Archival study plays an increasingly central role in academic humanities conferences. The Modern Language Association (MLA) 2016 Conference was no exception to this movement. Check out my review of archives-oriented MLA panels by clicking below!
One of the most dynamic conversations charging the atmosphere at this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention has to do with how archivists and academics relate to each other, both practically and theoretically.
The excellent panel #s258, “What We Talk about When We Talk about DH: Interdisciplinary Vocabularies,” has been a highlight of the conference so far for me and many other attendees. Panelist T-Kay Sangwand, Digital Scholarship Librarian at UCLA, encouraged scholars to stop asking “what is the archive?” and to start drawing on terms that have already been established in archival theory. Angel Nieves, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative at Hamilton College, on panel #s280 titled “Disrupting the Digital Humanities: New Radical Publics” called for educators to incorporate critical theory into the very foundation of digital humanities projects, rather than “sprinkling” it on top. (Thanks @ShawnaRoss for tweeting this talk. See Nieves’ position paper here.)
I presented this morning on panel #s460, “The Digital Humanities and the Archive.” (Huge thanks to my fellow panelists for a great panel and discussion!) I used the example of the Latina History Project at Southwestern University as a point of departure for a discussion of role digital archives can play in theoretically informed, community engaged, multidisiplinary higher education.
I’ve talked and blogged about the nuts and bolts of the project elsewhere, but in response to calls from the Twittersphere, below I’ve included the part of my talk on the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities. I look forward to continuing the conversation during the rest of the conference and beyond!
On bridging archives and academia:
“I’d like to tap into current scholarship on archives, higher education, and the digital humanities, in order to think about how the encounter with digital archives can enhance critical theoretical engagement in contexts of humanities study. Recent scholarship by Lauren F. Klein, Lisa Darms, and Kate Eichhorn, among others, suggests that there is a rift between archives and academia. Klein, Darms, and Eichhorn all use the term “invisible” to describe the labor of the archivist from the perspective of the academic. Klein considers that “As scholars, we do not see the labor involved in… the development of the encoding standards and database design that allows us to perform our search queries… [T]his digital labor remains not only invisible, but also unacknowledged by most humanities scholars.” In an editorial introduction to the latest issue of Archive Journal, archivist Darms reinforces the point that archival processes and practices remain “invisible to the theorists most likely to write about [them],” while co-editor Eichhorn validates concerns archivists have expressed about “their invisibility in contemporary scholarly, activist, and artistic discourses on archives.” Eichhorn regrets that the archival turn (so expertly theorized in her own seminal book on the topic in terms of feminist studies) is enacted by academics in such a way as to “celebrate ‘the archive’ and all the things that ‘the archive’ apparently encompasses (politics, desire, longing, death, memory, history, and list goes on) in lieu of grappling with the material questions that archival practices invariably raise.” Is archival practice so alienated from humanist theory?
Certainly, it is crucial that scholars cultivate awareness of and respect for the labor that enables access to archives as the raw material of humanities inquiry. Projects such as the LHP and the proliferation of others like it do important work to expose a rising generation of scholars to the work, craft, and expertise involved in the archiving process. Yet to bridge the perceived divide between archivists and academics, it is also necessary to recognize the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities. The notion that archivists operate “outside academe,” as Eichhorn terms it, fails to account for a growing field of scholarship produced by archivists and associated archives and library staff that intersects with the digital humanities, race and ethnicity studies, and feminist studies, among other fields. I resist the idea that the material conditions and practical pressures that impact archival work impede unique theoretical perspectives on the scope and significance of the archive. On the contrary, it is exactly these material conditions that premise some of the most socially and theoretically engaged work in the field of archival practice today, with implications for humanities study.
