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Gaming Collaborative Proposal (Anthony & Raven)

For the proposal assignment, Raven and I have decided to collaborate utilizing prompts 8 & 9 to envision a gaming based project partly inspired by our upcoming Ivanhoe project. It will attempt to address the intersections of online spaces, education, representation, and equity/accessibility through digital tools in learning spaces. Raven and I divided the proposal between our two posts in order to explain our different angles on the same goal.

Our overall goal of this project is to find a way to increase the parameters of equity in a standard classroom. We want to use interactive technology as a method to give voice to those often misinterpreted or silenced within the traditional western literary canon. Often in English classes, we see that students are forced to read stories such as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the intense focus on our perceived protagonist, Huck Finn. This is fine, but there should also be a way to teach students how to view the story from the perspective of Jim, an escaped slave, and Huck Finn’s “moral guide.” In education, we need to utilize multicultural texts as a means to provide diverse student-bodies with the ability to align themselves with the literature at hand. However, there is the battle of always having a group of students who will not align with what the class is studying. So, we believe that by utilizing gaming in the classroom you can expose students to different walks of life such as diversity in race, disability, gender, and sexuality.

In constructing this game from a digital pedagogical perspective, I want to draw information from scholar surrounding these topics, specifically in terms of educational facilities. Right now, I am planning on using information from Tools of Exclusion: Race, Disability, and (Re)segregated Education by Beth A. Ferri of Syracuse University and David J. Connor of Columbia’s Teachers College, as well as Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices, a collection by many authors including Cathy Davidson of The Graduate Center. The first piece addresses the complicated issues around the interconnectedness of segregation, special education, and race. The second piece, specifically in chapter six, dives into how we can restructure English courses (and the classroom in general) to create a more equitable space in terms of helping students foster their identities. Helping students develop a deeper understanding of not only their own identity experience but as well as their peers’ difference identities, helps to foster a safer and more productive classroom space.

Another piece I want to draw upon to support these notions in a more direct way is No Fun: The Queer Potential of Video Games that Annoy, Anger, Disappoint, Sadden, and Hurt by Bonnie “Bo” Ruberg. Ruberg shines a light on the aspect of “Play” in a similar way to the Ivanhoe readings, except takes it in a direction of how the idea of “having fun” is so closely related to gaming. We buy and play games because we enjoy them and have fun, but not everyone has the same type of fun with certain things. She continues to talk about how “no-fun” can be a tool for addressing uncomfortable topics that need to be talked about. We are hoping to develop a game based around this notion because topics of prejudice are uncomfortable topics in whichever form they take. So we are using a game as a platform to widen the perspective of students using emotional experiences linked to the said game.

These experiences are obviously not meant to severely shake anybody, it will not cross that line, but more so has the goal of encouraging students to tap into their empathetic sides in order to place themselves in the shoes of others. Having a more open perspective fosters the ability to engage with multiple aspects of literature on a new level previously unattainable in many classrooms.

Melville, Benito Cerreño, and the Judicial System

To preface this post, my group consisted of Lisa, Jenna, Lauren, Katharina, Raven, and myself. We divided the story into three parts according to Putnam’s Monthly installments in which it was released. Raven and I were tasked with the conclusion of the novella, so our concepts may radiate off one another. Upon starting the work on annotating the conclusion of Benito Cereno, I immediately found it very difficult to find ways to address the geography of the story, especially since we were the end of the tale and had a narrow stretch of time for working on this. During my extensive research into the trial the took place, I discovered the original story of Benito Cerreño (the name of the actual sailor).

Dr. Greg Grandin published an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Who Ain’t a Slave? Historical Fact and the Fiction of ‘Benito Cereno’” back in December of 2013. He addressed the actual historical context of the voyage that Melville’s Benito Cereno was based on. The name of the ship was the Tryal, and it was docked in Valparaíso, Chile when 70 West Africans were shoved on board with the intentions to be sold in Lima, Peru. These were not the assumed locations based on Melville’s text, who wrote it was in Santo Domingo, Haiti in order to fulfill the context of the Haitian Revolution (Raven addressed the Haitian uprising in her post, it’s super interesting, check it out). However, as Melville accurately wrote, the control of the ship was seized. Their voyage was redirected to the country of Senegal so that they could be free once again. Babo orchestrated the plot, but it wasn’t he who was Cerreño’s right-hand man, it was his son Mori. Cerreño attempted to stall the voyage by sailing north and south, thats when they ended up near Bristol, where Delano joined the excursion. I could go into much further detail, but for the sake of word-count, I won’t overdo it. The link is provided in the title for anyone interested.

