Links for “Sichuan 2008, Fukushima 3/11, and Sino-Japanese Relations” (4/5 Symposium)

April 4th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

“A Construction Engineer’s Thoughts on the Sichuan Earthquake” blog post by “Book Blade” – link [accessed 31 March 2013]

Nanking Massacre Project – Special Collections, Yale Divinity School Library –

Ai Weiwei on Twitter (Chinese): @aiww    (English): @aiwwenglish

Who’s Afraid of Ai WeiWei” — Frontline documentary (PBS)

Fan Xiao, “Did the Zipingpu Dam Trigger China’s 2008 Earthquake: The Scientific Case,” Probe International. (.pdf)


Working on GIFS

March 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I was going to write a post on social networking, but I seem to have fallen into a GIF hypnosis (thanks to Jim Groom) and haven’t yet escaped. A few weeks ago I offered students in my Chinese film course the opportunity to earn extra credit for a GIF+film analysis exercise. Andy Rush and Jim subsequently presented a great workshop on the topic for all of us.

I thought I should also try to pick up some of the same digital techniques I’m having my students explore, so I’ve been spending a good deal of time with GIMP and MPEG Streamclip and also at the DS106 wiki. Still getting the hang of it, but having fun with some experiments. The best part so far? Joining the gang that’s putting a dancing Jim at locales around the world, but especially at Fenway

Networks, Webs, and Work, pt. 1

February 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

In work for the Domain of One’s Own project this past weekend, I’ve read chapters 6-8 of Martin Weller’s The Digital Scholar while also thinking about recent conversations. These have run a gamut of issues related to openness vs. pressures of the P&T and publication climb for academics as well as differences in opportunity (or freedom) determined by one’s location in the machine, e.g., junior vs. tenured faculty (and, importantly, contingent faculty), SLAC vs. R-1 institutions, research field and resources.

Andrea Smith’s recent post provides a very good sense of the concerns that may be raised in regard to sharing work openly online. For myself, as a scholar of Chinese history with research sources that are often a very good distance away (in terms of time, money, travel, and, figuratively speaking, language and, yes, bureaucracy) these issues have resonated.

The next question, though, is what question is next. And getting to that question also seems important. Andrea frames an answer nicely:

 A digital approach won’t be a panacea. Instead, it will be adopted by fields at their own pace and for their own uses. I, for one, don’t think that’s a negative at all. On the contrary, this is quite empowering: in my field, at least, I could encourage new models for research that fit our goals and ideals. It’s still the digital wild west, and that means we can be pioneers instead of just followers.

And her invocation of the wild west rings a bell for me.  It promotes flashbacks, actually, to past conversations about method, theory, and navigation.

One flashback is to the inevitable conversations in graduate school (at least in the humanities or social sciences) about a life beyond Theory—not life without theory, I should note, but analysis that’s not enslaved by a monolithic Critique, as it were.  This may have been a classic crisis moment in the grad school process, of course. Or, more precisely, the desire of a China-specialist to see her non-Western region of specialty complicating the supposedly universal Western models. In any case, I recall reading with great joy Michael Taussig’s invocation,

With good reason postmodernism has relentlessly instructed us that reality is artifice yet, so it seems to me, not enough surprise has been expressed as to how we get on with living, pretending—thanks to mimetic faculty—that we live facts, not fictions. [Taussig 1993: xv]

Leaving the implications of Taussig’s own discussion of mimesis to another day (and about eight liters of espresso), I do recall the freedom that Taussig invoked with a call to move beyond the “meta-commentary” and instead jump into “making-anew” (xvii). 1 The most creative work in digital humanities, whether pedagogy or research (or both) is doing exactly that right now.


The other flashback that occurred brings me to conversations with a crowd I haven’t seen since my doctoral days at UC San Diego. This was an informal working group that brought together grad students from Sociology, Communication, Cognitive Science, and History. 2 There was no prep for the weekly meetings, just a page, perhaps two, on a work in progress that’d be distributed at the meeting by one of the group. Or they might introduce a problem in their work verbally. Feedback was instant and thought-in-process. The range of perspectives and critical feedback was invigorating. And the task of having to explain one’s work—in my case, in late Qing dynasty Chinese history—to a group entirely outside one’s own field of expertise was a perfect exercise for a grad student in speaking to a broader audience. 3

Which brings me back to Weller’s own survey of the potential of the digital realm to encourage interdisciplinarity. He cites Wang Shaohui and Ma Lihua (2008) in a listing of three characteristics of “blog culture”:

1. Thought share…

2. Nonlinearity and concentricity — through linking, embedding, within blogs and then aggregation of blogs, there is a nonlinear construction of knowledge

3. Criticalness and multivariate collision — [arising] from a personal, subjective standpoint that attracts varied comments and views.

