The Humanities Go Digital @ Northwestern

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weinberg magazine features digitizing folk music history seminar.

 The latest issue of Weinberg Magazine (Spring 2014) features the Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival ProjectDigitizing Folk Music History seminar, and Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory in an article about the humanities at Northwestern—here is a nice Flipbook version too with the full layout.

What a nice quote from one of my star students, Jessica Smasal, who after working through our weekly digital mini-assignments on annotation, table building, timeline building, geocoding, “deformance” experiments, and audio remixing, completed a multifaceted final project on Joan Baez and conceptualizations of motherhood in the 1960s folk revival and culture at large. She noted that:

I began to think of my subject as a comprehensive web of ideas, rather than a linear series of points and events that a traditional term paper might have represented.

Jessica developed a striking interpretation from her evidence, that Baez struggled as a young woman associated with the folk revival to articulate a feminism outside of the ideals of motherhood in America, particularly as the American involvement in the Vietnam War intensified, but she did so my using a WordPress template to arrange and emphasize the interplay among her primary sources. The multiplicity of the tensions within Baez’s relationship to feminism began to thicken rather than get flattened into a simplistic formula.

Great work, Jessica!

6 thoughts on “The Humanities Go Digital @ Northwestern

  1. He discovered that digital tools could do the opposite of what they typically do: “Instead of speeding things up, my students use technology to slow things down.”

    VERY NICE.

      1. Especially any venture fund capitalists who plan to invest in historical inquiry (would that there were any of those kind of venture capitalists!).

  2. speeding up is what slows things down. e=mc2

    do you have performance tapes of the airplane from berkelly? would love to hear some more of signe anderson-era airplane.

    reality has many facets and tangents and tributaries and it appears that looking at events in a proto-molecular form such as digital can add dimension that linear cannot. you get a larger sense and view of things and their connectedness, which i think helps create the illusion of slowing. there’s just more to look at and consider through this new paradigm. kind of like psychedelics

    1. Hi Martin —

      Sadly the Airplane appearance is not on tape in the Berkeley archive at Northwestern, though it may be out there. There were also KQED television film recordings of a number of festivals: 67, 68. and 70, I think (need to confirm those years). These are not in the Northwestern archive or the SF TV archive at SF State, which was where most of the KQED tapes wound up (many got erased–gasp!–in the 1970s). Maybe these materials are out there, somewhere. That would be pretty great if so!

      In that article, what I really meant was simply that students are rushing through the reasoning, meditation, articulation, and advancement of well-conceived, compelling historical arguments.

      But you are right that there’s more to the questions of speed and slowness in how we discern meaning in the past and the world around us. To me, one thing that working on history and music together makes available is heightened awareness about temporality, pace, rhythm as well as how these qualities of time (and space) relate to questions of causality, correlation, coherence, and connection (or lack thereof). Almost about history as a phenomenological as well as an epistemological experience. We *perceive* the past as an experience of time reconstructed in the aftermath. This is what the digital can be good for. As a remediation of the past, it let’s us mess with perception. Which is to say we can create different tempos and workings of the reasoning that goes into historical consciousness. In doing so, my hope is we can do better history, more truthful and revealing inquiry into the past and how it makes us. This is something that for some people psychedelics did or does too (though it is important to remember that psychedelics also drove some people crazy, or to the brink of madness).

      Thanks!
      MJK

  3. Hi Michael

    Thanks for the response.

    Too bad about the Airplane performances. There was a lot of that stuff – tape erasure – going on in the 1970s it seems.

    You said: “In that article what I really meant was simply that students are rushing through the reasoning, meditation, articulation, and advancement of well-conceived, compelling historical arguments.”

    As they always have and always will. (Not me, however, lol.)

    You said: “As a remediation of the past, [digital] let’s us mess with perception. Which is to say we can create different tempos and workings of the reasoning that goes into historical consciousness. In doing so, my hope is we can do better history, more truthful and revealing inquiry into the past and how it makes us.”

    This is where what I described as a “proto-molecular form” can be helpful. After thinking about it what I am proposing is something more along the lines of a combination of Venn diagrams and a molecular model (like we’ve seen of DNA) in three dimensions. I have taken the liberty of e-mailing you a PDF of what I am trying to convey. You can walk around it or through it and look at the past from any or all perspectives, concentrate on a single element or a cluster or the entire interconnected whole. And we might even be able to suggest new relationships between events, people, etc.

    My likening this to the effect of psychedelics on some people springs from the thought that the effects of LSD are “to break down the processes that limit and channel sense impressions in the deeper interpretive layers of the brain, allowing neuronal excitation to spread indiscriminately sideways.” Perceiving reality in such a non-linear way makes it possible to see the interconnectedness of things.

    Psychedelics also enable one to simultaneously see and experience the three physical dimensions of reality as critic Paul Williams did at a Jefferson Airplane concert. At that performance, he sensed a three-dimensional quality to the music through which he experienced “a feeling of a waterfall of guitars, voices, percussion splashing over the stage and all of us like we were standing in it, behind it, and in front of it all at once.”

    Because of that – and more – I see digital as pushing the study or appreciation of history toward being a psychedelic or more liquid experience.

    You said: This is something that for some people psychedelics did or does too (though it is important to remember that psychedelics also drove some people crazy, or to the brink of madness).

    There’s always risk and reward; compared to some other things that were going on at the same time they seemed to some a sane alternative.

    Have a good holiday.

    Martin

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