Spring 2019 DLA Review

The Digital Liberal Arts program at Middlebury had a busy spring focused on a range of topics, from scholarship by faculty to continued explorations of issues in digital fluency to work on digital pedagogy.

In January, Data Services Librarian Ryan Clement organized the first of what we hope will be many Software Carpentry Workshops at Middlebury College. The gathering used hands-on instruction to help faculty explore various tactics in digital data management and it focused on introductions to shell scripting in the bash shell (using the command line), version control with git and GitHub, and data manipulation, analysis, and visualization with R/RStudio.

In February, Japanese linguist and Middlebury faculty member Sayaka Abe gave an update on her research about “‘Inauthentic’ Uses of Authentic Materials, Visual and Linguistic Analysis of Manga” as part of our Behind the Scenes Series. Bringing together visual material and linguistics data at the intersection of research and teaching, Sayaka explores “Japanese emotion concepts drawn from mangaas a possible medium for language pedagogy.”

Our Digital Fluencies Series continued with a vibrant discussion of “What’s Fair (and What’s Not) in Digital Fair Use?” with Director of Discovery and Access Services and librarian Terry Simpkins & Middlebury General Counsel Hannah Ross.

In March, Digital Fluencies featured a lively discussion of the possibilities and challenges of inclusive design in digital pedagogy and scholarship at “Got Access? Integrating Inclusive Design Into Our Digital Practices,” organized in conjunction with the Advisory Group on Disability Access and Inclusion (AGDAI).

Faculty member Jason Grant joined us from the Computer Science Department at Middlebury in April to share an update on his project, “Exploring Musical Phylogeny with Deep Learning,” which is an effort to use machine learning and clustering techniques to study differences and similarities among styles of classical music.

Online, Middlebury’s resident podcasting expert Erin Davis shared her observations of the educational audio world at Harvard Divinity School’s Sound Education Conference. Computer scientist Christopher Andrews described his unfolding research in the field of visual analytics on using expression trees to develop an “evolutionary art tool.” Art historian Sarah Laursen showed us some of the case studies that her students completed in Digital Methodologies for Art Historians.

The Davis Foundation-funded group of faculty from American Studies, History, Film & Media Cultures, and Sociology continued to share syllabi, course lessons, and ideas about digital student thesis and senior work. A visit from Jacqueline Wernimont, Distinguished Chair of Digital Humanities and Social Engagement & Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College, proved especially stimulating.

Our DLA Research Fellows—Will Nash, Natalie Eppelsheimer, Brigitte Humbert, and Jason Mittell—met monthly to continue to work on their respective digital projects. It was especially satisfying to watch each Fellow experiment with new tools for communicating their discoveries, from using slideshow/film techniques to probe US abolitionist scrapbook making (Will); mapping experiments (Natalie); digital games and pop culture for French language pedagogy (Brigitte); and videographic criticism (Jason).

Incoming DLA Fellow and Davis Grant faculty participant Kathy Morse attended an AALAC Workshop at Carleton College in Minnesota that brought together faculty and staff members to discuss Curricular Pathways for Digital Scholarship at Liberal Arts Colleges.

DLA continued to award funding to faculty members conducting digital research, most often with student researchers assisting them. A number of ongoing projects made progress toward the finish line, while other exciting ideas got started. In addition to faculty, staff working “deeper in the stack” also received funds to travel to conferences to acquire new skills and ideas for using technology for liberal arts inquiry. DLA also contributed to the acquisition of new and necessary equipment for expanding digital scholarship based on faculty needs.

The “Scholarship in Sound and Image” Workshop, dedicated to videographic criticism techniques and previously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as an Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities program, transitioned this year to a tuition-based DLA Summer Institute held on the Middlebury campus in Vermont in June. The hope is for the two-week Summer Institute to continue annually and expand to new topics in digital liberal arts scholarship.

DLA Working Groups Short Survey

DLA seeks to initiate a set of digital scholarship working groups based on existing faculty interests. These would meet approximately once a month for 75-90 minutes to discuss readings and try out hands-on explorations. No prior digital experience is required to participate in the working groups.

This short survey will help us gauge interest in these groups. Thank you for your time responding!

Sonic Gentrification in Berlin Selected for Special Journal of Social History Workshop

Good news: “Sonic Gentrification in Berlin,” a project first developed through the DLA by former Faculty DLA Fellow Florence Feiereisen (Associate Professor in the Department of German) and her colleague Erin Sassin (Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Architecture) along with a group of talented student research assistants, has now been selected as a digital history essay to develop for a special issue of the Journal of Social History. Florence and Erin will participate in a Mellon Foundation-funded workshop at George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media to develop the article. Congratulations!

