Project (and class) Reflection: Mapping & Democratizing Ongoing Lynching Research

Informal Introduction

Full disclosure: this may or may not be me on a fairly regular basis at this point in the semester/quarantine. I am sure many of you can commiserate! I hope that people are still healthy and doing as well as is possible. Hang in there and please continue to take good care!


From Rough Draft to Final Assignments

From the outset, I encourage you to visit my finalized (for now) ArcGIS StoryMap HERE, and also take a look at my conference poster below:

Since blogging about my project draft, my goals have remained largely unchanged: to create a digital resource that (1) maps+documents+interprets the lynching victims in Maryland that we currently know about; (2) serves as an iterative platform whereby ongoing research committees associated with the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project (I am currently leading research for the Carroll County coalition) can reflect their latest research; (3) incentivizes collaboration & democratized research through open community access, oral history projects, preservation of descendant community artifacts, etc; and (4) gets at one of my primary research questions: what should lynching reconciliation look like in Maryland? The path from draft to final has brought many changes, a few challenges, and yet more work for the future.

Major Changes

In my last post, I said the map was “complete to my liking.” Clearly, I’m a liar. The newest iteration reflects my desire to present concise, pertinent information given the limitations of the mapping software. I do not see the map as a particularly productive medium for extensive metadata; when you click a marker on the map, a clunky window pops up that, in my experience, often malfunctions. Thus, while I did polish the material on the map, I decided against embedding it with important narrative information. See the progression below:

In the draft version, clicking a marker revealed the name(s) of the lynching victim(s), as well as brief location information.

Upon clicking a marker, the newest version now gives location information first–this is a map, after all. The pop-up window also highlights the name of the lynching victim and the date of the lynching, as well as a single image associated with the lynching or the location. I also discovered that this was not the right place for primary sources–primary sources are largely text-based (newspapers, correspondences, etc.), in this case, and they would be inaccessible in such a setting. Thus, the map now displays additional information pertaining to each lynching, without being hindered by the mapping software’s limitations.

The second part of this project–the StoryMap website–was very much a work in progress last time we spoke–it had limited narration, very little archival material, and no sense of navigation:

As you already saw by clicking the link to the final StoryMap (HERE it is again), this part of the project has undergone major changes. See some screenshots of the newest iteration below:

The landing page is more polished, with added navigation. Users can now click on major headings at anytime to navigate to that portion of the page.

The interpretation has been completed and streamlined so as to not be overwhelming for general audiences.

The site remains grounded in the needs of the community and the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. As such, I have organized the primary source archive by county, and each county section contains its respective lynching victims. Each lynching victim is identified by name, age, race, and other pertinent information where available.

Every lynching event is corroborated with high resolution primary source material; in most cases, newspapers articles. However, my research has led me to other materials too: government documents, correspondences, photographs, etc. These are also embedded in the archive, either as a physical images or as an external link to the materials stored on my Google Drive. In the case of George Armwood (lynched in 1933), I was able to incorporate an oral history podcast I produced last semester with his descendants: Tina Johnson and Kirkland Hall.

Finally, I have made some contact with leadership in the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. They are on-board for this resource to complement their current website, given that no central archive for lynching research in Maryland currently exists (until now). Going forward, I hope to contact county-level research committee leaders individually, and encourage them to add their own narration and primary source findings to the site. Moreover, I hope to incorporate the community into the project by conducting oral history interviews and incorporating additional descendant artifacts. As I mentioned previously, this project is very much grounded in the needs of the Project & the descendant/black community in Maryland.

Challenges

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed my project. It has halted the work of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, given that our efforts are intimate & community-based. COVID-19 has already fundamentally changed the field as well. My hope is these changes are for the better–I have seen more academic journals lifting restrictions to access, more community engagement, more digital content, and the like.

