DH and Media Studies Crossovers
Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 3 (3)
Table of Contents
Producing Knowledge in the Media Studies Classroom: Working with Wikis by Lauren S. Berliner
Collective Reading: Shot Analysis and Data Visualization in the Digital Humanities by Joel Burges, Nora Dimmock, and Joshua Romphf
Teaching Subtitles as Historiographic Research by Kevin L. Ferguson
Rebuilding and Repair as a Critical Practice in the Media Studies Classroom by David N. Wright
Design and DH in the Media Studies Classroom by Grant Wythoff
Co-Editors: Melanie E.S. Kohnen & Leah Shafer
Media studies and Digital Humanities (DH) work share a range of intersecting concerns. Recent discipline-wide discussions in Flow and Media Commons, as well as in SCMS workshops and MLA conferences, have emphasized the crossovers between the two. Media studies is often about the use of humanities methodologies to investigate media technologies. DH work, in the words of Miriam Posner, is about “the use of digital technologies to investigate humanities questions.” For this issue of the Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier, we bring the lively discussion about the points of connection between media studies and DH into the classroom so that we may forge a closer connection between methodologies and technologies. This issue of Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier asks how DH work, with its emphases on innovative scholarly architectures, multimedia components, and cross-disciplinary hybridity, speaks to evolving trends in media studies pedagogy. Significantly, this cross-over reveals that approaches adapted from the Digital Humanities have shifted media studies pedagogy from relying on conventional essays toward an embrace of critical media production as a means of analysis.
The contributions to this dossier integrate DH methods into standard media studies assignments like shot analysis and archival research and rely on DH principles to create new assignments like the dismantling of a computer or the creation of a Wiki. In all cases, the goal of the assignment is to deepen students’ understanding of film, TV, and digital media by engaging directly with data, interfaces, and materiality. In addition, many of these assignments are collaborative in nature—another element borrowed from the Digital Humanities. Two questions wind through all contributions to this dossier, namely, “what kinds of pedagogical practices engage and capitalize on DH’s emphasis on praxis and design?” and “how can media studies pedagogy model and promote a productive collaboration around computing in the humanities?” Taken together, the contributions to this dossier promote new forms of media literacy, new ways of reading, and new ways to think with media through media about media. In short, they offer a way to re-code, or hack, media studies pedagogical practice. In their essays, contributors offer their own insights on the intersection of Digital Humanities and Media Studies and introduce an assignment or assignment sequence that exemplifies these intersections by engaging students in critical media production.
Lauren S. Berliner’s essay Producing Knowledge in the Media Studies Classroom: Working with Wikis outlines how a classic DH assignment involving Wikis can be adapted for media studies. Berliner argues that a Wiki-based assignment represents “an opportunity to work with an applied method for studying media ecologies and the relationship between form and content,” thus addressing some of media studies’ core concerns. Significantly, Berliner introduces Wikis as both objects of analysis and as tool for knowledge production. Students thus understand Wikis/Wikipedia’s’ place in contemporary digital culture through the lens of theory and practice. Berliner introduces two different collaborative assignments: one which requires students to edit existing Wikipedia entries and one in which students build a Wiki from scratch. In both assignments, students are confronted with Wikis’ technological and epistemological constraints, which leads them to “evaluate media specificity, authorship, audience, media systems, media ownership and management, distribution, representation and participation.”
The contribution by Joel Burges, Nora Dimmock, and Joshua Romphf introduces DH methods to a classic film studies assignment: the shot analysis. In Collective Reading: Shot Analysis and Data Visualization in the Digital Humanities, Burges, Dimmock, and Romphf introduce a practice they call “collective reading” that reimagines the shot analysis via data modeling and data visualization and by turning it into a collaborative undertaking. The transformation of this traditionally individual exercise into a group project prompts intense discussions about data collection and data points among students, Burges, Dimmock, and Romphf discovered. In other words, students debate “how they know what they know” about beats, shots, scenes, narrative, time, and space in film. The article walks the reader through the multiple phases of the collaborative shot analysis and evaluates the usefulness of different platforms and software for data collection and visualization. A few examples of student work illustrates the outcomes of this assignment. These examples highlight that this reimagined exercise can lead to compelling insights: “the students could not have made such an interesting claim in the first place without the collective close reading that went into treating shot analysis as data collection, which revealed to them patterns that they might otherwise not have observed.”
