As to why I am taking a Digital History Class

January 20th, 2014

Well, you can fight the future. But then the future will either just beat you up or leave you behind. Both sound pretty horrible to me. So here I am learning to adapt.

I have a pretty good starting point. My mother is a computer programmer and I’ve been listening her talk about data, files, and outputs since I was born. Although most of it still goes over my head, I’ve already heard some phrases, like FTP, that she spits out all the time. My mom likes to reminisce about the early days when a computer took up an entire room and she had to file away punchcards at the end of a day. If she can go from punchcards to smartphones, then I have high hopes for my own digital education.

This isn’t going to go where I want it to go but I will fix it later!

January 20th, 2014

Human beings have a fascination with documenting our own lives. We write journals, take pictures, save things like ticket stubs and pressed flowers. Maybe we are freezing bits of the past so that we can look back and laugh at ourselves. Maybe we hope once day our children will find our saved scraps of memories and laugh along with us. And our children’s children after that. Until there comes a day when no one knows who the people in the photographs were. Until all they know is that long ago these people lived and that they were happy.

I am apart of a team that is working on digitizing scrapbooks donated by past graduates to the University of Mary Washington’s special collections. The scrapbooks date from 1914 to 2011 and are in various states of wear and tear. Scrapbooks are one of the most unique primary sources to work with because they contain a whole host of different things. Some of UMW’s scrapbooks have diary-like entries, photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, candy wrappers, even human hair! Scrapbooks, especially college scrapbooks, are like a snapshot of life at a certain time and place. The wealth of information the books can provide historians and other scholars is incredible. Therefore it is very important to make sure that they are available to the public and preserved from future damage through digitization.

My initial role in our team is looking at the macro side of our project. I am brainstorming ideas about how this project can be used by the University of Mary Washington outside our digital history class. I have a few ideas after some research and discussion with my team. I would like to get in touch with a representative from the new Convergence Center and see if they will have any digital spaces that could maybe host a rolling slideshow of our projects. I intend to touch base with Admissions, since they also may have space to host a digital slideshow of their student’s practical work. I, also, would like to see about incorporating the project into the Special Collections branch of the University of Mary Washington website.

These scrapbooks are exceedingly precious. Not only because of their historical and scholarly value but also because of their beauty. They were put together with care because the people that made them wanted to remember their college years with affection. It can be hard to imagine what your grandparents were like when they were your age. But as you look at scrapbooks, you can connect with past in an emotional and dynamic way. If you can look past the flamboyant fashion statements you can see happiness, which has the power to radiate out from the past and into the future.

Setting: Sweater Weather

October 28th, 2013

Click here to view the embedded video.

Chase walked up and over the sandy hill and made his way to the shoreline. He had lived here his whole life—he’d practically been baptized in salt water—but, to be honest, he wasn’t a fan of the beach. The sand between his toes, the spray of the sea, the burning sun, it didn’t delight him the way it seemed to delight all the tourists who swarmed here every summer. Chase looked back at the weather-beaten boardwalk, the one Gemma made him take a million pictures of. Closed down shacks and tourist shops haunted the horizon. Chase let the wind seep into his sweater and bite at his skin. He let his eyes follow the dirty blonde sand until the beach hooked around. At the edge he could see the stacks of the old power plant, just as bare and left-behind as the boardwalk.

He listened to the crash of the waves behind him and the screeching gulls overhead. They reminded him of flying rats. They circled above begging for a scrap of anything and if you took pity on them, decided it wouldn’t be so bad to feed these mongrels then they took everything.

The foam rushed toward his feet and he stepped back; that’s when he spotted the ridges of a shell, half buried in the wet sand. His fingers reached for the worn shell and let the freezing water wash away the debris. Holding it he pictured Gemma here, laughing at the heart he had drawn in the sand, teasing him about his “artwork”. He clenched his fist around the pink shell and hissed as the edges broke skin. It hadn’t seemed that sharp. He threw the shell back into the sea and watched it fall, watched it sink back into the ocean.

Indirect Characterization-Compulsions

October 23rd, 2013

He grabbed the keys, heavy with the myriad of chains she kept on the loop, from her hand and ran to the driver’s seat. He jumped up and down on the pavement with the nervous energy of a five year old.

“I’m driving.”

“My car,” Gemma replied.

