Critical Comics

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About the Project

This project is the product of two digital humanities courses, AL 340 Spring 2017 and DH 340 Spring 2018 at Michigan State University. Both seminars sought to expand students’ practical knowledge and skills in the Digital Humanities, while training them to think critically about the relationship between technology and culture. The course focused on creating a user-friendly, accessible website to display digitized material that also sought to make visible the work conducted by students, and the decisions made during the process of digitization, and analysis. In 2017, students created the original site, each one comic that they were responsible for digitizing and displaying on the site. During the course of the semester, students also composed critical reflections on the processes of data curationcreating the archive, and analysis using visualizationmapping, and text analysis tools. The aim of these critical reflections is to point to features of the comic that are lost or obsured in the process of digitization, such as what Walter Benjamin calls "the aura" (its phyiscal manifestation in space and time) of a work of art. In 2018, students enrolled in DH 340 added five more comics from MSU’s Library Special Collections for digitization, display, and analysis. We also updated the website’s information and features to increase its accessibility for a general public.

Group 2018 Cassidy
DH 340 presenting at University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) in April 2018. Members of AL 340.

Parallel to learning practical DH skills, students also explored current debates and recent developments in DH and critical theory. Using Critical Theory, by Lois Tyson, for example, provided an overview and history of critical theory that served as a compass for the course. Tyson explains how critical theory consists of different approaches: “Think of each theory as a different lens or a different pair of eyeglasses through which we see a different picture of the world” (3). While creating this project, students took what they learned about critical theory and used it to analyze not only the comics, but also digital technologies as the products of human choices, prejudices, and relationships.

Members of AL 340.

The course was overseen by Dr. Matthew Handelman, Assistant Professor of German in the College of Arts & Letters, as well as a member of the Core Faculty in the Digital Humanities. In 2017, the students who created this project included: Erin Campbell, Emily Claus, Karah Smith, Cassidy Taylor, Anne von Petersdorff-Campen, Rachel Wilcox, and Nicole Wistinghausen (who will be referred to henceforth by their first names). The project was expanded and updated in 2018 by Amy Hair, Anthony Vacante, Meghan Petipren, and Vidi Aziz. Kristen Mapes, the Digital Humanities Coordinator in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State, Megan Kudzia, a Digital Scholarship Technology Librarian at Michigan State, Brandon Locke, the Director of the Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR), and Terence O’Neil and staff at MSU Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL), provided essential resources and assistance during the creation of this site. We would also like to express our deepest thanks and gratitude to Randy Scott, Patrick Olson, and Peter Berg, and Bexx Caswell-Olsenfrom Michigan State University Libraries for their help, enthusiasm, and expertise.