PhDs for Polymaths (2011)
Over the past couple years I’ve taught a few graduate classes that incorporate ideas from the Digital Humanities and emphasize “multimodal scholarship,” and I’ve been conducting research on praxis-based PhD programs. It’s for these reasons, I assume, that the planning committee for our graduate students’ Critical Themes in Media Studies conference asked me earlier this year to organize an opening-night panel on multimodal doctoral work and praxis-based PhDs. So, for the past couple months I’ve contacted graduate directors and colleagues at various local institutions to ask if any of their students are completing non-traditional (i.e., multimedia, performance-based, practice-based, etc.) dissertations on media studies-related topics. Their recommendations have helped me to pull together an impressive panel of three inspired young artist-scholars. Next Friday evening, April 15, at 5:30pm, before Clay Shirky’s opening keynote, we’ll be gathering in the Teresa Lang Center, on the 2nd floor at 55 W 13th Street, to talk about “The Multimodal Dissertation.” Come join us.
Multimodal scholarship, writes USC’s Tara McPherson (2009), deploys “new experiential, emotional, and even tactile aspects of argument and expression” in order to “open up fresh avenues of inquiry and research.” How might we in Media Studies transform the media technologies that have traditionally been our research subjects, into researchtools, and thereby “open up fresh avenues” of creative scholarship? This panel examines how these new modes of scholarly practice are informing doctoral education. Our three panelists discuss how they’re infusing media-making into their dissertations, and how they’re navigating the still largely uncharted terrain of multimodal scholarship.
The Sound of America: Sound, Sensation, Sentiment, and Knowledge in American West Tourism
Links between the American West and American identity, memory, and history are well documented. America constructs its uniqueness through the land and people west of the Mississippi. American West tourism is a crucial form of this construction.
Traveling west has become a ritual of citizenship, a pilgrimage to the birthplace of a mythical America. This is the America of cowboys and Indians, of gold mines and train robberies, of wild horses and still wilder people. It is an America of the past, performed in the present, informing the future. While scholars have devoted much energy to unpacking the significance of Wild West mythologies, two important areas remain underdeveloped: tourism and sound. My work engages both as key to the production and circulation of the “Wild” American West and its meanings. Tourist experiences of the American West play a pivotal role in knowledge of American history and identity. Yet, such experiences are neither natural, nor benign. They are mediated, historical, and political. They are actual and imagined. They are also sensual. It is the power of the sensual, living tourist encounter I hope to uncover by engaging its sonic contours. The sound of the American West, as a national soundscape, reveals much about how America is known, remembered, and imagined. It also hints at the future forms of American politics, at home and abroad.
Marquee Survivals: Racialized Urbanism in Cinema’s Recycled Spaces
Marquee Survivals is an interactive, digital dissertation that explores contemporary conceptions of the repurposed movie theater. Across the United States, twentieth-century movie theaters have been converted into a variety of different establishments, including churches, swap meets, clothing and electronics stores. This project unravels how discussions surrounding these former movie houses racialize the spatial and historical perceptions of American popular media. In unpacking nostalgia’s place in touring the extant structures of film exhibition, Marquee Survivals highlights the roles race, ethnicity, and nation play in constructing the cultural narrative of cinema’s decline in the American downtown.
Incorporating methodologies from diverse academic disciplines, Marquee Survivals is also a networked digital dissertation that complicates dominant understandings of cinema’s early exhibition spaces by connecting them to present-day media consumption. Working toward an alternative media historiography of the repurposed movie theater, Marquee Survivals marries film theory and history, cultural studies, and digital media production. This presentation will feature documentation of Marquee Survival’s design processes and struggles. What are the challenges of building a distributed dissertation project that has equal investment in achieving rigorous scholarship and an affective user experience?
Hitting Walls (v.XVII): Some Strategies, Several Projections
Hitting Walls uses the sport of squash to address colonial histories, globalization and the potential for serious play within overdetermined structures. The project exists as a series of iterations made in a variety of media including large format photography, appropriated webgrabs, video, sculpture, performance, participatory activities and academic lectures. The most recent completed iteration took the form of a lecture and workshop on ball-making methods at Machine Project in Los Angeles this past January.
I expect my dissertation to exist as one more iterative element of this larger project. My broad goal is to use my dissertation as an opportunity to experiment with and make a claim for hybrid formats of intellectual work. As this is my first year in a doctoral program, it does not seem particularly helpful to pretend that I already know what form my dissertation will take. I cannot even, at this stage, claim with absolute confidence that it will make sense to me four years from now to consider the project to be part of Hitting Walls. I do expect a large amount of the work to be written but I also intend for there to be play within that writing, as well as essential elements, visual, aural or otherwise, which will work with the written components.
I would like to take the opportunity of this panel to briefly share a few of the Hitting Walls projects and to discuss various ways to experiment with academic, as well as other, forms. I would then like to open up a conversation that I am just beginning to have within my own department about how a dissertation is, can and should be defined. Right now it seems like a matter of shaping some good questions, setting them loose, and seeing how they ricochet.