“Yeah but you’re a maniac and you don’t know where you’re going.”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. They got in the car and he pulled off the coastal highway. Chase could feel the silence stretching between them. Usually he never stopped talking-she would always listen-but today the only subject that came to mind started with I love you. He felt like he was going to just hurl the words all over her. He turned on the radio to quiet the words that had become a chant in his head. He groaned when he heard a cowboy crooning about his guns and trucks.

“Don’t they ever get tired of singing about inanimate objects?”

“Don’t start with me, Reggae mahn.” She said in a horrible Jamaican accent.

He laughed. It was only one CD, but she would never let him live Sounds of the Island down. He listened to her sing along, still amazed that she always knew every note and every line; she kept the beat with her feet on the dashboard. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her curling her hair around one finger, a habit she’d had as long as he had known her. The setting sun glinted off her red-brown hair as she mechanically twirled it, let it go, and reached up to grab another piece.

Direct Method Characterization: Jebus

October 21st, 2013

“God dammit, Gemma!” He ran his hands through his blonde hair and pulled at the carefully gelled strands, as if he could force the words out that way.

“I love you. Not like a brother or a friend. I am in love with you.” He laughed resentfully, “You tell everyone we’re just friends, but that hasn’t been true for me in a really long time. Jebus, I think you’re the only one who still stubbornly clings to that idea.”

“Oh, Jebus.”

He smiled at me then. “The patron saint of morning after’s isn’t gonna help you with this one, Gem.”

“Don’t tell me what Jebus is or is not capable of. I made him up. As far as I’m concerned I can invoke him at any point.” I curled my legs underneath me and nestled against the arm of the couch. I heard Chase sit back down and I lifted my eyes from the couch pattern. I stared at this stupid, stubborn boy: feet firmly planted on the ground, head in his hands, small smile forming on his lips.

“Wasn’t that the night I decided 33 shots was a good idea?”

“I tried to say Jesus when you told me how much you were drinking, but I was drunk too so I said Jebus instead.”

“And that’s the only thing I remember from that night.”

“Oh, Jebus how did this happen?”

“Jebus, help us through this difficult time.”

“We’re very strange people.”

He slid off the couch and crouched in front of me. His hands held onto my shoulders like manacles. “Gem, we could be good.” Hope was painted over his face, but all I could think of was how his hands were restraining me. And still he promised me, “I would never leave you.”

I kissed him then, a thank you and a goodbye. A testament to the broken-down person that I was.

Gemma Dunleavy

October 16th, 2013

My name is Gemma Dunleavy and I am a mess.


It sounds like I’m introducing myself to an AA group. Is there an AA equivalent for people who are just plain terrible at life? I would go to that meeting, if only to see that there are people a little more broken than I am. Even my exterior says worn and ragged.


My long coppery-brown hair is almost always piled on top of my head or braided and lying against my side—if I’m feeling really lazy it’s hidden under one of my twenty plus baseball caps. I’m short, too short, which is why I’ll find any excuse to wear my cowboy boots. I would wear actual heels if I didn’t feel like a Barbie wearing them, or if I could walk in them. My blue eyes and freckles stand out sharply against my pale skin. It’s not so bad in the summer though. I’ve got my dad’s tanning gene, but my mom’s everything else. People tell me we could be twins.


I love tacky sweaters, but don’t tell my Grandma or I’ll never be able to take her clothes again. I’m obsessed with Ben & Jerry’s. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried every flavor they’ve come out with. Americone Dream is the flavor of the month; Steven Colbert is a genius on so many levels. My feet are always cold. Seriously, in 90 degree weather you’ll see me in fuzzy neon socks. I want to travel the world, but for now I’ll just settle for all 50 United States. Baby steps.


I hate bacon, but I will devour the Canadian variety. My best friend, Chase, says this makes me un-American, even though I like apple pie and freedom and everything. That’s the other thing about me. My best friend is in love with me and he thinks it’s this big secret. I spend a lot of time worrying he’s going to someday tell me. You see I’m incredibly scared everyone will leave me eventually. I usually leave before this happens.


Journal 6- Something Wicked This Way Comes

October 13th, 2013

With Halloween coming up it is not hard to conjure an image of a cackling, green woman, one with a pointy hat and warts on her nose. There is also the beautiful enchantress, tall and strong, her magic seduces the handsome hero and distracts him from his obligations. And it would be remiss to forget the ugly, old hag who kills the young maiden for the magic of youth or beauty.  A witch, wicked or otherwise, is a common figure in literature. Though her appearances are many, her characterization has not changed all that much, and with very few exceptions she is always a woman. Modern authors, such as Phillip Pullman, have expanded the image of the witch in literature.


