Friday, August 26, 2011

A Big Week for AALCI

Cherrelle Denwiddie & Alysha Griffin reading Hughes at the AALCI Institute, June 2010
Turns out that this was an important week for AALCI. I heard from two of the students from our first class (2010) of fellows -- Alysha Griffin and Cherrelle Denwiddie -- who just completed their first week of graduate courses.

Alysha is at the University of Kansas, and Cherrelle is at Howard University. Their acceptance and now start at the programs are another development in the dreams that our founder/director Joycelyn Moody had when she envisioned the Institute.

Of course, we cannot take full credit for Alysha's and Cherrelle's achievements. They were outstanding young scholars already when we met them. Cherrelle was then a student at Fisk, where she was an active leader and cultural worker on her campus. Alysha was a student at Spelman College, where, among other things, she worked with "the" Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, a wonderful scholar-guidance machine. Both Alysha and Cherrelle were also UNCF/Mellon Fellows. So, in other words, they were already moving forward in progressive ways.

But AALCI, well, we still "laid our hands" on these two up and coming young scholars. Alysha and Cherrelle were involved from day one with our activities, being shaped by the Institute and also helping to shape it in important ways. I have all kinds of wonderful memories of the two young sister-scholars engaging in discussions with their fellow Institute fellows and with Moody on topics related to black culture, artistic and humanities projects, and the possibilities of becoming college professors and literary scholars.

Oh, and interestingly enough, one of our guest speakers last year was Dana Williams, who chairs the English program at Howard University. Williams and Cherrelle met  at our Institute, and now Cherrelle is there in D.C. Prof. Moody earned her Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, and now, Alysha is there. Funny how small the world is.

It was a year ago now, but I have this distinct memory of sitting on a park bench with Alysha and Cherrelle in Washington Square Park in New York City and talking about how someday they would start graduate school. On that same day, they teamed up to compete against one of the chess masters in the park.

Alysha & Cherrelle teaming up against a chess master in NYC

I took a couple of photos of them playing chess that day thinking that it was a good moment of thoughtful young sister-scholars involved with AALCI making moves. That photo and thought came to mind today as I realized that they were continuing their journeys in graduate programs. It was a big and good week for AALCI. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Technology and AALCI

Yesterday, the last day of our summer institute, I tried to start envisioning how we should approach the reading list for the summer of 2012 session.

I began by wondering aloud to program director Joycelyn Moody what we should do less of next summer. We had more questions than answers. But Moody was certain about what we should increase, which she summed up in just two words: "More Alondra."

We read a single, short essay by Columbia University professor Alondra Nelson about "afrofuturism," a framework for thinking about intersections of African American culture, technology, and speculative narratives. Alondra also participated with our fellows in a Q & A session on twitter.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

AALCI in New York

June 23 - 27, our AALCI crew traveled to New York City to extend our explorations beyond the state of Texas. A sampling of images as the Fellows moved with Program director Joycelyn Moody throughout the city.

Moody with the Fellows in Brooklyn

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ask Emily: The AALCI Program Coordinator

Emily Broadwater, AALCI Program Coordinator with Joycelyn Moody.
This summer, the answer to each and every tough question at the Institute often comes down to two words. Ask. Emily.

How do we borrow a laptop computer or get headphones from the UTSA library? Ask Emily.

What do we do about a few pesky ants in our apartment complex? Ask Emily.

How do we get last minute copies and our flight itineraries? Ask Emily.

Map Maker Visits the Institute

UTSA English Professor Bridget Drinka drawing a map.
 Ok, technically speaking, Bridget Drinka is a professor of English at UTSA, the chair of the department in fact. Technically speaking.

But give her a board and a marker and ask her a question about how to get from *here,* anywhere in the world that *here* is, to some other place *there* where the history of English or sociolinguistics is or was, and you will witness Professor Drinka transforming herself into a map maker of sorts. She'll sketch images, draw lines to connect points, and then provides keys (or additional sources) at the bottom to make sure you find your way.

Actually, relatively speaking, she hardly uses the marker and board. She mostly produces her maps -- virtual maps -- with hand gestures, movements from one side of the room to the other, and through interestingly woven travel narratives.

Yesterday, Professor Drinka met with our Fellows during the early afternoon. She gave us a few glimpses of the routes that the English language (or languages) traveled across the Atlantic to North America. She discussed ground-breaking and innovative research studies that scholars had done focusing on distinct language practices in the United States.

We were so engaged with the presentation and the questions that we had for Professor Drinka that we somehow neglected to ask her about her development as a scholar, her day-to-day life as a professor, what it's like being a department chair. We were simply too curious about the lessons and researching findings that she was sharing.

We wanted to know how one speech pattern got from here to there and exactly why this person or that person talked like this and that while others talked in different ways. Professor Drinka would listen to the questions and take a few moments to consider different routes of answers. Then, each time, she began to do what seemed to come natural: she responded by making maps.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Studying Partial Chronologies

This summer, I devised a small activity that allowed the Fellows to study "partial chronologies" of scholars who concentrate on literature and African American Studies. The chronologies provide a brief glimpse at scholars' engagements with ideas, particular writers, and colleagues in the field over several years.