As for other challenges: the most pressing problem I faced was the issue of data limitations. Many of the primary source items individually occupy 15mb or more, making my original plan to integrate with WordPress or Omeka impossible. Both platforms have data limits that would have severely restricted the extent of archival materials. In addition, I was unable to embed my map into these other platforms without running into major problems. Thus, my only choice was to use ArcGIS’s site builder: StoryMaps. I was very pleased to discover that ArcGIS StoryMaps appears to have a very high data limit, so I was able to include a plethora of source material. It is also specifically designed to embed ArcGIS maps without losing functionality.

Putting all of this together through ArcGIS StoryMaps does present an additional problem: the software only allows for a single, linear page of content. In other words, I was forced to design a linear resource without the flexibility of navigation panels that take users to separate pages. Although I see this as an iterative project with much work left to be done, I am pleased with how everything turned out.

Goals Going Forward:

  • Perhaps through funding from the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, correct the linear nature of the current platform by upgrading to a premium version of WordPress/Omeka. If this is not a possibility, embrace the notion that curated narration/interpretation can be just as powerful as user choice.
  • Continue communicating with Project leadership, research heads, and the community. This digital resource is ready to be democratized, I just need to get it into the right hands.

Full Circle

With these future goals in mind, I am reminded how much we have learned this semester. The most striking lesson I will take away from this course is that digital history is undoubtedly the future of the field, whether the academy likes it or not. As budding public historians, this course gifted us with a foundation to adapt to the changes. Perhaps that change is already here? Or perhaps it is our turn to be the changemakers by embracing new modes of thought, multi-platform research methods, inclusive/open access venues for publication, subversive/experimental niches, and the notion that failure–followed by iteration–leads to important interventions.

It has been a pleasure working/learning with all of you this semester. Thank you for a great course Trevor! Please take care of yourselves and stay in touch.

“Without the permission of any gatekeeper”: Openness Theory, Public History, & Changing Practices

Hello again everyone! It was wonderful to skim through project drafts today. I am heartened that we are all making good progress and adapting to challenging circumstances. I was especially impressed by the breadth of research that we are engaged in, and I look forward to the continued evolution of our work.

On the topic of our projects–some digital, some paper-based–I am finding that this week’s readings have immense potential to influence the work we are doing, for the better! Many of our projects are inherently against the grain of traditional academic practice; this week, we will explore the intersection of–and disconnect between–the traditional academy and digital venues for scholarship. In addition, we will confront & deconstruct gatekeeping through the lens of public history. Finally, a concerted effort is being made to turn openness theory into practice & funding–we will dive deeper into Ithaka S+R’s plan to inject digital venues into traditional and non-traditional historical spaces.

Here are the readings that we will be discussing:

  • Cohen, “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web”
  • Conard’s review of Historians in Public
  • Rutner & Schonfeld (with Ithaka S+R), “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians”

Rather than summarizing each reading individually, I find that we can glean more by thinking about them in conversation–they very much work in tandem. Openness theory, at the heart of this conversation, is burgeoned by allies of public history, who in turn are implementing digital innovations into their practice (and hopefully into their products too). Hence the name of this post: openness theory, public history, and changing practices (oh my!).

But what exactly is openness theory? Cohen thinks about openness in two ways: (1) to combat academic gatekeeping/tradition and (2) to embrace digital venues in the pursuit of academic values. Cohen points to the inherent compatibility of the academy and the digital world, as they share many of the same processes and values. For example, born-digital blogs & articles often undergo an extensive, iterative publication process. This is no different than making several drafts of a book chapter. In addition, both the academy and the digital world value recursive review, in which previously published materials can be improved, added to, expanded upon; again, much of what digital scholars and traditional scholars do is rooted in iterative practice. Why then, has the traditional academic community not fully accepted digital openness? Where we see a disconnect is in the venues–the academy maintains an exclusionary stance toward what venues are deemed “quality,” while supporters of openness are far more inclusive. Openness allows us to embrace the value that digital spaces possess for doing history. There is also tension in this space between gatekeeping and collaborating; in short, should there be a shared authority between author and audience? See below a visualization of these dynamics (apologies for the small font):

