Gaming Collaborative Proposal (Raven & Anthony)

For the proposal assignment, Anthony and I have decided to collaborate utilizing prompts 8 & 9 to envision a gaming based project partly inspired by our upcoming Ivanhoe project. It will attempt to address the intersections of online spaces, education, representation, and equity/accessibility through digital tools in learning spaces.

This work will attempt to challenge the Digital Humanities to further the importance of expanded representation of perspectives of marginalized voices outside of the traditional westernized cannon of scholarly essay writing. Excluding race and intersections of gender, culture, ableism, disability and sexuality from public discussions through erasure and acceptance of larger discourses of colorblindness contribute to problematic understandings of video games as a cultural medium, and their significance in contemporary social, political, economic and cultural organization.

In reference to the Ivanhoe readings “Play”, and “Ivanhoe:Education in a New Key”| Romantic Circles, I’m interested in drawing from Amanda Phillips’ syllabus and her critical work in finding the connections between written and game based narrative expressions. I’m also intrigued by point 5 of the second text explaining the significance of resisting the traditional assumptions of self-identity of a particular text or cultural work through re-thinking the field of “texuality” and its interdisciplinary possibilities in how we can work with source material. (Ivanhoe, 2) We will also be looking at Kishonna Gray’s “Race, Gender, and Deviance in Xbox Live:Theoretical Perspectives from the Virtual Margins” & “Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Other” by David Leonard as a contextual approach to understanding the cultural approaches to avoid and utilize in our own gaming project.

Specifically, I want to focus on the power of identity and aims to provide a perspective of what is possible in using games to expand the pedagogical scope of interactive mediums as a tool for learning and re-creating the standards of knowledge production in higher education. To do this Anthony and I will be referencing small-scale games made via Twine and Unity which explores various perspectives/themes that can spark inquiry in imagining how games can be a tool for individualized expression. For the purposes of my side of the proposal I will be emphasizing the gaming content, and related source material and Anthony (see his blog proposal) will be referencing DH pedagogical practices that can be theorized into game-building strategies to structure equality and dismantle power-dynamics in traditional classroom settings. Our larger goal being to also create a Twine game reflecting some of our own experiences as Latin(x), students in college settings and how game creation can be a cathartic experience in our own education.

Games: Homebound,  College Admissions Simulator, & Everything’s Fine

College Admissions Simulator


Everything’s Fine

I wanted to use these three games as a positive examples of some student projects that  can be easily incorporated into a Cyborgian classroom. These in particular were created by students at an Amherst College course titled “Video Games and the Boundaries of Narrative”with Marisa Parham I took last semester. The first is a group collaboration I was involved in, the College Simulator is intended to allow the player to think critically about the desensitizing process involved in the college admissions process. In thinking of the differences between inclusivity and equity, the categorization of students based on class, race, gender, and economic standing greatly blurs the lines of how colleges interpret and sell the “diverse” college experience. I enjoy sharing this game with students because it allows them to think outside their own experience, and into an aspect of a perspective which has systematically determined and shaped the lives of many students of colors attempting to center an institution which has historically excluded them from being included into higher education. Alternatively, Everything’s Fine explores the usage of “Mechanics as Metaphors” which portrays the immersive experience of a 1st generation college student managing their mental health and cultural expectations of leaving home to pursue a college education.  

Zine Union Catalog: Authors and Catalogers as Collaborators

As Jenna indicated, we will be working in parallel to, and in correspondence with, one another for our final projects and working towards a shared goal of approaching and interpreting our ongoing work with the Zine Union Catalog (ZUC) through our use of annotation, collaborative inquiry, and critical analysis of authorship within the scope of our experience with, and approaches to, digital humanities tools and theories.  We have been fortunate enough to work with each on our DH Praxis project throughout our time at the CUNY GC which allows us to practically implement our theoretical and technical knowledge of the digital humanities into our ZUC.

