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Joseph Bradshaw

Joseph Bradshaw

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July 9, 2015

New units coming to SWAG

July 9, 2015 | By | No Comments

This summer I plan to create new content for my educational site The Saharan World at a Glance. I am currently conducting preliminary dissertation research in Bamako. When I am not I’m the archive I plan to travel as much as possible to observe and photograph trade, Islam and leisure in Mali. Originally I had hoped to focus on Islam in the region, but I will be unable to travel to important Islamic centers in the North at this time. However, I (rather accidentally) rented an apartment in the Hippodrome quarter of Bamako, a district with several leisure attractions. It is named for the hippodrome where folks race horses. Soccer matches are held in the patchy grass at the edges of the race track. Betting on horses seems to be quite popular. I noticed one of my many new friends Abu Bokar obsessing over a program that contained the ponies’ stats and schedules. I was able to attend the last race of the season and will collect data to write a brief lesson.

 

My experience at the race has inspired me to write up a small unit on leisure in Mali based on my experiences. In order to show people something a bit out of the ordinary, like horse racing, that people don’t often associate with West Africa, but include some distinctly West African pastimes. Tomorrow I have made plans to watch a wrestling match. The Senegalese style of traditional wrestling has become popular in Mali. I also plan to attend local theater, and the end of Ramadan will no doubt present numerous opportunities to observe how Malians spend their leisure time. I have been writing informal travel pieces on my personal blog Abu Battuta’s travels in Africa, and I hope some of the material can also be worked into lessons about Mali’s beautiful culture.

So as one door shuts a new opportunity presents itself. Research trips are unpredictable so one might as well adjust. I still plan to travel to Jenne and work up a history of the city for my site, but travel north will be determined by other factors. الله هو يعرف

Look for the new units next fall and more to follow as I continue to develop SWAG.

Joseph Bradshaw

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May 8, 2015

The Saharan World at a Glance is Launched!

May 8, 2015 | By | One Comment

I am happy to announce that my site the Saharan World at a Glance (SWAG) is now live. This site is an education resource designed to introduce an undergraduate audience to the history, culture and politics of North Africa and the Sahel. This site is specifically conceived of as a tool that students will access on their phones or tablets. The site is built like an online text book made up of short units. These units are meant to be used as introductory or supplementary reading for broader lessons. The first unit published on the site introduces orientalism in the North African context, focusing primarily on Algeria.

SWAG was inspired by my experiences as a teaching assistant at Michigan State. My first teaching experience was working alongside Dr. Peter Alegi, who builds a week of his coverage of Apartheid in South Africa around the site Overcoming Apartheid. I noticed that many students engaged with the site over their phones, often within the first few minutes before class. I remembered my own desperate circling of key arguments on freshly printed articles before classes. I figured that even though procrastination is not new, the way students digest information is. My project tries to recognize shifts in information consumption without sacrificing the quality of its content.

The CHI fellowship generously funded and supported the development of my site. As I set to work I was also teaching my first class composed almost entirely of freshmen, and I owe them some thanks. Teaching this class with Dr. Bailey helped me fine tune my approach to the site. End to end this site is meant for incoming underclassmen: even the goofy, yet easy to remember, title! I used the bootstrap, a mobile first framework, and chose a layout that looks best on tablets, large smart phones and small laptop screens. The units are composed of micro-essays. The writing is conversational and short paragraphs are broken up by captivating images.

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The first unit relies heavily on nineteenth century art demonstrate orientalist trends in western thought. The essays are broken up into four sections I introduce Said’s critique and give a brief history of east-west divides. I then move on to a unit on masculinity followed by a unit on sexuality. I close with an attempt to weave the diverse threads together in a section on white slave narratives. Nestled within the broader lesson are introductory facts about the French conquest of Algeria, the civilizing mission, and slavery in Africa.

I see this site as an ongoing project. I plan to add a page that directs students to further readings and perhaps a more detailed gallery for this unit. I will also continue to add units as I develop courses and conduct my own research on Islam in Africa. The next unit will give an overview of Sufi Islam in Africa.

Joseph Bradshaw

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February 22, 2015

Analyzing Twitter Data on Ferguson

February 22, 2015 | By | 5 Comments

The grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on murder charges was the first historic event I followed on twitter. I felt helpless, anxious, and inspired as I read the feeds. After a few hours it occurred to me that someone should be archiving this information, but I couldn’t be sure anyone was. How many people do “digital history/humanities” work anyway? So a few hours after the decision was announced I activated an archive on the online tool, Tweet Arivist, to collect all of the tweets on #Ferguson and #MikeBrown. I have now made that archive public on the site Figshare. What follows are some suggestions for how scholars might interact with this twitter data.

