Artisanal Writing Sold Here

Today’s NY Times asks, “Tinkering with ChatGPT, Workers Wonder: Will This Take My Job?”

The answer is, “Well, yes, probably, if you do certain kinds of writing for a living”:

“One team of researchers ran an analysis showing the industries and occupations that are most exposed to artificial intelligence, based on a model adjusted for generative language tools. Topping the list were college humanities professors, legal services providers, insurance agents and telemarketers. “

A few quick questions:

  1. The least creative and least interesting part of writing is editing someone else’s stuff and sometimes our own. Programs like Grantable (mentioned in the article) can already generate writing for review, but with the amount of boilerplate language needed, wouldn’t it be even more boring to work through something that you didn’t write?
  2. Although ChatGPT will cut down on grammatical errors, how satisfying will it be to read, review, and (unless you’re an ungrading professor) grade student projects? Right now, there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that you and the student are exchanging ideas and that there’s a mind behind both sides of the equation.
  3. Will it seem useful or pointless to suggest creative ideas for improvement knowing that, instead of thinking about them, the student may run them through another ChatGPT loop and “improve” the paper that way? And if it does improve the paper, who (or what) should receive the credit for the improvement?
  4. Writing assessment software has been around for years and has been (last I checked) found wanting if not positively unethical by writing teachers. With the vast improvements of ChatGPT, will it be used for assessment?
  5. If students are using ChatGPT to write essays and teachers use some variant of that to assess them, then what are we doing here except batting software-written writing back and forth as if playing a giant game of Pong?

There’s a real market for organic, locally sourced, artisanal, responsibly farmed, non-animal-tested, non-GMO, etc. etc. goods in the marketplace.

Will we also see signs saying “No ChatGPT was used in the production of this book; it is the result of human hand and brain labor” and “Artisanal Writing Sold Here”? I’m kidding but curious to see what happens.

Update to Workflow for Research Archives

Here’s a short list updating the Workflow for Research Archives post. For my work on Edith Wharton, I’ve mostly visited the Beinecke Library, the Lilly Library, and the Charles Scribner’s Sons Archive, but these would apply to other places, too.

  1. Contact the archive ahead of time to see if the collections you need will be available. The web site will usually indicate if there are any restrictions, but it’s good to check.
  2. Study the online catalogue and materials before you go. You may need to order materials ahead of time.
  3. Find out the library’s policy on taking pictures; some have limits of a certain number per day or per visit. (The Beinecke Library doesn’t.)
  4. Save the Finding Aid, print it out, and take it with you. If you’re allowed to take printed matter in with you, you can note what you’re ordering right on the Finding Aid, which saves time.
  5. I still say that taking photographs at the archive rather than trying to capture the images to .pdf with ScannerPro or a similar app will save time in the long run. When you get back to your room after the archive closes, you can convert the images to .pdf easily. If you have a Mac: (1) Open Preview; (2) Open the pictures and rotate until they’re readable; (3) Select all and save them; (4) Select all and Print to PDF. This usually makes a smaller file than Export to PDF; I don’t know why.
  6. The research notebook you keep will be really important, since things will occur to you at the time that you won’t recall later. Does the writer refer to letters that should logically be there but aren’t in the archive? What’s the thread of conversation that’s happening in these letters? Does the material remind you of some other work by the author? Those impressions can be valuable later.

Tropy worked well for transcribing shorter materials, but it didn’t work with Dropbox, which was a limitation.

First edition of The House of Mirth: A Literary/Bibliographical Mystery

Copies of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
Figure 1. Left to right, upper row: Garrison’s bibliography, 1936 OUP 2nd edition of HM, book census; bottom row, L to R: 1st/2d Macmillan printing, 1st/2d–or is it 1st/1st?–of HM.

Back in 2016 or so, when I first started collecting printings for a critical edition of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, I learned to rely on the bibliography bible for her printings and editions: Stephen Garrison’s Edith Wharton: A Descriptive Bibliography (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990), which is a magnificent resource. My colleagues and I at the Complete Works of Edith Wharton (CWEWh) project rely on it and refer to it all the time. You can see a copy of it in the upper left of the photo.

