Reclaiming History at Network Detroit

I presented at the 2018 Network Detroit conference at Wayne State University. This was my first presentation in the region and in truth talking about my Florida themed work seemed a little odd. Not because it was not good work, but because as I move into this new position at MSU, I am seeking to vision projects that are rooted in my Michigan context. As I think about my DH work, I’m looking at frameworks that examine ideological links between people of color that can cross borders and capture ideology that unite the circumstances facing African-Americans. On the other hand, this work forced me to think about the structure and practice I used. I’m thankful for the great feedback I got from the participants.

Image Comics and Creator's Rights

I think the story of Image Comic is always mentioned in the context of the fantastic fanfare (and failure) linked to the emergence of the company in the early 1990s. I think we can't overestimate that moment. As this documentary hints at, the celebrity moment that was the emergence of Image Comic was also about a speculative bubble that defined the 1990s. While the creators that made the Golden Age (1938-1950) were unknown, the artists of the 1990s were stars. Oddly, the writers from this period were not as well known. It was a visual revolution at some level. Still, I think the idea of creators rights at the heart of the Image Comic remains an important part of the story.  As you learn here, the legacy of the fortune loss shaped those creators in the 1990s.  Check this short documentary out and read my interview with Chris Roberson  to find out more about the debate about creator's rights in comics.

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.