Week 6: Metadata Creation and the Overall Process

1.      I found the metadata creation portion of this project to be a mostly straightforward task that did not take up too much time. When approaching an item, I put in a title of the largest print phrase at the top of the item. Sometimes this was a clear headline, like for a newspaper article (“How Hot is Watts?), but at times that was just the letterhead of the group publishing or sharing the item (“Committee for the Defense of Philip Bentley Brooks”). In writing a description for an item, I tried to summarize the overall purpose and message and mention as many individual subtopics that were listed as possible. With regards to subject terms, two parts of that process were helpful and necessary in generating consistent subject terms across all of our work. We brainstormed different subject terms on a shared spreadsheet and then reviewed them. Then, after filling out descriptions and titles and applying subject terms to items in our individual excel sheets (which served as rough drafts before we uploaded our metadata to Omeka), we reviewed the items we labeled and edited them together. This was really helpful in establishing a uniform methodology with different items. Generating and accurately, concisely applying subject terms was the most difficult part of this process, but the method of group editing made them much more clear and focused.
      As for the readings in the class, I found the excerpt from Tagging: People-powered Metadata for the Social Web to be excellent context for the immediate actions of the metadata creation process. The articles from Saidiya Hartman and Safiya Coleman were extremely helpful for establishing the importance of archives and especially digital archives in the face of the silencing of counternarratives in the age of Google and throughout history. Gerald Horne’s The Fire This Time was immensely important for understanding the context and details of Watts 1965. James Baldwin and Ta-nehisi Coates’s works, the most impactful works in the course for me, were important for placing the Digital Watts project within the black community in America’s larger struggles for authentic representation and self-identity within an Anglocentric mainstream culture. For me, this last piece helped bring perspective to the ultimate goal of shifting public perceptions about Watts and other black communities in some minute way.

2.     Tagging is a process by which users can provide more information or feedback regarding a digital item which makes it searchable or connected to other digital items with a tag, much like a #hashtag on Twitter. Tags by public users most often provide descriptions of what the item is about or what it relates to (events, places, topics, etc.). The benefits of this system are that it provides users the power and freedom to mark, label, and connect items within the archive, much like retweeting, reposting, or commenting on an item on Twitter or Facebook.  This can create an engaged conversation among users about digital archive items and how they relate to our world today. The drawback of this functionality is that there are no established limits or methodology to guide users in how they tag items. Open tagging among users can sometimes lead to a glut of metadata that is less than useful, overly general, or misleading for other users. In reviewing other platforms with open-to-all-users tagging like Nines.org, an online database for nineteenth century scholarship, we noticed that tags were sometimes overly general (“England”) or cryptic (“cruikshank”), which could sometimes lead to cluttered design and confusion on the part of a user trying to navigate items on the site. In opening up the archive to tagging, the SCL can absolutely advance its mission of giving the community access to archival texts and a means to organize and analyze items, and make this archive more relevant to their own experience. The SCL should just weigh the exciting possibilities for further engagement with the community against the ways in which open source programming design like this can make for a messier interface for users. Of course, as with any kind of community engagement, the messiness is often an essential part of the process when facilitating authentic communications amongst a large group of people.
      One system we read about that I think could work for the SCL’s digital archive is the combination of these user-generated tags and administrator-generated controlled vocabularies. The subject headings we developed through group brainstorming and peer review (which in this case can be considered a “controlled vocabulary” because they were vetted by a group) can stand alone as ways to guide content (examples include: ‘Los Angeles Police Department” and “Community Engagement”), but users can also add their own tags, which offers a way for them to organize and structure content on the website that makes the most sense to them. This way, users of the site can navigate items via subject headings developed by staff or volunteers in a controlled environment, a generally more tidy, clear system, or tags created by users, which can be more representative of the vernacular or interests of a larger set of public users.

