“All of it is a code anyway”: Augmenting a Literary Web for Almanac of the Dead (Evan Young, 2018-2019 Digital Humanities Undergrad Fellow)

Evan Young/ September 10, 2019/ 2018-19 Fellows, Digital Humanities, Fellows, Sandbox: The 5CollDH Blog/ 0 comments

By Evan Young, Amherst College

It’s June 12, 2019. I’m writing this blog post from Boulder, Colorado, where I’m visiting family for just over a week. Soon I’ll be moving into my apartment in Amherst to start my Post-Baccalaureate position at Five College BL/DH. I’m excited to be staying on until June 2020; it will be wonderful to support the upcoming year’s group of student fellows!

5CollDH Undergraduate Fellow Evan Young presents an in-progress version of his hybrid augmented reality project at the Capstone Symposium for senior English majors at Amherst College on February 8, 2019. Photograph taken by Dr. Marisa Parham, panel moderator and one of Evan’s thesis advisors.

I started my fellowship in January 2019 by going to the Boston MFA to meet with a curator whose exhibits related to my scholarship. Once every month, the undergrad fellows would meet with Dr. Eric Poehler and BL/DH Fellow Alex Brenon to workshop our projects together. Ideas grew out of these meetings and cross-germinated. We shared knowledge and insights, and collectively looked at projects from years prior, such as Christin Washington’s Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn. In April 2019, we presented our projects at the Five College Digital Humanities Symposium.

My hybrid augmented reality project, “All of it is a code anyway”: Augmenting a Literary Web for Almanac of the Dead is a subjective guide through which readers may engage Silko’s 1991 novel Almanac of the Dead. A multilinear essay in card format, my project is a digital project housed on paper. The critical writing portion of the project flows linearly, but readers may also choose to follow the thematic “color-bars” on the sides of each card. Also present in the project are six augmented reality (AR) experiences, which are present on the page as still images taken from videos. Using LifePrint, an AR application currently available for iPhone and Android, readers may hover their devices over these AR experiences and watch as code embedded in the images activates, playing the videos on the screen. This meant that instead of just quoting people whose work inspired me, I could actually incorporate recordings of them so that they could essentially speak for themselves.

Over the year I spent working on this project, its form and focus evolved. With support and guidance from my two amazing/brilliant/super generous thesis advisors, Lisa Brooks and Marisa Parham, I had initially devised my project to focus solely on Almanac of the Dead. A 750+ page novel covering 500 years of history and two continents, this was ambitious for a year-long project. During the 2018 summer and subsequent fall semester, I spent countless hours reading and note-taking in order to help myself understand AlmanacLike a fly caught in a spiderweb, however, the deeper I got into my analysis of Almanac, the more tangled up my thoughts became. It became clear that this project needed to take on the form of a guide through which I and others could more closely engage Silko’s Almanac in the future.

Young responds to an audience member’s question about personal subjectivity in his project following his presentation at the 2019 Undergraduate Fellows Symposium on April 24, 2019 at UMass Amherst.

Drawing from the theoretical structure and language of Almanac of the Dead, from Silko’s other writing, and from numerous Indigenous and Native writers, scholars, and artists, the result has been a project that is more akin to an adaptive orchestration of theories and concepts than to a traditional literary criticism essay. I wanted to be intentional about the fact that the ideas I engaged already had presence in their respective communities, emerged out of the communities. The goal was to highlight preexisting connections among them while avoiding the imposition of colonial worldviews and theories onto them. My project also went from being completely digital to being a hybrid, digital (augmented reality) project housed in a print format. This was done partially to give the reader something more tangible to engage, and to better reflect the structure of Almanac on physical and figurative levels.

I learned a lot during the process of creating this project about what it means for a project to be “digital,” and comparing the pros and cons of housing a project online versus on a physical medium such as paper. Not all of my initial visions for the project came to fruition. Instead, I found myself going down promising pathways I hadn’t imagined when I’d first set out. I’m happy that my project is able to bridge physical and virtual mediums. It’s part of what made it so special to me. I hope my project inspires you to go read Silko’s amazing book, and any/all of her other works!

Watch the recording of Evan’s Symposium presentation here:

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