Tiki-Toki Timelines and the Rule of Law Oral History Project

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Recently in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” we’ve been exploring the rich audiovisual oral history collection at Columbia University’s Rule of Law Oral History Project, which features perspectives from various stakeholders around the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

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Students are responsible for selecting one interview to watch, after which they post to our class blog using the results of this Close Listening Worksheet.  In discussion, multiple students have mentioned their surprise at how deeply engaging AV oral history interviews can be.  One student blogger wrote,

“I was skeptical at first. Skeptical that I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to these oral histories. But boy was I wrong… These interviews make the topics come alive with the tones, inflections, and the facial expressions of the narrators… Seeing a narrator… completely changes the way the anecdote is processed… I think close-listening through technology and videos could be the next big movement in reaching out to the general public.”

Of course, first people have to watch these oral history videos!  But I love the idea that AV oral histories might play a central role in efforts to raise awareness about the historic relationships in the U.S. between structural injustice and incarceration, both domestically and in terms of our foreign policy.

In order to explore a digital timeline option for the Final Project Assignment for the course, last week in class students completed this Tiki-Toki Assignment, which asked them to establish a digital timeline based on the Rule of Law Oral History Project interview they watched.  Tiki-Toki is a free digital timeline creation tool.  Since the objectives of the exercise were 1) to gain familiarity with a new digital tool and 2) practice identifying and crediting images in the public domain, students created only one “story,” or point on the Tiki-Toki timeline, in their respective timelines.  Nevertheless, their timeline creations were very impressive.  Students made many creative decisions about how to visually represent themes, concepts, and issues represented in the oral histories.  Click through below for a few compelling examples of the students’ work.  (And thanks to the students who granted me permission to include their timelines here!)

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Tiki-Toki story on Rule of Law Oral History Project interview with Robert Kirsch

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Tiki-Toki story on Rule of Law Oral History Project interview with Moazzam Begg

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Tiki-Toki story on Rule of Law Oral History Project interview with Steven Reisner

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

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“An Out-Of-This-Classroom Experience”: Students Engage with the Texas After Violence Project

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As part of our ongoing partnership with the Texas After Violence Project in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” students in the class recently completed an orientation session on GLIFOS Social Media, the digital archiving software used by the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) in order to host digital primary source collections.  Kathryn Darnall, Digital Asset Management Intern at the HRDI, provided us with a comprehensive yet highly accessible overview of GLIFOS, including many opportunities for students to interact with the technology and experiment with its functions.

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Screenshot from the GLIFOS page for a TAVP interview with Ireland Beazley. Students will input metadata on editing pages like this one in order to make interviews available on the public page of the HRDI.

Student responses to the GLIFOS orientation on our class blog highlighted the centrality of digital archiving tasks to our class’s commitment to community engagement.  In one post, titled “An Out-Of-This-Classroom Experience,” a student commented, “This is a chance for me to gain valuable skills about real-life computer technology. More than that, I am most excited about the chance to do something substantial for an organization outside of an academic setting.”  Another student pointed out that while participating in digital archiving tasks advances the TAVP mission, just as importantly, these tasks enhance liberal arts education:

“Even though the main goal of working with the TAVP is to help a non-profit and engage in activism, which I personally believe is central to feminist studies, as students, when we transcribe or create a table of contents for the video, we are better able to engage, critically think, and basically have a more meaningful interaction with the TAVP videos.”

Both student blog contributors mentioned the insights they are gaining into the profound “ripple effects” of the death penalty throughout Texas communities.  One student blogged that at this point in the class’s work with the TAVP,

“I have been able to expand my perceived web of peoples affected by the death penalty. First it starts with the victim and the person sentenced, then to the family of the victim, then extending towards the perpetrator’s family, next to the lawyers on both sides of the case, after that the jurors of the case, and somewhere in between, the friends of the victim/perpetrator and witnesses of the crime. I hope that my understanding of this web continues to expand through more experiences with the TAVP.”

Another student blogger echoed this sentiment:

“I am most excited about working with the Texas After Violence Project because of the vast array of perspectives they collect regarding the death penalty… Since I am interested in a career in the field of law, whether that be as a lawyer or a law enforcement agent, I am excited to be able to learn concrete ways the legal system effects not only those incarcerated but the ripple effect it has on family and friends as well.”