Week 5: Ethical Choices in Archiving

       With our digital archiving project, we’re faced with many ethical decisions, particularly about what artifacts we make accessible, how we make them accessible, and the ways in which we label, classify, and categorize the information we present. Decisions we make regarding which documents go into the archive as pertaining to Watts ‘65 is one way in which our ethical judgment comes into play. Another is in the ways we present this archive digitally (and how we seek to make it accessible via online searching using tags/metadata). Finally, and most relevant to what we’ve been doing this past week, the ways we title, describe, tag, and contribute our assigned artifacts will affect the ways researchers view them in important ways. This is the area in which I’ve been conscious of my decisions and subjective voice in this process, and how it could shape (and potentially damage) the goals of this project.
        One pitfall I’ve been contemplating as I’ve completed my descriptions and tagging metadata is the way in which our voices as complete outsiders to the Watts community can act as unwanted, subjective interpreters and cast the artifacts in a lens that speaks more to our views on these events than those represented in the documents. I’ve tried to keep my descriptions as dry and neutral as possible, using quotes from the documents to convey the writer’s perspective or goal, but I still worry about information overemphasized or left out based on my subjective reading of even these brief texts. While shades of this subjective perspective are inevitable in doing this work, I’ve been ruminating on how our perspectives as academics totally disconnected from this community could create more distance between our raw materials and the people trying to seek them out rather than less.
        As for the work beyond what we’ll complete in class (which, let’s be honest, will be immense, considering our limited time frame), I think the most important aspects to consider are how this archive and these materials are positioned on the web and the degree to which we have represented these materials ‘accurately.’ Tagging and metadata as well as search engine optimization will be key for the first point, and the presence of a “second set of eyes,” especially those of SCL staff or community members, would be the best possible case for the second point. Another way to think about it is considering both the way the archive is discovered and consumed to newcomers or outsiders and how it reflects on the community and events taking place within it.

Week 4: Absence of Women and Limited Black Masculinity in Watts Documentary

     In the December 1965 CBS News Documentary, “Watts – Riots or Revolt?” the absence of black (or white) women reveals the lens with which the producers of the show view the events in Watts and their cause. Through on-air interviews almost exclusively with black men, the documentary contextualizes the Watts community through concerns about masculinity as the foundation of a civil society. The lone interview with a female Watts resident occurs very briefly when Governor Brown speaks to a mother of four about the welfare benefits she receives. The first question he’s shown asking in the clip is “What does your husband do?” She then asserts that she’s caring for the family without a husband and she’d gladly work if she could get a job that could allow her to pay for child care. The clip abruptly cuts to a man standing nearby directing his concerns at the governor, and the issue of employment for Watts women is not discussed again, nor are any female Watts community leaders interviewed within the hour. The presumption from the Governor’s question seems to be that the absence of a male ‘breadwinner’ is at the heart of this woman’s difficulties.
      As Gerald Horne points out, black leaders from the 1930s and 40s, like one of the few female community leaders we read about in Charlotta Bass, had been undercut and severed from Watts by the 1960s, but NOI and other cultural nationalist groups are also noticeably absent from the documentary. Women are largely silenced and absent: I saw two quick shots of a woman looking frightened with her hands up when police have pulled her and others out of the car and another woman whom police told to drop her purse before raising her hands, but neither woman is not heard. Also noticeably silent and absent are any legitimized depictions of black masculinity in contrast to the straight-laced, suit-and-tie, hyperrational masculinity exemplified by the host, Bill Stout. The frustrated mother of four is the only black women heard, and all black men interviewed are either community leaders, academics, and the lone journalist Robert Richardson, and all of these men conform to this narrow conception of a civil, “refined,” almost academic masculinity in dress shirts and pants, mostly in suits and ties. Black men shown are largely either community leaders calling for nonviolence and to keep the streets clear (like Martin Luther King and H.H. Brookins, the reverend who runs the chaotic community meeting in which the boy calls for the riots to continue in white neighborhoods and then speaks to the interviewers after a meeting with the deputy police chief), or, in contrast, individual black men without formal dress expressing largely impotent resentment and frustration (like the man who yearns for the television and other possessions people outside his community possess) or all out hatred bred from petty grievances (like the unidentified young man who describes how he firebombed different stores and hates the Jewish store owners on the block).
      The Watts community is depicted as either civil, rational men who mostly dress and speak like the host, or as disenfranchised, frustrated individual men who lack this agency granted by formal dress and speech. Even those who speak for the community compassionately, like Robert Richardson and the young Rhodes Scholar in law school, still appear in more formal dress to represent and explain the difficulties of their community (with Richardson calling out the only example of disrespect toward black women in Watts with his comment about housewives being mistaken for whores by police). No legitimate black nationalist, class-conscious, or feminist viewpoints are represented, only that of Daniel Moynihan, the white asst. Secretary of Labor who asserts that the “great humiliation of Jim Crow was a brutal assault on the personal integrity of the Negro male,” who took “the brunt of” this humiliation. Moynihan is given the most screen time of anyone other than Police Chief Parker, and his assertion about the economic frustration of the Watts community being felt principly as an emasculation of black men permeates the structure and voices represented in the documentary.

