October 6, 2011
Setting up this website has been unlike anything else that I’ve done.
Like most academics, I’m used to a high degree of self-sufficiency: I do my research, write it out as best I can, the work is all mine. Between the initial idea and its final execution there’s considerable uncertainty, but whatever it is, I’m responsible for it.
With this website, things have gone headlong in the other direction. Yes, the idea is mine, but I have absolutely no ability to implement it. It takes talking to various people – Erica Sayers and Susan Shand in the department office; Kyle Hutzler, Yale College ‘14, already a pro in online research – for the idea to gain some solidity even in my own head. Above all, it takes Chris Uzzo and Dru Konesky at Two Brothers to figure out the nuts and bolts of programming. They have the idea of building the blog on a WordPress platform, but doing everything else with Adobe Contribute, which drastically cuts down the cost. WordPress and Adobe Contribute are still just names to me. My knowledge of programming is still zero. So, while it’s true that the site is now up and running, all I can say is that my own idea has come back to me with alienated majesty. The phrase is Emerson’s, like the rest of what you see: the technical labor is all other people’s.
I used to go into a panic thinking about this — that I’m almost 100 % dependent on others, that, left to my devices, the website would never have seen the light of day. Even now, I’m still not entirely used to this way of doing scholarly work – if that’s what the website is. But my own experience has taught me that, increasingly, collaboration is not a choice but a necessity. The days of going it alone are over. The website begins with this premise: that there would have been no American literature if it had not been for the input from the rest of the world. The technical challenge of programming, it turns out, makes that not even a theory. And that’s probably not a bad way to get started.