Monday, May 11, 2015, University of Goteborg, Sweden
I delivered this seminar paper via Skype to a group of European scholars interested in ways of reading and analyzing Moravian memoirs. The two day seminar was entitled “Life-writing and Lebenslauf: Pillars of an invisible church” and was organized by Dr. Christer Ahlberger, in the faculty of History. In this paper I discuss ways of thinking about autobiography and the Moravian memoir, both as a radical act within the history of the genre and also, when analyzing the memoirs with the methods of DH, as a radical hermeneutic to reveal new voices in the historical record.
The genre of autobiography is a tricky one. Although only recently even acknowledged within the scholarly community as an object worthy of critical scrunity, autobiography has for millenia served the purpose of providing a model of the exemplary life. Whether in the form of saints’ lives, the chronicles of kings and queens, the political autobiography, or Johannes Arndt’s “best seller” the Historie der Wiedergeborenen, all have served the purpose of shaping others’ lives. Through autobiography the author is able to examine memory, shape experience, interrogate the reasons for action and examine conscience. For the reader, the genre provides an opportunity to view this process within another human subject, to witness the relation of authentic (or inauthentic) experience and emotion. Continue reading ““Writing a Moravian Memoir: the Intersection of History and Autobiography””→
This spring I taught another iteration of HUMN 100 to a small group of highly motivated and talented students. Like last semester, (see HUMN 100) this is a project-based class where students take an as yet unpublished manuscript from the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA and develop their DH skills.
This semester we were fortunate enough to work on the Travel Journal of Christian Froehlich and Jasper Payne. Students started with the transcription of the manuscript and once a text had been established they were then able to analyze it using the lenses of the digital humanities. The course website can be found here, where the outline, assignments, and blog posts are organized by topic (Close Reading, Distant Reading, Visualization, and Time).
Over the last 6 months I have been working with the latest instructional technologies and digital tools in my class, Humanities 100. This course, brand new for the 2014-15 academic year is designed to teach students how to create a digital project with archival materials. The goal of the course is to teach students the importance of the creation of a digital text; to think about the design of data that stems from that digital text; to make intelligent decisions about the presentation of that digital text on the web; to teach students how to mark up a text in TEI lite and beyond; to begin to think about how to add geo-spatial elements to the analysis; and also how that text can be mined to build up a database of people and places (at the least) that can then be used to create a network analysis of the text. That is a lot to learn; and from my experience last semester I can say that some students wanted to stop at, say, transcription of the text, or mark-up. Continue reading “Teaching with Emerging Technology: the Centrality of the Collaborative Mode”→
As we gather today in the Susquehanna Valley to share our food with friends and family, we might be curious how this time of year was celebrated back in 1747, in the time of Chief Shikellamy and the beginnings of the Moravian mission at what was then called Shamokin, today Sunbury.
1747 had been a very busy and important year in the history of Shamokin. The project of establishing a forge at the Confluence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River, first requested by the Six Nations in 1745 and not approved by the Colonial government in Philadelphia until 1747, had finally been achieved. Moravians and Indians had met in conference in the spring of that year to discuss exactly how the forge would be built and the conditions under which the Six Nations and their emissary, Shikellamy, would permit the European missionaries to live at the confluence. Shikellamy and his sons had helped to construct the mission house and smithy during the summer months and the Moravians had already cleared land around their house to plant corn, beans, and squash. By the end of July the smithy was ready for business, with the preferred customers being the Indians of the Six Nations (for whom account books were kept); and traders being just tolerated. The wives of the Moravian missionaries, Anna Mack and Catharine Schmidt were already participating fully in the economy of the smithy and mission as they took in sewing from the Indians, mending Shikellamy’s shirts on a regular basis.
But the hard work of setting up the smithy and mission house had already taken its toll on one of the Moravians. After a long trip down river to collect supplies, Brother Hagen succumbed to the prevailing fever and, in September of 1747, was buried in a plot just beyond the turnip field, accompanied by a beautiful service of song.