Here is a description of the project:

“Sonic Gentrification in Berlin”

Florence Feiereisen, Associate Professor, Department of German

Erin Sassin, Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Architecture

Middlebury College

There is an extensive body of literature on the architectural and socio-cultural ramifications of Berlin’s ongoing gentrification, including the conversion of factory ruins into residential loft spaces, graffiti removal, the reconstruction of historical façades, and most troublingly, the displacement of Berliners to the periphery of the city. While we do not challenge the usefulness and necessity of this work, we seek to lend an ear to architectural and social history—to ask, what did and does gentrification sound like?

In order to uncover the class of sound, we concentrate on one of Berlin’s formerly working-class (and sonically complex) neighborhoods, and employ its oldest nightclub and concert venue Knaack as a case study. For nearly 60 years, people flocked to a building built in 1902 on the Greifswalder Straße in Prenzlauerberg to dance to recorded music (under the GDR) and later to see and listen to Rammstein, Snow Patrol, Tote Hosen, and others. Yet, as the nearby apartment buildings formerly referred to as Mieskaserne (“rental barracks” for the working classes) were given facelifts and converted into residences for affluent (and often) non-native Berliners, noise complaints grew in frequency. Following a court order mandating lower noise levels, Knaack lost its reputation as a concert club and was forced to close its doors in 2010. A large real estate company is currently renovating and converting the shell of what was Knaack into luxury apartments and storefronts for two boutiques.

However, unrecorded soundwaves are ephemeral physical entities and when the original architecture and urban spaces that facilitated their creation are no longer extant, recreating the sounds of the past in situ becomes impossible. How then can we best approximate the sounds of Prenzlauerberg and the gentrification of the Greifswalder Straße? Mining architectural/urban plans, artistic representations, and ear witness accounts in newspaper articles and police reports for sonic clues, we seek to employ digital methods associated with Architectural History, Social History, and Acoustic Ecology to map sonic changes onto 2D and 3D renderings of urban fabric of Berlin, and Prenzlauerberg and the Griefswalder Straße in particular. We hope to visually record the frequency and location of noise complaints directed at Knaack alongside sonic approximations or original recordings of the club and its environs. Ultimately, our case study investigates the relationship between sound production versus sound reception, and reads sonic markers of social well-being and unrest against the backdrop of architectural and cultural history—adding a layer to our understanding of communities formed, dissolved, and reformed.

Getting a Sound Education (With Podcasting)

With the support of the DLA, Visiting Professor Erin Davis attended the conference Sound Education at the Harvard Divinity School. Sound Education was designed for producers of educational audio. It featured nearly 50 panelists from the educational audio community, including radio hosts, academics, and DIY podcasters. Here she reports back on her visit and asks for your participation in a survey of podcasting at Middlebury itself.

By Erin Davis

If were to write a podcast script about the trip to Sound Education, it might look something like this.



I haven’t been to church in years. But I chose a familiar seat… (rustling chatter of a large room…loose organ music)…In the back. In the corner. Where no one can see me and I can admire the stained-glass windows if I really start to zone out. (music post) But I don’t. (beat – “Hello everyone, welcome to Sound Education…”)  

A woman at the front, in a high turtleneck and sharp bob haircut, tells a parable of a young student walking through a forest…. The student is dutifully identifying birds—from a book—when they notice a rustle in the leaves at their feet. A baby bird! That had fallen from a nest!  The student dropped their book, scooped up the bird and brought it to their teacher.

(bring in music, plunking – references church somehow but not choral)

“Teacher!” (desperate) “IS THIS BIRD ALIVE? OR DEAD?” The teacher responded: [beat] “the bird… is in your hands.”

(bring up music – and fade under)

And out.


Of course, instead of shouting “Amen!” attendees were scribbling in their notebooks, paging through the program, and tapping subscribe, subscribe, subscribe in the podcast apps on their phones. This wasn’t a service, but the opening remarks for Sound Education, a conference for education audio producers and listeners.

Sound Education brought together over one hundred academics and others who are using podcasts in their professional work. Motivating the conference was the notion of a distinctive genre of podcasting: the “educational” podcast.

But what is an “educational” podcast exactly? A recorded lecture posted for the public? A podcast in which the hosts are trying to…’educate’ the listener? Is an educational podcast in danger of being pedantic, or worse yet a boring podcast?

I think one key quality connected the many different educational podcasts: they are being made by people who are obsessed with a topic and want others to at least know, and maybe even start to deeply care, about it. Production values may vary widely, but obsessive interest was at the heart of most educational podcasts.

The gold standard of the “educational podcast” might be WNYC’s RadioLab—a show that “investigates a strange world,” as its slogan claims. A standout panel at Sound Education focused on RadioLab. The show’s production team provided an editing demonstration. At a conference more focused on content than form, it was perhaps the only mention, over three days, of the importance of sound design, character, pacing, and story in the making of a great podcast.

