Enduring Women: Digital Humanities in the Classroom & Beyond
Google BULLOCK ENDURING WOMEN then check videos. Yet today you should find yourself confronting twelve videos, one dedicated to each of the twelve women who were the focus of the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s 2013 exhibition Enduring Women celebrating little-known contemporary women who have gone above and beyond in maintaining Texas land. The youtube materials—as well as those for the original exhibition—were the work of our students and the product of a co-taught interdisciplinary (history/photography/art history) seminar during the Fall 2012 semester. For students, that fall semester was an amazing education—part classroom, part fieldwork, ever expanding what they thought themselves capable of, and couched in “real world” experience. Spring 2013 was simply unforgettable whether standing on stage at the Bullock opening or presenting findings at a conference. Fall 2012’s Enduring Women: Documentary Work had been taught by Texas-rooted historian Charles Porter and me with the critical ongoing support of photographer Bill Kennedy. We faced a dual challenge that fall: a course unlike anything any of us had previously undertaken and a real-world contract with the Bullock which meant that, sink or swim, deliverables (in the form of digital portfolios of data, releases, photographs, interviews, and polished audio excerpts from those interviews) would be on the Bullock’s desk before December was over and regardless of how the course succeeded. Half historians and half photographers, the students found themselves plunged into interdisciplinarity. These were not two linked courses--history and photography--each doing its own thing. Rather, photography students were asked to learn the basics of archival research and oral interview methodologies, while historians found themselves immersed in understanding and critiquing documentary photography. And everyone was asked to learn new technologies involving recording, transcription, and sound editing. The faculty taught skills and theory, stirred critical engagement, and then finally sent twelve two-person teams (historian and photographer) out across the state of Texas. The digital portfolios that served as the primary products of the course bore fruit. In the Bullock’s exhibition space stunning photographs ranging from small environmental images to large portraits to 10-foot square and larger wall prints were joined by biographical data on each woman and a polished 5-minute excerpt from the hours of interview conducted. On the web the full set of submitted photographs and a second interview excerpt were provided. Enduring Women—course and exhibition--continues to bear fruit in student and faculty presentations and in student professional portfolios. It is this remarkable chapter shared in this presentation—appreciating its accomplishments, while acknowledging lessons learned. The learning curve in Enduring Women was vast for all involved; the ride was bumpy and by times unnerving. And—I suspect I speak for anyone involved—we’d do it again at the drop of a hat.