Whitney Trettien is a scholar, creator, and teacher whose work weaves together archival research and creative use of technologies. She has written and designed work in the fields of book history, Renaissance literature, media archaeology, sound studies, and digital humanities. She has a PhD from Duke University, an MS from MIT, and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill.
You can get a good sense of what she's all about by checking out this interview on the literary blog of Ploughshares. You can also find her chatting on Twitter and posting pictures of old books on Pinterest. She keeps her notes online in a publicly-accessible Whiki; use them if you'd like. Grab an image and CV here.
What forms of scholarship become possible when we reconceive of the spaces between readers, writers, and texts as thresholds rather than boundaries? as dynamic zones of embroilment rather than definitive limit-points? In an effort to answer this question, this project is developing a digital publishing platform that invites the reader to join in the author's creative process.
The result is thresholds, a web-based journal that models criticism as an intimate yet communal activity that inheres in the delicate links we build in the spaces between each other. It is currently under development but seeking curious contributors. Email thresholdsjournal at gmail dot com to express interest in writing for and with us.
In 1625, Nicholas Ferrar and his mother Mary left London to found the Anglican community of Little Gidding. There, nestled in the drained fenlands of Huntingdonshire, the extended Ferrar family practiced a rigorous schedule of communal devotion: they prayed together in the chapel and sang psalms at appointed hours; children read aloud from Foxe's Book of Martyrs during meals; and, most remarkably, the women of the community spent every afternoon in an early modern makerspace, the Concordance Room, hacking religious books. Surrounded by scissors, thread, paste, loose metal type, ink, and a rolling press, Mary Collett Ferrar and her cousins chopped apart printed Bibles and engravings, then pasted these paper fragments back together into elaborate collages of text and image that remix, or "harmonize," the four gospels. Together, these thirteen cut-and-paste volumes — comprising perhaps the largest early modern archive of English women's bookwork — are collectively known as the Little Gidding Harmonies, and they are the subject of my digital monograph, "Cut/Copy/Paste: Echoes of Little Gidding."
By knitting together documentary materials and critical interpretation, "Cut/Copy/Paste" argues that the women of Little Gidding invent their cut-up method of composition — their "new kind of printing" — as a proto-feminist hack of printing technologies. In the collaborative space of the Concordance Room, Mary Collett Ferrar, Anna Collett, and their female relatives apply their knowledge of women's domestic "handiwork" with needles and scissors to the process of composing, imposing, and binding a text. The result of their labors is a navigationally complex platform capable of materially synthesizing the doctrinal tensions of the period. Thus the Harmonies witness the Ferrar women's innovative technical solution to the specific sociopolitical problem of religious factionalism. As a potential solution, their technology fails. Within two decades, the English Civil War would erupt, effectively dissolving Little Gidding. As an experimental book-hack, though, their cut-up method has a much longer, if discontinuous, history, as time and again readers have rediscovered in it a space for feminist innovation within a patriarchal publishing culture. The formal innovations of this digital monograph participate in this history.
Funded generously by the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Soundbox Project (2012-2015) brought together artists and scholars working in the emerging field of digital sound studies with the goal of amplifying scholarly practice. Soundbox culminated with the publication of Provoke! Digital Sound Studies, a web collection of sonic scholarship. An accompanying print collection of critical essays is forthcoming from Duke University Press.
"Destroying the Book to Come," keynote for Re:Humanities, an undergraduate symposium on digital media hosted by Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, April 2015)
"Short-circuiting the Hardware of History," Return to the Material conference, Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Kansas (September 2013)
"The Cutting-Edge Technology of Paper Dissections and Paste Anatomies," at the Animated Anatomies Symposium, Duke University (April 18, 2011)
"The Book Rebels: Flap Anatomies, Fore-edge Paintings, & Other Acts of Digital Resistance," HUMlab, Umeå University (Umeå, Sweden, May 2011)
"Isabella Whitney's Slips: Textile Labor Gendered Authorship, and the Early Modern Miscellany," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 45.3 (Fall 2015).
