From Segregation to Black Lives Matter: An African American Oral History Symposium

I was honored to present about Oscar Mack for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s From Segregation to Black Lives Matter: An African American Oral History Symposium. The first symposium connected to the African-American Oral History collection at UF, this gave me a chance to re-engage with the Oscar Mack story. Since 2013 I’ve been plugging away on this project. Like everything involving the African-American experience, this project spun out of my digital humanities practice. While at Rollins College, approached the school’s commitment to community engagement through a “Classroom as Platform” approach that put students to work on community history project with the intention of cataloging, preserving, and presenting these stories through digital means. These projects often involved enhancing the scant record of the local black experience through oral history project or document research. The Oscar Mack project began in this manner and evolved as the story continued beyond the initial course. While the process has been slow, it was greatly enhanced by my time as Julian Pleasant Fellow at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. I partnered with the SPOHP to conduct numerous oral histories in Central Florida. My goal then was to capture those stories and add them to their collection. I had hope to create a path for future research, but naturally my knowledge of the context of the context of these stories is crucial. In the case of Oscar Mack, I realize I can use my evolving podcasting skills to tell one version of the story. This presentation gave me a change to test the podcast format and get the ball rolling. At roughly seven minute, the segment was not long, but people seem to embrace it. I can’t imagine i’m going to make 45 min episodes, but a three act structure with 7 to 8 mins per act does seem like a good format.

Stay Tuned.

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. 

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.

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. 

Mapping

On the way to creating my Digital History class I've thought about what kinds of critical inquiry makes the most sense in history course.  While  Digital History is a work in progress, I've decided mapping is one the most effective tools for students to embark upon. I've made this judgement through a bit of experimentation using open source information like the Negro Year Book available in Google Books.  Google Map Engine Lite provides a pretty flexible tool. As you can see from this old test map, playing around with specific layers to provide information can create unique maps.