Storify of “Against Workshops” conversation

We had a pretty long and substantive conversation about the value of workshops and some of the challenges associated with #DH outreach and community-building on Twitter and Slack yesterday. Check out the Storify here:


Also, if you would like to join the #DH Slack Channel, the link is here

New Job!

ECDS-Logo6-300x300I am thrilled to announce that today is my first (official) day as the Digital Scholarship Training Coordinator at Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship. In this role, I will implement the graduate student training and professional development program that I have spent the summer designing and building with the help of my colleagues here in the center. We will be piloting the program over the course of this year with an eye on an official launch this time next fall. The program is designed to help graduate students get the most out of their time in our employ, so that they will be better equipped for careers within, alongside, and beyond the academy upon graduation. At the same time, it is designed to help the center to better utilize the expertise and abilities of our outstanding graduate student staff. More on this to come in the future (and more regular blogging hopefully), but just wanted to share the great news!

ODH Digital Humanities in the Southeast 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure and the privilege to participate in the NEH Office of Digital Humanities “Digital Humanities in the Southeast Workshop” on the campus of Georgia Tech. I gave a lightning talk on a graduate student training and professional development program currently underway at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship called “Technology, Pedagogy, Curriculum + Research,” or TPC+R.

Listen to the audio of my talk here.

I don’t have many slides, because of the “lightning talks” format, but since I am not sure how long it will take video of the talk to make it to the web, I’ll try to give a bit of a redux here in this space.


I wanted to give a presentation on this program because I think that it is a really great opportunity for graduate students here at Emory University. I have been lucky in my own journey through graduate school to be involved with digital humanities work from both pedagogical and research perspectives for the last four years, but not everyone gets that opportunity. This program is a redesigned and beefed up version of the old TPC program that we ran out of the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching (these links will likely die at some point). That center was one of many units that consolidated into what is now the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship last year.


One of the things that we hoped to accomplish in the new center was to give graduate students more opportunities to interact with the center’s staff and be a real resource for graduate training. In the spring, Leah Chuchran, Mairead Sullivan, and I put together a proposal to Laney Graduate School for a three-pronged program for training grad students in digital pedagogy and research, and offering some professional development as well. The program, which is kicking off now with TPC+R, also includes a 700-level Digital Pedagogy Seminar and the Emory Foundations for Online Teaching program. The graduate school happily funded our work, and we began offering TPC+R; we meet twice weekly with graduate students over a six-week period. More details on the syllabus can be found on the course blog here.

The program is designed to fulfill a gap in graduate students training here at Emory. Currently, Emory offers a number of excellent programming for training graduate students for teaching here at Emory. The TATTO program is the primary vehicle for this training. Upon arrival in their first year, graduate students go through a two-day intensive training program, but only one session focuses on digital pedagogy. Similarly, every department has its own pedagogy course. These vary from department to department, year to year, and rarely—if ever—take advantage of ECDS as a part of their curriculum. Finally, ECDS offers workshops on pedagogy, typically focusing on a single tool or technology. The center also offers workshops on the various types of research support offered here as well, things like GIS, textual analysis, finding and analyzing large datasets, etc. However, none of these programs offer a broad overview of technology in pedagogy and research while also allowing for exploration and experimentation at a deeper level. This was the goal of TPC+R. The following slide gives an overview of the types of topics to be covered in the course.


That is essentially the talk! I think that this type of training program represents a huge opportunity for Laney Graduate School students in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences to take advantage of the expertise available in ECDS. We will be offering the program in the spring, with up to two concurrent sessions if there is enough interest. I think that this program is useful for students early in their careers looking for ways to do innovative work with technology, and students in candidacy looking to go on the market.

Are there other folks out there running or considering building similar programs for graduate students?

Teaching with Infographics

I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with my friend and colleague Donna Troka as she looked to build infographics assignments into her Interdisciplinary Studies courses over the course of the last few semesters. Lately, our first attempt—a part of Donna’s course Dividing Lines: Pit Bulls, Identity, and Community—has received some attention in the press. After presenting on the assignments at an event hosted by the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence at Emory in the Spring, we had the opportunity to share our experiences with using Piktochart, a free infographics-building program, at the October Digital Pedagogy Meetup, an event hosted by the Atlanta Connected Learning community. Donna and I gave a brief overview of our talk in the video embedded below.

See more about the event, including a great discussion of using maps in the classroom by Brennan Collins of Georgia State University here.

In addition, the Piktochart Team tracked us down to offer some tips about using infographics in the classroom in the summer after our first run with the assignment. You can watch the video (embedded below) or check out the post here.

