NASSH 2017 Slides

After traveling 5,000 miles in 6 days (would not recommend. Especially with a cold/sinus infection), I’m quasi-settled in D.C. for a Library of Congress Junior Fellowship. More on that here.

Many thanks to Jennifer Sterling, Jennifer Guiliano, and Murray Philips for being part of a digital sport history panel at this year’s NASSH convention.

I’ve posted Andrew McGregor’s live-tweeting from my presentation, as well as my slides below. As always, I’m more than happy to continue the discussion via email or Twitter. Or carrier pigeon, if that’s your thing. [And as always, PPT content is covered by a CC license.]




All the Carto DB links:

Blogging Within and Beyond the Academy

This post originally appeared on the University of Iowa’s NEH-funded Next Generation PhD website.

On Thursday, March 2, UIowa’s Next Gen PhD project brought Slate columnist and German PhD Rebecca Schuman to campus to join with our own Classics Department’s Sarah Bond for a panel on blogging and public writing.

I had the opportunity to engage with Rebecca and Sarah throughout the day, from a grad student lunch to an ill-fated podcast recording session with Sarah (that tragically won’t see the light of day because sometimes remembering to be sure I’ve actually pressed “record” is hard), followed by the public flipped Q&A.

The blogging advice both panelists offered was simple, without being simplistic:

  • Build versatility, conciseness, and precision in your writing skills. Let your training as a humanities scholar shape your writing as you make sense of particular events or trends. However, a blog post isn’t the condensed version of a seminar paper. Most graduate students are being trained to communicate specialized knowledge to a specialized audience. Jargon isn’t the enemy, but imagine you are writing for a general education undergraduate audience. Not your Department’s upperclass majors—rather, the freshmen and sophomores who need convincing that your discipline’s way of seeing the world matters.
  • Find a way to produce consistent, quality output for a specific audience. Developing an audience and accumulating a body of work requires years of consistent output and quality content. Trying to build that while managing grad school teaching, research, and coursework loads can be daunting. Start with micro-blogging on a platform like Twitter. Find an online academic community or group of scholars/writers who are working in your area. Many academic organizations have an online presence with a blog; see, for example, the blogs of the American Musicological Society or the North American Society for Sport History. The African American Intellectual History Society’s Black Perspectives site gives graduate students the opportunity to be in conversation with established scholars in a vibrant, thriving online blogging community. I’ll be writing a post on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in a couple weeks for the Sport in American History group blog.
  • Have a network and don’t be afraid to use it. Sarah Bond’s first piece in the New York Times was published after she reached out to a faculty mentor who wrote for the Times. Her evolution as a public historian was shaped by other classicists she identified as role models for the types of writing and public engagement she wanted to cultivate. Rebecca Schuman’s “Thesis Hatement” piece appeared in Slate after she reached out to a Slate editor.  Find the people further down the line who are doing what you want to do. Comb their resumes/CVs, make connections, and be willing to invest in those relationships.
  • Avoid predatory or exploitative publishing models. Recognize that freelance blogging can provide some financial compensation—but likely not enough to support you full time. The peer-reviewed academic publishing model assumes writing and research labor is being undertaken by scholars who are receiving compensation for their work from an employing institution. Blogging when research and writing are part of your job description, subsidized by your employer, is a unique set of circumstances. I appreciated Rebecca’s clarity in this area. She doesn’t read, edit, or comment on pieces for free. She wrote a piece in the Chronicle on “The Academic Book as Expensive, Nihilistic Hobby.” Talk to a professional faculty member in a journalism department or someone you know who actively freelances. Start to figure out the business side of publishing. Learn the etiquette. Know what practices and publications to avoid.

Detailed advice, thoughtful advice, given by those with a lot of experience pursuing these types of writing opportunities. I’m looking forward to applying it when writing my own baseball-related blog post. If you came to the site wanting a recap of the Next Gen blogging event, you have now reached the point when you can stop reading, close the browser window, and go watch Lin-Manuel Miranda do carpool karaoke with James Corden.

Maybe it was the midterm fog that always seems to set in before Spring Break. Maybe it was the stress of a hectic week overshadowed by my own looming comprehensive oral examination (now successfully DONE). Whatever the full reason, trying to recap and process this Next Gen event has been hard emotionally, mentally, and intellectually.