For example, one of RadioLab‘s best episodes ever is about colors. In it, the show’s makers explore both the philosophical and the physical realities of color throughout history and across species. I listen and I, well, learn about how the world I see around me is different from that seen by, say, a dog. Or a mantis shrimp. The whole thing stems from the simple question, “why is the sky blue?” Interestingly, they also end up in a church. (listen here).

There are countless other well-produced podcasts that can be easily described as educational, though they aren’t originating from nor intended explicitly for a classroom—or even a university or college campus.

Recall how “The Giant Pool of Money” from This American Life explained the 2008 housing crisis in plain English for millions of Americans? UnCivil from Gimlet Media is a history podcast that goes “back to the time our divisions turned into a war, and brings you stories left out of the official history.”

Similarly, Seeing White explores and analyzes whiteness in America. What does it mean? What is it for?

I use the first episode of BODIES from KCRW, titled “Sex Hurts,” in my teaching of podcasting at Middlebury College. It leaves my students riveted each semester to hear host Allison Behringer reveal the deeper history lurking behind her effort to seek a cure for experiencing painful sex. Generations of social and medical sexism have shaped her sense of shame and her lack of options in addressing this medical problem. A radio station staff creates BODIES, and the podcast is meant for a general audience, but the power of the narrative is in its almost scholarly backstory.

Are these not educational podcasts?


Student: “Teacher! Is this bird alive or dead?

                                  Teacher: The bird… is in your hands.

The meaning of the bird allegory is simple. Our goal as educators is to develop the capacities of listeners to become learners-—to inspire, not indoctrinate. I see podcasts at Middlebury being used in two ways currently.

First, they give students a bird. Podcast assignments in my courses such as “make a podcast” allow students an opportunity to direct their own learning. And listening assignments that help them on the path to making a podcast of their own ask students to become more critical receivers of information. This, in turn, enlivens discussions around our readings.

Podcasts also let us become more aware of what it means to be holding the bird in your hands. Keynote speaker Dan Cohen thoughtfully articulated this in his opening remarks for Sound Education. He made the point that, “through the podcast one is able to re-present that curious voice—the cautious, thoughtful voice that is actually there when we are doing the research itself.” The intimate tone that podcasting makes available gives scholars a new way to engage with their own work and to share that engagement in the research process itself more effectively.

Whether in an educational setting or not, the best podcasts use voice and sound as mechanisms for meaning-making and connection building. Whether that connection is between student and ideas in a course, or the academic scholar and the public, or between a me and a you, the value of podcasting is that it establishes a bond.


Podcasts in an educational institution are a direct outcome of the turn toward “public scholarship” that began in the humanities and social sciences two decades ago. To engage with audiences outside the academy, we need to present scholarly material in accessible and bold formats. Podcasts can do exactly that.

Recording your lecture and putting it online meets the technical definiton of a podcast, but the form can be so much more than that. Character, story, tension, good questions, sound—these are the tools in the toolkit. They are just waiting to be applied to expand the impact of the scholarly work we are engaged in at Middlebury.


The Sound Education conference happened in a church at Harvard Divinity, a glorious place to listen and learn; but so are ordinary classrooms.

In the fall of 2019, we will be hosting a podcasting workshop for faculty at Middlebury. Are you incorporating podcasts into your class? As production or listening assignments? What are you struggling with and what is working? Have you considered making a podcast as an extension or expression of your own research? What support do you need? What questions do you have? I am currently working with the Office of the President to develop a podcast series and I am interested in working with colleagues on the Middlebury faculty to develop their scholarship into compelling audio work.

We hope to expand the capacity of podcast production at Middlebury so that the medium can reach its fullest potential. Let us know if you’d like to attend a workshop by filling out the following questionnaire.

Erin Davis is a documentary filmmaker and podcast producer. She currently teaches FMMC/AMST 0261 Podcasting the Past: Leisure at Middlebury College with support from the DLA. She has been leading podcast production courses at Middlebury since 2012. You can reach her at edavis@middlebury.edu.

Special thanks to Michael Kramer and the DLA for supporting my attendance the Sound Education conference at the Harvard Divinity School this fall.

Designing for Artistic Collaboration with a Computer

By Christopher Andrews

Assistant Professor, Computer Science

Over the past year and a half or so, I have been working to develop an evolutionary art tool based on expression trees. The idea itself is a fairly old one, which can be traced back work done by Karl Sims’ in the early nineties. The underlying idea is that given an arbitrary equation with respect to two variables, X and Y, we can generate an image. Mechanically, we consider the image to lie on the X,Y plane, such that each pixel of the image has a unique (X,Y) coordinate. To draw the image, we visit each pixel of the image and solve the equation using the pixel’s values for X and Y.