Week 4: Digital platforms in the classroom, Twitter as a Resource, and more resources

1.     I’d like to discuss 2 digital platforms, Facebook and Google Classroom. Both have their limitations in regards to scholarly work, but both provide unique collaborative opportunities inside and outside the context of a class.
       Facebook is the only social media platform I frequent, and while I periodically lament the hours I spend aimlessly scrolling, I’ve come to realize that, through the culling and collating of my own preferences over time, my feed has become largely a content aggregator for articles surrounding teaching, education policy, race/class/gender, public policy, and politics. Over time, I’ve opened, responded to, and liked many links posted by a small number of friends relating to these issues that are important to me, and so, because these handful of people are actively reading and posting things everyday, these types of linked articles are my main interface with Facebook (with the occasional cat picture, hah). I’m not visiting the New York Times homepage or reading NCTE or MLA journals with any regularity, so Facebook has become my primary source of news and professional, personal development. As a member of one or two private groups and group message chains, I think Facebook can also be an informal place for like-minded individuals to share and receive feedback (in varying degrees of depth) on scholarly work discovered, created, or in the process of being created. An English cohort member at LMU and published poet uses group messages to share new poems and get feedback, and I think something similar could work among academic working on research as well.
       Google Classroom is a tool I mostly use as a basic class blog upon which I can post and collect homework as well as share resources, handouts, and notes from class. However, I’ve heard about several colleagues at my school using it in more innovative, intriguing ways to engage students. One teacher posts discussion questions to students on the ‘feed’ in class, which he projects onto the wall. Students discuss prompts with their partner and then posts their response (and often questions related to the reading) to the discussion thread, which then becomes visible to the whole class. The teacher can then choose questions from the thread, and students can see the ideas and questions that are most common among their peers, making connections and also giving them the sense that they weren’t alone in their opinions or confusion regarding a text. Another teacher does this open forum before class, similar to the way these blog posts function for this class. She gives students the option to both generate and respond to posts on the first run, which, for many of her senior students in their first honors class, allows them to observe the level of discourse and learn from the model provided by other student’s responses regarding symbolism, literary analysis, etc. This teacher mentioned that the Classroom has a very user-friendly mobile platform, so when she posts both pdfs and the prompt there, she finds better student engagement because students can do their reading, check over the discussion threads, and even add their comments while waiting for the bus, in their carpools, after soccer practice, etc. For this teacher, these threads have guided the course of her instruction and in-class discussion the next day, just as they have in this class.

2. I found the syllabus and resources for several of course that took place at HILT, especially the De/Post/Colonial Digital Humanities Course, to be quite helpful as jumping off points for more scholarship in the various hybrid fields this class in particular covers, largely dealing with the intersection of digital spaces and postcolonial discourse. The syllabus provides many examples of other digital archives for students to peruse, providing many examples for us to observe strengths and limitations of the medium and how we can improve on these models for our own archive. I also really enjoyed a link to an article in the Digital Pedagogy Lab by Jesse Stommel called “The Twitter Essay,” focusing on a great activity that allows students in a first year writing/rhetorical arts course to both sharpen and condense argument with precise language, but also remove the stigma of ‘text talk’ and twitter syntax as uncouth or immoral forms of discourse.  Since I’m still struggling to navigate twitter’s interface, the curated slides of Lee Skallerup’s Storify of the conference was very helpful for me, a ‘cheat sheet’ to navigate the overall structure of the conference and choose the examples and links that looked most interesting to me.

3. My Best Sources on Digital Humanities Pedagogy – I culled almost all of mine from one issue of CEA Critic dedicated to DH pedagogy and a book of essays called Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles. The items with asterisks were ones I didn’t get a chance to read but still want to.

CEA Critic (Vol. 76, Number 2)
Making the Leap: Incorporating Digital Humanities into the English Classroom– Ann R. Hawkins
Introducing Digital Humanities Pedagogy – Luke A. Iantorno
Listening in on the Conversations: An Overview of Digital Humanities Pedagogy
– E Leigh Bonds
Teaching Attentive Reading and Motivated Writing through Digital Editing – Amanda Gailey ** 
From Text to Tags: The Digital Humanities in an Introductory Literature Course
– Sarah H. Ficke
Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Hitting the Wall and Bouncing Back – Maura Ives

Week 2: Lesson Plan – Google, Hegemony, Systemic Bias

Library of Congress Category: Information Resources, subclass ZA – either Information Superhighway (!), Electronic Information Resources, or Computer Network Resources

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
suggested: search engines, hegemony, neo-liberalism, computer algorithms (all 4 found!)