For the final project in Doing Things with Novels, we have decided to address the role libraries and cultural institutions play in authoring catalog records that aid in the discoverability of resources.  Most specifically, we will focus on the role that the librarians play in aiding with zine discoverability and will look for examples within our union catalog prototype that are shared amongst the current contributing collections (ABC No Rio, Barnard Zine Library, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Denver Zine Library, and the Queer Zine Archive Project).  What kind of authority role do catalogers, and more specifically zine catalogers, play in the discovery and understanding of zines?  What similarities and differences are there within the catalog records and how do these differences contribute to the understanding and interpretations we have of zines?  How are the discrepancies and differences mediated, if at all? How will the Zine Union Catalog grapple with, and harmonize, the metadata?

To do this work, Jenna and I will use a variety of tools to collaborate and create the final project.  To start, we created a doc in our Google Drives to collaborate on the final project proposal and we’ve used marginal annotation to have a conversation as our thoughts and ideas evolve.  Jenna and I have tried a variety of tools (i.e. Google Drive, Slack, Redmine, Open Science Framework, CUNY Academic Commons) for collaborating with various degrees of success and utility and have found that for much of the work we do, Google has been the most useful in the drafting and planning phases.  However, additional tools we will use in our final project include, WordPress, Tableau, and Zotero

I anticipate that we will continue to use our ZineCat Blog to communicate with our classmates, the greater community following the Zine Union Catalog’s development, as well as to annotate each other’s work on this final project.  As part of our collaboration and reflectiveness on skills/theories learned in Doing Things with Novels, Jenna and I will use to annotate our contributions (on the ZineCat Blog) as a part of the final project. I’m interested to see how we annotate other online texts and materials as we move through this project, too (i.e., the catalog records of ZineCat’s contributors, the scholarship we discover in relation to our project during the literature review component, etc.).  

Zines are a very creative, and sometimes hard to describe, resource.  Also, very different kinds of institutions collect zines and their approaches to description can vary widely.  I plan to do a literature review on current practices, and understanding of, what catalogers do and how they create metadata (both within traditional libraries and non-traditional).  I’d also like to do a lit review on zine description, so I will look to the many subscription databases I have access to first, and then expand my research net to include resources available outside of the privileged licensed content.

My first search included a keyword search for “cataloger AND author” in Ebsco’s Library & Information Science Source provided by NYU Libraries.  There are 265 results and a screenshot of some of the articles I’ve found can be seen below, but for a more comprehensive list see my Zotero library here.  I’ve found these resources, so far, on zine librarianship and zine cataloging. I am excited by the amount of information about there and plan to make the literature review a big part of my work for the final project.  Whether I get to reading everything is another story, but I am also currently enrolled in Independent Study for my ITP certificate completion and should’ve done a literature review on zine librarianship and zine cataloging as a part of the work for that course, so I’m happy to have dual application for the work I’m conducting this semester.  Also, based on the literature review, I’ve identified many other aspects of research interests including how catalogers are active on social media, cataloging as outreach, metadata literacy, and the history of cataloging, to name a few that have arisen from the first foray into the literature.

To wrap up, I was uncertain at first how Jenna and I would incorporate our work on the Zine Union Catalog into a theoretical literature course especially since I’ve been grappling quite a bit with the theoretical underpinnings of the course readings and discussions.  Additionally, the zine medium is very different from the other literary texts we’ve been engaging with this semester, so it was a leap for me to make the immediate connection of how zines can be used within the context of this course, but through discussion and collaboration with Jenna, it’s become much clearer.  Jenna’s experience as a cataloger is more extensive than mine, as is her experience with working, and making, zines, so I know that she will bring an awesome amount of professional and personal knowledge to this project. I hope that my contributions will include a critical analysis of the digital humanities applications and processes of this project, including the use of annotating tools, and thorough research into cataloging as authorship. I am thrilled that she and I have been able to look at the many aspects of the Zine Union Catalog through different course lenses during our degree progress.  

Final Project Concept

For my final project, I want to try playing with the essay form by incorporating a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over during our unit on annotation and note-taking. As I noted in my blog post on Blair, I feel as if our readings really leave open the idea of note-taking being an ultimately expressive activity; it is a means through which a reader may ‘respond to the text’ via the margins of the text itself. Yet, taking a few steps back from our natural delineations of genres, one may note that this definition extends beyond note-taking in general. Consider the traditional literary essay and how it pulls from assorted marginalia and a text in order to elucidate hidden aspects of its subject. Is it not in itself ultimately a ‘response’ to a text, an attempt at lexicographic expression? Indeed, if one incorporate examples such as Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the short, epigraphic nature of Borges’ stories, they could even argue that the division between notes and Literature is a rather ephemeral one as well.

