New at Black Perspectives: Necropower and Natural Disasters

Over at Black Perspectives, the African American Intellectual History Society blog, I wrote a piece that uses theorist Achille Mbembe’s idea of necropower to understand the vulnerability of Black communities to natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I don’t consider my work to be very theoretical, but I read Mbembe’s essay while I was evacuated from Irma, and felt like I had to write this for the blog. T.J. Tallie, Ramzi Fawaz, and Melanie Newport were kind enough to offer helpful comments on an early draft of this, and I’m grateful to the students in my African American history class this semester, because my conversation with them about race and Hurricane Harvey set me to thinking about these issues.

harvey-humans-disaster.jpg

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Historical Society of Pennsylvania: Anonymous No More

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s digital exhibit Anonymous No More, about the life and times of gay psychiatrist John Fryer, is now live! I contributed the essay “HIV/AIDS, Gay Communities, and the Struggle for Gay Rights” and the exhibit also features excellent work by Christina LaroccoTimothy Stewart-WinterRebecca Alpert, and Jack Drescher.

John_Fryer_in_disguise_as_-Dr._H._Anonymous-
John Fryer in disguise as “Dr. Anonymous” at the 1972 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Source: Wikipedia.

At the 1972 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Fryer delivered a speech in disguise as “Dr. Anonymous,” in which he disclosed his own sexuality as a gay man and urged his colleagues to treat their gay and lesbian patients with sympathy and understanding. At the time, the APA classified homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder—that would change the following year, thanks in part to Fryer’s activism. Anonymous No More is part of a broader series of public engagements exploring his life and legacy.

The Calendar of Loss: Dagmawi Woubshet on Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS

Interview by Dan Royles Dagmawi Woubshet’s The Calendar of Loss (Johns Hopkins, 2015) examines the politics of mourning in the early years of the AIDS epidemic both in the United States and Ethiopia. The book details the ways in which early AIDS mourners used poetry, obituaries, visual art, and direct action protest both to commemorate loved ones and to challenge the…

Source: The Calendar of Loss: Dagmawi Woubshet on Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS

How I Spent My Summer Vacation #1: 3D Modeling at DHSI

This is the first of what I’m planning to be a short series of posts about the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria. The goal here is to recap some tools for digital humanities research, and particularly to think about how we might incorporate these into teaching. DHSI wrapped up last Friday, with the end of the third week of classes, and since I attended the second and third week, I have not one, but two courses to write about here.

3D Modeling

The first course I took was 3D Modeling with John Bonnett of Brock University. Part of Bonnett’s work includes recreating models of historic Canadian buildings, and our task for the week was to replicate a historic structure in downtown Victoria using SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. For reference, we used Sanborn fire insurance maps, historic photographs, and site visits, since the building in downtown Victoria was just a short bus ride away.

Sanborn map of downtown Victoria. Source: University of Victoria Digital Collections
Sanborn map of downtown Victoria. Source: University of Victoria Digital Collections.
Building at 1308-1312 Douglas Street in downtown Victoria, BC. Source: John Bonnett
Building at 1308-1312 Douglas Street in downtown Victoria, BC. Source: John Bonnett

Using the Sanborn maps and photographs, we were able to take measurements of the building’s footprint and exterior elements. With the Sanborn map as a base for the building, we extruded a solid volume to the height listed on the diagram, and stretched an image of the building onto the volume to record the proportions of the building’s exterior elements using Sketchup’s measuring tape tool. (A full description of this process would be too long to include here, but tutorials on adding photos to faces and stretching photos over faces in SketchUp are available on YouTube.) One of our classmates, Jon Breitenbucher, took a slightly different approach, using Photoshop to precisely measure the columns around the second and third story windows, which he recreated beautifully.

Building volume from Sanborn map, with stretched front facade.
Building volume from Sanborn map, with stretched front facade.
Jon Breitenbucher's beautiful columns.
Jon Breitenbucher’s beautiful columns.

We worked individually and in small groups on different architectural features, and put them together for the final model that we displayed during lunch on Friday.

Our final rendering of the building on Douglas Street.
Our final rendering of the building on Douglas Street.

teaching

During the course, we also talked about using SketchUp in the classroom, and our own project served as a kind of microcosm for how that might work. Obviously the program can be used to produce impressive models of past and present structures, but how do we ensure that our teaching with SketchUp keeps key humanities skills in frame? One approach would include having students research and find the primary sources they’ll need, whether they be Sanborn maps, blueprints, drawings, or historic photographs. For classes working on recreating local structures, site visits may also be useful.

This kind of project can also teach students important lessons about reading and primary interpreting sources. The Sanborn maps in particular use their own visual rhetoric, which students will need to understand in order to interpret them effectively. For example, where the maps list vertical measurements, these refer to the height of vertical walls, and may not include other elements placed higher up. It is also worth discussing the original purpose of the maps, the worldview they encode, and what parts of the built environment they may leave out. The takeaway here is that primary sources are not perfectly transparent, and reading them to reconstruct a picture of the past requires a knowledge of their context, authorship, and conventions.

Sanborn Map Key. Source: UCLA Library.
Sanborn Map Key. Source: UCLA Library.

