From Secondary-Source-Using Technophobe to Archive Ninja Technophile: A Bildungsroman

Technophobe to Technophile

On Monday, August 25th, the only thing I had in common with Mark Zuckerberg was skin the color of a frightened piglet. And this piglet had reason to be frightened as she sat in her first Early American Minority Literature class session on that August evening:

My imaginings of how the semester would go.
                       My imaginings of how the semester would go.

Three and a half months later, I still have a pasty piglet complexion (in fact, even paler since I’m three months removed from the summer sun), but I have done this, and this, and — drum roll, please — THIS (disclaimer, please wait until Monday morning for full effect)! Now, I still haven’t done anything like this, but Dr. May assures us that we could if we simply uploaded a certain CMS to our directory (look at me speaking the lingo). In fact, I recently had the bona fide idea that I could look for some amateur website design/coding gigs, on the heels of which an ironic giggle followed.

The name's Bacon. Zuckerbacon.
                                            “The name’s Bacon. Zuckerbacon.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go in learning all there is to know about writing code and creating websites, but I’ve learned the basics. Now I have a solid foundation upon which to build. I guess you could say I’ve drunk the kool-aide. Thanks to this class, I’ve added a New Media certificate to my doctoral study plan, where only a Women and Gender Studies certificate existed before. I’ve even been daydreaming about ways I could incorporate all of this stuff into my own teaching some day. Perhaps I’ll eventually petition to do a technology-infused 1083-T or something.

Secondary Source User to Ninja Archivist

Just as invaluable as learning to code and build websites, though more apparently so at the outset, was Dr. May’s inclusion of and emphasis on doing original archival research for the course. Prior to taking Early American Minority Literature with Dr. May, I had an idea of the importance of archival research, but it was completely unfamiliar territory. However, like so many of the historic individuals we read about this semester who had to learn to traverse often unwelcoming physical and/or social spaces (Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, William Apess, Elizabeth Ashbridge, Mary Talbot, and Sarah Kemble Knight, to name several), I knew adventuring into this territory was vital if I wanted to make the most meaningful contributions as a scholar. Fortunately, Dr. May offered himself as guide to my classmates and me, offering just enough hands-on instruction (largely through a class field trip to the archive at UT-A) to familiarize us with the idea of working in an archive. Once he’d introduced us to the archive, he encouraged us to pursue a relationship with some archive, starting out with a “group date” before getting all hot and heavy with some archive one-on-one. And judging from my classmates’ presentations of their research, several weeks ago, Dr. May’s introduction had worked: love was in the air.

I have certainly fallen in love with my research project, which I’m calling “Discovering Andrew.” You can find out much more about that project here, but in summary this is a project that seeks to reconstruct the possible life of an individual named Andrew (a “negro servant” who was only ever referenced to once in an antebellum woman’s journal) based on peripheral information. Because early American minority voices were so often silenced or spoken for, it has been difficult to draw definitive conclusions in many areas of Andrew’s life; however, some information has been found, and–just as importantly–Andrew served as a wonderful entry point to find out about the lives of other minority voices at that time (his employer’s slaves, for instance).

Overall, I am so thankful that Dr. May incorporates his passion for and knowledge about technology into his teaching. I am thankful I decided to take this course, and that I was able to take it early in my doctoral program. I believe Dr. May has started ripples that will continue into the future in our lives, into the lives of students to whom we impart this same gift, and into the lives of individuals who interact with our digitized work who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn about history’s quieter voices.

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