Congress 2013: “Playing with Time: Digital Oral History and Literary Studies in the SpokenWeb Project”

Posted by ashley


On June 2nd, I arrived in Victoria, BC to present a paper at Congress 2013 for the Canadian Society of Digital Humanties concerning SpokenWeb.  Deanna Fong, primary research assistant on the project, and myself also presented an elaborate poster.  The paper I presented, co-authored with Dr. Steven High, was entitled “Playing with Time: Digital Oral History and Literary Studies in the SpokenWeb Project.”  The paper explored how SpokenWeb is not satisfied with studying the sound recordings as archived artifacts, but considered how these recovered recordings are used to reanimate the past in the present. The paper considered the ways in which the sound recordings can be used to play with time, creating deeply felt spaces of individual and generational life review and reciprocal sharing.


During my presentation I played a full recording of George Bowering reading alongside his past archival recording at the October 12th, 2012, Performing the Spoken Web Archive.  The audience added another layer of laughter and smiles and enjoyed the immersive experience in the lecture hall. The audience discovered how the poets reading with their former selves were in fact challenging the limitations of time.  Essentially they were breaking down the socially produced boundaries of time, working on a plain where present and past could meet.  The poets tended to work alongside their younger selves as though they were revisiting the reading series. The way in which they collaborate with themselves was “not simply a nostalgic return, but rather a presencing that uncovers lost possibilities a going back to go forward.  The temporality of the moment became transparent at this reading series which is what the paper hoped to explore.  I also played recordings from the memory clinic, to illustrate the additional dimension of audience responses.


The project was well received and the audience asked questions that produced a thoughtful discussion about the next stages of the project.  One interesting question was if we thought of creating a sound walk or locating these sounds in a specific place. A visitor could walk and listen to the poets read on the podium or sit in a seats to hear a visitor response.  Another  technical fact that became apparent, was that the website does not form connections within itself.  In Bowering’s interview when he described Allen Ginsberg’s chanting, it would be interesting to provide a hyperlink to connect visitors to Gingsberg’s audio. However, as the project is still in its early stages these are all aspects we may address in the upcoming years.


In conclusion, Congress unearthed a lot of interesting questions and ideas. It was a great meeting place for scholars to explore the potential of projects in the digital humanities and I am excited to see the next steps for SpokenWeb.

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