That November was cold. The charcoal fire in the forge had been started, and many Indians passing through Shamokin stopped at the smithy to have work done to their weapons and to keep warm. The last full week of November was marked by the sadness that prevailed at the death of Shikellamy’s two year old grandchild. Anna Mack and Catharina Schmidt sewed, as requested, a death shroud for her out of a piece of linen brought to them by the Indian women, and then visited the dead child before burial.
But amid the sadness there was kindness and hope. The sharing of dried cherries and bread between a Mohican woman (Shikellamy’s daughter in law, the wife of his eldest son) and the Moravians; the sharing of Moravian bread with a cold tired and hungry Delaware man from the Wyoming Valley. The last Thursday in November 1747 brought a woman trader to the mission with much rum, much to the dismay of the Moravians. They neither wanted alcohol in Shamokin nor traders, whether male or female. The Moravian Sisters spent “Black Friday” chopping and fetching wood, while their husbands were working in the smithy or repairing shoes.
That Saturday, the rum the woman trader had brought to town had clearly been exchanged for skins and the population of Shamokin was drunk. Order returned with Shikellamy though, who had been absent on Colonial business and arrived that evening from Tulpehocken and Conrad Weiser’s house with letters and news for the Moravians. He had also brought a piece of beef for Catharine Smith and the others from her mother who lived close by Conrad Weiser’s.
The relations between Shikellamy, his family and the Moravians were clearly warm and loving. His daughter in law, the Mohican, was worried about the fate of the dead child, for example. Would the child be with God even though it wasn’t baptized? Yes, said Anna Mack, she will be, because we are all loved by God, regardless of whether we are baptized or not. And as a sign of fellowship the Moravians bring Shikellamy his favorite, turnips.
Looking back at these records from nearly 270 years ago the picture we can see of relations between the Native peoples and the Moravian missionaries is clearly not the one that is popularly depicted with turkeys and pies and pumpkins. However, what we can see is a time of mutual aid, kindness, and significant intercultural understanding. True, the Moravians are not like all “white people”, a comment often made by the Indians who witness their quiet love. The outside forces of the traders and Colonial policies have their effect on the population around Shamokin, in that rum is all that Indians can trade their goods for. But the last Thursday of November in 1747 is marked by shared food and warmth. A true Thanksgiving.
I am re-posting on my personal site my blog entry for my class site for The Humanities Now! These are questions that I have been thinking about a lot, and my reading of Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis has really helped to crystallize my ideas. I am so happy that she will be coming to Bucknell in April of 2015 as part of our Humanities Institute on the Digital Humanities.
Over the last week or so, we have revisited visualization as a technique for interpretation. In our production of networks using Gephi, the process of creating data, preparing it for input into the software, manipulating it once in the software and then interpreting it once entered has been foremost. As we move on to mapping, we will find parallel processes at work: preparing data, entering it, manipulating it, interpreting it. And as we do so, it behooves us to think critically about what we are doing, and what we are not doing.
Johanna Drucker’s intelligent, broad view of visualization as a form of knowledge production offers us many pointers for taking each step on our path to visualization and interpretation with deliberation. The long chapter “Interpreting Visualization–Visualization Interpretation” from her book, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard, 2014) presents us with an overview of forms of visualization primarily since the Renaissance, and it also issues a plea for the development of a greater understanding of the force of visual rhetoric; a plea that is directed especially at humanists, as they enter into a realm of spatialized representation that might appear to belong to the realm of the quantitative over the qualitative.
