Here at AMS :: ATX, we’re – perhaps not surprisingly – huge fans of academic projects that engage with the digital realm in meaningful ways. We’re particularly excited by projects like the Archive of Childhood, which we featured last week, and other digital archives like these (among myriad others, naturally). Public access, multimedia, and interactivity all open up possibilities for innovation in research.
But what about digital academic work of a different sort – those that blend the creative and the scholarly on a digital platform?
One graduate seminar held this fall at UT had a chance to experiment with creating a digital scholarly and artistic project as a class assignment. Randy Lewis’s “Documenting America” class was charged with the task of creating a collaborative, interactive documentary project using the Tumblr platform. The topic? The end of Austin.
Here’s what Randy had to say about the project’s inception and its future possibilities:
Our seminar on documentary had looked at cinematic “city symphonies” from the 1920s like Berlin and Rain, and I wondered if we could track a particular thread through the landscape of Austin. All I came up with was the thread—the idea of “endings” that evokes borders, walls, boundaries, eras, nostalgia, death—and the rest reflects the talents of grad students working within a tight schedule of 7 days.
Students, especially grad students, work very hard each semester, but relatively little of their work appears “on view” anywhere public. So we all liked the idea of something enduring beyond the fall semester, rather than going into a file cabinet, and Tumblr provided a public, permanent location that could accommodate writing, photos, sound files, and video equally well. We could even add to it in future semesters, and in that way have a “living project” for years to come.
Each student contributed one (or more) pieces to the site in a wide variety of forms: sound, image, text, video, and considered the questions from any number of angles – the end of place, the end of time, the end of culture, the end of living.
So take a look here at the END OF AUSTIN – explore and engage with how this class imagined our swelling city’s possible, eventual, inevitable decline. And, of course, keep checking back for more.
Lest we end on a bummer of a postapocalyptic note, though, it’s worth noting that projects like this might point to a new future for creative and scholarly work. The lasting and public frontier of the digital world has the potential to breathe new life into traditional scholarship in academia and into documentary production.
Ultimately, as Randy notes, American Studies is a perfect place for experiments like this to begin: “Creating a site like this seems like the next step for fields like American Studies: it invites scholarship, art, and the wider public all to the same party.”