The Modern Evangeline, 2.0

Close at her father’s side was the gentle Evangeline seated,
  Spinning flax for the loom, that stood in the corner behind her.”

Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sitting at her wheel, the figure of Evangeline spins together myth, history, and identity. Indeed, these three elements are layered and often stitched together in ways that are difficult to untangle. For the Cajun communities of South Louisiana, descended from Acadian refugees who arrived in the colony in the eighteenth century, Evangeline occupies a central place in their collective identity, despite her origins not in life but in literature.

After arriving in Louisiana in 1765, Acadians’ gradually came to identity as Cajuns (the anglicized version of Acadian) by developing a distinct set of traditions, industries, and cultural expressions rooted in their new home. After decades of this identity being used as a derogatory slur against what were seen as a curious, uncouth, and distinctly un-American group, upwardly mobile Cajuns in the early twentieth century began to stitch their Cajun identity back to their Acadian roots. The threads of myth and history were spun tightly together, with Evangeline at its center. However, over time these threads can fray and tear, revealing an identity that was never as tightly spun as it seemed.

As a 21st century Cajun, I am curious how glitching the image of Evangeline can tug a little harder at these loose threads. As a field of art, glitching engages with the failures in technologies, with the breaks in code. As one practitioner described it, it’s about locating the “soul in the machine.” Michael Kramer provides a more technical description for glitching as a historical method: “glitching produces new iterations of a digital file by introducing or removing strands of code, either at random or through some kind of logical “chance operation.” Like glitch art, using glitching as a method of interrogating sources takes mistakes as its focus, and engages directly with the meaning of sources in the digital age as objects encoded in highly mutable formats. This random technical disruption of archival sources can bring to light deeper assumptions about the trustworthiness of an image or our often unreflective trust in the archive. It encourages new experiences of looking, forcing us to see the image in new ways and within a new web of digital entanglements.

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VSW Day Five: Final Reflection

This has been a very productive and inspiring week. Coming in, I was simply hoping to have some focused time to get me back into the habit of writing and to experiment with some of the more experimental DH methods of research and presentation that I don’t always have the space for. I also have always been drawn to cultural criticism, and was interested in the connecting points I could find between my own historical work and the work of cultural critics. Looking back, I got all of this and was able to push my thinking in new directions both in terms of what to write about, how to engage with multimedia possibilities for publication, and the kinds of non-scholarly writing opportunities that might exist to push my writing and connect me with new communities.

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VSW Day Three: Sound [Doing]

[Day Three, part 2 of 2]

Jolie Blonde: Acadiana’s National Anthem [Work in progress: This is conceived as one episode of a podcast series called Cajun Nation, an exploration of writing a dissertation through the podcasting format. Episodes would include: The Grand Derrangement (expulsion, and its historical memory); Evangeline Country (all about the iconography of Evangeline in Louisiana); La Francophonie (LA’s connection other other French-speaking places); Jolie Blonde (partial script here); Bicentennial (the use of commemoration to form a new identity); From Fais Do Do to Radio (history of radio in the region); etc.]

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VSW Day Two: Images [Doing]

[Day Two, Part 2 of 2]

As I started to map out yesterday, I am interested in the potentials of using digital tools to create a layered representation of Evangeline through various forms of media. This begins with a base of the original Longfellow poem. This text will be annotated with commentary on the poem and by splicing in other texts other texts: primarily, Felix Voorhies’ local re-telling of the “real story” of Evangeline rooted in South Louisiana. However, I am also interested in including text from tourist brochures and other textual sites of collective memory. The idea here is locate the connection points between the original poem and historical memory and to weave these narratives together with digital annotation.

Since today’s focus is on visual culture, I spent the afternoon experimenting with ways to engage with/incorporate images in this annotated version of Evangeline. I have four ideas: create a visual archive; use image annotation tools; juxtapose images; and glitch images.

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VSW Day Two: Images [Thinking]

[Day Two, Part 1 of 2]

It seems productive for me to break my blogging up into two parts for each day, as this workship is asking us to both immerse ourselves in the field of cultural criticism AND develop our own approaches to doing cultural criticism. [Thinking] is where I’ll think through some of the questions raised by the readings and the overall field of digital cultural criticism. [Doing] is where I’ll trace my work building out a layered, digital exploration of the Evangeline myth. I’ll also say, as we touched on this morning, I don’t see the thinking and the doing as separate tasks but it does help to break up my work into parts and also create more manageable blog posts. My goal is to weave them together on Friday into a cohesive plan moving forward.

