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.


Visual ( Photo) Essay?

I'm deep into moving ordeal. I haven't moved in more than a decade, I'd forgotten how much I hate it. Maybe it is because I'm old or maybe I'm just got lazy. Either way, moving sucks. It is has thrown off every plan and scheme. I'm moving to Michigan State University. My job is going to be a part of the Critical Diversity for Digital Age Initiative.  Listen to more about that program below.


You probably know that I talk about my effort within a specific set of language drawn from scholar and practice I see as aligning with my goals. I often talk about Critical Making and methodology I used in the classroom and my work is guided by the idea of exploring the real and imaginary linked to urban spaces.  I've defined those in previous posts (use Critical Making and Teaching tags to search my blog). As I move into a new job at Michigan State University, I'm thinking a lot about what I do and how I do it.  At this point in my career, I'm "doubling down on me" whenever I think about the next move. I know it is a cute statement, but going further down the interdisciplinary path is a requirement, not an option.

Looking at the future, I'm thinking about the projects I should be pursuing.  Structurally, I think open source journal and mediated projects are key for project outcomes.  This decision is informed by studying the Public Scholarship model developed by Imagining America.  As their report published in 2008 made several suggestions:

 From  Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University  (2008)

From Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University (2008)

I'm lucky because much of my career at Rollins College has been shaped by a community engagement framework that grows from this report. While it was published in 2008, I think the implications of this discussion have only recently become institutionalized.  In the last five years, several professional organizations have changed tenure and promotion guideline to recognize public work.  Strangely (or not), the bulk of this discussion has been linked to digital humanities and how that should be judged. In some ways, this is not a surprise. My experience is that "digital" makes people excited and it has "doing" feel about it that non-academic people can understand.  This is why a tool driven definition of digital humanities gets so much attention. If you design and build a tool and then use it, you are a digital humanities person to some. If you simply use an off the shelf commercial tool to do something, you are not doing digital.

What does this mean? For the public, it means there are more and more academic projects that have a public face. This has benefits and it has limitations. The benefit is that the research, ideas, and conclusions linked to academic research are becoming more accessible. You can see knowledge creation happening if you care to watch. The democratizing nature of this process means the public can be partners in the creation of knowledge and shape the pathway for research. We can create knowledge that answers questions that matter to people in the community. My experiences in Hannibal Square and Eatonville reflect idea.   As much as I've done, the publication question, what LPU is connected to the idea is a concern. 

Finding the publication venue (or recognition moment?)  that corresponds to what I'm thinking and doing is the key to being a successful academic in the next 20 years.  For years I used a least publishable unit  (LPU) ideology to think about output. This was based on an assessment of what my institution asked and what I was doing.  The LPU is more associated with science than the humanities. Moreover, I think many people in the humanities think the idea runs counter to the knowledge creation process in our fields and the mission of an intellectual.  I think they have a point. If we are honest, the push for LPU for tenure is why there are so many journals of varying size publishing pieces on super narrow topics. Yet, the LPU of the past was conceived and pursued in a landscape of experts talking to other experts. That landscape ignored the public in a very real way.  This is not to say academics did not care about the public, I think that is a fallacy. A more accurate assessment would be that the fact academic knowledge would make its way to the public was given. In addition, academics research did not face the same level of resistance linked to the validity of their conclusions.  In part, the means to share information was limited and the power of the arbiters of information was absolute. We do not live in that world anymore and the public is splintered in complex ways.

The role of the scholar cannot really be divorced from the public in the 21st century. Academic face scrutiny whether they pursue a public voice or not. The question becomes what kind of public voice will you have and how will it intersect with your job.  As the diagram from Carlton College highlights, the landscape for public scholarship incorporates many kinds of engagements with multiple audiences. This can extremely helpful as we think about academic production. In a public scholarship framework, the knowledge you create as a scholar and the means that use to share it work in tandem to create understanding. 

As I think about MSU's digital ecosystem, I realize I need to think about the things I do in a broad landscape and look toward holistic analysis that weaves the experience of the local into global questions.  The venues for publication I should pursue should allow me to create a range of scholarly objects that offers analysis and critical reflection that clarify the relationship between everyday life and the global experience.  I should be, in my mind, looking at journals and publishers that provide the opportunity to do interesting things.  Southern Spaces is the perfect example.

Described as "a peer-reviewed, multimedia, open-access journal published by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. We publish articles, photo essays and images, reviews, presentations, and short videos about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections. We intend our audience to be researchers and teachers, students in and out of classrooms, library patrons, and interested readers."

I've been drawn to them for several reasons, but one of the wide variety of publications they support. Reviewing the submission pages, I saw the photo essay and other multimedia. They describe it as..."Photo essays curate collections of original photography or other multimedia to perform the same kinds of critical work articles do: to analyze real and imagined places and spaces in the US South, to make connections between the South and other areas of the world, and to challenge conventional representations of the South. While primarily photographic or media-based, these essays include a critical writing component."

This is intriguing to me, especially as I consider Eatonville.  Known in contemporary culture as the home of Zora Neale Hurston, Eatonville is the first incorporated African-American municipality in the United States. One of several communities created after the Civil War, Eatonville and communities like it was a response to white racism.  Eatonville's creation and its cultural ethos deeply informed Hurston's outlook. Yet, contemporary Eatonville is hidden in plain sight in mind.  How the community persists and the challenge to sustain itself in the 21st century are questions worth exploring.  

Can I make document this through mediate projects in a manner that demonstrated critical assessment and knowledge creation in a manner that represents scholarly public work? What is the best medium to do it?  Looking at Southern Spaces and thinking about my own critical making practice has prompted me to start thinking about making photo essays that are rooted in questions of culture and community in Eatonville. 

Since I'm integrating, photo, video, and text they are more visual essays than a photo essay.  Of course, my limitations are at the forefront of my mind as I look at these visual essays. Collaborative partnerships with other artists and scholars can help me take these efforts to the next level. I will keep you in the loop.

The What I did or Hidden Digital Labor Problem

The problem of digital labor in the humanities is a real one. I often talk to colleagues about the work it takes to make something that doesn't seem done. One way to manage that problem is to blog about what you do.  Since the humanities depend so heavily on the building on previous insights, the ability to cite ongoing work and ideas from colleagues through citing their blogs becomes crucial to document the labor they are putting into creating digital objects.  As I write the final report for Digital Literacy and Collaborative Learning Workshop I co-designed and co-led with Scot French, the need map out all we did on paper feels a little hollow. We did a lot, but the report can't capture it all.  On the surface, it was a straightforward exercise. Rollins is a part of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS).  The ACS has a generous grants program that has helped me get several digital projects off the ground. The ACS-R1 grant was designed to encourage liberal arts faculty to create collaboration with research institution faculty.   For this ACS- R1 grant I worked with Scot French (UCF) to create a two-day Digital Literacy and Collaborative Learning (DLCL) workshop. The workshop was focused on developing a cross-institutional framework for promoting broadly collaborative, community-based undergraduate and graduate student research employing the tools and methods linked to digital humanities. We designed this workshop to expand faculty dialogue connected to community engagement and digital humanities. Of course, Rollins College has received national recognition for its ongoing commitment to community engagement, and the University of Central Florida (UCF) has a public history program and wider institutional mandate to engage with the Central Florida community.  The grant funded the workshop for faculty cohort from Rollins and UCF to explore the possible paths for digital tools and methods in and out of the classroom. As you can see below, we took advantage of digital platforms to keep track of our process.