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Consider the evolution of Nate Silver’s work: he went from geolocating and reviewing Mexican restaurants in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, to combining his statistical analysis skillset with political polling on FiveThirtyEight, to partnering with the New York Times after his many successes. Indeed, we could liken his iterative process–from The Burrito Bracket to FiveThirtyEight–to the process of drafting a book. Each section, from the introduction to the various chapters and the conclusion, builds toward a complete whole. Nate Silver took a non-traditional path, challenging the academy and its conservatism even as scholars likened his work to a hobby; rather than education, his work was “information…almost a recreational activity.” Some even called his digital venues “potentially dangerous.” Those who critiqued Silver’s digital platforms failed to see their mistake–they failed to see that his work was just as valuable and developed with the same process in mind as the work they created in the academy.

Combating this gatekeeping and embracing various spaces for interpreting history are some of the hallmarks of public history. At the end of his article, Cohen crafts what might be called a mission statement for all public historians: openness can lead to “a fully functional shadow academic system for scholarly research and communication that exists beyond the more restrictive and inflexible structures of the past.”

In her review of Historians in Public, Conard argues that Cohen’s notion of a “shadow academic system” is perhaps more mainstream than he suspected. The foundation of public history includes embracing openness and bridging the gap between traditional and progressive ways of doing history. In practice, this means doing history across multiple mediums, embracing interdisciplinary approaches, and collaborating with a variety of stakeholders. We are introduced to the core audiences of public history: government/public entities that look to history to shape public policy, the everyday public that embraces popular history, and classroom pupils. We also learn that academic and public historians share a propensity to leverage popular media–films, radio, books, etc.–to interpret history/create affect. Finally, Conard criticizes the book for failing to address the public history contributions of private cultural institutions, businesses, and non-academic historians (NPS historians, for example); and yet, she also sees Historians in Public as an excellent resource toward understanding how to bridge the apparent disconnect between academic and public historians.

History meme – Ed Methods

If we can agree that openness theory and public history go hand-in-hand, and that both might be leveraged to sway traditional scholars toward more progressive thinking, how do we translate all of this into changing practice? In “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians,” Rutner & Schonfeld begin to provide something of a roadmap for supporting and funding openness theory in practical settings. They distinguish first between research methods and research practice in history–the former has, in their assessment, remained largely unchanged while the later has changed over time alongside the growing ubiquity of digital resources.

Central to their study: interviews with professionals in both academic and public history settings, as well as those who support the work of historians–teachers, librarians, archivists, preservationists, digital media professionals, humanities donors, research/citation software designers, and the like. Based upon these interviews, they make setting-specific recommendations so as to burgeon changing research practice & openness in the field:

In short, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians” argues for a multifaceted approach–encompassing public history practitioners, digital historians, academics, software designers that supports historical work, and donors–to bring openness to the mainstream of practice in the field. And, most importantly, it recalls Cohen’s work, making a compelling case for introducing openness to the products & publications of history. Digital venues should be utilized not only to do history, support historical work, and support iterative projects; indeed, it is time for digital venues to subvert academic tradition and provide open access to the published work of history.

With these readings in mind, I want to come back to our projects. In my opinion, every single one of us is currently embracing openness. We are all utilizing a blog to discuss scholarship, and we are practicing digital history through our projects. My questions to you are many, so apologies in advance (and feel free to tackle only one): is it necessarily our responsibility, as young emerging historians, to subvert academic tradition? How should we go about challenging our role models/older colleagues in the field (many of them much more experienced, and some pretty gatekeeper-y) to embrace openness theory? Is it in our best interest to move the field away from exclusively print-based monographs (ex: should we have the option to create a digital resource in place of a thesis/dissertation)? What makes our projects, many of them digital resources, any different than, say, a paper (aren’t we conducting the same iterative process)? What does it say about public history as a field when the acceptable forms of academic publication (largely print articles, books, monographs, etc.) doesn’t match up with the way we practice (digital venues aplenty)?

Thank you for taking the time to read through this, and I wish you all the best. Talk to everyone soon!

