This #100hardtruths was shared with me by my friend, a scholar and leader within Digital Humanities,  Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association:

“The health of nations is directly related to the depth of knowledge applied to public decision-making.” So says former chairman of the NEH (and former Republican congressman) Jim Leach. The #hardtruth is that our nation is not healthy.  As Tom Nichols has recently explored, our top decision-makers today not only disregard the advice of experts but actively reject the notion that their knowledge is any more worthy of consideration than anyone else’s opinion.

The other hard truth is that we are all responsible for finding new ways to re-engage with the public, to find ways to interest them in the knowledge we produce, and to demonstrate to them that facts persist even when master narratives are long gone.

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My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)
I am gladly teaching my Visual Research Methods course again to a group of curious, lively grad students at CGU. As I teach this class over its few short years, it is surprising to see how quickly the students’ access to tools and general digital competence raises even as they remain equally trepidatious to their past classmates about their abilities to write online, digitally and creatively to new audience.
Similarly, the idea that Digital Humanities, which we study (and do) in the beginning of the semester, is a kooky idea whose time might just be coming (in relation to their own education to date as Humanities graduate students), presses closer and closer to their daily practices and employment opportunities, as Humanists and citizens, even as it still seems far afield and always anxiety provoking. Here’s some quick examples into their thinking about DH (done as an in-class exercise). Follow the links and you can see their “academic blogs,” a new practice for most of them that they take to like fish in water. Scroll up to their most current blog page and you’ll see their strong, varied, and literate “video essays,” as well.

Digital Humanities (DH) is an online (digital) space for the collaborative, methodological scholarship and pedagogy of the humanities. Aesthetically Pleasing

It is defined by: “Active, participant engagement.” spekingevenifyourvoicehsakres

Digital humanities is an interdisciplinary field  that uses technology as a tool to expand different ways of knowing. Luciasori

We are collaborating with ideas, using new tools, as well as creating a new way to experience the information. The Intellectual Vegan

The act of creation is intended to be shared, to be responded to, and to move beyond the small world of one’s home campus and even the academic world itself. Elysian Musings

There’s a bridge between thinking and doing. Fruitful Thinking

Digital humanities seems to want to reconcile the rocky relationship between the human and the machine. DH appears to fight for the human, while the rest of the world has become enchanted by the machine. Buzek

More by Visual Opportunity

More by Visual Opportunity

The digital humanities seeks to dismantle the “ivory tower” view of academia by disseminating knowledge through an open collaborative space that challenges the concept of authorship prevalent in scholarship. Danaehart

I believe that through the digital humanities, those us in academia can extend a hand to pop culture, offering a gesture of mutuality that is neither less than nor greater than, but contribute our skills in the reading of pop texts. Abdicating our ivory towers we can intervene in the political. Octopoda Gigante

The Digital Humanities is about multi-modality, about presenting a reader–I use the term loosely–with more than words … because ideas are more than words. Nom de Pluot

I’ve been teaching a Graduate research methods course for several years now at CGU, Visual Research Methods. But this Spring, I have encountered some surprising findings, ones that are echoed in my undergraduate student’s work as well, where I also assign digital coursework that asks students:

  • to account, reflexively, for the changing affordances of doing their school-work online
  • for staying thoughtful about the Internet itself as part of their topical attention
  • while also creatively expressing their findings in a multi-modal environment and vernacular
  • and then, also of course, clearly expressing findings from their own original research

Now, that’s a mouthful, right? And on first pass, I certainly wouldn’t want to be a student with that as my final assignment rubric! I think all my students (this semester in Visual Research Methods, and also, at Pitzer, in Feminist Dialogues in Technology and Feminist and Queer Documentary) start the semester with fear, agitation, bemusement, uncertainty, and maybe even annoyance about the weird assignments. Understood! And yet …

Somehow, this semester, all my students didn’t just do it and do it well; they got it. And, I said to several of them after the fact, I can’t imagine that’s because they are smarter than students who have taken these classes in previous years and semesters … So what gives?

