Links for my (brief) project introduction at our Association of Asian Studies Roundtable on Saturday, March 29th, entitled “Charting the Digital in Asian Studies: Promises, Realities, and the Future of Teaching and Research”:
TaipingCivilWar.org — the website created by my sophomore methods colloquium at the University of Mary Washington (Fall 2013)
History 297 – course website associated for methods colloquium (see for syllabus, etc.)
“Reworking the Methods Course” – see for a summary review of the course at its conclusion (and see ongoing posts at this same Detour Ahead blog for discussion of a new version of the course for next fall, one that focuses on the Boxer Uprising.)
“Mapping the Taiping Civil War” – Ryan Brazell, UMW’s talented instructional technology expert who assisted me in both website design and in classroom workshops, offers his own extended blog post on the technical tools and approaches used for the map component of the website. I highly recommend his very helpful post for anyone thinking of jumping in…
Looking for examples of other sites where students are engaged in knowledge creation for a public audience? Jeffrey McClurken (Professor of History, UMW) offered an excellent workshop at the 2014 American Historical Association annual meeting this past January. His own website offers his slide presentation on “Digital History in the Undergraduate Curriculum” as well as his full set of links for the workshop.
Last fall I taught a new colloquium, History 297, as part of a methods sequence required for all majors. As I’ve detailed in previous posts here and here, our department has recently expanded a single-semester methods course into a 2 course sequence, with one course that focuses on historiography and another that’s research centered. One of the reasons we’ve made this change is to allow for more time for curriculum focused on digital fluencies.
I’m still processing the “take-aways” from my efforts in curriculum development in the first round of this course, particularly in relation to digital projects. At the same time, I’m also looking ahead to next fall’s course and imagining its own thematic design. So a bit on the first here, then I’ll introduce the second…
The aim of the HIST297 “History Colloquium” is to help students become familiar with different sub-fields of history, to gain skills in speaking / writing / secondary research / critical reading & analysis… and, yes, digital fluencies. Main assignments: book review, literature review essay, formal speaking presentations, along with a digital project. Class size is 12-15. Students are usually sophomores or first semester juniors.
I’ve shared a longer post on this project, noting broader questions and also some of what I saw as the strengths of the project, namely:
– Active learning: In having students exploring primary sources for a map and timeline along a secondary source they were reading on the topic, it led to a more active, not passive read of the scholarly monograph – they were literally, through their simultaneous work in primary sources, reading a secondary source by another historican critically, from the inside out, with engaged discussion.
– Student Authorship: Website design = its own kind of authorship, which itself seemed empowering for those involved. In other words, also another kind of more active learning.
– Collaboration: The digital project was very much collaborative work, which is itself a valuable experience to gain. Challenges exist here too, of course, see the original post linked above for more on this issue, and the others too.
LOOKING AHEAD: BOXERS
This coming fall, I’m introducing a new event as theme for the course: the Boxer Uprising of 1900 (also somewhat inaccurately known as the Boxer Rebellion.) This event occurred during the summer of 1900 when the Qing dynasty’s imperial army along with peasant “Boxer” troops opposed to Westerners and especially missionary presence in China besieged Beijing’s legation quarter. Making world-wide news for fifty-five days until an alliance of international troops stormed the capital city, looting as they went, this conflict has left a rich collection of primary sources for today’s student of global and local history.
It has also recently inspired Gene Luen Yang, author of the award winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, to publish a two-volume graphic novel entitled Boxers & Saints (2013). In this work of historical fiction, Yang tells the story of two lead characters who each portray a side of the struggle, Boxer and Christian. As the book’s own summary lays it out:
In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.
But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.
A finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, this graphic novel seems a useful entry point for students who will be investigating academic studies of the Boxer Uprising as an historical event, including ones that Yang himself has cited as influential background reading for his own novel. Prominent among these studies, as it happens, is the award-winning work of my dissertation adviser, Joseph Esherick, whom I consider a leading candidate for this coming year’s scholar-interview for my students… (Sidenote: Joe, 不好意思, I’ll be in touch before long!)
So my students will start with a graphic novel, but they will be reading diverse academic studies as the focus for their literature reviews, debating different approaches, and thus becoming experts on the subject, which should also provide them with a new perspective on a work of very engaging historical fiction as well.
NEXT FALL’S DIGITAL PROJECT
Here’s where my plans get muddier.
Again, I want to have my students working with primary sources alongside the secondary sources that are the core of the colloquium.
