Final Things

March 27, 2012 in Actions, Communication, Evening, Home, Project Work

Wrapping up my day, I handled some administrative things. First, I’m on the CCCC Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication. We had our annual meeting last week, and as part of my follow-up, I’ve drafted the emails I need to send out to past winners of the Technology Innovator Award to ask them to serve on the selection committee for this year’s award.

I’m also working with the archivists at Saint Louis University to discuss additional items for digitization from the Walter J. Ong Manuscript Collection as they and the Walter J. Ong Center for Language, Media, and Culture ramp up for the Ong Centenary celebrations. I spent three years as the preliminary processing archivist of the Ong Collection and am currently a fellow of the Ong Center. In addition to advising the archivists on items for digitization, I’m interested in creating a digitial project based upon Ong’s Route Book he kept while doing dissertation research in Europe from 1950-53. Initially, I want to created an edited edition of the route book along with the pictures he took. I see this, however, as serving as the backbone for a much larger project that brings in correspondence, lecture typescripts, dissertation research, etc. to give a fuller picture of those three years in Europe. It was while conducting his dissertation research that Ong stumbled upon his breaktrhough moment, not just for the dissertation but for his later forays into orality-literacy studies. As he explains:

It happened while I was doing my dissertation research in France […]. I was reading Rudoph Bultmann, the Protestant theologian, who made reference to the idea that knowing, for the Hebrews, had to do with hearing and sound, while the Greeks thought of knowing as related to seeing. I guess it took me about a day, but suddenly I could see how the whole thing fit together. (qtd. in Nielson, Mark. “A Bridge Builder: Walter J. Ong at 80.” America 167.16 (Nov. 21, 1992): 404-406, 404.)

Having worked through the entire Ong Collection, which contains more than 41,000 items and takes up more than 90 linear feet, I’ve come to realize how central these three years were to Fr. Ong’s future scholarship, and my hope is that by presenting the context of those years, using his travel journal as an organizational framework, will help others come to better understand Walter Ong and his scholarship.

Tonight’s work has consisted of looking through notes and drafting emails I’ll send out tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to look them over one more time.

Workspace at the Library of Congress

March 27, 2012 in Actions, Afternoon, Library, Morning, Reading, Research

Image of work space at the Library of Congress.While a Fellow of Saint Louis University’s Walter J. Ong Center for Language, Media, and Culture, I currently reside in Washington, DC, so most of my library research is done at Library of Congress. I’ve also found it a good place to do work. Pictured here is my current work space at Reading Room desk 351 in the Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Beside my laptop is Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, from which I’m taking notes, and behind it are the books Mediated Memories in the Digital Age by José van Dijck and Felt Sense: Writing with the Body by Sondra Perl. To the left of those books is my iPad and a notebook. Today I’m reading and taking notes from both Barthes and van Dijck’s books, research for an article on memoria, the rhetorical canon of memory, as the technologization of memory.

Image of the Library of Congress' Main Reading RoomUnfortunately, while we can take pictures of items at our desks, we’re not allowed to take pictures of the Reading Room itself, which is beautiful and grandiose. Once or twice a year the Main Reading Room is closed to researcher and opened to tours, and on those days they let people take pictures of the room. (For the rest of the year, tourists can look down into the Reading Room from an observation deck.) I include here a picture I found on Flickr, taken by maveric2003 and released under a Creative Commons license.

Writing with

March 27, 2012 in Actions, Home, Morning, Project Work, Reflecting, Research, Writing

Screen capture of my daily writing using

Over the past few months, I’ve been making increasing use of the Inspired by the “morning pages” exercise in The Artist’s Way, is designed to encourage the habit of daily, low-stakes writing, ideally three pages or 750 words. The morning pages exercise is, really, an exercise in free writing. It’s designed to keep you in the habit of writing, in the practice of transmitting through your fingers and onto a computer your thoughts however banal. In other words, it’s practice. And, largely, that’s how I use it: warm up to get the ideas flowing and the act of writing in motion. The screen shot accompanying this post is from today’s writing.

Some days, I just blather on about anything, the goal being the production of 750 words. Other times I use 750words to quickly write up first drafts or capture ideas I want to return to and develop further. I also use 750words to work through ideas I’m grappling with, ideas that I’ll often return to day after day in my writing, articulating and re-articulating what it is I’m trying to say. Often, a day’s entry at 750words will be a mix of these kinds of writing, and, every once in a while, I’ll find that I’ll have written a solid piece that can be lifted whole and dropped into a writing project or become the kernel for one.

