Tag: humanist

  • My Summer Research Project/Talk on MOOCs at Microsoft Research New England

    I spent this summer at Microsoft Research New England as a PhD Intern working on a project  with the most boring title ever. “The Student as End User in the MOOC Ecology”.  Here is a link if you are interested in seeing my talk on the topic (also took place at Microsoft Research):


    Students as End Users in the MOOC Ecology, Microsoft Research New England Talk


    The topic I am interested in with MOOCs is one that seems to be missing from a good portion of the conversation, what happens to students? My hunch with all of this is and was that the Big 3 MOOC companies are operating more like social networking sites than Education or learning institutions in some aspects. The most important place where I am noting the similarities is in the legal formation of the subject popularly known as a “student” or “learner”, who legal becomes an “End User” through clickwrap. By looking at the various legal documents that are available (Terms of Use, Contracts with partnering institutions), we can begin to sketch a portrait of the “End User”, and it looks nothing like the “student” or “learner” that is being discussed publicly by the companies. Additionally, when we start thinking about the obsession with numbers, data, and analytics, the Massive turns into an interesting space of inquiry for Big Data, Privacy, etc.

    I am in the process of doing a final revision of my paper before I start submitting it. Currently I’m debating how much I need to go into what the Big 3 MOOC companies are saying . In the paper I speak about more than Daphne Koller’s TED Talk, and spend more time talking about imperialism as the accumulation of capital… but, as with the final draft of everything, I’m trying to figure out what is adding enough to keep and what is taking away from the overall point and purpose of the paper.

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  • Digital Methods & Digital Humanists

    I am having a thought that I could not formulate into 140 characters so on the blog it goes. I am wondering if any graduate programs making digital methods part of their core curriculum? I ask this because I am seeing so many people reluctant to use the title digital humanist for themselves. While this makes me sad, I get it. I think most people are, at the very least, (digital) humanists for the most part. We all interact with the Digital in our research. We use library websites and digital versions of articles all the time. I can’t think of the last time someone used a typewriter or a non-digital tool to write a paper. Wait. That’s a lie. It was middle school. Many of us are finding our way on to social networking sites where we connect with other people in our disciplines and talk shop, again, digital. We use digital tools to help us organize and analyze our information and/or data. The Digital is just a part of our life. Apart from those places that are completely cut off from access, (look at me avoid saying digital divide!), we live in a more and more digital world.

    But people with humanistic approaches are scared to call themselves digital humanists. Grad students who have found a community online to discuss and work through the central problems of their work are scared of labeling themselves as digital humanists. I don’t know what to make of this.

    My observation is that we are at a shifting point. More and more job postings show a realization that it is important to have people who explicitly do digital work. When I first entered my program 2 years ago, most of my coursework (not all), still looked at the primacy of the paper as end all be all and didn’t understand or even attempt to engage digital work. I decided to enroll in two classes this semester. For one, all the writing is done on a class blog. In the other, we have a course social networking microsite on We share all of our written work with each other, post links and additional readings of interest, and sort of create a digital community. We are approaching our work with a digital methodology. It is being made as we go along. I am okay with this, sort of. No one is explicitly pointing out that this is Digital Methods! There is no conversation going on about the benefits and drawbacks to the format. As a result, there is limited guidance as well.

    While I am a fan of the “choose your own adventure” format, a big fan actually, I wish that, across disciplines, there was a requirement for a digital methods course, where, once students knew their projects well enough to articulate primary questions, they began exploring ways to articulate, engage, and create secondary questions through the digital. The other part I want/need/hope for is discussion around theorizing and citing the digital work that is done, both as final produced scholarship & the labor of creating said scholarship. A lot of the conversations I see people having, from facebook, to twitter, to tumblr, are so amazingly generative, thought out and engaging. But then we go back to the books to see what we can find to support what we’ve already worked out. This is great… but I wish it wasn’t necessary.

    I guess what all this is trying to say is, I wish that we looked at Digital Humanities and the Digital Humanist not as a product, but as critical method of engagement, one that we are all engaging in, and one that we all examined as part of working through our projects.

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  • Looking at History vs. Looking at the Past

    This post brought to you from the confines of my humanistic little heart.

    I am in the midst of an interesting internal debate with external consequences. I think I don’t like History.  I am also so/so on history. Actually, I am probably currently rejecting any kind of historical derivative as well. Despite this, I am in love with the idea of looking at the past.

    This line of thought started a while ago, but came to a head with the following image.

    (I created a mini-project around the recent conversation/thoughts I’ve had and am having about this photo:

    Here is what is happening. History feels like myth to me. There are too many (w)holes and the narratives are to totalizing for my comfort level. I was speaking to someone about my project, and they said that they can never see the image in a photograph as separate from the history the photograph was created in. This meant that any photograph of black people they see are read as part of a horrible historical narrative regardless to the image in the photograph. [I am thinking of photograph as the thing and image as the read because it is easier than explaining Barthes].  This meant that, for said person, black people in the United States had no existence outside of the confines of a History of (violent) slavery.  And, as this person was a black American, their existence was also articulated by slavery.  I acknowledge that the legacy of slavery still exists in our social structures.  However, that is not all black people are, nor has it ever been.  If this is what history is doing to people, I don’t want it.  But I knew this.  I have major issues with the type/time (I wrote time initially when I meant to write type, but I think it works too. Yay Freudian slip) of empathy historical narratives of trauma create. I have a whole map of this system that I was not going to include in my dissertation (I was using it as a way to keep the work I am doing on track), but now I think I have to because I do not want this reaction.  Nor do I want to be pulled back into the space of everyone always only being an agent of history.

    There is quote that I commonly see attributed to Harriet Tubman that I thought of as I was going through all of this. I have no idea if it was really said by her or not, but I get the sentiment of both the speaker and the”not knowing” subjects being conjured.

    I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

    So, I move to the past. The hinge of how I think of the historical past is not History, but a temporal separation. I am playing with coevalness and presence, and the freedom that the speed of digital contact gives us. I am not saying we need to end History. I think we need it and it is necessary. I applaud anyone who can spend their life’s work looking at traumatic imagery and narratives. I am thankful they are able to write about it, theorize it, analyze it etc..  I am thankful for those who are out there writing counter narratives and working on understudied H/histories. I am thankful that those people exist, because I can’t do it. And if those people weren’t doing it, I couldn’t do the project I am doing. Histories need to be known.  But we also have to accept that the past for many people was just that.  Many people just lived their lives, just like we are.  That is where I find beauty, at times tinged with sadness. It is beautiful none the less.

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