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.

Black and Conservative: A History Lesson on Black Agency

      Zora Neale Hurston was famously a "conservative" in the logic of the time when it came to race relations. In a recent piece for the Zora! Festival magazine, I try to contextualize the roots of the black conservative tradition that informed Hurston's reaction to the Brown decision ending school segregation in 1954.  This reaction continued a pattern of opposition to an elite black opinion that she began during her time in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. It would be too easy to think of Hurston endorsing segregation.  What is more accurate is those like generations of African-Americans before her, she rejected white racism and demanded an equality of process so that blacks could move through society free from white hostility.

     For many blacks, white racism was their problem as long as they were free to pursue their life untouched by violence and disruption.The all-black world in Eatonville was such a world. What Hurston wanted was to ensure that the resources due her as an Americans were not blocked. Ultimately, the argument made by black conservative must always content with the reality of anti-black violence and systemic deficits that prevent a black property from being valued in the same way or lack of access to institutions that act as arbiters of affirmation. Separation can ensure that black professionals and institutions exist serving black communities, but racism always makes that existence subject to the whims of abuse coming from a white power structure that curtails the levels of success they can achieve. 

     That position will ring hollow to some, but black success generated violence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and arguably that logic still impacts how us today.  Indeed, we struggle, as black and white citizens of the United States, with the implication of the history of racial trauma. While I do not expect white mobs to rampage through black business districts as they did in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, I recognize that the nexus of quality of life policing, poverty, and oppressive fees that triggered violence in Ferguson has linked to our complicated racial past. In this atmosphere, revisiting the history and ideology of black township such as Eatonville offers some important opportunities. The solution they offered is not perfect, the structures they nurtured can be evolved to address current circumstances.