Category: Teaching

Growing Games on Ant Spider Bee

One of the wonderful editors over at the digital environmental humanities blog, Ant Spider Bee, recently asked me to contribute another post, following the site’s exciting relaunch as a PressForward pilot project. The result is an admittedly brief list of resources and tips for those looking to use games in “envhum” teaching or research, but in a later post I will offer a more detailed discussion of game-design pedagogy as well as a case study of some of my work-in-progress.

Find my first Ant Spider Bee Post from 2013, on “slow violence” and ecological game studies, here.

Earth Days

Thanks to Professor Summer Harrison (English) and the Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program at Drew University for hosting me on Monday for a workshop and lecture on “Greening Games: What Environmental Science Can Teach Us About Playing Video Games” (poster attached). The talk was fortuitously timed, given Earth Day/Week.


The semester’s coming to a close, but I may be speaking virtually or in-person at UCLA in June. More details to come.

Spring 2014 Courses at UConn

Thanks to the gracious powers that be, I am on leave this semester, but in the spring I’m offering one section of a gateway literary-theory course for English majors (skewing environmental), and one special-topics course on textuality (skewing new media). These will be some of the first courses to explicitly tackle “the digital” in a department better known for its strengths in medieval studies and children’s literature. I’m still dithering over what primary texts I want to use in each, though I’m leaning toward China Mieville’s The City and the City, Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker, or Geoff Ryman’s Air for 2600, and Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age for 3623. Suggestions are welcome!

I’m also slated to offer an “Intro to DH” grad seminar in Fall 2014, and as I come more from interdisciplinary new media studies than DH proper, I’m expecting to learn and experiment right alongside my students. I’ll post a tentative syllabus and a compilation of resources sometime in the new year.

Engl 2600  Introduction to Literary Studies

To prepare you for work in more advanced classes, this course will develop your understanding of the discipline of English through a select overview of literary history and the major theoretical schools of twentieth-century literary criticism—among them reader-response, New Criticism and close reading, structuralism and post-structuralism, new historicism, cultural studies, and postcolonial theory. As we will discover, these are not simply theories for theory’s sake, but rather diverse perspectives on what should be included in (or excluded from) the literary canon, the relative importance of genre, author, and audience, and the relationship of literature to broader social and cultural contexts. You should end the semester with a surer sense of the pleasures and pitfalls of different critical approaches to texts, as well as the many subfields and interdisciplinary extensions that “English” encompasses.

In addition to a focus on textual interpretation, this course will also stress research and documentation guidelines and strategies, with special emphasis on changes in the discipline due to digital trends. You will learn, for instance, how to follow Modern Language Association (MLA) citation practice, how to evaluate both print and online sources, and how to make appropriate use of secondary sources while developing an original thesis. Assignments will include several short written responses and a final research paper with annotated bibliography.

Engl 3623  Studies in Literature and Culture

Literature Before and After the Digital

Since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, a host of areas traditionally grounded in print literary culture—among them storytelling, argumentation, publication, and archiving—have been radically transformed by online and mobile devices and services. In this increasingly digitized postmillennial era, we might therefore wonder how literature and our study of it have been impacted and how to best argue for their continued relevance. Do shifting cultural and technological paradigms demand new texts and critical approaches, or are these seemingly dramatic changes just the latest variations in the ongoing evolution of the literary?

To circle this question, we will consider not only the obvious crossover realms of electronic literature and interactive fiction, but also the application of literary methods and knowledge to non-literary objects. The course will frame the upstart arrivals of blogs, wikis, and e-readers within the centuries-old history of print, while revealing how deeply textual metaphors and practices continue to structure our online interactions. Throughout, we will also ponder whether “virtual reality” transcends any single genre or media category (for instance, video games), and discuss how form and format shape the development and experience of narrative.

Engl 6500  Seminar in Literary Theory

Intro to Digital Humanities

The term “digital humanities” now has an established foothold in our discipline, having generated lucrative funding opportunities from unexpected quarters and alternative academic (alt-ac) career paths for technically oriented scholars. Yet alongside the general enthusiasm, some have voiced a warning (witness the “Dark Side of DH” panel at last year’s MLA convention). So what exactly are the digital humanities? And why do they have a dark side?

This course will serve as an introduction to this burgeoning subfield and its provocations, by exploring its origins in bibliographic and textual studies and literary archival projects, as well as more current initiatives involving gaming, “big data,” and cross-institutional collaboration. Special attention will be given to the challenges of studying and preserving literature now composed, distributed, and read in digital form. Students will not only have multiple opportunities to interact with active DH archives and platforms (Drupal, TEI, Project Bamboo, etc.), but will also be asked to experiment with their own basic, but hands-on projects, preferably related to their existing areas of interest. No previous technical experience required.