Wanting to explore this ephemeral division, I want to try writing an ‘annotated essay’ through Hypothesis (or any easily accessible annotation platform). Structurally, the idea seems rather simple: I would create a private Hypothesis notation on the text I intend to focus (or start) my analysis on. Once finished with an aspect of my argument, I would hyperlink to another text (or multiple texts) and continue my analysis via the hypothesis overlay for that piece. While a rather simple idea (and gimicky) it seems like a cool opportunity to use form to finally break from concerns of structure and linear argumentation that has plagued my essay writing since primordial elementary school days. Rather than force my reader to engage with my argument through an artificial linearity, I can simply leave the ‘flow’ of argument to her/him. That is, I can actually allow my reader to engage with my argument in the same manner that it truly developed.

Of course, form without content that complements its capabilities is wasted, hence why I wish to address another topic that I’ve been mulling over for a while: consumerism in Barthes’ “From Work to Text.” I still feel unease at the dichotomy Barthes draws between “the work” and “the Text” in regards to consumption (i.e. the former is a product of while the latter resists). The need for one to ‘return’ to the consumable work in the attempt to decipher the unlimited “Text” seems far too problematic for anything beyond a false division. The annotated essay seems a perfect opportunity to investigate these concerns: forcing the reader to engage with individual texts through the hyperlink strategy will allow them to visualize the intertextual web of signs that Barthes addresses in his writings while also forcing them to engage with the economy of digital production (e.g. site-traffic, paywalls, embedded advertisements) that is incurred in a contemporary exploration of “the Text.”

As I’m approaching the topic with a concern for the relationship between consumption, production, and art, my research will likely need to engage with classical critical theorists, most notably Adorno, while the digital nature of the project will benefit from some insights via Liu and some ‘classical’ arguments by way of Bolter and Grusin. As well, since I do not have the resources to consider all possible variations of “the Text” and how they have changed across the decades between now and Barthes, I intend to focus my inquiry on a single example of textual response: the individual essay itself. That is, I wish to simply display a counterpoint through how the annotated essay itself engages with consumption and capital in its own attempts to “play” with Barthes’ “Text.”

Returning to form, I also realize that even an unambitious use of hyperlinking between annotations will likely be an irritant to the reader. As such, there is a distinct possibility that I may need to abandon the use of annotation platforms in general and simply create a series of rudimentary HTML pages that simulate visiting multiple websites. (Which, due to separating the article from the immediate world of the World Wide Web, would significantly alter the argument as it provides a means to return to the text without engaging within the eternal recurrence of consumption.)

Final Project Proposal

For my final project, I was originally interested in investigating new ways that publishers are “doing things with novels,” in particular, how they are trying to attract consumers of social media to narratives themselves as well as to the act of social reading. The New York Public Library, for example, launched in August a new series of InstaNovels—classics that have been repackaged for an Instagram audience. Their first offering, a two-part Alice in Wonderland series, was fun and light with some innovative creative design and a little interactivity, albeit somewhat forced. On October 3rd, NYPL launched another InstaNovel, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” an 1892 short story that I hadn’t read. (I am truly embarrassed to say I hadn’t read it, given its status as a feminist classic and my enjoyment of Gilman’s novella Herland). So, I opened up Instagram and read it.

Gilman’s story is impressive—tight, short, unnerving. In it, a woman suffering from mental unease is brought by her husband to what seems a tranquil, private country retreat to recover. Far from curative, the place, particularly the bedroom with its visually disturbing wall covering, exacerbates the illness (or at least symbolizes the subjugation and social captivity that drives her closer to madness). Further, and particularly relevant to our DH720 studies, material text plays something of a character itself in the book: the narration is a first-person account relayed through journal entries (which the narrator calls “dead paper”) that the protagonist has been asked not to write to spare her mental health, and the wall-paper’s patterns at moments in the story become imposing, shifting lines behind which a spectral woman seems trapped.

