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Faculty Bio - Dr. Jessica Pressman

Professor Jessica Pressman (Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of Digital Humanities Initiative) is a leading scholar in electronic literature. Her first book, Digital Modernism: Making it New in New Media (Oxford UP, 2014) charted a genealogy between literary modernism, in the early decades of the twentieth– century, and contemporary electronic literature; the book showed how digital literature is part of literary history and can be studied using traditional critical methods.

 

Professor Pressman has been organizing electronic literature reading events for thirteen years at various universities, including UCLA, Yale University, USC, UCSD, and CSUSM. Of particular mention are the yearlong reading series at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, “Hyper_text: Explorations in Electronic Literature” in 2003-2004 that she organized and facilitated and the first electronic literature reading event held at SDSU, on March 19, 2014, since 2002.

 

Professor Pressman teaches Eng 527: “Digital Literature” each spring, and is cultivating student interest in born-digital literature. The Common Experience project supports this endeavor and Pressman’s larger goal of making SDSU a national center for teaching and learning electronic literature.

 

Summary of Events

This project was envisioned as a strategic plan for implementing the study of electronic literature at SDSU, and it was comprised of three interlocking components:

 

1) a public reading of electronic literature by a pioneering and internationally-recognized digital writer with the goal of showcasing great electronic literature in order to stimulate interest in electronic literature on campus,

 

2) a workshop in making electronic literature that would serve to teach students how to start creating their own works,

 

3) a competition for the best student-created work of electronic literature that would encourage and reward students for their creative efforts.

 

Details on the specific components are below:

 

1) Electronic Literature Reading

 

Nearly 100 people came out to hear Professor Caitlin Fisher (York University) read/perform her electronic literature on February 17, 2016. Caitlin Fisher held a Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture in the Department of Film at York University, Toronto; she is a co-founder of York's Future Cinema Lab, and her research investigates the future of narrative through explorations of interactive storytelling and interactive cinema in Augmented Reality environments. Faculty from UCSD, USD, and all across SDSU were in the audience as well as graduate and undergraduate students from diverse disciplines and departments on campus. It was truly an interdisciplinary event. Fisher shared her cutting-edge work in augmented-reality digital literature, holding up her iPad to scan QR codes and digital markers contained in a book or attached to little domestic objects. When scanned, the markers elicited the projection of a digital image or audio file; eerie voices and shaky photographs appeared to hover over the analog book. Fisher talked about digital humanities from a maker-scholar perspective. Her presentation showed how the incorporation of digital technologies into literature can produce not only new methods of storytelling but also embodied modes of reading, both of which inspire different ways of understanding and studying the literary.

 

2) Workshop

 

Building off of the momentum of the reading, we held a 2-hour workshop on creating electronic literature on March 24, 2016 which was led by Professor Mark Marino (USC), a writer of electronic literature who also teaches undergraduates to produce it in writing classes at USC. The workshop attracted 40 students and was held in the LARC Lab. It was a hands-on introduction to specific tools used for creating electronic and to the larger process of literary production.

 

3) Competition

 

The electronic literature workshop served to help students learn to create their own works of electronic literature so that they could then participate in the first-ever student competition in electronic literature at SDSU. A $250 cash prize was offered as an incentive for students to build upon the lessons learned from this workshop to create and submit works of electronic literature to the campus-wide competition. The deadline was April 25, 2016, and we received 10 submissions of different varieties from undergraduates and graduate students. The jurors included Professor Katie Farris (English and Comparative Literature, SDSU), Dr. Mark C. Marino (USC, Writing), Professor Sandra Doller (CSUSM and 1913 journal), and Dr. Jenny Minnity-Shippey (English and Comparative Literature, SDSU). The winner, Riley Wilson, is an undergraduate English major. She won for “Driving Alone at Night”. The Judges describe the work in the following ways: “I found ‘Driving Alone’ to be surprisingly captivating in that its restrained but intentional use of web affordances expertly amplified the poetic power of the narrative. I admired the author's ability to create such a personal and poetic effect on the web!”; “The visual elements of the publication were effective and engaging; the soundtrack added to the emotional elements of the story. The second-person address invited me in as I explored the text. I found the site navigable, and also rewarding; each step, particularly in the early stages of the text, rewarded with evocative scenes or compelling writing.”

Student Learning Outcomes

Creating electronic literature often requires collaboration between poets and programmers, designers and musicians, etc., and it always requires interdisciplinary learning and skills; so, the learning outcomes include media-specific lessons geared at such Essential Learning Capacities of the General Education Program as: learning to 1) “Construct, analyze, and communicate arguments” through the development of a creative artwork, and learning to “3) Contextualize phenomena” by learning to critically understand how digital effects are produced.

 

As evidenced by the works submitted to the competition, students learned to “construct, analyze, and communicate arguments” through art and to “contextualize phenomena” by learning to use digital tools in ways that teach students to critique through making interfaces and interactive elements. From the over 100 people served by our various events, it is clear that initiative successfully introduced the SDSU campus to the creative energy of born-electric literary art.

Faculty Reflections

I am incredibly proud of the yearlong program and what we achieved in it. We pursued a clear and smart strategic plan with three events that built upon one another, and the effect was a clear. We generated enthusiasm and interest in electronic literature, and we also created a community of students interested in continuing to explore (and to make) this new type of literary art. I know that students in my “Digital Literature” class greatly appreciated the reading event and also the workshop, for they understood these to be important supplemental events that expanded and enhanced their classroom learning. Beyond these students, though, all who attended the reading and/or the workshop were introduced to a new artform, and I heard from many students and faculty that they were grateful for the experience. The Common Experience project successfully introduced students to a type of scholarly-making and interdisciplinary study that can bridge traditional literary studies with innovations in digital technologies and making. I am very satisfied with that outcome.


 

Electronic Literature Reading

Electronic Literature Workshop
Electronic Literature Competition
Caitlin Fisher Reading