The Collinwood Fire, 1908


Project Team: Michael Newbury, Daniel Houghton, Elise Biette (‘16.5), Maddie Dai (’14), Hosain Ghassemi (’17), James Graham (’16), Justin Holmes, Chad Kahn (’16), Sofy Maia (’16)

About:The Collinwood Fire, 1908 has the scope of a scholarly book but is, instead, a formally complex, multi-media, digital story.  Many people have contributed to the project, and we hope that others will do so by using and responding to it.   Teachers and students working together in the Digital Liberal Arts Studio at Middlebury College built every part of the website.   From the beginning, our efforts had to be intensely collaborative, because no individual had the range of design, technical, cinematic, research, and writing skills to complete it. This kind of shared digital scholarship in the humanities still stands in its infancy. One turn in the digital humanities is toward the mining and processing of enormous bodies of data, but our project harnesses computing power in a very different way—to tell stories across media and in ways that have simply not been available to previous generations of students and scholars.

Much of what we’ve done would have been impossible, or only possible in very different ways, just five years ago. Improvements in animation software, the proliferation of high-speed internet connections, the vast expansion of digital archives, and the full adoption of html5 and css3 make the look, content, navigation, and interpretive complexities of The Collinwood Fire, 1908 possible. The site tangles together the animated and the “real,” fading them into one another, telling the story of the fire while forcing readers to reckon with historical and narrative uncertainties that emerge in every account of the past. Similarly, the site positions visual and verbal sources against each other in untraditional ways, highlighting the always shifting ground of interpretation.   When, for example, we initially show a teacher struggling to save children from death by fire in an action-filled animation sequence, she may well appear as the martyred heroine of a thrilling tale. Placing this vivid imagining against surviving sources about teacher-student relationships in Collinwood, though, as we do on the page entitled “Katherine Weiler’s Pearls,” forces a re-examination of that animated sequence.  Maybe the movie depicts a martyred teacher struggling to save at least one child; or maybe it depicts scores of children ignoring a teacher in whom they feel no trust.  The visual design of our project also places the  technologies and design principles of the early twentieth century against those of the present, whether by representing a world of steam, smoke and fire in 3D animation or by mixing together the aesthetics of Victorian bookmaking with the movement and layout of contemporary web pages.  The web makes these interpretive and creative juxtapositions possible in ways that more traditional scholarly forms do not.

Part of our purpose is to offer an example, a model, or at least an incentive for others in the humanities who might be interested in pursuing scholarly projects that take advantage of digital storytelling’s possibilities. To that end, the website also includes a small portion of our many, many stumbles, crashes, debates, restarts, and commentary on one section of the finished animation. Some of these difficulties were technological, but all were linked to more traditional questions and debates about narrative, historical interpretation, color design, and so forth. We wouldn’t want the finished product to obscure the often messy but rewarding process of creating it. John Dewey, the turn-of-the-20th- century educational reformer who was among the first theorizers and practitioners of what we now call “experiential” learning, would have lamented so much about the Lake View School —the overcrowded classrooms, the rows of fixed desks, the emphasis on recitation, the failure of architectural design, the seeming absence of imaginative or hands-on engagement in the curriculum. In making The Collinwood Fire, 1908 we have worked in response to one of many epigrammatic insights about education attributed to him: ‘We only think when confronted with problems.’”

Write Out Loud: Public Digital Humanities in the Writing and Literature Classroom

Please join the DLA for a talk by Danica Savonick, Assistant Professor of English at SUNY Cortland. This talk explores the transformative impact that collaborative, multimodal, and public projects can have on students in the literature and writing classroom. Savonick begins with an unconventional genealogy of digital humanities pedagogy. While digital humanities is often understood as a response to the internet, her research explores how many contemporary engaged, public, and project-based learning methods had their roots in the feminist and antiracist social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. More specifically, Savonick focus on the teaching practices of authors June Jordan and Toni Cade Bambara, both of whom organized their courses around the practice of publishing student writing as part of their larger educational activism. This work, she suggests, helps us think about digital pedagogy not solely as a response to the internet, but as a continuation of long, ongoing efforts to produce relevant education that prepares students to navigate and improve the world beyond the classroom. The remainder of the talk provides an overview of exciting contemporary approaches to digital humanities pedagogy in writing and literature classrooms (mapping projects, Wikipedia-editing assignments, public blog posts), with an emphasis on assignments that challenge students to “write out loud” and create something that makes an impact on audiences beyond the classroom. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP here by March 26. 

