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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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.

A Digital Teaching Praxis

As I make the transition to MSU, I recognize that a praxis I built at Rollins College is not easily forgotten. From Eatonville and Zora Neale Hurston to Hannibal Square and Tuskegee Universe, I find myself trying to sort through structures I built and the practice I want/need to continue. In the context of the Central Florida DH community, I was starting a process linked the UCF Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR) around digital pedagogy and community engagement that was setting the foundation for the future. Thanks to ACS/R1 grant from the Associated Colleges of the South, I was able to organize a DH workshop with Scot French that took a cohort of faculty from Rollins College and UCF through a process of scaling up for using technology in the classroom.

As you can see from my little video highlight reel, rather than a workshop on a specific tools, this workshop was formulated around the idea of “digital intervention” within a course the instructor was designing. Using my “the simplest tool is the best" mantra, we were aiming to support the participants in a process of exploration linked to digital humanities practice. The final outcome were lesson plans created by the participants based on the tool they judge most effective for this course. You can see them online here. This was a requirement for the grant and the final home for these lesson plan is intended to the Florida Digital Humanities Consortium website. We were deep in a discussion about creating a teaching portal, but that process continues and I’m not around. As always, if you are not online easily, there is a question of whether or not you can get access to the information. I decided to make a pdf, which required some kind of cover image.

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The physical takeaway is often useful for DH project outcomes. I’m not sure this PDF is going to be widely circulated, but having it give me an option. My hope in designing the workshop was to create a cohort of faculty that would growing into a digital humanities practice together and participate in THATCamp Florida and support greater DH engagement on campus. My generative practice weaves classroom, community, and scholarly question into a practice. I think that process can be useful. I hope the 2017 cohort continue their engagement with DH, but now that I’m at MSU, the size and scope of the DH community on campus make for a different set of challenges.

More to come.

MUSE Program

Given my own experience, I'm supportive of the Department of English's effort to bring students from underrepresented groups into graduate study. As someone who served as a McNair Scholar, I understand how important an intentional program supporting students from non-traditional or first-generation households can be in creating success.  Learn more about the MUSE program below.

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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.