A Semester at MSU

My approach to teaching and research at MSU is guided by a desire to continue the interdisciplinary practice that defined my work. While it would be easy to think about my work at MSU as radically different than the work at Rollins, I think same goals around community engagement and empowering students to

I’ve spun up a new version of Advocate Recovered and I’m lucky to have an opportunity to be an affiliate in MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. This gives me a chance to interact with more digital humanist and identify ways to enhance the impact of a digital recovery project such as AR while continuing develop digital discovery projects such as, Every Tongue Got to Confess, Reframing History and The Florida Constitution Podcast (https://apple.co/2PLI0r5). I make the distinction between recovery and discovery as the relationship between projects such as Advocated Recovered, which building on Black DH framework articulate by people like Kim Gallon (http://bit.ly/2PPyZxh) who argued for a relationship between digital humanities and Black Studies that highlights how technology could be employed to expose the racialize social construction of society versus podcast projects that seek to contextualize those constructions for a broader public.

While there are plenty of people talking about the ways we should think about digital humanities projects creating knowledge, the reality is that DIY DH projects, by which I mean projects that grow from individual scholarly practice, can be hard to define, hard to linked to creditable academic outcomes and hard to sustain. As I prep for an introductory graduate digital humanities seminar I’m co-teaching in the spring, this reality looms large. For me, a question like, “Should that be digital?” is one I want to build into the graduate student education. I’m not simply trying to warn people off. Instead, the placement of digital humanities within a wider scholarly practice in terms. I see the value in digital space as a means to enhance community engagement and further our understanding of the past. Yet, I also think how a scholar defines the goal for a project and who they intend the audience for the project to be and how they structure questions driving the project are important. Having matured in a scholarly community dedicated to community engagement, the goal for my digital practice is heavily infused with community engagement focus. Hence, the emphasis on recovery and discovery make perfect sense. I created projects that built on local black history, explored the archive to linked those narrative to broader historiography and created digital structures that institutionalize black voices within the public square. In some ways, recovery is a “false” narrative in this context. Much like Columbus discovering America, I’m merely providing context to what is there. The black community knows it history, they told me and I did digital things. The clustering of digital project around the community practice opens up opportunities to document, preserve and explain community. My new position puts me in a place to think and act around these issues on bigger scale. Since I’m a part of the Consortium for Critical Diversity in a Digital Age (CEDAR), so I’m thinking about best practice that leverages the potential for digital humanities that engages for the greatest impact.

My concern about synergy is motivated my a desire to infuse an understanding of the relationship between the imaginary and urban concerns that grounds my concerns with comic studies. For me comics studies is tied to examinations of the transformative effects of urbanization in the U.S. city. My work on comics had always been grounded in a consideration of this relationship. This is why Cities Imagined offered such a wide range of documents and scholarship to explore question erasure, landscapes of power, imaginary cities and similar concerns. Coming to MSU means I get to develop these ideas with greater clarity.

I taught a new course called Literature and Visual Culture (LAVC) , which I intend to make my vehicle to explore these ideas. Since I rely on a critical making approach in my classes, I use project-based assignments to empower student to demonstrate their comprehension using digital tools. While MSU is home to MATRIX, how individual undergrads link to DH at MSU is a little fuzzy to me. I took the approach that students would embrace the opportunity. One assignment from LAVC was my “urban visionary” timeline. This is far from perfect, but the intention was to explore how individual scholars offer critical re-assessments of urbanization with their scholarship.

My other course in the fall semester was seminar course focused on superheroes. Since this was an upper level course, I sought to craft a maker centric course with an emphasis on information synthesis and critical analysis of comic book culture. With digital humanities as a core identity for MSU, I wanted to create a project that would engage students from semester to semester. My project, Critical Fanscape, is an exploration of comic artifacts in the MSU Library. Now, I recognize that are real issues of working with students as collaborators on digital projects. Students labor is driving this project, but there are several structural elements that I included in the assignment. I worked very closely with MSU librarians to have info sessions on metadata and its implications. These sessions built an awareness among the students about how Omeka, the platform we would use for Critical Fanscape, created knowledge through the categories offered. This is a broader problem and our readings on radical archiving helped provide context to what we could accomplish in terms of the descriptions that they would write as researchers.

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While lectures and discussion about the meaning of Dublin Core are helpful, translating the project into skills that students can understand was also crucial.


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Skills

For this project, the students acquired skills as communicators (writing descriptive text and essays), researchers (compiling research on individuals and organizations), and information manager (working with database architecture and software).

The final project for the course was a mediated. In this case, an audio commentary that allowed students to pull together their understanding of the archival sources they have worked with throughout the semester. These audio commentaries were driven by students own interest, but heavily influenced by the knowledge they acquired by working on creating Critical Fanscape. The examples below highlight the insightful analysis students created.

My vision for effective merger of teaching and scholarship has always emphasized alignment. At MSU, this is a requirement, not an option.

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.

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