There are rich collections of primary sources available online in English (and other languages) thanks in part to the fact that this event happened in 1900 and so many books and newspapers sit available in full-text online, freely available before copyright restrictions fall on them. There are also a fair number of photographs that can be found online in archival collections.
One disadvantage, though, is perspective: the sources my students will be using will be entirely English or European-language based (except in the rare case, my students generally do not have Chinese language capability — and certainly not classical Chinese necessary for documents from 1900.) So they’ll be working exclusively with sources from a certain perspective amid what is in many ways a colonialist conflict… On the other hand, of course, this may make for an excellent teaching point and add plenty to explore.
The more fundamental question is simply what will they be designing?
Here’s what I’m imagining for a digital creation, rough in form so far, suggestions for directions, further fine-tuning, warnings of pit-falls, etc., all welcome:
One of the main audiences for Boxers & Saints is the Young Adult (“YA”) audience. It’s a book that sits in many high school or middle school libraries. My students themselves are only a few years away from those same school libraries and classrooms. At the same time, I have a significant number of students who are also training as dual History and Education majors to return to teach in those schools. Why not embark on a digital project in which students are using their experience studying the Boxer event to create an online curricular resource of their own, openly available for K-12 students and teachers both to use?
I could see the students exploring textual and visual sources, individually having to choose one of each, then writing up their own contextualization — origins, location (again, perhaps mapping these?), authorship, any associated data, and then also composing a set of related questions for discussion to accompany those sources. They could work in groups, providing peer-feedback. Modelling and testing lesson plans? I could also have them do an analytic write-up for me, as background to those questions, as a graded assignment.
Some analytic dynamics that may come into the discussion (and perhaps, or perhaps not, the site?)
– dynamics of only having, it might seem, one side — the Western side – of the story in the dominance of Western sources?
– can one read other sides in the texts and images through missing elements, traces in the pictures? (There are some secondary readings here that may assist with this analysis, incidentally.)
– what’s the relationship between historical fiction and history as written by scholars? Graphic novels and textual scholarship?
Could this, or something related, come together as a website for students in K-12 who might be reading Yang’s graphic novel and want to learn more — and see more — of the actual history? A website with texts and images and Q’s for a class that’s reading the novel to dig into? Would it be something their teachers might find useful?
What digital elements would complement this project? Further it?
Should I be more (or less) ambitious?
Suggestions from any high school or middle school teachers or librarians? I’d love to expand the conversation…
Post-script: Meant to add these links to the original post — for more on Gene Yang’s Boxers & Saints, see his interview at The New Yorker and also Wesley Yang’s review in The New York Times. The video trailer for the work (all our works should have video trailers now, no?) can be found at First Second / Macmillan Publishing here.
Image 1, 2: From Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints (First Second Press, 2013) Image 3: Boxers, Tianjin, China, 1900. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3917
Yes, I’m prepping for fall. But I’m also already thinking about a second go at my cinema course next spring, along with fellow traveller Jim Groom, who recently blogged about our foray into GIFs with that class.
For films, I’m seriously thinking of dropping Jia Zhangke’s “The World” this time around, along with previously screened “Chungking Express,” and going with a Wong Kar-wai double feature of “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and “Happy Together” (1997). The films are in some ways more challenging (some might say more opaque, while some might offer another kind of critique), and the first one — “In the Mood” — is usually one I use in my Gender course. I may use it in both courses, or trade it out in the Gender course for Ang Lee’s “Wedding Banquet.”
But in any case, both films are gorgeous to watch, and both focused not only on Hong Kong, but also on inter- and trans-national themes (“Happy Together,” for one, is set in Argentina), as well as issues of gender, sexuality, memory, violence, and time. I’m working up a reading list to accompany them. Suggestions welcome, as always…
And I’m now craving mock duck. And my all-time favorite food, xiao long bao.
How to get a new group of students comfortable talking in the classroom?
One idea: have the students each assemble a group of images that represents themselves and their interests. Have them post them to the ‘net and then introduce them to the class in a session during the first week. (Thanks for the suggestion, and the report of good results, Krystyn!)
And yes, when testing the idea out on myself, what was the first thing that came to mind in response to “what am I about?” Apparently that Rorschach invokes my favorite Taipei eateries and 飲茶 indulgences, among other inkblots. (See above.)
Back to the important stuff: I’m also going to use this image exercise to introduce the students to Flickr CC—and the notion of creative commons itself—as well as The Commons on Flickr as an archival resource, and then let them also use it as a way to explore the WordPress interface at umwblogs that they’ll also be using throughout the course.
