On walking, thinking, and writing

in the past few weeks, we’ve had a number of discussions in my department about writing as an intellectual activity. This essay examines how our physiology engage the mind so that we can more effectively think and write.

Why Walking Helps Us Think 
Ferris Jabr
The New Yorker

In Vogues 1969 Christmas issue, Vladimir Nabokov offered some advice for teaching James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” He drew a charming one himself. Several decades later, a Boston College English professor named Joseph Nugent and his colleagues put together an annotated Google map that shadows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom step by step. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, as well as students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, havesimilarly reconstructed the paths of the London amblers in “Mrs. Dalloway.”

Such maps clarify how much these novels depend on a curious link between mind and feet. Joyce and Woolf were writers who transformed the quicksilver of consciousness into paper and ink. To accomplish this, they sent characters on walks about town. As Mrs. Dalloway walks, she does not merely perceive the city around her. Rather, she dips in and out of her past, remolding London into a highly textured mental landscape, “making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh.”

Since at least the time of peripatetic Greek philosophers, many other writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing. (In fact, Adam Gopnik wrote about walking in The New Yorker just two weeks ago.) “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!” Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Thomas DeQuincey hascalculated that William Wordsworth—whose poetry is filled with tramps up mountains, through forests, and along public roads—walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, which comes to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from age five.

Read the rest of this article at The New Yorker 

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Consulting Costs: The “Other Kind” of Administrative Bloat


On administrative bloat in universities.

Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Although the number of administrators and of administrative staff, as well as the levels of administrative compensation, have continued to increase inexorably, those are hardly the only elements of administrative bloat. Paradoxically, although one would think that, at some point, there would be enough administrators to cover almost any administrative need, the “need” to contract with outside consultants seems to have more than kept pace with the growth of other administrative costs.

At my own institution, we have now allocated $2.3 million to hire a consultant with expertise in institutional branding. I believe that the budget allocation is for the consulting work: that is, it seems to be covering the cost of a plan and not any implementation of the plan.

But a group of universities in Iowa seems to have done us one better. In a recent article for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Vanessa Miller reports that three…

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Fear and Loathing in Ethnography

We’re into the second week of fieldwork with the field school. I’ve been meeting with research teams and talking about their progress I find that students have two major obstacles to overcome. The  first is moving into the field. The second is setting up and completing interviews

Moving Into the Field

The first week of fieldwork, students are out in research community observing, meeting people and getting a feel for the parameters of the project. When I’m teaching a fieldschool, I generally send students out in groups of 2-4 and ask them to do their initial observations together. This is good for safety (no one should be in a study community alone, no matter where it is), but also to develop comaraderie.  The first few times out I generally find out who the most outgoing students are, who’s most likely to hang back, and who is likely to be a natural. Students often report the first week in the field is the hardest. They have to practice ethnography and use every opportunity to engage the research community.

While the initial contact can be difficult, it’s not the biggest obstacle. Even the most reserved student can become an expert observer of a social scene.  The next step-engagement and oral history-can also be a challenge.

The Oral History

Much as been written about the ethnographic interview; some researchers mistake the interview as ethnography itself, a major oversight. Ethnographic interviews are most reliable in a larger context of participant-observation research. They provide the necessary depth, allow informants to explain their social milieu, and provide the unseen aspects of ethnographic collection, allowing the researcher to see how the past has influenced the present.

Last week students were asked to dedicate their time to setting up and completing their oral history interviews. Some had immediate success; others had to ask for my help to make the connection to get informants so they could complete this part of the project. In all cases students came back from their interviews with a new understanding of their field site and the people with whom they are working.

The final hurdle is the public presentation, which will take place on June 19 at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation (2 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA).  Ethnography is a form of public scholarship. It requires the collaboration of a community and the results are belong to that community. I pleased with the work the students have completed this summer and I look forward to their public presentations and the feedback we’ll all receive at the public forum.




Deborah Kodish retires from the Philadelphia Folklore Project

Selina Morales and Debora Kodish.

When Debora Kodish arrived in Philadelphia in the early 1980s with her new doctorate in folklore from the University of Texas, there was no one in the city documenting everyday life in its many and varied neighborhoods.

No one organization was looking at what the African drummers were doing, what the Hispanic street artists were up to, what the Vietnamese musicians were playing, what the Italians in South Philly were saying – or at why they were doing what they were doing and saying what they were saying.

Kodish and some young colleagues huddled in a room at the Fleisher Art Memorial, and started asking the questions.

From those sessions, a small, fiercely focused independent organization grew – the Philadelphia Folklore Project, a reflection of Kodish’s commitment, energy, and voracious appetite for documentation.

Now 61, Kodish is stepping down after 27 years of leadership. Selina Morales, 32, a folklorist trained at Indiana University and a four-year PFP vet, will take the helm of this still-unique, still-focused organization.

The official transition will be marked at PFP’s annual birthday bash Saturday at the Painted Bride Art Center, 220 Vine St. There also will be two honorees, percussionists Elaine Hoffman Watts and Nana Korantema Ayeboafo, the former working in klezmer, the latter an African drummer.

“Both totally groundbreaking,” Kodish said recently, sitting with Morales in the back gallery of the project’s home, a rowhouse on West 50th Street near Baltimore Avenue.

The large front gallery is occupied by the current exhibition “Honoring Ancestors,” a joint effort with the Community Education Center, marking CEC’s DanceAfrica Philadelphia! festival.

Kodish and Morales sat at a table covered with a red-checked cloth in the Bill and Miriam Crawford Dining Room, a permanent installation in the PFP building. Its walls covered with political images, posters, fliers, and newspaper pages that once adorned the dining room walls of the Philadelphia activist couple’s home, it is a prime example of the project’s work.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20140603_Passing_the_torch_at_the_Folklore_Project.html#6X5pgAGTuF5yRG0c.99

On the Waterfront

NVFA_AWP2014_AP01_ph08.tifStudents just completed the second week of the field school; the first week of actual fieldwork. I’ve met with each team and they’re doing a fantastic job. I will be posting photos from the field this weekend to keep readers up to date on their activities.

What we’ve discovered so far: that Alexandria has a vibrant and active waterfront. It’s an honor to document the the day-to-day life here.

Photo: Sailing Club of Washington. Photo by Ashlee Payne