update

Am I (like) What I Like (or RT or blog)
The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with the opportunity to reflect on representation and identity. You need to move beyond describing what identity is represented to making an argument about how identity is represented by focusing on processes of identity formation.

Select a facebook page, twitter feed or hashtag, any sort of blog or homepage of someone else (individual, group, corporation) or yourself to analyze for the representation of identity. What do the images, text, links, and likes say about identity formation? For whom it is intended? Who does it exclude? What mechanisms are used to encourage identification? What mechanisms discourage identification? Deliverable: 500word analysis [assignment inspired by this course http://studio.berkeley.edu/coursework/niemeyer/courses/23ac/assignments.htm and @edmondchang tweets

I come to the idea of curating via the art world, so I never thought of myself as a curator until very recently.* I’ve plenty of writing included in exhibition catalogs, but I’ve been on the periphery of the art world long enough to understand curation as a deeply intellectual project largely taken on by people with advanced education.  Curation is also, like most of the art world, pretty damn elitist.  So when I waded into the waters of the digital humanities I was both pleased and intrigued to see “curation” everywhere, in extremely “democratic” applications. My thoughts on curation have developed in exchanges with the following tweeps (although obviously not meant to imply that they endorse my views)
@adelinekoh @alicebag  @ @jsantley   @shamsensei  

I became fascinated by the use of the verb “curate” on twitter and the raging dyadic debate surrounding it, which can be reduced to the following, (not exhaustive list of pairs)


creating v. curating
doing v. seeing/saying
becoming v. being
active v. consuming

  


As reflected in the above tweets that popped up when I search “curate” this AM, there are various ways the word “curate” is used (hilarious evolution of the verb curate, which is of relatively recent vintage). 

curate – appropriate, as in RT
curate – filter, as in narrow down the massive amount of information that comes in via social media
curate – select, as in apply some sort of critical faculties to a process that relies on the above two
There are a variety of ways to cleverly curate your own “content” including storify, scoop.it, paper.li, etc although these are increasingly turning into another annoying source of spam, as the “curation” involved is non-existent, with content auto-pulled from the parameters set by the “creator.”  However the curation technology getting the most buzz is clearly pinterest. 
As the top tweets pulled up this AM reveal, corporations are already attempting to leverage pinterest for marketing purposes, and the debate over “appropriation” and copyright continues to rage.


The art world discourse about curation 
In the 1990s, curators and the process of curation increasingly became the focus of analysis in the art world. Working from just one of many recent volumes on the subject, Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance (2007), I want to highlight some of the lessons that the art world might have for digital humanities people who are intrigued, as I am, by this notion of curation.  Finally, I want to suggest some ways that curation  might work in the digital humanities classroom.
In “The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse,” Paul O’Neill notes that the concept of curation began to loosen up in the 1960’s when curators began to “demystify” the “mediating components” that produced art exhibitions.  The curatorial turn reached its apotheosis in the 1990s with the “curator as meta/artist, artist as meta/curator” with “artist’s curatorial interventions (such as decisions regarding how to place art in space) matched by the (concomitant) notion of “curating as a creative activity more akin to a form of artistic practice.”  These notions are still hotly contested in the art world, with (some0 artists rejecting curators as creators, and (some) curators refusing to acknowledge the curatorial labor of artists.
The key question for me that emerged from O’Neill’s essay is what then becomes of the (art) critic or curator if the creator (artist) curates and communicates?  This question is analogous to the question what becomes of the scholar if we are all in effect curators of our own individual (life) histories?
Unsurprisingly I still see a role for both the critic/curator as well as the (academic) scholar. Thinking critically about how we individually construct our identities and the display of them (digitally), our habitus/habitat/habit is different than the abstracting, analyzing and applying of information from a broader perspective, not to create the “meta-narrative” that defines the individual stories, but to tell different stories from them.  I see the two processes as not mutually exclusive/intersectional.  O’Neill seems to agree.  Following Bourdieu he argues that the “curator adds meaning and value” not in a defining or limiting way, but in an additive process of opening up rather than shutting down.  Ultimately, the best curators provide ways of entering discourse for even more people.
Discourse in particular gets us to the passivity that underlies so many of the dyads surrounding “curate.”  Take the notion of creating as “doing something” versus “curation as “saying/seeing something.”   O’Neill quotes Mick Wilson’s criticism of the  ubiquitous “Foucaldian moment” in which even “talking is doing something.”  But of course talking and seeing are “doing” something, although doing them digitally may be different in kind, it isn’t necessarily different in quality.  This notion of passivity and its feared apoliticalization was all over the Kony debates and the #slacktivism.  I suspect it will emerge as well around Trayvon Martin’s tragic death as well wherein wearing a hoodie as a signifier of a political ideology it will be argued does not necessarily translate into action on behalf of that political ideology. i.e. wearing that hoodie at a rally, a protest, or to vote.
This feared passivity emerged in a markedly gendered way in the debate surrounding pinterest (see Nathan Jurgenson”s piece for some interesting thoughts).  Briefly, pinterest, the latest “hot” social media site is female dominated, curatorial, and seen as consuming rather than producing.  Pinterest is frequently contrast to wikipedia, read as heavily male and an “active” knowledge producing social media.  [n.b. personally I think a more interesting site of comparison is etsy which relies on the (passive) consumption of some to continue the (active) creation of (some) others]. 
The heart of discomfort with curation is a fear that all this life online is simply capturing us rather than the reverse. The passive online “clicker” is viewed as a static “being” rather than the active “doer” IRL “becoming” something.    The act of appropriation that underlies the (artistic) fear of curation relies on this notion of passivity as well.  See “I’d rather create than curate,” above as though it is self evident that curation does not involve an act of creation itself, an assumption that curators obviously dispute, although one wonders what they think about the radical flattening out of the curatorial act involved in the  Met’s MYMET, described by the tweeter as an art world Pinterest.  However the tweet in which “share” on FB is framed as an act of curation offers a far more “active” notion of the “click” as does the RT referencing the “reader” response to a tweep’s “feed” which “feels like” and individual’s “curation,” pointing to the affiliations and influences that develop via twitter.
In the dyadic debate over curation, I immediately came down on the site of curation as an active intellectual process, reflecting my art world roots.  Curators and the scholars who write about them (which is often an overlapping group), have given considerable thought to the consequences of curation, which I think offers some interesting applications to the digital humanities.
For example, Catherine Elwes’ consideration of insider/outsider practices at work in curatorial processes is clearly applicable to thinking about the power dynamics at play in social media curation.  Elwes’ analysis centers on curatorial practices in feminist exhibitions at alternative art spaces.  She argues that these curatorial processes made “visible the processes of production of exhibits and by extension the knowledge work that they do.” 
The recent suggestions for a “Curator’s Code” by Maria Popova and Simon gets at this issue via