Archival practice has long encompassed scholarly and teaching components, but the designation in 2012 of an annual pedagogy issue in the Oral History Review, as well as recent pedagogically-focused articles in RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage, American Archivist, and Libraries and the Academy, suggest increasingly important roles for archives and archival stewardship practices in higher education. Scholars such as Douglas A. Boyd, Janice W. Fernheimer, and Rachel Dixon suggest that involving undergraduates in digital archival stewardship allows students to grasp the interpretive nature of metadata creation, which is an important exercise in critical thinking. Jill Goodman Gould and Gail Gradowski, in an article titled “Using Online Video Oral Histories to Engage Students in Authentic Research,” indicate that guiding students in incorporating oral histories in multimedia projects provides an engaging exposure to primary sources that equips students with skills in information literacy and primary source research—both areas marked by experts as priorities in twenty-first century higher education. And Douglas A. Boyd and Mary A. Larson emphasize that participating in oral history initiatives provides students with opportunities to hone skills in collaboration and curation, both key principles of digital humanities practice.
A related body of scholarship points out the utility of digital oral history stewardship methods not only for teaching, but for community-driven research, as well. Fresh takes on archival provenance informed by critical theory, such as Joel Wurl’s work on ethnicity and Michelle Caswell’s on survivor status as forms of provenance, emphasize the values of multiplicity, counter-narrative, and the contingent, constructed nature of historical narratives. In our work on the Latina History Project, the very process of “grappling with the material questions [of] archival practice” has exposed students to the ethics and politics of archival provenance, which in turn has meaningfully informed our examinations of analogous issues of representation, privilege, and inequality in studies of Latina history. Moreover, training students in digital archival stewardship offers an intimate encounter with the theoretical notion that values and ideology are embedded in the acts of curation and metadata creation. This exposure allows a natural transition into broader conceptions of constructed, contingent nature of history and memory making.
With the central question, as Lisa Darms formulates it—“how we can become better collaborators?”—guiding contemporary archival practice, it is clear that digital oral history stewardship has something to offer the community-engaged digital humanities classroom not only in terms of digital skill-building, but also in terms of education in critical theory. Feminist and critical race theoretical perspectives provide useful guidance for reading archives against the grain, between the lines, and with an eye to perspectives that are not represented, in order to contend with the legacy of archives as institutions of hegemonic power that represent the interests of groups that dominate in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and/or class. In archiving and curation processes for the Latina History Project, the theory and practicalities of digital archival stewardship are heavily entwined. Students have opportunities to apply critical theoretical principles they are learning in class to an immediate context. If, as archives theorist Joel Wurl proposes, an archived community is an enfranchised community, student collaborators gained an immersion in the causal relationship between oral history documentation and the conditions of social equality. Digital archival practice thus has an important role to play in interdisciplinary higher education attuned both to digital skill-building and to currents in critical theory.”
May 19th’s Day of Digital Humanities 2015 (#DayofDH, #DayofDH2015) is over and done with, but I can’t resist the urge to participate for posterity! I love the concept behind this international project. Registered digital humanists everywhere document what they do in a work day, in order to crowd-source data that will be processed using digital humanities methods in order to provide us all with a better sense of what DH encompasses. It’s a DH feedback mechanism extraordinaire!
Even if it’s too late to provide a data point for the project, it’s important to make DH work visible. Although no two days in the life of a digital humanist are exactly alike, I would say that yesterday was pretty representative of my professional life these days. Here’s what I got up to:
- Blogged about my Spring 2015 digital humanities class, “Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition.” My post cites several student posts from our class blog.
- Wrote a description for the workshop on “Modernism and Digital Archives” that I’ll be leading at the 2015 Modernist Studies Association Conference.
Here’s my description of the workshop: “This interactive workshop will focus on how to incorporate digital archives into research and teaching on modernism. Participants will 1) learn about digital archives and digitization initiatives pertinent to modernist studies; 2) mine selected digital archives and databases for primary source materials that speak to their research interests; and 3) learn strategies for incorporating these archives into their teaching.”
- Tweeted out an article from the Southwestern University Department of Research and Digital Scholarship Twitter account (@SU_RADS) profiling Kathryn Stallard, Director of SU Special Collections, who is retiring this spring. The article features the grant-funded special collections digitization project Kathryn has spear-headed, and it links to the Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center Omeka site I’ve been working on (and which remains a work in progress!).