In A Sweet Nosgay (1573), Isabella Whitney restructures humanist notions of reading-as-gathering around "huswifely" textile work by drawing on the rich semantic context of the word slip. Situating her work in the material culture from which she drew her metaphors illuminates its relationship to a range of Elizabethan verse miscellanies and demonstrates her innovation within the genre as a woman.
"Circuit-Bending History: Sketches Toward a Schematic for Digital Humanities," in Between Humanities and the Digital, ed. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015).
This chapter points to a few directions for developing methods in media archaeology within digital humanities.
"A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: The Case of English Reprints Jhon Milton Areopagitica," Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013). Recipient of the 2015 Fredson Bowers Memorial Prize from the Society for Textual Scholarship.
Through a case study of public domain editions of Milton's Areopagitica, this article explores how the zombie-like revitalization of earlier texts through print-on-demand facsimile reprints is challenging us to broaden our understanding of the nature of digital textuality, especially as it pertains to electronic editing.
"Plant → animal → book: Magnifying a microhistory of media circuits," postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3.1 (Spring 2012). Also published as a digital essay.
This article and its accompanying webtext explore how medieval zoophytes — marvels like the vegetable lamb and the barnacle goose tree — spurred early modern experiments in comparative anatomy, and how bibliographic tropes came to mediate these plant-animal comparisons. The digital portion invites readers to share in the archival discovery process.
"Media Matters: Vanishing Transliteracies in Beowulf and Samuel Pepys' Diary," co-authored with Martin K. Foys, in Textual Culture, Cultural Texts, 1000-2010, ed. Elaine Treharne and Orietta Da Rold (Rochester, NY: Boydell and Brewer, 2010), pp. 75-120.
What is Digital Writing?, a podcast series co-produced with Kelly Goyette.
This series explores the changing nature of writing in the age of social media through a series of interviews with Duke University students and alumni. It was funded by the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University.
"Narrative Multiplicities + Pack Media: re-reading the reader into Dracula," Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures 08 (Spring 2011).
This experiment in creative criticism uses digital media to interrogate the packs of wolves prowling along the periphery of Bram Stoker's Dracula. While commonly taken as one of the first novels to document the anxieties of "mass media," Dracula is not about masses but multiplicities: that is, it does not set up a one-to-many system of communication but networks of contagion that infect its own narrative structure. It turns its readers into vampires.
Computers, Cut-ups, and Combinatory Volvelles: An Archaeology of Text-generating Mechanisms, a master's thesis submitted to the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT (May 2009).
An archaeology of text-generating mechanisms from seventeenth-century baroque volvelles to digital poetry, designed as a combinatory text-generating mechanism itself. A reflection on this work was published in Electronic Book Review, in the electro-poetics thread (June 2010).
This project began as an elaborate plan for a diagrammatic digital rendition of the Deleuze's Logic of Sense. When this idea collapsed under the weight of the author's ambitions, its rubble became the basis for a new project. The result is Gaffe/Stutter, a website and chapbook that, together, explore the shifting horizon of interpretation that divides reading from writing. Read more about the project here.
Stump Speech, a talking tree stump of dead media. It was made during a July 2011 residency at Elsewhere, a living museum and collaboratory in Greensboro, North Carolina, using books, magazines, records, sheet music, crafting manuals and other media objects from Elsewhere's collection. Visitors may send the stump a question via text message and receive a response pulled from the books that compose it. Designed in collaboration with Nicholas Bruns.
Bibliography, a city built of books. Installed in the storefront of the old Teermark Building in downtown Durham, Spring 2012, as part of the Durham Storefront Project.
Read a blog post about this project here.
"Speaking of Rivers," SpringGun Press 3 (Fall 2010). Co-authored with Jonathan Peter Moore.
A detournement of the archive of sound, video, poetic and critical responses to Langston Hughes' canonical poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
This poem reimagines — reanimates — a quote from Mallarmé on the materiality of reading/writing: the light/dark, dawn/twilight of ink-on-paper artifacts versus liquid-crystal screens.