First, a little about the process (if you want to know what the mystery is, skip this list):

  1. In preparing for the edition, I knew I needed to gather as many printings and lifetime editions, including serial versions, as possible, so I made a “census” based on Garrison. That’s the first page of the census in the upper right of the photo; the highlighted items are ones that I have, either in print or photographic or .pdf form.
  2. I also traveled to Wharton’s archives and looked first hand at the manuscripts and letters (at the Beinecke Library), partial galley proofs and letters from EW to her publishers (Princeton), and first edition/first printing that Garrison described (Lilly Library, Indiana University) as well as more diaries and letters; I also photographed EW’s own copy of the book at The Mount. I took photographs, consulted with librarians, and so on.
  3. I collected as many printings as possible, using Garrison’s taxonomy. The ones you see above are from a second collation of some of the British printings of The House of Mirth; there are others on the computer screen that you can’t see.
    • A.12.1.a (Scribner’s, 1905): copy-text (photos and print)
    • A.12.2.a (Macmillan, 1905): 1st edition, 1st printing from the British Library (photos)
    • A.12.2.b (Macmillan, 1905): 1st edition, 2d printing (November 1905)(print)
    • A.12.2.e (Macmillan, 1906): 1st edition, 5th printing (May 1906) (.pdf  from HathiTrust)
    • A.12.4 (Oxford U P, 1936): 2d British edition (print)

There’s much more to it than this, and I could go on about this for days, since it’s of passionate interest to me–but, since it’s of less interest to others, I’m guessing, I’ll cut to the chase and summarize the mystery.

The Mystery

Figure 2. Would you like to cross Mrs. Wharton in the matter of typography or book style? Didn’t think so.

Edith Wharton: A Descriptive Bibliography lists a true first/first as being on laid paper with no ads on pp. 535-538, giving as the source the copy at the Lilly Library. A first edition, second printing is on laid paper with ads on pp. 535-538. The changing ads are a whole story in themselves, but what’s important here is that they exist.

Here’s the mystery: since 2016, I’ve searched for what that bibliography defined as a first edition/first printing of The House of Mirth, querying research librarians, booksellers, other scholars, and so on. I have never found one, not ever. The one at the Lilly cited in EW:ADB (confirmed by a librarian) is not on laid paper.

I’m starting to think that the first edition/first printing is the one with the ads.


The Evidence

  1. First point of evidence: The illustrations. As you might expect, Edith Wharton was as famously exacting about the appearance, typography, illustrations, and the rest of the apparatus of book creation as she was about getting the details right in her prose. She wrote letters to her publishers (at this point, Charles Scribner’s Sons) about preferring British to American spelling, about the appearance of the book, about how many ellipses should be included–everything.

Figure 3. Show of hands: who thinks that A.B. Wenzell more or less “recycled” his illustrations for Van Tassel Sutphen’s The Fortune-Hunter (above) (1904) for #EdithWharton‘s The House of Mirth (1905)?

Wharton hated the illustrations for The House of Mirth. Hated them. Tore them out, in fact.

She hated the illustrations so much that we assume she tore them out of the two copies we know she had her hands on and crossed out Wenzell’s name:

  1. The copy that she gave to her friend and sister-in-law, Mary (Minnie) Cadwalader Jones on October 14, 1905 (at the Beinecke Library)

2. The copy in her personal library at The Mount.

2. Second point of evidence: Both of these copies have laid paper and the ads on pp. 535-538. This would mark them as first edition, second printings according to Edith Wharton: A Descriptive Bibliography, yet these are Wharton’s own signed copies.


  1. The first printing ran to thousands of copies. Hermione Lee reports that “it sold 30,000 copies in the first three weeks of publication” (159), and Wharton reported on 11 November 1905 “20,000 more of H of M printing” (qtd. in Lee 206). Assuming generously that the first printing was 10,000 copies (if the 20,000 copies on November 11 were the second printing), how likely is it that the entire first printing of 10,000 copies would have vanished without being preserved in a library somewhere in the laid paper/no ads version, if queries to libraries, etc., have failed to turn up even one?
  2. Did you notice the date on the first example? October 14, 1905, was the date of the first American book publication of The House of Mirth. How likely is it that Wharton herself would have been given a second printing on the first day of publication when there were first edition/first printings available?
  3. Would Charles Scribner’s Sons have sent Edith Wharton a second printing on the first day of publication to give to her dear friend and sister-in-law?
  4. How likely is it that Wharton would have kept for herself a second printing of her first bestseller?
  5. How likely is it that everyone at Scribner’s would not have been subjected to a scathing letter if they’d sent her a second instead of a first printing?