This process becomes more interesting when we introduce evolution to it. The computer generates a collection of random equations. The user then selects the most interesting images, and these become the progenitors of a new generation of images. The images can “mate,” swapping pieces portions of their underlying equations, or images can be mutated, the underlying equation changed by swapping variables, changing functions, or even the introduction of complex transformations like mirroring. The user is presented with the new generation, and the cycle starts anew.

Some of the images produced by this process are dross—blank or a confused mass of random noise. Others however, are quite compelling. There are patterns and shapes that emerge, arrangements that can seem familiar yet alien. There is something that draws me to continue to keep iterating, chasing the next surprise.

And yet, there is something vaguely unsatisfying about the process as well. Conceptually, there is an equation that could produce any arrangement of pixels, from a blank slate to the Mona Lisa. The genetic algorithm that drives the process is essentially a search algorithm, exploring the space of all possible images. Leaving aside the (not unimportant) question of whether or not these images are art, we have to ask who the artist is? Karl Sims saw the user as the artist, the act of driving the process akin to being a gardener. Alan Dorin, however, is more dismissive, asking if we would still have respect for Picasso if he produced his works by walking into a Library of Babel filled with images instead of books, wandering the stacks and emerging with a random painting he found that struck his fancy.

One solution to this is to replace the human altogether. The human’s job in this system is evaluation—determining the “fitness” of each image. If some form of aesthetic judgement could be performed by the computer, the entire process could be automated and we could explore the realm of computational creativity. I have been exploring in the other direction. What if the user could be more informed about the process, able to direct the process more? What if we could introduce the potential to attain mastery and to make choices backed by intentionality?

To that end, I have been applying the techniques of visual analytics to this process. The current attempts are centered around “spatializing” the images, arranging them in space based upon some metric or attribute of the image. This should make it easier for the user to quickly evaluate a large collection of images, as well providing new ways to specify to the computer directions to explore based not on random permutations but upon actual features to be accentuated or diminished.

With funding from the DLA, I was able to hire two students last summer to help me begin identifying ways to classify images: Selena Ling and Fiona Sullivan. Selena worked on a machine learning approach to identifying what we are calling “mid-level” image attributes, such as “curviness.” While we have had some early success classifying the degree of curviness of images produced for training, the classifier continues to struggle to produce results that would agree with a human assessment for the more complex images produced by the evolutionary art tool. Fiona’s contribution was to develop a survey asking participants to describe some of these images with an eye towards determining some additional mid-level attributes. While the results were quite varied, we found that there was a clear separation between images that participants described in terms of their structure and images that participants responded to more metaphorically, seeing representations of shapes or emotions. This was not perhaps what we were initially after, but it suggests new avenues to be explored.

Moving forward, we will be taking these varied results and trying to turn them into a useful set of metrics that can be applied to arbitrary images with the ultimate goal of producing a system that is not an independent computer artist, nor a tool like Photoshop, but a collaborator with neither the computer nor the user solely in charge.

Middlebury DLA Summer Institute 2019: Workshop on Videographic Criticism

Interested in exploring scholarship in sound and image? Want to explore new possibilities for conducting analysis and conveying arguments in a multimedia form about multimedia objects of study? Middlebury’s NEH-funded Advanced Institute in Videographic Criticism returns again, this time as the DLA Summer Institute, a tuition-based workshop organized by Middlebury College faculty members Jason Mittell and Chris Keathley, with guest mentor Catherine Grant, Professor of Digital Media and Screen Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. For two weeks, you can spend all of your hours in beautiful Vermont, learning how to make video essays and participating in a robust community of practice fondly known as “video camp.”

The DLA Summer Institute 2019 focused on videographic criticism is open to any participant with a terminal degree (PhD preferred) or currently in a graduate program of study. Participants are not expected to have experience producing videos as the workshop is aimed at exploring the new format and stimulating new ideas. The workshop will strive to create a community of practice among participants, as well as connecting participants to a broader community of videographic critics and scholars.

Please see the DLA Summer Institute 2019 website for details on timing, cost, and participation. Applications are due February 1. Please contact Jason Mittell with any questions, and spread the word!

Digital Methodologies for Art Historians

Sarah Laursen and students discover how digital technologies can enrich art history.

Middlebury art historian and museum curator Sarah Laursen and her students in the Fall 2018 course Digital Methodologies for Art Historians: Ancient Chinese Gold (HARC 355) created an ArcGIS Storymap to share their discoveries. Impressive work, both in form and content, full of exploration and ideas about how digital technologies can create pathways to productive public scholarship.

Here is the link to their findings from the course.

Fall 2018 DLA Review

Vermont Life magazine. Photo: Jon Olender.

