Author Archives: Erin Glass

How do we pay for a democratized Commons?

By Erin Glass

Since the early 19th century, media distributors have relied primarily on two types of revenue streams. One, they sell their product straight out to the consumer for a fee that covers their production costs, or two, they sell advertising space to subsidize production costs either partially or completely. Facebook is certainly not the first company whose consumers are in fact their product; newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and television would not have grown into central facets of modern life had they not discovered early on that the attention of their consumers was by far a more profitable good than their content.

However, as we well know, the introduction of the internet complicated the situation.  Because of the sophisticated means consumer surveillance enabled by networked media, advertising is no longer a black box into which advertisers toss bottled messages with fingers crossed  And thus, the profit driven impulses that were once confined to “advertising space” — harmlessly so, it seems from this vantage — are now given an all access pass into almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives.  There is a great deal to be concerned about here.  But while we talk a lot about how Google and Facebook have compromised our privacy to a degree previously unimaginable, we don’t talk much about how this trend is really just making more efficient the way in which we have subsidized our media consumption for nearly the past 200 years.  One of the reasons Google and Facebook have developed such efficient, helpful tools is precisely because their controversial business practices have generated wealth that allows them to continue to grow.  Does this mean I support their business practices? No. Nor does it even mean that I think their tools are as helpful as they could be, for their guiding principle at the end of the day  — no matter how many effortless tools such a principle leads to —  is to keep users dependent on their services and blind to their collective agency and other technological possibilities. However, a critique of consumer surveillance is not going to be very useful until we decide as a society how we might best fund and continue to develop our communication tools.   Until we do so, corporate interest, for better or worse (for I believe there are both better and worse possibilities), will continue dominate our technological activity for their own interests.

These will not be easy questions and the way we answer them will have a tremendous impact on the future of the knowledge commons.  We should be careful from condemning corporate interest straight off the bat, for these forces have opened up technological possibility that most likely could not have occurred otherwise.  But, as Levine notes, “corporate power represents a constant threat to the knowledge commons. Even if some corporations find that their interests align with the norms of open access temporarily, there is always a possibility that major firms will enclose or undermine the commons” (253).  And so, I was excited to see Kranich’s article discussing the library as the potential site for building out the future of the knowledge commons.   And I think she’s right in citing Carol Rose’s thought that “narratives, stories and rhetorical devices” (109) will be essential to making this argument clear and pressing to the general public, especially to our tech-dazzled friends in the Bay Area.  Surely, the rapid evolution of media tools has prepped even the most uncritical of us to understand that the design of communication platforms dramatically shapes possible communication. Likewise, the funding model of any Knowledge Commons will predetermine from the start the potential production, use, accessibility and sustainability of that knowledge.  And so, when dreaming up the future of the commons, we must ask, what is it we as a society even want knowledge to do? Our answers, I guess, will first and foremost be political, not technological, in nature.




poet’s house archive

photo 2

tactile poetry!

By: Erin Glass

For our archive assignment, I decided to go to the Poet’s House nestled inside the bottom two floors of a riverfront building in Battery Park. The website describes the Poet’s House as a national archive, but perhaps Wikipedia’s description of Poet’s House as a “literary center” is a bit more fitting, as the archives themselves seem to play only a small role in actual use of the space.  Though their collection includes 60,000 books, chapbooks and literary journals, visitors typically come for one of their readings or other poetry-related events rather than to peruse their shelves.  Or at least so it seems.  Personally, my first few visits to the Poet’s House were entirely event related.  And now that I finally had a chance to check out their holdings — along with co-explorer Seth — I had the distinct sense we were treading a sort of forgotten frontier.  The window side tables were full of laptopped students, perhaps some even enjoyed poetry in addition to sunlit work spaces, but once near the actual heart of the archive, the population dropped.

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the wall of new poetry.

Such is often the case with libraries, archives, so no criticism here. The sunlit windows, the free wifi, the poetry readings and classes, are all equally important organs for the vitality of such a literary center.  It was one of the events, in fact, that made me so eager to explore their actual collection.  No other institution in my experience, save perhaps for the university itself, has so successfully drawn my interest and activity to its bibliographic holdings through events.

