Thursday, September 21, 2017

Black Student Union Demonstration

Seems like we've been here before, we are again.

Today, members of Black Student Union organized a demonstration in an effort to raise awareness about the inadequate response by university officials to a black student who was the target of a racist slur. This march, like one in 2016 and one in 2015, is part of a continuing effort on behalf of African American students at SIUE to express their concerns.

An early look at Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power

For years to come, scholars will look back on the 8 years of Barack Obama's historic presidency. There's so much to reflect on and consider. I suspect history professors will cover extended units, if not courses, on Obama. I, on the other hand, study and teach courses focusing on black writers and African American literary histories. While Obama's presidency will no doubt come up in my courses, the 8-year run that I plan to devote attention to in my classes involves the work and remarkable reception of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

His book We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy will be released next month. The book includes eight main chapters of Coates's previously published articles in The Atlantic. Those essays are:
2008: "This is How We Lost to the White Man" (about Bill Cosby)
2009: "American Girl" (about Michelle Obama)
2011: "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?"
2011: "The Legacy of Malcolm X"
2012: "Fear of a Black President"
2014: "The Case for Reparations"
2015: "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration"
2017: "My President was Black"
What really stands out about the book, at least for those who'd already read those pieces, are the short, opening reflective articles that precede each of the chapters. Coates looks back and comments on his experiences, thinking, and motivations at the time of composition and publication. The book closes with an epilogue, which was published as "The First White President."

The book, therefore, is a collection of essays and at the same time a mini-memoir of sorts. In the introduction, Coates reflects on a moment when he was out of work and at an unemployment office in 2007. Later in the book, he reflects on having lunch and cordial disagreements with the president at the White House in 2015. What a difference those 8 years were for him.

There's quite a bit along the road from unemployment office to private meetings at the White House. Coates presents extended commentary about the support and encouragement he's received from his wife, Kenyatta. I was especially moved in one passage where he writes, "All I can say is seeing Kenyatta remake herself from liberal arts savant to med student, and doing so in service of her own mission, has been one of the great pleasures of my life."

He writes about his experiences blogging about a variety of topics and studying the Civil War. He writes about the big questions that led him to various stories and about his personal perspectives shaped his work. For me, what was most fascinating was his extended, recurring points about his processes and efforts becoming the black writer he is today.

Pre-publication coverage of Ta-Nehisi Coates's We Were Eight Years in Power
A Notebook on the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

7 Questions Related to Cultural Geo-Tagging

By Kenton Rambsy

Despite the long history and dense population of African Americans living in or near the nation’s capital, the predominately black quadrants of Washington D.C., have a relatively small presence in the scholarship on African American literature. Edward P. Jones’s two collections of short stories provide thorough and expansive depictions of neighbor and cultural landmarks in DC.

In my grad course I’m teaching this semester, Lost in the City, we analyze why Jones’s meticulous city narratives are collectively groundbreaking in the geographic histories of African American short stories.

For years now, I have been trying to utilize Cultural Geo-Tagging as a method to enhance some of my examinations of literature. This process refers to the uses of digital tools to identify, organize, and analyze geographic features of multiple texts. With this approach, my students and I study Edward P. Jones’s short fiction alongside other canonical texts and pinpoint the extent to which Jones is attuned to the landscape of Washington, DC.

Readers interested in cultural geo-tagging might raise the following questions:

1. Is the story set in a real or fictional location?
2. How often and what types of landmarks are mentioned in a given text?
3. How are social spaces such as front porches, blues clubs, and corner stores integrated into a story?
4. How is language used as a geographic marker?
5. What words in the text relate to the actual movements and positioning of characters within the story?
6. How does the geographic descriptions relate to other texts set in similar regions?

Lost in the City: A graduate-level literature course on Edward P. Jones

Haley Reading Group: Bryan Christy’s “Tracking Ivory”

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2016)]

Cynthia A. Campbell

Bryan Christy’s article “Tracking Ivory” focuses on the slaughter of African elephants for their tusks. Christy illuminates the need to follow the route from the initial slaughter of the elephants to the destination of the plundered tusks. Ultimately, the article speaks to Sudan’s complicity in slaughtering elephants and allowing violent militias to trade confiscated ivory for financial and military gain.