For the multiple chronologies I needed, I decided to contact some friends and colleagues, including Professors Bryan Carter (University of Central Missouri), Erica Edwards (University of California Riverside), John Ernest (West Virginia University), Sherita Johnson (The University of Southern Mississippi), Alondra Nelson (Columbia University), Jerry W. Ward, Jr. (Dillard University), and our program director Joycelyn Moody (University of Texas at San Antonio).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Librarians Empowering Young Researchers

Institute Fellows looking over materials from the Sterling Houston Papers at UTSA Special Collections Libraries
Last year when we visited the library, I focused primarily on the content of what was covered. This year, however, given my developing interest in the subject of expertise, I was more observant about the knowledge and know-how of our two hosts, reference librarian Tara Schmidt and rare books librarian Juli McLoone.

Schmidt and McLoone clearly have a deep passion for the work that they do in the library, and that passion serves as a driving force behind their commitments to finding answers to questions from students and faculty and to becoming multifaceted resources.
Institute Fellows studying materials from the Sterling Houston Papers

McLoone led the way on a discussion of archival materials and created an exercise that allowed us to explore primary documents from the Sterling Houston Collection. Schmidt provided guidance for our crew on how to pursue leads and locate useful information using the library web-site and various other online databases.

Toward the end of our session, we really received an opportunity to see McLoone's and Schmidt's expertise in action, so to speak. The two librarians listened to our Fellows talk through their planned research projects and offered followup questions that served to help our crew narrow their focus. Most notably for me was observing the processes of Schmidt and McLoone listening and then offering multiple responses based on their experiences fielding all kinds of questions over the years.

Institute Fellow discussing materials with AALCI director Joycelyn Moody

Last week, I captured an image of our Fellows, or more precisely, an image of our Fellows' avatars exploring the virtual worlds of Second Life. This week, I snapped photographs of our Fellows actively looking through and discussing archival materials. In many divergent and overlapping ways, I viewed their time on Second Life and their time working with materials from special collections as distinctly futuristic.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

AALCI and Second Life

The AALCI crew with Bryan Carter in Virtual Harlem on Second Life
Last week, we spent more time on Second Life with the literature professor and tech wizard Bryan Carter adjusting our new avatars and exploring this 3D virtual world. There were about 10 of us, a small group on the one hand, but then again, I figured that it was fairly rare to have so many African American Studies scholars moving around together in Virtual Harlem and Virtual Montmarte.

So I gathered the group in front of one of the museums and took a snapshot.

I had actually made the request for folks to pose for a group photo the day before, but everyone - except Carter - had adamantly refused until they had updated the look of their avatars. (Oh, my, my, my: the stories I could tell about my folks' concern with their physical appearance and fashion attire on Second Life.).

AALCI crew in classroom in Virtual Montmarte on Second Life
We have a good time learning more and more about what it meant to embody these avatars in a culturally distinct space. We visited a museum in Virtual Harlem and saw where Professor Carter teaches his classes in  Virtual Montmarte. The option of teleporting made the move from New York City to Paris so effortless.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Relentless Mission of Bryan Carter

Bryan Carter discussing Second Life & Virtual Harlem with his avatar awaiting instruction.
Like last year, Bryan Carter, a professor of literature at the University of Central Missouri, traveled to the AALCI to spread the gospel--the gospel of getting more of us to make technological devices and digital humanities more central to the work that we do.

In the weeks leading up to his presentation, Professor Carter wanted to gain a little more information about our Institute Fellows. He wanted to know their majors, yes, and how their academic and professional interests related to our program goals. But most importantly, he wanted to know how many of our participants had "smart phones" and "semi-smart phones."

He was already solidifying some ideas related to the use of smart phones in the study of literature and composition, and if enough of our group had up-to-date devices, he was ready and willing to share. And share he did.

Over the course of a few hours, Professor Carter exposed us to dozens of new, cutting edge digital devices and practices. He made us aware of the best and safest storage devices, useful and free software, all kinds of digital tools, and hints about what next big things to expect on the internet and in the world of electronic devices.

And then, there was Second Life.

Since I had previous experience witnessing the reaction to Professor Carter's demonstration on the 3D virtual world Second Life, I knew that it would be a good idea to have that portion of his presentation done after everything else. Once he starts on Second Life, all bets are off. When Professor Carter leads folks onto the "islands" of Virtual Harlem, everyone becomes, as Joycelyn Moody noted, "mesmerized."

Our group spent nearly two hours in Virtual Harlem and Virtual Montmartre, a 3D replica of the famous area in Paris. It was a fun and deeply informing and engaging experience. Just another day's work for Bryan Carter in his relentless mission of spreading the gospel.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

African American Literatures and Cultures Institute 2011

Institute Fellows and supporters at the opening reception
We opened the second year of the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute (AALCI) this past Sunday on the campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio. Our fearless leader Joycelyn Moody brought things together again, and so we're off and running.

We have a group of 8 Institute Fellows from various universities--Cornell, Fisk University, Jackson State, Morehouse College, Mulhenberg College, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, UC Riverside, and Wellesley College.

So far, we've been discussing poetry, the Middle Passage or "the most magnificent drama," as DuBois described it, Malcolm X, black feminism, and digital humanities.

In the coming days, we'll start including updates of our activities and progress. Stay tuned.