Author Archives: Sean Patrick Palmer

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a project proposal!


I grew up in a small town south of Pittsburgh, and I have always been fascinated by history. As I read about Native Americans, I thought to myself, “There really aren’t any Native Americans around here. Why is that?” So, I started looking into it[i].

As part of the Treaty of Paris (1783)[ii], the Northwest Territory (now the Midwest) was awarded to the United States. At the time, white settlements were just starting in the region, while the Native American tribes lived on much of the land.

Conflict between the United States and native tribes began almost immediately, with the outbreak of the Northwest War[iii]. This war lasted for ten years, with the forces of the United States eventually winning. The Treaty of Greenville (1795)[iv] ended this conflict. This treaty established a clear line dividing the White and Native American territories. It also included provisions allowing the tribes to sell their lands. As you can imagine, this treaty was broken with some frequency.

This is a fascinating time period, and I thought about focusing on it, but the sources are scarce, especially for the Native Americans[v].

After years of dealing with the loss of their land, Native American leaders began to resist. Tecumseh, a Shawnee Indian, became leader of this confederacy and traveled widely to encourage support from those on the fence and to organize.

In 1809, the governor of the Indiana Territory William Henry Harrison signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne[vi] with the Miami, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi tribes (among others), in which they ceded territory along the Wabash River.

Tecumseh, and other Native leaders, disputed the legality of this treaty, saying that the land didn’t belong to any one tribe, but, rather, to all. Harrison ignored this. This led to Tecumseh’s War in 1811, which, in 1812, became part of the larger War of 1812.

This project aims to map and analyze the rhetoric of Tecumseh’s War. As was pointed out in class, the focus is very broad, and I need to scale it down. One option would be to focus on Tecumseh’s travels, which would work. Another might be to focus on the treaties themselves, as the Treaties of Fort Wayne and Greenville are not the only two treaties involving Native American rights in this region in this time period. I’ll think about this over the weekend. Honestly, I could just focus on these treaties.


[i] As I said in class, I’ve also done research on the Holocaust and the AIDS crisis. I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m interested in these subjects, but, odds are, it isn’t complimentary.

[ii] The date is included because there are literally dozens of Treaties of Paris.

[iii] When I first researched this topic, it was called Little Turtle’s War, after Little Turtle, a Miami chief who was a Native American leader in the conflict. It is also known as the Ohio War.

[iv] There are only two Treaties of Greenville.

[v] Honestly, the sources for Tecumseh’s War aren’t exactly abundant, but I’ve found more of them.

[vi] Again, two treaties of Fort Wayne.

Concerning adjuncts

Issues around adjuncts came up in the small group discussion I was in last week.

I saw this article, and thought it should be shared. 

While I have not seen all the things listed in this article, I have seen quite a few of them. Course cancellations come down literally a few days before classes start. I’ve seen adjuncts get screwed over by that more than once.

Once, it almost happened to me, except one of our full timers decided to up and resign, so I got one of her classes.

Full disclosure: I have two different positions at LaGuardia: I am a Sr. College Lab Tech and an adjunct lecturer.

In fact, in the Spring semester, the course I usually teach, Voice and Diction, is taught as a hybrid class. I took the seminar on how to teach in that environment and altered the course to work as a hybrid partially because I would be the only person on staff who can both teach V&D and teach it as a hybrid.

Still, I’m lucky. My supervisor does his best to take care of all of us, and, since I’m already on campus, I’m almost always going to get a class. It might start at 8:00 pm or 7:30 am, but I’ll get one.

So, on top of the pay issue, adjuncts have to worry about the things discussed in this article.

I’m not saying don’t be an adjunct. I love teaching. I’m saying go in with your eyes open.

Expanding the idea of infrastructure, a reaction to Brian Larkin’s Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure

This piece was a thought provoking look at infrastructure and the many different ways to analyze it. From just the practical side of things, I hadn’t really considered things like funding to actually be a part of infrastructure, although, clearly, it is.

As fascinating as the various discussions of infrastructure here were, I’m not going to focus on them. This article got me to thinking about what is and isn’t defined as infrastructure.

Let’s take Google as an example. Is Google internet infrastructure? I would argue “yes.” Maybe not in the traditional sense, but, still.

Google is more than just a search engine, though its role as the most prominent search engine out there puts it in this category for me. Google also powers so many other things (Chrome, Google docs, for instance, and a variety of other apps). A person’s entire online existence can be curated via Google.

The counterargument might be that Google isn’t necessary. There are alternatives to everything it offers, Bing for searches, Firefox for browsing, etc. So, while you CAN manage your entire online experience through Google, you don’t have to.