a suggested code for honoring the creative and intellectual labor of information discovery by making attribution consistent and codified, celebrating authors and creators, and also respecting those who discover and amplify their work.

Clearly the Curator’s Code represents the very best that curation of our online existences might become, an openly transparent revelation of how thought processes emerge.  However, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that none of us is quite so aware of how we make the connections that we do.  Still this seems a laudable step towards countering the very worst sorts of appropriation, and allaying some of the fears of people who make their livelihoods creating online.

Juxtaposed against this notion of curatorial attribution is a cautionary note sounded by Richard Hyland in “Some Thoughts on Curating.“  The author fears that curators may become complicit in “supporting an increasingly regulated …terrain beholden to both market (private) and government (public) agendas.”

These fears translate I think into the dangers that may be faced as digital humanities is increasingly institutionalized (and professionalized, and hence has “recognized” experts), housed in elite institutions of higher education, funded by the government (NEH grants for example) as well by for profit companies? What then becomes of the notion of “crowdsourcing,” the volunteer transcription projects, or the public history origins of some digital humanities projects?

 The digital humanities has considered interface with alt-ac, interdisciplinarity, publicly accessible, and dare I even say valuable, intellectual work that doesn’t always “fit” into expert-driven categories. Academics are struggling (See this year’s MLA for example and the documents that emerged out of it) to find ways to fit their collaborative, interdisciplinary, technologically informed works into traditional models of scholarship that see knowledge production, service, and teaching as separate areas, divides that are often transcended in/by the digital humanities. Think of the #thatcamp phenomenon for example. Does one put that under “service” or “scholarship?” What if you present on a pedagogical project? Then does it fall under teaching?

By  “oscillating between the high/low” as Suzanne Buchan suggests in her discussion of “curating and exhibiting animation,” we may be able to find away to both ensure that people engaged in digital humanities are not marginalized  ( has been quite open about the challenges she has faced, despite her considerable prestige in the #DH community) and forestalling the creation of an (academic) digiterati. (I’ve already written about my fears about a new digital divide as it might effect students)

Buchan argues that curatorial practices initially consigned animation to “low art” and de-emphasized its “artistic practice.” Only through critical/curatorial interventions into discourses was animation re-located into the “high art” a move “not entirely beneficial,” hence her desire to “oscillate.” How can the digital humanities secure enough status to ensure it’s practitioners’ survival and the resources needed for it to flourish without it becoming the purview of (yet another) elite group of academics?

Having raised rather more questions that I have answers for, particularly in the latter case, I want to argue now that the art world discourse on curation has much to offer to teachers of the digital humanities. I initially became interested in the digital humanities for pedagogical purposes. In an effort to make a liberal arts education more applicable to contemporary issues I figured I’d take some time out of my sabbatical to see what was out there. What I thought I found was (mostly) new ways of doing some things I already do

My first impulse was that a special topics course that I teach, History in the City, would lend itself nicely to the digital humanities approach.  Using google maps, a very easy interface, students could “annotate” some of the historical sites that abound here in Philadelphia, drawing links in from various sites and combining that with their own “scholarly” commentary drawn from course materials.


