The Semester Starts (in Pictures)

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Where did the semester go? Every teacher says that and I’m no different. I’m backing teaching Afrofantastic, my course on Afrofuturism and a Readings in Popular Literature course all about Black Comics. I’m also taking on the role as Val Berryman Curator for American History at the MSU Museum. My focus, not surprisingly, will be examining science and culture connected to the Black Imaginary.

HASTAC 2019

I had a really productive time at HASTAC 2019. Lots to consider in terms of research and teaching in the digital mode. I’m going to put these ideas to work in class next year.

A Semester at MSU

My approach to teaching and research at MSU is guided by a desire to continue the interdisciplinary practice that defined my work. While it would be easy to think about my work at MSU as radically different than the work at Rollins, I think same goals around community engagement and empowering students to

I’ve spun up a new version of Advocate Recovered and I’m lucky to have an opportunity to be an affiliate in MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. This gives me a chance to interact with more digital humanist and identify ways to enhance the impact of a digital recovery project such as AR while continuing develop digital discovery projects such as, Every Tongue Got to Confess, Reframing History and The Florida Constitution Podcast (https://apple.co/2PLI0r5). I make the distinction between recovery and discovery as the relationship between projects such as Advocated Recovered, which building on Black DH framework articulate by people like Kim Gallon (http://bit.ly/2PPyZxh) who argued for a relationship between digital humanities and Black Studies that highlights how technology could be employed to expose the racialize social construction of society versus podcast projects that seek to contextualize those constructions for a broader public.

While there are plenty of people talking about the ways we should think about digital humanities projects creating knowledge, the reality is that DIY DH projects, by which I mean projects that grow from individual scholarly practice, can be hard to define, hard to linked to creditable academic outcomes and hard to sustain. As I prep for an introductory graduate digital humanities seminar I’m co-teaching in the spring, this reality looms large. For me, a question like, “Should that be digital?” is one I want to build into the graduate student education. I’m not simply trying to warn people off. Instead, the placement of digital humanities within a wider scholarly practice in terms. I see the value in digital space as a means to enhance community engagement and further our understanding of the past. Yet, I also think how a scholar defines the goal for a project and who they intend the audience for the project to be and how they structure questions driving the project are important. Having matured in a scholarly community dedicated to community engagement, the goal for my digital practice is heavily infused with community engagement focus. Hence, the emphasis on recovery and discovery make perfect sense. I created projects that built on local black history, explored the archive to linked those narrative to broader historiography and created digital structures that institutionalize black voices within the public square. In some ways, recovery is a “false” narrative in this context. Much like Columbus discovering America, I’m merely providing context to what is there. The black community knows it history, they told me and I did digital things. The clustering of digital project around the community practice opens up opportunities to document, preserve and explain community. My new position puts me in a place to think and act around these issues on bigger scale. Since I’m a part of the Consortium for Critical Diversity in a Digital Age (CEDAR), so I’m thinking about best practice that leverages the potential for digital humanities that engages for the greatest impact.

My concern about synergy is motivated my a desire to infuse an understanding of the relationship between the imaginary and urban concerns that grounds my concerns with comic studies. For me comics studies is tied to examinations of the transformative effects of urbanization in the U.S. city. My work on comics had always been grounded in a consideration of this relationship. This is why Cities Imagined offered such a wide range of documents and scholarship to explore question erasure, landscapes of power, imaginary cities and similar concerns. Coming to MSU means I get to develop these ideas with greater clarity.

I taught a new course called Literature and Visual Culture (LAVC) , which I intend to make my vehicle to explore these ideas. Since I rely on a critical making approach in my classes, I use project-based assignments to empower student to demonstrate their comprehension using digital tools. While MSU is home to MATRIX, how individual undergrads link to DH at MSU is a little fuzzy to me. I took the approach that students would embrace the opportunity. One assignment from LAVC was my “urban visionary” timeline. This is far from perfect, but the intention was to explore how individual scholars offer critical re-assessments of urbanization with their scholarship.

My other course in the fall semester was seminar course focused on superheroes. Since this was an upper level course, I sought to craft a maker centric course with an emphasis on information synthesis and critical analysis of comic book culture. With digital humanities as a core identity for MSU, I wanted to create a project that would engage students from semester to semester. My project, Critical Fanscape, is an exploration of comic artifacts in the MSU Library. Now, I recognize that are real issues of working with students as collaborators on digital projects. Students labor is driving this project, but there are several structural elements that I included in the assignment. I worked very closely with MSU librarians to have info sessions on metadata and its implications. These sessions built an awareness among the students about how Omeka, the platform we would use for Critical Fanscape, created knowledge through the categories offered. This is a broader problem and our readings on radical archiving helped provide context to what we could accomplish in terms of the descriptions that they would write as researchers.

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While lectures and discussion about the meaning of Dublin Core are helpful, translating the project into skills that students can understand was also crucial.


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Skills

For this project, the students acquired skills as communicators (writing descriptive text and essays), researchers (compiling research on individuals and organizations), and information manager (working with database architecture and software).

The final project for the course was a mediated. In this case, an audio commentary that allowed students to pull together their understanding of the archival sources they have worked with throughout the semester. These audio commentaries were driven by students own interest, but heavily influenced by the knowledge they acquired by working on creating Critical Fanscape. The examples below highlight the insightful analysis students created.

My vision for effective merger of teaching and scholarship has always emphasized alignment. At MSU, this is a requirement, not an option.

Education 2035!?

I was lucky enough to participate in the Education 2035 workshop at MSU on October 31, 2018. Understanding the impact of technology on the educational experience is not a new question, but with the emergence of A.I., the possibility that computers can do some of the work of teaching is becoming more and more important. Indeed, I’ve done work with grading tools around writing. These tools, used in the right way, can be helpful with the basic work of grading sentence structure. They can tell you have written a run-on sentence. They cannot tell you if what you wrote makes sense. Does it reflect critical inquiry, knowledge integration, or analysis? These question require a person with knowledge to wrestle with what you wrote. The key to technology is that it remain grounded in the limitations of machine logic. While it may seem strange, bringing professors from the College of Arts and Letters allows the scientists to think about how we think about technology. Our talks where in a lightning round format. I spoke about Afrofuturism and how that framework allows to imagine the future differently. Art and design linked to Afrofuturism is deeply shaped by a need to provide tools for black liberation and uplift. What can it mean? Well, one slide simply reminded the audience “There are black people in the future.” A simple statement, but the implication for the present are meaningful. Black people will survive and they will continue to strive toward a better tomorrow. There struggle will challenge the mainstream to do better and that challenge can benefit society as a whole.