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2017 October

ellio252

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October 30, 2017

Mapping Moscow’s Past and Present

October 30, 2017 | By | No Comments

For the last several weeks, the CHI fellows have been working on a mapping challenge, in which we have made maps with a specific theme, complete with pop-ups. For my final project, I too hope to have a map to illustrate the locations of Soviet factories and dormitories, while my overall project will examine the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet, socialist and capitalist. Working on our mapping challenge has made me consider the benefits as well as the limitations of using maps to illustrate how Moscow has changed from the 1970s to today.

The Russian Army Theater (formerly the Soviet Army Theater), located on the Street of the Soviet Army.

During the Soviet period, Soviet socialism was inscribed into the landscape. Streets and squares had names like “the 50th Anniversary of October” and “Dzerzhinsky,” referring to the surname of the first director of the Soviet secret police. Street names constantly reminded citizens of their collective history from the Great October Revolution to victory in the Great Patriotic War, the name given to the Soviet Union’s fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Many Soviet names remain in Moscow. I lived on October Street, a name that denotes the month of the Bolshevik victory over the Provisional Government in 1917. Soviet street names, it is worth noting, replaced tsarist ones. My street had previously been Alexander Street in honor of three of the Romanov tsars. Renaming streets not only served as a reminder of a shared Soviet history but also replaced the previous imperialist one.

The landscape of Moscow has also evolved since 1971, the year in which my research project begins. First, the borders of Moscow have expanded. In 1961, the Moscow Automobile Ring Road opened, demarcating the official boundaries of the capital. Since then, what were once “sleeping suburbs” outside of the Ring Road became neighborhoods of the capital. Second, the advent of capitalism in the former Soviet Union has also refashioned the appearance of streets. Designer shops now line Tverskaya Street the main drag heading north of the Kremlin, and shopping malls have emerged throughout the city. Since the early 1990s, tiny kiosks that served as grocery stores and cafes sprouted up on sidewalks and in alleyways until they were demolished in early 2016. Third, and perhaps most dramatically, new high rises are replacing older Soviet apartment buildings, inciting both the ire and support of Muscovites.

Maps have the power to shape reality, but which reality will I show? Simply comparing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods can obscure the over 25 years that separate the end of the Soviet experiment from today. The kiosks which shade my memories of my first trips to Moscow would be lost in a then-and-now comparison, but they played an important role in Moscow’s post-Soiet history. Maps can also only show so much. Even if Moscow’s landscape is decidedly market-oriented today, red stars and hammers and sickles also adorn that same space.

dixonel7

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October 27, 2017

Making as World-Making

October 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

Part of my goal in the CHI fellowship has been to explore an idea I have been developing over the last year about queer multimodal composing: that the act of making things can make worlds. I’m definitely not the first person to have developed an understanding of making as world-making, and I owe much of what I know from the work (and in many cases personal mentorship) of Malea Powell, Angela Haas, Jacqueline Rhodes, Qwo-Li Driskill, Gloria Anzaldúa, Trixie Smith, and Dànielle DeVoss, Andrea Riley Mukavetz, among many others.

In this fellowship, I would like to particularly focus on how queer modes of composing and making can create more welcoming, beautiful, livable worlds for queer people. What follows is some history and background of my project, alongside some of my own art.

Queer Composing as Life-Affirming and World-Making 

As the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2016, I sat in on a panel on queer mentorship. At this roundtable, a director of a writing center at a women’s college told us about her writing center as a queer space. She had multiple students who identified as LGBT and she worked hard to cultivate a welcoming space for them. Still, at one point, as she discussed her students’ struggles with self harm and thoughts of suicide, she tearfully asked the group of us: “My queer students are literally dying. What can I do?” We remained silent, blinking at the enormity of the question.

How many of us had asked ourselves this? How many had asked our mentors? Probably everyone in the room. We went on to share some stories of possibility and hope, but the questions stayed with me long after the session. It still sticks with me. I want to know what I can do as a scholar, a student, a teacher, a practitioner and a mentor to defy the deaths of my queer siblings, friends, mentors, teachers, and students.

Because it is what I am perhaps best at and what I care about most, I want to think about how queer work in writing and rhetoric especially can defy death.

Terrific, Radiant, Humble

In “Cultivating the Scavenger,” Stacy Waite writes,

I advocate for queer methodologies because I am queer, because queer teenagers all over the world are killing themselves at horrifying rates, because if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange. (64)

Like Waite, I want to spend my career thinking in queerer ways, encouraging my colleagues to think in queerer ways, teaching my students to think in queerer ways. Developing and foregrounding the queer imagination is one way to counteract the normative structures in place that delegitimize and erase queer ways of knowing. For instance, Waite recalls a time in the second grade in which, as an answer to her teacher’s question, “what saved Wilbur from being killed in Charlotte’s Web?,” Waite responded “writing” instead of “Charlotte.” “I remember she said my answer was ‘kind of out there'”(65), Waite writes. Indeed, how many of us have been told our work, our desires, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, were ‘out there?’ How many times can we hear it before we grow too weary to go on?