Two, interrelated things, I think:

  • the tools have actually caught up with the radical teaching aims of multimodal scholar/teachers who wish to push our students to think, write, research and engage critically within and about the digital and the world
  • our students’ literacy with these tools, and also within digital spaces, has already been primed

This is to say, that for the first time, this year, I’d tell my students to leave the classroom and make some little digital something (instead of say, “breaking out” into a discussion group then presenting); and they would and they could. This is something I have also been asking audiences to do for the past two years, and their competency has increased markedly in this short time as well. That’s because in 2013 people are making things all the time, and these things are already smart, self-aware, self-reflexive, multimodal, and interactive.

This semester, my students used the analytical frameworks from class, the histories of movements and ideas, and analyzed both new and old objects for new and old audiences. They debated the politics of Digital Storytelling with some of the movement’s founders. They re-wrote Wikipedia pages. They made mash-ups of feminist theory and memes. They found and analyzed multivoiced and third-person stories (on Twitter and Tumblr) and talked to animals. Some of my students engaged for a semester with another group of undergrads at Bowling Green State University, and with students from grad courses at USC who made amazing digital learning resources for us to use.

Others made mobiles or diagrams for a yet-to-be invented feminist UML, some refined and critiqued possibilities for the feminist body and bra!

They worked on and about podcasts, and stories about Study Abroad and Queer Chicanos. They found new forms for telling the stories of Youth Violence and Violence Against Women. One performed a close textual analysis of Facebook commentary while others made keyword videos on feminism and technology.

Given all their amazing work (and I do hope you’ll hit some of these links; you won’t regret it!), what am I (t)here for, then? If literacy has been gained, and critical practice is already happening online, what is the role of the critical digital pedagogue? Well, most likely neither more nor less than what the role of the professor has always been. Remember when we taught writing? Sure, students arrived with literacy and tools, and the professors’ function was no mere thing: to add history, theory, a framework, a community, evaluation, and caring, careful, critical dialogue.

I am blown away by my students’ skills, and hereby simply provide this shining frame at yet another semester’s end. Well done all!

I begin my talk with this video about repurposing social media spaces, such as this one, for the specific purposes of multi-disciplinary and multi-modal teaching and learning, as well as for its scholarship by showing this video, so representing, in form, my feminist commitment to engage in self-reflexive, situated critiques of the Internet that model here the kind of culture I hope it to be, a place that enacts collaboration, connections between the classroom and the world, intentional and ethical links between and within real and virtual experiences and private and public knowledge, and a commitment to finding, teaching, and using the forms of literacy best suited for these places and practices.

I self-reflexively argue above, here, and in the talk: engaged, situated pedagogy and research in the digital humanities demand new writing and speaking forms, as well as the presentational and publishing platforms to hold them.

Home after back-to-back events where I wore one hat that just might be construed as two (an interesting slip [of the tongue] or tip [of the hat] that helps point out some of my unease with [my place in] the “Digital Humanities,” more on that to come).

The first was just that: Re:Humanities, a student-run undergraduate conference where a day of really impressive student presentations were book-ended by addresses by professors (myself and Katherine Harris) who spoke on our own pedagogic commitments to undergraduate research.

While there was much to note here, I’ll focus my observations on the related themes and contradictions of expertise, authority, authoring, and professional(ism)(ilization) in the realm of the digital (humanities). We enjoyed polished, first rate and diverse student presentations on topics ranging from the mapping of Soweto, to websites devoted to postcolonial feminism, Paris monuments, and global street-art, to pleas for better digital design or citation practices, to the digitizing and narrativizing of rare books. It was crystal clear that digital humanities opens up a place, multiple methods, and voice for qualified young participants who would otherwise not be so readily enabled to “publish” or circulate their work while also being so creative and impassioned about both the content and forms of their fledgling scholarly endeavors. Many of the students commented that doing work for an audience larger than one professor (and maybe their Mom), promotes a higher degree of commitment, professionalism, and passion then they feel when writing a paper, and this reminded me of something I already knew and already do…

The subject of the second conference: Women, Social Justice and Documentary, held at Smith College. Granted, this group of faculty, artists, and students had not really heard of the “digital humanities,” although they were also interested in thinking about the relationship between making things like documentaries, and their academic (arts and humanities) studies, and (feminist) passions and commitments. In this case, a decades-long struggle to find and circulate a voice by those deauthorized by gender, race, sexuality, and other forms of patriarchal oppression has created a substantive history of media objects, and an infrastructure that holds them (including distribution, festivals, scholarship, and pedagogy).