You can guess by now what my solution to the mystery would be; I’d love to hear your thoughts, though.

Updates to Wharton, Howells, and Crane Bibliographies

Today has been spent in updating bibliographies and trying to figure out whether the W. D. Howells Society (of which I’m the webweaver) still exists. Stay tuned!

The bibliographies at the Wharton, Howells, and Crane Society sites have been updated:

Edith Wharton Society:

W. D. Howells Society:

Stephen Crane Society:

“Falling Stories: Cinematic Naturalism and Disability in Frank Norris’s and Stephen Crane’s City Sketches” (American Literary Realism, 55, 2, Winter 2023: 95-118)

“Falling Stories: Cinematic Naturalism and Disability in Frank Norris’s and Stephen Crane’s City Sketches”

Excerpt: As part of their orientation toward the visual arts, Norris and Crane adopted fictional techniques that parallel and anticipate the techniques of early cinema, including their handling of multiple perspectives and points of view, close-ups of significant details, and evocative intercutting among scenes and episodes.6 In several of their city sketches, Crane and Norris focus on short episodes that might be called “falling stories,” scenes of persons falling into [End Page 95] helplessness or uncontrolled actions in the presence of a crowd of spectators that witness but do not aid the stricken individual.

What the falling stories record is the crowd’s response to a private act that disorders public space by blurring the boundaries between public and private. The falling story occasioned by sudden disability upsets the implicit social contract that in the nineteenth century defined those with disabilities as possessing not only fewer implicit rights to be in the public sphere but also fewer explicit legal rights to be visible there. By returning the gaze, the person who has fallen challenges the strict demarcation between public and private, visible and hidden, and physical health and disability.

Falling stories signify larger naturalistic issues of human agency and the powerful forces aligned against the individual, yet the visual exchange between spectators and the fallen subject more specifically raises the issue of disability in naturalism, a literary form that traditionally valorizes strength. In Norris’ falling stories, such as “Little Dramas of the Curbstone,” the narrator exhibits what Christophe Den Tandt has called the “hypnotic fascination” of “the untotalizable urban scene,” a mesmeric state that “acts as an exacerbated avatar of the flâneur’s gaze, as Walter Benjamin describes it.”7 Transfixed by the spectacle, the narrator does not act on the violent impulses that the state of helpless victims evokes in him but is in turn paralyzed by his fantasies. Moving past the “hypnotic fascination,” characters in “The Associated Un-Charities” and Vandover and the Brute (1914) find amusement by inflicting humiliation on their unresisting victims, actions that reinscribe their performance of white male masculinity as normative.

In contrast, Crane’s sketches “In the Depths of a Coal Mine,” “The Men in the Storm,” “When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers,” and “An Eloquence of Grief” mark the critical break between the ordinary and extraordinary that occurs when a person falls, thus dividing a public space between a spectacle of disability and a crowd of spectators. Crane’s critique of spectatorship enters the picture when crowds become destabilized at the sight of the disabled body, often a person differentiated by race, ethnicity, or gender from the presumably white male narrative persona or camera eye. The sudden collapse renders the…

Twitter and the Elephant

Update—the TL;dr version I posted to Twitter this morning: The elephant has many more posts about serious “must read” articles and far too few pictures of cute dogs and baby otters, so we obviously need both. It’s more like church, where this place is like a county fair midway.

As all the world knows, Elon Musk has taken over Twitter and is doing his level best to do what Scipio Africanus allegedly did to Carthage in 146 B.C.E.: lay waste to the place and sow salt on the grounds so nothing would grow there again. Elon might have his way, after exiting about 80 % of Twitter employees, but for now it limps along despite his attempts to destroy it.

A lot of influential Twitter people said they’d leave if Musk took over, with some confessing their secrets and favorite tweets, but I’m taking more of the view of Michael Bolton in Office Space, who’s exasperated when everyone asks him about having the same name:

Samir: Hmm… well, why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?

Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.

So, since I’m not going to leave right now, some thoughts:

Have I noticed changes? Yes and no.

Yes, I get a lot more promoted links for causes and political views that nothing on my timeline has invited Twitter’s algorithm to promote. Delete, block, and move on.

No, because so far my tiny corner of Twitter–mostly academics in the humanities–and my even tinier place in it is too insignificant to rate any kind of attention.

