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The Sound of Publich Humanities and its Oscillatory Accessibility

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    Lisa Marie Rhody

    Hi everyone,

    I wanted to direct your attention to an upcoming event at the University of Maryland that will be livestreamed.  \”The Sound of Public Humanities and its Oscillatory Accessibility\” presented by Setsuko Yokoyama, a PhD candidate in English. I offer a snippet of the abstract below, but you can read more here:

    Best wishes,



    Setsuko YokoyamaPh.D. CandidateUniversity of Maryland@setsukoyokoyama

    The Sound of Public Humanities and its Oscillatory Accessibility

    MITH Conference Room Tuesday, October 1, 2019, 12:30 pm

    Livestream link:

    In 1913, Robert Frost declared his aim to “be a poet for all sorts and kinds.” By and large, Frost remains one of the beloved American poets, who many of us encounter in K-12 education and in anthologies around the world. Indeed, Frost’s ur-mission statement has driven my own efforts to develop an open-access public platform for his 21st-century audiences through critical collaboration with Frost scholars, special collections librarians, Frost family members and friends, as well as the poet’s literary estate.

    A closer look at reception histories of the sound of Frost’s poetry, however, sheds light on the exploit around the notion of Frost’s perceived accessibility. Early in his career, Frost envisioned of becoming a popular poet—rather than elitist—by writing in vernacular language and focusing on what he believed was universal: emotional truths reflected in the tone of speech. Frost’s effort to communicate the eloquence of the vernacular, however, was not immediately successful because of existing biases against the setting of his poetry: rural New England. His contemporary literary critics characterized Frost’s diction in pathologized terms and credited him—as far as critics’ understanding went—for rightly capturing the village-speak, a testimony to a backward and unsophisticated region. Paradoxically enough, later in his career, the same sound of poetry lent itself to a xenophobic, remedial speech science as elocutionists upheld it as the ideal standard American English that Chinese immigrant students should study. While Frost had initially been comfortable with, lenient enough with, or even benefitted from his critics and those teachers who taught his work projecting what they wished his works to sound like, such misapprehensions were consequential to groups of people who were historically on the receiving end of prejudices against their accents, regional dialects, and the tone of voice critics and teachers loved to hate.

    “The Sound of Public Humanities and its Oscillatory Accessibility” details my editorial efforts to historicize our listening practices and to mitigate reproduction of such historical biases against class, race, abilities, and national origin seen in Frost’s reception histories. Additionally, and in anticipation of digitally enabled sound analyses the online audio edition of Frost’s public performances may spur, I will share my precautions and curatorial resistance against the inherently reductive computational text analysis procedures. I ask to what end a certain level of abstraction—another mode of exploit enabled by technical accessibility—might be warranted in exchange for larger statistical insights, especially when the socio-historical contexts of Frost’s sound of poetry speak volumes about the kinds of violence limiting interpretations can enact.

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