Visualizations can be either representations or knowledge generators in which the spatialization or arrangement of elements is meaningful. When reading a visualization, Drucker encourages us to use language carefully, employing terms such as “juxtapose”, “hierarchy”, “proximity”. Drucker claims that visualization exploded onto the intellectual scene at the edge of the late Renaissance and beginning of the early Enlightenment, when engraving technologies were able to produce epistemologically stunning diagrams that both described and also produced knowledge. Now with the advent of digital means to manipulate and produce data we can all produce timelines (!) without giving a thought to the revolution in the conceptualization of time and history that (our near neighbor) Joseph Priestley occasioned. So, as we play with Timemapper or Timeglider, Drucker cautions us to become aware of the visual force of such digital generations. “The challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretive and inferential modes that augment human cognition.” (p. 71)
How do we do this? Drucker argues for us to recognize three basic principles of visualization, both as producers and as interpreters: a) the rationalization of a surface; b) the distinction of figure and ground; c) the delimitation of the domain of visual elements so that they function as a relational system.
In her sections on the most prevalent forms of visualization, I find most pertinent to the coming module on mapping her insight that a graphical scheme through which we relate to the phenomenal world structures our experience of it (p. 74). In other words, the mapping of the earth, sky, sea or the measurement of time, that are in themselves complex reifications of schematic knowledge, actually become the way in which we experience that thing. The week is seven days long and the month is 28-31 days long (because of lunar cycles) and thus astronomical tables become the way we structure time. But time isn’t like that; it isn’t linear, especially in the humanities! It contains flashbacks, memories, foreshadowings, relativities (it speeds up when we are nervous, and slows down when we are scared). So we are imposing structures from social and natural sciences onto human experience. Drucker argues that the shape of temporality is a reflection of beliefs and not standard metrics, and therefore asks how do we find a graphical means to inscribe the subjective experience of temporality or the spatial?
For example, digital mapping may give us the ability to georectify a manuscript map onto a coordinate system, but what does this give us? It might show us how accurate a mapmaker was, or was not; it might help us to locate an archaeological site with more probability, but it is ignoring the fact that the manuscript map, drawn perhaps on buckskin, or stone, or vellum is a representation (and a thin one at that) of a traveler’s or observer’s experience that we are then translating into a system of coordinates. What is absent is the story; way-finding depends upon narratives, travel accounts, diaries. We must be aware that maps produce the illusion of isomorphism, but this illusion is based on an elaborate system of abstract schema and concrete reality.
I am most captivated by the section of her chapter that focuses on visualizing uncertainty and interpretive cartography, as this is an area I have thought a lot about in the last five years during which I have been working with GIS. As a software, GIS gives us enormous power to produce knowledge as a generator; through the combinatory power of layers, and base maps, and points, and embedded data tables, GIS has often seduced me with its “deceptive naturalism of maps and bar charts” generated from spreadsheets that I and my students have spent months creating. It strengthens the fiction of observer-independence; the objectivity of the “bird’s eye view”, and, as Drucker so aptly states, “we rush to suspend critical judgment in visualization.” For me, however, and for the students I have worked with, the question of how to represent ambiguity has consumed us; as has also how to make ambiguity the ground of representation. I think here of the brilliant visualizations of Steffany Meredyk, ’14 as she created her interpretive map of the main stem of the Susquehanna River.
Using the work of Margaret Pearce, Steffany and I talked for long hours about the importance of reinserting the positionality of the observer into the visualizations of the river. Taking her “data” from accounts of massacres in the 1760-80s that occurred on the Susquehanna River, and using graphical means of Adobe Illustrator to represent ambiguity, uncertainty and emotion, I consider Steffany’s work to act as a model for the way in which we can use digital media and methods as humanists. We can, as Drucker observes, “model phenomenological experience; model discourse fields; model narratives and model interpretation.”