Interacting with Schuman and Bond was a study in contrasts, for me encapsulated in a moment from the Q&A. Judith Pascoe asked what the panelists would do differently if they could redo their graduate education. Rebecca immediately responded with something along the lines of “I wouldn’t do it,” expanding on her answer to talk about the need for graduate students to get real information about job market prospects and legitimate, substantive support for finding alternate paths.

When asked the same question, Sarah responded “I wouldn’t change anything. Maybe make my interest in GIS clear earlier.” [Apologies to both panelists for my butchered paraphrasing.]

In the graduate student lunch, Rebecca talked about how her graduate school experience required her to shut down or set aside parts of what make her who she is.

In the lost podcast recording session, Sarah talked about her rich formative graduate school experiences, and about mentors who were supportive when her advisors and colleagues didn’t support her public writing.

A study in contrasts.

For Schuman, a negative post-doc experience and unsuccessful prolonged academic job search has led to her annual practice of deconstructing and grading MLA job ads.

Bond went from dissertating at UNC to a year-long Mellon Junior Faculty Fellowship at Washington and Lee, after which she was hired for a tenure-track position at Marquette University before taking up her tenure-track position at Iowa.

A study in contrasts. These are two people who had very different graduate school experiences and experienced graduate school (and academia) very differently.

From the conversations I’m having with other graduate students, I think coming face-to-face with someone like Schuman can be terrifying. Many of us want to believe we’re going to be Sarah Bond, but we know somewhere deep down that the job placement data in our fields suggests we’re more likely to have a job market experience like that of Schuman.

Both Bond and Schuman talked about the power and influence of mentors and role models, positive and negative. I’m grateful for the Vanderbilt University faculty who were brutally honest with a naïve PhD-bound undergraduate senior four years ago. They talked about tiered hiring. They talked about the real academic job market. They were as transparent as they could be about the challenges and pitfalls of graduate school. I wish every college senior with an inflated GPA and decent writing chops could receive the same level of candor. I came into graduate school with the rose-colored glasses mostly already off.

Emotional support and self-advocacy matter. I’m grateful for an American Studies department and advisor who are at least somewhat open to my zig-zagging path through grad school. Hearing about Rebecca Schuman’s graduate school experience, I was reminded that openness and receptivity aren’t universal. I’d like to believe the advocacy work that initiatives like the Next Gen PhD project are doing will help shift the conversation and expectations for future graduate students. I might hope that future Next Gen PhD students are provided with support, resources, and community, rather than being expected to figure it out and seek it out on their own. Speaking from experience, trying to build a new infrastructure and communicate alternate goals can be stressful and exhausting, even when faculty are receptive.

Beware the pitfalls of the gig economy. Labor that’s valued should be compensated. Perhaps I’m trying to make a statement about graduate student labor, but I’ll go back to Rebecca’s comment about not freely sharing her time, labor, and expertise. Since the Next Gen event, I’ve started paying attention to the amount of “free” labor expected in academia. [Hint: it’s often gendered emotional labor.] My students skip office hour appointments and expect me to reschedule. I’m irked when a faculty member doesn’t respond to my spring break email. In the now-infamous lost podcast, Sarah Bond talked extensively about the female mentors she leaned on in order to grow as a publicly-engaged scholar. Academia’s culture of undefined work/life boundaries doesn’t translate well into the freelance alt-ac market. To quote Rebecca Schuman, “We don’t live in a Marxist utopia.”

All of this is to say that being realistic matters. I’ve heard Sarah Bond talk in other forums about how her Mellon fellowship was an entry point back into an academic career. Without that experience, her digital and technical skills would have likely moved her toward the alt-ac market. Schuman’s point about getting real job placement information is well-taken, but at some level graduate students have to internalize and personalize the reality of those job placement numbers. “Special snowflake syndrome” is a great coping strategy but a horrible professional development strategy. In my first semester at Iowa, I saw the experiences dissertating students in my program were having on the academic job market. I found myself at the Grad College’s “The Malleable PhD” event, featuring the Lilli Research Group’s L. Maren Woods. It was the Next Generation PhD before we had a Next Generation PhD, and made the degree seem like more than an unemployment death sentence. Transferable skills. Converting CVs to resumes. Identifying skill sets and career sectors. Seeing the PhD as being about skill acquisition and professional development, as well as about subject specialization and research training. Yes, those are all buzzwords, but I’ve got to believe somewhere in there is a path through graduate school that leads toward sustainable, feasible careers for graduate students. Don’t be dismayed or unsettled by Schuman’s contrarian perspective. Visit the Versatile PhD website. Go to the Graduate College’s Open Doors Conference in April. Start to broaden the horizon toward which a PhD can lead.