Since our section was not heavy with the geography, I did find it helpful to create a very basic map of the actual voyage titled “Journey of the Tryal,” using ArcGIS. I’ll provide an image, but it is purely for the sake of a visual to understand where it was supposed to go versus where it ended up:

Map of the Tryal’s Voyage in 1805

If you go to ArcGIS, you can click the paths and symbols and it’ll tell you what they represent. As far as what I chose to annotate, I focused mainly on the court case and depositions of relating to Babo’s tragic fate. Right around the time Benito Cereno was published (1855), two of the biggest cases in terms of slave liberation came about. In 1853, the Robin Holmes v. Nathaniel Ford case took place in Oregon, and in 1857 the world renown Dred Scott v. Stanford case arose. I took the contextual backgrounds of these individual cases and used them as a scope in regards to viewing Babo’s treatment by the judicial court system as well as Benito Cereno himself.

All in all, I found that understanding the original voyage experienced by Delano and Benito Cerreño was a unique way of understanding Melville’s intentions in writing Benito Cereno in the manner that he did. Also, seeing what was happening around the world politically in terms of the slave revolts and court cases provided an interesting perspective on his view on the treatment of enslaved humans.

Open Annotation, Wikipedia, and the Line

So in reading “There Are No New Directions in Annotations” by Jason B. Jones, I found that I had mixed feelings in regards to what he was stating about the culture surrounding the annotation process. I felt almost as though he was stating some very obvious parameters around annotating and it was it does for the classroom (focusing mostly on the “Annotating in the Liberal Arts Classroom” section of the text). Annotations were not always a tool accessible to students, but more so high-end scholars who are working towards publication. Similar to how the CUNY Academic Commons was actually software only accessible to faculty and graduate students until the decision was made to open the space up to undergraduate studies. They now make up for a large amount of the 900+ groups on the commons, helping to promote interactive mediums as a tool in all levels of education.

Anyway, Jones goes onto talk about how these mediums open up the potential for bringing our outside materials in order to make connections across other disciplines and perspectives of scholarship. He supports that idea when he writes about how annotations should not be limited to explaining the factual, contextual, or textual conundrums, but can be interpreted as one wishes (Jones). Like previously mentioned, this feels fairly obvious. However, the problem I am thinking about with the idea of annotating and blogging on an online space is with the facilitation of the conversation. Naturally, with the incorporation of one’s thoughts and experiences in correlation with a work, it can either promote some sense of ethos in other participants or quite the opposite. So from an online space, what authority can a teacher or professor express from behind a screen? More often or not, people tend to forget to keep civility in mind when getting into heated debates on the internet. We see it in both academic and non-academic spaces. While you are able to reply to one another, it is in no way the same as fostering a conversation within a classroom. So how do we change that? How can we have online learning spaces that remain open to new ideas whilst still having enough trust that the participants will keep it to a certain degree? It almost feels like an oxymoron. I guess my question is: what is the balance between freedom to say or debate whatever you would like and how should you then keep it within reason? The struggle lies in what something means to each individual, and that’s where the line gets seriously blurry.

Jones also touches on the other end of the spectrum in opposition of open annotation: Wikipedia. Wikipedia is accessible to literally anybody, and anybody can make adjustments. So in a sense, it is open in the same way as an open annotation tool. However, while open annotation tools such as Hypothes.is enforce little to no rules, Wikipedia has incredibly strict guidelines to follow when modifying or creating an article. I am currently enrolled in the ITP Core I course here at The Graduate Center, and this is actually what we’re experimenting with right now. Wikipedia is a tool that can give students the liberty to create something for the public, while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of publishing in a source such as this. When making adjustments, you need to state your case to the previous Wikipedians and have solid evidence. So in a way, its annotation mixed with modification and strict rules. In studying how Wikipedia functions from the inside out, and now having a general understanding of the logistics behind the online encyclopedia, I can’t help but to wonder why there’s still a heavy mistrust in the site (Jones also brings up this question). Wikipedia requires citations from trustworthy sources or else it will be removed from the article. So where lies the problem with it?

