Revised Questions: Oral Histories Regarding Braille

I am sincerely grateful for all of the feedback I received (in various channels) about my last post. Below I list the questions I ended up asking during the first three interviews I conducted. Keep in mind that the interviews were much more like conversations than this somewhat sterile list of questions might imply.

A hand reading braille.

  1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
  2. What is your experience today with using braille in everyday life?
  3. What do you remember about when you first started learning braille?
  4. What was the hardest thing about learning braille?
  5. Looking back now, what’s your opinion of the way you were taught braille?
  6. Today, when you read for pleasure, what kind of material do you read and how do you read it? (audio? braille?)
  7. Some say that listening to a book is not an example of literacy and that only by reading through braille is a person literate. What’s your opinion?
  8. With new technologies making it so easy to listen to books and other kinds of writing, is there a good reason to preserve braille and keep teaching people how to use it?
  9. Do braille readers have any advantages over sighted readers?
  10. Let’s turn now from reading to writing. How do you compose your writing? What tools do you use? How do you edit? Do you use a brailler?
  11. When you were a child, did you have any adult role models who were visually impaired or blind?
  12. Do you think it’s important for young people who are visually impaired or blind to have adult role models who are, too?
  13. As far as you know, are you a role model to any young people?

[Photo by Flickr user antonioxalonso. Licensed under Creative Commons.]

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THATCamp 2009

Below is my application (which was accepted!) to THATcamp 2009, “a user-generated ‘unconference‘ on digital humanities organized and hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, June 27–28, 2009.”

Many thanks to Jeremy Boggs and Dave Lester for organizing this event!

Discussion Topic: How can digital humanities projects with scholarly significance be designed with the needs of vision-impaired end users at the forefront of consideration while still keeping the needs of vision-enabled end users in mind?
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Maruca on C18, Cyborgs, Literacy…No, really!

methodism, orality, and literacy

Any academics out there want to read the draft of an article I’m working on? I really need some outside perspective. If you don’t have time or inclination to read the whole thing, do you have any suggestions for recent scholarly work on the interplay of orality and literacy? Here’s the introduction:

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the British religious movement known as Methodism created a sophisticated communications network. This network incorporated not only print, through the publication and distribution of millions of pages of material in a variety of formats, but also speech, specifically the highly systematized oral practice of hundreds of itinerant preachers at hundreds of Methodist preaching houses. Little scholarship on Methodists and print culture has appeared in recent years, which is surprising, given their prolific publishing and the recent growth of print culture studies. Similarly, although some have addressed Wesley’s reliance upon traveling lay preachers, we have yet to see a satisfactorily detailed picture of the preachers’ role in taking the movement’s message to hundreds of thousands of listeners. The histories of sound and of auditory culture are attracting a growing number of scholars who would do well to turn their attention to preaching.

However, any scholarship on eighteenth-century print culture or speech arguably provides a flawed, partial view of the communicative practices of the period by ignoring the dynamic interactions of literate and oral practices to focus on either independently. In fact, such independent focus risks adopting uncritically a limited conception of language first fully developed in the eighteenth century. Nicholas Hudson has traced the “slow and uncertain” emergence during this period of the concept of “oral tradition,” a belief that a “substantial body of knowledge or literature could be preserved without the use of letters.” Although, as Hudson explains, this concept gradually lost its controversial status, it leaves us with our modern understanding of orality and literacy as separate spheres of habit and thought. Counter to this understanding, D. F. McKenzie has argued persuasively that different modes of communication interact in complex ways: “None surrenders its place entirely; all undergo some adjustment as new forms arrive and new complicities of interest and function emerge.”

Following McKenzie’s lead, this essay analyzes early Methodism’s simultaneous embrace of the pulpit and the press, an embrace that placed the movement at the intersection of oral and literate cultures in Britain and that complicates any easy formulation of orality and literacy as separate cultures. For eighteenth-century Methodists, not only was the printed word enmeshed in a world of speech, but the spoken word often relied upon print in order to be most effective. What follows is an analysis of Methodist preaching, of Methodist publishing, and of the ways in which these two practices became inseparable. Finally, a discussion of one early Methodist publishing project, The Arminian Magazine, clearly illustrates the ways in which oral and literate practices complemented and competed with each other.

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