Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A photo-review of arts & humanities programming (Fall 2017)

This semester, our Fall 2017 programming included poetry readings, a conference for high school black girls, various Public Thinking events, an online reading group, various exhibits, and an after-school digital humanities club. Here's a photo-review of our activities. (Click on the captions below each image for additional information about the projects).

Public Thinking Event: How universities respond to racial incidents (September 20)

Black Student Union Demonstration (September 21)

A Digital look at postcards from the Andrew J. Theising Collection (September 26)

William J. Harris discusses Amiri Baraka for the St. Louis Book Club

Phil Dunlap, Director of Education and Community Outreach for Jazz St. Louis and Gerald Early prepare for presentation by William J. Harris. 

Last night, I sat in on the Jazz St. Louis Book Club, a monthly discussion group hosted by Gerald Early, Merle King Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University. The group was discussing Amiri Baraka's Blues People (1963), but I was mainly attending because I heard at the last minute that my former professor William J. Harris would be the special guest. The group arranged to have Professor Harris, who lives in Brooklyn, offer comments via Skype.

I've known Professor Harris for about 18 years now, and we've talked about a wide range of subjects, like jazz, poetry, various books, and black history and culture in general. The subject of Baraka and his work has persisted through all of that. So how could I pass up a chance to hear him discussing one of Baraka's many key works here in St. Louis?

The discussion went really well. Before calling Professor Harris, there were some general comments about the book. Professor Early said that he first read Blues People in high school, and he noted that he remembered seeing the book advertised in the back pages of the magazines Liberator and Freedomways. He noted that his older sisters were involved with SNCC, so he was aware that everyone "in the Civil Rights crowd" had read the book as well.

I was fascinated by the idea that a common couple of African American magazines were where people heard of new books. I wondered what the presence or absence of such sources might mean for the high school and college students I work with now. I also wondered what "crowd" might influence what those young people are reading and thinking about these days. And too, I wondered what books they might look back on published 50 and 30 and 15 years ago.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Digital Humanities Club: Week 12

On December 6, we wrapped up our semester of activities with our East St. Louis Digital Humanities club. We closed the session by having the students reflect on their experiences. We also gifted the students with books.

Over the course of the semester, we've had a good time talking about and working with technology, especially utilizing Audacity. The high school students were really invested in producing audio mixes. We concentrated on blending excerpts of poetry with instrumentals.

Each of the college student team leaders spent some time talking with one or two of the high school students about their thoughts about the first semester. The team leaders reported to me later that the conversations went well and that the high school students expressed really enjoying themselves during the program.

I want to push a little harder though. I'm glad that the students like the program, but I still see areas for improvement that I hope to address moving forward. Having said that, we've come a long way from where the program began. There's been steady development and incremental growth.

I was pleased to be in a position to give away books to the students. I allowed them to choose a couple of books, and I asked them to discuss with our group why they chose what they chose.

The most important part of the session was listening to them reveal that they rarely have quiet moments during the day to discuss their interests and ideas concerning reading materials. I took a note to my self that I'll make sure quiet moments for reflections are embedded in our weekly meetings next semester.

Week #12 reflection from graduate student, Rae'Jean Spears:
Twelve weeks of the East St. Louis project have come and gone. Throughout all of the changes with the Digital Humanities Club over the semester, the experience has proved to be a great one. From working with students who thought technology was “boring” or “only for men” during week one of the club to having students excited about coming back from winter break to continue working with audio editing speaks volumes within itself. From the excitement conveyed through the students, I can only wonder if we’ve begun to cultivate one of the creative geniuses of the future.
The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club

James Baldwin and Google Scholar Citation Rates

By Kenton Rambsy

On Wednesday, December 6, I led the first of a 3-part class on James Baldwin at the Dallas Institute. In this first course, I gave participants an overview of the life and works of James Baldwin and also focused on numerical data related to citations in order to demonstrate the importance of literary criticism and the extent to which we can track references in a digital world.

I introduced attendees to Nathaniel Conroy’s Metacanon, which is an interactive canon generator that acts as an alternative to the “Greatest Books of All Time” lists by measuring “the extent to which a particular work has been the object of scrutiny by scholars and awards committees.” On the first day, I also shared some findings with class attendees from Google Scholar about citation rates.

Even though Metacanon takes more factors into consideration with its rankings, Google Scholar still acts as a central repository that collects a large amount of data on the citations of a given work. We used the information from the site to identify which of Baldwin’s works have received the most citations and to guide our conversation about his life’s works. Similar to Metacanon, we used Google Scholar to approximate his literary significance and gauge the extent to which critics engage his work.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rae’Jean Spears: Notes on the first semester

Graduate student Rae'Jean Spears facilitates conversation at conference for high school black girls, October 2017.

My lead graduate student Rae’Jean Spears has just finished her first semester here in the department of English. In addition to pursuing her formal studies, she’s been an integral contributor to various programming projects.

