Posts tagged Graduate blogger

Let’s Talk Electronic Literature: Caitlin Lawson

headshotThis past June I had the pleasure of attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Housed at the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia, DHSI consisted of three weeks of courses focused on diverse topics within the digital humanities. Students may attend one, two or all three weeks of the Institute. With classes on everything from the basics of Ruby on Rails to technology-based literary analysis, DHSI is an excellent resource for scholars who want to learn a new skill, broaden their knowledge of the digital humanities, or delve more deeply into a particular subject area. I went to DHSI with only limited knowledge of the digital humanities and a desire to expand my horizons. While I was nervous that I would feel out of place surrounded by people much better versed in DH, I found that nearly every student I spoke to felt the same way – that they had no idea what they were doing. That was perhaps the most exciting thing about DHSI, because it created an environment of curiosity and comfort, functioning as a space in which students can try new things and take risks in a low-stakes situation.

The course I took was on electronic literature. Focusing on native digital literature (that which was both created and solely viewed on digital devices), the course provided instruction on the basic theory of the topic, how to curate an exhibit of electronic literature, how to create it, and how to teach it. Even though I came to the course largely ignorant of e-lit, I enjoyed learning a variety of new skills and exercising my creativity. With the help of instructors Dene Grigar and Davin Heckman, I designed an exhibition of electronic literature that focused on gender and embodiment. I also coded in JavaScript for the first time and created my own work of electronic literature. For a qualitative scholar who primarily engages in textual analysis and audience research, the course was a fun departure from my day-to-day work and allowed me to diversify my skillset.

In addition to the courses, DHSI also provides opportunities to hear the work of other scholars, network, and explore. Every evening, scholars presented their work during colloquium, allowing students to hear about topics other than that of their particular course. These colloquia were fascinating and occasionally heated; just scroll through #DHSI2015 on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. There were also organized meet-ups of scholars with similar interests that allowed for networking opportunities. For example, I went to a casual FemTechNet gathering and met other scholars from all over the US and Canada who were interested in feminist DH. DHSI also organizes weekend activities such as hiking and whale watching so students can explore all Victoria has to offer. Overall, I would highly recommend DHSI. Victoria is beautiful, the courses are highly enjoyable, and the other students and instructors are warm and welcoming. It is an excellent place to deepen your understanding of the digital humanities.

*Caitlin’s opportunity to attend DHSI was funded by the Department. 

A Midsummer Night’s Media Policy: Joe Bayer


The Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute, or AnOx for short, occurs each year at the historic University of Oxford in Oxford, UK. At UM Communication Studies, participating in AnOx has become a lively tradition for our emerging academics, researchers, and teachers. Each year the Department of Communication Studies attempts to have one or two Michigan doctoral students selected for the summer program. If selected, the Department provides full funding for the trip.


Sometimes Michigan communication Ph.D. students are already immersed in the world of media policy before attending the program. Other times, our students (like myself) have expertise in other areas of communication studies with the hope of broadening their research agenda. Hence, my personal goal was to learn about contemporary issues and theories related to media policy, and integrate these perspectives into my understanding and ideas for new research.


I am pleased to say that primary goal was accomplished, though not without some initial uncertainty… As someone who works with researchers in the Department of Communication Studies, Department of Psychology, and School of Information at UM, I like to think I draw on a solid range of perspectives. Entering the Oxford Media Policy Institute, however, represented an initial reminder of the limitations of my knowledge base. My own work takes a psychological approach to understand how people engage with new and emerging technologies (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, Google Glass). And this approach is mostly absent from big picture discussion of media policy actors and implications.


Fortunately, I was relieved to find a group of open-minded individuals that included some scholars, some lawyers, some professionals working at NGOs, and others. Beyond the students from Michigan and Annenberg Schools of Communication who apply each year, a very diverse group of participants contribute to total social experience. The program attempts to incorporate a wide range of nationalities and specialties given range of influences on media policy and global flows of information. There are a few required assignments, but the crux of the program is the interaction and debates among participants.

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Not surprisingly, the program is an extensive time commitment. From 9 AM to 5 PM, a range of speakers, panels, and participant presentations reveal the latest ideas and research related to media law policy. This included heated discussions on well-known issues such as the Ukraine-Russia propaganda war, Edward Snowden, Facebook’s, and censorship across the world. Immediately after the workday ends, we moved on to check out local Oxford activities, attractions, and, of course, pubs. The latter outlet is where some of the most interesting, and sometimes significant, conversations take place. Indeed, it is the discussion between participants that the organizers feel is most essential to the continuity of the Oxford program.


Before long, I had established friendships with policy advocates with very different workan ox 2 from my own. From what I have heard from past students, these connections stay with you long after the last day of the program. For instance, I already have plans to see a participant who works for the World Bank when I visit Washington D.C. this year. After the museums and mugs of ale, we wandered back through the old streets to our “colleges” – adorably compared to the “houses” of Hogwarts. I was told that colleges are an important aspect of Oxford culture since students supposedly have more allegiance to their college than the larger University. Given the intensive work and social schedule, the two weeks in Oxford pass by exceedingly quickly.


In parallel with the AnOx Media Policy Institute, the famous Oxford Internet Institute (OII) also hosts a summer program in July. The two institutes focus on different aspects and perspectives related to media and technology. I spent one of my days at the Internet institute since my core research is centered on communication technologies. Most importantly, the timing of the two institutes allows for an annual football (i.e., soccer) game between the policy and Internet camps! For this reason, OII participants looked me at skeptically on the day I attended and accused me of being a spy for the coming match. Luckily, our policy team successfully defeated the Internet team 4 to 1 (or something like that) due to my espionage.


This year it happened to be that the Oxford trip was the first leg of an extended academic travel adventure taking me around Europe and North America. Following Oxford, I visited other communication researchers and professors in Amsterdam (ND), Montreal (CA), and Colorado (US) before returning to Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan encourages and facilitates its engagement with other specialists across the world during the Ph.D. process. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to build a far-reaching network of researchers, and expand our scopes beyond the United States job market. Overall, my travels to Oxford and beyond provided a memorable set of experiences and social connections before I begin my first search this fall for post-Ph.D. jobs.

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