DH Class Final Projects

This Spring, I taught at class on Digital Humanities for Theatre at NYU.  It was the first strictly DH class I had taught and it was a fascinating experiment.  The class was set up to be collaborative, project-based, and exploratory.  Typically, each class session would have us examining other projects or tool, writing about them in a class-wide Google Doc, and commenting on each others’ notes.  The class was a great mix of computer-savvy users and newcomers.  For the most part, we learned that good DH is really hard!

Students’ final projects let them apply something we practiced to a research project of their choices.  While most projects were map-based (i.e. looking at Ziegfield’s productions, Chicago jazz bars, Civil War battles, among a few), there were XML documents made and plenty of very creative projects that I would fund if I had the money.  Below are a few examples of projects that were executed in a spirit of fun but have a lot of promise:

Map: “Brothels of 1870”

One student began with an 1870s guidebook to New York houses of prostitution (brothels were closely allied to the theatrical life of the city), put it in a map, adding layers that showed nearby theatres, churches, and police stations.  This type of work, showing intersecting layers of culture and society provides a fascinating look at life in the city at the time.  And it’s fun.

Minecraft Globe

There is increasing interest in virtual reconstructions of historic theatres, but I doubt many students could learn to build a detailed virtual space in a couple of weeks, so: Minecraft.  I experimented with Minecraft extra credit in an ancient Greek theatre course with some interesting result, so two students built a scale version of Shakespeare’s Globe, following the basic rule of 1 block = 1 meter.  The result is rougher than any detailed reconstruction, but it allowed the user to enter the space, move through it, and be in the environment.  Plus, you get to fight zombies in the Globe.

 

Whack-a-Mole

Who doesn’t want a game where you kill each character in Hamlet, while making sure not to kill Harry Potter?  Isn’t that a traditional part of theatre pedagogy?

Hamlet Mole

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 9.45.26 PM

 

 

* note: there are only a sampling of excellent projects, and by no means represent what were the best.  Each student has given me explicit permission to post about their project.

 

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Brief Thoughts on Presentation Software

Although I do not wholly subscribe to the powerpoint is evil movement (“Power Corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely”), I am always looking for alternative platforms and tools.  Powerpoint is fine and servicable, but I think we can look forward to find other ways to package presentations than something based on outdated media.  Powerpoint more or less replaced slide shows in education, but it is still built on a model that emulates the very technology it put out of business.  Generally, I am a BIG fan of Prezi, which emulates a blank canvas.  There’s more chance for creativity in how the information is structured and presented, as you have much greater control over the flow of text and images.  Of course, there are drawbacks: if one is hasty or inexperienced, it is easy to make your audience seasick!  Fortunately, the Prezi team is very aware of this and has a ton of videos and guides for beginner prezification (here’s one of many, in prezi form).

Recently, I came across slid.es, a quirky, online presentation site that allows for more interactive presentations.  Perhaps designed best for people to work through themselves, slid.es’s main innovation is that the user can navigate through slides in a vertical (i.e. how one usually experiences powerpoint-related formats), but also horizontal.  When presented by a single person, it retains much of the feel of any generic slide program, but it can be put online and turned over to a wide number of users, who can all tour it at once.  The extra navigation options allow for a more customized experience.  One can literally browse across and then go down in depth if something is particularly interesting.

Recently, I made a slid.es presentation for my Digital Humanities class to play with as an introduction to 19th century New York theatre history.  The idea was simple: show them a few images and ask a few, basic questions.  The response was overall very positive, as students enjoyed the feeling of control and pace that it allowed.

Here it is:

 

As you can tell, slid.es has some limitations.  It is not easy to finely manipulate text and images, and it would be fantastic to be able to collaborate; however, with its current level of functionality, slid.es is definitely a valuable addition to the arsenal of powerpoint alternatives at the ready (and available for free).

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