I wonder, in what ways can writing, composing, world-making save us, as it did for Wilbur?

Resisting Linearity, Resisting Conclusions, Resisting Death

In “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications,” Ann Wysocki asks, 

How might the straight lines of type we have inherited on page after page after page of books articulate to other kinds of lines, assembly lines and lines of canned products in supermarkets and lines of desks in classrooms? How might these various lines work together to accustom us to standardization, repetitions, and other processes that support industrial forms production? (114)

Just as Wysocki likens rows of text to rows of groceries or desks, I think about the rows and rows of gravestones in a graveyard: we live and die by (hetero)normativity.

I believe one way to avoid that kind of slow, organized death is to move beyond the boundaries. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Our rows and rows of alphabetic texts are products of Western normative thought, and each neatly concluded seminar paper equates to a little death: a finished product. To avoid these little deaths is to embrace the death-defying queer possibilities of non-linear composing and creation. A resistance to neat death-like conclusions is a figurative act of defying death. But, at its most literal, an embrace of queer multimodal composing offers up a space in which queer ways of knowing are valued, and an embrace of queer ways of knowing has the potential to save queer lives.

Jack Biggs

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October 18, 2017

The Future of the Past

October 18, 2017 | By | One Comment

Archaeologists and anthropologist back in the day (say around the later Victorian era and the early 20th century) had it easy in terms of research and methodologies.  Study subjects and specimens were abundant while strict and standardized methodologies were not.  Researchers just went out and both literally and physically grabbed data. They weren’t data necessarily that they needed, but data they wanted.  Many times, collection techniques were…less than completely ethical, but as has been the long trend in human history, we learn from our mistakes.

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dixonel7

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.

 

My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.

 

I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.

fandinod

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October 15, 2017

Future Tense – Digital Humanities, Technology, and the Scholar

October 15, 2017 | By | No Comments

As a historian in training in academia today, the question of technology goes beyond the subjects I study into the current state of the profession I have chosen to enter. In teaching digital tools to undergraduate classes I see a break as substantial as the line between the generation before and after the advent of the internet. Part of my motivation to become a Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow was to explore how the digital humanities have transformed other disciplines and find ways to work on a digital project that incorporated my own philosophies and worked in tandem with my future research goals.
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Julia DeCook

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October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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Nicole Raslich

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October 9, 2017

Digitizing our Cultural Heritage

October 9, 2017 | By | No Comments

My own recent ethnohistoric research for family genealogy made me think about ChiMatrix and the need to digitize old documents public documents. Anyone who has ever used county libers will agree but for those of you who have not, let me explain. Prior to the 1960’s, all births, deaths and marriages were recorded by hand, in large ledger type books called libers. These books are huge, leather bound tomes, inscribed by hand. They go back to various decades, the ones in Saginaw County Michigan, for example, go back to the 1830’s with a small, three ring binder of marriages going back to 1825. As these tomes are hand-written, the penmanship varies as does the legibility of said documents.

Using these documents can be problematic for several reasons. One, they are “protected public documents” according to the County Clerk, so they cannot be photographed. Photographing or scanning with a handheld scanner would allow them to be digitized and put into a database. Two, when you require a certified copy, a county employee must come over and handwrite the information they see, then type that up into a legal, embossed certificate. This is problematic as the penmanship is open to interpretation. There were several times when at least three workers would confer about a letter or word written and then come to a consensus. Being unfamiliar with Ojibwa names, they would take most often, not take advice on spelling, trying to decipher it on their own. Three, they are only available during the hours of the office. The office opens at 9 a.m. and documents are done being printed by 4:45 p.m. Four, they are extremely fragile and heavy, (not a good combination) stored on shelves with rollers. The leather bindings break down after several decades and the tomes are now taped together, with labels taped on the outside. Several of them had the pages inside laminated, which was nice since they are handled by the public. Sometimes, due to the weight, the books are dropped and damaged upon being removed from the shelving units.

These books hold a wealth of information and are invaluable references for any person doing historical research. As such, they need to be preserved and cared for in a more user-friendly way. Scanning would allow them to be run through handwriting analysis software and may take some of the user error out of the current transcription process. Here is an example: I was searching for a death record of an individual and found the written line in the liber. I then called the office workers over to make the certified copy. None of us could read the “cause of death” in entirety. We all agreed it said ‘_____ over by ___s.’ The death occurred in 1878. The first word appeared to start with an ‘R’ so everyone came to the consensus that it must read “run over by cars.” This is what was typed into the official record of death, as the official cause of death. Something didn’t seem right about this to me so I considered the history of automobiles since I’m from Flint and Michigan is the birthplace of the American auto industry. The first American gasoline engine was developed in 1895, and the first sale of an American gasoline car was in 1896, although there were those that ran on steam, they were few and far between . Cars in 1900 were a rarity, especially in a rural area such as Saginaw County, making this cause of death unlikely as it was multiple cars. The workers from the office did not want to change anything as they could not make out any other words and nothing else seemed logical, even though historically, this is highly unlikely.

