I’m presenting at the Nature Matters conference at York University in October, and the deadline for registration is coming up right away. I need to send my cheque and registration in tomorrow, so I did what I always do when I’ve got something important to remember — write it on a note and put it in my little yellow gizmo for holding important papers. This gizmo sits right by my computer, so there is no chance I won’t see whatever note sits there. I scribbled this note this morning before breakfast, not really thinking about anything more than the fact that I am, once again, doing this sort of thing at the last minute. I kept glancing at the note as I worked today though, and each time I looked at it I noticed that it read more and more like a declaration than a reminder. Yes, nature does matter!
And on the subject of e-learning, I am going to try having course blogs for the first time this year, although it is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. The blog for each course will be a central portal for information, handouts, pdfs of slide shows and other such things, but I’m also hoping it will be a space where students share their ideas about topics covered in class. I think when studying topics like visual culture, where there are so many different ways of thinking about images and ideas, space for exchange and dialogue is essential. I know that not everyone is comfortable speaking up in class, so the blog will provide an alternative way of discussing themes related to the class.
A few days ago Linda sent me the link to a site called Square America: Snapshots & Vernacular Photography. Considering I really need to be finalizing my course outlines this week, I’ve spent far too much time looking through the various galleries here. This is an amazing website! The focus is on amateur, everyday photography and the stories these photographs can tell. Many of the images have been purchased in flea markets or on e-bay. I think the rupture between the sense of personal intimacy and memory-making that prompted the making of the photograph in the first place and the lack of information we have when we view pictures on a website like this is simply fascinating. These kinds of images are so familiar to so many of us, yet as we look at them they sometimes raise more questions than answers. In my visual culture and history of photography classes I always try to emphasize the point that imagery can hold so many different meanings depending upon the context in which an image is viewed in. I also like to encourage students to think about personal uses of images, both in their own lives but also in history. These types of images have been so often neglected by art history, which is a shame. As the site’s owner says, “Not only do these photographs contain a wealth of primary source information on how life was lived they also constitute a shadow history of photography, one too often ignored by museums and art galleries.”
Image credit: this photograph is from the “At the Window” gallery
Scott sent me a link to a game called Just Letters — it is strangely addicting. In a nutshell, it is a set of flash alphabet magnets (like the kind you might have played with if you grew up in the 1970s) that you rearrange at the same time as other people are rearranging them. Doesn’t sound like fun? Give it a try! You might be surprised. Oh, and don’t even think about stealing my letters!
As I continue to organize my office to get ready for the 2007/08 academic year, I have been unpacking the various bags and boxes of books I purchased this summer. The majority of them were purchased in the UK, where I got a little carried away in museum and garden bookshops! We had our suitcases stuffed to the brim with all of my heavy books on the way home. This would have been fine except we had to take the tube to Victoria station in order to transfer to the Gatwick Express. We discovered a little too late that there are no lifts in Victoria station, so we had to drag our heavy luggage up the stairs — I’m sure we looked quite comical! Thankfully some nice folks stopped to help us out.
Below is a list of the books I bought over the past couple of months. I can’t wait until I have a chance to read them all!
A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Mariane North (London: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1993)
Carol Armstrong, Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843-1875 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press)
David Attenborough, Susan Owens, Martin Clayton and Rea Alexandratos, Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery (London: Royal Collection Publications, 2007)
Holley Bishop, Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World (New York: Free Press, 2005)
R. Howard Bloch, A Needle in the Right Hand of God: The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry (New York: Random House, 2006)
John Buchanan-Brown, Early Victorian Illustrated Books: Britain, France and Germany, 1820-1860 (London: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2005)
Stefan Buczacki, Garden Natural History (London: Collins, 2007)
Susan Cambpell, A History of Kitchen Gardening (London: Frances Lincoln, 2005)
Ray Desmond, Great Natural History Books and Their Creators (London: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003)
Carolyn Fry, The World of Kew (London: BBC Books, 2006)
Lisa Graziose Corrin, Miwon Kwon, Norman Bryson and Mark Dion, Mark Dion (London: Phaidon Press, 1997)
Victoria Finlay, Buried Treasure: Travels Through the Jewel Box (McArthur & Co, 2006)
David Gessner, Sick of Nature (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2004)
Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire (HarperCollins, 2006)
Ruth Hayden, Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers (London: The British Museum Press, 1980)
Kenneth I. Helphand, Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2006)
Images from Nature (London: The Natural History Museum, 1998)
Anne Jennings, Victorian Gardens (London: English Heritage and The Museum of Garden History, 2005)
Anne Jennings, Edwardian Gardens (London: English Heritage and The Museum of Garden History, 2005)
Sylvia Landsberg, The Medieval Garden (London: The British Museum Press, 1995)
Leslie Laking, Love, Sweat and Soil: A History of the Royal Botanical Gardens from 1930 to 1981 (Hamilton: Royal Botanical Gardens’ Auxiliary, 2005)
Linda Lear, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007)
Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989)
Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2007)
Elizabeth K. Menon, Evil By Design: The Creation and Marketing of the Femme Fatale (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006)
Sue Minter, The Apothecaries’ Garden: A History of the Chelsea Physic Garden (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2000)
Peter Pesic, Sky in a Bottle (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005)
Laura Ponsonby, Marianne North at Kew Gardens (London: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1996)
Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991)
Ann Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)
Kim Sloan, A New World: England’s First View of America (London: The British Museum Press, 2007)
Rupert Smith, A Year at Kew (London: BBC Books, 2004)
Mary Soderstrom, Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens (Montréal: Véhicule Press, 2001)
Amy Stewart, Flower Confidential (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007)
Kim Todd, Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis (Orlando: Harcourt, 2007)
Jenny Uglow, A Little History of British Gardening (London: Pimlico, 2005)
Lucia van der Post, William Morris and Morris & Co. (London: V&A Publications, 2003)
Roy Vickery, Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum (London: The Natural History Museum, 2004)
Twigs Way, Virgins, Weeders and Queens: A History of Women in the Garden (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2006)
Anne Wilkinson, The Victorian Gardener: The Growth of Gardening and the Floral World (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2006)
Val Williams and Susan Bright, How We Are: Photographing Britain from the 1840s to the Present (London: Tate Publishing, 2007)
Simon Winchester, The Map that Changed the World (New York: Perennial, 2002)
I’ve got several ideas for new research projects I want to pursue, but am feeling all over the map right now. I’m looking up a wide range of different topics, jotting notes in multiple notebooks and trying, of course, to fit this in amongst my other work such as course prep and admin stuff. I sometimes only have a few minutes a day to work on these projects and, inevitably, I return to my notes after spending the day doing something else and thinking “what was I going to do here?.” I’ve got scraps of paper in my laptop bag, notebooks full of scribbles in my on-campus office, post-it notes all over my home office and inter-library loan material in the car. It’s a mess! In short, I need to get a system to keep myself on track! It was so much simpler when I was writing my dissertation. I had one project, one work space and one goal. Even if I fell into a few days of procrastination I still knew where all my materials were, where I’d left off and what direction I was going in with the research/writing. I didn’t realize at the time what a luxury that was!
Anyhow, I have been thinking for a while about how I would like a piece of software to manage my random thoughts and jots. I have heard wonderful things about Scrivener, but it is only for Macs. I don’t have a Mac and I don’t want a Mac, but I really, really want Scrivener! If I end up with a Mac sometime in the near future it will be entirely because my desire for Scrivener has taken over. We’re not there yet though, and I’m holding out hope that I can find a comparable PC product. I’ve tried out Writer’s Café which seems like it might do the trick. I’ve also just downloaded Liquid Story Binder which also looks like it would be good. Liquid Story Binder appears to have a few more bells & whistles which may or may not be a good thing depending on the time it takes to learn how to use it.
Anyone have any other suggestions for a PC user who needs to get organized?
We just moved to our lovely little lakeside community and every evening I see people out walking their dogs and enjoying life in Port Dalhousie, so I assumed our new address would get a high score. However, when I plugged in our address it was only given a score of 33/100. This surprised me a little until I read the definition of the score: “25 – 50 = Not Walkable: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.” Even though it is lovely to go for walks in our neighbourhood, it really is tough to get any errands completed on foot so I guess I have to agree with this ranking. This is, perhaps, the number one thing I’m having a hard time adjusting to here. Prior to this we lived in Kingston, ON and in Edmonton, AB and in both cities it was very easy to walk to work, to the grocery store, to the bank, etc. In fact, we didn’t even have a car in Kingston and the only reason we had to get one in Edmonton was so that we could drive out and see my family who live about 30 minutes out of town. In Niagara, however, things are quite spread out and it is not always easy to get from one neighbourhood to another on foot. As is the case in many other cities in North America, grocery stores and other necessary shops are no longer found in most residential neighbourhoods here.
Over the past year I’ve also noticed a lot of neighbourhoods in the Niagara region that do not even have sidewalks. There are lovely walking trails all around the region if you go outside of the cities, but in town it is not always easy to opt to walk to do your daily errands. We did make a conscious decision to live in this part of town in order to be near the water (I guess because we grew up in land-locked Alberta we are simply enthralled with Lake Ontario!), so I knew I wouldn’t be walking to work. However, I did think I’d be able to walk to places like the local fruit stand down the road from us. There are no sidewalks or walking paths along that road though, and it scares the bejeezus out of me to walk right on the road towards the fruit stand because of how fast the traffic goes. I realize that this is largely because the area where the fruit stand is used to be farmland until very recently, but it still drives me crazy.
There are other neighbourhoods that are even less walkable. For instance, the situation is even worse up near campus (that neighbourhood got a 20/100 on the Walk Score scale) — I’m forever seeing students walking along the edge of the road because there are often no sidewalks for them to use. Whenever I see this I always hold my breath and hope that nobody gets hit by a car.
There are some local neighbourhoods that scored much higher on the Walk Score scale (especially in the downtown core of St. Catharines), but I guess for now the rest of us will have to go for walks in addition to running errands instead of combining the two things. In Port Dalhousie, however, this means things like walking down to the pier or the beach so I guess it is not all bad news!
We’re back from our little jaunt over to Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston. The main purpose of the trip was to see some of the gardens that I’m writing about while they are in full August bloom. I also got to do two things that I have been wanting to do for a long time: 1)attend International Flora Montréal and 2)see one of Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibitions. We also managed to work in a little kayaking while we were in Kingston. It was quite the week and I’ve got no shortage of things I want to write about, but today is all about getting unpacked and doing laundry.
In the meantime, I wanted to post the link to Digital Arts & Humanities, a very neat resource exploring ideas, issues and applications in the world of Digital Humanities. I’ve spent most of the evening checking it out and following the various links.