Date: March 31

Time: 12:15 -1:30 pm

Place: CTLR Lounge, Davis Family Library

Behind the Scenes: “From Scrapbooks to MacBooks, or what I Learned as a DLA Fellow”

Please join us for a DLA Behind the Scenes talk by Will Nash, Professor of American Studies and English and American Literatures. Nash will describe his original DLA objective, an electronic edition of Helen Thoreau’s anti-slavery scrapbooks, and discuss how his exposure to a broad array of digital tools and methodologies shifted his focus from the digitization of a print text to the creation of digital texts that built on the original artifact and opened new areas of inquiry.  He will also show two brief media pieces he made during his fellowship, “Texts and Textiles: When is a Scrapbook Like a Quilt?” and “Romanticizing the Road: Artists Imagine the Underground.” Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP here by March 12. 

Date: March 17

Time: 12:15-1:30 pm

Place: CTLR Lounge, Davis Family Library

Unfracking the Future through Civic Technoscience

Please join us on February 21 for a DLA-sponsored talk by Sara Wylie, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Health Science at Northeastern University. This talk will be held from 12:15-1:30 pm in the CTLR Lounge, Davis Family Library.

From flammable tap water and sick livestock to the onset of hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma, the impact of fracking in the United States is far-reaching and deeply felt. In this talk, Wylie traces the history of fracking and the ways scientists and everyday people are coming together to hold accountable an industry that has managed to evade regulation. Wylie shows how nonprofits, landowners, and community organizers are creating novel digital platforms and databases to track unconventional oil and gas well development and document fracking’s environmental and human health impacts. These platforms model alternative approaches for academic and grassroots engagement with the government and the fossil fuel industry that are increasingly vital in the context of climate denial and environmental deregulation. To learn more about Sara visit her website.
Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP here by February 17.

Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age

Discussing his recently published book, Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (Princeton UP 2019), Tarek El-Ariss explores the way modes of confrontation, circulation, and writing shape contemporary knowledge production and critiques of power. Focusing on a new generation of activists and authors from the Arab world and beyond, El-Ariss connects Wikileaks to The Arabian Nights, Twitter to mystical revelation, cyberattacks to pre-Islamic tribal raids, and digital activism to the affective scene-making of Arab popular culture. Tarek El-Ariss is Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College. His research interests include Arabic literature, culture, and art, modernity studies, and comparative literature and critical theory. He is also the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham, 2013) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (MLA, 2018).

The DLA is pleased to co-sponsor this event, which is hosted by the IGS Program (Middle East Studies Track)

Date: February 24

Time: 4:30-6 PM
Place: Axinn 229

What Is Deformative Criticism?, or How to Make Weird Videos as Scholarly Inquiry

One of the interesting developments in digital humanities is the emergence of “deformative criticism,” an approach to creatively “breaking” an object of study to reveal hidden facets and create innovative new works. Jason Mittell, Professor of Film & Media Culture and American Studies, will demonstrate a number of “videographic deformations” that he has made by creatively manipulating the classic film Singin’ in the Rain to consider how deformations might be a useful (and fun) mode of scholarship. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP here by February 13.

Date: February 18

Time: 12:15-1:30 PM

Place: CTLR Lounge, Davis Family Library

Introduction to Text Mining Workshop

Have you heard the phrase “text mining” and wondered exactly what that means? Are you curious about how digital tools can help you analyze large amounts of text? Join Ryan Clement, Data Services Librarian, Leanne Galletly, User Experience and Digital Scholarship Librarian, and Sarah Payne, DLA Postdoctoral Fellow, for an introductory workshop on text mining. This two-hour workshop will introduce participants to the the text mining tool Voyant and provide further avenues for text analysis exploration. No prior experience with text mining is required. Please RSVP here.

Date: Friday, January 17, 2020

Time: 9-11 AM

Place: Wilson Media Lab, Davis Family Library

DLA Summer Institute

The DLA is excited to announce that our videographic criticism workshop, “Scholarship in Sound & Image,” will be offered again during June 2020! During this two week workshop, led by Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell, and Catherine Grant, participants will learn how to conceive and produce film & media criticism via digital sound and moving images. This is a tuition-driven program and applications are due February 1, 2020. Click here for more details regarding dates, cost, and how to apply.