Week 1 Prompts

1.     It was at first difficult for me to connect with the arc of Coleman’s narrative, mostly for the reasons Melanie outlined with Rob Nixon’s concept of “slow violence:” since Coleman’s “rage was a lifetime deep,” it took describing various, at times disjointed life events and observations to articulate the pain she accrued over decades in Watts (248). The easier story to digest is one of simply a few days of chaos and flames. On a second read, I was struck by the way Coleman structured the arc of this slow violence that I thought could be relevant to how we choose to structure our collection/project.
        She laid out how interpersonal and systemic iterations of racism slowly worked their way into her consciousness. As a young child, she was first struck by the personal, immediate effects of this violence, teachers giving preferential treatment to the white peers who called her “nigger” on the playground, while the concept of racism itself was somewhat beyond her, “amorphous, eluding [her] preadolescent expression” (249). Then, as a wave of disaffected Texan and Southern African Americans enveloped her class, she became overwhelmed by the “ignorance and race hate that smothered [her] love of learning” (250). After she begins to understand how these feelings impact a larger group beyond the individual, her understanding of the ‘slow violence’ moves to the systemic as she notices how funding is cut from her school and “Calculus, Greek, Latin, and Journalism were among the classes that disappeared from the curriculum” (254). Her description of Watts ‘65 is surprisingly brief, focused more on her personal upheaval and newfound expression than any attention-grabbing headline events. Her chronicling of slow violence evolves on the next page as she graduates from observations about her school system to South LA as a whole, observing widespread “economic disparity -as the unresolved issues of redlining, police brutality, poverty, and drugs continued to fester, and new, more voracious, youth gangs sprang from the asphalt” (255). We gain a broader and more nuanced understanding of the slow violence attending her community through Coleman’s evolution and broadening of scope over years of life experience.
      I thought this move could be instructive for structuring a type of narrative or frame within our project: moving from personal understanding, out to understanding of group and small systems, then out to the broader political and socio-economic factors at play in Watts ‘65. Perhaps we could start with stories from ‘65 or current day like Anthony’s and Kevin’s, ones of specific personal struggles under the weight of slow, systemic, even bureaucratic violence, then zooming out to glimpse the larger systems at work which produce this slow violence? Just a thought.

2.     As far as the mechanics of Hartman’s project to link a “counter history” of past events or individuals to a “history of the present,” I think it’s important to consider the questions she raises early on about enacting any kind of narrative structure around past events separate from the often sinister narrative of the archive that is intertwined with the “play of power” that in this case “murdered Venus and her shipmate and exonerated the captain” (10-11). Is crafting a narrative “its own gift and its own end” and when we do craft it, is it “for us or for them” (3)? This kind of critical self-reflection is key when enacting this kind of counter history using the tools of narrative. Hartman does stress emphatically that her intent is “not to give voice to the slave” but to advance “a series of speculative arguments…in fashioning a narrative, which is based on…a critical reading of the archive” based on the narrative structures and “figurative dimensions of history” (12, 11). This seems to involve an imaginative reconceptualization of her murdered Venus, what Amirhossein Vafa calls a “proleptic narrative,” in which one imagines what could have been possible had a subaltern voice not been silenced or made object (39). Hartman stresses that her narrative is instructive in creating the space for discussion regarding the silencing of this theoretical narrative, noting that she “intended both to tell an impossible story and to amplify the impossibility of its telling.” (11)
        The mechanics and applications of this counter history were frankly a little unclear to me. In a particularly academic way, at least to me, Hartman provides a lengthy preamble, justification, dissection, defense, and partial dismissal of her own imagining of a life for Venus. After composing it, she had to admit that all she really wanted was to console herself and “escape the slave hold with a vision of something other than the bodies of two girls settling on the floor of the Atlantic” (9). However, at the same time, she wonders out loud if “by retreating from the story of these two girls, was I simply upholding the rules of the historical guild and the ‘manufactured certainties’ of their killers, and by doing so, hadn’t I sealed their fate?” (10). After further mining the depths of her doubts, Hartman settles on this consolation, which seems to provide the most appropriate framework for enacting a narrative like this: “If this story of Venus has any value at all it is in illuminating the way in which our age is tethered to hers” since for her “a history of the present strives to illuminate the intimacy of our experience with the lives our now as it is interrupted by” or, at the very least, informed by “this past” (13, 4). In constructing this imagined past, Hartman seeks to speak to the violence, the erasure of black female voices both in our past and in our present. If by providing all of that context, she can clarify the goals of such an endeavor, it can (perhaps) rise above the status of fantasy or wish fulfillment for her audience.