From California to Connecticut

Hooray! I’ve moved across the country, from one ocean-hugging state to another, to start my new job as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. In an uncanny fit for my current ecocritical work on video games, I’ve been hired to write and teach about both environmental literature and the digital humanities. Though I don’t consider myself a “digital humanist” in the narrow sense (an alternative academic or professor using digital tools and platforms to create online projects, often grant-funded, often archival in nature), I’m more than happy to carry that flag if it generates support for smart, open-minded, and ambitious collaborations across the usual disciplinary divides. UConn is in the midst of a considerable faculty hiring initiative, largely centered around the STEM-focused Next Generation Connecticut plan put forward by Governor Dannel Malloy and UConn President Susan Herbst. And while most of the hires are taking place in engineering, science, and related fields, a few of us literary folk slipped through under the auspices of terms like “DH” (see the English Department web site for information about the three other new DH hires: Bhakti Shringarpure, Yohei Igarashi, and Gregory Pierrot).

Also up and coming are the new Digital Media and Design department, within the School of Fine Arts, and the Scholars’ Collaborative, named in honor of the Scholars’ Lab at University of Virginia. While things digital are just starting to gain bureaucratic momentum here, UConn just hosted THATCamp New England, this week we have ReMEDIAting Flusser, and I’m already teaming up with Anna Kijas and Tom Scheinfeldt to bring Joanna Swafford here in February to talk about her project, Songs of the Victorians. I also take comfort in UConn’s close proximity to New York City and Boston, both hubs for innovative media research and game design (if you’re in the area, take advantage of the Boston DH Consortium mailing list).

Anything I should add to my new local lists? Let me know!

It has been a surprisingly busy year on the job market, with campus visits to University of Michigan, NYU, and CSU-Fullerton, along with a fair number of other interviews, but for now it looks like I’ll be staying at Berkeley for another semester to a year while I send out another round of applications. At least Irvine’s request for my complete dissertation in December forced me to draft my final chapter (in a bit of a hurry), so now all that’s left is the never-ending process of revising and contemplating the project less as a dissertation than a first book. Another bonus: the Routledge commissioning editor for media and cultural studies contacted me after reading my short piece in ISLE on farm games, and after chatting with her at SCMS I’m now in touch with some great new contacts working in ecocinema and ecomedia, more generally.

Happily, I finally scrounged together enough time to draft a course description for my summer teaching position as the instructor/lecturer for Film and Media 25B: Histories of Sound Film (Summer Session D). This class is one of the lower-division requirements for aspiring film majors at Berkeley, generally completed after taking 25A on early/silent film. My mind still boggles at the idea of covering the history of sound cinema from 1930 to the present in six weeks, but not surprisingly, the course has tended to focus on commercial narrative cinema rather than documentary or experimental film, with Hollywood as a primary site. Perhaps this is where I finally get to indulge my Barbara Stanwyck fandom? Or admit that I actually liked Wings of Desire?

Film and Media 25B: Histories of Sound Film

This introductory course will survey key developments in film history, beginning with the advent of sound cinema in the early 1930s and concluding with film’s transformation in the contemporary digital era. Along the way, we will become conversant with significant movements and genres in commercial narrative film (and to a much lesser extent documentary and experimental or avant-garde film), including classical and post-classical Hollywood cinema (musicals, Westerns, screwball comedies, and so on), Italian Neo-Realism, the French New Wave, New German Cinema, non-Western world cinema, and film in the age of “new” media.

Beginning with the transition from silent to sound film, we will pay particular attention to the relationship between sound and the moving image. However, crucial to our approach will be the recognition that film history is not simply the history of a medium; neither is there a single film history. Instead, there are histories—and these histories are inextricably tied to contested social and political histories. Our focus will therefore be on those films and texts that illustrate both the development of film styles and forms as well as important changes in the film industry—from censorship and the globalization of markets to radical alterations in the ways that films are shown and consumed.

The course will develop your ability to analyze individual shots (composition and mise-en-scène) and sequences (editing), while situating the films we view in relation to broader sociocultural and political contexts. Alongside general readings on film history primarily provided by David Cook’s A History of Narrative Film, we will also study nuanced secondary criticism from leading film scholars as models for film analysis and writing. A course reader will be made available at Replica Copy (2138 Oxford Street, 510.549.9991) during the first week of class, containing excerpts from the work of Ruth Vasey, Lee Grieveson, Michel Chion, Tom Gunning, Miriam Hansen, Lynn Spigel, Mary Ann Doane, Kristen Whissel, and others.


