Spring 2018 Course

A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: Drexel (page 1 of 2)

Blog Entry 30 April 2018

Price and I set out to provide a source of information for students and community members interested in book censorship in St. Mary’s County Maryland and I believe we accomplished just that. We focused on creating a historical context for the period in which Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison was challenged in St. Mary’s County Public Schools. We accomplished this with our narrative development about the Rodney King Riots, racial tension in The Enterprise, and voting trends in the county.

We found viewpoints from both sides of the challenge and created a rich source of diverse media about our case. We interviewed participants in the challenge and created videos, transcripts, and organized the arguments of people involved in a way that was accessible to anyone who wants the information. We also produced information that did not exist anywhere on the internet prior to our research. Our exclusive with David Flood is information that may have been lost without our work and I am glad we were able to preserve and present it.

We utilized TimelineJS to create a narrative about historical challenges to Song of Solomon along with narrative from our own case. We discussed our own viewpoints on the ways literature impacts culture, societal morality, and personal identity in a way that is appropriate for a front facing website.

Today we presented our information to a room full of Professor and other academics and were received very well. People agreed that our work would be a valuable tool for researchers and one even suggested a classroom should teach the censorship of Song of Solomon with our website as its centerpiece.

While our milestones were not met exactly, our result is something to be proud of. We accepted our schools call to this new challenge and we met that challenge head on provided a framework for future students at our institution. Our work should open pathways for next class of students and may permanently become part of the legacy of this county when it is included in our school’s archives and listed on the department website.

While I wish we had more time to further perfect our website, I am proud of what we have done and believe we have met the requirements of the contract we set for ourselves and with our Professors. I hope to check back in on our work and hopefully see that it has been useful for someone researching book censorship in St. Mary’s County. I hope that future students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland look at our work and decide to move forward with an experience of their own and that this is the start of a rich tradition of primary historical research at our school. It is one thing to practice history while crawling the databases of JSTOR and our schools OneSearch tools, and a whole other thing go out into our community and develop a story from the ground up.

Blog Entry 18 April 2018

It has all come together.

Our website is up. We have received some suggestions and expect to be done with all our edits by the end of this weekend. In a weird way I do not want this project to be over, but I am excited to graduate and move onto bigger things.

The process drew deficits in curriculum to my attention. I realized how much more could be done with a proper chain of classes. A background in archival studies, some background in code, a class on writing digital history, and then a project like this would have been ideal. As it stands we are limited to a blog style historical page. I understand that this is where things start. From here we can expand and develop the craft. The workforce of a college student boy provides unique utility to the field of history. Projects like the Codex of Mendoza can be tackled by graduate and undergraduate students. The digital aspect of history should be a tool as much as it is a way to present information. Computer programs can be used to pull data and make sense of complex figures to later be interpreted historically.

I do feel like we have created something valuable for a future researcher. When we began our project little to nothing on the censorship in this area was readily available on the internet. Sources were out there but not searchable. Our efforts brought together a vast amount of information into one place for the first time on this subject. For our efforts we may have earned a spot in our school’s archives. Our video and oral transcriptions include rich history about St. Mary’s County.

I hope that our school continues to encourage students to sign up for these COPLAC courses and that we opened the door to a new tradition. I appreciate being able to take the course and feel like my college experience was unique because of it.

I have some lingering anxiety about the full launch of our website. I hope we do not offend anyone too deeply and the openness to criticism is somewhat daunting. Our website will probably go unnoticed until it is relevant for someone though. I believe our information was conveyed in a respectful way and all of our interviews were left true to the message of the person being interviewed.

I am interested to see how censorship rises as an issue once again. The alt-right movement has been gaining steam in profound ways. The efforts to being prayer back into the church despite constitutional protections while simultaneously citing the constitution as a reason to keep semi-automatic weapons is perplexing. It is easy to write off people with conservative views as ignorant, but they do not believe that and writing them off does not make the belief go away. The dismissive nature of academic liberals emboldens the causes of radical conservatives rather than diminishing them.

