#SL1: Pedagogy Paper Session 2
Comics in the Archive: Digital Approaches to the April 1956 Newsstand
Rochester Institute of Technology, United States of America
This paper will present the results of a spring 2019 project course entitled “Comics in the Archive”, in which students will participate in the creation of a digital archive as well as data visualizations and analyses of that archive. The course will engage students with a particular collection, the 202 comics on American newsstands in April 1956. This unique collection offers a snapshot of the comics industry during a crucial moment in the medium’s history. The “Comics Code Authority” has only recently been put into effect in 1956, so comics publishers are learning how to function within a newly-censored industry. And, since the history of popular comic books has largely privileged singular, collectible moments in comics publishing -- such as the first appearance of major superhero characters, or the work of a particular artist -- it is rare to have a relatively comprehensive view of comics periodicals from a particular moment. We hope that this archive will give students and scholars access to comics history in a different way than has been typical in comics studies, where particular artists or characters tend to be emphasized rather than the broad swath of comics periodicals across genres and publishers.
In our “Comics in the Archive” project course, students will help produce a robust digital finding aid for the collection, engaging them with archival practice and asking them to consider how future researchers or fans will interact with the materials. Then, they will create prototype data visualizations and analyses of these unique visual and textual materials. The students will begin to analyze the comics with digital tools that will count, for example, the number of ads in each comic, the general length of each narrative in each comic, the number of panels per page, the number of words per page and per word balloon, and the prominence of certain genres in the comics. In so doing, we will seek to offer quantitative data and new historical analysis of a refined sample of comics publishing. We will be able to determine if the data lead us to new or surprising conclusions about comics history and the comics medium. For example, are page layouts and panel designs uniform and standardized, or is there a wide degree of variation in page layout and panel construction? How many pages of these 202 comics feature superhero narratives, and how many feature, for example, romance stories? By “drilling down” into this archive, we will be able to produce a robust snapshot of comics history.
The presenters will discuss the course structure and pedagogical methods, lessons learned, student work, and will present the working prototype of a digital edition which summarizes and collates findings. The intended audience is those who have vested interest in undergraduate learning outcomes, scaffolding of digital methods and assignments, and those interested in comics as unique print artifacts. Presenters are a comics studies scholar and a digital humanities librarian, both of whom collaborated on the creation and implementation of the project-based course.
Teaching the Digital Through the Ephemeral
Princeton University, United States of America
How do we ethically teach the digital humanities when technologies are constantly changing, shifting, and leaving environmentally harmful footprints? What are the best practices for incorporating both theory and praxis into the classroom while also cultivating a sense of responsibility around the material realities of our digital culture? And more broadly, how do we present the digital humanities to students in non-Anglocentric contexts? In this paper I will provide a series of examples—and reflections—from my Latin American digital humanities course to help address these questions. More specifically, I will show how gathering data from Latin American ephemeral materials to use with various platforms, programs, and software allowed students to engage in meaningful conversations about the fragility of these rare documents, the regions that they emerge from, and the complex technological issues that plague much of the Global South. In this way, students acquired insight from a variety of materials ranging from Bolivian pamphlets about water conservation and indigenous land rights to Argentine flyers about legalizing abortion and Cuban “paquetes semanales” with the latest installments of news and popular culture. They then used the knowledge they gained from these documents to think deeply about the best ways to represent ephemeral materials with digitals tools in ways that account for differing worldviews and sensitive content. For instance, while using TEI to markup legal documents from El Salvador regarding human rights violations, students reflected on the value of semantics for capturing nuanced meaning while also questioning their unsettling position of power that arose with every single decision to identify and tag certain people or places in these documents. Above all, these material and digital juxtapositions help us think critically about the problems that digital research interventions do and do not resolve in regions of the Global South, and possible ways for rethinking our angles of approach.
Promoting Undergraduate Research with Digital Technology
Bucknell University, United States of America
Many educators have emphasized the pedagogical value of undergraduate research experiences. They describe undergraduate research as a high-impact educational practice, a key means of engaging students in academic work, and an effective way of developing their intellectual skills. Yet engaging undergraduates in research is no easy task. Among all others, language has been a formidable hurdle for teacher-scholars who want to engage students in research activities on pre-modern, non-Western history. Drawing on the author’s own experience designing and teaching a DH-enabled research-centered undergraduate course in pre-modern East Asian history, this paper explores the way in which digital technology may be utilized to promote undergraduate research and advance student-centered learning. It discusses in detail some key decisions that went into the design of the course and ensured its success: how tools and topics were chosen, how critical reflections on method and history are infused with technological instruction, and how assignments and activities are scaffolded to guide research novices. This paper also invites its reader to rethink the goal of undergraduate research. It argues that the primary objective of undergraduate research is not to train students into budding scholars in a specific academic discipline, but rather to engage them directly in the process of knowledge creation so as to help them become lifelong critical consumers of knowledge.