This interdisciplinary topics course brought together my training as a historian and my study as a musician. Though I am not an expert in music history, I found using works from this field very effective in engaging students from Latin American Studies, History, and History Education programs. The course explored how people have deployed, defined, or deemphasized race through music in Latin America. Examining processes of migration and exchange, we compared the influences of musics with roots in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe on present and past understandings of race in the region.
The format of the class prioritized a group experience of the music and an analysis of the readings and other primary sources. We started each class by listening to some of the assigned musics, like politically charged calypsos by Sparrow, Indian fiddle music published through the Smithsonian, or popular tracks by Tego Calderón, Ivy Queen, and Calle 13. The books for the course included Bryan McCann’s Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Zoila Mendoza’s Creating Our Own: Folklore, Performance, and Identity in Cuzco, Peru, along with titles from Temple’s Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music, edited by Peter Manuel. Some of the other works I used proved overly theoretical, but most were accessible and pushed our discussion in interesting directions. Short documentaries (around 30 minutes) worked well in the classroom, among them Chutney in Yuh Soca: A Multicultural Mix and Waila! Making the People Happy: Contemporary Dance Music of the Southern Arizona Indian Tribes (available on Kanopy).
The assignments resulted in some very cool projects by undergraduates. They produced reviews of archives and library collections, podcasts, and an online exhibit. The online project was especially useful in promoting students’ analyses of the nonverbal and musical texts. The students posed their own questions for podcasts and web sites: Do distinct genres of “Latino rap” or “Chicano rap” exist, and how have Latinx musicians influenced rap? What are the purposes of obscenity in the baile funk music scene? How are gendered roles and expectations in reggaetón and rap changing? Students used the flexibility in the assignment to make challenging and insightful presentations. I am happy to share some of the work (with permission) on race and ethnicity in rap music,Latina rappers and women in rap, and the politics of Rio de Janeiro’s funk scene. Below you can see screenshots from some of the web pages created for the course.
One of my ongoing teaching and research questions concerns situating the Atlantic and Atlantic slavery in world history. To bring these topics to the attention of undergraduates, I have designed and implemented assignments that allow students to directly address comparative questions related to legal personality, indenture, slave trading, and transculturation. For a final assessment in an undergraduate seminar on comparative slavery, students created individual online exhibits to complete a project involving two case studies. The goals were a) to contextualize digital sources in historical ways b) to distill information for an online reader and c) to integrate and discuss two cases of slavery to form a coherent argument. The sites had to contain a minimum of three pages or sections incorporating images, text, and other media.
The basic requirements for the project included comparative analysis with supporting multimedia items; use of appropriate secondary sources from class or other academic texts; complete captions for all media; and a minimum of 2,000 words in the three combined pages. I graded the project on a rubric for its historiographical engagement, original arguments, comparative analyses, item captions, primary source use, and design.
A wonderful resource for grad students interested in learning more about DH is the site for The Praxis Program, a project from the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library. Do not miss the “Tutorials” or “Scratchpad” tabs if you (like me) don’t know everything yet. I am still trying to decide which of these tools is best suited to my teaching and research, but Prism is intriguing. As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” this looks like a great way to encourage collaboration among students and between scholars. I plan to try it out on my introductory class and will post successes and challenges in my lesson. Thanks to the contributors who made this public and available!
As a scholar of Africana and Latin American Studies, I am on the look out for digital humanities projects that address my regional and thematic interests. The UVA Library Scholars’ Lab is undertaking exciting projects in African-American and Latin American history, such as the Falmouth Project. I am following with interest the scholarship of Tamika Richeson, Cecilia Márquez, and Alex Gil, among others. And there is also “Mapping an Asian American Indie Rock Digital Diaspora,” which technically is not my field of remote knowledge or expertise. But I had to link to it because it’s an excellent presentation of scholarship. I will end this post by lamenting the fact that I could not attend a recent GIS workshop at UVA that promised the “pursuit of mappiness.”
This semester I assigned a five-minute podcast on gender in Latin American history in my introductory course. I recommend this kind of project as a method for practicing speaking, building argument, getting experience with technology, and encouraging students’ interacting with peers. Students used Audacity, which caused few technological hiccups. The project involved a peer edit based on a rubric for clarity, length, accuracy, and persuasiveness. Though these were broad elements, they elicited useful qualitative comments from student partners during peer grading.
I requested feedback from the students regarding the assignment. One student mentioned that making the podcast immediately preceded an interview and provided preparation and practice for measured, clear speaking. Another student said that peer edits increased the quality of the podcasts; students wished to provide their peers with a good example of their work. For an introductory course, a podcast assignment is useful in conjunction with written essays to help students build distinct skills and communicate with their peers. Here is a site I consulted for instructions about audioblogging/podcasting. I look forward to incorporating more audio elements into my teaching.
Attending THATCampAAR gave me some great teaching ideas, including using Omeka for student projects. This is a tool that makes it easy to place digital content in historical context, as evidenced here. A big thank you to Amanda French (GMU) for her workshop!
The first time I integrated a curated online exhibit as a project in a course was my first semester of teaching, through a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship at JHU. I used the digital media project in place of a final exam and had students execute their projects and present them in groups of three or four. The purposes were to present exhibits that contextualize digital sources in historical ways as well as build skills in presenting and explaining historical processes. The projects were stellar, but the stakes of the assignment were too high (40% of the final grade). I now would not consider weighting so much of a grade in a lower-division course toward a final project or exam. Still, the outcomes were good and the students built digital, written, and oral presentation skills.