On Friday, October 10th I attended, “What is a Dissertation, New Models, New Methods, New Media.” This event was a panel discussion, which was part of a series of talks put forth by CUNY as part of their digital humanities initiative. The panel consisted of five PhD candidates, who were chosen to speak because of the brilliant and innovative ways they went about presenting their dissertations. Each speaker brought something new to the table and used the tools of digital humanities to benefit their projects in unique ways. There was however a common theme throughout the talk, which was the need for innovation and progress in the ways, we present information to both our peers and superiors.
The first speaker, Jade E. Davis, talked a lot about outreach and how she built a community of users through the use of Tumblr. On her blog, http://vintageblackbeauty.tumblr.com she shares digitized historical photographs with an audience she never would have been able to reach before. Currently she has 2000 followers and 31,000 readers spanning over 192 countries.
The next speaker, Dwayne Dixon, studied youth culture in Japan. He analyzed his topic from many different angles and in order to appease his superiors actually ended up working harder than those doing a traditional dissertation. His project proves that it is possible to create an unorthodox dissertation if that is what you are passionate about, but be wary of the fact that it is likely that you will have to produce a traditional project as well.
Gregory T. Donovan created a site called mydigitalfootprint.org. In doing this project he taught young adults how to engage with social media as a creator rather than a user, and through that, taught them a lot about privacy online. This talk in particular taught me a lot about how to execute a research study when you have a large number of participants and made me think about rights and consent waivers in a whole new way.
Amanda Licastro analyzed how students write online, gathering her data from six years of E-Portfolios. She has done a lot of work pouring through thousands of entries and creating visualizations when she saw a trend. However, now it has gotten to the point where her work isn’t just about blogs, to take it out of blog form and have to present it as a traditional paper would just be absurd. I am actually really curious as to how she will decided to present it. Will she stick to purely blog format? Write out a full paper? Do something to meet her superiors halfway? Whatever it is I’m sure it will be creative and fresh.
Lastly, Nick Sousanis tackled the topic of visual thinking by drawing his dissertation as a comic book. He argued that we need to challenge the way things are done currently, so that we may redefine what is viewed as scholarly conduct. This point was obviously well received at a digital humanities conference.
Although each speaker discussed their personal struggles involved in being the leaders of change I found this talk to be inspiring. Even though their methods are unconventional they are taking it upon themselves bring new methods into their respective fields. Looking back over the event as a whole, what impressed me most was the tools were used to raise awareness of the event. First, there was a special hashtag on twitter, #dissthediss, and now all of the tweets are archived and made into a viz, highlighting the most frequently tweeted words. There was also a googledoc where attendees could post abstracts of their dissertaions and read more about the presenters’. Finally there was a second Google Doc where people could share questions and suggestions during the event. The use of all of these tools brought a really connected feeling to the presentation and made it a really enjoyable experience.