It’s in the Making: Media Commons survey on the divergences and convergences of DH and media studies

This post appeared in Media Commons Front Page section.

The site experienced some difficulties at the time, and it was the end of semester so I lost track of the thread and didn’t engage in the conversation as I would have liked to, but given the ongoing discussion of these overlaps and differences, it seemed like a good idea to reproduce it here:

At the 2011 Computers and Writing conference, I participated in a plenary session themed around the question, Are You a Digital Humanist? Even though I have not taught a writing course in years, and my faculty appointment is in Cinematic Arts, I’ve stayed connected to the C+W community, which includes a vibrant discussion forum, “techrhet” (technical rhetoricians), and the peer-reviewed journal, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. And viewing the term digital humanities from the C+W perspective proved illuminating.

It reminded me that one of the divergences between media studies and the digital humanities may have less to do with the “digital” and more with the “humanities” side of that term, especially in departments of English. In tracing the emergence of the freshman English class (aka first year composition), Sharon Crowley finds rampant evidence of the “humanist contempt for mass media and popular culture” running through the professional literature. For instance, in 1950, one scholar laments the “visual minded illiteracy of a generation of television watchers,” just as in 1890, Adams Sherman Hill worried that novels and newspapers would ruin people’s language use as well as their morals (105).

The humanistic tendency to view literature as the height of human expression has traditionally been at odds with the study of mass media, and this privileging of literature, in turn, has implications for the type of critical response considered appropriate. Poets and dramatists are artists and their tool is creativity; the academic essay is about literature but, using the tool of criticism, it takes the form of prose. Given these roots, it’s not surprising that many digital humanities projects build tools to help study literature. And, insofar as many film studies programs grew out of literature departments, the privileging of cinema is similar: that is, cinema is the art we write about using academic prose. The creative and the critical are separate entities and the form of the critical does not shift much, nor is it questioned.

The field of rhetoric and composition takes as its subject the shifting nature of communication and expression, and what that means for academic argument as well as for teaching the academic essay. Indeed, the Computers and Writing conference has been problematizing the digital for almost thirty years, and so its members express skepticism about something that might seem like a trendy term: digital humanities.

Personally, I identify more as a digital rhetorician than a digital humanist, mainly because of the rhetorical focus on both the production and the consumption of texts; I encourage the use of all of the available semiotic registers which no longer includes only words, but also images, sound and interactivity. I make remix videos, I publish pieces that could not have been done on paper, and my research centers on tools for indexing massive video archives. Still, I use terms like digital humanist strategically and contingently, and in this respect, I follow the sentiments of the crowd-sourced Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0, which argues that the term is not perfect, but it is a placeholder for what comes next. Given that current academic disciplines coalesced during the ascendency of print literacy, they need rethinking and likely will shift. Our active participation in that process will no doubt begin with conversations like this.


Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. 1998, U of Pittsburgh P.

Digital Humanities Manifesto:

“Are You a Digital Humanist?,” Town Hall session, Computers and Writing, 2011. Katherine Hayles, Jentery Sayers, Julie Klein, Alex Reid, Cheryl Ball, Doug Eyman

Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem A Multimedia Performance in Words, Images, Music and Dance (A Visions and Voices event)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
University Park Campus
Bovard Auditorium (ADM)

Admission is free.

Reservations required. RSVP online beginning Wednesday, March 27, at 9 a.m.

Called Gypsy, Tsigan, Gitane, Cygane, Zigeuner, the Roma people have wandered the world for a thousand years—their mysterious origins a source of fascination as well as suspicion. They’ve been romanticized but also brutally persecuted by the more settled and orderly cultures they’ve traveled through and enriched.

Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem is an acclaimed book-length poetic sequence written by USC poet Cecilia Woloch. It intertwines her personal journey of identity with the larger forces in the world that have shaped the Roma people’s fate and fortunes. Tsigan both eulogizes and celebrates the lives of Gypsies, a people who have endured centuries of dispossession, exile, poverty and extermination. The soul of the Gypsy has been pursued to near extinction, yet its wandering fire survives, emblematic of the freedom and creativity of the human spirit.

The text of Tsigan will form the basis for this moving multimedia performance produced by documentary filmmaker Paula Fouce, with stage direction by USC dramatic arts professor Jack Rowe. Woloch’s reading from the poem will come to life against a backdrop of archival footage depicting the history and travails of the Roma people. Testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute of Roma survivors of the Nazi Holocaust will be featured. Film and still images from sources such as the National Archives and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, edited by USC film students under the direction of professor Lisa Leeman, will be screened. Music and dance will be woven throughout the performance, celebrating the lyrical fire of the Gypsy spirit—a poetic spirit that transcends geographical boundaries and the limits of space and time. Award-winning dancer and singer Briseyda Zarate will perform with guitar accompaniment in the Flamenco tradition developed by Spanish Gypsies to express duende, the sorrow and passion of the soul.

