This term I’ve been visiting Mark Phillipson’s Multimedia Blake, a senior English seminar at Columbia University. As its title suggests, the course offers a non-traditional approach to William Blake’s poetry through an in-depth analysis of his written texts as much as his images. Phillipson uses MediaThread in the class, an innovative software program created by Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) that facilitates such an examination of Blake’s multimedia production.
As the Center’s website indicates, the software “connects to a variety of image and video collections (such as YouTube, Flickr, library databases, and course libraries), enabling users to lift items out of these collections and into an analysis environment. In MediaThread, items can then be clipped, annotated, organized, and embedded into essays and other written analysis” (http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/mediathread).
I believe the above description does more than justice to represent this fascinating tool; it brings new meaning to engaged academic communities by redefining online classroom technology. Based on my observations, the program works very well not only for its seminar purposes but also, I dare say, for new possibilities in Blakean Studies. Its zooming and “lifting out” capabilities of the minutest of details (from each digitized image) lend to fruitful observations and discussion that a view of the printed image could hardly reproduce. Through the use of digitized images from the wonderful blakearchive.org, MediaThread allows for a side-by-side analysis, for instance, of Blake’s representations of females, Los, Urizen, or even his peculiar trees. Students can also scrutinize the many versions of Blake’s images—including his varying use of color, shading, strokes, and other remarkable details.
Programs like Blackboard, Sakai, or other related course technology certainly have their merit by offering pre or post-classroom intellectual exchange, but these conversations are usually limited to written textual analysis. MediaThread enables the simultaneous analysis of text and multimedia. It allows classroom participants new entryways into a work’s material conditions, permitting the potential reframing of its production and reception history. It also prompts several questions about current forms of access to literary works—including new ways of reading and analyzing a text. With this software, students could conceivably examine other digitized images of, say, original manuscripts or rare (first) print editions. And if such a program can revolutionize the classroom, why would it (or something like it) not eventually change the sphere or direction of literary scholarship or even the broader digital humanities? The possibilities seem very exciting.
Because of its promising features , we are hoping to ask Mark Phillipson or any other member of Columbia’s team to give a presentation on MediaThread to our NYU English Department faculty and graduate students. We will provide our followers with updates about this potential event in the near future.
-Omar F. Miranda