Let me explain. A year or two ago, I attended a talk about the history of the chapbook at the Poet’s House that was held in conjunction with The Center for the Humanities annual Chapbook Festival. Now just in case anyone here isn’t exactly sure what a chapbook is, let us briefly recollect. Wikipedia nicely describes the chapbook’s contemporary form as:

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chapbook shelves

…publications of up to about 40 pages, usually poetry bound with some form of saddle stitch, though many are perfect bound, folded, or wrapped. These publications range from low-cost productions to finely produced, hand-made editions that may sell to collectors for hundreds of dollars…The genre has been revitalized in the past 40 years by the widespread availability of first mimeograph technology, then low-cost copy centers and digital printing, and by the cultural revolutions spurred by both zines and poetry slams, the latter generating hundreds upon hundreds of self-published chapbooks that are used to fund tours.

The chapbook is the folk press, a means of distributing one’s texts outside the pearly gates of conventional publishing.  It is perhaps the most important — and unruly! — form of underground poetry movements in 20th century United States.  One need not have the approval of an editor or the capital of a printing press, but only the gumption to turn available resources into the means of transmission.  And so a survey of chapbooks of the past sixty years brings forth all sorts of shapes, materials and styles that defy traditional expectations of a published book.  Without a standardized means of production, the chapbook’s form depended largely on its creator’s imagination.

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fringe and uber-fringe publications live happily together.

But back to the talk. The speakers articulated some of the historical roots of the chapbooks in early modern Europe, and then described some of the genre’s major transformations in the past century. For example, tools and organizations that in many ways made chapbook publishing a far more accessible, sustainable, and influential endeavor also contributed to the homogenization of the form. Prior to the Xerox machine, chapbook makers essentially had to individually determine the materials, forms and style of the chapbook, which enforced, so to speak,diversity within the genre. Additionally, one speaker linked the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 — which did important work cultivating some of these chapbook endeavors into shinier, more professional, more public forms — with the waning of a DIY, rough-edged culture of chapbook makers.  While no one was arguing that the Xerox machine or the NEA were not much welcome resources for fringe cultural producers, the speakers quite effectively demonstrated how diversity, reach, and sustainability of cultural production are all dramatically influenced by available resources, and not always in the way we expect. When the talk ended we were left to explore a curated selection of chapbooks from the fifties and sixties that highlighted the dramatic range of creativity in publishers that worked with minimal resources and support.  Somehow, I walked away that night thinking that the curated display just represented the tip of the iceberg. I was flooded with visions of combing through the past century of our nation’s folk publications.  How on earth, I wondered, would they even catalog such an oddball, odd-shaped, uncategorizable set of items. Oh, I’d return, all right.

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chapbook shelf close up.

But when I did return — a few Fridays ago — making my way past the first shelf of this year’s published books of poetry, past the shelves devoted to international poetry, past the books of criticism, journals, memoirs, dictionaries, past, really, the entire printed discourse related to English poetry, all the way to the very back to its chapbook collection, I realized my imagination had perhaps run away from me.  Here, in about two aisles, lies the Poet’s House chapbook collection. Unruly, surprising, impressive, yes — one might find hand decorated, stapled, glitter explosive works snugly sharing shelf space with more official works by the likes of Louise Gluck — but hardly the National Library of Chapbooks that I had somehow been expecting.  I browsed through the mildly alphabetized materials, losing interest as it seemed most were produced in the last ten years, and all off an Epson printer.   Where, then, I wondered, did the nation’s history of chapbooks exist?


