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.

Off and Running with the Latina History Project

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One initiative I’m working on in my position as Postdoc in Digital Scholarship at Southwestern University is the Latina History Project (LHP).  Co-directed by Southwestern faculty members Dr. Brenda Sendejo (Anthropology) and Dr. Alison Kafer (Feminist Studies) the LHP aims to enhance undergraduate education about Latina history in the Central Texas region.  As part of my contribution to the project, I’m working with two stellar student workers and juniors at Southwestern, to explore and process archival materials pertaining to Southwestern’s own Latina histories.

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Box of folders… or TREASURE TROVE of Central Texas Latina history? Tori (left) and Nani (right) are on the case!

Dr. Mary Visser (Art) has graciously provided the LHP with a trove of primary source materials related to an important aspect of Southwestern’s own institutional history as it connects with Latina history.  During the early 1990s, Dr. Visser collaborated with Lupita Barrera Bryant to curate a photography exhibition at Southwestern.  “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” featured photography by Mary Jessie Garza.

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Invitation to “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls: Photography by Mary Jessie Garza” at Southwestern in 1992. The exhibition invitation includes details in both Spanish and English. The cover photo is titled “Rosie Serna.”

According to the invitation pictured above, the exhibition includes images of “contemporary women of Mexican descent who have contributed to the emerging culture of Texas and the nation.”  The box of materials Dr. Visser provided includes separate information folders for each woman photographed for the exhibit, negatives of all of the portraits taken for the exhibit, and materials that Visser and Bryant researched to learn about potential subjects.  Tori and Nani and I have made some headway inventorying the materials, and thinking about how best to organize them into the protective mylar covers and acid-free boxes and folders that Dr. Visser gave us for purposes of preserving the materials.

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Proudly posing with acid-free boxes and folders.

During our first inventory session, we came across a host of interesting stuff.  We especially appreciated these gems:

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Gotta love early-nineties business casual!

In addition to exploring the materials from Dr. Visser, we also visited Southwestern’s own Special Collections to explore holdings pertaining to Latina/Latino history.  Kathryn Stallard, Director of Special Collections, gave us a helpful orientation in the Reading Room.

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Here’s Tori getting down to the business of archival analysis!

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So far, so fun!  I look forward to seeing where the Latina History Project takes us as we continue with archival processing and analysis tasks.