CC, FlickrCC, The Commons, WordPress, all in one exercise. First week.
What I’m looking for now is a plugin that allows for better display of images within a post. I’m currently using WP-Cycle above, which is handy but also fairly linear and which crops the images significantly.
I’ve noticed that wordpress.com (as opposed to .org or our umwblogs current version of WP engine) has tweaked their gallery options to allow a “tiled” presentation (see below the text blab here) — does anyone know if there’s a decent plugin that will allow something similar for displaying galleries this way? I want to keep it within posts, or perhaps pages, but not something that’s going to transform the entire site into a photo page itself. Suggestions welcome, y’all.
I was going to write a post on social networking, but I seem to have fallen into a GIF hypnosis (thanks to Jim Groom) and haven’t yet escaped. A few weeks ago I offered students in my Chinese film course the opportunity to earn extra credit for a GIF+film analysis exercise. Andy Rush and Jim subsequently presented a great workshop on the topic for all of us.
I thought I should also try to pick up some of the same digital techniques I’m having my students explore, so I’ve been spending a good deal of time with GIMP and MPEG Streamclip and also at the DS106wiki. Still getting the hang of it, but having fun with some experiments. The best part so far? Joining the gang that’s putting a dancing Jim at locales around the world, but especially at Fenway…
Recently we’ve seen the emergence of serial programs created for online video sites in China (e.g. Youku, Tudou, and as we’ve seen with Youtube, etc.). Often sponsored by major corporations, including Apple and General Motors, among others, they’ve served as popular entertainment and, not surprisingly, a venue for product placement. Several of these internet shows have also begun to pull a significant audience.
I’ve begun exploring a few of these shows amid ongoing curriculum development for courses on contemporary China. In a few cases, one has both video and text with which to work – these include the original show itself, plus some available translations, as well as viewer comments and reviews. Online discussions of these programs seem to have a particular value in revealing debates among their own viewers regarding the social and artistic value of the shows. Many voices have drawn dichotomies between meaningful entertainment, with observations of specific themes that seemed to strike a chord among observers of contemporary Chinese society, versus a sense that these videos are merely shallow, commercial fluff. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. Such fluff (“puff”?) entertainment may serve as valuable raw material for sociological, cultural, and historical analysis. See below for the start of a collection of links to shows and related resources. Comments, questions, and suggestions regarding these productions (or others) as a basis for lesson plans and curriculum development are welcomed.
Miss Puff — 泡芙小姐
See the video at the top of the page, if you haven’t already, to jump right in. ChinaSMACK offers an introduction to this series presented by Youku as well as a very useful translation of the first episode. The series itself is currently up to ten episodes that have been released, with more to come. ChinaSMACK also has provided an introduction the video short “Miss Puff’s Goldfish Bowl” that preceded the current series. Both raise questions regarding themes of contemporary alienation, sexuality, notions of love, nihilism, and, in both the production and consumption of the videos themselves, late capitalism. Side note: though I’m not sure “mature” is quite the right word to apply to this production, some of the themes covered in the series are probably more appropriate for an undergraduate (and above) audience rather than K-12. See here for the full series of episodes offered thus far.
Old Boys – 老男孩
Released in October 2010, this online feature attracted a significant viewership. The China Daily reported a count of over 26 million views in a background story (“Old Boys enliven young dreams“) on the feature’s director and star, Xiao Yang (肖央), that ran five months later as its popularity continued to build. (For full data on viewership, see here.) “Old Boys” conveys a nostalgia held by its protagonists, a group of men and women who are approaching middle age and, it seems, who have encountered a significant moment of disillusionment amid their lives in today’s China. James Fallows, quoting his friend Shi Hongshen at length, offers a discussion of this very same theme as well as its relation to the “Old Boys” feature itself in “Voices from China #1 – The ‘Post-1980s Generation’.” I’m anticipating pairing the two together with other readings for upcoming lesson plans.
See below for the “Old Boys” feature – or at its main Youku site for a better broad-screen version (both include translation).
I’m writing to note that the Chinese history sources site is still under construction. It’s currently resting in dry dock as we contemplate possible shifts to its original design, including new possibilities for its systems of organization of data (for the site and via Zotero) and also its breadth of coverage. Further updates will follow as it moves forward.