A Method to the Method

This post originally appeared on the University of Iowa’s NEH-funded Next Generation PhD Project online site.

In most humanities PhD programs, at some point in the first year of graduate coursework, students take a theory and methods course. At the University of Iowa, graduate students in English take “Introduction to Graduate Study” in the first year, and the History Department offers the “First Year Graduate Colloquium” and a class entitled “History Research Methods.” Students pursuing the Public Digital Humanities Certificate take “Digital Humanities Theory and Practice,” in which a mix of Library Science and humanities PhD students were enrolled when I took it in Fall 2015. In my home department of American Studies, we take two iterations of “Interdisciplinary Research in American Studies” (formerly “Theory and Practice of American Studies”), taught each fall by rotating faculty. I’ve also spent this fall semester taking Journalism and Mass Communication’s (JMC) “Approaches to Media Communication,” a required course for incoming JMC masters and doctoral students.

Having been through now four versions of a humanities-oriented theory and methods course, I offer a few observations:

#1. Theory and methods courses make a whole lot more sense in Year 3 of a PhD than they do in Year 1. I appreciate the American Studies Department’s model of having conversations about theory, method, and practice be ongoing and embedded throughout the curriculum. Discussions that began during my first semester in the program have threaded through many of the other courses I’ve taken in the Department. The same kind of ongoing conversation has enriched my Digital Humanities (DH) Certificate coursework.

#2. Conversations about method and modes of scholarly production aren’t typical in graduate student training. With the exception of my DH coursework and this semester’s “Approaches” course, few foundational courses challenged me to think about the relationship between method and form, or to envision alternate modes of scholarly production. I don’t want to be overly-critical of traditional theory and methods courses—they exist to familiarize and ground scholars-in-training with a discipline’s history, contours, and debates. Within graduate education’s highly-disciplinary structure, these courses serve a vital and significant purpose. [Disclaimer: While doing research for this post, I found out that the Spring 2017 “History Research Methods” course has a digital history focus. Three cheers for Public Humanities in a Digital World cluster hires!]

#3. We can all learn from triathletes. My experience suggests that foundational courses rarely push graduate students to explore “big picture” questions about what type of career they want to approach by means of PhD training. Triathletes who swim in open water races have to balance making forward progress with checking to be sure they’re going in the right direction. It’s a technique called “sighting”—as the swimmer continues to move forward in the water, she also looks up periodically to “sight” a buoy, shore, boat, or some type of visual marker in the distance, and course corrects if needed. Sighting isn’t easy—it requires seeing beyond the choppy water conditions, the relentless drive to keep making forward progress, and all the other swimmers in the water. However, taking the time and energy to see a horizon beyond the immediate situation and proactively move toward it is a vital way to successfully manage a race.

The semester I spent in “DH Theory and Practice” was a crash course in all the different forms scholarship can take, a semester-long experiment in “sighting” that revealed multiple paths through the course of graduate school, a range of skill sets I wanted to develop, and multiple horizons I could pursue with a PhD. On an individual level, it was the Next Gen PhD project before there was a Next Gen PhD project.

#4. Graduate students should be prepared to ask questions and push boundaries. Emboldened by my growing DH facility, I’ve walked into PhD seminars unafraid to ask the Amanda Visconti-esque question “Can I do this?” (the “this” being something that bears little resemblance to a standard seminar paper). I’ve found the answer most often is yes. I’m curious to see how this kind of conversation changes as I move toward proposing a born-digital dissertation. One-off projects can be a useful way to build a portfolio of work, but building robust, scalable projects (particularly in DH) requires early collaboration, technical expertise, and institutional support. My prediction is that alternative dissertations will also likely be highly collaborative dissertations.

