Class 6.2

Tidying Up

It’s been an intense summer term. I hope you enjoyed the excursions and interdisciplinary activities as much as I did.

No homework for this final class. We’re going to do some last-class organizational stuff, including instructions for the update to your ePortfolio and showing clips from your video essays.

In place of homework, reply in the comments with a 2-5 minute clip that you’d like me to play from your video essay: give the start and ending time signatures.

Class 6.1

The Digital Revolution

In its early years, the internet struck many observers as a positive development, linking humans in new ways. Yet even as the internet has encouraged minorities to unite and organize, it’s also encouraged extremist groups whose views are incompatible with a free society. Two relevant examples: one positive | one negative. (If you have trouble accessing these articles, here are pdfs: article 1, article 2.)

I’m sure you all have ideas about this, since it’s a topic you’re living on a daily basis. Leave a brief comment with an insight of your own, about what makes the internet so powerful a force—for good and evil—or perhaps what we need to do to bring it to heel.

Picturing a Neighborhood

In the second half of class, I’d like for some or all of you to briefly present your photo essay to class. So give a few minutes thought to what you’d want to say, by way of introducing it. Perhaps what got you interested in that neighborhood, or an anecdote about it, or a story about how it’s changed over the years—or how it’s changing in the present day.

Class 5.2

Boston’s West End

In preparation for the walking tour on Thursday afternoon (remote version early Friday), I’m assigning several videos and websites that detail different aspects of the history of the West End. You don’t need to read/watch them in full; just skim around and note what’s of interest.

In the 1840s, wealthy Bostonians began moving out of Beacon Hill and the West End for spacious modern townhouses in the Back Bay. The West End became an immigrant neighborhood, as detailed in this short article on the website of the West End Museum.

The first immigrants to settle in the West End were Irish, driven to America by the potato famine, as detailed in this short video by historian William Fowler.

But the West End was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad in this period, as described starting at 10:00 in this documentary on the life of Lewis Hayden.

In the 1880s and 90s, a wave of immigration from Eastern Europe created a sizable Jewish population in the West End, as detailed in this short video on the founding of the Vilna Schuil synagogue in Beacon Hill.

If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll recognize the voice of the narrator in this last video: it’s Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the original series. He grew up during the Great Depression in the West End, and his memories of that 1930s childhood help bring to life an urban streetscape now lost to history.

I say “lost to history” because the West End was wiped away by an “urban renewal” project in the 1950s. The scope of that project is visible in photographs posted by Gil Propp on his obsessively curated website on Boston’s transportation history.

It’s hard to understand what could motivate city planners to tear out vibrant neighborhoods, but partway through this speech Herb Gans reflects on the ideology of urban planning at midcentury. Gans was a sociologist who studied the West End’s working class Italian-American community for his dissertation, and you get the sense that in the 1950s he was an outlier in seeing that neighborhood as something more than an eyesore.

For HW post a brief note in the comments calling your peers attention to something that you found of interest, that you wouldn’t want them to miss.

Class 5.1

The Shot List

Today’s homework asks you to think about the order of the images in your photo essay: what kind of image should come first? What does that first image do? What does the last image do? What other tasks should be accomplished in between?

This brief primer provides a list of key shots you may want to include in your photo essay:

  • The Establishing Shot—the reader’s introduction to your topic
  • The Signature Photo—an image that summarizes your take on the issue
  • The Clincher—the photo that ends the story

The primer also includes several other important types of image (Close-Up, Portrait, etc.), but these three play a vital, structural role in a photo essay. For homework, identify from your image collection a photograph that might play one of those roles in your project and post it below.

Class 4.2

The Building Blocks of a Video Essay

In the comments below, note techniques employed by Tom Scott to engage his viewers’ interest and to teach them. In noting techniques, think back to your training in mise-en-scene analysis: what do we see, what do we hear, how does the camera move, how does Scott integrate different clips together, etc.?

In addition, if you have a favorite YouTube educator, link a video that you like. For purposes of the upcoming video essay assignment, I’m particularly interested in videos that teach by reference to museum exhibits, interesting locations or (more generally) tourist destinations.

Class 4.1

Photographic Techniques

A good photo essay depends in no small part on creating striking photographs. For class today, read this brief primer on photography, then post a photo of your own in the comments below where you’re practicing one or more of these techniques. In your comment, name the technique(s) used.

Difficulty Posting Photographs? If the file has the extension .jpeg, rename it to .jpg. If it’s another kind of file, open it in Preview and Save As a .jpg OR take a screenshot to create a .png. Both .jpg and .png files should upload just fine, as long as the file size is < 12MB.

