestic servant in her home state to remake herself in New York City, where she worked as a prostitute and–after she was brutally murdered–became the focus of a sensational trial in the 1830s. These were students who had been deeply affected by such movies as “Titanic” and “Gangs of New York,” so imagining this woman’s story as a film proved enormously effective for them as a learning exercise. And it was all their idea. Students are often more astute than their professors when it comes to finding ways to bring the past to life.

The final student had majored in American Studies and had worked as my research assistant on the Wheaton College Digital History Project. She is applying to Library School because it will prepare her for a profession in which she will be able to practice Digital Humanities. This student became a real colleague for me on the project. When the college awarded us funds from the Mars Foundation to take an introductory course on text encoding at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, she outshone me as a student. My brain remains pretty analog in this digital world, no matter how much I might prefer otherwise. But this student had already taught herself XML. And after the course, she studied the TEI Guide to figure out the details of the “measure” element. I am over the moon knowing that this student is ready to embark on her professional career and that I can look forward to encountering her as a colleague for a long time to come.

Teaching definitely has its rewards.


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The Wheatons and the “Worldwide Web of Cotton Production”

I’ve spent the past several weeks completing a paper for a conference I’ll be attending the first weekend in March. Civil War–Global Conflict is hosted by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program at the College of Charleston. The paper uses the occasion of the 1862 European journey of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Laban Morey Wheaton, and David Emory Holman as a prompt for examining the connections between the business interests of David Emory Holman and Laban Morey Wheaton and what historian Sven Beckert has called “the worldwide web of cotton production” in the mid-nineteenth century. Watch this space over the next week or so for insights from the paper and additional research about the cotton and straw hat industries in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, as well as some hints about antislavery activism in Norton, Massachusetts between 1831 and 1861.

Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World-Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the Civil War,” American Historical Review 109, no. 5 (Dec. 2004): 1405-1438.

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Lydia Folger Fowler’s Marker in Highgate Cemetery

Lydia Folger Fowler Marker in Highgate Cemetery

Zeph Stickney and I went to Highgate one afternoon in July 2010 to check on Fowler’s gravestone. Fowler died in London in 1879, and her remains were buried in the famous cemetery. The grave is to the left of the entrance gate, up the hill, and in a densely used spot. The marked was overgrown with ivy, which Zeph pulled away so that I could take the photograph.

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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 41 new posts, not bad for the first year! There was 1 picture uploaded, taking a total of 35kb.

The busiest day of the year was October 18th with 122 views. The most popular post that day was Why the Humanities Matter.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kathryn tomasek, steamship niagara, collaborative pedagogy, wheaton tei, and “transcribe bentham”.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Why the Humanities Matter October 2010


Tweeting Conferences: NITLE Summit and UVA Shape of Things to Come March 2010


Is It Out There?: Undergraduate Research as Digitization at Analog Pace March 2010
1 comment


Collaborative Pedagogy September 2010


“What Can You Do with That?”: One Argument for Undergraduate Digital Humanities December 2010

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New Year, New Resolution, New Blog

My only resolution for 2011 is to write for fifteen minutes every day. Many of my posts here over the past year have addressed writing and productivity. I have often wondered whether I wanted a separate blog for writing about those topics. Since the WordPress challenge lines up with my resolution, I have decided to set up a new blog as the place where I will post daily. This way, if I have something to post that I consider not to be connected primarily to teaching and research, I will now have a place to put it.

So look here for posts about writing, productivity, knitting, gardening, and whatever happens to strike me during my daily fifteen minutes: My Fifteen Minutes a Day.

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Living the Intellectual Life in the Digital Age

My brain won’t shut down. It’s almost eleven o’clock–one a.m. in my home time zone–so I should be asleep. But I spent the day with a roomful of fascinating, accomplished and enthusiastic people talking about undergraduates and digital humanities. Then I had two hours to spend working on a paper about the Wheatons and their European journey. And after that I had dinner with colleagues and talked more about our work in digital humanities. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have days like this. And my brain simply will not stop buzzing with ideas so I can get some sleep. This is a great life.

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