#5. All hail the interdisciplinary methods course! I’ve spent the fall semester in Meenakshi Gigi Durham’s “Approaches to Media Communication” course. The description, from the University Catalog:

“In this graduate seminar, students will explore the range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and techniques that allow us to study, interpret, and criticize various forms of media. We will examine the ways the media intersect with political, economic, and social shifts through analyzing key scholarly works in media communication research. The goal of the class will be to provide students with an understanding of how to pose original, exciting, and clear research questions that lead to rigorous and useful research in media communication.”

I might rewrite the description to read “Some of the things I wish someone had talked about when I started graduate school” (see observation #1). The course delved into everything from critical theory, method frameworks, and research design to journal publishing, academic writing, and the job market. Never underestimate the power of dissecting and evaluating academic writing at the sentence level. [Graduate students, if you haven’t checked out Booth’s The Craft of Research, do so now.]

As I started to brainstorm a topic for the final proposal, I was also in an Archives & Media course, working on a DH project much larger than what I could accomplish in one semester. I started to envision my Archives & Media prototype as a digital dissertation, and Professor Durham was fully supportive when I asked if a proposal that talked about databases, maps, and visualizations would be acceptable. Articulating a dissertation project a full year before I actually defend a prospectus has forced me to grapple early on with the challenges, logistics, and justifications for a non-traditional project, much in the same way that Ben Miele’s 3MT experience shaped his dissertation’s developmental arc. My range of methods courses have grounded me in critical theory and American Studies frameworks, and have also provided a space for me to explore what my path through a Next Gen PhD might look like.

Graduate students! Like the idea of a methods course that incorporates alternate scholarly approaches, multi-modal projects, and digital humanities? Check out Judith Pascoe’s spring 2017 course on alternative scholarly approaches.

Using the Archive to Teach Sport History, Digital Humanities, and Rhet-Comp

My first teaching appointment at UIowa has been in the general education Rhetoric program. Rhetoric was a more logical fit than literature gen ed classes, but I got the offer letter at the end of a BM degree program in which I hadn’t taken a single English or Communication Studies class. [Three cheers for AP/dual enrollment credits.] Parsing out the musical elements of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron? No problem. Teaching 20 first-year students how to critically read, write, and speak in 16 weeks? Another story. Being a fresh-faced 22 year old and the instructor of record for a legit class didn’t do much to alleviate imposter syndrome. Like I tell my undergrad students now, that which doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. Except for snakes. Don’t mess with snakes, even if they do turn back into Moses’ rod.

How working in a gen ed rhet-comp program has shaped my perspective on teaching, higher education, grad student labor, and any number of other areas is the subject for another post. But, my final year in Rhetoric starts this fall, so I’m putting a few thoughts on paper. To make a very long story short, in Spring 2015 UIowa’s Sport Management program asked Rhetoric if a “sport themed” class could be offered to meet the gen ed requirement. Similar sections exist for engineering, nursing, pre-law, and business, so this wasn’t a totally foreign concept.

The request was discussed in a Rhetoric faculty meeting, and somehow someone in the room remembered “that graduate TA in the basement with a baseball picture/quote on her office door.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) A few emails later, and I was set to teach 2 sections of “Rhetoric of Sport” in Fall 2015, with the entire summer to design a curriculum. The guinea pig classes of students condensed “Rhetoric of Sport” to “Sport Rhetoric,” and the Department’s now using “Sports Rhetoric.” Despite title changes, the course description has remained the same [with a huge shout-out to grad student colleagues + office mates Chris Henderson, Eileen Narcotta-Welp, Diane Williams, and Diann Rosza]:

“This section will use issues and controversies in sport as a vehicle for studying rhetoric. Through sport-related readings, discussions, and oral/written analytical and persuasive projects, students will explore how mediated representations of sport and various forms of sport communication impact a variety of audiences and stakeholders. Although the course will focus on contemporary and historical sport within the United States, international competition will be addressed.”

In a similar vein to Matt Hodler’s “crowd-sourced” blank syllabus for a post-1900 US Sport History course, the curriculum uses key sport figures, events, and moments in US history to explore race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, nationalism/patriotism, etc…….all through the lens of mediated representations- rhetoric. Side note: if you haven’t read Matt’s piece, stop and go read it now.