In Class

Video Essay: Example 2
Here’s another video essay, from 2018 by Ashley Abbuhl and Sarah Jones:

Class 3.2

Mobilizing for War

In our last class we glimpsed the role of patriotic music in mobilizing public sentiment. Today we turn to the visual rhetoric of WWI poster campaigns. To prime the pump for your HW, read this article posted by New York Historical Society about the depiction of women in WWI-era posters, many of them by an artist named Howard Chandler Christy (brief bio—if you’re interested).

Then choose one of the following images and write a brief analysis noting:

  • What kind(s) of people does the poster target, and what does it ask of them? (You may find it helpful to work backwards: think about what the poster is asking first, then about what kind of people make good targets for that demand.)
  • What emotion(s) does the poster evoke in its targets? Alternatively, what promises or threats does it make, explicitly or implicitly? In discussing these questions, focus on at ONE or TWO key visual details.

Class 3.1

The Weight of History

Today’s class asks you to read two think pieces on the problem of Confederate Monuments in the US. The first, a keynote speech by Ibram Kendi, builds on an argument familiar from our discussion this past week, that monuments to hatred have no place in public spaces because they cause psychic harm to the objects of that hate. To substantiate that hatred, Kendi dives deep into post-Civil-War history.

The second, an opinion piece by NYTimes art critic Holland Cotter, acknowledges the good intentions of those who would pull down monuments to hatred, but sees uncomfortable parallels to other moments in history when regimes have attempted to wipe out the past by destroying monuments. (Here’s a pdf of Cotter’s piece, if you can’t access it on the NYTimes site.)

If you were the judge between these two eloquent orators, what judgement would you give—and what principle(s) would you adduce to justify your position? Try to keep your response short—but do respond the the specifics of both men’s arguments.

Class 2.2

Monuments and History

Last year, following an intense online campaign by Boston-area activist Troy Bullock, the Emancipation Memorial was taken down from Boston’s Park Square, a block away from Boston Common. The Emancipation Memorial was a replica of the the Freedman’s Memorial erected in Washington DC in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination. The DC monument was paid for largely by donations by newly freed African-Americans, though the fundraising campaign was run by a white philanthropic organization and the sculpture was designed by a Massachusetts-born artist.

No Lincoln anymore

The Monument Today

Troy’s case for removing the monument turns on its iconography: at a glance, the artwork places Lincoln in the role of the beneficent White savior, with the Black man apparently kneeling at his feet (video link). Yet those who look more closely (link1 | link2) see a different message: a freed man rising from a state of bondage, his fetters broken. On the other hand, as BU graduate Raul Fernandez points out in a BU Today opinion piece, the monument was erected at the direction of a White philanthropic organization, though it was funded by Black donations, and Frederick Douglass raised objections to its design. For a further twist, check out this interview of a descendant of the freed slave who modeled for the sculpture: link (the key part runs from 5:00-12:00).

Read and watch the linked sources, then post a response addressing one or more of the following questions, or give a response all your own:

  • Was Boston’s mayor right to take down the Emancipation Memorial?
  • Who decides what a monument means? Historians or ordinary passers-by?
  • What’s more important in weighing the meaning of the Freedman’s Monument? The artist’s intent? The model’s intent? The funders’ intent? The organizers’ intent? Or maybe the past doesn’t matter—only the impressions of people today matter?

Class 2.1

Monuments to Mortality

Due to the schedule change this week (MW classes are meeting instead on WF), some of you will be attending this class just before our Tuesday afternoon excursion to Mt. Auburn Cemetery, while others have class on the following day. If you’re in the latter group, feel free to draw on what you saw at the cemetery in responding to the following prompt.

Watch at least the first half of this documentary on the historic cemeteries in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah was the first English settlement in the colony of Georgia, and the state’s original capital.

I’m particularly interested in the contrast between the colonial graveyard (the Old Burying Ground, discussed during the first 11 minutes), Laurel Grove North (a gorgeous Victorian-era site, discussed from minute 11 to 22, roughly speaking), and Laurel Grove South (the part of Laurel Grove where blacks were buried, both before and after the Civil War, discussed from minute 22 to 26 or so).

For HW, do one of the following:

  1. Take note of something said by the narrator or someone he interviewed, as to the public or private function of grave plots so old that the original mourners are themselves long dead. Quote and respond to that idea with your own thoughts on the purpose of grave sites. Be sure to include a time signature in your response.
  2. Take note of a grave marker that strikes you as interesting. What emotional response does the marker demand from viewers? Be sure to include a time signature in your response.