Andrew deWaard’s ClipNotes in the Classroom: Video Annotation Software for Instruction and Collaboration shares many concerns with Burges, Dimmock, and Romphf’s reimagination of the shot analysis. deWaard begins with the important observation that texts under strict copyright are more often an obstacle faced in media studies than in the Digital Humanities, making the kind of data-driven scholarship and teaching advocated in DH more difficult. With that in mind, deWaard introduces ClipNotes, a video annotation tool developed at UCLA that is designed specifically for media studies. ClipNotes allows users to add tags and annotations to moments and sequences in films, raising questions such as: “What does it mean to ‘edit’ a film or television through markup and segmentation? How do we enter into dialogue with the text through annotation? Does moving back and forth in a non-linear manner through a text change our experience of it? What new insights can be gained through discrete, granular analysis of only certain portions of a moving image text?” deWaard includes an outline of how ClipNotes worked as part of History of American Film to strengthen students’ understanding of basic film studies concepts. He argues that a comprehensive cataloguing of a film’s visual style via ClipNotes provides students with a more in-depth understanding than a selection of clips could provide.
In Teaching Subtitles as Historiographic Research, Kevin L. Ferguson shares how a corpus-driven approach to media history can supplement and expand traditional methods, especially for questions that chart the occurrences of certain characters, phrases, metaphors, and imagery throughout film and TV history. Ferguson uses a corpus of subtitles as searchable archive for student assignments. His survey of different text analysis tools shows what kinds of insights students might gain from this type of archival research; for example, they can easily trace how often a character appears over the course of a film or TV episode/season. Ultimately, data-driven historiographic research via online tools “allows students to focus on the process and method of archival research: while there is an important aspect of investigative play with the tools, the emphasis is on refining a research question through experimentation.”
David N. Wright’s Rebuilding and Repair as a Critical Practice in the Media Studies Classroom introduces the dismantling of computer hardware as an analytical practice that draws students’ attention to the materiality of digital media. Wright’s proposed exercise brings the increased focus on media materiality in Digital Humanities and Media Studies into the classroom. As he argues, “[b]y directing conversations away from the content’s effect on users of media toward the structures that govern the material production, repair, and destruction of them, at the very least, the prototyping classroom problematizes traditional lines of media studies inquiry.” Wright introduces a lesson plan centered on a dismantled computer tower, which students are asked to reassemble, initially without much guidance or many tools. The purposefully frustrating process allows questions about “stereotypical narratives around innovation, technological determinacy, and media literacy” to surface. Ultimately, this exercise confronts students with similar questions as those raised in scholarly discourses around production, infrastructure, and materiality, but by exploring via hands-on work, students encounter them in a tactile and material way.
In Design and DH in the Media Studies Classroom, Grant Wythoff shares his experience of teaching a seminar on “Screen Reading” that assesses the state of reading in the digital era through the lens of historical reading processes. The materiality of the digital screen and everyday digital reading practices formed key concerns of Wythoff’s class, which he and his students explored via theories of interface design and testing various digital annotation platforms. Wythoff shares his students’ analysis of how the interface of each platform anticipates and structures user experiences and how these platforms transform analog concepts like bookmarks and bookshelves into metaphors.