In addition to completing the GLIFOS orientation, students also engaged with the TAVP this past week by contributing to a class HistoryPin gallery featuring selected clips from TAVP oral history interviews.  You can explore our gallery here.

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Screenshot from class HistoryPin gallery of TAVP oral history interview clips.

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

“Discovering America” with the Latina History Project

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Our most recent Latina History Project session began with a discussion about the theory and practice of oral history anchored in our reading of Dr. Brenda Sendejo‘s essay titled “Mother’s Legacy: Cultivating Chicana Consciousness During the War Years.” The essay appears in Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation edited by Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez and Emilio Zamora.

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In order to provide insights into evolving gender norms during the post-war period, Dr. Sendejo’s chapter examines the oral histories of three Mexican-American women who became mothers in the years following World War II.  Dr. Sendejo led us in a fantastic discussion about the important role that granular, individual narratives can play in illuminating broad cultural, historical, political, and social phenomena.

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Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

Following our oral history discussion, we switched gears to spend some time identifying items for digitization in the collection of primary source materials that Professor Mary Visser has provided for us to explore and preserve.

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Evaluating an item for potential digitization. Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

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The primary source materials include several sheets of photographic slides featuring portraits of Central Texas Latinas by Mary Jesse Garza. Photo credit: Brenda Sendejo

The materials on loan to us by Prof. Visser pertain to the planning of the exhibit “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls,” a collection of portraits of influential Central Texas Latinas with photography by Mary Jessie Garza.  Dr. Visser collaborated with Lupita Barrera Bryant to coordinate the exhibit in conjunction with the 1992 Brown Symposium at Southwestern University, titled “Discoveries of America.”  One item we’ve flagged for digitization provides useful insights into the context and motivation behind both the photography exhibit and the 1992 Brown Symposium at large:

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This untitled typed memo announcing the 1992 Brown Symposium provides evidence that the event was in direct response to the Columbian Quincentennial:

“Next year’s Brown Symposium will take place January 22-24 of 1992, roughly five hundred years since Columbus sailed the ocean blue… The symposium will be entitled DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA, and brings together scholars in a range of disciplines to discuss interconnected meanings of America, and of discovery… The symposium will thus feature six DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA achieved by Blacks, Women, Southwestern Explorers, the English, the Spanish [by way of Columbus], and Native Americans. “

This memo demonstrates that the “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” exhibit was not only relevant to regional Central Texas Latina history, but also connected with a broad movement at Southwestern and nationally to take the 1992 Quincentennial as an opportunity to reflect on the implications of Columbus’s continuing legacy for ethnic and minority groups across the Americas.

Off and Tweeting with @English10714 Reading Responses!

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Freedom and Imprisonment in American Literature

Students in English 10-714 are submitting reading responses each week via Twitter.  As the course instructor, I was very impressed with the first batch of tweets, in response to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  Students made sharp observations and raised critical questions about gender, genre, and instances of Ellison’s specific language use.

One student identified key concepts that Ellison establishes in his novel: “There is a big emphasis on the difference between civilization and culture in the beginning parts of the novel.”  Another student noted a distinct lack of diversity in gender perspectives represented in the novel.  “Would “Invisible Man” pass the Bechdel test if it were a contemporary movie?”  Yet another student touched on the issue of genre by addressing the surrealist aspects of the text.  “Does the text’s surrealism underline the absurdity of racism, or does it dilute the impact by removing weight from the story?”

Excellent…

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“Listening for a Change”: Students Blog about Texas After Violence Project Oral Histories

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This week in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach,” several students posted on our class blog about the experience of listening to a Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) oral history interview.  The TAVP collects oral history interviews from people across Texas who have been affected by the death penalty in our state.  The audiovisual interviews are archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  The motto of the TAVP–“Listening For A Change”–indicates the TAVP’s goal of influencing public discourse about capital punishment in Texas by providing a forum for individuals to share their stories.

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Students selected one oral history to listen to this week, and completed this Close Listening Worksheet as they listened. Using the results of these worksheets to compose blog posts, students reflected on the interviews, raised important questions, and made insightful observations about how the interviews connect with course readings.  Since the TAVP interviews represent a range of positions on the death penalty, one student remarked,

“Dismissing people based on their stance on capital punishment is not objective. Although anyone can agree or disagree with her it is important to listen to anyone and everyone’s story in a way that allows for judgement to take the backseat.”