I’ve also been offered a couple of the discussion sections for the Fall 2012 Media Studies 102: Effects of Mass Media course taught by Jean Retzinger, and after talking to Jean and looking at the syllabus I’m excited to teach media from a slightly different perspective than my usual one (this course, a requirement for Media Studies majors after taking Introduction to the Mass Media, combines cultural criticism with more social scientific work). Given that videogame criticism almost inevitably runs up against the question of media effects, I’m particularly interested in reading and re-reading the work of Lazarsfeld, Katz, Castells, etc. Here’s Jean’s brief description of the class:

Media Studies 102: Effects of Mass Media

This course will familiarize you with the often contentious history of communication theory concerning media effects. At issue among scholars working within different research traditions are core disagreements about what should be studied (institutions, texts, audiences, technologies), how it should be studied, and even what constitutes an “effect.” Course readings and lectures stress an understanding of these various research traditions by focusing on the social, political, and historical contexts surrounding them, the research models and methods employed, and the findings and conclusions reached.

New farm games article available

I’ve just received an advance-access copy of a short piece I wrote for Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, called “Back to the Virtual Farm: Gleaning the Agriculture-Management Game.” The print version will be out in the next issue, 19.1 (Winter 2012), but you can now access the PDF here. This article is a slightly expanded version of a talk I gave at ASLE this past summer (and the essay that was awarded best paper)… here I’ve added more detail regarding farm games’ treatment of water and soil, but the full, chapter-length version will have to wait until I publish my larger dissertation work.

I’ve received several requests for the paper from ASLE members and artists and scholars working at the nexus of food politics, environmental justice, and environmental history, so I’m happy to make this work available. If you get a moment, please let me know how you use the work in your classes and whether or not it’s helped you to bring both games and food-related issues into discussion. For example, I believe that Barbara Eckstein at University of Iowa has incorporated the work into a “Locally Grown” Literature & Society class (involving undergraduates, actual farmers, and IT professionals), and I’ve had several stimulating conversations with artist Amy Franceschini of Futurefarmers over the potential for a different kind of farm game: New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife are pursuing one such idea, and the University of Washington Bothell has turned social farm-game mechanics toward wetlands restoration. But I think we’re just scratching the surface of what is possible!

I’ll be teaching my first summer course during Summer Session A (course description below), a Rhetoric R1B on sound theories and technologies. I’m dividing the course into three units: the first on film sound, using the 1998 remastered version of Orson Welles’s 1958 film noir, Touch of Evil; the second on music and remix culture, with some reference to Scratch (2001) and broadcasts from the BBC’s Radio One (especially DJ Kutski on the “Amen” break); and the third on environmental sound, drawing on the Canadian acoustic ecology movement and the study of urban soundscapes. I’m also assigning DeLillo’s novella, The Body Artist, for its puzzling tale of vocal impersonation, auditory hallucination, and performance.

I have always had a musician’s interest in sound, but I have been increasingly turned on to the growing field of sound studies by my colleagues Tom McEnaney (Cornell Comparative Literature, with a specialty in early 20th-century radio), Caitlin Marshall (UC Berkeley Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, with a project on vocal prosthesis), and Tiffany Ng (UC Berkeley Music, my guide to ethnomusicology and professional carillon-playing). I’m particularly interested in new media’s influence on sound design and reception, and I have kept an interested eye on the work of Jonathan Sterne and Frances Dyson, among others.

Record, Rewind, Play: Theories and Technologies of Sound

Rhetoric R1B | Summer Session A – 2011

TWTh 10-12:30 | 79 Dwinelle

Does your iPod contain more hours of music than you could possibly listen to without devoting months of your life to your headphones? Do you still listen to AM/FM radio, or do you prefer to use Pandora or even mix and play your own tracks? Have you been known to belt out a few Beatles tunes or Nine Inch Nails anthems for a night of Rock Band? If so, you might legitimately wonder why so much of contemporary philosophy, science, and art centers on the human faculty of vision. Beyond text, beyond image, there is always our constant immersion in sound, through speech, music, and ambient noise.

This course takes a broad interdisciplinary approach while using sound technology and theory as a unifying heuristic. We will spend most of our time on music—particularly modern remix culture and the influence of digital methods on analog materials—as well as film and television sound: the soundtrack, the transition from silent to sound film, and the voiceover. But we will also explore sound’s role in areas as diverse as animal research, city planning, politics, and videogame design.

Along the way, we will hearken back to the introduction of the telegraph and phonograph, radio, boomboxes and Walkmen, and the mp3. These objects and their cultural history will help us to think through ideas about silence, encoding, public and private, noise pollution, “liveness,” and high fidelity, and about how sound functions in communication, documentation, data visualization, and the very constitution of space, environment, and the self. Expect to read, listen, watch, and play, including selections from Paul Lansky, John Cage, Claude Shannon, Michel Chion, Mary Ann Doane, Diane Ackerman, Frances Dyson, Friedrich Kittler, Jonathan Sterne, and UC Berkeley’s very own Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT).