It has been a while, dear readers! Thanks for returning. I had the great fortune of receiving one of UNC’s Digital Humanities Curricular Development Fellowships, and wanted to share what I learned.
Hearing Heels: Thoughts on an Aural Archive
In the fall of 2016 I taught a specialized 105 course called Writing in the Humanities. I chose “Stories of Chapel Hill” as my theme, and taught museum studies, oral history, and literature as our three disciplines.
I began thinking about sound in literature last year, when I decided to work from my office on campus instead of at home. I noticed that sounds were helping me feel a part of the community; the background noise of chatter and elevator dings, of squeaking footsteps and the shuffle of books made me feel good. They signaled that I was surrounded by others, and I fed off that energy as I researched and wrote the second chapter of my dissertation.
Sound studies are also becoming more important to medieval studies (especially in art history). We are thinking about sounds beyond the orality of a book read aloud; we are thinking about music (even without notation), and the reverberation of certain spaces, and how daily life was affected by birdsong. My own work is secondarily interested in the power of sound to affect people’s moods, and having experienced this myself, I thought it would be worth exploring in the classroom.
When we got to unit 2, I asked students to consider basic distinctions between human and non-human noise [more about this on Assignment Sequence page]. After introducing historical linguistics and oral history, we debated how the human voice alters our expectations of people and events. Students conducted oral history interviews of people on campus who experienced sound differently than they did. I used these interviews to pair students by theme, and from their they created podcasts based on the mission and format of a StoryCorps series. As a result, the class created an archive of Tar Heel stories that proclaims the depth of diversity in our faculty, staff, and students.
The original assignment series was successful because it is inherently multimodal, so students could work on different stages of composition (collecting data, conducting research, combining findings, collaborating with peers, composing a script) in an organic sequence of discrete tasks. Course evaluations reveal that the podcast was uniquely responsible for increasing students’ confidence in learning new technologies and in writing across unfamiliar genres. Students began the unit as learners, asking questions of their interview subjects, but finished as experts, adapting the content of the interview to fit a broader, thematic whole. This podcasting unit helped me achieve my most fundamental goal as an instructor: to teach students how to teach themselves.
Until next time, wishing everyone a happy start to summer.