Finally, Emory’s news service put together a nice piece which also includes the awesome work that Donna’s students put together this spring for local animal advocacy group Lifeline Animal Project.  You can see that piece here, and the infographics below (click for full size). Is anyone else out there using, or considering assigning, infographics in the classroom?

The Mass Media’s Carceral Imaginary/Prison Culture(s) #ASA2014

Below is a call for proposals/abstracts for a panel that I am putting together for the American Studies Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles this fall. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in participating and share widely. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email or social media!

While recent scholarship on prisons, prisoners, and punishment in America has revealed a great deal about the historical, social, and cultural foundations of mass incarceration and its many consequences for America(ns), scholars have paid little attention to the ways in which prisons have been represented in popular culture. If mass media such as film, radio, television, comics, and literature exist to entertain audiences, then how do they make places like prison “fun” or “entertaining”? If we agree with Ray Surette that most of what people know about prisons comes from mass media, then understanding how audiences learn about prisons via popular entertainment seems especially critical for scholars of prisons and punishment in America. 

This panel seeks papers and multimedia presentations that address depictions of prisons in American popular culture (and comparative approaches) in any time period. Please send an abstract and CV to Alan Pike at alangpike at gmail dot com by January 21, 2014. The topic is open for some revision if necessary to capture the variety of papers submitted.

Voting Rights and Southern Legislatures Post-Shelby County v. Holder

A version of this entry was originally posted on the Southern Spaces Blog at

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Mark Fisher
U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Mark Fisher

As Southern Spaces bulletins have previously reported, legislatures in a number of southern states have attempted to implement substantial and often controversial changes to their election rules in the last few years. Some of these legislative actions have been blocked by federal courts under section five of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). For example, The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied preclearance to a redistricting plan and voter ID law passed in Texas in 2011 and 2012 because the state failed to prove that these laws did not “have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section five of the Voting Rights Act.” However, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder held that section four of the VRA—which defined a formula to identify areas of the country (many of which were in southern states) that required changes to voting laws be precleared by the Department of Justice or federal courts based on historic voting rights violations—was unconstitutional. As a result, the capacity of the federal government to challenge changes to states’ voting laws and protect minority voters is substantially diminished.

As Steve Suitts argued in a recent Southern Spaces piece (“Voting Rights, the Supreme Court, and the Persistence of Southern History“), changes to voting laws in southern states have been employed by legislators to deny African Americans and other minorities the franchise across the U.S. South. Suitts’s piece describes what was at stake in the Shelby County case and how it fit within both federal and sectional histories of voting rights oversight and restrictions.

In the wake of the decision, southern states moved to enact or resurrect restrictive voter ID laws. A few hours after the court’s ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared that the state’s previously-blocked voter ID law and redistricting plans would go into effect immediately without approval from the federal government. In a similar move, South Carolina’s Attorney General Alan Wilson declared that the state’s new voter ID law—which was blocked by the Justice Department in 2011 before being precleared by a federal court in 2012—could now be enacted without asking permission or “being required to jump through the extraordinary hoops demanded by federal bureaucracy.” A 2011 voter ID law passed in Alabama, but not yet precleared by the Justice Department, will presumably move forward now that a key barrier to its implementation has been removed. Virginia’s pending voter ID law now is also free of preclearance requirements and will likely be implemented as well. Mississippi’s voter ID law—put on hold by the Justice department in 2011 because the state failed to prove that its implementation would not hinder minority voting—will also move forward.

Moral Monday Protests, Raleigh, North Carolina, photo courtesy of @MoralMondays
Moral Monday Protests, Raleigh, North Carolina, photo courtesy of @MoralMondays

The impact of the court’s ruling is especially apparent in North Carolina where the state’s Republican-led legislature is moving to reshape voting laws, triggering protests and criticism in the media. A new voter ID law which passed the North Carolina House earlier this year but was held up in the Senate to wait for the Supreme Court ruling will now move forward. Another pending bill would likely curb college-age voting by preventing parents from claiming college students as dependents on their state income tax returns if their child registers to vote at their college address. Republican lawmakers in the state also plan to introduce an “omnibus voting bill” in the next few weeks that would decrease the number of early voting days and eliminate Sunday voting and same-day voter registration. Civil and voting rights groups in the state have already filed suit against the state’s 2010 redistricting plan, characterizing it as “a cynical strategy to disenfranchise blacks,” and vowing to fight any further changes to the state’s election laws in the wake of the Shelby County decision. North Carolinians have been protesting outside the General Assembly since April in a series of “Moral Monday” demonstrations over a variety of Republican-led legislative actions, from changes in election rules to drastic cuts in unemployment benefits, education, and other programs. Yesterday, The New York Times editorial board lamented in an editorial entitled “The Decline of North Carolina” that a state “once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness” has had its reputation tarnished by the legislative agenda of its first majority-Republican legislature since 1870.

