Reframing History: A Making Experiment?

I talk about chasing the idea across platform. I'm influenced by the public humanities practice articulated by community engagement ideology that shapes teaching and learning at Rollins College. While I'm leaving Rollins, the scholar/teacher I am is pretty much defined by the idea of marrying the classroom to the real world in some way.  I always caution people that "I'm not expert", but of course expertise is relative. I know more than many and think and act on the those ideas that align with my goal. The critical making ideology that guides my action in and out of the classroom mean I want to take ideas and knowledge and apply them in the project that create objects that demonstrate learning by student makers, but add to public knowledge.  How can I do that if I don't play around myself? 

Podcasts are a D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) digital form. Indeed, there is an argument among digital humanist whether or not a podcast project is a "digital humanities project."  This came up during the Organization of American Historians meeting this year.

This exchange was meaningful to me as Jeff McCluken is the Digital Review editor for the Journal of American History.  Robert Cassanello is my friend and colleague and he has created a number of noteworthy podcast projects (and other things). Perhaps the most notable is his History of Central Florida podcast, which arguably is a major digital humanities project. I think the core of this argument is that podcasts don't strictly speaking, create knowledge. At least they don't create knowledge in the form that we associate with academic discourse.  History, in particular, is a written art (or science) and therefore, if you don't write it, you didn't do anything.  Ok. I'm making that argument a bit more harshly than I should, but the core critique is not that complicated. Real historians write long, single-authored monographs exhaustly thinking through a topic. Fake historians do not. That construction is not productive and the nature of historical learning requires a multi-tiered approach that places the core meaning around historical analysis on multiple platforms.  If you want the public to know what you know, you might consider how talking about the idea in a podcast might reach people in a way the journal article will not. We see the mediated environment distorting our ability to understand arguments and one way to combat that reality is to create narratives that work for our digital age.  I would not advocate abandoning the kind of serious engagement with material that we talk about with students every day, but I will always stress that communicating ideas across different platforms is an important skill and meaningful exercise.  I'm using Anchor to create the Reframing History podcast. This does three things. First, this is an opportunity to engage the public around the creation of "new" historical narrative for the Winter Park, Florida community. Second, we (Scot French and I ) can provide context to what we are doing when we say "re-write" the history. This question is crucial because this community history project is at some level emblematic of the anxiety linked to academic history. By seeking to tell a more accurate story, we trigger fears within the community we are "erasing history" and we can address in this context and everyone can listen (or not). Third, I get to see how I might use this platform in class. I was fully intending to create a podcast series in a class at Rollins. The podcast idea isn't going away. I always advise students that the simplest tool is best when embarking on a digital project. I follow that advice myself, so the re-design of ANCHOR opened the door to an easy to use widely available podcast tool, your smartphone.  There are always hidden pitfalls for commercial digital products, but if Anchor allows students the opportunity to create podcast easily so they can concentrate on the content instead of the process, I think it is a winner.  The process will always change, but the intent of creating a clear narrative will always be useful.  You can listen my first conversation with my colleague Scot French below and find the podcast online. 

Every Tongue Got to Confess

The 2019 Zora Neale Hurston Festival for the Arts and Humanities is rapidly approaching. As is the tradition for this event, the podcast project, Every Tongue Got to Confess is available. Every season of ETGTC is recorded at the Zora Festival. The last two years, those interviews have been conducted by Holly Baker, podcast producer for UCF Department of History (with some assistance from me). The host has been Robert Cassanello, but I agreed to take on the hosting duties for this year as Robert shifted to other projects. Of course, this all became more complicate when I accepted a position at Michigan State University. We crafted a special episode just about me, to give people some background on the changes.

Listen


Education 2035!?

I was lucky enough to participate in the Education 2035 workshop at MSU on October 31, 2018. Understanding the impact of technology on the educational experience is not a new question, but with the emergence of A.I., the possibility that computers can do some of the work of teaching is becoming more and more important. Indeed, I’ve done work with grading tools around writing. These tools, used in the right way, can be helpful with the basic work of grading sentence structure. They can tell you have written a run-on sentence. They cannot tell you if what you wrote makes sense. Does it reflect critical inquiry, knowledge integration, or analysis? These question require a person with knowledge to wrestle with what you wrote. The key to technology is that it remain grounded in the limitations of machine logic. While it may seem strange, bringing professors from the College of Arts and Letters allows the scientists to think about how we think about technology. Our talks where in a lightning round format. I spoke about Afrofuturism and how that framework allows to imagine the future differently. Art and design linked to Afrofuturism is deeply shaped by a need to provide tools for black liberation and uplift. What can it mean? Well, one slide simply reminded the audience “There are black people in the future.” A simple statement, but the implication for the present are meaningful. Black people will survive and they will continue to strive toward a better tomorrow. There struggle will challenge the mainstream to do better and that challenge can benefit society as a whole.

A Digital Teaching Praxis

As I make the transition to MSU, I recognize that a praxis I built at Rollins College is not easily forgotten. From Eatonville and Zora Neale Hurston to Hannibal Square and Tuskegee Universe, I find myself trying to sort through structures I built and the practice I want/need to continue. In the context of the Central Florida DH community, I was starting a process linked the UCF Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR) around digital pedagogy and community engagement that was setting the foundation for the future. Thanks to ACS/R1 grant from the Associated Colleges of the South, I was able to organize a DH workshop with Scot French that took a cohort of faculty from Rollins College and UCF through a process of scaling up for using technology in the classroom.



As you can see from my little video highlight reel, rather than a workshop on a specific tools, this workshop was formulated around the idea of “digital intervention” within a course the instructor was designing. Using my “the simplest tool is the best" mantra, we were aiming to support the participants in a process of exploration linked to digital humanities practice. The final outcome were lesson plans created by the participants based on the tool they judge most effective for this course. You can see them online here. This was a requirement for the grant and the final home for these lesson plan is intended to the Florida Digital Humanities Consortium website. We were deep in a discussion about creating a teaching portal, but that process continues and I’m not around. As always, if you are not online easily, there is a question of whether or not you can get access to the information. I decided to make a pdf, which required some kind of cover image.

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The physical takeaway is often useful for DH project outcomes. I’m not sure this PDF is going to be widely circulated, but having it give me an option. My hope in designing the workshop was to create a cohort of faculty that would growing into a digital humanities practice together and participate in THATCamp Florida and support greater DH engagement on campus. My generative practice weaves classroom, community, and scholarly question into a practice. I think that process can be useful. I hope the 2017 cohort continue their engagement with DH, but now that I’m at MSU, the size and scope of the DH community on campus make for a different set of challenges.

More to come.