The Content and Scope of the Blog
The tagline says it all. In the broadest sense, this is a blog about the challenges, discoveries, and joys of research. In a more narrow sense, this blog will focus on the scholarly research that I am doing with a remarkable collection of Colonial American essays, songs, poems, and advertisements published pseudonymously under the name of “The Humourist” in the South Carolina Gazette during 1753-1754. These unique essays have never been reprinted so they remain “hidden” and “undiscovered,” so to speak, in that newspaper. Further, no one knows who wrote the essays. Well, I am 99% certain that I know, but I need to do additional research and analysis to confirm my suspicions. In that sense, this blog is a literary “whodunit.”
As the blog unfolds, I’ll be doing three things.
First, I’ll be preparing a critical, annotated edition of the essays.
Second, I’ll be developing a convincing case for authorial attribution, based on a preponderance of internal evidence as well as on stylometrics.
Third, throughout the process of preparing the critical, annotated edition and developing a case for authorial attribution, I’ll be giving the essays a “close reading.” I am reminded of a quote by Robert Frost:
We go to college to be given one more chance to learn to read in case we haven’t learned in high school. Once we have learned to read, the rest can be trusted to add itself unto us.
Whenever I teach an English class, I always share the above quote with my students.
Learning to read—really read—gets to the heart of what we want our students to do not only in their English classes but also in all of their classes. When they approach a reading assignment, we don’t want them to approach it—as so many students confess they do—with the goal of simply reaching the end. We want them to slow down and give the text a close reading. We want them to read critically. We want them to think critically.
As Frost knew so well, that is what “learning to read” is all about. Further, when students learn how to really read, they can construct their own intellectual inquiries: “the rest can be trusted to add itself unto us.”
I share this belief—and approach—with my students, without fail. And I show them how to learn to read, class after class, reading assignment after reading assignment, as I give whatever literary selection we are reading my own close reading and as I make my own discoveries about a text. They are intrigued not only by my process but also by the discoveries that I make simply because of my dogged determination to give a text—any text—a close reading.
That’s precisely what I will be doing in my blog: giving “The Humourist” essays such a close reading that I will be able to establish a scholarly, annotated edition, and I fully expect to be able to identify the author.
As I move ahead, I’ll be blogging weekly, sharing live—with anyone who wishes to follow along with me—my challenges, my discoveries, and my joys.
The Birth of the Blog
As twelfth Librarian of Congress (1975-1987), one of Daniel J. Boorstin’s goals was to open up the library to the public and make its reading rooms and collections accessible to everyone. Toward that end—and with a full measure of symbolism—he put picnic tables and benches on Neptune Plaza. He initiated mid-day concerts on the plaza. He removed the chains from the majestic bronze doors at the first floor west entrance leading to the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. (He told reporters, “They said it would create a draft.” I replied, “Great—that’s just what we need.”) And he stopped the practice of searching visitors.
At the time, I worked as at the Library of Congress as an editor of the National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints, and I well remember the occasion when the bronze doors were opened. And, if I am not mistaken, it was on this occasion that I heard Dr. Boorstin say:
You never know when an idea is about to be born.
His comment has lingered with me all these years, and since hearing it, I have always tried to keep track of when my own ideas were born.
I knew from the start that my project would center around a remarkable collection of Colonial American essays, songs, poems, and advertisements published pseudonymously under the name of “The Humourist” in the South Carolina Gazette during 1753-1754. The Encyclopedia of the Essay (ed. Tracy Chevalier, 1997) places “The Humourist” essays in the tradition of Samuel Johnson’s Rambler essays and observes that they are the only “full-fledged literary” works to have appeared in the South Carolina Gazette. J. A. Leo Lemay (du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware) noted in A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Southern Literature (1969) that the essays should be edited, published, and the author identified.
I knew from the start that my goal would be to make these essays available not only to students, professors, and scholars but also to the reading public at large. Without doubt, the essays are on a par with Benjamin Franklin’s “Silence Dogood Letters,” and, in fact, Franklin has direct ties to the South Carolina Gazette and possibly to the author of “The Humourist” essays.
I knew from the start that my project will result in a critical, annotated edition of the essays, along with a convincing case for authorial attribution, based on a preponderance of internal evidence as well as on stylometrics.
What I did not know until I was well into the third or fourth or maybe even fifth revision of my application for the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professorship Program was that a blog would be born. But as I sat at my desk thinking about my project and ways that my project could benefit my colleagues and my students, I exclaimed to myself, “Blog it!”
I realized that aside from being in the essay tradition itself, a blog would allow me to share my project with VCCS faculty and VCCS students as it begins—and at every step of the way. I realized that a blog would allow me to capture my personal experiences on a regular and ongoing basis: my work, my methods, my discoveries, my challenges and frustrations, and my joys.
I realized that a blog would allow me to do in the virtual world—using a heretofore unstudied literary work—exactly what I do now in my classroom with literary works that appear in our textbooks: turn my blog followers on to the beauty of giving a text a close reading; turn my blog followers on to “learning how to read,” showing them that once you learn how to read all else is given.
And, so, on January 8, 2012, the idea for the blog was born, and that same day, I came up with a working title: The Wired Researcher. I Googled it, and was delighted to discover that a no such blog existed.
As I often do, I sent an email to a former student—a lover of language and words and ideas—to get her take on my blog idea.
She responded immediately:
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!
Clearly my former student is as wired as I am—perhaps that’s why I value her opinions as highly as I do—but her email response gave affirmation to the title of the blog that had been born.