With the whole summer to design a curriculum, my first stab at a bibliography was 7 pages long. After some useful input from American Studies faculty, more than a few rounds of revision, and astute feedback from each group of students who took the class last year, the list of topics and materials I’ll be using this fall:

Introduction & Foundations (Unit 1):

  • Jay, Katherine. “Introduction” from More Than Just a Game: Sports in American Life Since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Moller, William. “We, the Public, Place the Best Athletes on Pedestals.” From They Say/I Say2nd Edition With Readings. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 545-551.

Gender and Sexuality (Unit 2):

  • Eitzen, Stanley D., and Maxine Baca Zinn. “The De-athleticization of Women: The Naming and Gender Marking of Collegiate Teams.” Sociology of Sport Journal 5 (1989): 362-370.
  • Grindstaff, Laura, and Emily West. “Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport.” Social Problems 53 no. 4 (2006). 500-518.
  • Crittenden, Ann. “Closing the Muscle Gap.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 110-114.

Race & Ethnicity (Unit 3):

  • Rhoden, William. “Chapter 7, The Conveyor Belt: The Dilemma of Alienation,” from Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. 171-196.
  • King, C. Richard. “On being a warrior: Race, gender and American Indian imagery in sport.” International Journal of the History of Sport 23 no. 2 (2006): 315-330.
  • John Oliver’s “The NCAA” LWT segment.

Body & Respectability Politics (Unit 4):

Cold War Politics & The Olympics (Unit 5):Part 1:

  • Ryan, Joan. “The Cold Wars: Inside the Secret World of Figure Skating.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 192-198.
  • Padlet Readings

Part 2: Disney 2004 film Miracle and 2015 documentary Red Army

  • Butterworth, Michael L. “Do You Believe in Nationalism? American Patriotism in Miracle” from Examining Identity in Sports Media. Edited by Heather Hundley and Andrew C. Billings. London: Sage, 2010. 133-152.

Baseball & America (Unit 6):

  • Nathan, Daniel A. “Baseball as the National Pastime: A Fiction Whose Time Is Past.” International Journal of the History of Sport 31 (2014). 91-108..

Breaking Barriers In Sport (Unit 7):Part I: Warner Bros. 2013 film 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.

  • Ruck, Rob. “Introduction” from Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011. Vii-xiii.

Part II: PBS 2016 Ken Burns documentary Jackie Robinson.

 Sport & 9/11 (Unit 8):

  • Jenkins, Tricia. “The Militarization of American Professional Sports: How the Sports-War Intertext Influences Athletic Ritual and Sports Media.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 20 (2013). 1-16.

Media & Sport (Unit 9): ESPN IX for IX, Let Them Wear Towels.

  • Ricchardi, Sherry. “Offensive Interference.” From Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2007. 308-317.
  • DiCaro, Julie. “ Vitriol. Hate. Ugly truth about women in sports and social media.” Sport Illustrated. 28 September 2015.

 Space & Place for Sport (Unit 10):

  • Beaver, Travis D. “Roller Derby Uniforms: The Pleasures and Dilemmas of Sexualized Attire.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport (2014): 1-19.
  • John Oliver’s “Stadiums” LWT segment.

Civil Rights & College Sports (Unit 11):Part I: ESPN 30 for 30 Ghosts of Ole Miss

Part II:
  • Schultz, Jaime. “Introduction” and “Chapter 3: Ozzie Simmons, Floyd of Rosedale, and a Tale of Two Governors” from Moments of Impact: Injury, Racialized Memory, and Reconciliation in College Football. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. 1-20, 73-102.
  • Storify readings

A lot there, and a lot that’s missing. Also- behold the glories of Padlet. One of the best free DH pedagogy tools out there, along with Storify. If you haven’t explored using it in the classroom, or even for your own curriculum planning, give it a try. Last spring I converted an entire Foundations of Feminist Inquiry PhD seminar to the gospel of Padlet. If you have questions about the curriculum, how I use it, or the assignments that go with it, let me know in the comment section.You can check out some of the written projects online at the course blog.

During my first semester teaching the curriculum, for my own research I was working on a project with old Vanderbilt yearbooks and student newspapers. I had the crazy idea students in the class could benefit from doing a similar project in the UIowa University Archive + Special Collections. UI’s incredibly gracious Special Collections Instruction Librarian Amy Chen should have told me the idea was crazy when I met with her in October 2015, but she didn’t. After a somewhat rocky first attempt, we debriefed and regrouped, brought in University Archivist David McCartney, revised the assignment, and went for it again Spring 2016, using a curated primary source set model from the National Archives (Amy’s brilliant idea).