Witches first appeared in Greek and Roman epics, though they were referred to as a sorceress or enchantress. The quintessential ancient sorceress is Circe. Circe appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Homer’s Odyssey. Circe changes her victim’s form; in the Metamorphoses she turns her lover’s new love into a rock and Odysseus’s men become pigs under her magic. Generally ancient witches are depicted as seductive, immoral creatures; they selfishly use their magic to delay or keep the hero from his quest. However, the ugly hag also appears in mythology. For example, the Graeae, a prophetic trio, are depicted as withering, ragged creatures with only one eye between them. One thing the enchantress and the hag have in common in mythology is there lack of backstory. It is interesting that though the name Circe remains in literature, she is never a full character.


This pattern of witches without reason for their actions is repeated well into the modern era. It is as if the wicked witch does not need a story, she simply needs to be wicked. Fairy tale witches (in the traditional sense, not the Disney imagined characters) have no real motivation for their evil deeds. Rapunzel’s witch is merely angry with people stealing from her garden. Even Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth, appear out of nowhere. Though they normally provide the conflict, and often drive the action of the story, witches in early literature serve no other purpose and disappear like magic.


The characterization of the witch has progressed much since then. Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown made us believe that witches were not otherworldly creatures, but our neighbors and family. L. Frank Baum showed us that they were not all wicked. J.K. Rowling made children long to be witches (and wizards). Gregory Maguire revealed that not all wicked things were evil; perhaps they were just misunderstood and heartbroken. Gradually modern authors are fleshing out witches. They are expanding upon the traditional trope, playing with it, and at times turning it inside out.


In The Golden Compass Pullman toys with our understanding of good and evil. None of his characters can be clearly defined and the lines are drawn rather blurrily. When Lee Scoresby asks Serafina Pekkala what side he is on she simply replies that they are on Lyra’s side. Interestingly, Pullman shies away from describing the witches as good or evil. Each clan has their own individual interests and their own reasons for fighting in this war. Which side they are on-Lyra’s, Bolvangar’s, the Magisterium’s-are a product of their own free will. Pullman continues to expound on the witch’s character, adding to the ancient descriptions and making them more than their literary tradition.

Journal 5- Daemons

October 13th, 2013

The personification of animals is prevalent throughout literature. In early mythology and folklore animals were often the protagonists; they represented certain aspects of humanity. We frequently imbue animals with human characteristics: the sly fox, the wise owl, the loyal dog. Humans and animals have a natural connection. Ancient people made their gods animals. The Egyptians prayed to the jackal-headed Anubis and their most important god Ra had the head of a hawk.


When choosing a form for daemons (visible souls) in The Golden Compass, animals are a natural choice. Pullman could have created unique creatures to represent human souls, imagining ghostlike apparitions or traditional demons. Animals, however, already come with their own personalities. In choosing animals to represent a human’s visible soul Pullman has established characteristics that add to his characters. Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, the golden monkey, reveals aspects of her personality that would otherwise be hard to show. Monkey’s are often depicted as cute and curious animals, however when angered they display sharp teeth and a penchant for violence. The golden monkey exhibits a barely restrained sense of rage; similar to Mrs. Coulter it is also disarmingly, if fiercely, beautiful. The animal fits the human, and fleshes them out, as no unique creature could.


I’m a very introverted person; friendly but reserved. I am sarcastic, independent, and often distracted by my own thoughts. I’m also not really an animal person. Choosing my own daemon was a lot harder than writing the first part of this journal. I tried various online quizzes. At first I was told that I was a monkey: admired, detail-oriented, and full of curiosity. That doesn’t sound like me at all. I tend to not ask a lot of questions, I can be detail-oriented but I don’t pay a lot of attention to life, as for being admired you would have to ask someone else. The next test told me I was a wolf. I immediately dismissed it; I’m not a predator. My next step was to Google deceptively cute animals. I wanted an animal that didn’t seem harmful or aggressive, but could be if needed. I don’t speak my mind often, I have a hard time telling people how I feel, and I am relatively easy-going. But I am also quick to anger, though my temper doesn’t show in any traditional way. I’m full of plans and goals, but I’m slow to act preferring to plan and schedule- and frequently waiting till the opportunity passes by. I stumbled upon the slow loris. This animal is adorable, it moves at a careful, practically silent pace, and it produces a deadly poison.