All in all, I think there needs to be a happy medium between the two types of tools. With sources like Wikipedia, you get solid, verified information, but no “spunk.” Open annotations offer a sense of freedom of speech and humility almost. However, it leaves the back door open to false information. Both have their drawbacks, of course, most things do. I feel like there should be a cross between both of their goals. Who knows, maybe there already is? Or maybe one in the making.

Oh boy, Barthes.

Given this was my first real encounter with Rolan Barthes, I was not sure what to expect. I had heard the name before with mixed opinions, but boy oh boy was I not anticipating this. Barthes is essentially a conservative if there were such a thing as “textual conservatives” (hey, maybe there is). He’s clearly a strong believer that the text is meant to remain a physical text and that we are not to trifle with its state of being. His whole essay almost felt biblical. I would go as far to say that Barthes thought very highly of himself and may have considered himself to be up there with the big man. However, by using this method of writing and expressing these “scriptures” on texts as a concept I almost hesitate to take him seriously. I am not sure if that is a result of us being in 2018 and the fact that he wrote this in 1971, but either way, there were clearly “heretics” that pushed him to write this essay. He even went and referenced Mark 5:9 writing “My name is Legion: for we are many” in order to prove his point, which I personally found preposterous considering this is an academic essay regarding the treatment of texts?

Aside from Barthe’s large ego, I feel as though his arguments resonate in those academics who refuse to accept digital humanities as an emerging field. At my undergraduate institution, my professor (who introduced me to DH and is the reason I am here blogging this today) was hired to create a digital humanities department at the school while being a member of the English department faculty. However, there was a faculty member in the English department who totally slandered her work in a department meeting, and the institution refused to fund her digital humanities lab. This gentleman made claims that using digital tools to alter texts was an offense to those who studied literature even went as far as to say that DH caused ADHD in young students (this flabbergasted me as well). For some reason (note my sarcasm) I think Barthes would support this notion. I mentioned in an annotation that Barthes speaks like someone who regards novels such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain to be some of the highest forms of literature known to man and will never be knocked out of the literary canon. Barthes states in his first point that “The Text is not to be thought of as an object that can be computed” (Barthes), he then proceeds to go on about how simply having the ability to hold the text and engage with it was an experience with language only attainable this way. Again, I know it’s extremely early on in the history of computation, but c’mon. Barthes isn’t even entertaining the possibility that maybe there’s more beyond these physical pages.

As a digital humanist, there is nothing more frustrating than reading that. Things such as text mining exist so that we can engage with these same texts he’s reading on an even deeper scale! When he states “…reading, in the sense of consuming, is far from playing with the text” (Barthes) I had to turn away. I feel as though even basic literary analysis that anybody who studies English does can be considered some level of “playing” with the text.

All in all, I am basing this opinion on how I interpreted this “From Work to Text.” Maybe his other works sounded entirely different, and maybe with current technology, he would have been more open to computational engagement with texts. That’s where the flaw lies with many theorists studied in academia, how much can we engage with their work when we don’t know what they would think of ours?

Piecing Together an Audiobook Presentation

In anticipation of making this blog post, and creating a presentation for my group’s project, I was slightly concerned that I would not benefit from this project as much as my groupmates. However, to my surprise, upon stitching together the quilt of our experiences I’ve managed to create a cohesive slideshow that resulted in a unique experience of my own. Our group was very good at communicating right from the start, and over thirty emails later we accomplished something pretty solid. I was assigned to be the presenter. Patrick and Kat were the editors. Kelly, Raven, and Julia were the readers. That was established quickly, and we immediately started throwing ideas out there.

As the presenter, I simply asked everyone to make notes of the creative decisions we were making on a shared document. My groupmates went above and beyond in terms of the communication of ideas and creative choices made. I’d like to give a special thanks to Katharina for creating individual sound files for my presentation as well! What ended up making my role in the project so unique was my need to pick everyone’s brains about their experience. By having everyone express what they have encountered as they worked, it invoked their interest and passion within the text. It was almost enlightening to hear them discuss the different social issues of modern-day and how they were expressed in Melville’s piece published way back in the late fall/early winter of 1853.