In the Rhetoric curriculum, this assignment is a persuasive analysis + synthesis public speaking project, but the skills it hones fit other curriculum objectives. Check out the full assignment sheet.

An excerpt:

Throughout the semester we have explored and discussed the different ways sport (specific sports/athletes as well as “sport” more broadly) relate to a variety of issues and events within American society. We have also addressed the role sport narratives (the stories we tell and are told about sport) impact + relate to society. Your final project will explore how many of these same themes and issues have been part of the history of sport here at the University of Iowa.

As you move through the composition process for this assignment, you should work toward being able to clearly identify (1) the event/individual/team/era you will be focusing on, (2) what primary source materials you have found useful AND what collection they came from, and (3) why/how you find this topic compelling or interesting.

Some links to digitized collections to start your research process:

Graded components of this process include:

  1. Topic selection and research using primary sources (Weeks 10-12)
  2. Analysis and interpretation of those sources and the events they relate—putting them into a broader historical, social, and cultural context (Weeks 12-13)
  3. Creation of a narrated video featuring your primary source material and your analysis/interpretation (Weeks 13-15)
  4. Public presentation of your narrative project (Week 16)

Effective final projects will:

  • Have a clear theme, topic, and scope (a clear sense for how the primary sources you have found “fit together”)
  • Insightful analysis and interpretation of the primary sources (what events/issues do these materials communicate, how can we interpret these in light of other course readings/documentaries/discussions/etc.)
  • An aesthetically appealing, well-designed video that communicates a clear narrative about your project (more than just “Here’s the cool stuff I found in the archive!” Your narrative should put your archival materials “in context”). Narration should be clear, well-prepared and include your own analysis and interpretation of the primary source material.

It’s more than a few steps removed from a “point-and-deliver” argumentative final speech. After we go over the assignment sheet, students get additional information on resources/tools for the technical components of the project. The short version is PPT or iMovie, but again- can go into more detail in comments. The idea for a narrated video comes from the Iowa Narratives Project and Archives Alive curriculum produced by UIowa’s IDEAL Initiative. Side note- if you take teaching and digital learning practicums in the same semester, you will end up completely revamping your curriculum, whatever you’re teaching. All credit goes to Megan Knight and Matt Gilchrist. Top-notch pedagogues and mentors.

The why behind adopting (or adapting) an alternate curriculum is multifaceted. The short version for me was I wanted students working in the archives to see how the issues, themes, and topics we’d been engaging with all semester were part of their own University’s history. I’ll never forget the moment I looked at a 1900 Vanderbilt yearbook and learned students who wanted to join the Mississippi Club were required to have seen at least one lynching. There’s something to be said for staring your alma mater’s history in the face to see all that once was good but also terrible. [Speaking of staring your history in the face, Vanderbilt’s first-year reading for Fall 2017 is Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by fellow alum Andrew Maraniss. WELL DONE, VANDERBILT.]

The digital question is even thornier. DH research and pedagogy are exciting new buzzwords, the latest, greatest shiny new things that will reinvigorate our lagging, outmoded disciplines. Those of us who teach in “old school” basement classrooms are quick to point out comparing a flipped, technology-enhanced classroom to “philosophy and environment of a startup” speaks more to neoliberalism in the increasingly corporatized higher ed landscape than it does a holistic appraisal of the value of a liberal arts, humanistic education in the 21st century.

There’s a complex conversation to be had around the ethics and merits of DH work, especially as relates to technology, resources, funding, and teaching. But, I’ve also seen how incorporating DH pedagogy in the classroom raises the stakes for student work and fosters student engagement and buy-in. When an argumentative essay becomes a public-facing blog post, students start taking revision seriously. When essay feedback is a narrated screencast rather than margin comments, students respond differently. When students are able to use the space of a final speech project to discover and tell a story that matters to them, they want to do good work. When that project lives on in a medium that can be archived, publicized, and shared on social media, students want to create something that has a longer shelf life than a 6-8 minute speech delivered in the sleep-deprived haze of Week 16.

A Phi Kappa Psi fraternity member wants to learn more about fellow fraternity brother Nile Kinnick. A student becomes outraged when she learns UI used to require dancing, etiquette, and comportment classes for female students. A student-athlete on the gymnastics team learns about the 1969 men’s national championship team whose victory was overshadowed by civil rights-driven tensions and protests in the football program. Students who live in Slater Hall realize the building’s namesake, Duke Slater, couldn’t live in segregated University housing when he was a student. I’m more than a little biased about the allure and potentiality of archival research, but again- there’s something to be said for being confronted by your own history.

I’ll let some of the stand-out projects speak for themselves, but with the summer opening up time, space, and mental energy to consider what we’ll be teaching in the fall (and how), think about what possibilities and resources await in primary source collections and university archives. The results are worth it.

“If You Build It, They Will Come”: Complicating Baseball’s Midwestern Myth

[Subtitled: “When your summer baseball road trip turns into the early draft of a dissertation chapter.” Go figure.]

Last August, I was sitting behind first base at Ashford University Field, watching the Clinton Lumberkings face off against the Lansing Lugnuts. I had started the day in in Dyersville, Iowa, home to the Field of Dreams movie site where in 1989 Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella made a generation of baseball fans believe that “If you build it, he will come.” Steeped in nostalgia, the site features the original film’s house, barn, and baseball field, and the cornfields—actual farmland—that surround the rural community reinforce the remote “otherworldliness” of the site. The plan was to finish my baseball day trip with an evening Minor League Baseball (used interchangeably with MiLB) game, squeezing one last ounce of small-town baseball nostalgia out of my summer before the semester began. I drove into Clinton, a town of 26,000 with lumber mill roots, and parked my car in a dilapidated lot behind a field that had also seen better days. Just as I found my seat, the entire park began to shake as a train blasted through on the adjacent tracks. During batting practice, members of both teams shouted across the field in a garble of Spanish and English. Hitting coaches resorted to hand signals when translation efforts and broken Spanglish failed. A Latino host family chided a player in Spanish as they brought him a bottle of Gatorade and a banana. My rural Midwestern imaginary was shattered.

My generation of baseball fans came of age in an era when baseball fields dotted city parks and suburbs and the baseball films that emerged in the 1980s and ‘90s preached the message that true baseball was about fathers and sons playing catch in the Heartland. Particularly after the 1994 player’s strike and stigma of the steroid era, professional baseball in urban spaces became increasingly suspect and untrustworthy. In the midst of this crisis of representation, player demographics began shifting with an influx of players from outside the United States, particularly from Latin America. Rather than step into that uncertainty and craft a new, more heterogeneous and culturally-relevant identity, Major League Baseball’s marketing and engagement with popular culture looked to a particular version of baseball’s past to maintain present relevance, a trend seen elsewhere in baseball’s history. Rather than move forward, baseball-as it has throughout American history-looked back.


Read on for the rest of “’If You Build It, They Will Come: Complicating Baseball’s Midwestern Myth.”

And just in case you weren’t already hooked, an excerpt from the ending:


In a moment of sad irony, professional baseball in 2016 is determined to reenact the game of the early 1900s, promoting a version of “respectable” white masculinity that an earlier era’s rampant gambling, alcoholism, and other maladies profoundly complicates.

This is the baseball I’ve grown up with. A baseball world in which St. Louis Cardinals fans sell makeshift Darren Wilson jerseys outside the stadium just months after Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. A moment in which the post-racial collides with the post-modern.

But as a fan I also like baseball, in spite of its flaws. I watch the game, follow the season, and it seems as if I am dipped in magic waters that bring both pain and pleasure. In baseball, I see a sport with its barrier-breaking heroes and glaring omissions, a trumpeted historical legacy marked by deafening silences. A sport too rooted in its past to make sense of its present.

I see Puig, Harper, and Bautista, Ken Burns’ new Jackie Robinson documentary, and I am encouraged and excited. I’d like to think that people will still come. People will come to baseball, look into its contentious past, and see the imagined history in a new light. The professional baseball establishment will probably mind.