Why, we might ask, doesn’t Digital Humanities know about the work and struggles and conquests of (see Hammer Retrospective at the Tate above) the speakers at the second conference like Lourdes Portillo, Barbara Hammer, or Rea Tajiri who have been interpreting their impassioned, politicized ideas into forms of media and pedagogy for decades and this to an enthusiastic audience who has responded in kind with criticism and media production of our own?

I’d have to say the answer to this is why I don’t whole-heartedly embrace the digital humanities (while I’m happy to be embraced by them). The “field” does the amazing potentially radicalizing work of asking humanities professors (and students) to take account for their audiences, commitments, forms, and the uses of their work. But this was always there to take account of, merely being obscured by the transparent (and patriarchal) protocols of publishing and pedagogy that have suddenly been miraculously revealed because of the confounding force of the digital. However, this turn is occurring, for the most part, as if plenty of fields, and professors, and artists, and students, and humanists hadn’t been already been doing this for years (and therefore without turning to these necessarily radical traditions of political scholars, theoretical artists, and humanities activists).

I wrote just such a comment recently on Miriam Posner’s blog:

“Just got turned on to your blog. How thrilling! When I think (and write and d0) about doing as making as thinking I have often made videos as well as books, and more currently “ video-books” (which are really just big web-pages), so what I think has been lost in this “all Digital Humanities are communities of practice speak” (and particularly that this is a radicalizing moment for humanists) is not simply that people crafted before in that twee sense, but that academic writing is and always was doing, as it was craft, and that these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this). I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently, Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates at the 2012 MLA Convention. I love your four points at the end for the reason that it marks practice as political, and hope you’ll take a peek at some of the similar principles I’m working through at my Feminist Online Spaces site (a work in progress to be sure).”

I will be beginning my talk for the Re:Humanities, an undergraduate conference on Digital Humanities run by students at Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and Haverford, with these observations. There are certainly reasons that the digital humanities lend themselves to an integrative pedagogic method (including both undergrad media production and research):

  • the field is new: so there is still not a lot of original research, and there’s room for undergraduates
  • it is digital and therefore young people’s “native status” qualifies them to do work that many more “qualified” experts can not or will not
  • web 2.0 is characterized by a diminishing of the power of expertise with a linked growth in access to voice (through both production tools and distribution platforms)
  • since digital literacy includes reading and writing beyond the word, the production of sounds and images becomes critical
  • working with digital tools allow us to stay within the vernacular of what we critique while modelling the methods, ideas, and norms we wish to see on the Internet

(this video won best in show for the Learning from YouTube 2012 video about YouTube popularity that was also a good video for school).

Voice as Structure

February 1, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I had the decided pleasure of partaking in a conversation with Natalie Bookchin, the amazing new media artist who is my friend and even sometimes collaborator. We spoke together with the Critical Digital Humanities group at UC Riverside about space, quotation, and community in relation to our critical media practices.

A highlight in our conversation addressed how we both conscientiously move and link our work between “real” and “cyber” spaces always anticipating how they are co-constitutive (thanks to April Durham for this clarification) while trying to maintain a shared, and admitted commitment to the “real” in the last instance (what I called a complex three-way). But I was most inspired by our interactions about the voice, body and structure: how Natalie explains the ways that her voice is visible in the system, tensions, arguments, and connections she draws from the indexical images of faces and words of others from YouTube, while my online feminist mantrafesto didactically insists that the (feminist, raced) body of the user must be seen. Bookchin’s unseen but anchored presence as artist may be the out I’ve been looking for, as participants at my road show have consistently been critical of these lines:

All voices want a body. A body needs to be visible
Visibility allows for warranting

I am currently negotiating my contract with MIT Press to “publish” my “video-book” about YouTube this Fall. The enlightening, confusing, crazy, friendly, and productive conversations I am having with my editor, Doug Sery, and my production team at USC’s Vectors and IML are a telling indication of how far academic publishing (and writing) has to go to match the technological possibilities for writing, research, and public intellectualism afforded by new media. My project will be the first publication supported (in part) by a Mellon Initiative “The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture,” which set out to re-think academic publishing (in conversation with UC, MIT and Duke University Presses) in light of media archives (including the USC Shoah Foundation and Institute, The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, Critical Commons and the Internet Archive) and digital humanities. With Doug’s kind permission, I will be presenting some of our conversation here as a way to network these sorts of negotiations, and the questions they raise for digital humanists, new media scholars, and academic presses:

