On October 18th, 2018, I presented a talk as part of “(Re)Active Public History,” a Twitter Mini-Con put on by the National Council on Public History. Here’s the abstract I submitted for the conference (which you can also find here):
A cartoon dog sits with a cup of coffee in a room that is engulfed in flames. “This is fine,” he says to no one in particular. These images, which originally appeared in K.C. Green’s webcomic Gunshow in 2013, have become a kind of shorthand for the mood in America after the 2016 election, an example of the ways that memes are increasingly relied upon by social media users to document their experiences in uncertain times. Social media encourages and profits from our impulses to document our present moods with image macros, reaction GIFs, screenshots, and other multimodal forms of expression. Memes have been remediated as protest signs at various marches, and it is increasingly common to see memes in political campaigns and in the Tweets of sitting senators. In July 2017, President Trump infamously circulated a meme in which he attacks a professional wrestler whose head has been digitally replaced by the CNN logo, an act of online speech that was interpreted by many as an endorsement of violent reprisals against journalists.
Memes, in other words, are an undeniable part of contemporary American culture. This presentation will consider the roles memes have played in defining and subverting American political discourse in The Age of Trump. More generally, it considers where, how, and why public historians might read, historicize, preserve, and make memes about the American experience.
On Friday April 15th 2018, Northeastern University launched the new version of Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive.Why a new site? Given that materials were being added to Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service for long-term preservation and that the five year anniversary seemed like an ideal deadline for that migration work, I recommended that the library’s Digital Scholarship Group create a new project landing site that was more engaging and had a curatorial hand reminiscent of our original project site. My role involved doing final passes on metadata (that was fun), inventory work during the migration, consulting on site design and layout, and creating and updating narrative and curatorial text. The bulk of the migration and redesign work was done by a fantastic team of librarians and graduate students: many thanks to Amanda Rust, Sarah Sweeney, Caroline Kilbanoff, Lauren Bergnes Sell, Megan Barney, and David Heilbrun. In addition to the many individuals documented and thanked on our About page (a section whose length and detail reflect our investments in what Sharon Leon notes is important contextual info for audiences as well as fellow practitioners invested in similar efforts), I’d also like to thank Julia Flanders and Dan Cohen for their continued support and attention to this project, as well as Northeastern’s College for Social Sciences and Humanities and NULab for their investment in its legacy.
On April 23rd (the day of the 2018 Boston Marathon!), I was a guest on PRI’s The World, a daily national broadcast that airs locally in Boston on WGBH. You can listen to the segment on Our Marathon below (or here).
Here are some other places where I’ve discussed my work on this project (the Additional Resources section of the site has further reading from some of our collaborators and contributors).
In the Fall of 2017, I taught a graduate-level course in Digital Public Humanities for the second time here at Brown. The first iteration of this course, which I taught in the Spring of 2016, took a survey approach to digital humanities and DH contexts for Public Humanities. Students were invited to create speculative or “proof of concept” applications of our readings to public humanities contexts they were interested in exploring further. These student projects (which they described on the course’s blog) were extremely innovative and inventive, and they documented the class’ various interests in minimal computing, provenance metadata, augmented reality, and other topics. At the time I was pretty comfortable with both the survey model and an approach to student project development “ that clearly situated itself as the first step in an iterative, still-developing process.” For many students, this was their first DH class or their first time working with and thinking about digital tools and methodologies. It was also my first course in Public Humanities, so I wanted to learn more about student interests and expectations in our program.
For this second iteration of Digital Public Humanities, I was interested in having students work with an external collaborator (something our program actively encourages instructors to consider when developing courses). Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far: as I was beginning to brainstorm, Jordan Goffin, Head Curator of Special Collections at the Providence Public Library, reached out to me (via Twitter: see, Twitter can be useful sometimes!) to see if I’d ever thought about collaborating with the PPL on a digital project. Some readers familiar with Brown’s resources may be surprised to learn that an archives-oriented Digital Public Humanities course here wasn’t collaborating with The John Hay Library, The John Carter Brown Library, The Haffenreffer Museum, or other more “local” resources on campus. These organizations are all thinking a lot about digital contexts for their materials, and they have in the past collaborated or consulted with our students and faculty on these (and other) topics. But beyond the fact that the PPL reached out to me, I was also ignorant about what materials it held in its Special Collections and curious to find out more. What I quickly learned was that the Providence Public Library had been thinking a LOT about digital spaces. More specifically, they were really interested in how these digital spaces informed and encouraged use of materials by local communities in Providence, as well as how digital contexts for archival materials might reflect the value of these materials by the communities represented in these collections.
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we experience time online. We are increasingly aware of the presence and influence of time on the web, thanks in part to timestamps, our ability to “undo” the mistakes of the present and recent past, desires for version control, the general sense that we are staging performances on social media that are preserved as quickly as they are enacted. We joke about the poor researchers of the future who try to learn about our era from our Twitter archives. We wonder about mid-sentence delays between the latest Donald Trump tweets because we have clear evidence of the gaps in time in the form of metadata. The algorithms giving shape to our News Feed on Facebook helpfully remind us of the products our dead friends continue to “like” in the present tense, as if they are still alive.
Time, if not broken, is certainly complicated and at times disoriented by the web, in part because of how much information we have, the kinds of records we keep, have access to, produce, and inhabit, and the lenses and interfaces we use to read, write, broadcast, and communicate online.
I recently wrapped up teaching duties on a course in Digital Public Humanities, a class offered via Brown University’s Public Humanities M.A. program. You can view the course site, which includes our syllabus, major readings, and a blog, here. This class was both my first digital humanities course and the first class I ever taught as part of a graduate program. I wanted to debrief (and maybe also decompress) here, in the hopes that thinking out loud about the shape and outcomes of the course might help me as well as other people interested in digital humanities, public humanities, public history, and/or graduate-level teaching (among other topics).
Before diving into the debrief, I’d like to thank the students who took this course, because they were all great. Thanks again to Dylan Cole-Kink, Bárbara Elmudesi, Nico Larrondo, Eddie Robles, Caroline Stevens, Sandra Strauch, and Liza Yeager. Thanks also to Alyssa Anderson, Andrea Ledesma, Reya Sehgal, and Marley-Vincent Lindsey for stopping by at various points in the semester and for contributing to class discussions. I’d also like to thank Susan Smulyan for her comments on my syllabus and for our (continuing!) conversations on how the Public Humanities program and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (JNBC) might support students interested in digital humanities tools and topics. Jim Egan and Steve Lubar patiently helped me think through ideas related to the course. The Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship supported our class with access to the library’s new Digital Studio, and Bruce Boucek, Brian Croxall, Elli Mylonas, and Patrick Rashleigh graciously took time to meet with students and provide recommendations for digital tools and resources.