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The visual appearance of most scripts fits basic constraints of the human visual system, thus facilitating the perception and processing of letters. For example, cardinals horizontal and vertical lines , which our brains perceive more fluently than oblique lines, are also more numerous Morin The idea that cultural inventions like writing need to adapt to basic cognitive constraints has currency among cognitive scientists and anthropologists, but the cultural evolution of this phenomenon is poorly known.
We know a great deal about what makes shapes easy or difficult for human vision to process. Complex shapes, with a high ratio of contour to surface, take more time to process and tend to have less appeal than simple ones. Letters like O or C are simpler than W or Q in this sense. Cardinal straight lines horizontals and verticals, as in H or E are processed more fluently than oblique ones as in W or X.
The scripts used by the writing systems of the world must weigh these demands of visual simplicity against the need to encode large quantities of information which overly simple or uniform shapes cannot do. Finding an optimal balance between informativeness and simplicity is a difficult task, for which a gradual and protracted process of cultural evolution might be needed.
We study the ways in which various literate cultures have solved this problem, and we ask whether the last three millennia have seen global improvements in this regard. This research yields two kinds of results.
Investigating Names to Explore Personal History and Cultural Traditions - ReadWriteThink
First, we validate laboratory results for the first time outside the lab: we show that the psychophysical biases documented experimentally have real cultural consequences. Second, we contribute to the budding field of cultural evolution by putting its hypotheses to the test: our work on the evolution of cardinal lines within letters addressed the question whether cognitively appealing cultural forms need a protracted evolutionary process to arise.
This research is part of a broader attempt to integrate the methods of cultural history with those of experimental psychology. Our ongoing work on the evolution of the Vai syllabary of Liberia exemplifies this. Lead by Piers Kelly, an expert on contemporary invented scripts who has documented first hand the complex Eskaya writing system and its associated invented language Kelly , our Vai project started with the construction of a dataset documenting the shape of Vai letters in the various historical stages that the syllabary went through.
The team then applied a variety of compression algorithms, verifying our prediction that Vai letters became simpler in the course of their years evolution. A project lead by Helena Miton asks the same question on a larger scale.
Investigating Names to Explore Personal History and Cultural Traditions
It compares the visual complexity of letters in more than systems, using an expanded version of the database used in Morin , which allows us to consider phylogenetic relationships between writing systems, and to test for evolutionary trends. Humans are exceptionally good at inventing and learning communicative codes, especially spoken languages.
But graphic codes emerged rarely in human evolution, in contrast to the universality of language. Synchronous or face-to-face communication is grounded in interactional mechanisms such as turn-taking or repair, as well as pragmatic factors like common ground. In contrast, messengers and senders engaged in asynchronous communication have little common ground to share, and no opportunities to repair misunderstandings. Participants can only interact with one another via black and white symbols.
Their goal is to use these symbols to convey and distinguish between subtle shades of colours. One innovative aspect of our task is that participants do not receive direct feedback from the system about their performance. They can only use each other as guides, and can only guide each other by developing a graphic code from scratch. Studying the evolution of these dialects, we have assessed the impact of synchrony and asynchrony on the development of these codes.
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Research Traditions and History of Measurement
Skip to Bottom Navigation. Maintaining research traditions on place: diversity of thought and scientific progress. Description Since the s, numerous authors have expressed concerns about lack of conceptual clarity in research on place. Some authors suggest that place research has failed to evolve into a systematic and coherent body of knowledge.
We believe recent critiques do not adequately characterize the state of knowledge in place research, but responding to the issues raised requires investigating epistemological foundations of place research traditions.
Cultural Essay: Example of Ideas to Discuss
I mean, I remember going into Sears and Roebuck, colored and white, that was in Asheville. Uh, French Broad school was built to try to circumvent integration. But, uh, Asheville, was, it was a different town, different time. In talking with these students in my office, offering them a broader sense of the history Penland was referencing, a history he clearly assumed they knew, one of the students became emotionally touched. She had lived in this region her whole life, and all of this history was new to her.
Segregation separated the neighborhood from the rest of downtown Asheville, and it developed as an independent community. Residents had their own gardens, businesses, and churches within the neighborhood. He combines spoken word poetry, public art, history, and a walking neighborhood tour filling with storytelling in an effort to represent competing narratives for how and why the city has attempted to disenfranchise our African American communities.