While this is true, much of the infrastructure out there is optional. Most of us opt to use it, but it isn’t required. So, I tend to think of Google as online infrastructure.

Let’s talk social media. Is a site like Facebook infrastructure? This isn’t nearly as clear cut (in my opinion).

For one thing, while billions of people use FB, it doesn’t do the things that Google does. FB doesn’t offer a competing search engine or anything like Google docs (at least that I’m aware of).

I’m not saying that FB isn’t important. It is on many levels, from the personal (staying in touch with people far away) to the business world (look at all these people! they have money to spend!) to the academic (data analysis and collect — which also happens in the business world part of FB). I’m just saying it differs significantly from Google. So, while I think that Google should be considered internet infrastructure, I don;t think FB should.

N.B.: The other articles may take up this subject. I haven’t gotten to them yet. I was just reacting to this one.


Since archives are one of next week’s topics, here are two of interest:

The ARTFL project

This online archive has digitized many pieces of French literature and other important documents in French.

I was involved with ARTFL very briefly back in the 90’s, when I was a grad student at the University of Illinois. The U of I has the largest collection of French-language works outside the French speaking world, so the folks running the ARTFL project asked us if they could borrow some for digitization.

The university would not loan out a few items, such as the Dictionary of the French Academy 1740, 1762, and 1798 editions, so I had to photocopy them and then make sure the photocopies were legible.

The Kolb Proust Archive for Research

I was more closely involved with this one. Marcel Proust, one of the 20th century’s great writers, wrote as many as twelve of thirteen letters per day, but he never dated them.

Enter Prof. Philip Kolb. Kolb collected as many of Proust’s letters as he could AND tried to date them. He did this by reading the letters, and then going through the newspapers and magazines of the time, trying to match up things Proust mentioned in his letters with reports in the print media.

Kolb would then take notes on notecards, carefully labeling the date of the event, the source, and a brief description of the event. These were the chronology files. These weren’t the only files: biography files, of the people and families important in Proust’s life, were also there. These were all housed in card catalogs.

Kolb was very successful, publishing over fifteen editions of Proust’s annotated letters, and in the process, created this archive.

The university had just secured a grant to digitize the archive when I arrived, so I got to work there for two years. Most of the time, I worked with the chronology files. It was fascinating. Proust came from a very wealthy family, so he moved in the elite circles in Paris at the time (1870-1921).

As a result, by digitizing the chronology files, I got an intimate glimpse into the lives of those people. Also included in the chronology files were excerpts of letters from other people, so I didn’t just deal with news, I also read an awful lot of gossip. It was educational and fun.

It was also shocking at times. I felt like I got to know these people, and when bad things happened (like, say, suicide), I was taken aback. a few times felt like I was losing a friend. Further, I got a close up look at the horrors of World War I.

Also, I learned HTML in the process — we had to set up templates, so I learned the basic commands , some of which I still use frequently, and some I need to sit down and learn again.

Reaction to How not to Teach Digital Humanities

I related to this article on a more than one level.

Like Cordell, I’ve tangled with our curriculum process, and it can be a frustrating process, especially when proposing a new course[i]. The departmental curriculum committee will strongly criticize a new course This isn’t entirely a bad thing: as a department, we only want to send strong proposals to the college-wide curriculum committee[ii].

Cordell later suggests that, rather than have separate DH courses, that we incorporate DH sensibilities into our existing courses. I think this makes sense: I have been incorporating digital work into my classes for as long as I’ve been at LaGuardia.

Another interesting point is that our students think that they’re better with technology than their professors are. Students have a point, but it’s easy to overstate this. I’ve seen many students have issues with digitally based assignments because, well, if it’s not an app on their phone, they’re just not comfortable with it.[iii]

Interestingly, by the end of the piece, Cordell is giving advice on how to teach DH, rather than the opposite. I think the author makes two points I want to comment on[iv].

  • Start small
  • Scaffold everything

Start small

This is essential. I have been teaching Voce and Diction for well over a decade now. My students do weekly recordings (two of which are digital), a midterm project, and a final project. It took years to get it to this place. I started small, with monthly recordings, then I added my final project, then weekly recordings.

That’s on a curricular level. On a “course project” level, start with one project. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Find the type of technology you are comfortable with. Run with it.
  2. Try doing it yourself first. You’ll see some of the difficulties your students have, and will be better able to help them.
  3. Expect that it won’t go smoothly. ESPECIALLY the first time. That’s okay. Learn from it. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. No matter how much you plan, you will need to adjust the assignment.
  4. Have a hard and fast deadline. Without this, several of your students just won’t turn their projects at all.
  5. Present the final products in class. Students tend to do a better job on assignments because they don’t want to look the fool in front of their classmates. (Well, usually.)