Progress Update: A Democratized, Digital Repository for Lynchings in Maryland

Hello fellow digital historians! I hope everyone is doing as well as possible. Please continue to take care of yourselves and stay healthy.

I also hope that what you are about to read will prove to be at least somewhat coherent. As a reminder, my intention remains largely unchanged: to create a digital resource that (1) maps+documents+interprets the lynching victims in Maryland that we currently know about; (2) serves as an iterative platform whereby ongoing research committees associated with the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project (I am currently leading research for the Carroll County coalition) can reflect their latest research; (3) incentivizes collaboration & democratized research through open community access, oral history projects, preservation of descendant community artifacts, etc; and (4) gets at one of my primary research questions: what should lynching reconciliation look like in Maryland? Unfortunately, I am unable to share the link to my resource as doing so would require me to publish an unfinished product. A plethora of screenshots (yay!) will have to do. My digital project is very iterative right now and it will continue to evolve in the coming weeks–here is the progress I have made thus far:

MAPPING RESOURCE: the map itself is complete to my liking…for now. See below and I will explain more on the other side:


What I have done is marked all of the known and suspected lynching cases in Maryland from 1854-1933. This reflects a combination of my research, research done by the community committees associated with the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project (MLMP), and research done by scholars and universities across the state. In addition, I have deliberately crafted the map so as to say something about how we visualize space. The size of each red mark directly reflects the magnitude of violence; the larger the mark, the more lynchings occurred in that locale. I am working on putting together a legend to describe what each symbol means, but here is a basic breakdown:

  • The smallest red circles represent a single lynching victim
  • Middle-sized red circles represent a locale that recorded two lynchings
  • The largest red circles represent a locale that recorded three lynchings
  • The yellow stars represent cases of suspected lynchings, but evidence is currently anecdotal and needs further support/corroboration to be confirmed

Upon clicking a red circle, brief metadata appears. The bold text indicates the name of the lynching victim, and the subsequent text underneath tells the user where the lynching occurred. I had hoped that I would be able to include primary sources & further interpretation in these pop-ups as well, but it would appear that the mapping software is only designed to handle so much.

Notice too that the larger red marks contain multiple names–or in some cases, the lack of a name–of lynching victims.

For those of you that are also doing mapping projects, I am sure you can commiserate when I say that producing/labeling/navigating the controls of your map is very time-consuming. I am wondering whether you all think I should add additional metadata to accompany each lynching victim on the map. For example, should I include the age, race, alleged crime, etc. of each victim? Read ahead to see my current plan for this additional metadata, and let me know if you think it belongs on the map too.

DEMOCRATIZED DEPOSITORY/NARRATIVE INTERPRETATION: this is where I am running into some hiccups & additional questions. I want to leverage the map, community collaboration, ongoing research, and compiled primary sources to create a central depository for lynchings in Maryland. In other words, this will be an iterative project that will be molded not only by my own lynching research (statewide, but with specific focus in Carroll County), but by research that is being conducted by the various county committees/community groups associated with the MLMP. Although COVID-19 has put most of our work on hold, I am planning on bringing in all the research committees to add their latest research to this resource. I also want there to be some interpretation for these materials, so as to provide a sense of historicization/polish. See below the StoryMap that I have developed thus far (keeping in mind that much of this is rough and will be polished/added to later on):


The above is an initial draft of what will eventually be an integrated walk-through of Townsend Cook’s lynching in Westminster, MD. It will take users from the jail where Cook was being held, to the intersection of a railroad where he was assaulted/humiliated and thrown in a wagon, and to the presumed location of his lynching. The intention is not to simulate the role of a lyncher or lynching victim; rather, the slides will provide interpretation/historicization: many of Maryland’s lynchings occurred in plain sight; were spectacle/brutal performances intended to create terror/trauma for the target’s community; with much (if not all) of the town’s population in attendance–this is a story of historical, racist erasure that (in most cases) is yet to be rectified.

The map is included here too.

The above section is where I am running into some potential problems, and it is essentially the crux of my digital project. For all 43 lynching victims in Maryland, I have compiled associated primary sources including: newspaper clippings, oral histories, census records, correspondences between local government officials, everyday correspondences, photographs, medical records, etc. Please feel free to take a look at these materials, currently stored on my Google Drive.

