Digital humanities summer scholars turn original research into engaging online presentations Twitter
By Stephen Wilson
Mention the word “anime” to people and it conjures different images. None more striking than the associations between white and black Americans.
Uchechi Anomnachi ’19 ought to know. In six weeks as a digital humanities summer scholar, he developed a detailed timeline that shows the very different paths anime entered into white and black cultures and the varied connotations that came with it.
On the one hand there’s the science fiction-loving nerd passing a VHS tape of Japanese animation to his friends in a fan club. On the other is a hyper-masculine hip-hop artist dropping rhymes, adopting pseudonyms, and wearing styles that pay homage to martial artists like Bruce Lee.
A cultural intersection occurs in the 1990s when the cartoon Dragon Ball Z first airs. The show blends science-fiction tropes and martial-arts spectacles with heroic struggles by a strong male character.
Anomnachi and six other scholars dove fast and hard into topics that ignited their passions, activated their research, and pushed them to convey that scholarship in a digital sphere.
Angela Perkins, research and instruction librarian at Skillman Library, led the scholars through the intensive seminar that gives Lafayette students a unique opportunity to conduct their own original research.
Under the guidance of Skillman librarians, college faculty, and even their past scholars, summer scholars not only learn the basics of how to perform credible, solid research, but they also incorporate digital tools into the collection, analysis, and presentation of their respective projects.
“I wanted the students to work in a holistic way,” Perkins says. “To mine the texts more deeply, to generate intellectually sound research, and to select technically advanced methods to display their findings.”
She sought scholars who would rise to the occasion.
Alex Murrell ’19 spoke with Perkins in the spring because of her similar interests.
“I have always been fascinated with library sciences and heard that Perkins attended graduate school in my hometown of Austin, Texas,” says Murrell. “After speaking with her, I knew I wanted to be a part of this opportunity.”
While Murrell was unsure of her project’s topic during those conversations, she knew that playing with the tools and methodology were crucial to her development as a thinker and researcher.
Murrell dove into the occult. For nearly 200 years, the second-most-purchased book, behind the Bible, was Malleus Maleficarum, Latin for The Hammer of Witches. The text serves as a kind of instruction manual to help identify and avoid collusion with the devil via sorcery and witchcraft.
She discovered the text as noting many references to the book while working on an independent study in art. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the book as a scholar.
“Perkins was always honest with me,” says Murrell. “She would tell me if I should try a different direction and served as a sounding board to my many questions and ideas.”
The project approach has her hooked. She plans to develop her site further and present at two conferences.
As a native New Yorker, it seemed fitting for Ben Gordon ’19 to explore the subway.
“It’s what people in the city talk about,” he says. Maybe complain is a more appropriate word.
Gordon’s research took the form of maps, each one tracing the evolution of the transit system—when the subway’s development began and then ended and how it got replaced by the car.
His maps layer in population density. He illustrates how real estate agents used subway lines to develop upper-class neighborhoods. As soon as the masses could avail themselves of the subway, the automobile took over with highways, bridges, and expressways cutting across the city to the benefit of the upper class.
Gordon’s project is deep and wide. “I was spending 50 hours a week on it,” he says. “There was a real intensity to the project, but it was so worth figuring out.” He thinks his capstone project will focus on this same topic since there is more to explore.
All agree that the whirlwind nature of this program combined with surprises while researching and the shifting focus of their central questions, help from previous scholars, and comradery of the students made for a fantastic opportunity in group learning, original research, and wielding digital tools.
View all the projects in detail:
This year’s DHSS program was made possible by a generous donation to the libraries from Bruce Marshman ’62.