A conversation with the audience, moderated by Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, will follow the performance. Cecilia Woloch will answer questions about the genesis of her poem. Students involved in the evening’s production will also participate. The image of the Gypsy has come to symbolize the creative spirit so often suppressed by more conventional societies. Thus, the discussion will focus not only on the issues raised by the presentation, but also on how art serves as a vehicle for diving into their deeper meanings.

Organized by Cecilia Woloch (English), Lisa Leeman (Cinematic Arts), Jack Rowe (Dramatic Arts), Stephanie Shroyer (Dramatic Arts) and Paula Fouce (independent filmmaker). Co-sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.

Photo: Annette Corsino

Picturing the Popular

Embrace and Ambivalence, Academe
On Digital Scholarship and my digital dissertation.

Scholarly Tools: Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate, IJLM

Writing With Video: Beyond the Illustrated Text [SCMS 2013]

These assets issue from the Writing With Video Workshop at the 2013 conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. See also Catherine Grant’s  post about this event at Film Studies For Free.

Chair: Virginia Kuhn
Participants: Vicki Callahan, Catherine Grant, Cheryl Ball, Michael Lachney, Virginia Kuhn
First, the prompt to which we responded:
Video is an increasingly ubiquitous mode of authoring brought about by the rise of consumer grade video cameras and other mobile devices (smart phones, iPads, flip cams) on the one hand, and improvements in graphics processing units for networked editing and cloud-based video hosting on the other. These technologies allow both the recording and the dissemination of video in ways that are utterly unprecedented. But what exactly are the possibilities for writing with video? Will the onslaught of “amateur” video merely reinforce current genres, lending credence to Peter Greenaway’s contention that, to date, cinema has been little more than 115 years of illustrated text?

Video remix, for instance, can offer an especially effective creative and critical strategy as it challenges authorship, reconsiders formal parameters, and builds new communities through shared cultural, analytical, and practical knowledge. That said, as a scholarly tool, remix faces a number of challenges in that the current paradigm of intellectual rigor is established primarily through complex textual arguments, and multimodal argumentation is still uncharted territory with respect to scholarly validity. Moreover, much of the critical work in video to date has consisted of text-based scholarly argument, which is illustrated by clips. If put in critical conversation however, the registers of word, sound and image could illuminate each other, calling each other into question and challenging their seemingly transparent meaning.

Jean-Luc Godard argues that cinema combines research and spectacle. This mixture makes cinema—and now by extension, digital media—a “promise” of radical political intervention, a promise to imagine a new world, unchained by past ways of singular, essentially linear thinking. Yet this promise remains unrealized.

In this workshop, we will explore how writing with video may be mobilized in ways that fulfill the promise of cinema, moving us past generic conventions which render video both static and overdetermined, and into the realm of radical rediscovery.

Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, Clive Myer, Ed. London: Wallflower P. 2011
Roland Barthes. Image, Music, Text trans. by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.
Jean-Luc Godard. Histoire(s) du Cinema, Gaumont, 1998.

Catherine Grant: My presentation to this workshop has a somewhat strange take on the notion of the capacity for “video-writing” to move beyond the “illustrated text”. The video it presents not only uses a good deal of text, but was also originally inspired by the idea of audiovisually amplifying, or supplementing, a long pre-existing written study of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film ROPE.

What making it demonstrated to me is that, in scholarly settings, even the simplest videographic act of presenting an assemblage of compiled film sequences involves medium-specific forms of argumentation, for example, the selection and presentation of evidence, montage and mise en scene, titling, sound editing and other creative effects, all aiming to draw from “a broader notion of pathos, logos, and ethos than that which has been reified in the age of print literacy”, as Virginia Kuhn has put it.* The result is not only the creation of an audiovisual argument, however, but also, importantly, of an active viewing space for live co-research – a framed experience of participant observation which, particularly through its online distribution, dialogically invites responses (including rebuttals!) through forms of remix.

*Kuhn, Virginia. 2012. “The Rhetoric of Remix.” In “Fan/Remix Video,” edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. Online at

Film Studies and Videographic Assemblage from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.


Cheryl Ball: Networked Humanities Scholarship, or the Life of Kairos


Vicki Callahan on Collaborative Storytelling with Social Media Tools


Michael Lachney: Writing the World
Michael discusses the ways in which when we write with video, we write the world. Or we should do. His work with area youth should engage issues surrounding teacher strikes and other hard issues that inform the very programs in which these children participate. He asks, for instance, why, when Chicago school programs are closed, why media literacy groups do not take up the slack, allowing youth a voice. He shares links  regarding his media literacy/STEM work and another link referenced during the discussion regarding his work with classroom practices and new media.


Virginia Kuhn: Peer-reviewed video essays: she has edited two digital anthologies, the last of which was just recently published and, although the earlier anthology was done created using a Flash container, the current one uses HTML5. While we optimized for video, the journal editors had to put a note out to ask readers to be patient given load times.