Doug:

Thanks for making a first pass on the contract. I am thrilled to be working with MIT, and realize “The Work” (what I am currently calling a “video-book” until a better name is found) is the first of its kind, and we’re making this happen as we go. Towards this end, here are the notes I promised about the concepts in the first draft of the contract that don’t align well with my understanding of this born-digital publication. I think the conceptual issues for us to tackle are:

1) Delivery of the Work: what form is acceptable given that the Work lives only on-line (or in a data-base) and not in “word-processing files”

2) Author’s Warranty:
a) I am wondering about urls and YouTube videos that constitute a large portion of the Work. Of course, the writing is all mine.
b) Also, regarding credit: It is not clear to me, contractually, how to credit the design team who built the Work which holds my words and points to other’s videos.
c) As for Previous Publication: a significant amount of the Work has been “published” already on my blog, although reformatted and designed for the Work.

3) Size of the Work: Do you actually want a word count for the Work? This will not account for the videos, which take up a significant portion of its content. Should there be a video count, or a time count, too?

4) Royalties: There is currently language about royalties that gives me 0% of all books sales, which makes sense, as there is no book. The language in the separate portions called Electronic Rights and Royalties from Other Sources (i.e. “if the Work is sold electronically”) both seem to be written for a paper book (i.e. “we might make the Work as a whole available via the World Wide Web)” and seem to be in some contradiction or in uneccessary parallel with each other.  Given that on-line, electronic distribution would be its primary (only?) possible revenue stream, if there is to be a revenue stream at all, since it is my current understanding that the Work will be free on the MIT site (although this is not stipulated in the contract), I’d like this all to be clarified and probably re-written.

5) Materials Created by Other Persons: To be clear, I do not have permissions for most of the YouTube videos the work points to, which sit on YouTube and not on the Work.

6) Upkeep, repairs, hosting of the infrastructure, database and Work: Who is responsible for this? Where does it sit? Where does it go after three years? How is it preserved?

7) Editing, Proofing: Unclear how this will be done given the unique quality of the material in the Work: i.e. design, words, videos. I certainly want it to be edited and proofed but how and by whom?

8. Author’s Alterations: We need to decide whether the Work will be adapted, in that it is live, and easily updatable, added to, commented upon etc. or if it stays still once delivered (more like a paper book).

9) Promotion: given the unique nature of the Work, its economic model, and its final shape and home, I am interested in thinking through where and how the Press will promote it and otherwise let its audience know about its presence and availability.

10)  Index: The Work has a search function and thus I will not need to make an index.

I look forward to working all this through. I understand that most of these concepts are new for the Press (and me) and am open to hashing them out in ways that make the best sense for all concerned. Meanwhile,  I am busy revising the Work as we speak. All the best, Alex

PS: I would like to ask your permission to “publish” some version of this (and other emails) concerning our ongoing discussions about publishing the Work, first on my blog, and then perhaps in the Work itself. As you know, the self-referential quality of the Work, discussing its own status as an object of writing, pedagogy, social-networked scholarship, activist intellectualism, and digital humanities publishing would be well-served by including this final stage of its production, process, and conceptualization within itself.

My friend and colleague, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, has written much and more on the state of academic publishing (and I recently edited a section on this in Cinema Journal) so I won’t go there again here. Kathleen’s recent book, Planned Obsolescence, is being openly peer-reviewed, on-line, at MediaCommonsPress: “open scholarship in open formats.” In this spirit of openness and full disclosure, I share my recent escapades in the dodgy realm of the “blind” review. For, “blind” reviews certainly achieve many things, including the cloaking of shoddy practices of those in control, the hiding of labor and promises behind shields of anonymity, and the use of outdated methods that have lost touch with current technologies as well as practices of publishing.

About two years ago I applied to write for an edited anthology (by two of Cinema Studies’ most esteemed statespeople), to be published by a pre-eminent discipline-specific press, about Teaching Media Studies. How proud was I to be accepted! I wrote and re-wrote my little manifesto about teaching media production within media studies classrooms, with the close help of my editors. A lot of time was spent, and the piece was perfected for this particular place. Quite recently, I was rather summarily dismissed from the enterprise, after being told in a professional but not particularly supportive way, that there were too many words in the anthology, and mine had been, not surprisingly, given its edgy and marginal goals, selected to go to reduce word-count. In the meantime, the uncountable hours of revision were wiped away, “blind” to all but me.

