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IMG_2392_edited_smallBy Henry Adam Svec

“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning / I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land,” sang the late, great Pete Seeger. Notice he did not say that if he had a hammer he’d submit it to peer review or place it in his tenure and promotions file. He’d hammer it. All over the land! Of course, while on the blacklist in the 1950s, a good stretch of Seeger’s land was made up of college campuses across the United States (Seeger was a nomadic pragmatist: he had a message to spread and, as far as audiences went, he would take what he could get). Still, Seeger’s signal would not be bent or broken or, least of all, subjected to any sort of bureaucratic metrics.

It is funny that I only came to fully appreciate Seeger’s commitment to communication (just one of the legacies of the folk revival in general) after working with the Czech computer scientist and programmer Mirek Plíhal, who is not even a fan of American protest music but who nonetheless embodies its ethics. I met Mirek in Dawson City, Yukon, where the two of us were artists-in-residence together at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture in the spring of 2013. Mirek was there to work on an app about Newfoundland, and I was there to work on a collection of Klondike attempted murder ballads, but we ended up collaborating instead on a project called Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada (see www.folksingularity.com). Basically we built a computer that can access the totality of the history of Canadian folk music and generate new yet hyper-legitimate compositions from the source data. It was a strange, beautiful brew: humanism meets science, art meets technology, East meets West, etc.

 

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IMG_0128In 2014, one of my goals is to update this blog on a semi-regular basis (every week? Every two weeks? We’ll see how it goes). I’m starting here by outlining some topics that I hope to cover with the help of guest bloggers in the next few months.

Part of this effort will involve expanding our guest bloggers to include anonymous writers, so that we can try to cover some of these issues with greater honesty. Many people have approached me to say that they want to write something, but have said they are afraid to speak their truths online. I hope that this blog will provide these important voices with some writing space soon. (If you haven’t contacted me yet with an idea because you have been hesitating to put your name on something, I hope that you will take this as an open invitation!).

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My friends over at Hook & Eye posted today about dreaming communities of care in the academy. What a wonderful thought. I love it. And I have to say that I have experienced the generosity that they speak of here more often than I have not in my academic life. I try to pay it forward as much as I can, but I am also someone who is imperfectly generous and who can have difficulty setting boundaries on such things at times. I imagine most of us struggle with this.

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I have given a couple of invited lectures on what might be loosely described as “professional development” since finishing my PhD. Along with a colleague and friend, I have also organized a few sessions on this topic at the annual meeting of my scholarly association, the Universities Art Association of Canada. I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on these lectures and sessions (good, great, bad, and ugly!) and I’d like to find a way to continue these conversations online. I’m also thinking about my former graduate student self and some of the things I worried about at that stage in my life (not being good enough, getting a job, if and when I would have children). I don’t have any easy answers to these subjects now, because I am still figuring a lot of it out myself. But in conversations with graduate students and emerging faculty a lot of these same themes reoccur. What I would like to do here is write about some of these things myself, while also soliciting the writings of others who inspire me.

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