Many of the neighborhoods directly impacted by road expansion projects, for instance, have constructed community gardens and thriving neighborhood associations to continue to press city officials to renew from within the community rather than by gentrifying it and tearing down their homes.
Exposure to such civic leadership models inspires students, no doubt, and enlarges their understanding of what students can do with a degree in writing.
Importantly, though, creative writing pedagogy has such agency, perhaps even responsibility, to engage more meaningfully in community equity work, to use creative inspiration as a catalyst for social change and the writing process as a location for social theory and mindfulness. Memory allows us to retrieve events in a non-linear fashion, and an active process that creates meanings within our experiences.
Oral history, then, is a method of studying meaning within memory, and it most often seeks out voices less represented in order to document a richer, fuller, and more inclusive history. With our research participants, then, our goal was not to re create narratives about historical events and places. Instead, I encouraged students to follow the lead of their participants, to give them space to name and elaborate on the most memorable and significant events of their life, and to not worry about piecing together stories beginning to end but, in their analysis of the transcripts, to look within the stories for character traits and points of view that humanized and enlarged their research participants.
Our project received Institutional Review Board clearance before the semester began, a process I completed without student assistance, though students wrote some of the protocol during class just to familiarize themselves with the procedure and ethics of working with human subjects. Students collaboratively brainstormed potential interview questions. Education, religion, politics, local and family traditions and public culture all influence the way the past is remembered and interpreted.
All of our research participants provided written consent to being audio recorded, and I mailed to each participant a thank you note along with their interview transcription, asking if they wanted to add or revise anything. None of our participants did. At the end of the project, I sent participants another thank you note and the twenty-nine page color booklet that we collaboratively produced, described in more detail below. In March, we began working with these five individuals ranging in age from 71 to 97 years, three white men two business owners and a firefighter , one African American woman community activist and homemaker , and one white woman homemaker.
We asked our research participants to suggest other informants who could speak from different racial and economic standpoints, and in this way we interviewed five additional participants, three women one seamstress, one homemaker, and one store worker; one who identified as African American and two as white and two men a business owner and a goods delivery driver; both of whom identified as African American.
Not all of the second wave of participants were willing to speak on the record or be published in our book. We interviewed nearly all of the participants more than once, and in a few instances more than one person interviewed the same participant. All students participated in at least one interview, and they were given the option of interviewing participants alone, with me, or with a classmate.
I interviewed three participants alone and sat in on three student interviews. The process of interviewing was a hurdle for most students, especially at first and especially for self-proclaimed introverted students. One student, for example, came to my office in tears because she feared she might have an anxiety attack during the interview process.
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These fears were real, and many oral historians face this same discomfort. This type of expansion, moving students into real world contexts and building confidence and capability through such discomforts, seems to be another reason for incorporating oral history into the creative writing workshop tradition. Students took walks with some participants through the residential streets surrounding the area, recently rezoned as industrial. We interviewed business owners, most of whom long ago retired, and we learned how they sustained and supported the local residents during times of economic strife.
This concept, first developed by Graham Dawson, represents the interplay of culture, language, and meaning in shaping public discourses of memory, discourses that are filtered through and shaped by popular culture films, television, newspaper articles, literature. For example, research narrators may find it difficult to speak about The Great Depression outside the dominant narratives of particular histories—we all stuck it out together.
Everyone struggled, that is for certain, but research participants remembered their struggle through a lens of the present, which could include a persistent blindness to racial inequalities. How could we include such blindness in a respectful way, not just to the participant but also to human groups marginalized within the narrative? Grounding our study of narrative structure in oral stories, which we had the luxury of witnessing in composition in real time, students gained a more humanized and contextualized understanding of how to structure narratives.
Creative writers are tasked with, according to Hirsch and Dixon, constructing realist contexts in which particular human thoughts can believably exist. Students gathered information as a part of their interviews, which meant they needed to cultivate an ethos as researcher as well as writer, and all in real time as they navigated unique interview situations. The stakes were higher for them, perhaps, than other writing workshop classes given that all the profile pieces would be published and distributed to an external, non-academic audience, not to mention the responsibility of representing the lives of research participants they had grown to know over time.
Phillip Snelson, the research participant, had mentioned in the telling of another story that his father committed suicide. Snelson was proud of his mother and she was the story he wished to tell. The student wanted to return to Snelson for another interview so that he could probe into this untold story, but I cautioned him to respect the boundary Snelson had created around this tragic event. Clearly Snelson had grown to trust the student by sharing this information.