Over the past couple of weeks, the fellows in the CHI lab have been working through the process of taking an idea for a digital heritage project from vision, to vision document, and then to the creation of a pitch website. As part of the group developing an idea for the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, I was reminded of the importance of fun to the process of learning. It’s not something that gets considered very often at this academic level, though it’s an integral part of preschool and elementary education pedagogy. I think this is a mistake. The process of creating the vision website was frustrating, almost overwhelmingly so. Although we all practiced basic coding skills over the summer, when I was staring at the code for the website template, trying to locate the page I was supposed to be building, it felt like I had forgotten all of it. Although I ultimately sorted out where I needed to be and what I needed to do (with the help of my group), I know there will be many more moments and probably days like that as I work on my final project.
The stress that comes with learning a complicated new thing was offset by the amusement factor of the content we were working on. Focusing on the “Fish and Folk” exhibit about the history of fish and fishing in the area, we built out the idea of a companion site that integrated food heritage with the exhibit by providing a space to find, share, and discuss making traditional Icelandic fish dishes. There were plenty of opportunities for play here: choosing our favorite fish to use as our bio picture, taking a bit of time to discuss whether or not giant tubes of fish paste would be an appropriate image to use as the banner for the site (tragically, they don’t seem very common in Iceland), and sharing our opinions on fermented shark.
Of course this is not always practical when you are working on something that doesn’t lend itself to humor- historians and anthropologists alike tend to study “problems” more often than we do entertaining subjects. My dissertation looks at racialized and gendered environmental suffering and uncertainty in the context of urban infrastructural decay and my project for this fellowship will be based on a photovoice project that illustrates the effects of a lead poisoning epidemic on people’s daily lives. There is not much fun to be found there. But that’s all the more reason to find fun where I can. As we move through the rapid development projects, learning and applying new skills, I will be looking for ways to make them entertaining. And, as I start thinking about how I might teach my own classes in the next few years, I will try to remember how much easier learning is when you can laugh about it.