The field of baseball is a piece of our American past, reminding us of all that once was good but also terrible. Showing us the lasting ideological power of the game across American history and culture. Showing us the legacies of oppression and inequality that continue as present-day realities. Offering an alternative contemporary truth that would erase and rebuild the known and beloved baseball history. And move toward a baseball we might want to make great again.

A New Post….and Project!

Greetings all! A new post is as long time coming, but wanted to get the word out about a new research project that’s in the works. Back in the day when I was working on my undergrad thesis, I spent a week at the Baseball Hall of Fame Archive and Research Center. Great place and great people all around.

Since I was an archive novice (and seriously how often do you get to spend A WEEK in Cooperstown), I ended up looking at and photographing a lot of collections that ended up not making it into the thesis project……including the entire Steele Sheet Music Collection.

Enter grad school, a growing interest in archives, and a course this semester entitled “Media, Sound, and Cultural Studies.” Since an in-depth project on the Nashville Sounds’ stadium relocation against the backdrop of the city’s widespread gentrification seemed too straight forward, I then thought about the over 800 sheet music images sitting on my hard drive.

Most baseball folks are familiar with Dave Winfield and The Baseball Music Project, which are doing great work bringing to light America’s history of baseball in song. Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary series also has a rich historical soundtrack.

 

But there are still so many baseball songs from the Tin Pan Alley era that aren’t known. Enter The Baseball Sheet Music Project, an Omeka-hosted archival collection.

 

Right now the project’s in its VERY early stages- lots of stuff to work out with copyright, the Hall of Fame’s access restrictions, and PDF quality (among other things). But sheet music PDFs are posted for 175 titles, with lyrics transcribed for most and minimal publication information for all. The ultimate goal (here’s my project….dissertation maybe?) would be a robust archival collection with background on the artists, songs, and writers, and possibly even a sound recording project. Because we can’t let the piano performance undergrad degree go to waste.

Welcome!

Who I am:

Though I’m a proud St. Louis native, Nashville became home a few years ago when Vanderbilt sent the “fat” envelope (and a generous financial aid package). When I wasn’t in the practice room for my piano major or viola minor, you could find me at the Student Recreation Center or Hawkins Field, home of the 2014 National Champion Vanderbilt Commodores. Since the Blair School of Music didn’t want me haunting the corridors for years to come and my parents converted my old bedroom into an office, I moved north to start an MA/PhD program in American Studies and Sports Studies at the University of Iowa.

 

How we went from classical music performance to sport studies:

I realized fairly early on in my Bachelor of Music degree program that a career as a classical musician might not be a good long-term fit. Call it a sobering dose of reality about my own talent level or the realization I wanted to explore opportunities and develop skills that weren’t happening in the practice room (thank you to the Nashville Symphony for some fantastic internship experiences). I decided after one (1) microeconomics lecture that an MBA was not in my future and I should probably start figuring what to do after graduation.

Working as a T.A. in Vanderbilt’s Musicology and Ethnomusicology Dept. got me thinking about grad school as an intriguing possibility. Being one of those people who likes to read books, write papers, and such, sometime around the summer of 2012 I got the idea it could be “fun” to do a larger paper or research project.

The original plan was to research early 16th century German keyboard music……but something baseball-related seemed like a better fit since my German skills were not anything to write home about. Thinking (correctly) a thesis in ethnomusicology should probably have something to do with music, I landed on minor league baseball in music cities. The story of how I went from despising minor league baseball to wanting to research it may come up in a future post. Growing up in St. Louis, I knew from my own experience how important baseball can be for fans and communities, and I wanted to explore how music cultures and baseball communities were interacting in places known as “music cities.”

Thanks to a nifty program called the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program, I was able to spend the summer before senior year on a baseball road trip…….in the name of research. After 2 months sleeping in hotels and eating press box food, I showed up for senior year, convinced some combination of grad school and baseball research needed to be in my future. (Side note- you can read all about how the road trip and thesis project ended here.)

Through some expert guidance from incredible faculty mentors, I stumbled upon the field of American Studies and found a program at Iowa where folks were doing sport-culture research. After a harrowing grad school application process I never want to go through again, I was blessed with the opportunity to join Iowa’s program. Unfortunately Nashville’s weather decided not to come with.

Looking forward to using the blog as a platform to share research/teaching/grad school adventures…..and all the baseball. Welcome again, and thanks for coming along for the ride!