Suggestions for content and/or organization from those who might find a site for undergraduates, particularly those students who haven’t yet developed to intermediate or advanced Chinese language ability, helpful in their study of Chinese history are welcome. Feel free to add them in comments below.
The original posts on the topic can be found here and here.
UMW’s Faculty Academy returns this week with its ever-creative exchanges on the topic of scholarly and curricular endeavors that utilize digital tools. I’ll be participating in a discussion panel that Jeff McClurken (who is devoting himself to no less than four panels and discussions, as rumor has it…) has generously organized.
And the questions? A starting point may be the simple question of what is “digital fluency”? Is the term useful? What are the ambitions that it – or an alternate vision – should represent or encompass?
We’re continuing work on the development of a Sources resource for undergraduate students of Chinese history. Much of our technical focus has been upon Zotero as a tool for the project – indeed, as the project is developing, Zotero is emerging as an equal partner to the website planned. In fact, with its dual features of accessibility and flexibility, it may emerge as the centerpiece itself.
In the meantime, several developments along the way:
In terms of content, we’ve decided to expand the categories of temporal coverage. Originally, this site was going to focus on just the late imperial and 20th century periods. I’ve added a full set of dynastic categories to the mix, though, to allow for expansion by students working on individual research projects or courses devoted to early periods in coming semesters.
On the technical side of things, Zotero has been a very useful tool with regular updates and excellent support. We did run into one glitch an early stage in which somehow (cause still unclear) our sources collection seemed to be deleted. Technically, our project is a subcollection within the broader History and American Studies – University of Mary Washington group at Zotero. While this seemed rather a dilemma at its occurrence, all the citations that had been uploaded had in fact remained in the broader group, but their system of files and organization had been lost.
Our solution was to reconstruct the subcollection and its folders. Fortunately, the outline of our organization was saved at this same website and on an office computer that wasn’t set to automatically sync with our Zotero files. We then moved the cites, still sitting in the general Zotero library for the UMW group, back into the folders. (For more, see my posting and Dan Stillman’s very helpful replyhereat Zotero Forums.)
Part of our speed in fixing this mishap was that it happened at an early stage in the project. It will be nice, however, to see a group backup function developed for the Zotero system. In the meantime, to play things safe, I’m also maintaining a parallel library within my own personal collections (rather than just the groups collection) in my own Zotero setup.
One of my main pedagogical projects this fall is the development of a sources curriculum for undergraduate students with an interest in modern Chinese history. At UMW, we require all history majors to undertake a senior thesis (independent research, 30-40 pages), which is often quite a challenge for students, particularly those pursuing research on global topics. One of my ongoing aims has been to establish a sources website that would be geared toward our undergraduates who enroll for the thesis project in my own field– i.e., students with a clear interest in Chinese history, who have completed background courses on the topic, but who do not necessarily have Chinese language ability. 1
I’ve been developing the first edition of this project in collaboration with UMW history major Joe Calpin, who is embarking upon an independent study on “Sources in Modern Chinese History” under my guidance this fall. The curriculum here is intended to provide a critical familiarity with major genres of sources as well as useful reference works and tools, journals in the field, and online resources.
One of the central projects for this independent study will also be the design of a sources website. Though very much a working project, the idea is that this site would transcend this particular independent study and, ideally, our own campus, in serving as a reference site for undergrads elsewhere. Our intended audience is students who may be working on their own research projects but who may not quite have the linguistic training they need to dive directly into Chinese-language sources. In many ways, the website is being conceptualized as a stepping stone to more advanced online resources in Chinese history such as the UCSD Modern Chinese History Research Site and the Classical Historiography for Chinese History site compiled by Benjamin Elman.
To further this project — and create a resource of its own — I’ve established a library for the course at Zotero Groups (see the group library for “History 491” at our “History and American Studies: Univ. of Mary Washington” Zotero group site located here or at the link on the right side of this blog.) I’ve outlined a set of sources categories in sub-folders there (still tweaking and expanding… further suggestions welcome.) As Joe Calpin and I work on the independent study this fall, we’ll be adding to this sources group, building up a selective bibliography of relevant works, collections, and web-links. This will serve as the bibliographic reference, as currently imagined, for a partner website to be designed and composed by Joe, 2 that will offer a more detailed description and critical introduction to sources in Chinese history…
Above is an introduction to the project we’ve undertaken. I’ll be using this site as a place for hashing out ideas for the project’s development and providing updates of its progress. Suggestions are always welcome – and gratefully appreciated…
Questions for the crowd:
1. The categories listed below are the ones that currently appear in our Zotero file for the site, a list to which I’m still actively adding. I’d welcome suggestions for further categories to add, divisions to consider, and more…
2. Are there other topics or components for the site that folks (faculty, undergraduate students) out there in Chinese history would find helpful?