Recreating buildings from the past can also help students understand the ambiguity of research in primary sources. Especially when modeling structures that are no longer standing, you’re unlikely to know what they look like from every angle, and will need to make some educated guesses, such as about the placement of windows on a rear wall, or the depth of a molding. The important thing for students to learn here is that primary sources are almost always incomplete, and historians do their best to fill in the gaps using available knowledge. Having students document the conjectures and assumptions they make in completing the finished product can help students think more systematically about the choices that they make. This process also underscores the constructed nature of historical facsimiles or, as Bonde et al put it, “the problematized fidelity between the model and its referent.”

applications

There are a number of notable existing projects that use 3D modeling to recreate the built environment of the past. Bryan Carter’s Virtual Harlem was an early entry into the field in the late 1990s, and is due for a relaunch later this year that will be compatible with both web browsers and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Meanwhile, Justin Underhill, a digital humanities postdoctoral fellow at USC, is using digital reconstructions of architectural spaces to imagine how viewers encountered artwork in the past.

In my own city of Philadelphia, I can imagine reconstructing parts of the Black Bottom neighborhood at midcentury, before it was displaced by federal urban renewal. A 3D Black Bottom might be combined with augmented reality, such that visitors and residents of the West Philadelphia neighborhood could hold up their smartphone or tablet to see what the landscape looked like in decades past. Of course, for a neighborhood that has been so thoroughly shaped by racist housing and urban planning policy, such a project would raise complicated questions about the ethics of spectatorship across lines of race and class. But again, such questions would be useful in helping students think more critically about digital humanities tools and their applications.

resources

If you’re new to SketchUp, there are some excellent video tutorials on the program’s website, which its basic tools. You may also want to check out the program’s Extension Warehouse, which features plugins developed by third-party users to make SketchUp more function. Material culture specialists may also be interested in photogrammetry software, which uses a series of photographs to reconstruct a 3D model of an object. 123D Catch, which is available for Android and Apple products (as well as PC desktops), allows you to do just this using a smartphone or tablet. Finally, the DH 101: Intro to Digital Humanities course website from the UCLA Center for the Digital Humanities has a lesson page on “Modeling Virtual Space,” complete with readings and exercises.

Fall Writes: Week 9

This is not good. Map courtesy of Wall Street Journal.
This is not good. Map courtesy of Wall Street Journal.

It’s grim here in week 9 of Fall Writes, as the GOP came out decisively ahead in yesterday’s midterm elections. And yet, we soldier on. Add your writing goals for this week in the comments, and I’ll add them to this post. The Democrats may have to wait until 2016 to turn things around, but we don’t! Happy writing!

Weekly Goals

Nicole

My original post didn’t work.
At this point, I’m waiting for my R and R to come back to me from someone helping me tighten it (any day), and then I want to send it out with the memo (still rough) ASAP!!!

Fall Writes: Week 6

Welcome to week six of Fall Writes! If you’re looking for some writing process inspiration, check out “5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June” over at ProfHacker.

Your weekly goals are posted below. Happy writing!

Goals

Nicole

1)– I want to finish the revision to get to my (own) editor by Friday (including cutting down almost 2300 words that I’ve added since starting to revise–this is actually BETTER than where things were at last week). The library sessions seem to be good for me so I want to keep with these (including Thurs AM, Fri AM, Sunday early afternoon), but not only.

Chez

1) Figure out the specific literature I’m addressing, which should help with focusing my argument. 2) Decide which sections to cut from my diss chapter for the article. To stick to these goals, I’m going to schedule writing times for Thursday and Friday mornings, 3 hours minimum each day.

Meg

I aim to work on the probation chapter for two hours today, two hours tomorrow, and two hours “with” Nicole on Sunday afternoon. I really need to have put the finishing touches on the first draft of this chapter by a week from today (10/20) so that I can devote next week to finishing the institutional circuits chapter and maybe only blow my self-imposed deadline for both of these by a week or so.

Dan

I’ll be at a research workshop Thursday through Saturday, which is going to eat up a good amount of time. For Tuesday, I have some job applications that need to go in, transcripts to clean up for my digital humanities class project, and I want to continue chipping away at my manuscript revisions—at this point, I’m going back to some research I did a while ago and writing it up. Saving grace for Wednesday will be that two classes are taking midterms, so I can use that time as necessary to get things done. Once the research workshop is over, I’m going to have to grade about sixty midterms, so probably not much writing is going to get done over next weekend.

Fall Writes: Week 5

"Map of the Square and Stationary Earth" by Orlando Ferguson. Source: The History Blog
“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth” by Orlando Ferguson. Source: The History Blog

Hey all, still getting back into a groove over here. The job market this year is coming fast and furious, and Monday I was laid up with the onset of a head cold. So without further ado, here are your goals for the week:

Weekly Goals

Meg

1. Continue on with probation chapter. Mon. and Tues.: fine-tune my detailed outline/data excerpts and finish eliminating the unnecessary excerpts for a more focused argument; Weds.-Fri. continue writing and refining, working in parole chapter too as necessary.
2. Revisit institutional circuits chapter as my argument develops.
3. Put together 30-min. teaching demo in advance of practice session next Sunday(!!!).

Chez

1. I need to decide what to cut from my dissertation chapter in turning it into an article on formerly incarcerated women’s processes of achieving “rehabilitated femininity.” Currently, I discuss five key areas, which I think is too much for an article. I need to figure out if I have enough data to focus on just one or two areas.
2. I need to figure out what literature, specifically, I’m in conversation with. This will require reviewing articles I’ve read and identifying new ones.

Nicole

1) (for R and R) Finish this revision and get the finished draft to my personal editor — goal is next Friday 10/10
2) (For R and R) Build memo once I can get the revised draft done.
3) Finish redoing gender/religion paper abstract and get that out.

Fall Writes: Belated Week 4 Post

New, detailed map of the ocean floor. Image from Quartz.
New, detailed map of the ocean floor. Image from Quartz.

Hi everyone! Last week was crazy full of job and postdoc applications, and I completely forgot to put up a post on Monday! Add your goals to the comments section here, and I’ll get a new post up tomorrow.