[Weller 46]

These were much the same strengths of that working group, but now the opportunity for these conversations seems multiplied exponentially via digital tools. Or, at least, the opportunities for building similar working groups and reaping similar rewards seem more readily available. It was so much easier (somewhat) to gather as a crowd of grad students on the same campus. Now, with old intellectual comrades scattered far and wide, and the schedule more packed than ever, the spatial connection and temporal nonlinearity of the blog is very, very helpful.

Which, in turn, brings me from flashbacks to past connections all the way to consideration of current-day webs of communication. I’ll save that for a second post, coming soon. 4


  1. Many thanks to Dorothy Ko for assigning Taussig’s work… I still miss those seminars.
  2. And much appreciation to Chandra Mukerji, for founding and hosting the group.
  3. And also listening to that same audience…
  4. Image: “At a kitchen table, Charlie Wells and Mary Ann listen with delight to one of Mickey Spillane’s stories.” Life, May 1952. Photographer: Peter Stackpole

Playing with Ideas for DoOO Project

February 9th, 2013 § 4 comments § permalink

I’m hopping back to the blog (for the first time in a good while) as I join colleagues in the Domain of One’s Own project at UMW, working together with our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) and Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTE). The framework and goals of the project are timely:

This initiative is designed explicitly to provide resources and support for all UMW faculty to develop their own domain through an Open Call application. To incentivize this process, DTLT and CTE & I have partnered to provide faculty with their own domain, web hosting, and a stipend (not to mention bi-weekly support) to develop/refine a professional online presence ranging anywhere from an online CV/E-portfolio to a developmental space to explore digital pedagogy and scholarship, to an alternative class space online.

With some great conversation started in meetings this past week or two (many thanks to Jim Groom for getting the ball rolling in our Wednesday group discussions), I’m also thinking more about revising the frame/s of my own online presence. One initial concern may be better integration of the collection of relatively far-flung web spaces that I’ve accumulated the past few years. Here’s a quick run-down of my sites:

1. The Professional I.D. Page…

My first iteration of this (2008 or so) had combined the calling card with a blog format, but after realizing I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the blog then, I converted it to its current form, more of a simple, online business card, shown in the second image below.

The original frame (ca. 2008, under construction):

Susan R. Fernsebner  - Mozilla Firefox 5122009 82112 PM-001
(Okay, this image is squeezed, but you get the idea. Click image to view original.)

And my current professional page below:

Susan R. Fernsebner - Google Chrome 292013 113308 AM-002

2. Tumblr…  The professional calling card site above is just a starting place though. In addition to that frame, and the more informal blog on which I’m now writing, I’ve also recently set up a tumblr site for sharing news and resources related to my field of specialty, East Asia.

That site is called “gulou” – Chinese for “Drum Tower” (鼓楼). I was inspired to set it up after thinking about all the valuable EA-related links and resources that colleagues and I have been sharing casually over email, almost as a second thought or light distraction amid otherwise busy days, these past few years. Sharing those with others who might be interested seemed like a good idea, especially as I was starting to find myself forwarding emails here and there, or digging for old ones in the messy backlog of correspondence that is my email account. Now I can share links relevant to curriculum with my students, other educators (both university and K-12), and beyond. I’ve also got them tagged and archived (though the dynamics of both are worth further consideration, which I’ll save for a later time.)

鼓楼 - Google Chrome 292013 120312 PM-002
I’m also finding Tumblr to be a very convenient, quick frame for posting and am keeping an eye out for ways to do more with it. One sign of how easy it is: since last October, I’ve done 216 posts on Tumblr compared to exactly zero posts on this blog. But that’s probably a topic for another (yes, really) blog post of its own.

And then there’s a mob of other sites I’m utilizing for teaching (links here), my official faculty page at the department (with an image that actually resembles the one on my drivers license, alas), and other  pedagogical projects sitting in digital dry-dock.

So one of my main ambitions for this semester’s Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative is to think about better ways of integrating these sites–and to what extent I might want to. I’m also looking forward to exploring new tools, digging in under the hood with my own domain, and especially joining in on a conversation with others who are exploring similar projects of their own.

“Miss Puff” and “Old Boys” as Course Material

August 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Recently we’ve seen the emergence of serial programs created for online video sites in China (e.g. Youku, Tudou, and as we’ve seen with Youtube, etc.).  Often sponsored by major corporations, including Apple and General Motors, among others, they’ve served as popular entertainment and, not surprisingly, a venue for product placement. Several of these internet shows have also begun to pull a significant audience.

