Blog Post

Losing a Team Member, Gaining a Colleague: Thanks, Mark Olson!

Today is a momentous day for HASTAC. Like this lovely image posted by Flickr community member "Mashunya," it's a sunset, it's a sunrise, the end of one chapter, the beginning of another. (And, below it, and a bit less lugubrious: Mark, Melissa, and Noah in the DIVE, all Bespeckled and Virtual Reality'd, a different version of the Great Tomorrow!).

This week, Mark Olson, who's been part of the HASTAC team since before there even was a HASTAC, will be leaving us in order to be a faculty member in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies. He has successfully defended his dissertation, and the Department has voted on an appointment for him. Since I spent the year working on his "exit paperwork," I know that this almost never happens at Duke, hiring one's own, promoting from "administrator" ranks to faculty rank. It almost never happens anywhere. It is a sign of how hugely Mark is appreciated that he has been offered this position by faculty in the Art Department.

This week, we lose a HASTAC team member in the central HASTAC staff. This week, I have the great, good fortune to gain an invaluable and enormously valued (cherished, more accurately) new faculty colleague.

You have to understand that Mark first started as the Associate Director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. He contacted me after we advertised this position, and said he wanted to step out from his straight-arrow career path getting a Ph.D. in cultural studies with the eminent scholar Lawrence Grossberg, a distinguished professor in the Department of Communications and Director of the Program in Cultural Studies (one of the finest anywhere) at the University of North Carolina. Mark was interested in not writing a dissertation for a while and, instead, mining his other talents, as a visionary and a practitioner in the world of the Internet and social networking (a concept that really didn't exist in 1998). I was the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies then and, along with Dean Karla F. C. Holloway, had an idea for a new model of humanities center, where theory was central and so was social activism: it would be named, after all, for JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN and what more would one expect? Well, one thing more. We wanted this to be a humanities institute not for the Nineties, which were almost over, but for the Twenty-First Century. So cutting-edge communication technologies were central and essential. As is the motto of the larger Franklin Center in which the Franklin Humanities Institute is housed: we were dedicated to the mission that "knowledge should be shared."

(Anyone who thinks our beloved John Hope wouldn't have been interested in technology didn't know John Hope: in a last conversation, in the year before his passing, he told us all that he felt the Internet was the single most important invention in his long 94 years of life because it changed the world, changed the way people communicated, changed the possibilities for how knowledge could be shared.)

Mark Olson got that entirely. He applied for the position as Associate Director of the FHI. Karla and I acted as the founding co-directors. Together we forged a vision. Without Mark, that could not have happened. It was an invaluable, precious partnership.

And it has lasted, through many other projects and multiple permutations, until the present. Indeed, when HASTAC was conceived, in 2002, as a kind of international version of what we had already created together, Mark was there, at our first meeting, on our first Steering Committee, as our first Director of New Media.

Tonight, probably simultaneously with my writing this blog, we aresending the HASTAC Scholars the url for the new beta version of our newwebsite. This afternoon, Mark, Mandy Dailey, and Ruby Sinreich (ournew Director of New Media Strategies), met to think about how the "handoff" would occur, how our final launch of the new site would happen. Without even asking, Mark volunteered to be there to guide the process,to ensure that Ruby would have his history and his guiding hand intothe new launch. Mark isn't exactly a "Whew! That job's over. I'm outa here" kinda guy. He always goes one step further. And he did this time too.

Mark will remain on the HASTAC Steering Committee, so he'll still be a crucial part of HASTAC after he takes faculty rank on July 1. (We're not going to let him go that easily!)

But we also know that, in every moment of HASTAC in the future, there will be some originary impulse and vision of Mark's long history with HASTAC's core team: you cannot think about new technology without helping to develop it, you cannot think about new media without understanding that, crucially, what technologies offer is new ways for all of us to communicate, to collaborate, to learn together. Those things are intertwined in the Information Age, and that's why it made sense to step away from his dissertation when he did, to immerse himself in HASTAC's mission, and then to go back, finish the dissertation, and now be occuping a faculty position in our Visual Studies Initiative. It all contributes to learning in new ways, to new ways of learning.

Thank you, Mark, for all you have done for HASTAC. Thanks for being an invaluable, inestimable colleague, an indelible part of our HASTAC team, and thank you for a great friend to all of us on the HASTAC team. We will miss working with you on a daily basis. (We know how much you'll miss all our emails . . . well, maybe not!) And, of course, we will be proud of all your future holds.



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