Another digital publication includes the rubric for guiding student work. It can be found off the introduction page in the digital format: and here in its textual form:
















Finally, she shared some slides from a recent talk on multimedia project design and assessment which are embedded here.


Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics

Playing with Reelsurfer

The latest version of Reelsurfer, a video indexing and clipping application that I’ve been using for several years, is ready to go and has increased functionality. The bookmarklet is very cool.

Digital Dissertations

This article was published in Academe, Jan/Feb 2013 issue.


I also created this post on the Academe blog in order to show a few screen shots and gesture to a few others’ work in this area.

Queerly Digital: C+W 2012 Review of Constructing Queer Digital Spaces: An Overview, a History, a Future

This review, like all the Computers and Writing 2012 conference reviews, appears in the Gayle Morris Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collective, a project of the Gayle Morris Sweetland Center for Writing and the University of Michigan Press.

Few people can pull off what Will Banks did on Saturday morning at C+W 2012: He was the only panelist physically present at his session and yet, it actually took me until I was drafting this review for this simple fact to sink in: the session was smartly poly-vocal. Indeed, Will and Jonathan Alexander planned and conducted this featured session in a way that leverages digital technologies to spark dialogue and creating event-ness, a feature that is way too often absent from conference sessions. Will opened by contextualizing the session and outlining the schedule: In 2002, he explained, he and Jonathan tried to create a special issue in Computers & Composition which would be queer focused, and they were hard pressed to find submissions. Further, noting that they both wanted to give graduate students a voice, they launched interviews with eleven advanced graduate students (a few of whom are actually junior faculty), during the CCCC in March, and out of the ten hours of footage, they had a twenty-nine minute video cut (Jackie Rhodes cut this footage). The video includes clips of all 11 interviewees and is grouped thematically. In addition, Jonathan, who could not be present, recorded his own 4 minute video done in response to one of the strands in the interview footage.

After the introduction, Will played the interview footage and the audience heard  a nice smattering of issues as the grad students responded to questions Jonathan and Will posed about the nature of sexuality, identity politics and academia in general, and rhetoric and composition in particular. Since the session’s assigned room was laid out pod style—clusters of desks, each of which had its own screen—the effect of the video was quite nice and enacted the multi-vocal nature of the discussion. Will then led the audience through a lively discussion and, when the issue of downplaying one’s queer identity in order to get work in academe, Will played Jonathan’s video, which extended the conversation and provided a nice ending to the session, though, clearly many wanted to stay and talk.

There were numerous issues raised throughout the session, the nuances of which are not fully captured here, but I offer the following highlights:

–       Coming out online: can digital space provide a rehearsal for coming out f2f? What are the structural implications of social networking in terms of controlling one’s identity?

–       Queering as method: Hacking and remix are, in many ways, inherently queer practices. But if queer becomes a methodology—a disruptive practice which eschews the intent of the original—does it lose its political edge?

–       Private | public: What is the relationship between identity politics, the performance of gender and the private/public spaces that characterize digital networks? How do we understand scholars who are queer but who don’t do queer theory? What about straight scholars who focus on queer issues?

–       Separate but equal? What are the dangers of ghettoizing queer theory? One interviewee noted that the queer caucus sponsored two sessions at the CCCC, and they were held simultaneously effectively limiting who might attend.

–       Queer pedagogy? Is there such a thing? Should queer teachers step back and let students find their way? Is the skepticism required of critical thinking problematic when paired with progressive politics?

–       The whiteness of queer theory: how do we become more inclusive, particularly given the fact that often queerness is not as immediately visible as are the markers of race and ethnicity. How are one’s identity choices impacted by factors they cannot control?

Jonathan’s video found him picking up on a thread raised with regard to one’s professional stance: how does one balance one’s political beliefs with one’s desire to work?  How “out” does one have to be to stay true to oneself? And how does the performance of identity and gender impact one’s professional life, if at all?

The really compelling issues that arose in this session ultimately centered on the balance of retaining a fluid identity such that one can highlight or submerge certain characteristics in the service of others as is rhetorically valid.  On the one hand, you do not want to bifurcate yourself and violate your beliefs; on the other, the type of essentialism associated with stereotypes is worth fighting and so showing our complexity should be paramount.  In this regard, there is no one better to look to than both Will and Jonathan who have managed smart, successful careers as scholars and not strictly as queer scholars.

I believe Jonathan and Will are planning to publish some of this video work, and I look forward to the contribution it will make to this field, as well as to academia more generally.

C+W 2012 Constructing Queer Spaces: Images from Review

In Media Res: Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon: The Gender Politics of the Mother Daughter Bond

My recent post for IMR:

In Media Res

Hacking the Classroom C+W 2012

This five minute presentation done for Computers and Writing 2012, represents my reflection on graduate digital pedagogy and the ways in which I must work to complicate my own assumptions about what is important.