An Interactive Flood of Spectacular Proportions

Synchronous Objects

Remember when God said to Noah, “be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”?  God’s probably being redundant in his phrasing because it’s such a big thing to ask of someone.  It’s not just a casual, “go ahead and populate your household, when you get around to it.”  Noah is expected to “populate the earth abundantly.”  The earth is enormous, and Noah probably thought the earth was flat and like fifty miles wide, but it’s still an intense concept to wrap your mind around.

So it was, when history professor Andrew Friedman told me, “be fruitful and search for web-based digital humanities initiatives; catalog them abundantly and comment upon them.”  Not in those words exactly, though he is eloquent.

My summer job is essentially to track down as many DH projects as I can, dump them all into an Excel document, and judge them mercilessly based on a rubric invented for this very task.  I annotate the Project Name, URL, and Creators of course.  Then I go on to rate each project by the following criteria: Richness of Aesthetics/Design; Usability/Navigability/Ease; FUN; Value of Information; and Theoretical Interest.  After all this, I write a small blurb of closing commentary.  I do this for hours each day, and I still haven’t cracked the surface.  It is a good job, and often a dull job.

I have a secret for you.  Come closer.  I’m not supposed to say this, so I can’t be too loud.  Are you ready?

Digital Humanities is mostly rubbish.

I may have just offended thousands of librarians and Spanish teachers, but I stand by the claim.  I find myself skeptical of DH.  Many times, the projects are so eager to hop on board with digital initiatives (since they are hyped as the future of academia) that they don’t think critically about why their project belongs on the World Wide Web, what it means to work on a web-based platform, and how that is substantively different than more traditional humanistic inquiry.  The prevailing sentiment of the movement (or one of them) is form over function–the idea that projects are automatically better because they’re on the internet–and that can lead to hollow experiences.

But that happens with every new medium–the inception is riddled with hiccups and false starts as we puny humans scramble to figure out how we can best take advantage of the tools we have made for ourselves.  Besides, I have to acknowledge that it’s easy for me to pass judgment on these projects, sitting comfortably on the sidelines.  I’m not even a DH guy, really.  Computers aren’t my thing.  I just keep getting involved in DH criticism as an outside eye.  I guess my point is, I still respect these DH initiatives, even the wrongheaded ones, because they are attempting to bring knowledge to the world in new ways.  Every project is worth talking about, even if it’s only as an example of what-not-to-do.

I ought to end this post on a positive note, so I’ll share with you my favorite project that I’ve encountered so far.  It’s called Synchronous Objects.  The website begins with a fifteen minute long video of a dance called One Flat Thing as reproduced by William Forsythe.  From there, it uses its digital platform to let the user interact with that dance in all sorts of visually compelling and horizon-expanding ways.  This is a project fully aware of its medium, fully aware of its content, and fully aware of the potential living in the interstices between the two.  Play around with it for a while.

As wary as I am about DH projects, I would never tell Synchronous Objects to build an ark and gather two of every species of DH in preparation for my destruction of the medium in an interactive flood of spectacular proportions.  That seems excessive.  Besides, I’m not even close to finished finding what contemporary digital humanists have to offer.  I have a whole world to explore.

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Amancay Internship- Links Hall in Chicago


My self-designed summer internship at Links Hall in Chicago started last week, and already I’m feeling useful. Starting on June 19th Links Hall is presenting their original production, River See, so it’s all hands on deck. So far, I’ve created unique and personal welcome packets for all the out-of-town performers that will be visiting, updated information about the show on their mobile app, and helped to organize ticket sales for students and industry members. I’ve also had a few side projects related to future shows, mostly involving the mobile app and emailing performers for information about their shows. It’s been fun so far, and I’m learning a lot about marketing for now. I expect once the show is over I’ll start learning about other areas of theater management.

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Throwback Thursday 11

Hi guys! It’s Thursday again, and today we’re talking about an art show in James House.


The HCAH Student Arts Fund enables a variety of artistic endeavors, including the mounting of exhibitions. In April 2009, James House displayed work by Ryan Cameron, ’09, and Allyn Gaestel, ’09, in the exhibition, Nudes, featuring work from both artists spanning the past year. The exhibit included paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs that tip-toed the line between the artistic and the pornographic. The visitors and artist discussed this dynamic on the opening night.

While James House looks nothing like it did in the photos above, the building still hosts exciting students arts events. This Friday, come to James House for another Student Arts Fund exhibition, “A Terrarium of Books: New Work by Honglan Huang.” Honglan Huang, ’16, has created a system of interacting texts and plants in the James House Pop-Up Gallery. Andrew Szczureck, ’16, will perform an original composition at the opening, so be there tomorrow, April 18th at 7:00 PM!

For more information on “A Terrarium of Books,” see:

Hope to see you there!