The real point is that I’ve learned so much from Twitter that I’m loath to give it up–information that I didn’t know I needed, from other disciplines that usually we don’t get to interact with in such an informal way. We can follow research libraries–who knew that #ArchivesSparkle and #ArchivesHashtagParty was a thing? And let’s not forget WeRateDogs and other fun accounts.

Now for the elephant: Mastodon, which Wikipedia defines as a “free and open-source software for running self-hosted social networking services. It has microblogging features similar to the Twitter service.” It seems to be a series of connected servers where you can sign up for an account if they’re not full yet. I’m at but can see the posts from other servers by switching from the local to the global tab.

Is there a difference? So far, yes–I’m following people as I find them, but it’s not always easy. The posts I’m seeing tend to be more–serious?–but maybe that’s just because everyone is getting used to it. This place so far has a different voice, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with it.

Making Movie Clips with VLC Player

I made this presentation for class, but I recently needed to use it to refresh my memory.

Lo and behold, Dropbox now renders all saved PowerPoint files as empty presentations, and its workaround doesn’t work. You have to go in and download the presentations individually.

Since the entire point of Dropbox is to be able to access your files on every computer when you want to, this seems a massive failure to me.

But here’s how to make clips for classroom use using VLC Player (below). Remember, this is just my experience; you might have a better way, and I’d welcome hearing about it. I’m posting this in case it would help you as it has helped me.

Using Zoom on the desktop and PowerPoint on the iPad: a game-changer for making my class videos

This week, I figured out how to write on PowerPoint slides with the Apple pencil and record that in Zoom. You classroom tech wizards can skip this post because you doubtless have a far better solution, but this one was a game-changer for me. I’m writing it down for two reasons (1) possibly to help those teaching online who aren’t tech wizards with an easy method to mark up and record their lectures and (2) so I don’t forget how to do this.

Background: Last year, WSU moved from Blackboard to Canvas, which includes Panopto as a video capture suite. I dutifully took the several weeks of training in all this from WSU’s office of AOI (Academic Outreach and Innovation), but I ran into a roadblock when trying to record with Panopto. I could never trust that it would actually show just the PowerPoint, as I told it to, and when it did show the PowerPoint, it would only show the speaker’s view. AOI couldn’t solve it, and neither could I, so I went to plan B.

Plan B was Zoom, which does a great job of recording PowerPoint and a tiny picture of me in the corner, so the students know that I exist and am not exclusively, or even primarily, a disembodied voice. Here’s the process:

  1. Open a Zoom meeting. Click on Share Screen, and go to the three dots that indicate more settings. Click on Record on this Computer. Note: I learned to share screen before I started recording after recording a lot of videos that began with my large concerned face clicking around to share after the recording started.

2. After you record the lecture, stop recording, end the meeting, and navigate to where the recording is on your computer. On mine, it goes to the Documents – Zoom folder. I don’t edit it because (1) I don’t have time and (2) I hate those videos where every pause is edited out, leaving the viewer gasping for breath.

3. Once the .mp4 recording is available, upload it to Panopto – Upload Media.

3. This will take a little while. After it’s uploaded and ready, click on Edit. Edit allows you to turn on Smart Chapters (based on the titles of your PowerPoint slides) and also to generate Automatic Captions. You can then Share the video link in other places in the Canvas course space (Modules).

4. The captions and so on will take a little while to render, but that’s basically it.

Now here is the game-changer part:

When I was recording with Zoom and using PowerPoint on my desktop, I could annotate slides using the Zoom tool. But if you use the Zoom annotation tool, the annotations hang there on all the subsequent slides like decorations on a Christmas tree, unless you remember to clear them for each slide. By the end slide, the whole thing looks like a Jackson Pollock.

This latter task assumes that you can juggle four things at once–Zoom, the annotation tool, the turn-off-the-annotation tool, and your brain. It also assumes the mouse will click on these instead of balking and sulking in a corner somewhere.

Enter the iPad! If you bring up the PowerPoint on an iPad and use an Apple pencil for annotations, these problems disappear.

  1. Connect the iPad to your desktop or laptop computer. I use a cable, since it’s usually more stable than AirPlay, but you could also use AirPlay.
  2. Open a Zoom meeting, click on Share Screen, and choose iPhone/iPad via Cable.
  3. Open the presentation in PowerPoint on the iPad and select Draw. Make sure the Apple pencil is already connected via Bluetooth.
  4. Go to Slide Show – Start and begin your lecture. You can use the Apple pencil to write things (much easier than manipulating a mouse), circle, cross out, and otherwise use the kinds of emphasis and explanations available when you’re writing on a whiteboard in a physical classroom.