- Communicated with colleagues in the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium about logistics for making a recording of a recent TxDHC webinar on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) publicly available on the TxDHC website. Matt Christy of Texas A&M has been the point of contact for the TxDHC website, while Jennifer Hecker of UT-Austin has been coordinating closed captioning for the webinar recording using Amara. Accessibility is one of the core values of the digital humanities, so we look forward to posting a video that is accessible to hearing-impaired users.
- Conducted a quality control review of student digital archiving work conducted in my spring class for the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) collection at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI). Since students in my spring class transcribed, audited, formatted, and synced TAVP oral histories on the HRDI website, I play an intermediary role between the students and the HRDI archivists. I’m delighted to report that Kathryn Darnall, Digital Assets Management Intern at the HRDI, is very happy with the students’ work so far. I spent some time yesterday remedying problems with naming conventions in oral history transcripts that students input using GLIFOS digital archiving software.
In addition to the above, I wrote a slew of e-mails (naturally) and had some nice hallway chats with fellow library staff, including Head Research and Instruction Librarian Joan Parks, who clued me in to this webinar introduction to Native American primary source databases. All in all, it was an enchanting day of DH-related work and activities!
What did you do during Day of DH 2015? If you tweeted, blogged, or otherwise participated in Texas, consider logging in and linking as appropriate to this running list on the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium website. It would be great to get insights into a day in the life of DH across Texas.
It’s been a whirlwind of a semester in “English 10-714: Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition: A Multidisciplinary Approach”! Now that the class has drawn completely to a close–all digital projects and reflective essays turned in, grades submitted, and digital archiving commitments to the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP), the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI), and the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA) wrapped up–I’d like to report on some themes that emerged from students’ final reflective posts on our course blog. The students’ reflections not only provide immensely useful considerations as I look forward to future adventures teaching digital humanities; they also provide great insights into what the digital humanities can do and be in undergraduate liberal arts education.
In addition to regularly blogging, tweeting, and building independent digital projects using platforms such as Annotation Studio, Tiki-Toki, Omeka, and HistoryPin, our class transcribed 17 prison essays for the American Prison Writing Archive and digitally archived a whopping 15 hours of oral history testimony for the Texas After Violence Project. In this time- and labor-intensive enterprise, students took responsibility for transcribing, auditing, formatting, and synching transcripts with video for five oral history narrators whose stories are collected at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative. Students also created tables of contents and abstracts for the interviews, which will be made available to the public pending finalization by HRDI archivists.
I commend the students of English 10-714 for their openness to experimenting not only with new digital technologies, but also with traditional notions of genre and narrative. The multidisciplinary goals of the class–to deepen our understanding of how freedom, imprisonment, and criminal justice have been variously conceptualized in the U.S. imaginary–called for a broadly construed understanding of the “prison narrative.” While we encountered many texts that comport directly with the genre conventions of the prison narrative (including readings from Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America edited by Doran Larson, and pieces archived at the American Prison Writing Archive), we also encountered texts that challenged us to expand our idea of what the “prison narrative” might be, to include ostensibly non-narrative texts as well as the perspectives of writers and narrators far outside prison walls. Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, oral histories from family members of victims of crimes, the documentary Crime After Crime directed by Yoav Potash, and speeches by Angela Davis enriched our discussions of the generic boundaries of the prison narrative. Over the course of the semester, we framed our humanities inquiry in terms of questions like these:
- Explored collectively and comparatively, how do these multidisciplinary texts narrate shifting ideologies with regard to U.S. criminal justice?
- Whether explicitly narrative or not, what stories do these texts tell about about how criminal justice policies and practices impact people and communities inside prisons and beyond?
- What do these texts reveal about the power of narrative to establish, sustain, overturn, or transform widely held assumptions about prisons and the imprisoned?
