New Publication: Newest Americans Review in American Quarterly

My review of Newest Americans appears in American Quarterly 71.1 (March 2019). This is the second time I’ve written for American Quarterly (the first was as co-author of a piece on precarious labor and digital humanities in issue 70.3). I’ve greatly valued my experiences with the American Studies Association’s Digital Humanities Caucus: if you’re in or around AMST and interested in DH, the caucus is a supportive and inspiring group of scholars. I’ve been happy to join ongoing conversations about DH in this journal.

Newest Americans has been a project that’s given us a lot to think about here in public humanities at Brown, and I’ve had positive experiences discussing it this semester in my Digital Storytelling course. If you don’t have institutional access to American Quarterly and you’re interested in reading my review, please email me (james_mcgrath@brown.edu) or send me a message on Twitter (@JimMc_Grath).

New Publication: “Mapping Violence: A Case Study on Project Development, Iterative Approaches to Data Collection and Visualization, and Collaborative Work With Undergraduates” (Design for Diversity Toolkit)

You can now read the “case study” I authored on behalf of the Mapping Violence project for the Design for Diversity Learning Toolkit. This piece of writing focuses on an important moment in the project’s lifespan and documents our approach to collaborative and iterative work. It also highlights the many contributions undergraduates have made to Mapping Violence, offering recommendations on how to treat these students as collaborators. I learned a lot from the various speakers and collaborators who attended Design for Diversity events hosted at Northeastern University, and I hope this contribution is of value to readers interested in developing and refining their own digital projects.

Questions, comments? Feel free to email me at james_mcgrath@brown.edu, or get in touch with me on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.

New Course: Digital Storytelling (Brown University, Spring 2019)

In the Spring of 2019, I’m teaching “Digital Storytelling,” a graduate-level course that institutionally resides in Brown University’s Public Humanities program. You can view the course site here. As I mentioned on Twitter, I’ll be using the blog on the course site to think out loud about the class from my vantage point as its instructor. The first post, which will hopefully be up soon, will focus on pre-course development stuff: how I’m wrapping my head around a course called “Digital Storytelling,” how this course fits into other courses in our program and at Brown, the thinking behind course objectives, assignments, and readings, etc. I’m viewing the blog primarily as a resource for other instructors and educators, but it may also be of interest to students here and elsewhere. Stay tuned!

If you’re interested in other courses I’ve taught in my 15+ years in higher ed (including the version of “Digital Storytelling” I taught at Brown in the Spring of 2017!), check out the “Teaching” portion of my site. Please be in touch if you’d like to talk more: I’m always happy to discuss pedagogy and digital pedagogy, and I’m interested in working in educational environments that are invested in and supportive of these sorts of courses. And thanks to everyone who has supported my teaching at Brown and elsewhere!

Questions, comments? Feel free to email me at james_mcgrath@brown.edu or get in touch with me on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.

Digital Storytelling: Student Visualizations and Re-visualizations

I’m teaching a graduate-level class in Digital Storytelling at Brown this spring. You can view our course site here. Last week served as an introduction to three key terms and concepts that we’ll be working with all semester: data, networks, and visualizations.

Last summer I had the pleasure of attending HILT (for the second time!), where I completed a course on Database Design for Visualization and Analysis taught by Nicole Coleman. Nicole began the course with a great exercise that doubled as both an icebreaker and an introduction to some of the major ideas we’d be working with all week. Instead of throwing us headfirst into spreadsheets and digital tools, she split the class up into smaller groups and asked us to tell a story about our group in a hand-drawn visualization. This assignment inevitably involves the gathering of data and the questioning of what that data tells us, as well as what it might be used to tell others. It then quickly leads into a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of visualizations, especially when you’re wrestling with a desire to retain more complex and varied dimensions of networks and relationships.

Our groups focused on commonalities as well as deviations. For example, I recall that one group was interested in mapping educational backgrounds geographically, in part because there were questions about whether digital scholarship was perhaps too localized and dominated by particular schools, programs, and regions of the world, and the group wanted to make visible the routes people took as students and emerging professionals.  Some of these conversations could be difficult: they mapped “in crowds” and highlighted outliers and outsiders, they revealed certain investments in particular degrees, colleges, and career paths. They were also incomplete at times: a route might have ended or taken a turn in one direction due to personal reasons or professional obligations beyond a degree, for instance.

In any case, the exercise stuck with me, so I modified it slightly and brought it into our Digital Storytelling course. You’ll see what our class came up with below. A quick word before we dive in: I’m intentionally leaving the names of students out of this discussion, in part because it was course work in progress created without awareness of its potential digital afterlife, and in part because the students working on the visualizations varied thanks to the way Brown students “shop” for courses early in the semester (I have thoughts about “shopping,” but that’s another story). Future reflections on course work will explicitly credit particular students (and may, at times, be collaboratively written by them).

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