Annotated Bibliography: Scholarly communications and the future of sharing, thinking, writing

By: Erin Glass

Below are a list of sources that are helping me think through Social Paper (SP), a software platform I’m working on with the Digital Fellows.  Essentially, we aim to build a free, open source socialized writing environment that will enable students to easily share, manage, track and “socialize” the entirety of their writing across their graduate school career.  There are several key aspects that differentiate SP from current methods and tools. 1) Instead of distributing and producing writing across multiple “siloed” channels (class blogs, seminar papers, etc) which inhibit a coherent perspective (as well as efficient control) of one’s developing body of work, all student writing will “live” on the student’s online workspace. For every piece of writing, the student will determine whether it is associated with a class, topic, working group, so that relevant peers may be notified of their work. 2) For every piece of writing, the student will have full control of the level of publicity. Students may choose to share the work only with a select group, such as a class, a few trusted peers, a professor, or alternately, may choose to have their work completely public.  3) Like Google Docs, the tool will allow for peer commenting and discussion in the margins, but unlike Google Docs and other free commercial tools, students can rest easy that their content will not be mined for corporate use.  4) The activity generated on SP — from the submission of writing to the commenting on peers papers — will be surfaced (according to the student’s privacy settings) through personalized activity streams with the hope of raising awareness in the student community of the work being produced by their peers.

This theoretical motivations driving the development of this tool draw on two bodies of research: 1) the social production of knowledge  2) a critique of technocapitalism as it relates to the tools, methods, culture of practice, and law used to carry out scholarly communication (though I will emphasize that we should extend our thinking of scholarly communication to include the transmission of knowledge among students, not just professional academics).

Bowers, C. A. The False Promises of the Digital Revolution. How Computers Transform Education, Work, and International Development in Ways That Undermine an Ecologically Sustainable Future. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. Print.

Bowers writes on education, ecojustice and the commons. His work is important to me as it offers a critical perspective on the development of digital technologies and their social consequence.  In this work he argues that while digital technologies have rapidly improved our ability to generate and communicate knowledge, they have also contributed to the “individually-centered form of consciousness” which is “unable to grasp the short- and long-term consequences” of the environmental degradation taking place. Bowers demonstrates the “myths, misconceptions, and silences” inherited in language that have contributed to a hubristic, placeless rhetoric of technological progress that woefully, if not willfully, misunderstands the true challenges at hand.  Though this work is not about scholarly communications in itself, it is important in its dramatic reframing of the stakes of education and, in a post-McLuhanian manner, provides useful analysis for understanding the impact of digital technologies on the production, possibility, and meaningfulness of human thought.

Dewey, Anne Day, and Libbie Rifkin. Among Friends: Engendering the Social Site of Poetry. Print.

This collection of essays examines the social production of postwar American poetry, primarily through the theorization of “friendship” as a fertile, though not always unconflicted, site of creativity.  The topics presented here range from letter correspondences, small literary magazines, collaborative poetry writing, literary communities and radical collectivities working in the digital age. I’m interested in this work, as well as Dewey’s work on the construction of public voice in Black Mountain Poetry, for its tracing the various modes of friendship, community and intellectual exchange that contribute to creative productivity.

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U, 2014. Print.

Drucker writes about the history of graphic design and digital humanities. In this work, Drucker provides a “visual epistemology,” or principles for analyzing graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to help us understand how interfaces mediate the user’s interaction and knowledge production. Drucker’s historical analysis of the “screen,” is critical for exposing the non-neutrality of GUIs today.  Combining Drucker’s visual epistemology with Bower’s critique of the “individually-centered” form of consciousness reinforced by digital technologies, how might we imagine new GUIs that would better emphasize the social role of knowledge production?

Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers. New York: Oxford UP, 1973. Print.

Elbow is known for his work in composition studies, particularly his theorization of the writing process  as outlined in this now classic work.  Here he observes that writing for peer review can significantly enhance a student’s growth — not to mention their excitement — in writing.  Elbow’s emphasis on the benefit of a social environment to share one’s writing and feedback is one of the key motivations of building Social Paper.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York UP, 2011. Print.

Now the Director of Scholarly Communications at the Modern Language Association, Fitzpatrick writes about the challenges and opportunities facing the publishing scholar in the changing landscape of academic publishing. Drafts of this work were first presented online through CommentPress, a free and open source software component which enables users to comment on paragraphs of long form texts, making the work both a theoretical and performative exploration in new models for peer review in academic publishing.  Though this work focuses on peer review, and other issues of scholarly publication, as related to professional academic, the tools, practices, and critiques are applicable to questions concerning communication among students.