Rae’Jean is a 2017 graduate of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where she majored in English and was a UNCF/Mellon Fellow. This semester, she has taken three graduate courses: "Modern Literary Theory" with Professor Heather Johnson, "Black Diasporic Feminisms" with Professor Elizabeth Cali, and "Gender, Language, and Pedagogy" with Anushiya Ramaswamy.

Rae’Jean explained that her first semester of graduate school "has been one of the most academically challenging semesters of my life; but, I've learned more about myself as a scholar than ever before. I'm excited to see how I'll grow over the next few years."

Rae'Jean discusses writing and tutoring with class of first-year black men, August 2017

As part of her graduate assistantship, Rae’Jean has served as the writing tutor for students in a program at the university for first-year black men and black women. Of course, she has offered the students advice well beyond writing instruction. In many cases, she has served as a big sister of sorts, hence we refer to as “the” sister-scholar.

"While my academic studies are fulfilling,” Rae’Jean said, “getting to mentor the students, especially the young women, is an added bonus. Being one of the only black women they see at a PWI, I realize how important my presence is and take pride in being afforded the opportunity to build relationships with them."

The other part of Rae’Jean’s GA has involved her assisting me with various projects this semester. For one, she was a chaperon for undergraduates on a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She also served as a facilitator during a conference for high school black girls. Working with the high school students, she said, "reminded me why I am in graduate school and why my voice will be an important one."

High school student (left), Rae'Jean Spears (center), and undergraduate student Amelia Williams talk during East St. Louis Digital Humanities club, September 2017  

Each Wednesday during the course of the semester, Rae’Jean worked with an after-school program -- the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club -- on technology for high school students. She collaborated with undergraduates, and she produced a series of weekly reflections. Furthermore, Rae’Jean assisted me with a reading/study group for high school students focusing on comic books. We read Noble #1 - #4 with some of the students and Superb #1 - #4 with another group.

"I would use one word to describe my semester at SIUE," said Rae’Jean, "growth." She went on to explain that, "Everything from being in a class as the only black person to working in an office for all black students, has challenged me and encouraged me to grow in both my own scholarly ideas and overall life goals. I'm convinced that the things that I have learned in just 4 months couldn't have been learned elsewhere, and I look forward to see what the rest of my time here will bring."

Rae'Jean discusses technology with high student during East St. Louis Digital Humanities club, November 2017

Rae'Jean Spears: the critical facilitator and conversationalist

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Digital East St. Louis showcase

Today was the closing event for "Digital East St. Louis" (well, at least one version of the program, which began with middle school students). “Digital East St. Louis” was a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project designed to implement place-based learning with the purpose of increasing interest in STEM among African American students.

[Related: Project website]

The showcase gave the middle school students opportunities to discuss the projects that they have been working on for a few years now. Various people attended, including several students from some of my college courses.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Black Graduation Ceremony Fall 2017

On December 4, my colleagues Kelly Jo Karnes, Earleen Patterson, and I organized the black graduation fall ceremony for upcoming graduates at SIUE. Similar to the spring 2017 event and the spring 2016 one, the event went really well.

Undergraduate Derric Roberts gave student remarks. Kathryn Bentley, for Theater and Dance, gave a lively and powerful keynote address.

The photos are by SIUE university photographer Howard Ash.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Coverage on another, different run of the Black Panther

Like almost everyone else, I'm looking forward to the Black Panther film in February. But I have to say that I am just as excited about another, different run of the title. Writer Evan Narcisse is going to have a run on the early years of T'Challa, who's widely known now as Black Panther. I've followed Narcisse's commentary for some time now, so I'm intrigued, actually, excited to see his work in an alternative context.

How often do you get to read the artistic work of a knowledgeable black comic book critic? Rarely, if ever. And as an added bonus, he's writing on Black Panther?

The artwork is by Paul Renaud.

Here's a roundup of some of the coverage on the lead up to his debut. More to come, of course.

• December 8: Rise of the Black Panther: Rise and Shine - Dominic Griffin - Marvel
• December 5: T'Challa 101: A Rise of the Black Panther Sketchbook - TJ Dietsch - Marvel
• November 6: Evan Narcisse Speaks On Rise Of The Black Panther - FanBros TV - YouTube
• November 6: Black Panther Prequel teases tension with Captain America - Steve Cherkassky - The Real Stan Lee
• October 11: Rise of the Black Panther - Justin Snyder - Marvel
• October 4: Evan Narcisee is writing Rise of the Black Panther for Marvel - Heidi MacDonald - Comics Beat
• October 4: Marvel Reveals Secrets of Black Panther's Origin in New Comic - Justin Carter - Comic Book Resource
• October 4: Black Panther's Origins Will Be Explored in a New Comic - Rob Bricken - io9
• October 4: Black Panther Prequel Coming From Marvel - Jim Dandy - Den of Geek

• December 5: A Note to Readers - Evan Narcisse - io9

A Notebook on comic books