Announcement: ‘The End of Austin,’ Digital Humanities Project, Now Live

teoa launch poster centered

Back in October 2012, we posted a call for contributors to The End of Austin, a digital humanities project spearheaded by American Studies faculty member Dr. Randy Lewis and a small group of graduate students. We’re pleased to share the news today that the site has officially launched with sixteen fascinating submissions from movers and shakers in the Austin community.

At once a testament to the city’s seductive appeal and its anxious growth, The End of Austin addresses our perpetual concern with Austin’s past and present. Says Lewis, “Austinites are always afraid of losing what we love about the city: the vibe of a particular neighborhood, the murmur of the so-called creative class, the beauty and health of Barton Springs. The end of Austin, or at least some beloved facet of it, always seems around the corner.” The stories about these endings told at The End of Austin take the form of a variety of media: music, photography, fiction, nonfiction, sound, animation, and everything in between.

Carrie Andersen, a doctoral student in the department and member of the editorial board, notes, “Compared to other places I’ve lived in within the past ten years, Austin is remarkably and self-consciously lovely, weird, and anxious about its morphing identity, so I’ve been thrilled to learn more about the city through the work of residents past and present. And it’s so exciting that so many rich and evocative stories have found their home at The End of Austin, particularly since a central goal was to provide an open and accessible space for different forms of creative expression.”

This multi-faceted collage of Austin life has also provided a space for experimenting in creative work beyond the scope of traditional academic scholarship. Sean Cashbaugh, a doctoral student in the American Studies department and member of the editorial board, notes, “For me, The End of Austin was an opportunity to do some important creative and intellectual work in a space outside traditional academic venues, ones that are becoming increasingly important.  In this project, we’ve been able to bring ideas and people together that otherwise might never have come into contact with one another. I think that will let us talk about things like urban identity, politics and creativity, and of course Austin’s end, in a new way, one that avoids the cliche nostalgia conversations like these often evoke and depend upon. Publishing online is a key part of this:  as a digital humanities project, we can reach a large audience, meaning the discussion we’re having here can spread throughout Austin and beyond the city itself, incorporating other voices and hopefully jump-starting new conversations and projects.”

Take a look at these stories and voices at endofaustin.com, and feel free to share your own stories in the comments there, too.

Read This: Rebecca Onion Blogs for Slate

Here at AMS::ATX we love blogs (obviously) and we love our UT AMS Ph.D. students (naturally).  So we couldn’t be happier to announce that our very own Rebecca Onion, who recently defended her dissertation entitled How Science Became Child’s Play: Science and the Culture of American Childhood, 1900-1980, has recently launched a blog on Slate.com called The Vault.

Published by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

This description of the blog comes our way from Rebecca:

I’m now running a blog on Slate.com, called The Vault. I post one interesting historical document or object every day, most of which will come from archives, special collections, and museums.

The idea is to showcase stuff that jumps out of the historical record. These are the kinds of documents that made me laugh out loud, cringe, or become unexpectedly sad while doing archival research for my dissertation. Examples thus far: a “lab technician” microscope set for girls from 1958; a photograph of a Better Baby contest winner from 1910; a memo from one of Nixon’s aides in which he suggests alternative names for the space shuttle program.

It’s been great fun to hear back from readers about the posts; I love feeling like I have an audience with which to share my weird enthusiasm for research.

If anyone has interesting documents or objects that deserve inclusion, by all means, get in touch. And follow @SlateVault on Twitter, or like Slate’s The Vault Blog on Facebook, to get notifications of posts as they run.

Flow Conference this Week

This week marks the fourth biennial Flow Conference, put on by the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin.

This just in from the Flow Conference staff:

The 2012 Flow Conference staff is pleased to invite you to the fourth biennial Flow Conference, a critical forum on television and media culture.  The conference will be held Thursday, November 1st to Saturday, November 3rd at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.

The Flow Conference is hosted by the graduate students and faculty of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin.  The conference is comprised of a series of roundtable discussions addressing the future of television and media culture and scholarship.  The goal of the Flow Conference is conversation; there are no traditional panels, papers or plenary sessions.  Instead each roundtable is organized around a compelling question regarding television and media culture.  We have invited columnists from the FlowTV journal to propose these organizing questions to which scholars, practitioners, journalists, and other members of the public have proposed responses.

Attendees are also invited to attend the conference screening and opening reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum (Friday, November 2nd, 6-10:30pm), as well as the closing party at the Dog and Duck Pub (Saturday, November 3rd, 5-8pm).

Registration is free for all UT students and faculty.  Walk-in registrants welcome.

Conference response papers and a full schedule of conference events are available on the conference website:  http://www.flowtv.org/conference/overview/.

Hope to see ya’ll there!

Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis on Unplugging at Flow

Plug
Dr. Randy Lewis has a new piece over at Flow that questions why it is so difficult to imagine unplugging from the constant buzz of electronics that characterizes modern life:

Yet… are we not curious about how it would feel to experience the “great unplugging”? Would we relish the ensuing silence as we restore the old ways of communicating and connecting with one another? Or would we lapse into a languorous funk without Google and HBOAvatar and Annoying Orange? Would we feel permanently stuck in the isolation tank of our own boredom, marooned with the hideousness of our own organic thoughts? Would we start sketching the “Real Housewives” on the walls of our condos in crayon, breathlessly narrating their erotic adventures like an ancient bards singing the tale Odysseus and the sirens? Would we pine for our iPhones, laptops, and flatscreen TVs like postmodern amputees cursing the loss of our cyborg appendages? Would we grieve for our machines?

Probably. But what fascinates me is how loathe we are to even imagine this scenario. We are increasingly unwilling to contemplate the absence of the various screens that convey so much of our entertainment, sociality, and labor. Like Francis Fukuyama’s Cold War “End of History” argument in which capitalism’s apparent triumph over socialism foreclosed any discussion of alternatives, the new media juggernaut is so powerful that it has blotted out our ability to imagine anything else. We are all hopeless screenagers now.

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Grad Research: JFK, Reality, and Mediation at the Sixth Floor Museum

I probably don’t have to tell you that Austin is a vibrant, exciting place to live and work: with a killer live music scene, ubiquitous tacos, and barbecue that’ll make you weak in the knees, it certainly ranks near the top of my favorite cities in America list.

That said, one of the benefits of living in Austin has also been having opportunities to explore other parts of Texas, from Marfa to Houston. This past weekend, I decided to venture out of the Austin city limits to Dallas, a city I had only ever experienced through way too many layovers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Though Dallas has its share of tourist destinations, my motivation was research-related. At the moment, I’m knee-deep in my Master’s Report, which explores representations of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in two video games, and how their odd, perhaps ethically questionable gamification of the event – an incredibly traumatic moment in American history – reconfigures and negotiates our understanding of history and politics. What kind of residue is left in our historical memory if we play these games? What do they do to our imaginations of power, official state accounts of history, our ability to interact with history and meaning-making? How do we understand history if we only experience it virtually?

But to me, a 25-year old, Kennedy’s assassination always felt remote, a moment in a textbook rather than a lived, traumatic experience. So I embarked on a journey to the place where it happened, to make it feel as real as it probably could to someone who was never there: Dealey Plaza, and the Texas State Book Depository, now a museum dedicated to Kennedy and the assassination.

Placard on the museum's exterior (click to enlarge; photo by author)

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American Studies and Occupy Wall Street

Since September 17, a large group of protesters has been convening in New York City’s Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street district to express their dissatisfaction with America’s financial system, corporate greed, and economic inequality.  Similar protests have sprung up in hundreds of cities worldwide (Austin included, naturally). Because these protests have been so widespread, we’re likely seeing the birth of a lasting social movement, one that will potentially have substantial political consequences. This is an important moment.

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Grad Research: War Documentaries and [Un]realism

Last April, in preparation for a summer job doing research for a film, I watched several documentary films that I had neglected seeing for too long (I blame my perpetually-growing Netflix queue).

Two of the many films that grabbed me among the several I watched were remarkably similar in content, at least at first glance: Restrepo and Armadillo are two recent documentaries that follow troops in Afghanistan as they negotiate hostile territory. The former highlights American soldiers; the latter, British and Danish.

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Similar subject matter aside, though, the two films present war in starkly different ways. Here, I write about how they treat formal realism, authenticity, and communicating an experience that, ultimately, cannot be communicated:

‘Armadillo,’ though, does not traffic in the same  kind of emotional candor or proximity as ‘Restrepo.’ We see no interviews with any soldiers; the soldiers do not break the fourth wall to engage in a candid dialogue with the filmmakers (and, by proxy, the audience). Though we catch glimpses of their lives beyond the adrenaline fog of the battlefield – in Denmark, with their families – we never see them surmount the pressures of those surroundings. Whatever emotions they express are completely mediated by place and the expectations that those places confer upon soldiers, and the places that we are invited to weigh heavily. They choke expression.

We’re distanced from the narrative aesthetically, too. Where ‘Restrepo’ was gritty and raw in its representation of life in the Korengal Valley, ‘Armadillo’ offers a slicker vision. The camera shots are steadier, no dirt obscures the lenses, noises and speech sound as if they were retouched and enhanced in post-production (and perhaps they were). It looks, sounds, and feels like a scripted movie.

This isn’t to suggest that ‘Restrepo’ is more realistic or authentic, and thus better, than ‘Armadillo.’ The two accomplish different goals, both valuable and germane in considering the modern experience of war and its fallout…

Read the full post exploring Restrepo and Armadillo, including clips from both films, here.