The problem I am having is this: what is the best way to give users access to these resources? The above is my initial template that I plan to start with going forward. In the case of David Thomas, the first victim of lynching in Maryland, I have attached a newspaper clipping and included some metadata pertaining to him and the circumstances of his death. I anticipate (please correct me if I am wrong) that I will inevitably run into the problem of storage capacity–David Thomas is the rare exception that I only have one or two newspaper clippings for. Most other lynching victims come with several newspaper clippings, and a select few (like Townsend Cook, George Armwood, Matthew Williams, etc.) also come with oral histories, medical records, government documents obtained at the Maryland State Archives, etc.

My thought is that I may need to move much of these materials over to a platform like Omeka and provide links to those materials via this StoryMap. Again, my primary concerns are getting these materials to be easily accessible yet also easily modified/added to/archived as research continues. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of my concerns.

Next steps for this project:

  • Continue to populate the StoryMap (and possibly the map itself) with additional metadata for known lynching victims.
  • Add additional interpretation and edit current interpretation.
  • Try to the best of my ability, given the circumstances of COVID-19, to communicate with each county’s research committees and get them on board to collaborate.
  • Mediate with community partners to obtain additional oral histories, artifacts, records, etc. from Marylanders.
  • See if there is a way to make these resources, particularly the primary source digital archive, more open access/multi-access. In other words, it would be wonderful if heads of county research committees could make additions to the archive on their own, without having to go through me. I would also love to open this up to interested members of the public, in particular, the descendant community (Marylanders who are descendants of lynching victims). They could make contributions through their own research/oral histories and that content could then be curated/approved by administrators of the resource.
  • Move from truth-telling toward reconciliation. That is, quite frankly, the point of all the work the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project is doing. I hope that the map will soon be able to mark those locales that have placed historical markers/memorials, held community vigils, etc. in remembrance of those who were lynched in Maryland. I also hope to historicize the process of memorialization/reconciliation. Finally, I hope that this resource will be a catalyst for dialogue/blogging: what should a lynching reconciliation in Maryland look like?

Thanks for getting this far, and for trying your best to work through all my jumbled thoughts. Take care & be well! I look forward to reading about the progress you are all making on your projects.

The Power of Embodied Place: Mobile Media, Spatial Turn, and Sensory-Inscribed Users

To my fellow public historians: I know, I am totally unoriginal. And yes, I am very proud of ripping off Dolores Hayden’s brilliant The Power of Place in my title. I ask but one thing of you: please don’t be a copyright cop, okay? Speaking of cops, my quarantine streaming queue has dwindled to the extent that my Friday night consisted of a date with the 2009 classic: Paul Blart Mall Cop. Some highlights in GIF form:

To everyone reading: I hope that you are healthy, checking in with yourself regularly, and social distancing like the champs you are. I miss seeing you all very much. It has been really heartening to read everyone’s blog posts and comments; although we can no longer meet in person, carrying on with class restores some sense of normalcy in a world that is anything but.

This week, I am responsible for making sense of Farman’s Mobile Interface Theory and Durington & Collins’ “New App City.” From the outset, I have found that these two pieces–the former a book and the latter a brief article about an Android app–are wholly complimentary, so that will be helpful later on.

I mentioned Dolores Hayden’s The Power of Place (and I may or may not have committed a copyright infringement in my title, oops) at the beginning, and I want to explain why. Hayden argues that we can learn a lot about public memory by negotiating the inclusive histories of diverse peoples & the vernacular landscapes they inhabit. Writing in the 1990s, her methodology for interpreting history was rooted in two fundamental concepts: people and place.

Farman, Durington, and Collins challenge us to update Hayden’s premise, to add a third consideration to her list: mobile media. In short, Mobile Interface Theory and “New App City” call for an iterative approach to the spatial turn movement–we are encouraged to think about the inseparable relationship between sensory-inscribed bodies, mobile media, & the digital and physical spaces they embody.

