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Points of Reference

Carolyn A. McDonough, Digital Humanities
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Stephen Brier
Project Website: Points of Reference

Points of Reference is a digital pedagogical tool which employs the Knight Lab JS3 Timeline plug-in for WordPress, conceptualized in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY, Spring 2018, and made in the New Media Lab, CUNY. Through multiple lenses as graduate student in the first cohort of the MA in Digital Humanities Program at the Graduate Center, my first MA in media studies from The New School, my knowledge of the canon from BA research in Renaissance Studies at Vassar College and work/study fellowship abroad in Italy, and reflection on teaching Media Studies 101 as a requisite undergraduate “critical thinking” course, I’ve identified an absence of a specific research method dedicated to humanities content that arises in media studies. This vacuum is then filled by undergraduate students through the use of search, most notably, Google Search.

Points of Reference proposes an alternative resource to Google Search, tailored to humanities content encountered in undergraduate media studies. Points of Reference aspires to be a digital pedagogical tool dedicated to humanities content that can intervene with what I’ve identified as the “Google default response”: a reflex in students that occurs during what I’ve dubbed the “critical moment of encounter” with humanities content embedded in media texts. The scholarly underpinnings of Points of Reference are The Frankfurt School’s leading voices: Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Walter Benjamin. Critical theory scholar Todd Presner’s work and the bold critiques of Google Search and Google Maps by Safiya Noble and Miriam Posner respectively have empowered me to address the fact that Google is not an academic resource, but rather a product of “‘the culture industry'”, specifically advertising, and a stronghold of late-stage capitalism. IF students are attempting to learn important information through the act of online search, per Dewey’s pedagogical theory of learning-by-doing, it stands to reason that students would benefit from accessing a better type of search tool dedicated to humanities content encountered in media studies and media-at-large.

Points of Reference‘s prototype tool, and accompanying white paper, were undertaken in Spring 2019 as a capstone toward the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate at the Graduate Center, CUNY.  My continuing research on Points of Reference is being conducted with a design concept aspiration of non-linear, hub-styled information to enhance its existing linear timeline, or “hub-as-locus”, inspired by scholar Stephen Ramsay’s “search”/”browse” dichotomy. I hope such a non-linear approach will aid me in building out the references while also encouraging visitors to “browse” in an associative way, rather than “search”  in a regimented, algorithmic way (a further critique of Google). Eventually, I hope Points of Reference will be able to accommodate reference content contributed by visitors, as an experiment in creating a “collaborative aggregate” digital pedagogical tool. Points of Reference does not intend to reinforce canonical references but rather seeks out significant, inclusive, cross-cultural references both concurrent and non-concurrent to those of Western “civilization”. However, Western master works in varying contexts will be acknowledged and cited, especially when they can serve to illuminate the edges between archetype and stereotype, and the realities of colonialism, racism, and appropriation inherent within humanity’s cultural production.
By revealing and confronting the set of facts and data surrounding the provenance of such references and “hub-ing” references together contextually, I hope that Points of Reference becomes a point of reference indeed, for students and scholars alike. [n.b. visitors must be logged in to the Commons to view the Points of Reference timeline entries]

View a Screen Shot of “Pantheon: Pilot Reference” — Entry on the Timeline — PREFERENCE

“Spend a Moment in the pantheon Under the Oculus”