In my case, I use the technology around digital storytelling. I do four small projects with it per term:

  1. The Digital Poem – my students select a poem from a list of poems. They have to record it, find pictures to match, and turn it into a little movie.[v]
  2. Hiawatha—a few weeks later, students are given pieces of Hiawatha, and have to do the same thing as they did with the Digital Poem, though their pictures have to be either Native American or North American wilderness imagery.[vi]
  3. Midterm project. I give my students a choice: a midterm or a project. They never choose the exam. The past few years, they have had to produce a three minute long video about one of the United States presidents.
  4. Final project. This is the States project. Students randomly choose a state and have to produce a three minute long video about it.

I can  do this, because, at my school, Voice and Diction has a lab hour attached to it. They can do their projects (or at least start them) in class.

The other thing I want to focus on is scaffolding. It’s absolutely necessary. It needs to be explicit. Step-by-step instructions. Expect questions.

You also need to show your students how to use the technology. You need to make time for it in your class. I’ve been doing this for so long that I can train students in my tech in a half hour or so.

With the Presidents and States projects, I have lists of questions that they turn in, so I know they’re doing research and I can check it.[vii]

I would encourage you to figure out what technology (or technologies) you want to use and run with them. Don’t get frustrated: accept that you will have to adapt and edit. That’s not a bad thing.

[i] Revising an existing course isn’t nearly as difficult.

[ii] This makes sense. When I’ve gone before the college-wide committee, I didn’t have any problems. Part of that is because the departmental committee demanded edits.

[iii] Yes, I know this makes me sound old. (You can’t see this, but I’m shaking a cane at you, while yelling at you to get off my lawn.)

[iv] Some people might refer to these as “Best Practices”. I hesitate to use that term because what works best for me might not work for you because we are different people and might be teaching wildly different student populations and/or different levels of institutional support.

[v] This sounds more difficult than it is. I do it with Audacity (a free audio recording software) and Windows MovieMaker (which is probably not free anymore, though, honestly, it should be.)

[vi] We also discuss things like cultural appropriation when we do this.

[vii] You would be amazed at the research errors I’ve seen. For instance, the Grand Canyon has appeared in thirteen different states.

My mapping project.

Mapping Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.

This project was more challenging than the text analysis project, but I still enjoyed it. I decided to map information about Abraham Lincoln’s life because I am an amateur presidential historian, so its information I’m familiar with. If I’m doing a test run on new technology, I want to use knowledge I’m comfortable with, so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

I used ARCgis online to put this together. It was relatively easy to use, but I did have some issues with it, which I’ll get to later.

I assembled the information that I wanted to use. The sites included, the National Park Service’s website,, and the Morgan Library and Museum’s 2015 exhibition called Lincoln Speaks.

It took me three tries, though this part was not about the system itself, rather it was about me trying to do too much.

The first time, I wanted to do a map of all the major points in Lincoln’s life. I soon realized that that way madness lies. The map was just simply too cluttered. I couldn’t follow what I was doing, and if I was lost, I figured anyone looking at it would be as well, so I scrapped it.

Once I realized I needed to narrow my focus, I decided to focus solely on his adult life. This was still too cluttered, but it was certainly an improvement.

On the third try, I thought that his speeches would be a good focus. After all, Lincoln was perhaps the greatest speechwriter to be president. We all know quotes from them, like “With malice toward none” and “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. When I teach Voice and Diction, all of my students have to recite the Gettysburg Address[i].

After that, I organized what I wanted to represent. Since Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858[ii] launched Lincoln onto the national stage, I figured they would be a good place to start. After putting them up on the map, I tried to label them one through seven and draw out the path Lincoln and Douglas took when they were debating.

That turned out to be too messy, so I deleted the lines and the numbers.

After that, I decided to add selected stops on Lincoln’s trip from Springfield to Washington, DC for the inauguration. Lincoln spoke at many of these stops, though, when pressed for information about the looming war, he was very vague. I tried to draw a line here, showing the train’s path, but again, too much for my tastes.

Speeches Lincoln gave while president were up next. I picked a few because they were mostly in Washington, DC. Here, I added his trip to Richmond in 1865 after it fell to Union forces even though he really didn’t give a big speech there.

I thought about adding a section on the train that took Lincoln’s body from Washington DC to Springfield, but that trip was almost identical to the inauguration trip[iii], so why bother?

However, I realized that some of his most famous speeches, like the speech at Cooper-Union, were still not included. As a result, I added the “speeches before Lincoln became president” category. Finally, because I saw the one from Illinois College in 2009[iv], I decided to add his honorary degrees.