Screen shot of data from today's writing at One of the features of 750words is the ability to enter metadata, and I use this feature to label the kinds of writing I do by topic. Free writing might get labeled as “free writing” or “blathering.” As you can see from the screen shot, today’s labels included “social media” and “750words.” Today’s writing, was, in fact, initial drafting for my Day in the Life of Digital Humanities blog posts. Another feature of 750words is that it produces a  sharable report of a day’s writing. (The default is for both your writing and your reports to be private.) Among the information generated is an account of the total words you’ve written using, how many days you’ve written that month, a graph of your words per minute, a list of your metadata tags, a word cloud, and text-analysis reports using the Regressive Imagery Dictionary that tells reports on how you were feeling, what you were concerned about, your mindset, and time orientation (past, present, future). Some of the stats, such as the graph charting my words per minute, are quite useful. Others, such as the text analysis based upon the Regressive Imagery Dictionary are more fun than anything else, although sometimes they are telling. In the image immediately above you can see a screen capture showing part of today’s report. allows you to access your writing by day or through a search feature, and you can export entries by month.

Mike Edwards has an interesting series of posts on his blog Vitia about using with a pilot first-year composition course at Westpoint.

Social Media

March 27, 2012 in Actions, All Day, Communication, Home, Library, Reading, Reflecting

Screenshot of Flipboard on iPad

Screenshot of Flipboard on iPad

Throughout my day, starting fairly early, I check in with my various social media platforms. For me, this means blogs, which I tend to read via Flipboard, an app on my iPad; Twitter, and Facebook. I use social media to keep abreast of the field; to learn about resources; to read, share and engage ideas; to establish connections and maintain personal and professional connections; to exist within communities; and to collaborate with others.

I consider Jeff Rice’s Network Academics as a manefsto about why we, as academics, should be users of social media. Rice argues:

I want to draw attention to one aspect of new media (and thus, the Web): the network. Networks foreground the role connectivity plays in content management, information organization, and information production in explicit and implicit ways. What I call the network are spaces  – literal or figurative  – of connectivity and disconnectivity. They are ideological as well as technological spaces generated by various forms of new media that allow information, people, places, and other items to establish a variety of relationships which previous spaces or ideologies of space (print being the dominant model) did not allow.

These are spaces as databases  – collections of information we must, as Lyotard once wrote, learn how to navigate. What I call the network is what Bruno Latour calls “the social” – a series of relationships developed among people, texts, and things. The social, or the network, always circulates and, through circulation, always moves meaning among those factors (people, texts, places, ideas, things) that generate meaning. The network, therefore, is not a site of observation, but a continuing rhetorical process. Our challenge is to understand how to describe and produce intellectual work without always resorting to studying some application, phenomenon, event purely in order to understand it. In other words, working with networks would also mean becoming networks.

This morning, via Flipboard, an app on my iPad, I skimmed my Google Reader feed. (The image above is a screenshot of this morning’s Flipboard feed.) I read Jeffery Jerome Cohen’s account of being the guest scholar at the IAFA conference, a conference which I’ve long wanted to attend but haven’t been able to as it is held about the same time as the CCCC convention.I also learned about a crowdsourcing game called Digitalkoot from Geoffrey Rockwell’s blog, and enjoyed my friend Brendan Riley’s comments on a bio of Dashiell Hammett. From Twiter I’m seeing some friends and colleagues who are participing in A Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities, learned that Blackboard has bought a two Moodle development companies, and learned about the Stone of Arbroath, a new beer offering by local brewery DC Brau . And through Facebook I’m seeing a slice of my friends and colleagues lives, and I’ve sent an update to three colleagues with whom I’m organizing a panel for CCCC 2013. In fact, the panel itself emerged from discussion within a private Facebook group in which three of the four panelists are members.

All this before I left the house.

About John Walter

March 26, 2012 in Biography

I’m John Walter. I currently live in Washington, DC. and am a Fellow at the Walter J. Ong Center for Language, Media, and Culture at Saint Louis University. I’ve taught courses in the history of rhetoric, rhetorical theory, new media composition, first-year composition, medieval literature, science fiction, Tolkien, and British literature at Creighton University, Saint Louis University, University of North Carolina—Wilmington, and Fontbonne University. I serve on the CCCC Committee for Computers in Composition and Communication and on the Editorial Board of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. From July 2004—August 2007, I was the processing archivist of Saint Louis University’s Walter J. Ong Manuscript Collection.

My teaching and research center around three overlapping nodes: the history and theory of rhetoric and composition studies; orality-literacy studies and the media ecology of oral, chirographic, print, electronic, and digital culture; and medieval literature and medievalism.