Dancing with Hortense Spillers & Other Reflections on the Futures of American Studies Institute 2016

The Futures of American Studies Institute 2016 came to a true close yesterday as the dozens of us–we never knew how many there were really–parted ways. Six days of 6 to 9 (usually 9) hours of lectures and seminars, along with meals, drinks out, and, for me, runs through Dartmouth, grabbing and then giving up espresso for tea gave me much to think about. I landed back in Northampton (oh, I moved and it’s wonderful here) yesterday with many new , cool friends and colleagues in my phone, and many strong, exciting ideas in my mind and laptop. The best of it all: the entire event ended in me randomly djing the night for hours until the queen of Amst, the one and only Hortense Spillers, hit the floor, and I, of course, did not miss the chance and asked her to dance with me and the rest of #fasi16. In this post, I share some social science / digital humanist analysis and reflections of the week, including some graphs, social network analyses, text analyses, and Storifies of the experience. Keep on reading!

General Thoughts First

I had a terrific time at #fasi16 and wanted to reflect briefly on my time here as a social scientist and cultural geographer in American Studies. I actually attended FASI in order to ground myself further in the discipline. A BA in geographer, MA in psychoanalysis and religion, and PhD in environmental psychology, along with years of attendance at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) and American Studies Association (ASA) while/before teaching at three eminent selective liberal arts colleges in the last decade make me a total Americanist. We research and teach on behalf of and in regard to interdisciplinarity, diversity, and the liberal arts. Nailed it. But connecting with a broad range of AmSt folks in an intimate setting? It called to me. I have a home among the digital humanists and queers of ASA but I wanted to hunker down with the whole discipline, including and beyond the incredible connections with my home program in American Studies at Trinity College.

So, let’s get to some analysis! Ha, a surface reading if you will. Well, FASI is really into literary studies! Gee. I am not at all. By which I mean I am not at all a literary scholar but it was surely a blast. I found plenty to think about in terms of scholars to read, theorists that literary folks use at different angles or with different energies, and, truly, I returned to my Kindle on the final night before bed and read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in an entirely new light.

But who were we? What were really talking about? And are we talking?

Graph Analysis

Number of #fasi16 Tweets per Day. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.
Number of #fasi16 Tweets per Day. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.

As the above graph shows, we couldn’t shut up. The dips in tweets were thanks to only one set of lectures on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday’s even lower number is likely connected to following the raucous wiffle ball game and picnic of the previous eve. (See below then keep reading below that.)

#fasi16 #noonepickedlast #noacademicleftbehind

A post shared by mary ๐Ÿ•๐Ÿ—๐ŸŽฟ (@ifimamermaid) on

But who was talking?

Social Network Analysis

Who’s talking? Mary Zaborskis aka @zaborskism, feminist literary scholar and historian and Penn PhD student extraordinaire who was leading the way with 567 tweets and mentions in tweets. I’m (@jgieseking, 264) next, followed by @jeddobson (241), @jamacintosh (245), @duncanfaherty (203), @danicasavonick (148), and @alexcorey04 (119). I believe my delight in RTing bumped up my numbers there as these other grand souls were live tweeting much more than me.

In the social network analysis below, the colors denote groups of people who tended to mention one another while the size of the dot (say zaborskism in the middle) represents the number of tweets or mentions. I made an undirected graph; while this masks who was speaking to whom (more often mentioned or tweeting), it also hides some arrow lines on the graph thereby making it easier to read. In the end, we are all so closely affiliated, the colors (or modularity (as SNA folks call it) do not mean much. In fact we are all closely connected. It’s pretty stuff.

Social Network Analysis of #fasi16 Tweets. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.
Social Network Analysis of #fasi16 Tweets. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.

But, Jack, what the hell were you all talking about?

Text Analysis

I would love to regal you of stories of the incredibly rich plenaries, papers, seminars, and other conversations. But I haven’t the time to do so so that I made a Storify of the tweets from #fasi16. We had a total of 1,804 so that we needed two Storifies–a way to visually show tweets in order, and I marked them by session–to see them all. Here is Part I and Part II of #fasi16 on Twitter.

But what about the sum total ideas? For that, I turned to Voyant-tools.org to create a word cloud of the conversations. I removed the most often mentioned terms, including all Twitter, in order to get to what we were talking about rather than who was talking (as we saw above). The stop words or most used terms that I removed are as follows: alexcorey04, amp, calebsmith203, calliefaevigg, danicasavonick, doniamesm, duncanfaherty, emdillon, fasi16, https, jamacintosh, jeddobson, jgieseking, omariweekes, rt, schwartz_ana, t.co, wreckpark, zaborskism, and รข. Besides fasi16 and the handles, the other terms are terms one should always remove in a word cloud text analysis. I also took out the standard word stop list of the, of, a, an, and so on. And voila!

Word cloud #fasi16. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.
Word cloud #fasi16. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC 2016.

Well, gee. Look at that! It seems that SPILLERS FOR THE WINNNNNN YASSSSSSS! In other words, it is Hortense Spillers we mentioned most. Even that which is American took second place to what is black and what is reading. I leave it to my sweet, smart, awesome colleagues in AmSt to make their own readings of the rest but you can see the topics that were given us in the list of Questions Seemingly With (plenaries) and Without (love those) Answers. Do note that the fabulous Elizabeth Maddock Dillon and Duncan Faherty got pulled out because they presented and tweeted, and therefore dominated. As for the prominence of the word work, I ask us to all take a walk, a nap, a breath, a drink of water, a long look at someone we love and are loved by, and then return to what we are doing later, including reading this post.

Final Thoughts

I feel grounded and delighted by my week with these wonderful people. I conclude with the gif magic of Don Jams McLaughlin and follow this with a dedication and the complete Storifies which I embed below. I really do miss my co-seminar participants (hi Grant, Hannah, Chen, Eun-hae, Jeanine, Robin, Daniel, Josh, and Mary) and I cannot wait to see you all again very soon.

I dedicate this post to Jed Dobson, who has become, at least for this post, some darn good data for a social scientist and digital humanist. My thanks to Jed and Alex Corey for organizing an incredible week, to Don Pease and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon for leading the way, and to all of the other speakers, seminar leaders, and participants for an enriching, grounding, and fabulous week in NH.

Full (Available) Tweets of #fasi16

Futures of American Studies Institute 2016 #fasi16 took place June 20th-26th at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Below are tweets Pt. I or II. See the full schedule here http://www.dartmouth.edu/~futures/schedule/. Tweets from Part II can be found at http://bit.ly/fasi16storifypart2of2.

Futures of American Studies Institute 2016 #fasi16 took place June 20th-26th at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Below are tweets Pt. I or II. See the full schedule here http://www.dartmouth.edu/~futures/schedule/. Tweets from Part II can be found at http://bit.ly/fasi16storifypart2of2.