Hacking the Dissertation « THATCamp Southeast 2011

Below is my session idea for THATCamp Southeast. An unconference for digital humanities.

How can digital humanities help us reimagine the dissertation? As a mid-program graduate student, I’m standing at the beginning of my dissertation project and I’m interested in hacking the dissertation.

I’ve been thinking about this from a few angles. First, digital sources provide one new way of rethinking the dissertation. Digital archives and collections that offer full text searching provide new ways to do dissertation research, especially in the current climate where graduate research funding may be difficult to find. Second, the actual dissertation itself can be rethought. For example, how could digital sources for a dissertation be archived online to provide a sort of source book for the research project? What would a “digital dissertation” look like? Lastly, how can digital technology improve the process of writing a dissertation? The dissertation is a young scholars first major project, what sort of technologies are out there that every dissertating graduate student ought to try to help them stay organized and get the thing written?

I would love to see something come out of this discussion that could serve as a guide or toolbox for graduate students wanting to hack their dissertations. There are a lot of great reviews and ideas about writing dissertations with digital technologies (for example, Tonya Roth’s blog “Hacking the Dissertation Process” ) but its very scattered and tough to track down and synthesize. We need a more systematic approach to rethinking a digital dissertation.

via Hacking the Dissertation « THATCamp Southeast 2011.


Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact, and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860-1890

As I posted last week, this weekend I presented a paper on the topic of Methodist Media to the American Society of Church History at this year’s American Historical Association meeting. Below is my paper from the panel.


Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860-1890

Michael J. Altman, Emory University


What could bourgeois Methodist readers have known about India and how could missionary work abroad have brought them this knowledge?  Today, I will begin to answer these two questions through an analysis of The Christian Advocate in the late nineteenth century. The Christian Advocate, published in New York and the official weekly publication of the Methodist Episcopal Church, rose to a circulation of 63 to 70 thousand by 1879 and as one historian claims, “the paper became an icon of bourgeois America.”[i] The Advocate circulated among a growing middle class during the rise of the popular press in America and, therefore, the representations of India and Hinduism contained in its pages sparked the minds of a broad Evangelical readership.

I focus on three themes in the pages of the Advocate regarding India and Hinduism: mapping, contact, and travel.  First, missionary reports mapped out India as a geographic and spiritual field for missions work.  Second, women in America were especially recruited to join in the missionary effort and make spiritual and imaginary contact with Hindu women in India. Finally, in order to see the fruits of the Methodist mission work in India, writers sent letters and stories of conversions, conferences, and revivals that allowed American Methodists to travel to India and see the Holy Spirit at work.  In all three cases, imagination brought India into American homes through the pages of the Advocate.

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Enacting Identity: Toward an Interdisciplinary Theory of Religions in Diaspora

The following is another old conference paper.  I gave the following paper on rethinking diaspora to the History of Religions section of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion in Atlanta, GA in March 2008.

The term diaspora seems to carry with it an imperative for interdisciplinary work.  Diasporas are approached by Judaic studies, anthropology, sociology, Caribbean studies, and various other cultural and area studies disciplines.  But what does religious studies have to offer for an understanding of diaspora?  I argue that while anthropology offers strong theoretical definitions and models for what diasporas are and what they do, religious studies, through a study of lived religion, offers an understanding of how diasporas are experienced and lived out in ordinary daily life.  In order to show how religious studies offers an “on the ground” understanding of life in a diaspora I take the example of South Asian Hindus living in the United States as my point of departure for two reasons.  First, because Hinduism in the United States is an under studied tradition and, second, because when it is studied, studies of American Hinduism have yet to take on lived religion approach found in other studies of American religions.  As such, the conclusion of this paper is a theoretical gesture toward the solution of these two disciplinary lacunas.

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‘Juggernaut’ in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 1878

I gave the following paper at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion to the Religion and Popular Culture Group in November of 2008.  This is the first in a series of old conference papers I’m putting on this blog in order to open the up to a larger audience.  The full text of the article I discuss is available through the Making of America Collection by Cornell University here .

As many of you may know, this year’s AAR conference here in Chicago coincides with the 115th anniversary of the World’s Parliament of Religion held in this same city.  And while there are probably papers being given this weekend championing the importance of the Parliament and what it meant for American religious history, I take a little different perspective.  Contrary to the popular narrative that the Parliament served as America’s great introduction to Asian religions in America, my most current and ongoing research project has been to delve into sources prior to the World’s Parliament of Religion in order to build a history for Hinduism in America that precedes, and in some ways preconditions, the World Parliament of Religion.

Today, I would like to use one example from that research to explore two inter-related points regarding colonial knowledge, popular culture, and American religious history.  First, as I have partly revealed, I challenge the “great event” history that locates the beginning of Hinduism in America with the World Parliament of Religion.  Second, I explore how colonial knowledge seeps through leaks in the colonial project and finds its way into popular culture.  I address these points through the example of an 1878 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article entitled, “Juggernaut.”  So, I will begin with a brief background of Harper’s New Monthly .  Next, I will move through a close reading of the article, and finally, I will conclude with some thoughts as to how this article addresses these points.

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