Illich, Ivan. Tools for Conviviality. 1975. Print.

Ivan Illich offers an anarchist’s critique of education and the tools and practices used to carry it out. In Deschooling Society, he writes, “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.” Though I have not yet read Tools for Conviviality, I’m hoping it explores this theme in greater depth, as a means of thinking through how we can better shape our platforms of knowledge transmission to cultivate “learning, sharing, and caring.”

Lovink, Geert, and Miriam Rasch. Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2013. Print.

Though I have yet to read this reader (freely available on the web through Network Cultures)  I’m excited by the prospect of a series of contemporary essays that directly attempt to theorize and critique the social media phenomenon.  The essays here discuss a wide range of topics related to social media — such as privacy, labor, rhetoric, affect, and political movements — which are critical to think through when formally integrating a social media structure into the production of graduate student writing.

Stallman, Richard. Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston, MA: Free Software Foundation, 2002. Print.

Richard Stallman is a computer programmer and free software activist. Stallman is a fierce supporter of privacy rights and Free Software. Stallman coined the term, and started the Free Software Movement, as a means to fight the restrictions built into proprietary software which domesticate and manipulate the user for corporate gain. Though Stallman is a controversial figure, he is useful in thinking about how subtle restrictions in software can give corporations and political entities vast power over the civic body, not only through surveillance but though the user’s learned passivity. In these essays, Stallman defines Free Software and argues why it is worth fighting (and programming) for.

Taylor, Astra. The People’s Platform: And Other Digital Delusions. New York: Metropolitan, 2014. Print.

Taylor here critiques the premise that “the digital transformation” is a “great cultural leveler, putting tools of creation and dissemination in everyone’s hands and wresting control from long-established institutions and actors.”  Taylor’s work seeks to show that the business imperatives underlying our technology has a dramatic effect on how we interact online and who, in the end, actually benefits from those interactions.  I’m interested in this work to see how Free and Open Source software might resolve some of these concerns, or whether they will pose equally problematic issues.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (and Why We Should Worry). Berkeley: U of California, 2011. Print.

Vaidhyanathan’s work on Google is important to me, because, despite my critical concerns for Google, their series of produces — Gmails, Google search, and Google Drive — are hands down the most important tools that I use as a student, a worker and curious, interested citizen. In the development of Social Paper — which is messy, frustrating, and full of compromises —  there have been times that I’ve wondered whether my critique of Google was rather alarmist, and that it was a waste of energy to try to create something that they will probably offer, and much more sophisticatedly, within a few years. Vaidhyanathan, and other writers discussed in this annotation, have been exceedingly helpful in these moments, by reaffirming the need to question the motives of the companies that are gaining an unprecedented amount of control in the most minute aspects of our professional and private lives.

State of the Field: Poetics, Digital Humanities, Critical Theory

By: Erin Glass

I’m interested in how writers (poets & fictionists, comparatively) in 20th & 21st century America define their role, practice and product and how these definitions are influenced by technologies of dissemination.  To say it another way, I’m curious about comparing poetics, as a set of aesthetic, instrumental techniques, with the forms of publication (the novel, the chapbook, the blog, etc).  How, for example, does ownership or lack of ownership of the “means of publication” manifest itself in the writer’s aesthetic?  Thus I can describe my interests as falling somewhat into three areas: 1) the social history of 20th & 21st American literature, 2) print culture & digital humanities and 3) poetics.  Finally, I should note that critical theory, especially with regard to aesthetics and technology, is central to my thinking.

This exercise revealed to me that — outside of DH studies — I am woefully ignorant of hot off the press scholarship.  My original list had about 20 journals and books each, but I’ve narrowed them down here. I should note, that I am most excited about the discovery of AMODERN, a very recent, open access, peer reviewed scholarly journal which brings together topics of aesthetics, technology and scholarly communications.