Critical Thinking and Curation

My immediate thought at seeing “curate” bandied about online was that this trope could be quite useful for teaching students critical thinking. Curatorial scholars have devoted considerable time to defending their intellectual contributions. Liz Wells in “Curatorial Strategy as Critical Intervention“ argues that curation is critical thinking as in “established academic models of enquiry” relying on “a research process involving investigation, discovery, and critical reflection” which offer some neat encapsulations of what we might try to teach our students.

investigation – how to do “digital” often subsumed under “tech literacy”
discovery – processes of clicking through, following likes/RT, but also stumbling, as well as following likes, shares, RT
critical reflection – how does online inform/incorporate into learning process/product

I began to think about having students “read” critically their own Facebook or Twitter or tumblr (or whatever) accounts and then expanding out to a larger more reflexive project in which they explore a topic online beginning from a social media site while documenting the process of their exploration (which sites, how they found sites, how they “read” sites, what they think of sites).

Am I (Like) What I Like

Alun Rowlands’ essay “The Movement Began with Scandal” argues for the need to develop structures and models of thinking that are sensitive to emerging arts practices. Rowlands offers us a jumping off point for considering how #Dh transforms rather than informs (i.e. rather than simply using digital means to do what we always do in the classroom think ppt at its very very worst as “technologically enhanced pedagogy”). As a professor of gender studies this seemed most applicable to thoughts about identity formation giving rise to my question Am I (like) what I like?

I began to wonder how I could help students explore the notion that they are already (active and engaged) curators of their own existences. I hoped to encourage a greater self-reflexive practice, not only because future employers may view them through their social media usage, but also because the digital  is how they are in the world. If I want them to become engaged human beings, how do I help them to find the difference between slacktivism and activism (if there is such a thing), or to consider the interactions they have online (I was flabbergasted by how many students bandied about all sorts of epithets online, words I knew they’d shy away from in conversation).

In “Critical Spatial Practices: Curating, Editing, Writing,” Jane Rendell outlines the following roles at work in the curation process. I expand her usage to roles that we all inhabit, either consciously or not, online. (although she emphasizes the divergences within these pairings, I’ve focused on their similarities)
editor/curator – developing and clarifying relationships
artist/architect – creating “spatially” via practice and appropriation
critic/theorist – exploring experience and identity

For Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, I’m thinking of a project in which students use one of the many online curation tools to create a sort of document/map/visual of their (online) identities with explications drawing on the above three roles. What/who do I relate to and how? How can I/do I “arrange” those relationships? What does it mean that I relate and arrange in those ways?

The Student as Historian/Curator
The strongly interdisciplinary turn of curation gave rise to another idea for a project that I’ll use in a U.S. women’s history course. Rendell argues that we must approach artworks as “sites” for investigation form “various tools of investigation” which seems a quite fruitful way of helping students to grasp the digital humanities. Similarly, Chris Dorsett argues that an “expanded field” of arts practice informs contemporary art in ways that I would argue the “expanded (digital) field” informs history.

Using Omeka (I think), I plan to have the students create online exhibitions using primary source documents (for which they will do beginning text mining) as well as visual and audio sources (I already incorporate basics analytical techniques for the “readings” of these into the course), in order to produce their own “histories.” I hope the curatorial process will help stress the constructed nature of history as well as its reliance on “other” fields (art history, literature, politics, economics etc).

All of the above will I think admirably meet my goal of helping students in the liberal arts to acquire “transferable” skills for life after college, however, more importantly, the process of formulating the projects caused me to realize that in fact “doing” digital pedagogy does involve considerably more than “digital” tools to accomplish “non-digital” pedagogical means.

While in the past students have created document analysis portfolios, and participated in peer editing and evaluation of said portfolios, that is not the same thing as creating for public consumption an online historical exhibition.  The processes of “doing” digital invoked a third party to the classroom, the “out there” of the digital realm.  Who, how, and what that consists of hasn’t been revealed to me.  Perhaps no one will ever view the Omeka exhibitions or read the Google map annotations, but the awareness that someone might, I think, markedly transforms the endeavor for students, bridging the classroom to the “out there” that is so often the most difficult part of the liberal arts education.

*in the process of working as part of a Getty Institute team of scholars, Ale Juhasz, Jennie Klein, JenniSorkin, and Vivian Green-Fryd, I questioned my suitability to make suggestions to exhibition curators as I am “just a historian.”  Jenni Sorkin asked me if I selected the documented included in my web 1.0 project for Women and Social Movements.  When I said yes, she pointed out that my process was, in fact, curation.

Postscript – I wrote the above in the hopes of provoking conversation on twitter, which happened.  Ernesto Priego alerted me to this event via which I found this post by a curator.

More updates (confession I spewed out my thoughts without doing tons of research.  Twitter for me is all about starting the conversations you want to have, not getting the final word. )  Found this great grad seminar at the New School, with post on Pinterest and curation.

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