Opponents of these changes suggest that new voting rules like voter ID laws, redistricting, and limited early voting are designed to increase the influence of southern white conservative voters in a section of the country undergoing dramatic demographic change. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of eleven states whose Hispanic populations doubled between 2000 and 2011, nine were in the South. Hispanic voters, retirees, and transplants from other sections of the country are transforming the southern electorate, and the latest wave of changes to voting rules has many commentators wondering if the Republican Party can maintain its majorities while continuing to disfranchise southern voters. In the meantime, with federal preclearance effectively gutted, civil and voting rights groups will have to rely on lawsuits from private citizens to challenge changes to election procedures until Congress re-writes the section four rules invalidated by the Supreme Court.

Prison Films in the 90s and 00s: The Corpus

Imagining Incarceration: The Prison Genre in Film & Television, 1990-2010, Prospectus Flier
Imagining Incarceration: The Prison Genre in Film & Television, 1990-2010, Prospectus Flier

This is the first of what will (hopefully) be a series  of regular blog posts about my dissertation project (and other scholarly activities). To put it briefly, my project seeks to understand the prison genre in commercial film, documentary film, and television in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. You can learn a bit more about the project, its goals, and inner workings on the about page on this site, so I won’t expand on the larger project in this post. Instead, I want to explore what is traditionally an extremely important aspect of any project dealing with genre: the generic corpus. Or, for those of you not familiar with genre studies in literature or film, the body of work that my study will investigate. What are the films I will be looking at? What gets included and excluded and why?

Genre scholars in film studies have spent the better part of the last 40 years exploring these questions. My approach is informed most by Rick Altman’s book Film/Genre and his 1984 Cinema Journal essay on the “Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre.” However, because Altman’s work is easily accessible, and you didn’t come here to read about him, I’ll punt on the overview of the scholarly literature on genre.

But, scholarship on prison films is much more difficult to find and rarely written by film scholars. In the scholarly literature on prison films, debates about and anxiety over the constitution of the generic corpus are common, but they rarely employ the methodologies proposed by Altman, Tom Schatz, or Steve Neale. Indeed, it seems that much of the work of scholars like Mike Nellis, Derral Cheatwood, Nicole Rafter, David Wilson, and Sean O’Sullivan wrestles with how to define the generic corpus. Can we define the prison film genre at all? Do films about military prisons, women’s prisons, and chain gangs “count?” Should we define the genre by its mis en scene? Its themes? Its narrative tropes? Can we include a film like The Defiant Ones (1958) in the same genre as I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang! (1932) and The Big House (1930)? These are all questions worth arguing over, and ones that I am facing as I watch films this summer. What “counts” as a prison film? How does it fit into the genre?

Movie Posters for The Defiant Ones (1958), The Big House (1930).
Movie Posters for The Defiant Ones (1958), The Big House (1930).

I say all of this in order to emphasize that defining a corpus is a crucial part of studying genre in film and media studies. Further, it is important for those hoping to answer more social-scientific questions about how prison films inform (or misinform) audiences about the realities of prison life and administration. The composition of the corpus is, in essence, the heart of the matter. If I were to write this dissertation and leave out an important film—like say, The Shawshank Redemption—would I really be able to make convincing arguments about how prison films in the 1990s reflected and influenced popular ideas about justice and punishment in America? I think not.

So, I spent the better part of a few weeks combing through IMDB, fan sites (like, and Robert Parish’s prison filmography putting together a list of EVERYTHING that I could find that could be considered a prison film between 1990 and 2010. My criteria were pretty flexible, but I generally tried to stick to films that seemed to take place primarily in prison or focus on prisoners, and were released in the United States.

You can find this first list, in Google doc form, here.

What do I do with this list?

My work with prison films will not be my entire dissertation, so I will not even try to watch 190 prison films, some of which never saw a movie theater or a significant audience in the United States (and some of which may not “count,” for a variety of reasons to be determined). So, I decided to limit my corpus to films that were released theatrically in the US. With the help of, I halved this enormous list from 190 down to 89. While I see that as a victory in and of itself, after watching films for nearly two weeks now, I am already crossing things off this shorter list. For now, I’ll call this the corpus, and I’ll whittle away at it as I watch and talk about what made the cut at a later date.

Can you think of anything that I left out? Do you have any qualms with what is included? Does it matter if I am hoping to talk about how media reflect and influence ideas about justice and punishment in the US whether or not the films in my corpus meet certain criteria? My next post will delve into the details of these theatrical releases, their producers, distributors, and box office success.