I would like to begin by summarizing Farman’s findings in Mobile Interface Theory, as this book is pretty foundational to all the readings and practicums we will be engaging with this week. I have divided this next bit into three primary sections: mobile media, people, and place.

Mobile Media

What do we mean by mobile media? Well, in addition to typical objects–mobile phones, smartphones, netbooks/laptop computers–associated with the digital age, we are also talking about print text, subway passes, and everyday objects that signify identity and create meaning in our lives.

For historical context, Farman challenges the notion that mobile technology is new; papyrus was mobile technology, for example, albeit rudimentary by our standards. Whether we are looking at the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 or the production of papyrus in the fourth millennium BCE, many mobile technologies share a distinctive feature: they often usher in fundamental changes in culture.

Utilizing mobile media tells us something about how spaces–both digital and physical–and the bodies that inhabit those spaces are related. Farman chiefly places focus on mobile media that is locative/location-aware, think radios or mobile phones that create a sense of intimacy between people that are far apart. Farman also concedes that some mobile media can have a cocooning quality–zoning out surrounding spaces/people with earbuds, for example.

Pervasive computing is, in part, represented by mobile media–such as smart phones–that has become ubiquitous and largely affordable to the masses. These devices serve as an interface, a conduit of sorts, through which we can transform/interpret ourselves, others, and lived spaces.

Place

Farman’s treatment of place is not significantly different than Hayden’s: place creates meaning, it preserves and modifies memory. However, place is also more abstract in this context: place can be virtual or physical. In addition, there is an inescapable interplay between people, the mobile media they utilize, and the spaces they occupy.

A novel way that Farman explains place has to do with historical notions of progress over time. Typically, new technology is seen as a form of acceleration/speed/progress. Farman sees this thought process as flawed precisely because it forgets the importance of select spatial moments in history. By linking linking mobile media, location (dwelling), and people, we do not necessarily move towards progress & later obsolescence, but rather a new understanding of embodied space.

People

On the most basic level, Farman sees people as bodies who are utilizing mobile media and inhabiting space. In addition, people are “sensory-inscribed.” What the heck does that mean? My understanding is that users of mobile media are attuned to material AND digital landscapes–they embody multiple spaces (real and virtual) and multiple identities, sometimes simultaneously.

Farman also posits that each body–each person engaging with mobile media spatially–has distinctive socio-cultural implications that must be considered. Further, Farman is an advocate for using mobile media to visualize place, to serve as an interface useful to community insiders and outsiders. And finally, locative storytelling through voice recording, texting, and site specific engagement is an excellent medium for inclusive/democratized history. This dovetails nicely into a brief discussion of the article “New App City.”

In their article, Durlington & Collins transcend Farman’s theory and show how it can be applied in practice. They focus on an app called “Chongno Alleys,” a GPS/mapping platform that takes users on a tour of various tourist highlights and lesser known locations in the Chongno District of Seoul. The app is a collaboration between the South Koren government, local tour guides, community organizers, and neighborhood residents.

The key takeaway from their experience with the app is that mobile media presents a wonderful opportunity for public historians, cultural anthropologists, ethnologists, etc. to collaborate with local communities and document spatial memory. In addition, the app’s emphasis on bringing users to places/spaces that only community insiders know about is an experiment in locative storytelling. The app makes spatial history accessible and useful to both insiders and outsiders of a community.

Finally, the app embraces creative misuse: the android app is full of errors, the GPS tracking sometimes takes you to unexpected/unintended locales, and textual information in the app often presents contradictory notions of what these spaces mean to different members of the community. Creative misuse isn’t a bad thing; rather, it is actually a form of resistance to archival silence and white-washed histories. Experiences like “Chongno Alleys” tell us much about how people, places, and mobile media interfaces create new meanings.

