Meet the DLA’s New Associate Director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative, Michael Kramer

photo of a man

Meet Michael Kramer, the new Associate Director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative and read about his goals.

Name: Michael J. Kramer

Hometown: New York City

Title/Role at Middlebury: Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative

Time at Middlebury: 1 month

Hello Michael, you’re new here. Welcome!  What’s your job? How are you acclimating?  How are you finding things at Middlebury so far?

Micahel Kramer (MK): My job as a faculty member with a background in digital humanities is to advance Middlebury’s research, teaching, and public outreach at the intersection of digital technology and the liberal arts. I seek to do this both in my own research (right now on the surprising history of technology and tradition in the folk music revival), teaching (courses such as Approaching Digital Humanities, The Computerized Society: A Cultural History of the Computer Since WWII, Digitizing Folk Music History, Cultural Criticism in a Digital Age), and public work (The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project). Also I see my role as helping other faculty and staff find the best ways toward using digital tactics to enhance their own research, teaching, and broader intellectual agendas, whether in new projects, in the classroom and curricular innovations, or in places such as at the Middlebury College Museum of Art.

I think the most powerful resource at Middlebury so far are the people. Both faculty members and staff overflow with ideas, expertise, resources, and smart perspectives on the ways we can enhance liberal arts education and knowledge through effective use of digital technology. They are critical thinkers, adventurous and curious about what might work and what might not. My service here, in addition to my own research and teaching is, as I see it, to help others make connections and bring ideas successfully to fruition. I do a lot of this through consultations and conversations, providing what one Digital Liberal Arts Fellow at Middlebury recently called “digital humanities therapy.”

How does your previous work inform what you expect from your present and future work?

MK: In college, I had an internship with Alan Lomax, folklorist, who was working on a proto-digital humanities project called the Global Jukebox, a sound mapping of global song styles. At the time (early 90s), it was a CD-Rom project (remember those?). Now the Library of Congress, which acquired Lomax’s archives after he died in 2002, has transferred it to the web.  In fact, I’m writing about the Project in my new book.

After that, but before returning to graduate school in 1999, I worked as a digital arts journalist at the website of the New York Times as the Web was emerging as a mass media technology. While a visiting professor at Northwestern, I co-founded the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory. I’ve also worked at museums (editor of publishing and new media at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago) and as a dramaturg and historian-in-residence with a contemporary dance company, The Seldoms, helping to write grants, and often writing multimedia essays about the ensemble’s research-driven movement inquiry that results in adventurous fascinating works about everything from the debate over climate change to the life and presidential times of Lyndon Johnson as a way to investigate how power and political persuasion work (here are some examples of my digital essays on The Seldoms’ work).

In recent years, I’ve kept up my cultural criticism on my blog Culture Rover and written about digital humanities topics on another blog Issues in Digital History. These experiences help me have a sense of how to build institutional capacity in creative ways, both on a college campus and beyond it through partnerships and collaborations.

More about my new book, teaching, and all this other stuff is on my website.

What are your goals for the Spring semester and how will you know you are successful in achieving them?

MK: A lot of coffees with faculty, staff, and students to listen to what they are thinking about when it comes to digital technology and the liberal arts; strategizing on how to integrate the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative (DLA) more effectively into the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR) and work in partnerships with library staff, MiddLab, and DLINQ folks; reach out to departments and other centers and institutes on campus; and bring in various public speakers to talk about what they are doing and introduce new ideas and perspectives to Middlebury. One last note: I’m spending a bit of time every other week working remotely from Chicago as I make the transition to Middlebury and Vermont, but I’m always available by phone: (847) 942-5182; Skype handle: culturerover; or Zoom when I’m not on campus.

How do you expect to use the libraries and how might they serve you professionally, personally and otherwise?

MK: Even though I’m a digital person, I love books! So a library is sort of like a holy place for me. It should be filled with both print stacks and computer terminals! I most of all believe in multimodal projects that pivot between print, embodied, and digital platforms. I’m eager to learn from librarians, particularly about how to handle data, build functional digital repositories, and create effective metadata (just as a few examples). Some of my best intellectual engagements have been with librarians such as Josh Honn, DJ Hoek, Carolyn Caizzi, and John Dorr at Northwestern, who I collaborate with on the Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival project, as well as with archivists. So I understand my work with librarians as collaborations more than some kind of service. The learning goes both ways, ideally, as equals with different, diverse skills and perspectives and knowledge.

How do you see faculty, students, and staff engaging with you in your new role?

MK: As a faculty member, I am interested in working directly with students, both in the classroom and bringing interested students to work on my own research. I am curious about team-teaching and collaborating across disciplines with other faculty members. I am curious to work with library staff on projects that find ways of advancing their own professional development and intellectual interests as well as those of students and faculty. I am always glad to consult on digital projects and ideas, help to conceptualize opportunities that bring together diverse interests on projects, and work together to problem solve and find new, rewarding paths forward. It’s all about mixing the individual and the collective into productive combinations.

Thank you, Michael!