Journal 4- The Characterization of Evil

October 13th, 2013

We have discussed, at length, the ambiguity of evil. Every act labeled evil is not wholly evil; we must think of a character’s intentions when judging their actions. This is especially true in The Fellowship of the Ring. In Tolkien’s world there exists no pure evil. Lewis takes a more simplistic approach to the characterization of evil.


In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it would be difficult to find a redeeming quality in the witch or any of her monster minions. She is driven by greed and pride and ambition. Her negative qualities have overtaken her- if there were positive qualities to begin with. The monsters in this book are unlike those in Tolkien’s novel; they did not begin as a good creature. The orcs were first elves, mutilated and reborn as grotesque monsters. Whereas the dwarves, the wolves, etc. in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe did not begin their lives with good, they have always been corrupted.


Edmund’s betrayal, an evil act by a good person, complicates the essential duality in Lewis’s world. However, if you consider the Christian message behind the novel it becomes clearer. Edmund is a sinner, who in the end realizes his faults and is redeemed by the Christ figure, Aislan. The center of Christian theology is the idea of salvation and redemption. The bible teaches us that we are all sinners and only through love for God may we be redeemed. Edmund, unlike his siblings, serves as an example of the type of sinner Jesus especially cared for.


When looking at the characterization of evil in these two works it is necessary to consider the audience they were written for. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written for children, whereas The Fellowship of the Ring was written for an older audience. Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment explains that children enjoy fairy tales subconsciously. They solve the inner problems that children are unable to articulate and offer meaning to them. Bettelheim asserts that evil is omnipresent in fairytales. There is a duality in life as well as literature but in fairytales there is no ambiguity: characters are good or bad, there is no grey area. However, evil is not present just so the hero has something to fight against. Bettelheim assures us that evil characters are present to show children that bad actions do not yield rewards. Children do not learn morality when the villain is vanquished. They learn when they see that the hero is rewarded for his actions and the villain doesn’t get the throne.

Journal 3- Tolkien’s Line Between Religion and Fantasy

October 13th, 2013

Jason Bofetti in “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination”, reminds us that Catholic theology teaches that evil is “the absence of good.” No character is inherently evil; at some point they had some good in them or at the end they are somehow redeemable. The essentially “evil” characters are those that fall to their vices.


Pride and greed are two of the most common faults in The Fellowship of the Ring. The characters that recognize they cannot wield or carry the ring, despite their desire to, are saved. But even those who do not, such as Boromir and Gollum, are not wholly evil. Boromir does not understand the power of the ring and wishes to use it to help his kingdom from the doom they face at the hands of Sauron. He does not have selfish intentions, but his lust for glory and ultimately the safety of his people drive him to madness. Gollum was once a gentle creature, much like a hobbit, but over time the ring turned him into a monster. But even so Frodo and Bilbo find pity for him. (Let those who have not sinned cast the first stone.) They recognize that Gollum’s behavior does not stem from any inborn evil; rather his desire for the One Ring has blinded him to all other pursuits. As long as he does not possess his “precious” he will continue to seek it, to the detriment of our heroes.


Humility and sacrifice are themes throughout the Catholic Church and Tolkien’s literature. The most humble of god’s creatures are the ones that succeed. Frodo offers his service even though he knows he is not the most logical choice for the ring bearer, just as a Jew from an ignored corner of the vast Roman Empire was not the most powerful choice for the Son of God. The bible shows us that God does not desire the most powerful creatures for his service.


Bofetti also points out the accidental Catholic imagery throughout Tolkien’s work. Tolkien also presents us with a trinity of Christ figures: Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf represent different aspects of Christ. Gandalf is the wise and powerful Christ, Aragorn is God’s patient warrior, and Frodo is Jesus with his burden.


Sauron’s story, as explained in the Silmarillion, is very similar to the story of the devil. Both were once angels, close to god, and a force for good. Their longing for power, and in Sauron’s case an ordered world cause them to fall. In their respective narratives they then become the agent for evil and temptation. Those who desire power above all else, even those with good intentions, will perish.


J.R.R. Tolkien in his Tolkien Reader asserts that the bible is the ultimate fairy story. He says that Fantasy and the gospel both present the reader with a eucatastrophe. The end of the story offers hope or salvation for downtrodden heroes or weary readers. They both create a separate, larger world, in which there are many marvels, but these worlds touch on our own reality. Tolkien believes fantasy serves a greater purpose, one that is similar to the Christian teaching of Salvation. The reader, at the end, believes that though the hero may still continue to suffer and die there is an joy to look forward to.