Many of us are in the process of developing a digital mapping resource as our final project. Many of us are also emerging public historians. What does all of this mean for our projects and our futures in the field? Marrying the theories and practices proposed in The Power of Place, Mobile Interface Theory, and “New App City” leads us to something of an answer: studying embodied spaces & using mobile media to meet communities where they are opens the door to democratized, inclusive history. The power of embodied place is that it opens our eyes to new meanings, communities, identities, and narratives.

These readings also left me with many questions that I would love to discuss with you all in the comments below. Is mapping necessarily the only way that historians can utilize mobile interface theory? What about text messaging, calling patterns, games, apps, etc.? It is problematic to assume that all communities have equal access to/interest in mobile media, so how do we overcome the problem of access? At AU and in the professional world, we are faced with the problem of time and budget: how do we create experiences that utilize embodied spaces and represent community interests with these constraints? Why, and how, would we utilize creative misuse on purpose? Do public historians need to possess an understanding of a community’s virtual and physical identities, its virtual and physical spaces, before working with said community? How do we embrace the notion that the interaction between virtual spaces and material spaces can change our identity as interpreters of history, and likewise the community’s identity?

Until next time, be well and take care!

Glitching Audio

Hi friends! I hope everyone is hanging in there during these unprecedented times. Please be sure to check in with yourself and your mental health, practice all the good hygiene, get plenty of rest, and stay informed/vigilant. I am so disappointed that we will not be finishing the semester together; however, I look forward to communicating with all of you via this blog. Please stay in touch and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need somebody to talk to/are having a rough day. See below some excellent advice–from a former teacher of mine–about coping with COVID-19-induced stress/anxiety:

We could all use some Baby Yoda in our lives right now, am I right? Please begin by viewing the below video I put together–a Baby Yoda-inspired song will make an appearance! The video is intended to mirror our normal practicum experience in-class: it introduces the practice of glitching audio and provides a brief tutorial for the novice glitcher. (Please let me know in the comments if you have problems accessing the video!)

LINK TO PRACTICUM VIDEO

A quick recap from the video, as I rambled on a bit longer than intended:

  • Glitching is inherently against the grain–it is a practice that embraces imperfection, encourages degradation, and fundamentally alters a digital object purposefully.
  • Glitching necessitates listening to/looking at a digital object in a way that challenges its creator’s intentions.
  • Glitching audio is time-consuming. I could see myself spending hours upon hours on this stuff. Is there a sufficient return on the time it takes to glitch audio? Can we justify it as practice of the digital humanities?

I conjunction with the assigned readings for this week, one could make a fairly strong argument in the affirmative. Kirschenbaum argues that the “black box” of digital media is storage and the interplay between forensic and formal materiality. In glitching, we see storage as a primary determinant; capacious hard drives allow us to glitch and experiment with a variety of file types–MP3, RAW, and TXT to name a few. Indeed, materiality applies to glitching too: imperfect audio adds to a landscape of idiosyncratic digital objects, and glitching challenges the notion of screen essentialism. In other words, when we glitch, we embrace the iterative nature of our field. We embrace the notion that digital objects can be interpreted against the grain; degraded and recreated to create new meanings.

The readings address other questions too: what, exactly, is a digital object? How do contending notions of the term analog portend how digital media histories will be written? What and who decides that some digital formats are of a higher quality, thus deeming them sustainable and functional going forward? In all of these questions, we see a common theme: the digital humanities–public history included–are an iterative field. Many scholars–whether theorists or practioners–are going beyond the face value of digital objects to reconfigure meaning and draw the field toward new directions.

As emerging historians, public historians, and/or college graduates in general who will soon tackle the real world, we can all learn something from glitchers. In theory, glitching is intimately connected with materiality, file formatting, and going against the grain of surface level interpretation. In practice, glitchers welcome imperfection and failure.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Am I reading too far into the practical applications of glitching? For those of you enrolled in practicum (I know, even mentioning it makes me stressed too), does the iterative/imperfect nature of glitching mirror how we should be interacting with our communities? How might museums, historic sites, digital media blogs, etc. utilize glitching to engage the public? Does glitching as a pretty popular sub-genre of electronic music provide interdisciplinary/popular culture opportunities for historians?

Until next time:

AND