Now much too short for just about any place (the requirements of the anthology) and entirely re-directed to address the editors’ and anthology’s concerns, I naively set out to try to re-place my effort elsewhere. I chose to send it to one of the pre-eminent journals in the field because the book version had itself been written for a lofty forum and a field-specific audience. The journal has a nifty little on-line submission template, so imagine my surprise, after the cumbersome effort of filling in all their required fields, and taking my name off the front of the article, to be asked to re-submit. I include my correspondence about this for one reason: to prove that these creaky old rules, that make less and less sense in our on-line world (where a quick google search could identify anyone anyhow, if anyone actually cared), can be re-thought to be more responsive to our needs as writers and thinkers, critics and learners.

Dear Dr. Juhasz,

I write you in regards to manuscript #x which you submitted to Y. Y is an academic journal which peer reviews all its essays. As per the instructions to authors on our website, all the files you upload, apart from the cover letter, must be blinded, ie not give any information as to your identity. The manuscript you have now submitted twice is not blinded for review. Please can you log in again and resubmit it, with the cover information in a separate file. When you resubmit, please can you answer all the questions fully (ie  not “already answered” in place of essay title etc). Your previous versions will not be visible to our reviewers, so the latest version needs to have all relevant information fully completed.

Sincerely,
Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 02 March 2010 18:19
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

There must be some misunderstanding here. The version I am uploading has no cover information on it. Is there something I am missing? Thanks,

Alex Juhasz

——-

On Mar 4, 2010, at 8:06 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex – your name is listed several times in the contents of your essay. Any info identifying you must be uploaded separately, as a cover letter.

Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 04 March 2010 17:26
To: Z at Y
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

I am a feminist scholar who writes about my own media work in conjunction with production and scholarly traditions that inform it.  Taking out references to myself in the piece seriously changes the fundamental theoretical, political, ideological and stylistic program of the piece. Not really sure what the best response is…Happy for your advise.

Alex

—–

On Mar 8, 2010, at 2:32 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex

Blinding essays so the author cannot be identified is a long-established process in peer-reviewed journals. If you feel you cannot remove references that identify you without compromising the piece, I’m afraid Y cannot accept your essay for peer-review.

Best wishes
Z

——-

From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 08 March 2010 16:45
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

Z:

I will re-send this truly blind, as you request. In the meantime, I an requesting that you bring this matter to your Editorial Team. As a feminist scholar who has looked to (and published in) Y for my entire (nearly twenty-year) career, and has applauded its role in allowing feminist practices and concerns to have a central role in the (re)shaping of the field of Cinema Studies, I am somewhat stymied, or perhaps disappointed, that the “long-established process of peer-review” trumps careful decisions about particular pieces that fall inside and outside these cherished rubrics. The challenging of such common-sense institutional practices was once a focus of your journal. I have a long and steady career of writing about my own work in the first person voice and theorizing from this position. I am not alone in such a writing style and method: one theorized by feminists in these very pages over the course of twenty-plus years. In fact, in the 1980s, I published a piece in Y about making AIDS activist videos, where my presence, work, and personal relationships were central to the theoretical meaning(s)of the piece. I do not remember striking references to my videos, or myself when this writing was reviewed. I will continue to insist that by taking the web-site that I discuss (and made) out of this piece in the name of “blind review” you do a greater disservice to the meanings of the piece, which are that real people make the culture they need by looking to past practices, sharing their own experiences, and building communities of conviction. I hope you understand that it is your institutional practices that are of real concern to me. The matter of my piece is pretty incidental.

Alex Juhasz

—–

Dear Alex

I’ll check this out with the editorial board. It does sound as if this piece needs to be seen as is, so please hold off resubmitting another version for now – I’ll just need to run it past them and I’ll get back to you.

Best wishes
Z

——–

09-Mar-2010
Dear Alex

I’ve checked with the editors as requested and in this case they’ll accept your original version of “TEACHING MEDIA PRAXIS”. So, I’m sorry for the inconvenience but please can you upload original version again.

Best wishes,
Z
Administrative Asst, Y