One student wrote that reflecting on the semester, “I see narrative in everything that we have read and watched and listened to. I learned a great deal about how the narratives Americans are exposed to about imprisonment and punishment have a great impact on how we view prison — views that I saw in myself, and that have definitely been impacted the way that I think about punishment in general.” Another student remarked that our course readings “destroyed the dissociation that I have had with those that are incarcerated and rather humanized them.” Yet another student concluded that “the work of listening and contextualizing that needs to be done around crime… broadens the discourse around capital punishment by urging us to think about corporal and mental punishment, almost akin to death, perpetuated by prisons… While we need to fight for reform and specific policy changes, there needs to be a vast overhaul of this system.” These students’ reflections, as well as many others not cited here, evidence how effectively our course readings challenged students to confront their own assumptions, beliefs, and thoughts about future directions with regard to U.S. imprisonment practices.
In their thinking about the power of narratives to register and react to U.S. criminal justice, students cited a range of texts as favorites, but oral histories at the Texas After Violence Project and the Rule of Law Oral History Project reigned in the students’ appreciation. Students interacted with audiovisual oral histories using this Close Listening Worksheet as a basis for analysis. They also interacted with TAVP oral histories by transcribing, auditing, and archiving them for the Human Rights Documentation Initiative TAVP Collection. As one student remarked,
“Oral history interviews were my favorite types of texts to work with and analyze. I really liked being able to see a face to a narrative and hear the voice behind the story…. It was a way to get closer to the content and analyze it on many levels. I was able to draw different responses from these type of texts that I wouldn’t be able to draw from something in print.”
Another student agreed, commenting that the “oral history aspect of the project was very affecting…, and I am glad this class exposed me to oral history projects, as I was previously unfamiliar. Watching people talk about their own experiences and beliefs, being able to see them process their own thoughts, is powerful in a different way than a carefully crafted story or essay.” The student added that the Rule of Law Oral History Project provided him with a valuable access point to “the philosophy surrounding law,” since the project includes diverse perspectives from “experts, activists, psychologists, and those who have personally experienced extralegal detainment or torture.”
With regard to oral histories, yet another student put forth “two specific nuggets of knowledge I learned in class: new ways of close-reading (transcribing, auditing, etc.) and the activist power of narratives.” For this student and others, the values of interactive close-reading and community engagement were closely tied in our interactions with digital oral history collections.
Following are some further themes that emerged in student reflections on course learning outcomes, demonstrated with more quotes from their blog posts.
How digital archives, digital archiving practices, and digital tools introduced new ways of close-reading and enhanced interactivity with course texts and topics:
“Although we were already engaging with the texts in such an analytical way this course pushed us to a different level. Using digital technology to annotate, archive, respond to, and discuss texts we were thinking about the texts in so many different ways. All the different forms of digital technology gave us different insights to what we were working with and helped us communicate our thoughts about the texts with others.”
With reference to archiving TAVP oral histories and transcribing APWA essays: “This type of close reading deals with the narrative/text physically… obviously, for literature classes, reading is that physical activity, but often times it is hard to engage with a text and read every, single, word. But when transcribing, auditing, or syncing a narrative, it is almost necessary to overly pay attention to every word—therefore another way to close-read texts. Looking at texts and narratives by using digital technology in class, has been a valuable avenue to deal with texts in a new way.”
How working with digital tools and texts enriched our conception of narrative and shifted students’ relationships to narrative:
“Poetry, oral narratives, scholarly articles, and even documentaries are all some ways we’ve explored the prison narratives in our course this semester… When we think about a text we think about something in print or online that can be read but this course taught us to broaden the term “text” in such an interesting way…We focused on the content but also on the media that we received the text from.”
“All of the tools and texts we have worked with this semester have made me start thinking differently about the act of reading and listening. Reading is not a passive activity, as I had once thought. Putting my responses down on paper (or rather, a blog) made me realize just how much I reflected during the reading process. I was not simply taking in information; I was interpreting it and forming new information. The same goes with the act of listening. Transcribing and auditing another person’s words makes them seem like your own, which is an interesting feeling. As a reader and a listener, I have been able to understand an author or narrator’s point of view much more quickly and with a much more open mind than I did before this class… We are connecting not just to each other, but to the ideologies that surround us.”