3-5 Journals

Before highlighting journals of particular interest, I’d like to mention my discovery of This Year’s Work in English Studies and This Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Studies.  Both provide a “narrative bibliography of published work, recording significant debates and issues” with respect to their topics and may be useful for grasping the trends in the discipline in any given year.

  • Digital Humanities Quarterly: Topics in DH.
  • Diacritics: “Founded in 1971, diacritics offers a forum for rethinking the aims and methods of the humanities. The journal features a reflexive approach to literary theory and criticism, “Continental” philosophy, and political thought. The past, present, and future relationships between intellectual creation, language, conceptual knowledge, and artistic invention are the main concerns of diacritics.”
  • Configurations: Configurations explores the relations of literature and the arts to the sciences and technology. Founded in 1993, the journal continues to set the stage for transdisciplinary research concerning the interplay between science, technology, and the arts. Configurations is the official publication of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA).”
  • AMODERN:Amodern is a peer-reviewed, open-access scholarly journal devoted to the study of media, culture, and poetics. Its purpose is to provide a forum for interdisciplinary conversations about the role of media and technology in contemporary cultural practices…The journal is distinguished by its focus on poetics as a scholarly practice, with particular emphasis on the unruly ways that people deploy media and technology behind, beneath, and despite their instrumental functions. Against the grain of determinism, we hope to attract work that bears witness to media as complex assemblages of institutions, subjects, bodies, objects, and discourses.

3 Books published in the last two years

  • From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century (2012): The start of the twenty-first century has brought with it a rich variety of ways in which readers can connect with one another, access texts, and make sense of what they are reading. At the same time, new technologies have also opened up exciting possibilities for scholars of reading and reception in offering them unprecedented amounts of data on reading practices, book buying patterns, and book collecting habits.
  • What is: Nine Epistemological Essays  (Johanna Drucker): From Elizabeth Guffey: “In What Is?, Drucker traces the invisible thread that links letters to writing to books to the digital age. In so doing, she makes sense of emerging technology and the way it has insinuated itself into the culture of book making, writing, and reading. Drucker’s grand arguments are based on modest means. In this case she is starting with the humble letter. But, by probing the philosophy of language as well as the rhetoric of art, she builds toward a broader picture. In the end, her investigation concludes with nothing less than a new understanding of digital materialism.”
  • How We Think DIGITAL MEDIA AND CONTEMPORARY TECHNOGENESIS (N Katherine Hayles): “How do we think?” N. Katherine Hayles poses this question at the beginning of this bracing exploration of the idea that we think through, with, and alongside media. As the age of print passes and new technologies appear every day, this proposition has become far more complicated, particularly for the traditionally print-based disciplines in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. With a rift growing between digital scholarship and its print-based counterpart, Hayles argues for contemporary technogenesis—the belief that humans and technics are coevolving—and advocates for what she calls comparative media studies, a new approach to locating digital work within print traditions and vice versa.
  • Without Masters: Reading and Other Forces (Sarah Wood): “Without Mastery engages the pleasures and rigours of reading, invoking Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, Plato’s Lady Necessity, Freud, Derrida, Cixous, animals, angels, ghosts and children to explore our desire for mastery – especially the omnipotence of thoughts. Masterful thinking has brought the planet into environmental crisis. The acquiescence of reading, Wood shows, allows us to make contact with the unthinkable.”

3-5 annual conferences

3 university press series

3 speaker series

  • I’m stumped!

3 scholarly blogs

3-5 twitter accounts maintained by scholars in the field

  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick (@kfitz): Director of Scholarly Communication at MLA, author of Planned Obsolescence and the Anxiety of Obsolescence
  • Bethany Nowviski (@nowviskie): Director, Digital Research & Scholarship, UVa Library
  • Dennis Tennen (@dennistenen): Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and New Media Studies at Columbia University, Department of English and Comparative Literature.