I’ve begun exploring a few of these shows amid ongoing curriculum development for courses on contemporary China. In a few cases, one has both video and text with which to work – these include the original show itself, plus some available translations, as well as viewer comments and reviews.  Online discussions of these programs seem to have a particular value in revealing debates among their own viewers regarding the social and artistic value of the shows. Many voices have drawn dichotomies between meaningful entertainment, with observations of specific themes that seemed to strike a chord among observers of contemporary Chinese society, versus a sense that these videos are merely shallow, commercial fluff. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. Such fluff (“puff”?) entertainment may serve as valuable raw material for sociological, cultural, and historical analysis. See below for the start of a collection of links to shows and related resources. Comments, questions, and suggestions regarding these productions (or others) as a basis for lesson plans and curriculum development are welcomed.

Miss Puff — 泡芙小姐
See the video at the top of the page, if you haven’t already, to jump right in. ChinaSMACK offers an introduction to this series presented by Youku as well as a very useful translation of the first episode. The series itself is currently up to ten episodes that have been released, with more to come. ChinaSMACK also has provided an introduction the video short “Miss Puff’s Goldfish Bowl” that preceded the current series. Both raise questions regarding themes of contemporary alienation, sexuality, notions of love, nihilism, and, in both the production and consumption of the videos themselves, late capitalism. Side note: though I’m not sure “mature” is quite the right word to apply to this production, some of the themes covered in the series are probably more appropriate for an undergraduate (and above) audience rather than K-12. See here for the full series of episodes offered thus far.

Old Boys – 老男孩
Released in October 2010, this online feature attracted a significant viewership. The China Daily reported a count of over 26 million views in a background story (“Old Boys enliven young dreams“) on the feature’s director and star, Xiao Yang (肖央), that ran five months later as its popularity continued to build. (For full data on viewership, see here.) “Old Boys” conveys a nostalgia held by its protagonists, a group of men and women who are approaching middle age and, it seems, who have encountered a significant moment of disillusionment amid their lives in today’s China. James Fallows, quoting his friend Shi Hongshen at length, offers a discussion of this very same theme as well as its relation to the “Old Boys” feature itself in “Voices from China #1 – The ‘Post-1980s Generation’.” I’m anticipating pairing the two together with other readings for upcoming lesson plans.

See below for the “Old Boys” feature – or at its main Youku site for a better broad-screen version (both include translation).

Under Construction: A Global Studies Panel for Faculty Academy

May 3rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In a recent brainstorming session for a panel on global studies that we’re organizing for UMW’s upcoming Faculty Academy, Joe Calpin tossed out a simple question, namely “How can we bring what’s happening over there over here?”

Deceptively simple, this question seems the perfect starting point and will be the focus for our panel discussion. We’re interested in exchanging ideas about digital resources, methods of approach, curriculum development, and more.

Some starting questions:

– What digital resources have we found for global studies — and for studies (sometimes phrased, albeit awkwardly, as “glocal”) that link our own sites and economies of being to the world beyond —  whether in the social sciences, humanities, language study, environmental sciences, or other fields of inquiry…?

– In what ways can we use these resources? E.g., as elements of curriculum, for research (undergrad and beyond), global networking, others? Methods of approach?

– Are there particular challenges that we encounter in the use of these tools? Ways to identify, address, and/or make those challenges part of the project itself?

– Where do we go next?

If you’re interested in learning more or joining the discussion at next week’s event, feel free to drop me a line: sfernseb [at] umw [dot] edu.

Chinese History Sources Project: Update #2

March 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m writing to note that the Chinese history sources site is still under construction. It’s currently resting in dry dock as we contemplate possible shifts to its original design, including new possibilities for its systems of organization of data (for the site and via Zotero) and also its breadth of coverage. Further updates will follow as it moves forward.

Suggestions for content and/or organization from those who might find a site for undergraduates, particularly those students who haven’t yet developed to intermediate or advanced Chinese language ability, helpful in their study of Chinese history are welcome. Feel free to add them in comments below.

The original posts on the topic can be found here and here.

Digital Fluency? One Department’s Conversation…

May 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

UMW’s Faculty Academy returns this week with its ever-creative exchanges on the topic of scholarly and curricular endeavors that utilize digital tools. I’ll be participating in a discussion panel that Jeff McClurken (who is devoting himself to no less than four panels and discussions, as rumor has it…) has generously organized.

