Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Black Studies and Second Life

AALCI Fellows in Virtual Harlem on Second Life
 Last week, my crew from the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute spent more time on Second Life with the literature professor and tech wizard Bryan Carter adjusting our new avatars and exploring this 3D virtual world. There were about 10 of us, a small group on the one hand, but then again, I figured that it was fairly rare to have so many African American Studies scholars moving around together in Virtual Harlem and Virtual Montmarte.

So I gathered the group in front of one of the museums and took a snapshot. I had actually made the request for folks to pose for a group photo the day before, but everyone - except Carter - had adamantly refused until they had updated the look of their avatars. (Oh, my, my, my: the stories I could tell about my folks' concern with their physical appearance and fashion attire on Second Life.).

For some reason or another, there has been relatively little talk about how black studies scholars might extend learning and teaching possibilities by using a virtual world like Second Life. Similarly, scholars of African American literature have hardly been at the forefront of conversations about the implications of using virtual spaces to study and teach the works of major authors.

Of course Bryan Carter has provided one extensive model for what's possible. His creation and maintenance of Virtual Harlem and Virtual Motmarte, the well-known area in Paris, for instance, and his use of the spaces for teaching his classes represent a remarkable example of showcasing African American thought, literary art, and geographic and cultural space in a virtual world. Over the years, Professor Carter has been convening his African American literature courses as well as his composition classes in Virtual Harlem. Each semester, he arranges class sessions with his students and the students of some of his colleagues from France and Sweden.

AALCI Fellows with Prof. Carter in classroom in Virtual Montmarte

Professor Carter's work on Second Life is exceptional in our fields--Black Studies and African American literature. However, there are an increasing number of tech-savvy established and rising African American literary and black studies scholars out there. Perhaps the work that they've produced and will produce can assist us in enhancing, if not expanding, our understanding about the convergence of race and technology.

Imagine a Frederick Douglass avatar on Second Life listening to Robert Hayden and Paul Laurence Dunbar avatars reading their well-known sonnets about Douglass. And then, consider that Douglass avatar performing Dudley Randall's "Frederick Douglass and the Slave Breaker" and Evie Shockley's poem "(mis)takes one to know one," both of which contain segments from imagined first-person perspectives of Douglass. Of course, those scenarios rest largely on my own interest in the convergence of black studies, history, and poetry.

There are certainly all kinds of possibilities. Hopefully, in the coming months and years, those of us interested in black studies and African American literature can do more to sketch out more of our ideas and report on what we discover related to our varied uses of technology.

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