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Remarkable Legacies

I am excited to share that Remarkable Legacies, my second book, is under contract with MIT Press. I’m writing the book while on sabbatical during the 2022-23 academic year.

In my first book, Annotation (also published by MIT Press), my co-author Antero Garcia and I defined annotation simply: A note added to a text. Our book introduced annotation as a genre—as a synthesis of reading, thinking, writing, and communication—and discussed its significance in scholarship and everyday life.

Since Annotation was published, I’ve continued writing about how this everyday literacy practice expresses and contests power—and whether in collaborative reading and writing, social activism across platforms, or educators’ professional learning. As such, I am motivated to write about annotation as complementary to expansive visions of literacy, a more critical approach to learning, and creative efforts to restory public memory. With Remarkable Legacies, my agenda is interdisciplinary and political: I intend to read histories of annotation and trace more participatory and just social futures written by the addition of notes to texts.

Why write Remarkable Legacies? As an educator and scholar, three arguments ground my rationale for examining more generative possibilities of annotation:

  • First, annotation is more than book marginalia. Whether studied by researchers or encouraged by teachers, annotation must include marks beyond margins that thrive outside the tightly bound pages of a book.
  • Second, the social life of annotation is of greater importance than individual reader response. Annotation must be studied and promoted as a social endeavor that is co-authored by groups of annotators, with interactive media, spanning on-the-ground and online settings, and in response to shared commitments.
  • Third, annotation is a hybrid and critical practice. Annotation must be embraced as exemplifying, and helping to extend through embodied and digital spaces, a lineage of literacy practices through which annotators—including learners in school—read and write words so as to critique and change their worlds.

Remarkable Legacies will survey a broad range of everyday texts and the multiplicity of inventive notes to reveal this genre’s expressive possibility. Walking in a city, for example, you read walls perceived as canvases upon which murals and street art are added so passersby can comprehend context or appreciate concern. Monuments, historical markers, and signs are literal landmarks that help compose your connection to place and history; annotators who splatter paint, tag graffiti, or slap stickers onto these texts exhibit new traces of civic commentary. And the default features of our platform society have elevated acts of annotation—from product reviews and quote tweets, to hashtags, amended screenshots, and multimodal video—as central to the taken-for-granted syntax of what makes your media social. My book will be an invitation to rethink assumptions about textuality, authorship, and mark-makers and reconsider how annotation is enmeshed in efforts to draft the liner notes of new educational and social arrangements.

The book’s title reflects the central concept of this work: remarkable legacies are annotation trails collectively read and (re)written so as to advance counternarratives and more just social futures. Spanning contexts of literacy education and participatory politics, I seek to appreciate how the meaningful annotation of everyday texts is a confluence of authority and resistance, agency and imagination. And in the book I will trace remarkable legacies associated with a range of people, places, and narratives. For example, I will write about Harriet Tubman and follow a trail of annotation—observable in government records, public memory, and American iconography that stretches over 150 years—to explain how narratives about Tubman have been documented, debated, and also (dis)regarded. I also plan to write chapters about annotation and walls, monuments, maps, platforms, and counternarratives.

It has been over two hundred years since the term marginalia appeared as a neologism, and well over a millennium since Roman emperors and their handwritten annotatio remarked on rulings and imperial power. Given shifting conceptions of literacy and learning, and in a moment of deep concern about equitable schooling and society, it is time for a fresh read and rewrite of annotation. I offer a contemporary form: remarkable legacies.

My hope is that Remarkable Legacies helps readers—as annotators—reimagine traces tethered to multimodal texts as notes are transformed into sociopolitical narratives.

Updates about Remarkable Legacies will be shared here as my research and writing progress.