Blog Entry 9 April 2018

What I think

Censorship is a slippery slope. I understand where parents would like to protect their children from how ugly the world can be, but in the specific case of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, the ugliness of the world is not being promoted. Nothing in the book encourages readers to take part in similar actions. It conjures empathy for the main character and wells pain from a deep place in readers. The novel is graphic in ways that match how graphic real life can be.

Advanced placement students are required to analyze material at a collegiate level. David Flood, the teacher who assigned the book, said something that stuck with me. It had something to do with parents not going up to colleges and demanding that something graphic not be taught to their students. There is a certain level of trust in both the student and the institution to construct curriculum that it appropriate for the development of its students. I disagree with parents being able to circumnavigate a board that was constructed of faculty, staff, and parents to decide the books appropriateness prior to the start of the school year.

It is my opinion that the school caved to the pressures of parental concern without defending the author or the novels literary merits. I do not believe that every superintendent or county commissioner should read every novel that is being taught in their schools, but they should trust the teachers and boards they have put in place to do just that.

People are introduced to the bible at young ages. The book contains themes of rape, sodomy, murder, incest, and much more. We do not ban the bible in communities, instead it is interpreted, and we learn from it. We do not expect people to commit incest because they read it in the bible, nor do we expect them to murder their brothers.

It is difficult to agree with the reasons parents who were supporting the removal of Song of Solomon because they offer no alternatives and went as far as calling the book “pure trash”. To take that stance proves a lack in literary interpretation and disrespects the academic institutions that have praised this novel time and time again.

This novel does not promote immorality. It promotes introspective growth from a voice that is heard far to little in academia. For the longest time I grappled with the real context for the banning, because removing it from curriculum is effectively the same thing, of this book. On a surface level it appears they were displeased with the graphic content, but their battle to remove this type of content starts and stops with a black female author. Had there been more consistency in the message it would be more believable.

When speaking on censorship in general

I believe that censorship should be mandatory in some cases. Books that directly encourage hatred or violence, and I mean verbatim encourage this behavior, should not be promoted in anyway. While listening to the podcast criminal, a lawyer attempted to sue a publisher for its book on how to be a hit-man. They won the right to pursue legal action be settled out of court. The case supports that books designed to promote violence against others are not protected in the same way by the 1st amendment. Aside from that, I think all ideas, asinine or not, should have the same rights as others.

 

Here is a link to the criminal podcast mentioned.

Episode 85: The Manual (02.23.2018)

Blog Entry 2 April 2018

The Finish Line

Our draft website is due next week. I have a formidable but not unattainable workload in front of me. I still need to write a reflective blog style post about my own opinion on this case and that opinion is still developing day by day. My initial search for information led me to a debate in The Enterprise that was one or two people against many. I initially thought that the lack of supports of the ban meant that people must not agree with this “minority.” The more I reflected I realized that the “minority” had already won, why would they need to continue to argue their point? I also realized I was looking at this case with too much presentism. The challenge was presented in 1997 when the internet was less readily available and these people who challenged the book may have had the best intentions.

The opposition to the ban argue that this must have been racial motivated, but the people in favor of the ban never bring up anything racial. They criticize the books usage of recreational drugs, necrophilia, and casual sex. The people who are against the ban criticize supporters of it for not reading the actual book, but Joie Brunger claims to have read the book and still thought it was “trash” The people who made decisions about the book did not actually read it and the scene regarding necrophilia, when taken out of context, would be troublesome to read.

While exploring 1997 and other nearby years I realized that racial tensions were boiling in St. Mary’s County as a whole. A black church was burned down, and the leader of the church believed it to be a hate crime, but the sheriff’s office and the local community said there was no evidence of any hatred. Most of the racial tension is speculated but other instances are more obvious. A group existed to advocate for victims of discriminatory actions in the work place or elsewhere. The county worked hard to force them to make public information that was taken in confidence because they did not have legal authority to keep client information confidential. The group almost had to shut down their efforts, but some legal work afforded them protections.

Political leaders frequently sighted opposition to their efforts as racism. A local park was being developed and opposition tried to shut it down for environmental concerns, but it was argued that they did not want more Asian fisherman or for black people to have access to the piers.  Whether or not race motivated the removal of Song of Solomon from AP reading lists, people believed it did and that is important for the historical context of the area.

