2017 May 19—Putting the Folk Back in Folksonomies

studying the folk music revival through digital history @ teachx, northwestern university, friday, 19 may 2017.

Slides and notes for a very short one-person, two-slides, three-minutes presentation of how I teach my research seminar Digitizing Folk Music History at Northwestern University’s TeachX.



-This is a course, Digitizing Folk Music History, in which the future wraps back toward the past and the past transmits along the wires and wavelengths of the future.

-It involves research and teaching that focus on the relationship between technology and tradition in the US folk music revival. This may seem like an unlikely place for digital tactics to go, but there in fact questions of technology were quite pressing in the folk revival, a movement in fact full of futuristic uses of technology put in service, paradoxically, of preserving the past and processing the meaning of cultural heritage.

-One glimses this at events such as the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, which ran on the Cal campus from 1958 to 1970 and whose archives reside at the NU Library and through an NEH grant will be fully digitized in the coming year.

-I teach a digital humanities research seminar in which students use a WordPress website maintained by the Media & Design Studio to develop multimedia research projects on topics in the revival.

-Weekly mini-assignments lead to a final project based on original research. I will list them just to give you a sense: 1. Annotation/database building for close reading 2. Timeline construction for thinking about “master narratives” 3. Geocoding for “spatial history” analysis 4. Image glitching for artifactual visual analysis 5. “Distant reading” for scales of texts & data 6. Audio/video podcasting for new digital storytelling forms 7. Wireframing for final project design culminating in Final projects based on original research

-The overarching point? [Next slide]


There are three:

-1. Students acquire or deepen new historical knowledge & analytic skills

-2. Students acquire or deepen digital competencies (25 percent of websites globally run on WordPress)

-3. But most of all, this is a course that puts the digital and the historical into a kind of folk duet:

digital and computational techniques such as creating folksonomies (those ubiquitous tag clouds) can reinvigorate core historical methods of accessing and analyzing the past…while… [BUILD] the history of something like the folk revival, itself engaged with mediating the past for the present, helps to ground us in long-running practices of historical inquiry and interpretation. These historical approaches are, I believe, useful—indeed essential—as we face a different set of clouds: the ones that hover—ominously or optimistically, we know not yet—over the horizon at the futuristic edge of today’s wireless world.

-What is to be gained, what comes under threat, in this new context? Keeping the folk revival in digital folksonomies can help us to figure this out.

-For more details on the course, you can visit my blog, Issues in Digital History dot net.

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