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