Blog Entry 26 March 2018

Hesitation and Backlash.

 

Hesitation and Backlash are the guardian dogs protecting institutions from accountability. Its difficult to get around the fear of dealing with the weight on an institution that does not support you looking into their closet and finding all their skeletons. In class today, our peers who are covering Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye said they felt the school system was uneasy with their research into its past. They are dealing with wounds that are fresher than we are with our case. Buncombe North Carolina has been in the news for previous cases like the Kite Runner. I found myself asking where their resentment comes from though. If they are confident they have made the right decision for their students, they should proudly share their beliefs and be open to conversations about their beliefs. I believe that the tension comes from shame. Deep down they understand that they made a move that represented their interests instead of the interests of the people they represent.

Rather than expecting acclaim for their good decisions they make them in secret and try to fly under the radar. They hide in the shadows hoping not to get caught be their parents, “Civil rights” and “The peoples court of the internet”.  I wanted to tell my peers to be easy. They will be protected by their schools and libel cases are easy to handle in the United States. Unlike England, in the United States the burden of proof falls to the accuser. They would have to prove that what you have said is untrue and opinions are hard to qualify into truth. The language should be analyzed to keep it within safe parameters though. If one source says one thing and another contradicts it, put them both up and only say that these sources say something. Its not up to us to be the judge of these sources and decide who is telling the truth.

We are dealing with similar tensions but with a school system that refuses to vocalize anything. We decided to confront the School Board and attempt to view documents ourselves today, but they were closed for the whole week. It was an awkward encounter because someone let us into the building and we had no idea where to go. We walked to the Superintendents office and were met with a startled employee who instructed us that we were not supposed to be in the building. The building is closed to the public and the person who would be able to help us had already left at 3pm. We have been told that no complaint against the book exist in the records but with all the controversy and coverage of it I find it hard to believe. Hopefully they will be more willing to share with us next week.

Blog Entry 19 March 2018

Trash and Filth.

In 1998 Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon was removed from curriculum in St. Mary’s County Maryland Public Schools for having what some deemed trash and filth in their criticisms of the book. These same struggles are echoed in the writing of Donald A. Downs on Government Censorship since 1945. His article claims that

“We cannot be characteristically human without both the pornographic and the impulse to control it. In our eroticized sexual nature many territories are forbidden; they are closed not over our protests but with our complicity.”

Downs is quoting Richard S. Randall here.

Song of Solomon has some overtly taboo sexual content in its pages. The main character is breastfed until he is four years old. This is 2-3 years beyond what may be considered socially acceptable, but I do not think the authors intention was sexual in nature. Americans struggle with breastfeeding in general. There are movements that support public breastfeeding with vehement counter movements that declare a mother feeding her child in public immoral or lewd. The sexualization of Milkman comes from the people reading the pages out of context and should not be considered filth.

The incest in the book is harder to argue for. While people are exposed to much worse with little uproar in television or movies, requiring that a student be exposed to it as a part of the curriculum is something to be debated. If people are not learning about this in school when are they learning about it? Toni Morrison was writing to capture real experiences, incestual relations with cousins and all. We can sit and pretend we live in a utopian society where things like this do not happen, but the truth is, life is messy.

My assumptions about why Song of Solomon may have been banned lie in racial reasons rather than what is cited as the cause. Conservative families in Southern Maryland probably only opened the book because they saw it was written by a black female and were initially upset with that alone. They searched and picked out things that confirmed their bias and mob complained to the school about the obvious trash and filth in the book.

Downs goes on to reflect on progressive censorship and its impact on universities. While it is easier for people to see that conservatives are being shut down for “politically incorrect” language, it is harder to say this is somehow different than what conservatives have done to minorities groups in the past and present. People, communities, and government institutions attempt to shut down the growth of ideologies that do not represent their best interests. It is typical to advocate your own interests and to repress ideologies you fear, or feel do not benefit you.

What is the solution?

I believe that people should be allowed to have their voice on any subjects unless it is at the expense of someone else’s civil liberties and health. We should not force our own visions of morality onto others unless that morality protects people from harm. Everyone has equal protection under the constitution and laws should be enforced in a way that is balanced and beneficial to everyone equally.