3-5 twitter accounts maintained by institutions related to the field

  • UCB DH (@DHBerkeley)
  • DH Summer Institute (@DHInstitute): “…provides an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, creation, and preservation in different disciplines, via a community-based approach.”
  • The Maker Lab (@UVicMakerLab): “Physical computing, fabrication, media history + counterfactuals at the University of Victoria.”
  • @scholarslab
  • @nypl_labs

critical pedagogy and the value of English as a discipline

Discussion of pedagogy continues to mystify, and our recent discussion of Freire and Postman reminded me once again of this personal difficulty.  I found much to be inspired by in both texts but have similar questions about application that Michael and others have voiced.  However, I think my questions  might be a little more severe on account of my own naiveté.  Quite frankly, I find the haste in which pedagogy is discussed as if having the singular aim of producing critical subjects to completely  ignore, or efface, the practical goals of education. Furthermore, pedagogy described as such challenges our own choices as students who, at least during the application process, have articulated the express interest in studying English.  And so, I’m interested in hearing how others in the class mediate their interest in English as a subject matter with the goals of critical pedagogy, both as students and as present or potential teachers. Is English, as a language and a body of literature, merely a vehicle for stimulating critical consciousness (as it once was for Christianity, humanism, etc), or is there something else that we find in literature that is worthwhile to study and transmit merely for its own sake?   I wonder about this a lot! What do you think? Tell me!

First, let me explain a little of my history with this word pedagogy, because it wasn’t until grad school that I realized it was one to which I should pay attention. In my going-on-four years at the Graduate Center I’ve heard  pedagogy discussed at great length and with great passion.  I was first exposed to the seriousness which GC students regarded pedagogy during a required course for the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy certificate program (which I highly recommend for those interested in exploring their own hopes and fears regarding technology & education).  It was the beginning of my second year, I had not yet taught (still haven’t!), and was feeling rather alien to the university experience since I had been out of school  for six or seven years before returning.  During the course,  we discussed topics ranging from MOOCs to digital dissertations. Steve Brier, our instructor (and another wonderful figure at the GC), exhorted us to keep in mind this singular question: How might we evaluate these new tools and practices for the purposes of pedagogy?

Pedagogy, I kept thinking, what on earth is this mysterious pedagogy.  I was astonished by the passion which students argued about what constituted good or bad pedagogy, mainly because in all my years in a classroom, it was not a topic I considered much.  But  after getting over the initial shock, I found much to warm to in these discussion. Pedagogy, I realized, was a way of talking about a lot of the same social issues I cared about.  Bad pedagogy was the type produced by oppressive political structures for the preservation of said oppressive political structures. Good pedagogy was the sort that would create subjects capable of undermining, or at least seeing through, said oppressive political structures.  Thus the pedagogically-concerned, both green and vet, spent a lot of time agreeing how bad bad pedagogy was, and how good good pedagogy was. It was a cozy a time.

Despite the coziness, though, I kept waiting, for the moment we at least stated what subject matter our pedagogy was concerned with.  And I waited to no end.   We discussed pedagogy as if it was a practice that could be universalized across subject matter, institutions, age group and purpose.  We talked about pedagogy as if it was this contentless process that succeeded when the student finally learned, but learned what? Because we were a group of students from across disciplines,  the generalized nature of our discussion was perhaps understandable. What pedagogy was for was either besides the point, or so obvious to everyone else in the classroom that it wasn’t worth mentioning.  In this sense, I gathered, pedagogy simply meant the process of stimulating critical consciousness, regardless of subject matter. All the the little facts and methodologies that happened to make up said subject matter, or whether that subject matter had instrumental value, (never mind cultural value!), was of secondary importance.  What we talked about when we talked about pedagogy was about nothing more than the social production of free subjects.

Now the social production of free subjects is just the sort of tailgate party where I’d like to bring my beer.  And I would entertain the argument that the achievement of such would make all disciplines and subject matter obsolete forevermore, because, well, goes ask Stanley Aronowitz about that one.  But in the meantime, I really need some help, particularly from those in the class that obviously think and care a great deal about pedagogy.  How are we even supposed to talk about the incorporation of particular types of pedagogy when it isn’t clear what were teaching and why? Again, back to the application questions, the ones we probably have all hoped are long forgotten. Why study English, why teach it? For what end?