Anna and Miriam


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Throwback Thursday 10

Whazzup, peeps?

Back this week with a Student Seminar. Lucky for you, the HCAH has just released next fall’s student seminars, so read on and think about how awesome your fall could be.



Lewis Bauer (’06 English) led the seminar, “The Bizarre and the Grotesque in Literature, Art, and Film: Honest Looks at a Mad World,” to explore our cultural idealization of normality and the repercussions of deviation. Participants discussed not only the impact of the bizarre and grotesque on the arts, but also on society. Questions of cultural relativism recurred throughout the seminar.

James Weissinger (’06 English), participated in the seminar and reflects: “Taussig, Ballard, Foucault, Bakhtin, Kassler-Taub–the seminar introduced me to a few folks who would end up becoming familiar friends for the rest of school and after. One of my most important experiences at Haverford.”  To sum up the fantastic ride that was the seminar, James points to this bizarre music video:

If you’re interested in cross-disciplinary discussions with new friends while munching on free refreshments and reading free books, apply to one of the upcoming seminars: “Decoding the Videogame: Reading and Writing in New Media,” or “Beyond the Reals: An Exploration of Mathematics in Fiction.” More information: (sorry this hyperlink didn’t hyperlink, back to the good ol’ days of copy and paste it is).

Hope to see lots of applications this year!

Until next time,

Anna and Miriam




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Throwback Thursday 9

Welcome to another Thursday! Today we’re talking about the symposium, “Romancing Passing – Race, Gender, and Nation in Cinema.”

The cover of the Indian romantic drama "Veer-Zaara"

The cover of the Indian romantic drama “Veer-Zaara”

In the second year of a Mellon Fellowship, each fellow stages a symposium or forum relating to their area of study. Yiman Wang was the Mellon Fellow from 2003-2005 and researched transregional and transnational image translation, particularly the relationship between film in China and the West. She presented this symposium to explore themes of racial, ethnic, and gender passing processes as portrayed in cinematic romance. Visiting experts ran panels entitled “Romance, Horror, and Globalization,” “Coding Hollywood Asians,” and “Dystopia and Utopia of the Passing Body,” followed by a roundtable discussion.

Curiosity piqued? Read about more Mellon Symposia here:

Until next time!

Anna and Miriam

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Throwback Thursday 8

Hi, y’all! It’s that time of week again! Today we’re going to take a look at one of the past courses sponsored by the center.



The course, “The Spirit and the Psyche: Spiritualism, Symbolism, Surrealism,” compared  three artistic movements (Spiritualism in England in the mid 1800s, Symbolism in France in the late 1800s, and Surrealism in France in the 1920s and 30s) and their relationships with the supernatural and the psychological.

Rachel K. Oberter, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, guided the class through readings ranging from psychological treatises to artists’ and writers’ memoirs to Surrealist manifestos. The students also attempted their own “automatic drawing,” a technique used in both Spiritualism and Surrealism where the artist enters a trance-like state and draws, guided by the supernatural or the subconscious.

To see other HCAH sponsored courses, follow the link:

See you next week!

–Anna and Miriam

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Throwback Thursday 7

Hey guys! We’re back with another Throwback Thursday. Today’s topic: Dialogues on Art.

Doug and Mike’s Adult Entertainment, 1991-98

Doug and Mike’s Adult Entertainment, 1991-98

In this Dialogues on Art trip, a group of faculty and students went to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see the exhibit, “Mike’s World: Michael Smith & Joshua White (and other collaborators)” and then discussed the experience over a meal. The exhibit consisted of video, installation, and performance work from the 30 year career of artists Michael Smith and Joshua White, and centered around an average Joe character called “Mike,” who is befuddled by the technological advancement and rapid change in society.

Find out more about the center’s Dialogues on Art below:

We’ll be back week after next with another Throwback Thursday. Enjoy your spring break!

–Anna and Miriam



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Throwback Thursday 6

Hello again! We’re back with this semester’s series of Throwback Thursdays.



This week, we’re talking about a student seminar called “Mining the Folktale,” led by Justin Dainer-Best ’09 (English, Psychology). The seminar delved into questions such as what constitutes a folktale and what purpose they serve. Participants drew from a variety of cultures, comparing structuralist readings to Grimm’s fairytales and to the Russian Baba Yaga. The seminar produced an air of camaraderie and mutual interest among the students, according to a participant.

To find out more about student seminars, follow this link:

Until next week!

–Anna and Miriam

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Documentary short on African-American Catholic music culture

HCAH blog post photo

This past winter break, I had the chance to travel to Mississippi on a research stipend through the Hurford Center in order to film a short documentary on African-American Catholic music culture in the Deep South. During the filming, I collaborated with film students from The University of Mississippi, and throughout the editing process I will be working with Brandon Kelly ’15. A screening of the film will take place on Haverford’s campus later this semester.

