Listening to My Followers!

“Hopefully, the totality of the work that I have done over the last two years will serve as reminders to students and to faculty that learning—at any age and at any point in an individual’s professional development—can bring joy and fulfillment.” Brent L. Kendrick

My post “The Wire Researcher and Alexander Gordon: Live Streaming from New Horizons!” has put me in touch with a number of international followers as well as a few followers here at home who indicated that they had challenges with the audio file and that they would like to read the transcript of my presentation. (Hindsight, of course, reminds me that audio files should be accompanied by transcripts whenever possible.)

At any rate, I make a point of listening to my followers, and I am more than glad to provide in today’s post a transcript of my portion of the panel presentation that was live-streamed from New Horizons.

[Transcript:  “The Wired Researcher and Alexander Gordon:  Live-Streaming from New Horizons, 2014 VCCS New Horizons Conference, Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center (Roanoke, Virginia), Friday, April 11, 9AM.]

Good morning!

Thank you so much for coming to our session, “Achieving Teaching Excellence through the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professors Program.”

As you may know, the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professors Program is designed to recognize and support teaching excellence in the Virginia Community College System by offering two-year awards to help support self-directed projects.

I’m Brent Kendrick, Professor of English at Lord Fairfax Community College, and joining me on our panel are Charlie Evans (Professor of History, Northern Virginia Community College) and Patrick Reed (Associate Professor of History, Northern Virginia Community College).

The three of us were selected as Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professors for 2012-2014. In our session this morning,

  • we want talk with you about our self-directed projects;
  • we want to share you how we have used those projects to help us achieve teaching excellence … to help us become better educators; and,
  • if you have joined us this morning because you’re thinking that you might apply for the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professors Program, we hope that by listening to us as we share our experiences, we will inspire you … motivate you … to do just that: apply.

I’ll start our session by talking about my work on a collection of Colonial American essays, songs, poems that were published pseudonymously under the name of “The Humourist” in The South Carolina Gazette in 1753-1754.

Then Professor Evans will share with you what he’s doing to address the paradox of students who enter his history classroom armed with powerful smart phones that they use to connect to one another and to a digital world filled with data, yet when he hands them a textbook, also filled with data, they hardly ever bother to read it.

And, then, Professor Reed will talk about how he’s using pop culture video clips to tap into students’ background knowledge, to exploit their visual learning abilities, and to encourage them to become more discriminating consumers of both historical and popular sources.

After the three of us have talked, we hope that you’ll have some questions for us.  We will be delighted to answer them.

As I mentioned earlier, my self-directed project for the last two years has centered on a collection of Colonial American essays, songs, poems that were published pseudonymously under the name of “The Humourist” in The South Carolina Gazette in 1753-1754.

The general idea for my project had its beginnings nearly 40 years ago when I was a doctoral student at The University of South Carolina.  I remember the details well:  I was taking a Colonial American Literature class with Professor Calhoun Winton who required us to read Leo LeMay’s Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Southern Literature.  I sat up and took notice when I came across Lemay’s comment that The Humourist essays were of such high caliber that someone needed to edit them, publish them, and identify the author.

I was intrigued and challenged.  The essays had been published in the South Carolina Gazette.  Only one complete run of that newspaper exists in the entire world, and it’s housed in the Charleston Library Society.

So for an entire semester as a graduate student, I traveled from Columbia to Charleston where I read and studied The Humourist essays and came to agree with LeMay:  these were some of the best Colonial American essays that I had ever read.  I thought—and still think—that some of them are on a par with Benjamin Franklin’s “Silence Dogood” letters.

However, I didn’t do anything further with Professor Lemay’s challenge, except to file it away in my mental storehouse of “one-day, some-day” ideas to be tackled further down the road when the time was right.

Interestingly enough, the time never proved right until I had the opportunity to apply for a Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professorship.  When that opportunity came along, I did some quick research, and I discovered that The Humourist essays remained unedited, unpublished, and the author unidentified.

As I developed my application, I kept reminding myself that I was up to the task of editing the essays.  I kept reminding myself that I was up to the task of preparing a critical edition of the essays for publication. (I had enjoyed full success with my The Infant Sphinx:  Collected Letters of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.) And, I kept trying to convince myself that if I gave the essays a “close reading” I could surely come up with enough clues to identify the author and solve this major literary whodunit!  After all, I kept reminding myself, this is exactly what I do with my students:  I show them how to give a text … any text … a close reading; I show them the discoveries that they can make when they give a text … any text … a close reading.

Sometimes I stage things deliberately in advance and come to class armed with my findings.  Sometimes it happens magically as part of a class discussion.  Either way, I always find that my students are intrigued by the process—and by the discoveries—and, usually, by the end of the semester they have begun to “learn to read” and they start applying their new-found reading skills—their new-found critical thinking skills—not only to literature but also to their own disciplines.

So as I thought about the challenge of identifying the author of The Humourist essays, I came to realize that whether I would ultimately be able to identify the author through a close reading of the essays did not really matter!  What mattered far more for me as an educator was for me to take my Humourist project and turn it into a research paper, if you will, where I would share with my students—and with the world at large–from start to finish—everything that I was doing:  my work, my methods, my discoveries, my challenges and frustrations, and my joys of working with these important Colonial American essays.

It was at that point in developing my application that I came up with the idea that the best way to put myself out there would be to have a blog.  Let me hasten to add that I knew nothing about developing a blog, but I liked the approach.