It was an action-packed fall at the DLA. Our Digital Fluencies Series continued to introduce more intensive investigations of “digital fluency and critical engagement”—a key direction in Middlebury’s strategic plan. The Davis Educational Foundation-funded Digital Pedagogy Zoom Sessions brought faculty together with guest speakers in a “Hollywood Squares” style videoconference format for presentations and discussion. The Behind the Scenes series featured conversations about digital research by Middlebury faculty as well as work by visiting scholars. Our three DLA Fellows met monthly to exchange ideas about their developing digital research projects. And faculty participating in the Davis grant met to explore different approaches to and examples of new modes of digital pedagogy at Middlebury. Meanwhile, we were able to provide microgrants to support a number of exciting digital projects that are either starting up or continuing to advance toward completion.

Digital Fluencies Series

To continue to deepen the Envisioning Middlebury concept of digital fluency as a goal for students, faculty, and staff at Middlebury, we met four times this fall to focus on different implications of digital technologies for liberal arts critical thinking. In September, we explored Johanna Drucker’s intriguing concept of Speculative Computing. In October, Digital Projects and Archives Librarian Patrick Wallace helped us think about The Technology & Ethics of Social Media & Web Harvesting. In November, Dean of the Library Mike Roy led a rich discussion of Digital Publishing, Problems & Possibilities. And in December, Amy Collier shared her work on Misinformation & Bots/Sockpuppets.

Davis Digital Pedagogy Zoom Sessions

In September, our Zoom session featured (Some Ideas About) How to Teach Digital Humanities with Ryan Cordell of Northeastern University. Using his now-classic essay on “How Not To Teach the Digital Humanities,” Ryan emphasized how his courses focus on hands-on experiential learning that also delves deeply into topics in literary studies.

In October, Lauren Tilton of the University of Richmond helped us think more about public scholarly work with students out in the world at The Digital Public Humanities, Giving New Arguments & New Ways to Argue.

In November, at Using An Editorial Pedagogy to Peer Review Students’ Multimodal Texts, Cheryl Ball of Wayne State University led a marvelous conversation about teaching writing by having students themselves design their own learning goals and criteria.

Behind the Scenes

In October, a group of scholars from France and Brazil joined Middlebury faculty and staff for the kickoff symposium of the Atlantic World Forum, a new collaborative project directed by Michael Kramer that supports international scholarly collaboration through the creation of an annual digital roundtable on specific topics in transatlantic cultural history. The symposium, Creating Digital Scholarly Dialogues About Atlantic World Cultural Histories, provided a veritable feast of scholarship and set the stage for what the DLA hopes will be a transformative global digital humanities project that connects faculty and students at Middlebury to an international network of scholars for deep inquiry into Atlantic World history through digital collaboration and multimedia essay development. The project brings together primary sources with historiographic debate and will offer a model of how to connect traditional historical inquiry to experience-based learning for students. With participation from faculty and students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and the Schools Abroad, the Atlantic World Forum will also provide a model of how to translate and disseminate knowledge for teaching and learning globally.

In November, Carol Stabile of the University of Oregon joined us to share information about her developing collaborative project, Reanimate, An Intersectional Feminist Digital Publishing Collective.

Later that same month, Norton Owen, the Director of Preservation at Jacob’s Pillow, shared the Jacob’s Pillow Interactive website through the Movement Matters See Michael Kramer’s DLA blog post about the event, Dancing In and Out of the Digital Archive.

November continued to keep us busy. Middlebury Arabic professor Dima Ayoub gave us an update on her DLA-funded digital analysis of the paratextual components of Arabic-to-English literary translations. Glossing the Glossary, Digital Approaches to Paratexts and Power in Arabic Literature explored the promising collaborations Dima has undertaken with Data Services Library Ryan Clement as well as two students, Mari Odoy ’20 and Will O’Neal ’20, who wrote about their summer experience conducting research with Dima in Two Students Take a Digital Humanities Approach to Arabic Literature. Bringing together close and distant reading tactics through data-driven text mining, Dima’s project brings digital humanities to bear on translation studies, but also makes clear that translation studies has important concepts and ideas for digital humanities. We even posed the intriguing hypothesis: are “distant readings” of literature done computationally themselves a new form of the paratext?

In December, the digital liberal arts got scientific. We also, simultaneously, got animated. At Animating Biology, A Collaboration Between A Biologist & the Middlebury Animation Studio, Animation Studio student Michelle Lehman and Animation Studio Director Daniel Houghton were joined by Heinz-Given Professor of the Pre-medical Sciences Grace Spatafora to discuss the collaborative animation work Michelle completed for Grace’s research on Streptococcus mutans, one of over 600 bacterial species in the human oral cavity. Most fascinatingly, Dr. Spatafora explained how Michelle’s thoughtful, scientifically accurate animations made her consider new aspects of her research. It was a reminder that the arts, technology (the Animation Studio uses the Blender application among other sophisticated digital tools), and science can be mutually enriching in revelatory ways. Animating science caused Michelle, herself a neuroscience major, to think in new ways about her animation and artistic work. Just as crucially, the questions raised by accurately visualizing Streptococcus mutans caused Grace to ask new questions about her scientific research.

In this way, interdisciplinary exchanges enabled by the digital liberal arts are not only about finding new ways of communicating scientific findings to a broader public (a noble goal in of itself); they can also lead to unexpected discoveries in the research itself. Animation become not just a fun “bell and whistle” added to the serious work of scientific research, but rather a contribution to the research. Similarly, the questions raised by the collaborative goal of visualizing Streptococcus mutans contributed to new skills and concepts in Michelle’s animation work. The animation enhanced the science; the science enhanced the animation. This suggested to us that when they talk to each other digitally, the sciences, the arts, and the humanities have the potential to yield new knowledge.

As a final note, we were also delighted to be joined by a large number of students at our last Behind the Scenes, and heard from them about ways to facilitate more student involvement in the DLA.

DLA Fellows & Davis Grant Faculty Lunches

Our three 2018-19 DLA Fellows—Brigitte Humbert, Natalie Eppelsheimer, and Will Nash—met monthly to share developing digital research over lunch. New research strategies and questions emerged from the mix of conceptual conversation and practical problem solving. Plus the sandwiches from Otter Creek Bakery were delicious.

Meanwhile, faculty participating in our Davis Grant focused on digital curricular innovation in student thesis work and courses in four departments—History, American Studies, Film and Media Cultures, and Sociology—continued to meet to discuss teaching ideas. Louisa Stein’s Theories of Spectatorship found students exploring the boundaries between print and digital culture by creating a printed ‘zine that they bound together into a book and then digitized; ironically, many of the printed ‘zine pages students created were printed out from the Internet, thus reminding us that the boundaries between print and online mediation are less rigid than we think, with modes of spectatorship crucial to their intermediality. Kathy Morse and Michael Newbury, meanwhile, worked with the DLA and Davis Family Library’s Special Collections division to digitize the full run of Vermont Life magazine and share it for the public through the Internet Archive; students then spent the fall exploring how to analyze the magazine and its history digitally.

Overall, it was a busy, rewarding time at the DLA, and we look forward eagerly to winter and spring 2019 events, culminating in a planned DLA Symposium in the spring of 2019.


Dancing In and Out of the Digital Archive

It’s the opposite of the tree falling in the forest: if a performance is happening in a digital archive and someone is there to access and watch it, is the performance really over?

Norton Owen, Director of Preservation, Jacob’s Pillow.

In his Middlebury College visit as part of the Dance Department’s Movement Matters series, Jacob’s Pillow Director of Preservation Norton Owen brought us to this question. Sharing the remarkable collection of digitized material in Jacob’s Pillow Interactive, curated online using a customized WordPress platform, Owen let us take in examples from the archive such as a 1936 film of Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn’s company, Men Dancers, performing Finale From the New World. With Antonín Dvořák’s composition, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and resynchronized in 2011 by Daniel Callahan, the piece took on an immediacy even as it simultaneously appeared in black and white, from another era. Owen pointed out that we view it differently now, when norms of sexuality both in and beyond dance world have changed radically. Do we see the same thing, even, that audiences saw when the film was made? The digital medium gives access not only to the historical artifact, but also to these epistemological and phenomenological questions. It’s a joy to watch in of itself; it’s full of information about the past; the digital curation, however, also makes it a new performance, at once in the flow of time and leaping out of it.

This was even more the case with another example Owens offered, Carmen de Lavallade performing As I Remember It in 2014, in which the dancer, now an older woman, performs in mirror-like reflections to herself in film footage of an earlier performance, Portrait of Billie (John Butler’s 1960 piece). We see, by way of our own computer screens, a video of a dancer dancing in front of a video of a dance, each performance and viewing experience layered across time in some sense in an infinite regress into the past, but also just as much in an infinite progress into the future.

Carmen de Lavallade, As I Remember It, Baryshnikov Arts Center, 18 February 2015. Photo: Stephanie Berger.

Change and continuity, time ago and time now and time to come: the digital archive of performance does funny things. Most of all it deepens what we might mean by the term “access” when it comes to history, and particularly history of performance. Jacob’s Pillow Interactive is of course about a place—a kind of “dance utopia” as Norton Owen playfully called it at one point. But the digital archive also becomes something else: a floating, asynchronous festival of synchronized movement, one filled with Themes and Essays, Dance Playlists, and even a Guess section in which you can test your dance knowledge.