Titled “Digital Fluency, Online Communication, History and American Studies: One Department’s Engagement with Social Media and Pedagogy,” our panel will dig into issues related to the meaning of “digital fluency,” its relevance to curriculum in our own fields and courses, and the ways in which its scope encompasses broader issues including assessment, departmental outreach, and more…

A list of the links I’ll be highlighting in my own talk:

wordpress (also via umwblogs)
FSEM: Toys as History course (Blogging assignment page)
Chinese History Sources website (under construction)
Chinese History Sources zotero page (under construction)

And the questions? A starting point may be the simple question of what is “digital fluency”? Is the term useful? What are the ambitions that it – or an alternate vision – should represent or encompass?

Links for UMW Blogs Web2.0 Kickoff Forum

March 9th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Links shared in my presentation for the DTLT UMW Blogs Web 2.0 Kickoff Forum (3.10.10):

“Toys as History” 1st Year Seminar course blog:

Chinese History Sources Site (work in progress):

a. Introduction to the Project –

b. Chinese History Sources Site (under construction) –

UMW History Department News Site —

Personal Web Site:

Update to Sources Project

November 4th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

We’re continuing work on the development of a Sources resource for undergraduate students of Chinese history. Much of our technical focus has been upon Zotero as a tool for the project – indeed, as the project is developing, Zotero is emerging as an equal partner to the website planned. In fact, with its dual features of accessibility and flexibility,  it may emerge as the centerpiece itself.

In the meantime, several developments along the way:

In terms of content, we’ve decided to expand the categories of temporal coverage. Originally, this site was going to focus on just the late imperial and 20th century periods. I’ve added a full set of dynastic categories to the mix, though, to allow for expansion by students working on individual research projects or courses devoted to early periods in coming semesters.

On the technical side of things, Zotero has been a very useful tool with regular updates and excellent support. We did run into one glitch an early stage in which somehow (cause still unclear) our sources collection seemed to be deleted. Technically, our project is a subcollection within the broader History and American Studies – University of Mary Washington group at Zotero. While this seemed rather a dilemma at its occurrence, all the citations that had been uploaded had in fact remained in the broader group, but their system of files and organization had been lost.

Our solution was to reconstruct the subcollection and its folders. Fortunately, the outline of our organization was saved at this same website and on an office computer that wasn’t set to automatically sync with our Zotero files. We then  moved the cites, still sitting in the general Zotero library for the UMW group, back into the folders.  (For more, see my posting and Dan Stillman’s very helpful reply here at Zotero Forums.)

Part of our speed in fixing this mishap was that it happened at an early stage in the project. It will be nice, however, to see a group backup function developed for the Zotero system.  In the meantime, to play things safe, I’m also maintaining a parallel library within my own personal collections (rather than just the groups collection) in my own Zotero setup.

More to come as the project develops…

Sources in Chinese History: A Course and Site for Undergrads

August 29th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

One of my main pedagogical projects this fall is the development of a sources curriculum for undergraduate students with an interest in modern Chinese history. At UMW, we require all history majors to undertake a senior thesis (independent research, 30-40 pages), which is often quite a challenge for students, particularly those pursuing research on global topics. One of my ongoing aims has been to establish a sources website that would be geared toward our undergraduates who enroll for the thesis project in my own field– i.e., students with a clear interest in Chinese history, who have completed background courses on the topic, but who do not necessarily have Chinese language ability. 1

I’ve been developing the first edition of this project in collaboration with UMW history major Joe Calpin, who is embarking upon an independent study on “Sources in Modern Chinese History” under my guidance this fall.  The curriculum here is intended to provide a critical familiarity with major genres of sources as well as useful reference works and tools, journals in the field, and online resources.

One of the central projects for this independent study will also be the design of a sources website. Though very much a working project, the idea is that this site would transcend this particular independent study and, ideally, our own campus, in serving as a reference site for undergrads elsewhere. Our intended audience is students who may be working on their own research projects but who may not quite have the linguistic training they need to dive directly into Chinese-language sources. In many ways, the website is being conceptualized as a stepping stone to more advanced online resources in Chinese history such as the UCSD Modern Chinese History Research Site and the Classical Historiography for Chinese History site compiled by Benjamin Elman.

To further this project — and create a resource of its own — I’ve established a library for the course at Zotero Groups (see the group library for “History 491” at our “History and American Studies: Univ. of Mary Washington” Zotero group site located here or at the link on the right side of this blog.) I’ve outlined a set of sources categories in sub-folders there (still tweaking and expanding… further suggestions welcome.) As Joe Calpin and I work on the independent study this fall, we’ll be adding to this sources group, building up a selective bibliography of relevant works, collections, and web-links. This will serve as the bibliographic reference, as currently imagined, for a partner website to be designed and composed by Joe, 2  that will offer a more detailed description and critical introduction to sources in Chinese history…

Above is an introduction to the project we’ve undertaken.  I’ll be using this site as a place for hashing out ideas for the project’s development and providing updates of its progress.  Suggestions are always welcome – and gratefully appreciated…

Questions for the crowd:

1. The categories listed below are the ones that currently appear in our Zotero file for the site, a list to which I’m still actively adding. I’d welcome suggestions for further categories to add, divisions to consider, and more…

2. Are there other topics or components for the site that folks (faculty, undergraduate students) out there in Chinese history would find helpful?