“[T]ranscribing pieces [was] a deeply new thing for me. The first time I listened to the Jeff Hood interview [at the Texas After Violence Project], I found myself enjoying his story, questioning his motives, finding places where his activism plays into other systems of power that I have been taught about, and absorbing the story but not being changed by it. After auditing, and syncing this interview I found a new take on it entirely. The places that I would write off from his story because it doesn’t align with my experience (whether seeming unbelievable or merely not recognizable), in the end became the parts that really stretched me a lot… Normally, I would only listen to a long video such as this over and over again if I wanted to remember it, share it, somehow take ownership of it. But what I found with the Jeff Hood interview was that I engaged with the story not because I wanted to use it, but because it was a voice that mattered and it was my job to listen.”
How social media challenged student writers, enhanced community in our class, and connected us with communities beyond our class:
“Using Twitter as a productive and efficient way to respond to the “texts” we worked with made it really easy to attach other media aspects to what we were already talking about and add a more “real” feel to it all. We could join in conversation with current events and topics on Twitter and tie them into what we were thinking about in class.”
“While I enjoyed the use of a popular social media platform such as Twitter, I found it particularly challenging to narrow my thoughts down to 140 characters. This challenge made me think more carefully about each word and letter used in order to effectively and concisely make my point. I think it was very beneficial, however, to have all the thoughts in one place such as the feed. In other classes that require daily or weekly responses, it is usually for the professor’s benefit and is not shared with the rest of the class.”
“[A]t first I really disliked having to comment on weekly readings via Twitter, because of the extremely limited space, but eventually I realized that most of what I disliked was the way that the short format pushed me to very carefully consider my thoughts, and condense them into the best, purest form possible.”
How working with digital technologies and digital narratives opened up possibilities for advocacy, activism, and community engagement:
“Narratives are crucial aspects of activism. Reading someone’s story—being placed in someone’s metaphorical shoes by reading their work—creates a bond; and then this bond creates a meaningful connection for the person to the narrator. Therefore, I think that learning about injustices of the prison industrial complex through narratives like the TAVP [oral histories], the Rule of Law Oral History Project…, Fourth City: Essays from the Prisons in America and our other course texts—completely achieve this goal, of creating a bond with the reader.”
“The tools we have interacted with… have shown me the depth of accessibility for a wide variety of audiences that comes along with open air digital blogs and projects, and that is a necessary hinge of activism.”
Relatedly and in conclusion, one student reflected that in our “class about freedom and imprisonment,” she was frequently struck by the fact that her “own access to information and digital tools is very apparently a rare privilege.” Over the course of listening to audiovisual oral histories, reading from texts such as Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, and Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons, and as a result of our class’ volunteer relationship with the Inside Books Project, our class learned that access to texts, oral histories, and other digital media is an important measure of freedom. By the same token, the lack of access to educational tools and texts faced by many people in prisons is a major factor of their imprisonment.
Update, May 22, 2015: Course evaluations are in! Following are some of the problems, issues, and challenges that students identified in the class. Some of these were articulated in their blog posts as well, so I’ll synthesize them here:
- The emotional component of the class. The controversial course topic, sensitive course material, and provocative voices and perspectives we encountered in course texts sometimes made for an emotionally charged classroom experience.
- With the exception of the final project, in which students selected a digital platform from which to conduct a literary analysis, the digital skill-building did not always interact with the literary texts. Over the course of the semester, we learned Annotation Studio, Omeka, Tiki-Toki, and HistoryPin in preparation for the final project assignment. This, in addition to learning video-editing skills and the digital archiving software GLIFOS, was indeed a lot (probably too much) to cover, in light of our heavy reading load, regular social media contributions, and task sessions for the Texas After Violence Project and the American Prison Writing Archive. Several students suggested spending less time on skill-building, and more time independently applying selected digital tools to course texts.