Martin Luther King once made the penetrating observation “that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Unfortunately, this remark remains true today in Mississippi. Segregation in church has continued for the most part, despite increasing integration in other institutions. A consequence of this fact has been the formation of a distinct African-American gospel music, separate from white, European church music. Just as churches have often been segregated, religious music styles and philosophies have traditionally been divided by race. However, African-American Catholic church music may not be understood based on these conventional parameters about race and tradition.

Before the Second Vatican Council, all Catholic churches were limited in their freedom of musical expression during the Mass. For example, the use of any percussion instruments (including piano) was prohibited. In addition, it was required that the Mass be said in Latin. These constraints created a uniformity to religious Catholic worship that crossed both national and racial borders. No matter where you walked into a Mass, it would theoretically be the same. After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, this all changed. The Vatican lifted restrictions and Catholic churches could now use their own language during the Mass and explore a newfound musical freedom. Churches across the world were afforded the opportunity to craft unique musical identities based on their own musical standards, rather than those laid out by the Vatican. This raises the question: how did churches react to this new freedom? This question is particularly pressing for churches from non-European communities with musical cultures much different than those formerly required in the Mass.

Before I began filming, when people asked me what the project was about, I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. I started out with a lot of questions but no specific answers. I interviewed people who had grown up in and worked with Holy Child Jesus Church, a black Catholic church in Canton, MS. I also had the privilege of recording their choir to see how their music culture exists today. Holy Child Jesus is especially significant as it is the home parish of Sister Thea Bowman, a well-known and influential figure in the African American Catholic community. I was especially interested to speak with older church members who could comment firsthand about their interactions with Sister Bowman and their experience with the changes that occurred as a result of the Second Vatican Council.

I spoke with Father Joseph Dyer, a former priest at Holy Child Jesus, who noted that during the Second Vatican Council, “church leaders realized that communities should be able to worship in their own musical traditions. They didn’t need to be told what music to use.” He pointed out how the vibrancy and spontaneity of the music at Holy Child Jesus allowed the service to become much more meaningful for parish members. “Grammar alone isn’t sufficient to talk to God. We have to have music and art and ritual and dance. I can’t imagine worship without music. It’s the only way to say some things.” This idea of divine communication through music connects directly to the importance of switching the Mass from Latin. Music is often discussed as a universal language, but these musical shifts that occurred after the Second Vatican Council illustrate how this idea is incorrect. The ability for a parish to use their own musical traditions was just as important as their ability to say the Mass in their native language. Meaning gets lost in the translation of musical cultures just as it does in language.

Sister Thea Bowman was a major proponent of change in the liturgical music while working at Holy Child Jesus. Myrtle Otto, a former choir director at Holy Child Jesus, commented that Sister Bowman “wanted the black Catholics to sing and praise God in their own heritage. She would explain to us how black gospel got started with people singing in the cotton fields. She wanted things to change. Not just for us. She wanted every culture to sing songs in their tradition. It makes it better for the church and the Mass.”

Otto pointed out that these changes didn’t come about easily. Drastically changing the music in the Mass sparked kickback from some church members and leaders at Holy Child Jesus. “At first we were just singing the old Gothic songs that father and the sisters wanted us to sing. We weren’t allowed to clap our hands and say amen. We were very solemn. But after [Sister Bowman] got there, she took me aside one Sunday and said, ‘Get up and dance around and praise the Lord!’ and I said, ‘Oh Lord, they gonna throw me out of here.’ For a long time we were scared to say anything.” Otto felt that although the changes took some time to settle in, the new freedom was very meaningful for most in the church. “Music was really important for us during the Civil Rights Movement, and it was great to gain this freedom at church in the Mass. We were able to sing tunes that had a lot of meaning for us and it felt great.”

An important distinction that everyone I spoke to made about the story of Holy Child Jesus was that musical freedom isn’t just important for African Americans, it’s important for all different races and cultures. When I asked Otto what different religious communities could learn from Holy Child Jesus and Sister Bowman, she said, “I think they can learn that it’s okay to be yourself. Don’t be afraid.”

–Andrew Burke ’14

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Thowback Thursday 5

Hi, guys! Happy Throwback Thursday #5!


Today we’re taking a look at a Haverford course that was funded by the Center in the spring of 2010. The course, called African Masculinities, studied how race, gender, generation, and geography affect representations of and ideas about African masculinity. Topics ranged from the pre-colonial era to the present. Politics and culture were discussed, as well as literature, both from Africa and Europe. The professor, Mellon post-doc fellow, Ruti Talmor, specializes in the anthropology and art of Ghana.

If you want to take a look at courses the center is currently funding, check out the link below:


-Anna and Miriam

Photo: (

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