The Women Who Mapped the Universe (you probably haven’t heard of them)

the women who mapped the universe - the harvard computers
In 1873, a doctor and Harvard professor wrote that “A woman’s body could only handle a limited number of developmental tasks at one time—that girls who spent to much energy developing their minds during puberty would end up with undeveloped or diseased reproductive systems.” It was not satire.

His advice was promptly and thoroughly ignored by women’s colleges of the time, where women were encouraged to study the sciences. Unfortunately, women’s colleges were still largely underfunded. They sometimes needed to pair with other colleges for support. It was in one of these pairings that the ‘Harvard Computers’ were formed.

The ‘Harvard Computers’ were a group of women mapping the universe as a team lead by Williamina Fleming – a maid for Edward Pickering. She ended up in the position after Pickering fired his incompetent male assistant. The ‘Harvard Computers’ are still not well known, rarely being recognized in history or science books… but at least they’re (mostly) not referred to as ‘Pickering’s Harem’ anymore. To find out more about these underappreciated scientists, check out the Smithsonian’s blog post on the topic.

The Big Book of Online Trolling

the big book of online entitlement
Our digital world isn’t confined to just the digital anymore. Kickstarters, secret santas, and online political movements all bleed into our physical spaces. And internet culture is pervasive, even offline. People will actually say ‘I can has?’ or imitate a ‘doge’ in casual conversation. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is likely all perspective, but like any culture, there are positive and negative aspects. Tumblr user LiarTownUSA explores some of these negative aspects in a way that mimics real physical artifacts with their series of mock-up book covers.

Math Keeps You Warm at Night

adventure time - mathematical!

Knitting. Baby blankets, cozy scarfs for every Christmas, and great aunts sitting on the couch next to a pile of pastel yarn.

Coding. Zeros and ones, faces lit only by the light of a computer screen, and your socially awkward cousin trying to stammer his way out of a conversation that will surely end with him fixing Grandma’s computer.

This association game would give you the impression that knitting and computer programing have nothing in common. That would be a false impression. Computer programming and knitting actually go way back – some of the first programmers followed a process strikingly similar to way weaving patterns were made, using card stock and hole punches. This makes a lot of sense, considering that early computers were inspired by looms.

Knitting and coding are both very mathematical at heart. They are pattern focused, often instruction based, and they build line-by-line. The differences between the two are obvious, naturally, with the two processes attracting different audiences, using different tools, and ending with very different results. These differences, however, can end up being beneficial. Knitting offers a way for participants to develop their fine motor skills, and the fact that it works in a physical space allows for a different kind of learning.

Plus, even if the direct skills aren’t transferable between the two fields, the way of thinking can transcend the tools and space to really bring out the best of both worlds. For more on the topic, take a look at the article by MindShift, or the original essay by Dr. Karen Shoop.

Professional Writing Study Abroad: London & Paris


If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, this study abroad is for you. Professors Jeff Grabill and Liza Potts are heading two programs in London and Paris next summer and the study abroad sounds like a truly unforgettable trip.

Explore the streets of London and take a stroll through the museums of Paris. Work with professionals at esteemed companies and produce writing for the public. Express your condolences at the tunnel where Princess Diana died and visit the resting places of James Morrison and Oscar Wilde. Search for the infamous TARDIS from Doctor Who and take your turn at Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. Attach your love lock to the bridge at Pont de l’Archevêché or check out the Sherlock Holmes museum. Delve into the heart and culture of London and Paris and discover yourself.

Sounds good, right? Now, the programs will overlap for two weeks in London, but don’t panic, students can go on either trip or both without complication.

urban // rhetoric // cosmopolitan // learning


London: Designing Communication Experiences is the program led by Grabill (with one course team-taught with Liza Potts). The program will be a total of 5 weeks starting June 9 and ending July 11 of summer 2014. The focus of this program centers around “designing communication experiences” and it ties in really well with Potts’ program of participation in terms of communication experiences. Students will be asked to think about Professional Writing as “the creation of experiences for people.” To create an experience requires creativity, design thinking, and rhetorical theory and can be applied to writing practices such as computer interfaces, document and book design, and storytelling. Students will be enrolled in WRA 308: Invention in Writing (3 credits) where they will think about creativity, experience, and design. The other course is WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities (3 credits, this is where Potts’ program overlaps), which involves learning how to research how writing works in public spaces.

“I worry students have an overly narrow understanding of what they can do with our degree,” Grabill said. Through this program, he hopes to expand the career possibilities for students and really challenge them academically and personally. The students are going to be doing a lot of identity work, asking the big questions like “Who am I?”, “What can I do?”, “What is my place in this world?”, and “How can this major and this university help me get to where I want to be in the future?” Grabill wants to use this study abroad to help students achieve and experience things that they can’t on MSU’s campus.

Grabill contacted several companies and organizations in London to provide students on this study abroad with various learning and internship opportunities. He mentioned Avanade, “a joint-venture of Accenture and Microsoft”, which provides business technology services, and Tobias & Tobias, a user experience company that design various multimedia software and applications for organizations. Among many other groups, he talked briefly about Guerilla Science, a group that performs pop-up science events all over London with the goal to educate and engage the general public in basic chemistry and physics. Students are encouraged to get involved, as these learning opportunities are an integral part of the study abroad experience as a whole.

Grabill also explained that not only is this study abroad the least expensive London-based Study Abroad offered next year, but it will provide a sneak preview of what faculty are imagining future courses will look like for Professional Writing.

digital // memory // participation // fans

Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris
Writing on the bridge above the tunnel where Princess Diana died in Paris

Creativity and Innovation for Participatory Memory Across London and Paris is Potts’ program, a 4-week trip next summer starting in London on June 25 and ending in Paris on July 25. This program will focus primarily on Potts’ research in Participatory Memory: how do people participate in everyday memory making? How do they turn public spaces into memory making stations? How do we help the memories live on even after they’re torn down?

Students will delve into these questions by exploring physical memory spaces such as the previously mentioned tunnel where Princess Diana died, cemeteries where literary and musical icons are buried, and fan favorite spots for the Potterheads, Whovians, and Sherlockians. Since Potts has many strong contacts and connections to museums in London, there will also be evaluations of museum experiences such as how they incorporate participation and communication into a visit. By being in these places, students can discuss methods to save and digitize those moments and participate in memory capture.

Potts will be teaching WRA 330: Writing Research in Communities and Cultures (3 credits) at this point in the study abroad and it will address rhetorical and creativity theory as well as design thinking. The second course will be WRA 499: Participatory Memory Research, which will aim to digitally publicize the participation of memory.

Professional Writing majors possess a broad range of important skill sets that will help them thrive on this study abroad. In this regard, Potts’ said, “Our foundation in rhetoric as writers, we have an understanding of persuasion and audience and appropriateness and delivery. We have sort of this obsession with the context in which you write and create experiences, the content you create and the form that it takes.” This will be especially important on this study abroad with the combination of technology and public writing in the documentation of participatory memory.

It’s never too early to think about your plans for summer 2014!