Lauren S. Berliner is an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies and Cultural Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at University of Washington Bothell and is also the co-curator of The Festival of (In)Appropriation annual showcase of experimental films. She holds a Ph.D in Communication from University of California, San Diego and an M.A. in Media Arts from Emerson College. Her research engages ongoing transformations in everyday and amateur media production practice, intervening in academic, intrapersonal, community, commercial, and activist contexts. She is currently working on her first book manuscript, Bootstrappers, Bullies, and Broadcasters: The Paradox of Empowerment and Digital Youth Media Production, which looks at how marginalized youth media producers negotiate the structural conditions of funding and publicity and incorporate digital self-representations into practices of identity management. Her most recent work has recently appeared in the anthology Documenting Gendered Violence: Representations, Collaborations, and Movements.
Joel Burges is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Rochester, where he is also affiliated with Film and Media Studies, Digital Media Studies, the Mellon Graduate Program in the Digital Humanities, and the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies. He was a 2014-2015 External Faculty Fellow at the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College. Burges is the author of essays and reviews that have appeared in New German Critique, Post45, and Twentieth Century Literature. He is completing a book entitled Out of Sync & Out of Work: Mediating Time in a Culture of Obsolescence, 1973-Present, and with Amy J. Elias, has edited a volume of 20 keyword essays entitled Time: A Vocabulary of the Present (NYU Press, 2016). His next book is tentatively entitled Literature after TV.
Andrew deWaard is a PhD candidate at UCLA. He is the co-author of The Cinema of Steven Soderbergh (Columbia University Press, 2013) and his work has appeared in Fight the Power: The Spike Lee Reader, Habitus of the ’Hood, and The Philosophy of Steven Soderbergh, as well as the Journal of American Studies, Oxford Bibliographies, Cinephile and IASPM@Journal. His dissertation concerns the financialization of culture and the political economy of intertextuality. His latest work can be seen at andrewdewaard.com
Nora Dimmock is the Assistant Dean for IT, Research, and Digital Scholarship and Director of the Digital Humanities Center at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries. She holds a masters degree in Library Science from the University of Buffalo, and a doctorate in Education from the University of Rochester. She has been a collaborator on a number of DH projects with faculty members at Rochester, and has worked closely with Joel Burges and Josh Romphf to design new modes of critical apparatus for close reading of texts and moving image materials for teaching and research. Her current research interests are digital archives and new scholarly practices for academic librarians engaged in digital humanities scholarship.
Kevin L. Ferguson is Assistant Professor at Queens College, City University of New York, where he directs Writing at Queens and teaches digital humanities, film adaptation, college writing, and contemporary literature. His forthcoming book, Eighties People: New Lives in the American Imagination (Palgrave), examines new cultural figures in the American 1980s. His next book, Aviation Cinema, tracks the history of flight as it is mirrored in a century of popular film. His film writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cinema Journal, Camera Obscura, [in]Transition, Criticism, Jump Cut, Scope, The Journal of Medical Humanities, The Journal of Dracula Studies, Bright Lights Film Journal, and the collection Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. His current digital humanities + media studies work argues for a “digital surrealism” by using scientific image analysis software to treat cinema texts as slice-based volumes that transform the dimension of time into a third spatial dimension.
Joshua Romphf is currently the programmer for the River Campus Libraries’ Digital Humanities Center at the University of Rochester. Originally from London, Ontario, he holds an MA in Film and Media Preservation from George Eastman House / The University of Rochester. His interests include fabrication, computer vision, video encoding, and electronics.
David N. Wright is Coordinator of Research and Innovation and Director of the Digital Cultures Lab at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia Canada. He runs the Maker Lab at Douglas College and also teaches English and Digital Culture. His current research looks at the cultures of making and fabrication in Western society.
Grant Wythoff is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities and a Lecturer in English at Columbia University interested in the history and theory of media technologies, twentieth century American literature, digital methods, and science fiction. He is currently at work on two book projects: a cultural history of the gadget and a critical edition of Hugo Gernsback’s work titled The Perversity of Things: Writings on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press. Grant has work published or forthcoming in Grey Room, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, Media Fields Journal, Wi: Journal of Mobile Media, The Programming Historian, and The Appendix.