I was struck by how limited Lincoln’s travels were. In the 21st century, we’re used to our leaders visiting many places and meeting with the people there, but, then, travel was considerably more difficult[v], so traveling to many places wasn’t going to happen. He was also a president at war, which encouraged him to stay close to home.

Of course, he may have been considered well-traveled by 19th century standards. I don’t know.

I think this gives an interesting visual overview of Lincoln’s speeches and the audiences present[vi]. We are used to immediacy, but then, they just didn’t have it.[vii] Notice that he didn’t spend much time in the South, which, given his stance on slavery is unsurprising.

ARCgis was for the most part easy to use. It helped me organize things with the map notes function. I created a different set of map notes for each category, which helped me with organization. The Map Notes function also allowed me to put information on the map. If you click on one of the dots, a pop-up will give tell you when Lincoln was there and why. If you click on a location with more than one dot, say Springfield, it will give information for one dot, and then say that it’s the first of X, and let you click to the next one.

The save and share functions are easy, and they have a “create an app” function, though I did not try it.

That’s all great.

Some down sides. The map’s default setting may change when you save it. For instance, I was setting up the information on Gettysburg when I was interrupted and had to save. When I reopened the map, it defaulted to Gettysburg. I wasn’t thrilled about this, and almost scrapped the map. However, I was interrupted again[viii], and saved it. When I return to the project later, the map was set up properly again.

My biggest issue was trying to insert a legend. I wanted to have a legend running down the left hand side of the map, defining the different colored dots. I could not manage it. Well, that’ not strictly true. I did put a legend together, but it was this giant clunky mess. I think this happened because I was using the web-based free version[ix]. When I looked up tutorials online, they were talking about clicking on things that just weren’t on my screen.

I got around this by turning it into a presentation (another nice feature). The presentation let me add a title onto each slide, so I created two slides (not difficult), and put in the legend on the second slide. It’s not where I want it exactly, but it’s there, so everyone can understand the map a little better.[x]

Would I use ARCgis again? I’d consider it. If I were to work on mapping things frequently, I would probably buy it, because that version looks like it has all sorts of interesting features.




[i] I actually do this because rhythm and breathing in the right places are important in Gettysburg. It’s not a long speech, but it isn’t an easy one to recite because it’s essentially twelve run-on sentences.

[ii] They were running for U.S. senate from the state of Illinois. Douglas won that election.

[iii] The Pittsburgh and Cincinnati stops were dropped from the funeral train, and Chicago was added.

[iv] Which… I mean, I guess so… but REALLY? 2009?

[v] This is why presidential inaugurations used to happen in March. They figured that the worst of winter was over, so travel wouldn’t be as rough.

[vi] I am also aware that I left places out

[vii] In fact, one of things that revolutionized warfare during the Civil War was the use of the telegraph. Its use was concentrated in the North, and the ability to communicate faster than the South helped the Union cause.

[viii] I’ve been busy.

[ix] It’s also possible that I just couldn’t manage to do it. It’s always easy to blame the software, but, sometimes, the fault is with the person using it.

[x] We’ve all dealt with technology. Sometimes we have to be able to improvise.


An article that’s important to our interests

Dieter Rams Wants Silicon Valley to Stop.

Dieter Rams is a famous industrial designer who worked with Braun from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. He was a believer in simplicity of design (a descendant of the Bauhaus movement, I suppose.)

Rams is the subject of a documentary by Gary Hustwit (who also did a documentary of the font type Helvetica). Hustwit is interviewed here, and he says that Rams believes that we’ve gone too far towards the digital and that it’s alienating us from each other.

Not sure if the doc has come out yet, but it sounds interesting.

I think we should talk about this…

Given that we are in the Humanities, and this seems to be attacking some of the scholarship there.

I will say this, on one level, I agree with one point that Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian are making, and that is that there is a lot of crap scholarship out there.

I’ve read many pieces that were written in a deliberately confusing way.

For instance, I once read a (in my humble opinion) a poorly written piece on colonialism. When I brought up my issues with the article in class, I was told that I “fetishize clarity.”

This set off my crap detector.

I understand that complicated ideas require complex discussions, but I think there’s a difference between complex and convoluted. Convoluted arguments are built to confuse the reader.

Having said that, I don’t think that Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian really showed us all that much, and their whole concept of “grievance studies” is openly dismissive of the real struggles faced by women and minorities in society.

They way they describe gender studies, ethnic studies, LGBT studies, etc. as creating or encouraging a cult of victimization is wrongheaded to me. From what I have read in these studies, most of them are calling out the issues in our culture, and proposing change.  They aren’t just whining “”Woe is me!” as Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian imply.