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 Exhibit: “Insufficient Memories” (Brown University)

Collage of text message materials used in "Insufficient Memories," an exhibit at Brown University.

Last fall, a group of graduate students in Brown’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (specifically, Maggie Unverzagt Goddard, Julia Renaud, and Sophie Don) started Tiny Exhibits, a series of two-week installations designed for a small (or, uh, “tiny”) exhibit case in the Nightingale-Brown House. It’s been a fun initiative that has provided students in and around our Public Humanities program opportunities to stage some compelling curatorial projects.

In March 2019, Tiny Exhibits played host to “Insufficient Memories,” a collaboration between myself, Kristen Iemma, Will James, and Andrea Ledesma. Here’s our curatorial statement:

Insufficient Memories is an interrogation of the relationship between memory and materiality. Through an exploration of storage constraints in the cell phone (the most ubiquitous of contemporary digital technologies), we seek to illuminate the tensions between the digital and the corporeal. What happens to memory when “memory” is rendered physical? How do metaphors and mechanisms of storage mediate our lives? What stories of twenty-first century life lie beneath our collections of apps, unread notifications, and file names? We seek to create and investigate the portraits we create through the media we screenshot, redact, retouch, share, yet ultimately delete.

Given the frequency with which I’m at the Center and my previous experiences on collaborative projects, I primarily served as the Project Manager of our collaboration: setting project benchmarks and deadlines, organizing meetings via Skype, etc. The project’s approach to ideas of memory and materiality was a true collaborative effort; our curatorial team was assembled because each of us had independently submitted exhibit proposals on this general theme (!), so it made sense to join forces. One of my favorite parts of the experience was just talking with Kristen, Will, and Andrea about our various experiences with devices and materials: our attempts to organize and make sense of our messy digital autobiographies, our ideas of order and disorder, our reflections on previous devices and forms of storage. I also really liked decontextualizing and printing out snippets of text message conversations, and I’d like to think more about that particular corpus and potential creative uses of it.

Through the exhibit design process, we talked about how it might be fun to have a more interactive component to “Insufficient Memories.” Given that I’d been working with Twine in my “Digital Storytelling” class this semester, I pitched the idea of making a playful companion piece that viewers of the exhibit could access and play on their smart phones (the Center has reliable free wifi for Brown and non-Brown visitors). You can check that game out here. This project was my first work in Twine that made it off my desktop and beyond the speculative / drafting stage, and I’m already planning another game with this fun tool for interactive digital storytelling.

It had been a while since I’d collaborated on curating a physical exhibit (at Northeastern, I worked with the amazing student-led Scout team on an Our Marathon exhibit) and it was fun to work in this sort of space again on a tiny-er scale.

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

New Interview: Careers in the Public Humanities Podcast

Catherine Winters, co-host of the Careers in the Public Humanities Podcast, invited me on the program to talk about my current gig as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities at Brown University. It’s a pretty candid conversation about the life of a postdoc in higher ed these days. I also talk about public humanities, digital humanities, and why “digital public humanities” seems like a productive term that creates space for particular kinds of work and methodologies in academic contexts. And I use the adjective “tricky” a lot, which seems worth noting in the historical corpus of descriptives for this kind of labor in this particular time and place. Thanks Catherine! I hope some folks find these reflections helpful!

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.

Hyperlocal Histories and Digital Collections (DLF Forum 2018 talk)

This is a slightly extended version of a talk I presented at the Digital Library Federation 2018 Forum, held in Las Vegas in October 2018. Thanks to students in my Fall 2017 “Digital Public Humanities” course; the Providence Public Library Special Collections department; Diane O’Donoghue; Julieanne Fontana, Angela Feng, and Jasmine Chu; Monica Muñoz Martinez; Susan Smulyan; and the Rhode Tour project team for their contributions to my thinking and work on this topic. And thanks to Bethany Nowviskie for making DLF Forum a supportive space to consider these and other issues

So, “hyperlocal histories.”

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Digital Public Humanities: Pedagogy and Praxis, Notes and Errata

Note: This post informs my contributions to a roundtable on “Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Praxis” at the 2018 Digital Humanities Conference (#DH2018) in Mexico City, Thanks to the conference organizers and to my roundtable conveners and collaborators (Brandon Walsh, Lisa Rhody, Matt Gold, Amanda Heinrichs, James Malazita, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Paola Ricaurte Quijano, Adriana Álvarez Sánchez, and Ethan Watrall). You can find more thoughts from these roundtable participants via this Twitter thread (thanks Brandon!). 

Introduction

When the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University (JNBC) announced that it was in need of a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Public Humanities in the spring of 2015, it was also announcing that there was apparently something called “Digital Public Humanities” and that there were people who were specialists who could share their professional perspectives on the theory and practice of Digital Public Humanities in the classroom. The digital humanities work I’d been most interested in as a graduate student at Northeastern was committed to a notion of “Public, First,” (to borrow a phrase from Sheila Brennan), but I hadn’t thought of naming these investments in the particular way that “Digital Public Humanities” does. I joined the JNBC in the fall of 2015, and I quickly realized that part of my job was to help the Center figure out the implications of this act of naming at the levels of pedagogy and praxis. Unlike digital humanities labs, centers, or certificate programs, the JNBC’s focus is public humanities, and DH (or digital initiatives tied to other names or methodologies) is a component of this larger set of aims and interests.