3. I’ll be sending out a call for nominations for primary source collections, among other types of titles and resources, to be listed in the group… suggestions ahead of that call are always welcome.

Categories currently listed for our Zotero bibliography:

That list is building out of a more haphazard brainstorm of genres I’m looking to cover within the frame that’s being constructed. To share my rough notes:

  • key journals (e.g. Journal of Asian Studies, Late Imperial China, Modern China, China Quarterly, Harvard Journal of Asian Studies)
  • english-language historiog and research collections (e.g. Cambridge History of China; Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization Series)
  • translated compendia of sources (e.g. Taiping volumes…)
  • key reference websites (UCSD; Elman; et al)
  • key online search engines
  • key online archives (textual, visual, etc.)
  • online listservs (H-Net; Asian Studies WWW Monitor; others? )
  • key English-language reference works (biography; titles; etc.)
  • advice for other students re: basic reference shelf (English language and Chinese language)


  1. My work here is much in the spirit of that of my colleague in Soviet and Russian history at UMW, Steven Harris, who has created a very useful website on primary sources in that field to help his own students in their research.
  2. And with the ever-generous help of the folks at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) who have established UMWBlogs as a realm for digital projects.

Visual Culture in the History Classroom

May 20th, 2008 § 3 comments § permalink

Is a picture truly worth a thousand words? How does an image (or an opening line) transcend the cliché? A more important question for the History classroom may be just the opposite — how do we find enough to say? Often the image seems to be taken as a simple illustration or, in an even more problematic fashion, as a pure fact on a page.

These concerns have inspired an extended unit on China’s revolutionary posters for one of my upper division seminars as well as a presentation at the recent UMW Faculty Academy. (Many thanks to all for the insightful comments offered at the session.) The seminar course is a broad one that explores the notion of cultural history in the context of the history of the People’s Republic of China. In addition to reading texts related to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), particularly selections from Evans and Donald’s Picturing Power(1999), and exploring the oral accounts offered in the documentary Morning Sun (Longbow Group, 2003), our class also engages in a direct analysis of revolutionary posters. Drawing on the excellent collection presented online by scholars Stefan Landsberger and Marien van der Heijden, our working group is set with a task that offers several basic goals:

  • – introduce the value of a close read of an image…
  • – explore the complexities of meaning an image presents…
  • – work towards a shared construction of analysis…

The emphasis here lies upon a collective exploration of the dynamic of the brainstorm and the value of free-thought insight. The aim is to make the nuts and bolts of early constructions of analysis visible… literally.

With this latter aim in mind, I incorporated a new digital tool (wonderfully introduced by Bryan Alexander at a recent ELI workshop) called VoiceThread. As an open, web-based tool that allows individuals to add voice and text to a selection of images, VoiceThread proves quite useful in encouraging attention to a deeper level of detail within the frame. It also invites analysis across frames, as a device that allows for an assembly of images in a moving sequence. Commentary, observation, and narration all flow around the images as the images are moved in lines of juxtaposition and association, just as set forth by one of our working groups:

As a class plan, our workshop offered three starter VoiceThreads for students working in groups of 4-5 people. Each VoiceThread set forth a first image, chosen by myself, with participants invited to find and add their own, creating that very procession of images amidst their own commentary. In one case, students jumped from an image of domestic scene in a revolutionary 1954 poster to images from genres that seemed, at first, quite distant:

While the commentary was left to the images themselves for these two latter scenes, their assembly presents a reading that invites exploration not only of the unfamiliar (in the form of the Chinese images, Chairman Mao as domestic god?), but also a return gaze back at that which is better known… A very good start.

A question still follows – how best to bring the analysis to the next level?

Further historical contextualization of the images is one necessary task, including detail (where available) on their composers, production and dissemination. A second step would also be to incorporate further readings re: visual culture as a follow-up that helps to weave the process of analysis more closely with analytical commentary and methodological insight. The exploration of image and text (and back to image) invokes everything from the classic work of John Berger to the recent analysis of historical photographs, text, and vision offered by filmmaker Errol Morris in his blog for the New York Times.

And the third step? Suggestions welcome…