Best of all, once you’re finished recording and are closing the PowerPoint on the iPad, it asks you whether you want to preserve the annotations. I always say “No, in thunder,” but you could choose to keep them.

Would a whiteboard feature be easier? Maybe. I’ve tried whiteboard features like Google Jamboard but couldn’t get them to do what I wanted; also, Jamboard tended to snap itself shut at odd moments. Trusty old PowerPoint won’t quit, and it is wonderful for annotating and discussing text when you’re doing close reading.

Would a document camera be easier? I sometimes use a little inSwan USB Document Camera that I bought for teaching from home at the beginning of the pandemic, which does a good job of showing actual books. But to use that for close reading and discussing texts means switching the camera view in Zoom in the middle of the video, and it’s not necessary if you have the text already typed in to PowerPoint.

inSwan Document Camera with Documate.

So, in short: this method is easy, reliable, and fun. I can’t ask for more than that from a tool for teaching.

Teaching Online: Everybody Has a Voice, and Everybody Gets a Response

Here’s one of the things I like best about teaching online: everybody has a
voice, and everybody gets a response.

That’s not a new idea; a lot of people, including me, have thought and
written about this for years.

But in thinking about online teaching this morning as part of my daily
love/hate meditation about Canvas, this is what struck me:

When students write in the Discussion Board, and you respond to them with
encouraging comments and questions, it’s the only place where that specific
kind of interaction happens.

Think about it: in a face-to-face class, you have the dynamic
of calling on students who raise their hands while encouraging those who don’t
to participate. Often you can do this through various kinds of class exercises,
but one technique could be somewhat stressful for students: calling on them to
answer a question that you’ve asked.

Sometimes this gives them a chance to shine, especially if
you can see that they have something to say but seem to be holding back. In-person
teaching is an exercise in constantly reading the room, looking to see how you
can engage everyone, so this can work. But what if the student is tired, not
feeling well, didn’t read the assignment, or is otherwise giving off signals
about not being called on? And what if this happens a lot, so you can’t draw
them out?

In a Discussion Board, though, the students’ thoughts are already
there. You don’t have to put them on the spot. You can just listen and then reply—not
with a grade, or criticism, but with encouragement and specificity. I can’t
respond to everyone every week, but I can systematically reply to everyone over the course of two weeks.

What I like about responding in the Discussion Board is that
there’s no upvoting (I guess Canvas has this—whoever knows with Canvas?—but it’s
not turned on) and that this is spontaneous; I’m writing with my voice rather
than with teacher voice.

WSU’s Global Campus, which runs all the online classes, mandates
that everything except student office hours is asynchronous—that is, I can’t do
lectures or hold any sort of group meetings. Yet there’s an immediacy to responding
in the Discussion Board that approximates what happens in a face-to-face class.

This is extra work, in a way; the Discussion Board posts
still have to be assigned points at the end. I still think it’s worth it.

Edith Wharton’s The Book of the Homeless (1916) and Fighting France: Pictures for Veterans’ Day

Fighting France

As is well known, Edith Wharton put her tireless energies to work for her adopted country of France during World War I (1914-1918), founding and running charities, organizing her wealthy friends to support her efforts, and writing essays from the front that were published in Scribner’s Magazine and later collected as Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belport [misprint for Belfort] (1915). For this service, she was later awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government.

Wharton’s biographers (R. W. B. Lewis, Shari Benstock, Hermione Lee) have written about Wharton’s war efforts; for more specific information see Alan Price’s The End of the Age of Innocence, Julie Olin-Ammentorp’s Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War, and Alice Kelly’s recent edition of Fighting France.

The Book of the Homeless was organized and edited by Wharton to raise money for the American Hostels for Refugees. For Veterans’ Day, here are a few pictures from that volume. It’s a veritable Who’s Who of artists (Bakst, Blanch, Monet, Renoir, Rodin, Sargent, etc.), musicians and performers (Stravinsky, Sarah Bernhardt), and writers (Cocteau, John Galsworthy, Rupert Brooke, Thomas Hardy, W. D. Howells, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course Wharton herself).

These pictures are from my copy of The Book of the Homeless, but you can see the entire volume at