Blog entry 12 March 2018

Archival mishaps and missing information.

I realized that I had missed some requirements for reading responses, but this has also presented me with a unique opportunity to re-read some of the earlier content in this class with experience and a higher level of context. While these readings are used to give us a basis for the course at the start, it seems that it is much easier to understand the readings when combined with personal experience.  Samantha Thompson’s article on archival digitalization stood out to me because of recent events regarding our case.

I had been in contact with the board of education in St. Mary’s County. While the digitized records dating as far back as 2009, that is where they stopped. I asked for them to search in the 1998 records to find the formal complaint that was issued regarding Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. I was informed by Kathryn Mancini, Administrative Assistant to the Board of Education of St. Mary’s County Public Schools that, “We do not maintain Board of Education meeting notes from 1998 in electronic form.  I did review the archived paper copies from that year.  There is no reference to any parent complaint regarding Song of Solomon.” This is a significant piece for our website that we may be unable to obtain.

Samantha Thompson’s article deals more with archivist, but in a way, whoever digitized the county’s records was acting as an archivist for them. As Samantha points out,

“archivists commonly digitize records to facilitate access.”

I do not know if the 1998 complaints against Song of Solomon have been deliberately withheld or if it was a matter of dealing with volume. The records that are available on the website are extensive and do not seem to omit any details. Maintaining meetings for years on end and scanning them in must have been an exhausting process and a start point was probably decided on with consideration to relevance of material.

 

Samantha Thompson’s article also prompted me to reflect on my previous visits to local archives. Our schools own archives have been extensively digitized, but we pay a full-time archivist to work on this. The local Leonardtown archives have not begun any sort of digitization and that may have to deal with the volunteer status of tis employees. Most of them are retirees giving back their time and they may not understand the new technologies involved with complex digitization.

I was pleased to see that Samantha Thompson brought up data degradation. On a surface level documents would be safer in a digital format and not subject to flooding, fire, or vandalism. The truth is that digital files would need similar maintenance and be subject to the same sorts of natural disaster risks. Even if data was kept off site at great costs to whoever was maintaining them, anything could happen and without the originals it would be lost forever.

 

Blog Entry 05 March 2018

The interview.

Morning came and so with it our interview. I was a little nervous because I have never interviewed anyone academically. I have conducting interviews on both sides of a job table, but I have never interviewed someone about their personal beliefs.

We arrived at the library and I was surprised by the amount of people waiting to go into it right when it opened. Amy Ford was easy to find, and she had a group study room we could go into. She was well spoken and excited about the project we were doing. The interview went without any obvious or embarrassing hiccups, but it was still a learning experience.

We realized that the angle of our shot was not the greatest for interviews. The focus was entirely on her, creating a phantom voice for our interviewer. We were restricted by the room size and light source. If we had scoped out the site ahead of time we may have found a way to make the room work or have requested that we do the interview somewhere else.

We also discovered that we should have tried to create hypothetical follow up questions. As she replied to some of our initial questions we created new questions on the fly and they may have came off less professional. Although there is no way to anticipate all possible responses a flow chart of possible questions would help with preparation.

Amy Ford surprised us with a lot of her some of her responses. She liked that books have been attempted to be banned and that people care enough about books to even begin discussions about it. The library frequently hosts forums to discuss challenging issues in a safe environment. While Amy was not directly familiar with the Song of Solomon case and how it was handled in St. Mary’s County, she was a good representative for the American Library Association. Her general stance on censorship is that all content regardless of validity and morality should be represented but I am not sure I agree.

Censorship of inflammatory hate speech with the goal of inciting violence or prejudice against a specific group of people should either contain a disclaimer are altogether not be represented in literature. I have also heard of a book about how to murder someone. The books publisher was sued in a civil suite and it was determined that the book could be considered aiding and abetting because it was a step by step guide. The book was found at a murder scene and the steps within the book were followed.

Blog Entry 26 February 2018

This week Price and I are interviewing at least one of our important sources. We were trying to arrange for two interviews this week, but we have been unable to get consistent responses from one of them. We hope to catch them before they leave the country in March. I have learned that with short-term projects like this you must anticipate what you want to do early on or you risk not meeting deadlines with important parts of your research.

