A recap of the 2018 Florida Conference of Historians.
What is the difference between play and work? I thought I was suppose to make work fun. I start off this way because there is an element of playing around in some the things I do. There is always a reason, but given some of the dynamic spaces I'm drawn to, it a calculation whether or not I want to take the time to explain them every time. On reflection, I do not think this is a problem of doing anything that cuts across disciplinary boundaries. Everyone I know that is interdisciplinary has a story about being told to "go away" with whatever they are doing. This is shocking, especially in the cases where I think of the person as accomplished and respected in the field. Their validation came after a lot of struggle and profoundly some of those struggles persist depending on their institutional standing.
I'm lucky that my experience in this regard has been ok. I have moved into areas that I see as linked to my over all concerns, but intersecting in unique ways. For example, I'm trained in U.S. History with an emphasis on cities. Cities are a space of natural blending, so naturally I look at it from different angles. Comic books are an urban topic (especially superhero comics) because the rely on a very specific understanding of urbanism. Thus, they are not really that different from city plans, which also rely on a very specific understanding of the urban experience. Still, thinking about anything for a long period of time make you think in different ways. The visual nature of comics becomes a parallel to the visualization so intrinsic to digital history projects. We digitize things for ease of use and understanding. I say in class, "You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand word? In this ThirdSight History project, wrong picture--WRONG THOUSAND WORDS." I don't yell, but you see my point. Like a comic book, my ThirdSight History project asks students to make a narrative that relies on words and pictures. Our narratives are historical and use both archival and content produced by the students.
This all just setting up my reflection Afrofuturism talk I gave in January. Working with Eric Gottesman and a number of other artists (including my colleague Rachel Simmons), we developed a kind of interdisciplinary show at the UCF Gallery called The Encounter: Baalu Girma and Zora Neale Hurston. I did not know Girma, but I have some understanding of Hurston. In discussion with Eric, I thought about different ways I could contribute. One ideas that struck me was the way Eric described Girma experience and how it paralleled Hurston in a way. I think they overlap in the sense that there seems to have been a frustration in Hurston career with making clear her vision to her contemporaries (see what I did there). Anyway, this idea got stuck in my head. I gave a presentation about Hurston and Afrofuturism, which was really about how Hurston could be understood as part of a black imaginary counterpublic that challenged assumptions in the public sphere. This would allow fantastic texts created by African Americans (and allies) since contact to be understood as a kind of narrative in opposition to mainstream (white racist assumptions). So, Afrofuturism which is connected to the 1970s, really follows a Afrofantastic narrative. I call it Afrofantastic because, the common reaction from the mainstream (white racist mainstream) is that X object is fantastic for imagining a circumstance whereby black people do _________________ (you fill in the blank). The modern equivalent is a white person saying "You sounds so ___________" which is many times, but not all the time an indication you fall outside the assumptions linked to race.
I could go on, but you see my point. Part of the brainstorming around this idea was the creation of an installation that imagined Hurston as the subject of a Vanity Fair style magazine story examining her time at Rollins College. This part of her story is a bit of an afterthought to Hurston scholars, but very interesting to me. So, I made stuff in that imaginary space. I was not sure about the use in terms of the installation itself, but it was fun and it helped me understand how I was trying to situate Hurston. See, it all came full circle :-)