Turning image analysis into a critical process of looking together to assist viewers in developing their own resources for doing humanistic inquiry…
Visualizing the Victorian Sportwoman (VisVS) is a digital component of my dissertation on the topic of strong female bodies and identity formation in nineteenth-century British literature and visual culture. I’ve developed this site as an experimental dissertation chapter that turns my research into visible, (inter)active forms for teaching visual literacy and close analysis. My goals are centered around activation; particularly, I aim to support Victorian Studies and Gender Studies students in developing the hermeneutical skills necessary to decoding representations of the female body.
This is a multimodal project, because the Victorian Sportswoman was not just a literary formation but also a visual phenomenon: the subject of fine art paintings, novel and periodical illustrations, sketches for news and sports reporting, cartoons, and advertisements. I craft a digital, visual approach to this imagery, borrowing art techniques to produce innovative renderings of gendered embodiment. I incorporate images in multimodal displays (using interactive sliders, animations, digital overlays, and handmade collages) that stage ways of seeing and offer snapshots of the process of interpretation. I adopt a mode of visual analysis that is close, embodied, and communal, inviting my audience to join me in looking with critical purpose. Departing from the large-scale computational approach of many recent image analysis projects in the digital humanities, VisVS serves as an example of non-traditional research that experiments with using the more caring models that shape humanistic pedagogy as a guide for digital design.
By building my project in this way, I am making an argument that DH design practices ought to embody our pedagogical commitments, particularly to producing knowledge in forms that decenter authority and lead people to their own critical activities. Although there is much I could say about any given image on the site, I’ve designated that my role is to put this visual media in conversation for the viewer, not to comment on it myself. I purposefully decenter my critical perspective, limiting textual explanation of images in favor of “showing seeing” (a nod to W.J.T. Mitchell’s pedagogical exercise) in ways that lead people to their own activities.
Visit the VisVS user guide to learn more about the organization of the site and its activating features.
I am grateful for support for VisVS by a grant from the Graduate Center Digital Initiatives and the Office of the Provost and by the Louise Lennihan Arts & Sciences Grant at the Graduate Center. The project has received the Joshua Brown Visual Culture Award as well as the New Media Lab Digital Dissertation award at the Graduate Center.