It is a tale clearly born out of the era that brought America Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. But it is also shockingly relevant in the era of #metoo and the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, with thoughts such as, “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?”

The InstaNovel of the story is highly disappointing, with a low-effort attempt at rendering the titular menace as section dividers and with virtually no interactivity. Yet, the story practically proposes its own interactivity: why not have the paper begin to creep over the words, requiring the reader to mimic the protagonist’s actions of trying to scratch and peer behind it, to liberate what is trapped there? Further, why not have the digital paper alter itself in some way, as the wall-paper does throughout the story?

Doing a little digging, I learned that the publication history of Gilman’s piece has been wallpapered over itself, with agenda-laden scholarship and significant misprinting and misattribution of the text over time. One particularly intriguing article comes from Julie Dock et al, in 1996, entitled “‘But One Expects That’: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Shifting Light of Scholarship”—an article Dock followed up with a published book on the matter two years later. The original publication of Gilman’s story in the January issue of the New England Magazine is available online, so deviations from it are easy to spot. Other intriguing resources available during some of that publication history include a defense of the story by Gilman both in the Forerunner in 1913 in response to over a decade of negative reception by the medical establishment (whose methods are portrayed in the story as harmful) and in her 1935 autobiography.

This digging convinced me that “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is uniquely ripe for a digitized environment that could offer layers of both scholarship and simulation. For my final project, I’d like to research the story’s early reception and publication history and create an annotated and interactive version of the text. One that explores that history in a way parallel to the protagonist’s experience—perhaps where lines move within a fixed, barred space. For that, I’ll also need to do a little reading into simulations that mimic the psychological atmosphere of literary spaces, such as a recent VR game on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” (also made into an InstaNovel, by the way).

For my platform, I’m hoping to continue working with Manifold. I envision a brief introduction to the story’s initial reception and publication history, an annotated, resource-rich version of the story that focuses on its publication history, and either links to home-grown interactivity or embedded content for visitors to experience in a provocative way the misprintings and publication errors. Given the constraints of time and my novice status with the text, I know that the product will be a little rough. However, I’ve already played around with some simple tools—just html, css, and javascript—to create a rudimentary scratch-off interface to force users to uncover words, and that’s a start. If the interactive tools fail me (or I them), I’ll create a companion to the annotated version in Steller that at least provides the shifting visuals described in the text.

Catalogers as Authors, Metadata as Annotation

Zine Union Catalog logo: cat paw fist over an open zineLauren and I are proposing a coordinated final project where we will work in parallel, each of our research and analyses benefitting the other, with paired annotation an integral part of the process. Our project will focus on our Zine Union Catalog, which we’ve been working on together since Spring 2017 in the second semester of DH Praxis, taught by Lisa Rhody. We continued through ITP I and II and then Data Visualization this summer.

We are coordinating, rather than directly collaborating for reasons of time. We hope to experiment with the idea of working together in parallel, letting one another’s processes, interests, strengths as researchers and analysts, as well as the feedback we’ll provide one another inform our work.

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Digitizing Critical Responses to Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”

Julia Bannon, Kelly Hammond, Patrick Grady O’Malley, Travis Bartley and I joined forces to create an annotated edition of “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville with the purpose of examining critical responses to this novella from 1855 when it was first published to 2018 and seeing how digital tools inform and transform the annotative process.

First and foremost, annotating digitally made it possible to work collaboratively, showing not only how fluidly technology allows us to add to a text from many angles (and potentially from many fields) but also how easily shared enthusiasm generates compelling scholarship. We had a Google Doc and then Kelly started an email chain which felt effortless and flowed. Part of the reason why the collaboration worked so well was that we had chosen to work with Manifold, a new CUNY and University of Minnesota Project, for us an absolute delight. We had first considered and then Medium, and would surely been happy working in either, but Manifold immediately outshone both.

Our choice to examine critical responses to “Benito Cereno” over time was interesting because it led us to approach the text from multidisciplinary angles. The historical perspective we sought engaged us in a form of distant reading in which we explored how critical thought chronicles political shifts and how these are reflected in responses to a text at given points in time.

“Thus science may implement the ways in which [a human] produces, stores, and consults the record of the race” (Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic, 1945).

Annotation as a tool for historical analysis could, with enough collaborators and time, get huge. The scope of our inquiry seemed to me to beg some qualitative analysis, and I wanted to download all the critical responses to “Benito Cereno” that we added to our annotated digital edition and then upload them to Voyant as a corpus that would quantitatively track how responses changed over time, then add the resulting word cloud and charts to Manifold to see what stands out. Unfortunately, I had to put this foray on hold because I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for 19thcentury responses to “Benito Cereno” which I can confidently conclude are few and far between.

Looking for 19th-century critical responses to “Benito Cereno” without physically going to a research library is a fascinating task because it shows how important the work of creating good searchable digital collections is, and how the choice of what to recover and include in these collections informs scholarship that is increasingly digital, with funding that is always scarce. Searching for something that is not readily there also shows a niche Melville scholars could fill: a searchable database of all of Melville’s correspondence would be amazing. A searchable database of Putnam’s magazine including letters to its editors would also be amazing. These may, of course, exist, and if they do, please share. For my part I found some awesome resources:

Melville Electronic Library (MEL)

Cornell University Making of America Project

Melville’s Marginalia

I also want to mention NINES (Nineteenth-Century Scholarship Online) which looks interesting but you have to be a subscriber if you want to explore. Also, the login is insecure.

With the abundance of online material that can be added to “Benito Cereno,” it was at times a challenge for me to stay on track. But this is true in any research. As I worked on our annotated edition of “Benito Cereno” I had to keep stopping myself from adding resources that contextualized the story and instead tell myself to keep focused on critical response. I did upload a video of an Ashanti funeral, mainly because I wanted to see what an uploaded video looked like in Manifold. It looked great.

To say a few more words about Manifold, I love the fluidity and intuitiveness of its back end. I love what Manifold says when you delete a resource: “The resource has been destroyed. [Resource] has passed into the endless night.” Ha, too nice. Long live the spirit of play!  And the spirit of multilingualism; I found that Manifold detects French, which is really cool. Matt Gold told me that it detects many other languages too.

In terms of limitations in my use of Manifold, I would have liked to be able to format the annotations so as to paragraph, italicize, bolden and so on. I would have liked to be able to hyperlink to other Manifold resources and external websites in my captions for and descriptions of the resources and links I create in Manifold. For the purposes of our annotation of Benito Cereno, which looks at critical responses to Benito Cereno over time, I would have liked to color code annotations according to time periods (for example, 1855-1889, and then a color for 1890-1909, 1910-1929 and so on). I think, however, that I should be able to do a lot of these things and just don’t yet know how. I had a look at The Perversity of Things project and saw that things I wanted to do in Manifold, like embedding images in the text rather than adding them as resources whose icons would show up in the margin, or hyperlinking. Hyperlinking! I didn’t know how to hyperlink in Manifold and that really bugged me.

Our assignment was submitted yesterday, and instead of feeling that I never want to think of Benito Cereno, Melville or Manifold again, I’m back in Manifold playing with the text. That’s how good Manifold is. And Melville too.

Melville, Benito Cerreño, and the Judicial System

To preface this post, my group consisted of Lisa, Jenna, Lauren, Katharina, Raven, and myself. We divided the story into three parts according to Putnam’s Monthly installments in which it was released. Raven and I were tasked with the conclusion of the novella, so our concepts may radiate off one another. Upon starting the work on annotating the conclusion of Benito Cereno, I immediately found it very difficult to find ways to address the geography of the story, especially since we were the end of the tale and had a narrow stretch of time for working on this. During my extensive research into the trial the took place, I discovered the original story of Benito Cerreño (the name of the actual sailor).

Dr. Greg Grandin published an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Who Ain’t a Slave? Historical Fact and the Fiction of ‘Benito Cereno’” back in December of 2013. He addressed the actual historical context of the voyage that Melville’s Benito Cereno was based on. The name of the ship was the Tryal, and it was docked in Valparaíso, Chile when 70 West Africans were shoved on board with the intentions to be sold in Lima, Peru. These were not the assumed locations based on Melville’s text, who wrote it was in Santo Domingo, Haiti in order to fulfill the context of the Haitian Revolution (Raven addressed the Haitian uprising in her post, it’s super interesting, check it out). However, as Melville accurately wrote, the control of the ship was seized. Their voyage was redirected to the country of Senegal so that they could be free once again. Babo orchestrated the plot, but it wasn’t he who was Cerreño’s right-hand man, it was his son Mori. Cerreño attempted to stall the voyage by sailing north and south, thats when they ended up near Bristol, where Delano joined the excursion. I could go into much further detail, but for the sake of word-count, I won’t overdo it. The link is provided in the title for anyone interested.

Since our section was not heavy with the geography, I did find it helpful to create a very basic map of the actual voyage titled “Journey of the Tryal,” using ArcGIS. I’ll provide an image, but it is purely for the sake of a visual to understand where it was supposed to go versus where it ended up:

Map of the Tryal’s Voyage in 1805

If you go to ArcGIS, you can click the paths and symbols and it’ll tell you what they represent. As far as what I chose to annotate, I focused mainly on the court case and depositions of relating to Babo’s tragic fate. Right around the time Benito Cereno was published (1855), two of the biggest cases in terms of slave liberation came about. In 1853, the Robin Holmes v. Nathaniel Ford case took place in Oregon, and in 1857 the world renown Dred Scott v. Stanford case arose. I took the contextual backgrounds of these individual cases and used them as a scope in regards to viewing Babo’s treatment by the judicial court system as well as Benito Cereno himself.

All in all, I found that understanding the original voyage experienced by Delano and Benito Cerreño was a unique way of understanding Melville’s intentions in writing Benito Cereno in the manner that he did. Also, seeing what was happening around the world politically in terms of the slave revolts and court cases provided an interesting perspective on his view on the treatment of enslaved humans.

Contextualizing Slave Insurrections within Historical Fictions

As a group, I think it was clear we wanted to tackle the theme of contextualizing the historical elements of Melville’s short novella Benito Cereno, while respecting our own individual perspectives. Our unique approaches to the text reflect our own respective aspects of contextualizing a history of Slave Revolts in the Caribbean and a broader sense of the historical landscape Melville so elusively portrays. It was quite rewarding to be working with Anthony, Jenna, Lisa, Lauren, and myself and seeing each of own areas of “expertise” shine in illuminating various aspects to the text. Given the freedom in theme in relation to the novella, we took advantage of forming a consensus of theme and then going to independently annotate as we each gained a much broader understanding of the text through each other lens of knowledge. Aside the theme we also decided on splitting up the initial text into three parts given the limited time we had to critically engage with the text. We also decided to tie in all of our annotations under the hashtag #Bennythemap.

In the third section Anthony and I were assigned to annotate and frame our section around the themes of comparing other judicial and noted slave revolts to expand our understanding of why Melville chose to set his story surrounding the political turmoil of the Haitian Revolution. My process narrowed in to compare the most noted (similar) comparison to a fictional slave narrative, The Heroic Slave by Fredrick Douglas.

“Frederick Douglass wrote only one work of fiction: this novella, loosely based on a true incident, about a slave who leads a rebellion on board a slave ship. He published the story twice in 1853 — serially in his newspaper. But he clearly designed the tale to reach the larger white reading public: one of the most interesting aspects of the novella is the strategic way it tries to lead genteel readers not only to active engagement in the abolitionist cause, but also to grant black slaves the same right to rebel against tyranny that America enshrines in its founders. The novella, however, does not seem to have had many contemporary readers, although it was reissued at least once, in pamphlet form in 1863.”