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Joseph Bradshaw

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October 17, 2014

The Digital Bridge from History to Business

October 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

When undergraduates majoring in history tell people about their academic interests they are usually asked “What are you going to do with that?” or “Are you going into education or law?” This is alarming for two reasons. All employers claim that they want to hire people who can do things like write clearly, conduct research, work independently, and solve abstract problems. History majors should be able to find jobs wherever they want. Many undergraduates who major in history do in fact leverage these skills to find work, but it is overly optimistic to think that the market does not privilege technical knowledge. In a December 2012 New York Times article Professor Homni Bhabha declared that the humanities are now endangered in the developed and developing world. He stated that “In India for example the humanities are more or less dead, and professional schools and the study of business and technology are in the ascendant.” Digital methods can bridge the perceived gap between the scholarly and the technical.

Non-academics have good reason to suspect that historians are disconnected from reality. Since the 1980’s many scholars using post-colonial and post-structural theories have eschewed quantitative and scientific methods. Business, however, never made the cultural turn. Instead, as the aforementioned article indicates, the demand for specialized technical knowledge has increased, hence the perception that the History students might lack skills that the market values.

The incorporation of digital methods in the undergraduate class room can ensure that students have much of the technical knowledge that is in demand without compromising the broader skills that the study of history develops. Today data mining is a research method and web design is form of intellectual output, there is no reason History as a discipline should not embrace this reality.

Earlier this month my advisor asked me to speak to a group of alumni and donors at the opening of MSU’s leader lab. I thought the invitees would like to know exactly the kinds of skills digital history developed and the value of those skills outside the academy. I told them about a project I worked on that adapted the online tools used in market research to collect information on how people remembered Mandela around the world in real-time as the public posted their thoughts to twitter. At the reception I began to think of the numerous other technical skills students at leader will develop and how those skills are important in a variety of fields. In addition to data mining and blogging students will build web sites, create digital archives, use mapping tools, manage digital projects, and network online.

While this post contrasted the turn to the digital against the last important movement in the discipline of history, digital methods are in no way opposed to critical theory of any kind. I am using literary theory to write essays for a website I am developing that introduces undergraduate students to Edward Said. I hope to make the site slick enough that undergrads can use it on those dreaded smart phones and tablets.

While this may not be the innovative marriage of critical theory and digital methods some of my colleagues in the CHI program, like Santos Ramos, are imagining far more creative ways to bring theory to the digital. As technology becomes increasing common in all classrooms scholars will be able to use it to connect their disciplines to the technical skills that are currently in demand in today’s market place.

Joseph Bradshaw

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September 16, 2014

CHI Fellowship Introduction: J. M. Bradshaw

September 16, 2014 | By | No Comments

I study the history of greater Western Sahara, an area that stretches from southern Morocco to the upper reaches of the Senegal river. The project I plan to develop with Matrix through my CHI fellowship will take a broad look at the African Islamic World as it appears in Anglophone media. I will present the relationship between the Anglophone world and Islamic Africa. I will also explore the different ways Anglophone art, and literature have exoticized Islamic Africa. The intellectual framework for my project comes from a long standing fascination I have had with the idea of Islamic Africa’s early involvement in the Atlantic world.

This interest began when I was an undergraduate at the College of Charleston when my advisor and mentor Assan Sarr showed me runaway slave advertisements that featured Muslim names. I hope to showcase some of the work Sylviane Diouf and Ralph Austen have already contributed on this topic. However, the part of the project that I am most excited about is an analysis of 19th century travel literature that told stories of shipwrecked sailors enslaved in the lands of Islam. This literature appeals to me in for two reasons. First I think a cautious and studious reader could glean bits of usable ethnographic information from these accounts. Secondly I am interested in them because they are in a way a kind of slave narrative. They offer not only accounts of individuals, but insight into the discourse of race, abolitionism, and human rights at the time they were written.

What will this project look like? I would like to use MSU’s Overcoming Apartheid site as a model. My project will have the Overcoming Apartheid site’s mix of visual components and essays.  I will also write and design for undergraduate students interested in Africa and the Islam. Like many things in academia these deliverables are subject to change, but I think talking about my digital project gives some insight into my academic interests.