- Assessment. Assessment is a big issue in both digital humanities and community-engaged classrooms, and ours was both. While I provided consistent feedback to students in the form of individual responses to blog posts and tweets, project management e-mails and meetings in and out of class with regard to tasks for the TAVP and the APWA, an in-class digital project proposal workshop, one-on-one consultations on final digital projects, and in-depth written responses to final projects, I did not assign grades until the end of the class. For the most part, students responded well to this format. Our class had great momentum. Every student completed all requirements for the class, quite a number of them going well above and beyond. But some student evaluations indicated that the gradelessness of the class was a challenge.
I take seriously issues of assessment in a course where the work does not neatly correspond to a system of letter grades. The question of how to assess digital scholarship and community-engaged learning looms large at this juncture in higher ed. Is it a matter of channeling student work into grade categories no matter what and however uneasily? Is it a matter of front-loading the class with extensive discussion about how their work will be valued and evaluated outside of the traditional grading system? What are the best strategies for providing students with the feedback they need to learn and succeed in the digital humanities/community-engaged classroom? This semester was undoubtedly a valuable experiment for me as an educator when it comes to assessment. The students’ feedback has provided me with a lot of important food for thought, and I look forward to implementing their suggestions in future teaching.
More immediately, I look forward to connecting with other educators and taking on questions of assessment in my upcoming presentation centered on my spring class at the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2015 Conference taking place at Michigan State University May 27-30. My panel, titled “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects,” will be a great opportunity to talk through issues of assessment with educators and archivists facing similar challenges.
It’s been a busy few weeks at the Latina History Project! Having processed, selected, and digitized primary source materials pertaining to a 1992 Southwestern University photography exhibition titled “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” including the work of photographer Mary Jesse Garza and featuring influential Central Texas Latinas, student workers Tori and Nani have been hard at work building a Latina History Project online exhibit. Since the photography exhibit represents an important intersection between Latina history and SU’s institutional history, the students are using Omeka, a web-publishing platform to build digital collections and exhibits, to highlight primary source materials pertaining to the planning and execution of the 1992 photography exhibition. We still have work to do before the site goes public, but here’s a sneak peek at the landing page:
And here’s a shot of us collaborating on the site:
In order to get the site up and running, we had to decide on an Omeka “theme” to determine the aesthetic identity of the site. We also had to decide what metadata fields would be most relevant and useful to identify and describe the assortment of digitized primary source items we want to include in the exhibit. Establishing the basics of the site turned out to be a great opportunity to talk about the identity of our project at large, and relatedly, what descriptive categories we want to prioritize in order to convey the significance of the selected primary sources to Latina and SU history. We hope to launch the public site in Fall 2015.
In addition to establishing the Omeka site, the students also recorded their own oral histories, which we will include as primary sources on the site. We took advantage of SU’s newly acquired sound booth in the Smith Library Center (acknowledgements to the Mellon Foundation for the grant funds that enabled us to get the sound booth!).
Dr. Sendejo brought her extensive experience conducting oral histories to bear facilitating the session with Tori and Nani. She invited the students to share their experiences and thoughts including:
-impressions of Southwestern University upon arrival, and current perceptions of SU from their perspectives as Latinas.
-experiences with the Latina History Project.
-connections between the Latina History Project and their lived experiences at SU.
-reflections on the 175th Anniversary of SU, including representations (or lack thereof) of the Latina/o experience in campus anniversary celebrations.
Tori and Nani shared their dynamic perspectives on experiences of both inclusion and exclusion at SU. Nani shared that for her, one of the most valuable aspects of the Latina History Project is the opportunity to literally “take history out of the box.” In the process of selecting, digitizing, and exhibiting Latina history primary source materials that were delivered to us in a mid-sized paper storage box, we’re thinking “outside the box” about SU’s institutional history: highlighting the history of the 1992 “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” photography exhibit is a way to insert a Latina historical perspective into our university’s institutional narrative. Hear Tori and Nani’s oral history below.