3. I’ll be sending out a call for nominations for primary source collections, among other types of titles and resources, to be listed in the group… suggestions ahead of that call are always welcome.
Categories currently listed for our Zotero bibliography:
That list is building out of a more haphazard brainstorm of genres I’m looking to cover within the frame that’s being constructed. To share my rough notes:
key journals (e.g. Journal of Asian Studies, Late Imperial China, Modern China, China Quarterly, Harvard Journal of Asian Studies)
english-language historiog and research collections (e.g. Cambridge History of China; Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization Series)
translated compendia of sources (e.g. Taiping volumes…)
key reference websites (UCSD; Elman; et al)
key online search engines
key online archives (textual, visual, etc.)
online listservs (H-Net; Asian Studies WWW Monitor; others? )
key English-language reference works (biography; titles; etc.)
advice for other students re: basic reference shelf (English language and Chinese language)
My work here is much in the spirit of that of my colleague in Soviet and Russian history at UMW, Steven Harris, who has created a very useful website on primary sources in that field to help his own students in their research. ↩
And with the ever-generous help of the folks at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) who have established UMWBlogs as a realm for digital projects. ↩
Is a picture truly worth a thousand words? How does an image (or an opening line) transcend the cliché? A more important question for the History classroom may be just the opposite — how do we find enough to say? Often the image seems to be taken as a simple illustration or, in an even more problematic fashion, as a pure fact on a page.
These concerns have inspired an extended unit on China’s revolutionary posters for one of my upper division seminars as well as a presentation at the recent UMW Faculty Academy. (Many thanks to all for the insightful comments offered at the session.) The seminar course is a broad one that explores the notion of cultural history in the context of the history of the People’s Republic of China. In addition to reading texts related to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), particularly selections from Evans and Donald’s Picturing Power… (1999), and exploring the oral accounts offered in the documentary Morning Sun (Longbow Group, 2003), our class also engages in a direct analysis of revolutionary posters. Drawing on the excellent collection presented online by scholars Stefan Landsberger and Marien van der Heijden, our working group is set with a task that offers several basic goals:
– introduce the value of a close read of an image…
– explore the complexities of meaning an image presents…
– work towards a shared construction of analysis…
The emphasis here lies upon a collective exploration of the dynamic of the brainstorm and the value of free-thought insight. The aim is to make the nuts and bolts of early constructions of analysis visible… literally.
With this latter aim in mind, I incorporated a new digital tool (wonderfully introduced by Bryan Alexander at a recent ELI workshop) called VoiceThread. As an open, web-based tool that allows individuals to add voice and text to a selection of images, VoiceThread proves quite useful in encouraging attention to a deeper level of detail within the frame. It also invites analysis across frames, as a device that allows for an assembly of images in a moving sequence. Commentary, observation, and narration all flow around the images as the images are moved in lines of juxtaposition and association, just as set forth by one of our working groups:
As a class plan, our workshop offered three starter VoiceThreads for students working in groups of 4-5 people. Each VoiceThread set forth a first image, chosen by myself, with participants invited to find and add their own, creating that very procession of images amidst their own commentary. In one case, students jumped from an image of domestic scene in a revolutionary 1954 poster to images from genres that seemed, at first, quite distant:
While the commentary was left to the images themselves for these two latter scenes, their assembly presents a reading that invites exploration not only of the unfamiliar (in the form of the Chinese images, Chairman Mao as domestic god?), but also a return gaze back at that which is better known… A very good start.
A question still follows – how best to bring the analysis to the next level?
Further historical contextualization of the images is one necessary task, including detail (where available) on their composers, production and dissemination. A second step would also be to incorporate further readings re: visual culture as a follow-up that helps to weave the process of analysis more closely with analytical commentary and methodological insight. The exploration of image and text (and back to image) invokes everything from the classic work of John Berger to the recent analysis of historical photographs, text, and vision offered by filmmaker Errol Morris in his blog for the New York Times.
And the third step? Suggestions welcome…
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This site is a space for ongoing writing projects, workshop conversations, and scattered notes related to history, teaching, and the digital humanities.
I'm Susan Fernsebner, Associate Professor of History at the University of Mary Washington. My specialty is late imperial and modern Chinese history.