Through conversations with my partners, It sparked my own interest and caused me to investigate the text myself. Like mentioned and depicted above, Bartleby exposes issues within the workplace between 1853, all the way up to 2018. He represents the working class in a way that makes him replaceable with a woman in the workplace, as well as with a person of color within the workplace. Prior to creating this audiobook and presentation, Bartleby was just another short story I had read multiple times across several classes. However, reading it with this new lens has given me a greater appreciation for the first time ever. As someone who is going through life as a biracial (non-white passing) male, I dig deep into race issues within literature, education, and the workforce. The narrator as we know him is an extremely condescending lawyer of high status, working on the well known Wall Street in the year 1853. He is the epitome of corporate American issues in the way he runs his office. He had a blatant disregard for the condition of his employees. For example, Turkey’s drinking problem. The higher up did not care as long as the work got done.

This also cuts into the issue of working conditions for marginalized workers by people in higher positions of power. Bartleby’s working conditions were less than ideal, but who was he to argue with the big boss? Overall, the audiobook assignment was a positive experience. However, I feel as though if the group had the opportunity to select a text of our own to create an audiobook for, it may have provided the class with a larger platform for discussion across several genres.

Listening(!) to Poetry

Hello everyone! So I wanted to use this week’s blog to address a point made by Matthew Rubery in his journal Play It Again, Sam Weller: New Digital Audio Books and New Ways of Reading that I consider being key in how we read literature across multiple parts of the world. To preface my discussion, Rubery wrote the following:

“Although it would be easy to overstate the degree to which technology changes the way we communicate, there is nevertheless compelling evidence of its influence over the way people read that should not go unheard.25 Advances in audio technology have the potential to change the way we think about reading practices for two reasons. The first is that digital audio will turn more readers into listeners.” (Rubery 64)

That last sentence is key here, “The first is that digital audio will turn more readers into listeners” (Rubery 64). When we read, it is very difficult to pick up how something is supposed to sound. Thus, we may miss the point intended entirely. The context behind the things we say is what drives how we say it and the connotation of what we’re expressing. That brings me to the audiobook I have chosen to present to you all in class today:

The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe (read by Tom O’Bedlam)

An extraordinarily difficult poem to read, mostly because it’s hard to to represent the repetition of the words meaningfully – especially “Bells” I imagine t…

“The Bells,” a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, at first glance is a rather simplistic piece. As readers, we often just read through it or read it how we think it is supposed to be read. Especially for those of us who do not directly study English literature. However, upon taking a second look, and reading the poem out loud or having someone else read it to you, we can discover some unique characteristics of the piece before us. In each stanza of “The Bells,” Poe starts to describe another type of bell, and when reading to yourself it seems like a pretty flat piece, but when you bring audio tools into it you realize that with each stanza there exists a switch of mood and sound.

During the first stanza, Poe describes the experiences associated with silver bells. We all know that to be Christmas time, the holiday season. This stanza utilizes language in a way that portrays a sense of happiness, jolliness if you will. There are specific influxes in your voice when reading the language with the associated cheerful emotion that portrays the sound intended. Then he moves onto talking about golden bells, which we associate with weddings (also associated with wealth and love in general). This stanza uses calmness as a tool, a smooth and happy block of text symbolizing the long-term content that marriage/love brings us as humans. Finally, the brazen (bronze) bells, he uses them to create a sense of fear. There exists a lot of urgency in this stanza that strikes discomfort in the listener when reading how it was intended to be read. Rubery’s point was that listening is starkly different from just reading a text. It also helps to bring out the brilliance of the author. This especially applies when reading literature from other regions. Rhyme, for example, can only sometimes be deciphered when reading in a specific accent. For example, a New Yorker may not understand the audio cues of a poem written in Scotland.