Christy’s discussion of the statistics of the number of elephants killed was especially enlightening. At one point, Christy notes that “some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2009 and 2012” (14). This point indicates that there is an alarming possibility that elephants can and/or will become extinct.

After reading Christy’s article, what was one point concerning the plight of African elephants that caught your attention? Why was that point or passage important to you? Please provide a page number citation.

Fall 2017--Haley Reading Group: Best American Science and Nature Writing (2016)

This semester, one of our Haley Reading Groups will cover The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2016) edited by Amy Stewart. Our other reading group will cover The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015).

September 20: Bryan Christy “Tracking Ivory” (3-19)
October 4: Helene Cooper “They Helped Erase Ebola in Liberia.” (20-24)
October 18: Rose Eveleth “Why Are Sports Bras So Terrible” (44-52)
November 1: Antonia Juhasz “Thirty Million Gallons Under the Sea” (101-114)
November 15: Maddie Oatman “Attack of the Killer Bees” (215-221)
November 29: Sarah Maslin Nir “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” (203-214)
December 6: Reflections

Haley Reading Groups

Digital Humanities Club: Week 1

On September 13, we held the first official session of the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club, an after-school program that encourages high school students from East St. Louis to engage in activities related to technology and broaden their perspectives on future career possibilities.

Despite our preparations, we were all a little nervous because the bus bringing the students from East St. Louis was a little later than expected. We improvised our scheduled plans though, and all was well when the high school students arrived. We divided into groups, and the students participated in an audio recording exercise and then discussions with the session facilitators/team leaders.

Gaige Crowell, one of our team leaders, observed he was especially pleased with the "high level of interest" in the program among the high school students. "They seemed to be engaged in every task we presented to them and gave thorough feedback during the time that they were there," he said.

"I enjoyed working with the high school students and receiving their feedback on the Audio Scavenger Hunt," said team leader Amelia Williams. "I appreciated hearing their different perspectives/opinions to the questions."

Tiara Perkins gave some consideration to improvements moving forward. "One thing I'll do different next time is to give the high schoolers a detailed run down of what we'll be doing for the day so they are aware," she said. "I will do this because I feel as if they know what is going on they will feel more involved and take it serious." Team leader Jayla Howard said she is giving thought to "how can we get the high school students to engage and open up more."

Week #1 reflection from graduate student, Rae'Jean Spears:
Our first session with the students for the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club was great. We completed an audio scavenger hunt where the students were given the opportunity to learn new skills with using audio recorders. I really enjoyed how the students immediately tried to add their creativity to the activity by suggesting other questions that they could add to the list. I'm interested to see how they will continue to use their voices in offering suggestions and creative input throughout the semester.
The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club

Digital Humanities Club: Preparation weeks

On August 30, we held our first official preparation meeting of the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club concentrating on preparation. Our four undergraduates and graduate student session facilitators (also known as team leaders) discussed the overall parameters of project.

On September 6, we held our second preparation meeting. We discussed the schedule of activities for our first session. The team leaders made suggestions about what activities to keep in and what to remove.

The challenge was figuring out how to include enough materials to keep the students engaged, but not too much given our time constraints. The challenge was also an opportunity. We got a chance to think about about what we really wanted to prioritize during the time we would have with the high school students.  

East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club

The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club

This semester, I'm working with a new program, the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club. The members of the club, or better yet, the production team, are high school students from East St. Louis, though many of our sessions take place at on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Four undergraduate students and a graduate student facilitate the sessions.

One overall goal of the project is to increase interest among African American students in projects and careers that involve technology. To do that, we'll involve them in a series of projects. For the next few months, we are working with the students on audio production.

Summaries of activities:
Preparation weeks
• Week 1

This after-school DH club is an outgrowth of our larger Digital East St. Louis, a collaborative project between SIUE's STEM Center and the IRIS Center for the Digital Humanities. The project is supported by a National Science Foundation ITEST grant. The project is directed by STEM Center director Sharon Locke, and involves Jessica DeSpain, Liza Cummings, Georgia Bracey, and Matthew Johnson.

Notebook on Digital East St. Louis