Week 12, or Deadlines and the Digital Humanities

With November just around the corner, I can’t believe the semester is almost over. It seems like yesterday I was walking aimlessly around the basement of Swem library trying to find the Omohundro Institute on the first day of training. It seems like I just handed in my first assignment with trepidation and tried desperately to manage my work. Now, with barely a month left in the semester, I’m finally reaching a point where I believe I’m working efficiently, but I am also now mildly panicking because I have only about five weeks to write 3 papers which are all in the 20-25 page range.

Well, at least, I am, if nothing else, a very gifted organizer and time manager.

I spent the last few days hiding at my parents’ house, where, when I wasn’t hanging out with them and indulging their love of having yard sales, I managed to get all of my week done for the entire week. Mostly, I attribute this surge of energy to the fact that my cousin is coming to town this weekend to spend time with me, and I really didn’t want to be thinking about all the work I had to do while she’s visiting. Functionally, however, it’s time to get to cracking on my papers.

The more reading I get done now, the more time I have to write. My thought is that if I then start reading for the next week this week, I’ll have Thursday and the day Friday to write. Fortunately, my reading load has lightened, as my popular culture and power professor isn’t holding class any more this semester, after this Tuesday, so as to free up his students to do research and write. If that isn’t kindness, I don’t know what is.

The goal is to have something written by the next time I check in, but, you know, we’ll see how that goes.

Despite finally feeling like I have a firm handle on my work, I’m still doubting myself. These feelings of doubt only doubled on Tuesday, when the apprentices sat through a talk with an editor at OI who made it plain what his feelings were on blogging and digital publications. Essentially, he said don’t waste your time writing for publications like the Junto or other blogs– spend your time working on getting your writing in peer review publications.

Now, I knew that there were people in academia who don’t care for digital scholarship. But in the same way I knew there were Trump supporters, I suppose I had just never encountered one. I typically only spend time with people who are like-minded. (Read: my friends think blogging and digital humanities is really cool.) Really, it’s like any other kind of bias– you’d almost never tell someone who’s into digital scholarship that they shouldn’t publish on webmags, web journals, or other blogs, on the grounds that it’s pretty disrespectful. It’s dismissive of their academic interest.

I had to remember that history as a academic discipline operates under a lot more constraints than does an interdisciplinary field like American Studies. All of my professors are encouraging of the pursuit of blogging and writing for webmagazines, first, because they know it brings me joy, and second, because they can see value in alternative forms of scholarship.

In a logocentric world, I understand why academia values print publications. There’s something inherent in us as a Western, literate society that can only conceive of true knowledge as printed. And even while disciplines like American Studies deeply value other forms of knowledge, there is still a need to try to articulate the knowledge of forms such as music, theater, visual art in words, on a sheet of paper– when in my opinion, if the artist wanted to articulate their knowledge as such, they would have just written a novel or an essay to start with.

Vehicles of expression are nothing to me but different languages. If you want to find knowledge in art, study the visual. If you want to find knowledge in music, listen to music. And, if you want to have a conversation about art, there’s nothing wrong with writing it, but I also think there is something even more valuable about inserting yourself in the conversation in the “language” of choice. I engage with my favorite artists by learning their style, their signatures, and then  making it my own, fusing our knowledge to create something new. That’s why sampling in African-American music is why of the most fascinating phenomena I’ve ever encountered. It’s why the Black Monologues, a theater production University of Virginia students have recently begun producing into an annual event, can speak to a truly diverse audience populace, though written solely by university students between the ages of 18-22. They incorporate all types of knowledge, from literary giants, to musical greats, to inspiration from television shows, to poetry, to dance, to create something visual that expresses the kind of scholarly knowledge about the African-American experience that most people assume can only be adequately  articulated in a monograph.

Sometimes, it’s bigger than a page.

Sometimes, the written word is not adequate.

Expression and “true knowledge” should not be limited by what has conventionally deemed acceptable.

My expression of my knowledge on a blog, or in art, or in a comic, is absolutely no less valuable than when I articulate that same knowledge in a scholarly article.

It is honestly such a shame, that in light of everything this country has been going through with the acceptance of difference, diversity, even in terms of something like scholarship, is not accepted.

I guess it’s a blessing then, that I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to validate my knowledge. I am proud to be both a scholar and an artist, wreaking havoc and subverting expectations ’til the end of time.

 

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