Now, how can we do all of this sound analysis when there are situations where audiobooks/readings are unavailable? Lucky for us, there are digital tools out there being further developed to map these audio influxes in literature. Below I am attaching a screenshot of the tool Poemage, developed by the University of Utah, which is an incredible tool that takes the uploaded piece and shows you how each word is supposed to sound and where it overlaps with other words:

Unfortunately, the University of Utah took the download link down while they do some updates, so I cannot show you guys the extent of the tool. I used it back in late 2016 and it has only improved since. All in all, Rubery drew a line between reading and listening, and I agree. They both stimulate different parts of the brain simultaneously in order to further our understanding of literature and assisting with decoding the intention of the author (or a variation of the author’s intention).

The DH Bridge: How is Digital Humanities a cultural phenomenon?

So I have had some experience with Matthew Kirschenbaum’s work in the past, but only recently have been able to apply his theories in a practical way. In reading his article What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? I have decided to use this blog post to not only address the hostility and retaliation towards the digital humanities (towards the beginning of its existence as we know it today) but also how English departments have grown to open their doors to it. As time has gone by, the digital humanities as a field have not stopped growing. The name for all of the subcategories within DH is “The Big Tent” because the boundaries are essentially non-existent. However, in the beginning, there was some serious pushback to accepting the digital humanities as a field of study within English departments and academia as a whole. People considered it to be an incredibly exclusive field, and I recently learned that  University of Nebraska scholar, Stephen Ramsay, had really scrambled the field when he made his “Who’s In and Who’s Out” speech at the Modern Language Association Convention in 2011 (Gold). If you would like more direct information on that, you can find it in the same book’s (Debates in the Digital Humanities by Matthew K. Gold) introduction. Anyway, Ramsay’s made that speech essentially saying that if you did not know how to code, then you were not ever going to be a digital humanist.

At the time, digital humanities were in the midst of a flurry due to that statement (amongst others). It really helped to promote this cliquish culture in DH, something that took a long time to overcome. Some may still be fighting it. The reason I brought up Ramsay and the start of digital humanities was because of how much of a boys club it once was and where we are now. Kirschenbaum lists half a dozen reason English departments were so compatible with DH. However, he doesn’t dive very deep into any of the points, which is why I want to interpret them and explain what they mean to me. Starting with his first point:

First, after numeric input, text has been by far the most tractable data type for computers to manipulate. Unlike images, audio, video, and so on, there is a long tradition of text-based data processing that was within the capabilities of even some of the earliest computer systems and that has for decades fed research in fields like stylistics, linguistics, and author attribution studies, all heavily associated with English departments.” (Kirschenbaum) 

This first reason converges with his second point regarding computers and composition as well as his final point discussing e-reading. These three points can be brought together using a single word, archiving. A hefty motivator for students and professors of English to embrace this technological aspect of academia is the drive to digitize information and make it more accessible for curious minds. Look at the tragic loss in Rio, Brazil. They lost countless years of history and culture in one accident. As a result, they are trying to replicate the museum by digitizing it, archiving the data and mapping it out online so that their citizens and tourists can still have some kind of experience. I myself had the pleasure of working on an archive in undergrad when my professor, Dr. Annie Swafford, introduced us to DH. Working with Dickinson University, we created a Victorian Queer Literature archive for people all over to access online. This is where I first realized that this was something that could really connect people rather than keep them apart. Fields associated with text have so much potential in terms of technology, Kirschenbaum was well aware of that.

One last point I’ll unwrap was his fifth point where he stated: “Fifth is the openness of English departments to cultural studies, where computers and other objects of digital material culture become the centerpiece of analysis” (Kirschenbaum). I really enjoyed this point because from what I learned, English is a subject rooted in the human experience. Understanding stories of life through others’ experiences is what reading is about. So there is a very deep cultural aspect to English, something that we could use through our current and future technology to interconnect cultures and even academic disciplines. Technology is very much so a bridge between worlds that we can mold to bring everyone together rather than separated into cliques. Kirschenbaum saw this as an opportunity to use digital resources for reasons other than collecting data and analyzing statistics. For example, we can learn Brazilian culture through their digitized museum once it is complete. Ramsay may have had a point back in 2011, but the digital humanities have spread so widely across multiple disciplines. I feel as though Kirschenbaum was correct, but didn’t anticipate that English would act as a gateway like this way back in 2012.

*I apologize for the lack of page numbers! The Debates in the Digital Humanities online edition doesn’t have them to utilize.