It is ebullient and fun, but also serious business, time travel of a sort, an orbit of glimmering views. It takes one to a portable, almost celestial palace of choreography that offers not only access to a trove of dance history, but also entrée into what it means to experience dance itself, performed in media res, across temporalities and spaces of movement that have been encapsulated—and then unleashed into the connected universe.

Atlantic World Forum Symposium Report

Symposium Report: Some Preliminary Reflections on Reconceptualizing Cultural Histories of the Atlantic World, Digitally and Interculturally

After our veritable feast of Atlantic World history scholarship, as well as our productive opening conversation and many informal discussions, where do we stand? Here are some initial (“sketchy,” as it were) reflections.

  • How do we contribute new frameworks and conceptual approaches to Atlantic World, trans-oceanic, transnational, and global history?

Flows, Circulations, Hubs, Displacements, Reconfigurations, and…Portals? 

With both the Transatlantic Cultures platform and the Atlantic World Forum, we return repeatedly to the question of conceptualizing the Atlantic World as a place of flows and circulations. To be sure, we do not wish to erase the power wielded by centers over peripheries, the continued legacies of various imperialisms, but we also want to become more aware of how those dynamics played out in less predictable ways in the empirical record of the Atlantic World. To do so, cultural history, broadly conceived, is productive because cultural forms and interactions offer spaces and practices of potent if decentralized processes of making—and especially of remaking.

Indeed, building on a comment by Anaïs Flétchet, I too noticed that this remaking often appeared when one of our presenters tracked the movement of Atlantic World participants through various displacements, movements, and relocations. It is often distance, whether forced or voluntary or some combination of the two, which helps to create place-based cultural, institutional, economic, and political formations. We see this when Gilberto Gil (as Anaïs studies) or Alan Lomax (as I study) resettled in what Marcos names as a “hub” (rather than a center) of the Atlantic World: London. We hear it in listening to the stories of how the Old Klezmorim become new—and then, in a way, old again—in Jean-Sébastien Noël‘s research. It appears when we glimpse the people of St. Kitts transferring some, but not all, aspects of the West African significance of one plant (Dracaena) onto another one (Cordyline) that seems similar in look, but in fact arrived in St. Kitts from Tahiti thanks to the British Empire, as Michael Sheridan studies. It becomes manifest too, even in disguised costumes, in the appropriations of Shakespeare in the Masque rituals of Mardi Gras on the island of Carriacou, as Dan Brayton studies. We notice the importance of displacement and relocation in the move to Liberia by Middlebury graduate and Rutland, Vermont, native Martin Freeman, as Will Hart describes it. We see it, as Michele Greet teaches us, in the ways in which the very definition of modernist Latin American visual art is shaped by the experiences of Latin American artists and their networks of dealers, salons, socializing, and more across the Atlantic in Paris (another hub to be sure). It emerges again, as Gabriela Pellegrino shows, in the commercial publishing practices of W.M. Martin and his Book of Knowledge as assembled and reassembled in various permutations around the Pan-American world. We grasp the significance of institutional re-situation (almost translation) in the use of Pan-American cultural exchange to try to shape US public opinion, as Richard Cándida Smith investigates. The importance of displacement, reconfiguration, and distance appears again in the Methodist photographs taken by missionaries and assembled, in frustratingly disorganized form, into albums back at the main offices of the Methodist church, as Didier Aubert shows us. And it is present, as Daniel Silva is analyzing, in the story of fitness culture as a way of inculcating, at an almost invisible yet also profoundly corporeal level, a national, normative sense of what it means to be “Brazilian.” Here it is partly the distance between the ideologies and the bodies onto and into which these ideologies gets placed (where they are quite literally made muscular) that allows them to function.

These stories are all marked not only by flows and circulations, but also by key displacements that, like portals, remake the peoples, cultures, economics, social forms, and political formations of the Atlantic World by causing them to pass through transformations. In other words, one way to get a sense of place in this history is precisely through movement; one way to look toward specific histories is by, in an odd way, looking askance at them. The periphery, as we have long known, turns out to be core to the story. Place emerges from displacement. Culture provides a way to glimpse how in circulations and flows larger struggles, contestations, negotiations, reconfigurations have occurred. Therefore, perhaps like flows, circulations, and hubs, portals might become another productive keyword for this project.