With this notion of framing the context, I annotated several instances comparing the Creole and Haitian Insurrection and how each were historically respectively popularized in the media at the time. In comparison to the Haitian Uprising, the Creole case is relatively forgotten in history due to the tumultuous history between U.S and British relations which were strained under the negotiations of lost property upon liberating slaves in Nassau. By incorporating/annotating interactive maps of slave revolts in the Caribbean, it is interesting to ponder how much leniency can be afforded to authors such as Melville in making radical alterations in history for the sake of narrative plot. The distancing in reference to a revolt within the French Empire in comparison to U.S/British domination is also fascinating to think about in Melville’s illusive approach of subtly (with deep reading between the lines) making arguments for liberation and establishment of slavery. Would depicting a more contentions and politically sanctioned revolt be too controversial for Melville to tap into?

In summation, providing context to Melville’s novella was incredibly helpful in deciphering subtle text which attempts to make a moralistic argument grounded in a “real” historical setting. It would be incredibly interesting to continue this work in other 18-19th century style literature.



Claiming Space, Or: The Text as a “Map”

Staying in the language of mapping, I can say that I took quite a bunch of detours until I arrived at the idea I finally realized for this week’s assignment. Thinking about Benito Cereno in connection with maps reminded me of how I first learned about slavery and colonialism in high school: by being introduced to maps displaying the so-called “triangular trade”:

These maps and their textual descriptions displayed slavery as an historical fact that can be displayed and understood by placing an arrow on a map, from the African continent to the Americas, the slaves being part of the “cargo” on ships following this line. It was not only until years later within my undergrad studies that I read more about how intrinsically linked the act of mapping has often been with colonialism, how the creation of maps has been used not only to display, but to create colonial facts and exercise power. And even though the display of the “triangular trade” is not the same as dividing a continent into actual zones in which different colonial powers rule, staying within this image helped me to think about mapping Benito Cereno. I decided to look at the novella as a form of adding a story to the objectivity of those forms of display—but whose story?

The question we decided to ask ourselves as a group was what is missing from Melville’s depiction in Benito Cereno. We agreed on applying this question as the overarching theme to our mapping projects. I therefore decided to look for accounts written by (former) enslaved people themselves—because their perspectives and testimonies are missing from Melville’s novella, and from an understanding of slavery as a mere part of the colonial “triangular trade”.

My search took me to the shelf in the library on which various (anthologies of) so-called slave narratives can be found:

I decided to look for reports that talk about what happened in places that are similar to the ones Melville chose as the setting of Benito Cereno: the coast, the sea, the ship. I soon found the testimony of Olaudah Equiano/Gustavus Vassa (ca. 1745-1797), who was enslaved and kidnapped as a child in today’s Nigeria, and who became an abolition activist later in his life. After he had been kidnapped, he was taken to the Carribean and subsequently to Virginia. In his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life Of Olaudah Equiano (1789), he describes what he had to endure on the ship that brought him to Barbados.

My first idea then was to create a map on which the arrow in “the south” of the “triangular trade”, displaying slaves being brought from the African to the American continent, is annotated with Melville’s story which is then again annotated with accounts from Equiano/Vassa. I looked into the possibilities Googlemaps, Neatline and Story Maps offer, and I found that all three applications didn’t provide the means I would need in order to visualize this twofold annotation process, or at least that I could not figure out how to use them to do so in the amount of time I had to complete this project.

Thanks to Raven’s and Lisa’s (who was my partner in annotating the first part of Benito Cereno) comments within conversations about the issues I encountered and Lisa’s reference to the notion that maps “don’t only depict space, they claim it”, I decided to interpret Melville’s text as a sort of map on which I would locate parts of Equiano’s/Vassa’s autobiography.

As Lisa has put it in her blogpost, I took the map as a “metaphor–whether a means of geolocation, of representing history, or conferring identity, or of claiming some kind of physical, psychological, political, aesthetic, or linguistic space, among many possibilities”.

In order to make an actual slave narrative visible and claim it’s space within Melville’s story, I therefore searched for passages within The Interesting Narrative of the Life Of Olaudah Equiano which correspond with passages from the first section of Benito Cereno and added them to Melville’s novella via Additionally, in order to take my idea one step further, I copied Benito Cereno to a Google document and directly inserted parts of Euqiano’s/Vassa’s account into the story, using a different font in order to make the two different voices not only readable but also visible. My idea behind this was to not merely annotate Benito Cereno with The Interesting Narrative of the Life Of Olaudah Equiano, but to make the latter an integral part of the former, a part one cannot over-read by ignoring the annotations.

Admittedly, I had to stretch the idea and the concept of “mapping” quite far in order to pursue this idea and make it part of a “mapping”-process, but at least to me this was a very informative process, even though I would consider the result/product of it still very much a “work” or even still a thought in progress.

Special thanks to Lisa and Raven who gave me very helpful advise within my thinking about this task.

Insanity, Queerness and 9/11

Annotating this project was a very intense experience for me. It really opened my eyes to the realities of the time the story was written in and the thematic representations of the characters. I have a much fuller and deeper understanding for Melville’s work, and I feel I learned a great deal about the nature of race and slavery in the 19thcentury and today.

The mental illness piece hit home for me because I too suffer from this kind of condition. It was important for me to read that work carefully and look for ways people were othered because of their race, and thus, implied insanity. I thought that article was very thought provoking and had a lot to offer as commentary to Babo, Delano and Cereno’s story. “Crucial to these discussions were questions of obedience and rebelliousness, and the desire to set forth an “expert” language— mixing law and science—that would assure that these “different” subjects would not threaten the security of the community, and specifically the rights of its members to hold property,” (Reiss, 1996). This quote is highly symbolic of the nature of whiteness and slavery in the 19thcentury. A threat to the “insane” property of white people was seen as more important than the humanity of the black individuals that endured slavery. Melville tries to illustrate this in his own clever, between-the-lines way (at least on a first reading). On reading it another time, it becomes much more clear what Melville is saying.

In terms of the article on queerness throughout the text, I did find some of the connections and comparisons a little less convincing. But nonetheless, there are apparent implications that  “Melville, in “Benito Cereno,” elliptically trope queer desire as both enabling and threatening the possibility of hospitality,”(Hannah, 2010). What is valuable about this aspect of the experience was still finding importance and value in what Hannah had to say despite my not necessarily believing or buying into the claims whole-heartedly. This was an interpretation and should be read as such. But I was inspired by the claims that I was convinced of that I wouldn’t have otherwise have connected on my own. Reading these claims and then weeding the story for examples was very fulfilling. It was a game in its own sort and I really enjoyed the process of getting into the mind of the characters in such a unique and intimate way.

 The 9/11 Commission Report article was very impressive. Here, slaves, as others were compared to the slave states the United States government still insist exist, to behoove their own interests. Terror suspects and the Muslim community as a whole was othered in much the same way the black individuals and slaves were during the 19thcentury, and in the case of blackness, this othering still exists today. In this way, it is dissuading how little progress we as a society have made over the centuries but I have hope that all the hard work of race pioneers will pay off, as we are already seeing the benefits in certain elements of society, politics and culture. “Melville’s text invites a consideration of slavery’s role in the preservation of status quo politics, and reveals the means by which the disclosure of secrecy becomes a condition for the legal fiction of slavery to persist. In purporting to reveal the hidden plot of contemporary anti-US terrorism, the US government’s 9/11 Commission Report similarly manufactures an acceptable political fiction that compensates for a still deeper failure to promote democratic structures of feeling in response to national trauma,” (Traister, 2013). What I like about this quote is its reference to “national trauma.” Slavery was and continues to be wildly traumatic to those that suffered its injustices. 9/11 was nationally traumatic in a different way, as was coming to terms with the inhumane practices of our government of terror suspects in the name of finding answers to justify an inhumane war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and collectively, our nation has to accept our involvement there and the havoc we created. This relates to the text in that Cereno (especially) was affected and traumatized so deeply for what he had done. He manifests a national experience as one individual in a story.

Overall, I was moved by the connections I made between reading the critical responses to the story and the text itself. I would be interested in learning more about many differing points of views and look forward to delving more deeply into the research my colleagues on this project came up with as well. From this assignment, I realize the great value in interpreting texts through different, specific lenses. I am grateful I am more aware of literature being conducive to inferring diverse close readings. This also informs how I can more successfully perform distant readings as I become more aware of digital tools that allow for such work.