The digitization of these tomes would enhance their usability and make the information more accessible to people who may not have the resources to travel to each county when searching for this information. It would also help people with vision and mobility problems use these documents. I am aware of the lack of funding our county records offices receive and of the thousands of work hours it takes to digitize documents. In no way am I implying a lack of effort on the staff of the County Clerk offices. The people in the Saginaw County Clerk’s office were wonderful, helpful, and friendly. The County Clerk himself even came out to answer several of my questions. I believe by digitally preserving records such as this, we can preserve and increase the access to our cultural heritage for generations to come.

carlinek

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October 5, 2017

Different kinds of distance: some thoughts on maps

October 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

This is my second blog post for the CHI fellowship. Today I’m thinking and writing about digital maps, and how those let us see cultural and social divides in the present and the past.

Africa’s a Country, a website whose purpose is to counter that old mistake Western people make about Africa, recently published a piece about Johnny Miller’s aerial photographs of contemporary South African inequality. Miller’s photographs are taken from the air (what he called the “nadir zone”). The purpose of the photos is to highlight the spatial proximity of highly unequal communities, but also to show the powerful-but-narrow infrastructure barriers that divide them (highway ramps, fences, ditches).

I’ve also spent a lot of time recently looking at South Africa from the air, but through maps – usually Google maps, sometimes a historical map of the Eastern Cape region in the nineteenth or twentieth century. Some of my research is about the history of migration – of people and commodities – in the Eastern Cape. A paper I’m currently working on investigates the circulation network of a particular newspaper, through the postal address information given by people who entered prize competitions in the paper. As I find addresses, I plug the town name into Google maps, to see how far away the place is from East London where the newspaper was published.

But Miller’s aerial maps of inequality got me thinking about how my Google maps don’t show all the types of distance and difficulty that existed historically – the economic or infrastructural distances that might inflate the physical distance from point A to B. Some historical maps do this, by showing old road networks and political boundaries. But even they can’t show the degree of difficulty it takes a person to cross a boundary – a particularly salient problem in South African history when black people’s movement between urban and rural areas depended on a pass.

One of the potential projects that I came to the CHI fellowship with was to map consumer/newspaper subscriber networks in early-twentieth century South Africa. But how would you create a map that showed not just physical distance, infrastructural barriers, and political borders, but also degrees of difficulty that it might take for a person or object to cross even a very short distance?

Cody M

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October 3, 2017

Introducing CHI Fellow Cody Mejeur

October 3, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Cody Mejeur, and I’m extremely excited to be joining the CHI Fellows program for 2017-18. I’m a PhD student in the Department of English at MSU working at the intersection of many related areas: new media, narrative theory, game studies, cognitive humanities, queer studies, and digital humanities. That sounds like a lot (because it is!), but I focus my work on video game narrative. Specifically, I am interested in how games are changing our understanding of narrative, and my dissertation, titled Playing/Queering Narrative: Narrative Experiences and Interfaces in Video Games, develops a narrative theory built from the ground up on the interrelationship of narrative and play in games.

Game studies and gaming culture have grown exponentially in the past 20 years, but they have also developed a number of blindspots that have left some peoples marginalized or excluded. In gaming culture this is most evident in the debates surrounding representation and social justice that came to a head in the #GamerGate movement, which saw large groups of gamers working to harass and silence women, people of color, and LGBTQ folk. Game studies has seen similar issues, such as the infamous narratology/ludology debates, wherein some theorists argued that narrative theory and literary studies were threatening to colonize or take over game studies. My dissertation argues that these attempts to secure the borders of games and game studies are related: they both stem from a desire to defend the culture and study of games from perceived threats, whether they be literary theorists or marginalized peoples seeking to politicize games.

Rather than attempt to undo these tensions—that toothpaste is decidedly out of the tube—my dissertation seeks to move forward by constructing a narrative theory specific to games. Beyond looking at characters, cutscenes, and plots, I argue that the experience of play (running, fighting, scoring, etc.) is an essential part of game narrative. Play experiences are variable and extremely dependent on the player’s situation and context, and I turn to queer/feminist and cognitive narratologies to explain how they become narratives that construct our sense of (virtual) reality. This narrative process is inherently playful, and can potentially lead to emergent, transformative, and queer possibilities for individual and collective world-building.

As a CHI fellow, I’ll be working on the LGBTQ Video Game Archive (https://lgbtqgamearchive.com), founded by Adrienne Shaw. The archive seeks to catalogue and preserve all instances of LGBTQ representation throughout video game history. This project is especially necessary given the ephemeral nature of its source materials. Many of the sources detailing LGBTQrepresentations are blogs, wikis, and smaller websites devoted to queer gaming communities, and there is a constant danger of them going offline with little or no notice if their owners or authors can no longer maintain them. My project will involve saving copies of all websites and media objects that the archive references, and organizing them into an Omeka repository that will be stored at the Strong National Museum of Play. By preserving these resources, we can ensure that the cultural heritage of LGBTQ representation in games is publicly available to future gaymers and scholars.

I look forward to working alongside the other CHI Fellows on innovative approaches to Cultural Heritage Informatics, and to acquiring new skills with coding and digital tools and methodologies. Can’t wait to see what lies ahead!