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Screenshot from TAVP interview with Iliana Lopez, archived at the HRDI

Another student, who listened to an interview with Iliana López (see screenshot above), noted that this interview reinforces the importance of oral history at large.

“I found Illiana’s lived experiences accurately mapped out why restorative justice can be a powerful alternative to the responses of traditional law enforcement and courts… Her experience demonstrates the need to listen and share oral narratives; the stories of people we may not otherwise listen to, or who we may only hear through the filter of a criminal justice system that is more set on dehumanizing punishment rather than restorative conversation.”

Yet another student concluded, “It is difficult to learn to bear witness to injustice without either finding justice in it or turning yourself off. But witnessing is without question important.”

This is a significant point to which I would like to return over the course of our class discussions this semester.  Why is it important that we bear witness to injustice by engaging with oral histories?  What do we do with our emotions when listening to troubling narratives?  What are some productive ways in which we can process and respond to the stories of injustice we’re encountering?

*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*

New Year, New Opportunities to Teach with Archives!

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I’m looking forward to an exciting semester working with Southwestern University undergrads on projects involving a host of digital archives initiatives: the Digital Public Library of America, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, and the Rule of Law Oral History Project, to name just a few.  The beginning of the semester is a good time to evaluate teaching resources that have worked well in the past and think about incorporating new ones.  Inspired by my colleague and fellow Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoc Monica Mercado’s (@monicalmercado) Twitter appeal this morning on behalf of her independent study undergrads–“does anyone have an article they like on *doing* archival research?”–I’ve collected here my go-to resources for facilitating undergraduate engagement with archives.  I developed these resources with the support of the Bridging Disciplines Programs at UT-Austin in 2013, when I was still a wee graduate student.  I’m happy to report that I still find them useful for getting everyone (students and faculty) on the same page about what archives are and how undergrads can orient themselves to the archival research task.

Without further ado:

Archival Research Glossary and Exercise. This glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  The accompanying exercise enables students to familiarize themselves with common concepts and terms they’ll encounter in physical and digital archives.

Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet. This basic worksheet challenges students to make analytical observations about a selected archival object.  It also asks students to think about next steps for researching context, thus initiating the process of identifying secondary sources to contextualize primary sources.

Undergraduate Archival Research Considerations. This hand-out offers strategies and considerations for undergraduates new to the archival research task.

Archives and Interdisciplinary Education. This hand-out for faculty offers strategies and considerations for involving students in archives-based coursework.

Transcribing Central Texas Latin@ History

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During today’s Latina History Project Session, student interns did important work to enhance access to Southwestern University’s Special Collections pertaining to Latina/Latino history in Central Texas.  They’re bringing their impressive Spanish language skills to bear transcribing a 1984 oral history interview with Conceptíon Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Georgetown in 1920, at which time he was one of only four Mexicans living in the town.  The interview was conducted by Laurie Rothhammer, who was an undergraduate history student at Southwestern.

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Nani (left) and Tori (right) transcribe an oral history interview in Special Collections.

The hour-long interview is in both Spanish and English.  Before its digitization, the interview looked like this:

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Cassette tape recording of the Conceptíon Lopez interview

Now it looks like this!

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Screenshot of the Conceptíon Lopez interview MP.3

Tori and Nani are working with the MP.3 version in order to minimize wear on the cassette tape.  By transcribing and translating the Spanish portions of the interview into English, they’re improving the accessibility of the oral history for researchers, hearing-impaired users, and non-Spanish-speaking users.

Before jumping into the transcription process, the three of us had a discussion about why transcription is so important when it comes to oral history.  Nani remarked that transcription is a form of preservation; if the original recording is lost, the transcript might provide a back-up of the contents.  Tori pointed out that transcriptions can aide researchers and expedite the research process, since transcripts are keyword-searchable while recordings are not.  Together, we reviewed the Baylor University Institute for Oral History Style Guide for tips on how to address the common challenges that arise in oral history transcription.  For example, how should a transcriber handle false starts, feedback words, and non-verbal sounds?  The Style Guide provides tips for maintaining the integrity of the narrator’s voice without necessarily generating a verbatim transcription.