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VSW Day One: Loose Ends

Today we thought through these categories: public, culture (or, cultural as a classmate pointed out), and criticism. They are raising bigger questions that I have considered as a public digital humanist and that seem as important to practicing good cultural criticism, too.

First, a distinction from traditional academic training: Speak to what you know, with an ethic and/or a passion, to the audience you want to speak to. There is also a different temporality: things move much more quickly than traditional academic publishing. However, as one of our speakers noted today, there is a beauty in the speeds of both academic and cultural criticism: “we need to move slowly so that we can then move quickly.” Or, we take the time to dive deeply and develop our ideas through academic training so then we can quickly respond to contemporary events.

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VSW Day One: Text

Today is day one of Visual Studies Workshop’s Situation Critical: Writing Arts & Cultural Criticism in the Digital Age. I’m using this space to blog my progress, process, fragments, citations, ideas. I have two main goals this week, and posting them here seems as good a way to hold myself to them as any:

1. Read across cultural criticism and cultural theorists to frame my own approach to mass and/or popular culture. Ideally, this will be used in my dissertation: what is the significance and use of mass culture for cultural brokers in Southwest Louisiana? What relationships/interactions does it create between cultural brokers and their audiences(s)?

2. Dive deeply into the various representations of the Evangeline myth. I’ll begin with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, where it all began, and then consider how the myth came to be interpreted through other texts, images, sounds, and performances.

2a. Explore ways of using digital tools to represent the connections between these forms; to create a kind of digital collage form that can accompany the dissertation by connecting text, image, sound, and moving image to create an overlapping and (ideally) interactive, multimedia, and nonlinear exploration of this idea.

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Toward a More Creative DH

(Reposted from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s DH Fellows blog. See the original entry here.)

Inspired by a MediaCommons survey thread I wrote about at the end of my first year as a DH Fellow, I decided to spend my second year tracking how digital humanists are embracing creativity in their work. The MediaCommons thread asked: “What is the role of the digital humanities in transforming and responding to the arts?” and featured a number of responses how about putting the arts and DH into conversation creates the potential for more engaging, ethical, and exciting work in the field. Because I study music history, I am always looking for new ways to engage with sound, and sensory history more broadly, in the context of digital work. In the field, I noticed not only a reinvestment in podcasting as a medium, but also projects that take sound as its central point of study, including heightened attention to archiving and making sound artifacts available through the work of projects like the Radio Preservation Task Force and The Great 78 Project.

This attention to creativity also came through in the ways that DH scholars have assessed and defended the field. For example, Sarah Bond and Michael Kramer both raised important questions this year about what happens when we reconsider the roots of DH, and how this can lead to more open idea about what, and who, should be considered as part of the field. A number of posts also explored more creative digital pedagogy, and how it can create space for our students to approach history and technology on their own terms in more personally and academically productive ways. Finally, other scholars expressed a more creative approach toward archival work by continuing to broaden and critique what is considered an archive and being forthright about how scholarly and artistic philosophies can influence one another.

I expect that these threads will grow as DH scholars continue to push the boundaries of DH work and make room for ethical and radical scholarship. This work requires a more creative approach, as it seeks to reshape DH around truly decolonizing, anti-racist, and feminist practices. Another important aspect of this thread is the ability for scholars to discuss failure as much as success as a way to learn from one another as the contours of the field continue to expand. As Sean Michael Morris says in the context of what he calls “ethical online learning,” these kinds of projects can serve as important sites of resistance for our students to become “imaginers of an education less technicist, and a world less oppressive.” By continuing to let DH transform and respond to the arts, there appears the promise of a less technicist, less oppressive future for all of us.

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Wrapping Up the DH Fellowship in Public Projects

This spring 2018 semester I continued to work in the Public Projects Division. Since I first arrived in this division in spring 2017, I have primarily worked on the Hearing the Americas NEH planning grant to help in the production of a prototype and a future implementation plan. The design document that concluded this planning grant was completed by the time we arrived back from winter break. This semester, I assisted with the next phase of the project: to submit an NEH production grant drawing from the progress we made during the planning grant period in order to build and launch the website. I helped to draft a preliminary version of this grant proposal that is currently in its last week of editing by the Hearing the Americas team before being submitted for consideration in this grant cycle. Working on this project has continued to be a dynamic way for me to draw from and expand my knowledge in music, digital, and public history. Being involved in the grant writing process, throughout the planning grant and production grant phases, has also provided invaluable experience learning how much work goes into drafting a substantial grant application.

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Jessica Does History