Kayaking is not just a sport to Hickory Edwards of the Onondaga Nation. It is his way of reviving his nation’s knowledge about its own history and the environment, and also raising public awareness about the ties of the Haudenosaunee to the land. This summer, the coordinator of the Onondaga Kayak and Canoe club decided to retrace the steps and paddle strokes of his forebears by kayaking first from Buffalo, New York along the Tioughioga to the Chenango river to Onondaga on a trip that became known as “The Journey to the Central Fire” to recognize Onondaga’s central position in the “Long House” of the Six Nations. While attending the annual four-day reading of the Haudenosaunee’s “Great Law of Peace” Edwards listened to the words that had been recited so many times about the planting of the Tree of Peace that had brought unity and concord to the then five warring nations of the Iroquois. Seeing that tree in his mind’s eye, Edwards realized that its spreading white roots were actually routes of peace, traditional waterways that spread out from the center of the Haudenosaunee world, waterways that would take him to the sea in whatever direction of the compass he chose to go.
He decided to go south, down the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay and from there on to Washington DC. “We wanted to take our message from the capitol of the Haudenosaunee to the capitol of the US,” he said in a recent interview from his home near Syracuse, NY. And what is that message? “We are still here. The Native people and their trade routes and waterways are not forgotten. We need to remember our language and our lands. We need to re-indigenize the river.” The goal of this epic human-powered journey was the National Museum of the American Indian on the capitol’s Mall where an exhibition opened on September 21, 2014, “Nation to Nation,” that celebrates the historic treaties drawn up between the Native nations and the colonial governments. “The treaties are still valid,” said Edwards “so we decided to go see them.”
Although prepared to paddle over 500 miles alone, Hickory Edwards could not help but attract support from wherever he went. Joined five days into the journey by fellow kayaker, Noah Onheda and supported the whole way down by his parents acting as ground crew, Edwards described the highlights of the trip down the Susquehanna. For example, standing at Indian Rocks just north of Wyalusing, where Handsome Lake, religious leader of the Six Nations in the late 1700s contemplated the spiritual future of his people. Or the petroglyphs at Safe Harbor that represent powerful, ancient things, carved into what looks like a little Turtle Island in the river. “This is what we must do,” said Edwards “relearn the waterways of our peoples to know where these places are.” Following what he called the “white route of peace” south, Edwards claimed they never had one bad night. “The water was good to us all the way down.” Well, except the very last day, when the winds on the Chesapeake Bay picked up and the waves rose so high around the kayaks that Edwards lost sight of his paddling companion Noah for the height of the water. “Maybe the waves didn’t want us on the water that last day,” Edwards mused. Despite the wind and tide and waves, they made it to Sandy Point State Park, just outside Annapolis, Maryland where they were greeted by representatives of the National Park Service, Deanna Beacham and Suzanne Copping, and treated to a meal, big enough to sate any epic paddler’s appetite!
Having not really used their legs for nearly three weeks, walking over 30 miles from Annapolis to Washington DC was no easy feat. But, they did it. Arriving at the nation’s Mall and the NMAI was a historic moment, with the Haudenosaunee flag flying high. “We did it,” he said, “we came from our capital to yours to see the historic treaties.” And they had even brought water from the spring on the Onondaga Nation land to water the tobacco plants in front of the museum.
Now back home for almost the first time this summer, Hickory Edwards is already planning his next big trip. From kayak races on the Onondaga creek, to a Peacemakers’ journey, to joining the Two Row on the Grand River in Canada next summer, Edwards paddles to revitalize our awareness that clean water is important. “The circle of life starts out with the next generation looking up at us from the earth,” he explained. “They grow and live and return to the earth. But there is one constant throughout, and that is water. Waterways are the veins of our Mother Earth.”
And it is along those life-giving waterways that Hickory Edwards will continue his personal quest.
The Principal Investigators of the Stories of the Susquehanna initiative are pleased to announce the launch of the “crowd sourcing” platform for the river. As a public humanities project, the Stories of the Susquehanna initiative invites members of the public to submit their Stories of the Susquehanna for possible inclusion. If you have a story about the cultural, historical, or environmental significance of the place where you live in along the Susquehanna River, we’d love to hear from you! What’s your story?