I have spent a significant amount of time trying to plan interview questions, but most of them are dependent on where our research takes us. It is impossible to predict what information you may need, so developing a diverse question set is a necessity. The guide posted on our course site provides insight on how “to provoke rich, complex answers.”  During our first interview with our school’s local librarian, we were wholly unprepared with questions and setting up a proper interview to put on our website. The interviewee did not know ahead of time that we wanted something more robust and that is our fault for not following proper pre-interview protocols. We decided that our initial meeting was more to put us in the right direction of how we wanted to pursue our case.

On February 28, 2018, we are interviewing Amy Ford, the Branch Manager at the St. Mary’s County Library in Lexington Park, MD. My initial e-mail to Amy included enough detail that this interview should go a lot smoother. She is anticipating cameras and has given permission for us to use the recordings on our website. While she may not know a lot about or specific case, we hope that she can shed some light on the implications of book censorship and how it has been handled in St. Mary’s County. We hope to hear her opinion on the matter and perhaps get some historical context on why Song of Solomon was banned when it was. I am excited to put together a more finished product after collecting the information from our first interview. I intend to have a written record if website visitors would prefer to read the information instead of watching our video.

If possible, I hope to also complete our interview with Professor Robin Bates because he was part of the opposition to the banning of Song of Solomon. If we miss him, I may elect for an e-mail interview just to establish the content on our website. The St. Mary’s College Department of Educational Studies is full of professors who work with the local schools and I would like to set up an interview with another professor. For each interview Price and I conduct, we will need to develop our list of questions and adjust them depending on the professor’s area of expertise or connection to book censorship.

The most difficult part of interviewing will be masking our bias and making sure we are not leading our subjects to the conclusions we expect to draw. Many of our subjects are academics, which leads us to expect anti-book censorship views, but it is important to keep an open mind.

 

All images are from Pixabay and are free for commercial use and require no attribution.

Blog Entry 19 February 2018

Survey of Technology

 

As we come closer to deadlines for our project it became time to see what our school had to offer us. Justin Foreman is our point of contact at the media center and luckily, I am already familiar with him. Our school has a lab for recording high quality audio that we could use to narrate a podcast type segment on our website. The diversity of media will help us with general accessibility on our website. Our media center also has a few high-quality macs with top of the line video editing software and the support to learn how to use it. The staff is excited to help with any projects and encourages going the extra mile to produce quality works.

On our media centers website, they list an abundance of equipment available.

 

Please visit Room 311 to borrow any of the following items:

W     Medium-sized Liberty PA systems

W     Mini-speakers

W     Microphones (vocal, instrument, clip-on & shotgun)

W     Microphone stands (regular, boom, & tabletop)

W     Projectors (data, overhead & slide)

W     Screens (large & medium)

W     DVD and VHS players

W     Monitors

W     Small portable tables

W     Cameras (digital video & digital still)

W     Audio recorders (analog & digital)

W     Conference phone

W     Headphones

W     Tripods & monopods

W     Easels & clipboards

W     PC or Mac laptops

W     Audio & video cables

W     Extension cords & outlet strips

http://library.smcm.edu/media-center/events-equipment/av-equipment/

 

The school also has high quality microphones and cameras specifically for interviews. The rental of the equipment is easily done with a student ID and is at no cost to us. I checked with Justin to see about checking out some gear for the duration of the semester and they have enough available that it shouldn’t be a problem.

We have some fun ideas about adding in some shots to bolster interviews and break up the static nature of them. I plan to add establishing shots using drone footage and shots from around campus to help bring our story to life. Some documentation of our journey while acquiring the information would be a fun sidebar for our website.

I have worked on previous projects with our media centers for classes that did not expect us to put in the work we did. Our creative ambition paid off with the experience we now have, to tackle this project. Price and I are both familiar with video editing, sound editing, framing, and interviews.  I decided to attach a few of my other school projects to this post to show what we have previously been able to accomplish.  The major aspect of filming we learned during our project was the importance of time management. The editing process can take days for a relatively short piece. Knowing how much time it will take will make the editing and final touches of our project a relatively smooth process.

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