The JNBC institutionally resides in Brown’s American Studies department, and it offers a two-year Master’s Degree program in Public Humanities as well as a graduate-level certificate in Public Humanities. Our program notes our emphasis on “collaborative, applied, and experiential learning” as one of its major selling points, and we offer opportunities for these forms of learning in coursework as well as through student internships and independent studies. In addition to our course offerings, the JNBC creates and supports public humanities projects with faculty and community partners, and we offer a range of programming including exhibitions, lunch talks, conferences, and workshops. Our MA students are interested in a range of professional contexts and research interests: the museum sector, historic preservation, sites of informal education, cultural heritage organizations, archives, libraries, cultural policy (among many others). I’m providing this context to explain what’s been informing my work, and I hope that these thoughts are useful to anyone who is considering how to teach about, develop, and support public-facing digital humanities initiatives.

My pedagogical investments are documented via the web sites for the three graduate-level courses I’ve taught at Brown: “Digital Public Humanities” (Spring 2016), “Digital Storytelling” (Spring 2017), and “Digital Public Humanities” (Fall 2017). But these syllabi, reading lists, and blog posts are only part of the story. Because that story is particularly long (three years long!), I’ve decided to provide some “Scenes from Teaching Digital Public Humanities” below. I’ll wrap up with some thoughts on what it’s like to be a postdoc in this particular position and what the JNBC and institutions like it might consider in terms of scaled-up and long-term investments in the teaching of digital public humanities.

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New Project: Public Work, a public humanities podcast

A few weeks ago Amelia Golcheski and I launched Public Work, an interview-style public humanities podcast that features lots of voices from Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage . Amelia and I have been working on Public Work since the Fall of 2017, and we’re excited to have an actual podcast out in the world after all that time. You can hear us on iTunes and on SoundCloud, and you can get updates on new and upcoming episodes @PublicWorkPod on Twitter.

Are you thinking about starting a podcast at your institution? What follows is an overview of some of the work that went into this project, with attention paid to some of the resources needed to pull it off and some thoughts on project longevity. There are lots of resources online for folks interested in doing podcasts, so I’m thinking of these reflections as more thoughts that might resonate primarily with people working in academic contexts: students, faculty members, librarians, postdocs, etc.

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DH2017 Poster Roundup: Mapping Violence and Day of Public Humanities

2017 marks my third trip to the biggest DH conference in the game, and for this go-round I wanted to bring the work of some of my awesome collaborators (and some of the collaborators themselves!) at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage to the event.

The work documented in these posters is highly collaborative and it involves undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members in American Studies and Public Humanities. It’s been interesting to think through the relationships between these two fields and DH during my time at Brown; the ASA’s Digital Humanities Caucus has been super helpful in the former, and I wonder if there’s more people interesting in talking about the latter. I was excited to see “public DH” in Amanda Visconti’s paper title, for instance. And while “public humanities” isn’t explicitly named in the titles of any other posters and discussions, there’s clearly a lot of interest in questions of “access” based on the number of presentations here utilizing that keyword. “Access” is this year’s conference theme, but public humanities folks might find the range of uses interesting nonetheless. Additionally, “public humanities” is showing up in several tweets about presentations (like here and here, in tweets referring to a talk by my pal and partner in digital public humanities, Lauren Tilton!), suggesting that attendees invested in the term are recognizing its presence in methodologies and project emphases.

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Days of Future Past: Augmented Reality and Temporality in Digital Public Humanities

Uncanny X-Men #141 (1981 [1980])
In July 2017, I presented a version of this talk on a panel on “Temporality” at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference (#keydh on Twitter) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The project  I discuss here, a digital tour of the Nightingale-Brown House, will debut in September 2017. I’ll update this post with a direct link when we go live!

I wanted to start by outlining three of the major questions I hope to raise in this discussion of a digital house tour I’ve been working on at Brown University’s Public Humanities program. This presentation will focus on the details of our particular project, but I hope this overview is useful to people who are specifically interested in the metaphor of the tour in DH as well as anyone who might have thoughts on temporality as it relates to DH work and the interfaces we rely on (or develop) in various initiatives.

Excerpts from Uncanny X-Men #141-142 (1981 [1980])
This talk takes its title from “Days of Future Past,” a 1980 storyline from Marvel Comics’ Uncanny X-Men serial in which a member of the superhero team travels back in time to stop the bleak future she calls home from existing in the first place. “Welcome to the 21st century,” reads a caption box on the opening splash page of #141. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and their collaborators present readers with a dystopian vision of 2013 and a ragtag team of surviving heroes so desperate that they’re “toying with the basic fabric of reality” in an attempt to travel back in time to literally rewrite history.

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New Project: Day of Public Humanities (#DayofPH)


I’m excited to announce my involvement in Day of Public Humanities (#DayofPH), a public humanities initiative about public humanities. So meta! When I started working at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, I inevitably got questions from friends in and beyond academic contexts about what this “public humanities” thing is and what kind of work I do. Many of us here get these questions, so myself, Robyn Schroeder (Postdoctoral Fellow and Director of Graduate Studies in Public Humanities), and Inge Zwart (graduate student in Public Humanities) decided to spend the past year researching the term, its uses, its limits, its past, present, and future. While doing this work, we became particularly interested in how and why public humanities practitioners came to embrace the term “public humanities” and what forms of labor they do on a daily basis. Like the Day of Digital Humanities (#DayofDH) initiative, #DayofPH asks practitioners to make their labor visible, reflect on the field and where it’s going, and show people what cool things they’re up to. We hope you can join us on May 9th, 2017!

You can learn more about #DayofPH on our web site. Specifically, you can find suggestions for how to participate on May 9th, blog posts highlighting some of the day-to-day work we do here at the JNBC, and recommendations for further action before and after May 9th. We also talk about the project on the JNBC blog. We’re excited to see what other people are working on, what “public humanities” means to them, and how we might all learn to become better Public Humans.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about this project on Twitter (@JimMc_Grath) or via email (james_mcgrath[at]brown). And if you’re attending NCPH next week, I’ll be there too, so please get in touch if you’d like more info!