Flows, Circulations, Hubs, Displacements, Reconfigurations, Portals, and…Currents?: Getting Decentralized and Connected at the Same Time

Additionally, one tension I believe we noticed (articulated by Gabriela) in these projects is that we must balance our interest in multiplicity without creating complete fragmentation. How might we use the layered, multidimensional qualities of the digital platforms to present the overlaps and the gaps among the many frameworks for Atlantic World study (transatlantic, circum-Atlantic, Black Atlantic, hemispheric, Pan-American, colonial and postcolonial, diasporic, etc.)? At the same time, how do we create coherent, connected history? Perhaps the metaphor of currents, taken from the movements of water in the Atlantic itself (Gulf Streams, etc.) might help us better consider and historicize two opposing thematics: sometimes there are what Lara Putnam, borrowing from Kamau Braithwaite, calls the “submarine unities of Atlantic history” that rest beneath the “above-water fragments”; at the same time, we also seek to complicate the assertions of above-world unities that hide the great diversity of stories within Atlantic World circulations and flows. If we can trace the ironies of these seeming contradictions effectively perhaps that is a path to better historicization and crystallization of this very large, dare I say oceanic, story.

From Structure and Agency, Domination and Resistance to Other Frameworks?

A final observation: as Richard Cándida Smith noted that he learned in his study of Pan-American cultural exchange, and as Didier Aubert also suggested in his work on the photography by Methodist missionaries in places such as Chile, and indeed lurking in much of our research is a different framework for thinking about power and culture. Rather than privilege ideology alone as a shaping force, we noticed in cultural forms the complicated interactions between institutional forces in the economic and civil spheres (publishing, academic and professional associations, religious organizations and practices, art world dealers and salons, public holiday traditions, etc.) and ideological urges (nation-state formation, capitalism, socialism) and aesthetic gestures (music, visual art, vernacular expression). This is not completely different from existing frameworks we use as historians, such as structure and agency or domination and resistance (or hegemony and counter-hegemony in the Gramscian sense), but it does point to a slightly different way of considering (borrowing again from Richard) the pragmatics of Atlantic World cultural histories, the ways in which culture and power, continuity and disruption, emerge from concrete and specific situations rather than the actual lived experience of the Atlantic World arising from abstract forces. With everything from Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic “practical philosophy” to the “transmodernity” that Walter Mignolo examines to other seemingly abstract dimensions of Atlantic World history, these research projects on the Atlantic World, brought into a shared digital platform and space, have the potential to reveal both the very particular instantiations of larger forces and show how the larger forces only arise from the particular empirical examples. In short, here is a way to, as Bill Hart put it, responding to the work of Lara Putnam, create better duets between microhistories and epic histories—as he put it, to grasp the interactions between “the Small and the Mighty.”

Overview of Project

Atlantic World Forum Kickoff Symposium
Creating Digital Scholarly Dialogues About Atlantic World Cultural Histories
Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, Robert A. Jones ’59 House/Davis Library 105B
Middlebury College
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 16-17, 2018

A two-day symposium introduces the DLA project Atlantic World Forum: Reimagining the Online Scholarly Roundtable, Reshaping the Global Digital Humanities, Reframing Circum-Atlantic Cultural Histories at Middlebury.

Partnering with a larger French-Brazilian-led endeavor, Transatlantic CulturesAWF harnesses the interactive and multimedia dimensions of the digital domain to foster international dialogues on circum-Atlantic cultural history. Each Atlantic World Forum roundtable assembles a group of five to seven scholars from various countries and focuses on a particular theme. The participants meet and exchange ideas by digital means as each one works on a multimedia essay. Projects might also include their exchanges leading to the multimedia essays and after their publication. Other digital work will emerge as well: maps, timelines, databases of primary source material, and invited commentary by additional experts. We seek to distribute the forum in digital modes accessible in various places, whether it be by the web in the US and Europe or by mobile phone in West African countries or even paquetes in Cuba. One to two distinct forums are planned for each year.

Through a proposed seminar taught each semester at Middlebury by DLA Acting Director and historian Michael Kramer, students combine historical pedagogy in Atlantic World history, from its origins in Anglo-American colonial studies to later work on the Black Atlantic to other approaches, with hands-on digital and experiential learning. They work with the participating scholars to conduct research, develop digital and multimedia components for essays, hone editing and project management skills, and innovate new modes of digital humanities collaboration, narrative, and scholarly communication. Potentially, students at other institutions can join the project as well.

Faculty at Middlebury are able to contribute to roundtables, advance their own research when applicable, and incorporate the project into teaching when appropriate. Faculty and students at the Translation and Interpretation program and Middlebury Institute Globe Multilingual Language Services will work with the project on translation of the AWF into multiple languages. Faculty and students at Middlebury’s Schools Abroad and Monterey courses in Intercultural Competency, Intercultural Rhetoric, and Intercultural Digital Storytelling can participate as well in future meetings and exchanges so that AWF contributes to the substantive strengthening of Middlebury’s global networks of scholarship.

Funding for the Kickoff Symposium was generously provided at Middlebury by the DLA, Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs, DLINQ, Academic Enrichment Fund, and Pedagogy Enrichment Fund.