On the project that exemplifies what digital humanities work can be and do.
January’s MLA conference was full of digital elements and innovations, from the formal launch of the new MLA Commons social media site to numerous panels on the digital humanities, new media, electronic literatures, and more—and, of course, the many Tweets sent from most panels and about the conference overall, and the virtual conversations started (and in some cases still ongoing) as a result. But to my mind, the conference’s most interesting digital aspect was somewhat hidden away: the media art exhibit “Avenues of Access: An Exhibit & Online Archive of New ‘Born Digital’ Literature.” Fortunately, I ventured into the upstairs room that hosted the exhibit; all of its digital works were interesting, but as an AmericanStudier I was especially drawn to The Knotted Line.
It feels silly for me to try to paraphrase or even summarize what creators Evan Bissell and Erik Loyer (and their many collaborators, researchers, and artists) have done there, so I strongly encourage you to click through to their project and explore. The site is strikingly and compellingly designed, which is obviously not at all unimportant when it comes to digital and electronic resources. But I have to admit that what impressed me most, and makes me most excited to find ways to bring the site into my classrooms, is that it has significantly more depth than many digital resources I have encountered. By that I mean partly the quantity and quality of the text components, but also the number of interconnected resources available at each stop on the site’s timeline, the ways in which the site highlights multiple historical and cultural contexts as well as contemporary links for each moment.
Here’s one example, for a moment near and dear to my scholarly heart these days: the site’s page for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The page includes textual information not only about the Act, but about a trio of interestingly interconnected prior and subsequent moments: an 1867 railroad strike; the 1933 formation of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance; and a 2003 political action facilitated by the Chinese Progressive Association. It also includes two visual engagements with the moment and histories, a brief audio recording of a contemporary American reflecting on parallel issues, and a number of other resources and materials to help guide students and scholars to further investigations. The site as a whole in making a compelling AmericanStudies argument, about the links between such histories and our contemporary prison system; but as with any great scholarly work, it also helps those who encounter it find their own ideas and interpretations.
Well worth your time, and a site that represents the cutting edge of great digital humanities work.
Final scholars of the week tomorrow,
PS. Responses to this project? Other AmericanStudies work or scholars you’d highlight?
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