For our LHP semester finale, Tori, Nani, Dr. Sendejo and I enjoyed a day trip to UT-Austin’s Benson Latin American Collection. Dr. Sendejo arranged a fantastic introductory session with Benson archivist Christian Kelleher. Christian provided some useful tips and strategies for approaching archival research, then showcased a selection of fascinating materials from the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers housed at the Benson.
After our session with Christian, we decamped to the Reading Room to conduct independent archival research. Tori and Nani submitted folder request forms and got busy exploring the Anzaldúa Papers.
Archival research makes you hungry! We concluded our session with a well-deserved PIZZA FEAST.
Congratulations to Tori and Nani on a semester of hard work and great development on the Latina History Project. Thanks also to faculty co-Directors Dr. Sendejo and Dr. Alison Kafer. Wishing a great summer to all and looking forward to continuing our adventure in Fall 2015!
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.
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!)
*All student bloggers in the class, including those cited above, completed this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.*
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.*
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 (@) 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.
Ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Aryan Brotherhood member Mark Stroman attempted to kill three men he believed were terrorists: Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan, and Rais Bhuiyan. Only Bhuiyan survived to become a spokesperson against Islamophobia and the racial ignorance it represents. Ten years later when Stroman was issued the death penalty, Bhuiyan sued Texas Governor Rick Perry to stop Stroman’s execution. When Rais Bhuiyan survived Mark Stroman’s bullets, I was in in the fifth grade and without a clue that a decade later, I would be transcribing his interview with the Texas After Violence Project. When Stroman was executed, I was a junior at UT starting my Asian American Studies coursework as my third major. While I have only finished transcribing two of the eight hours of Bhuiyan’s interview, it has already taught me meaningful historical, educational, and personal lessons.
From Bhuiyan’s oral history interview, we learn a lot about Bhuiyan’s middle-class family experience in Bangladesh: his childhood memories of shaking mango trees during the rainy season to gather their fruit, and his coming of age in the nation’s top military school. Military school was foundational to Bhuiyan’s aspirations as a young man deciding his life path, just like the thousands of students at UT Austin are deciding their own future. Bhuiyan’s first dream to be a pilot in the Bangladeshi Air Force changed to a “dream to come to U.S. for higher education and to experience the American Dream and see the world.” Bhuiyan talks about what the American Dream is to him and how racial representation emblematizes the progress the U.S. has made:
“This is a free country where whatever you want to be, you can be… If you dream for it, you go for it, and you work hard, and you know, you achieve your goal. And you will lead a free life, you have the freedom of speech, you have the freedom of – expressing yourself. Whatever you want to be, you can be that. And our presence is an example of that. Who thought that within sixty years of segregation that there would be a black man in the White House, right?”
Bhuiyan’s remarks resonate with many of the narratives, images, and concepts of the American Dream I have encountered in my Asian American Studies coursework, pertaining to war, diaspora, labor migrations, and immigration exclusions and reform. Rais Bhuiyan is one individual whose perspective demonstrates how both Americans and people abroad understand the American Dream.
For me, as a student and future teacher, the implications of working with the Bhuiyan interview are both academic and personal. My Asian American Studies major provides me with a critical framework for exploring our shared experiences as Americans encountering race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and other identity features that influence our individual and collective agency. As I continue to transcribe Bhuiyan’s interview with the Texas After Violence Project, I will be reflecting on the shooting incident that brought Bhuiyan as a Muslim American in contact with a white supremacist. I will be learning how Stroman learned about peace and acceptance from Bhuiyan’s advocacy against his execution. I will learn more about Bhuiyan’s personal philosophy against the death penalty and his perspective on our community as human individuals rather than simply criminals and victims. By learning about Bhuiyan’s experience and knowledge as it is represented in the TAVP archive, I am gaining a deeper understanding of the American dream, ways of remembering 9/11, and how to negotiate the death penalty as a Texan and an American.