So I pulled together a group of students—face to face, via emails, and even via SurveyMonkey—to get their feedback.  What did they think?  Would a blog be a good way for me to go?  Should I include it as one part of my project?

They loved the idea, and when I told them that I would be calling my blog “The Wired Researcher,” they loved it even more.

One of my students, Bonnie Furlong—a lover of words as well as a life-long learner—replied via email:

  • The word “wired” will catch the attention of …The Young.  They’ll think you are “hip.”
  • You’ll need a logo.  You’ll need T-shirts with the logo on them.  You need pens that say, “The Wired Researcher.”  “Sold in libraries everywhere.”  “Guaranteed to make study more exciting.” Oh, boy, I see tie-ins!

My students’ enthusiastic reactions convinced me:  Blog it!  My students’ enthusiastic reactions gave birth to “The Wired Researcher.”

I finalized my application and sent it on its way!

When I shared the news that I had been selected as a 2012-2014 Chancellor’s Commonwealth professor, Bonnie emailed me about my blog title and sent me a dozen “Wired Researcher” pencils.  I loved them so much that I bought lots more.  And, at that point, I was so wired that I decided to have my own “Wired Researcher” business cards, and I even have my own “Wired Researcher” postage stamps!

My blog went live on November 26, 2012.  Let me quickly highlight what I have achieved there:

  • I have made a preliminary version of all The Humourist essays available in my blog, along with comprehensive annotations. In that sense, the essays are published. I’m hoping for formal book publication in a year or two.
  • I’ve given all the essays a “close-reading.”  I’ve paid close attention to all the details—all the clues—and I catalogued them and cross referenced them to establish patterns:
    • The Humourist knows the classics, history, literature, poetry and drama.
    • The Humourist even knows about Egyptian mummies.
    • The Humourist knows, loves, and promotes Colonial Charleston and Colonial South Carolina and had insider knowledge of the South Carolina General Assembly.
    • I’ve shared the specifics of those patterns with my blog audience in a series of weekly posts called “Controlled Revelations.”  Clearly I had to control how much I divulged about the author in any given week because I didn’t want my readers to solve the literary mystery before I did!
  • Finally, I took all the clues and patterns—combined them with an obituary that serendipity brought my way—and solved what some have called “Colonial Charleston’s Greatest Literary Mystery.”
  • As it turns out, the author was well known in Europe for his antiquarian studies, especially for his investigations into the Roman antiquities of Scotland and England. In 1742, he left the Old World and came to the New World with James Glen, newly appointed Governor of South Carolina. From that point forward, the author served as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council, and, in the last year of his life, wrote The Humourist essays.

I presented my findings at the Charleston Library Society where the only copy of the essays could be found prior to my work—and in my blog where the essays and my findings will be available, virtually forever:  “Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery Is Solved.”  It did me a world of good, when I reached the conclusion of my presentation, to announce:  “From this point forward, these important and unique American essays will be known to have been authored by Colonial Charlestonian, Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.”

To be certain, the Chancellor’s Professorship gave me the opportunity to make this significant contribution to the field of American Literature.

Equally important, it gave me a new way to engage my students via blog explorations.  My students have been with me on this journey—all along the way—and many of them have been engaged enough to comment on various blog posts.  Obviously, I’m never quite certain which students are following my self-directed project, but I do notice a pattern that whenever I mention my blog in class, I have a marked increase in site stats for that day!

Sometimes, though, I am certain.  For example, The Humourist—Alexander Gordon—wrote an unfinished poem called “The Temple of Happiness.”  When I posted the poem in my Blog, I put out a challenge:  someone should give the poem a close reading to master the poet’s style and then should finish the poem!

My former student Tim VanCuren did just that:  he gave the poem a close reading, he picked up the style, and he finished the poem:  “Alexander Gordon’s ‘The Temple of Happiness’ Is Finished.”  The ending that Tim wrote is so expertly written that if I had not known what was going on, I would not have been able to tell where The Humourist left off and where Tim began.  When I combined both parts and posted the finished poem, my blog readers agreed.

And, while I wouldn’t want my students to know this, I think by watching my research live—in progress—especially my personal use of “close-reading”strategies—they have become better readers, and, I actually think that some of them have gotten turned on to research!

Hopefully, the totality of the work that I have done over the last two years will serve as reminders to students and to faculty that learning—at any age and at any point in an individual’s professional development—can bring joy and fulfillment.

Hopefully, I’ve whetted your appetite enough that you’ll check out my blog.  Even though my Chancellor’s Professorship is winding down, my blog will continue as I pursue other research projects and share them with my students.

What a phenomenal opportunity this has been for me.  Whoever said that “opportunity never knocks twice” needs to come to the Virginia Community College System because it was here, as a Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professor, that I have had the opportunity—the second chance, if you will—to be the student who took Professor Lemay’s idea and ran with it.

It’s here that I have had the opportunity to be the student who edit and published The Humourist essays, ensuring that they will take their rightful place in the American literary canon.

And it’s here that I have had the opportunity to use my “close reading strategies” to solve the Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery—to identify the author of The Humourist essays as  Alexander Gordon, Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.


8 thoughts on “Listening to My Followers!

  1. Dear Professor: Your reminder above is clear and correct. Each day is an opportunity to learn new things, open new doors, and share new knowledge. I am looking forward to the next Memoir Writing class, Fall, 2014. Many thanks. Morgan


    • Thank YOU, Morgan, for reaffirming the beauty of all that awaits us, daily! I, too, look forward to this Fall’s Memoir Writing class, and I am glad to have the opportunity to work with you again!


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