How It Feels to Be Copied

I wrote this some time ago, in 2015, I think. I thought it was published here, and when I discovered it lying in an archive of notes on my computer, I thought it was only right to put it where I intended all those years ago.

It begins with whispers and occasional sideways glances among the people who know what is happening, and with very odd questions among the people who don’t know — I remember someone from across the university remarking that I should check out the other project, since it too was on the same topic. Then, someone finally steps forward and points out what others have known, or suspected, for a while. They show you a website, and I was confused because the prose, while not exactly my own, was so much like how I wrote, how I thought, and the title of the project was remarkably similar to my own, and, in fact, was fairly close to a phrase I had used in an essay that I had published out of the larger research project. Finally, when I kind of stumbled back to my office, unsure of what to think, a hallmate sticks his head in to say that the other person has been asking about the topic. My hallmate tells me that he kept telling the other person to talk to me, but …

But what? How do such things happen? As a student of culture, I am fully aware that there is such a thing as zeitgeist, that ideas have their moments. I have also chosen to pursue a scholar’s life in the humanities, which means I have chosen to sacrifice greater economic opportunities for the ability, I hope, to serve the greater good, to make a contribution not only to the domain of human knowledge but also to make a difference in the lives of individuals students and the life of my community. And so, the first thing I feel is betrayal. Someone else has done something to me.

But, really, the other person doesn’t really need to care that much.

As for the other project. It takes my idea, which is to examine creativity through a clearly creative object, and focuses on an old wooden boat form that is only made by a few antiquarians for other antiquarians. It’s not a terrible thing to spend time with someone older than you making antiques, but call it that. Don’t call it scholarship. It’s a memoir.

The difficult part is when universities begin to confuse this kind of work with the actual work of scholarship and science, which is probably going to happen more often in more places as universities allow themselves to be run by professional managers and not academics.

This has always been a risk, of course. The great mass at the center of almost any university is the spread of abilities. One of the central tensions in the academy has always been between those who prefer to research, and do it well; those who prefer to teach, and do it well; and those who prefer to manage things, and maybe they do it somewhat competently. But the pay hierarchy goes: administration, research, teaching.

As bean counters take over, not only will they count butts in seats but they will also count publications, without any sense of what matters and what does not. A colleague of mine reported that in her conversation with our dean, when she pointed out that she felt like her work, published in the top journals in her field, was largely being undervalued, our dean replied, “that quantity matters, not quality.” (If he was being ironic, there was no later action he took to reveal that subtle dimension: floggings continued with hopes of morale improving.)

Installing, and Setting, PIP with MacPorts

There’s a Python library, textblob, that I want to explore, but there is no current port of it for MacPorts. I like to keep as much stuff like this “in the family” as possible, and so I am going to see if a PIP selected by MacPorts will make this easy:

% port search pip

py27-pip @6.1.1 (python, www)
A tool for installing and managing Python packages.

% sudo port install py27-pip

A lot of stuff scrolls by, then:

% port select --list pip
Available versions for pip:
none (active)

% port select --set pip pip27
Selecting 'pip27' for 'pip' failed: could not create new link 
"/opt/local/bin/pip" pointing to "/opt/local/Library/
Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.7/bin/pip": permission

So, sudo that:

% sudo port select --set pip pip27
Selecting 'pip27' for 'pip' succeeded. 'pip27' is now active.

Check my work:

 % which pip

Isochronic Maps

[IsoChrone Maps][] look a lot like what we now call “heat maps” in the current moment. (Hat tip to [Scott Weingart][] for the heads up.)

[IsoChrone Maps]:
[Scott Weingart]:

Folklore Studies and “Winged Words”

[Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities is hosting a hackathon][] focused on automatic detection of various kinds of text re-use. As you might imagine, text re-use comes in a wide variety of forms: “Text re-use can take the form of an allusion, a paraphrase or even a verbatim quotation, and occurs when one author borrows or re-uses text from an earlier or contemporary author.” Most of these re-uses are *intentional*. Scholars of text re-use also have a category of *unintentional* re-use, which, from a folklorist’s point of view, seems fairly familiar: “Unintentional text re-use can be understood as an idiom or a winged word, whose origin is unknown and that has become part of common usage.” Winged words seems a particular form of traditionalizing, since they are “words which, first uttered or written in a specific literary context, have since passed into common usage to express a general idea—sometimes to the extent that those using them are unaware of their origin as quotations” (okay, [Wikipedia][]).

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any interest in, or awareness of, words or phrases that are uttered within the vernacular domain, become widespread in usage, and achieve stickiness purely that way, or even get captured into a literary text. There is, however, a lovely illustration by Marco Büchler that graphs out the various possible kinds of text re-use:

Graph by Marco Büchler

Graph by Marco Büchler

[Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities is hosting a hackathon]: