Blog Post

The Calm Before the Storm: Reflecting on HASTAC 2013 "The Storm of Progress" Conference Before the Start of the Fall Semester

The fall semester starts a month from today, so I thought this would be as good a time as any to order the required books for my classes, fiddle with syllabi, think of new assignments and to buy some index cards for the “single best way to transform classrooms of any size.” I thought that today would also be a good time to look back at my notes and scroll through my Twitter feed from the HASTAC 2013 Conference “The Storm of Progress: New Horizons, New Narratives, New Codes” held in Toronto this past April because that conference provided me with quite a few gems and good ideas for my teaching and research.

This academic year I’m going to borrow a wonderful teaching assignment from Mary Caton Lingold, a sound studies scholar who I had the chance to reconnect with at the conference. For my writing intensive class, I often have students read a piece from bell hooks and one from C. Wright Mills to get them thinking about sociology, identity and social location and then I ask them to write a short autobiography. When Mary Caton told me that she uses SoundCloud with her class for a musical autobiography assignment, in which they use this platform to incorporate songs into their essay - like a soundtack to their lives - I thought that this would be something that I could incorporate into the autobiography assignment for my course. You can listen to her students’ autobiographies here. Mary Caton also put me on to Wendy Hsu’s blog for an essay on soundscapes and scholarship, as that essay helped her and her students to formulate the criteria for this assignment.

So much was packed into the HASTAC conference in Toronto and all of it amazing. At the maker space I had a model of my face made using a Nintendo Wii console and a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D Printer. I saw a demonstration of and was able to play with the Augmented Reality Freedom Stories of Black Canadians. If you have access to an iPad or an iPhone you can download the app or you can access this digital storytelling resource filled with maps, narratives and other data online. Another digital story that I was able to immerse myself in was Lucidity, an interactive learning game about interpersonal and community violence - that short description is probably not enough to explain the experience, so you can check it out here. If you like that, then here is a link for the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 2 that Joseph Tabbi discussed in his keynote.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a statistician, who also does GIS mapping, to work with the NYPD stop-and-frisk data set (which really has 99 variables, so the working subtitle of my paper is “I’ve got 99 variables and a #*%! ain't one” – is that too much?). My plan is to impress him with KoBoToolbox – an open source application for qualitative and quantitative data collection that I learned about at HASTAC - and in particular KoBo Map (in development) a tool that can take Excel data and turn it into an interactive map. Magic, right? I know.

I was at the conference as a member of HASTAC’s Steering Committee and to present a paper on the interactive panel “Black Technologies/Black Narratives: Storming the Present” along with Mark Campbell, Carla Moore and Katherine McKittrick. Being a part of this panel meant that I finally got to hear Katherine’s paper on Zong!, accounting practices and black life matters, part of her forthcoming book Dear Science and Other Essays. This paper really set the tone for our panel by “storming the present” using M. NourBese Philip’s poem to offer us a “poetic science of Zong!” that puts black life before counting black death. I totally stanned (see Urban Dictionary for a definition) when I found out that I would be on a panel with Carla Moore, a graduate student at Queen’s University who I know as Moore Mayhem. I love her recaps of the television show Scandal, her commentary on Jamaican politics and social life, and on the function of the Swifter as a cleaning apparatus. Her paper on ratchet as a subversive technology of blackness that challenges anti-Black surveillance was brilliant. We listened to ratchet anthems and watched clips of Jamaican dancehall while she waxed on Sylvia Wynter, black performance and excess. My very first Vine (not too good) couldn't do justice to Dr. Campbell (DJ Grumps)’s talk on sound, identity and the Black diaspora, where he mixed audio of commentary on blackness and hip-hop from fellow panelist Katherine as well as that from audience member Rinaldo Walcott along with Kanye West’s “I guess, this is my dissertation” sampled from West’s Graduation album.

I used Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker for my part on the panel “HASTAC and Humanities in a Digital Age: The View Ten Years Out.” This presentation tool allows you to pull context from SoundCloud, YouTube, Wikipedia and other sites as well as import images and other text to mash-up and remix the content. It is quite easy to use and other users can take what you produce and then remix it to their own liking. Here is a link to the one that I made for this panel. This was my first time using it and it took about 15 minutes to create.   

This year each conference participant went home with a commemorative HASTAC t-shirt with a yellow maple leaf in the logo. I’ll work up the courage to take a “selfie” and post it here. Wait for it.



This is just what I need to help me think about the academic year ahead, Simone.  And thanks for talking about Mary Caton Lingold's marvelous assignment to write the soundtrack of your life---coupled with yours on C Wright Mills and bell hooks, a total winner on every level from critical thinking to creative contribution.   And what a wonderful tribute to the HASTAC 2013 conference.  I know our friends in Toronto and Alberta, Caitlin Fisher and Maureen Engel, will be so thrilled to read this.   I felt this way too, just dazzled by every panel and paper I attended.  Words like "discipline" and "field" or even subfiels like "digital humanities" were faint threads in conversations that were about "ideas" and "engagement" and "activism" and "creativity" and "learning" and "teaching."   You capture it beautifully here, as always.  Again, my thanks---I'm going to use several of these ideas!


HASTAC 2013 in Toronto was as inspiring as ever and writing this blog entry gave me a chance to reflect on the conference, as well as the ones in California, Durham and Ann Arbor. Meeting new people, reconnecting with others, sharing ideas and "collaborating through difference". I came across your "Eames Elliptical Table" blog recently. Reading it made me come to terms with the idea that my coffee table is actually functioning as a "drafting table" for ideas. I'm going to borrow your color-coded schema. Thanks!