A review of the Maine Digital Collaborative, a multimodal digital public humanities project, directed by John Muthyala and Lisa Hibl
Maine Digital Collective
Henry T. Christopher, Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Aniruddha Mukhopadhyay, Texas A&M University-Kingsville
John Muthyala and Lisa Hibl
The Maine Digital Collaborative (MDC) is a digital public humanities initiative that explores and negotiates the profound transformations unleashed by digital technologies as they transform the ways information and knowledge are produced, examined, accessed, disseminated, and consumed. MDC connects academic work with community-based efforts to create new knowledge and promote cultural exchange. We re-imagine ourselves as writers who read, critique, and revise texts, and as designers who integrate multiple modalities to compose media-rich content through digital tools.
Built using Squarespace, MDC showcases announcements, images, videos, and audio files that address issues, including, but not limited to, higher education, cultural exchange, and health. For example, MDC includes material drawn from an event held with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which provides creative programming for adults over 50 and fosters a culture of lifelong learning and creative activity. Misty Krueger presented “From Blonde to Blue and Beyond,” a visual essay about her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, while Lisa Hibl, managing editor at MDC, conducted the session, “Writing as Generative Practice: Distance, Intimacy, and Well-being,” on narrative expression and illuminated memoir. Hibl guided participants through writing exercises, drawing on the work of Atul Gawande, Richard Seltzer, Anatole Broyard, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Georgia O’Keefe. Using Adobe Creative Express and Canva, John Muthyala made slides with original quotations from Krueger and Hibl and put together several video clips from their presentations to thematize them in videos that were uploaded to YouTube and the MDC site. Educators can use them as primary course texts and develop creative class assignments for students at various educational levels. We are considering adding practice-based assignments that encourage students to use the creative arts to respond to MDC’s multimodal content, which is also evident in MDC's logo, which was created by Nicole Manganelli, a Portland graphics artist.
In forthcoming publications, we are working to have OLLI members use their skills to create visual content for integration with textual content. Some are accomplished professional and amateur photographers, whose creative skills can be deployed to enrich our journal’s multimodal content. We are intentionally extending MDC’s community engagement by pursuing a mode of interactivity that goes beyond a one-way, MDC-to-OLLI model where we (MDC) provide them (OLLI) knowledge and information. For instance, in addition to publishing a visual essay by John Zheng at Mississippi Valley State University on food systems in the Mississippi Delta, we approached Charles Kerrigan Jr., a graduate student, to publish on “slow medicine” to enhance end-of-life care. MDC also aims to incorporate national and global perspectives by publishing work by others outside of Maine.
MDC has as its public supporters the Maine Space Grant Consortium, The Third Place, Immigrant Welcome Center, Portland, and the New Commons Project. We invite queries on relevant projects from persons inside and outside of academia, promising a prompt and human reply.
Henry T. Christopher and Aniruddha Mukhopadhyay
The Maine Digital Collaborative (MDC) is a digital initiative that publishes content in multiple modalities for the general public and aims to facilitate collaboration between artists, activists, educators, entrepreneurs, and community and business leaders. The MDC website features articles, images, and YouTube videos on a range of issues like higher education, healthcare, and food cultures. The project has been developed by John Muthyala and Lisa Hibl, both associated with the University of Southern Maine.
Muthyala and Hibl created their website using Squarespace, a website builder with user-friendly templates that is generally considered better for new project developers than the WordPress content management system. Squarespace allows MDC to sort its content through tagging, and readers can provide comments on each article. In this way, authors can interact with members of the community, fulfilling one of MDC’s core missions.
The website features a black and white theme with the project logo and the main menu at the top. Visitors landing on the homepage immediately see the latest additions to the project’s library and can scroll down to access more content. Further down the page, visitors come across the introduction to MDC, featured content, and the logos of MDC’s sponsors. The main menu includes the following tabs: “Articles,” “Borderlands,” “Health and Well-Being,” “Higher Education,” “About,” “News,” “Events,” and “Contact.” The categories are a little confusing because the menu mixes content type and themes, and visitors might appreciate the project introduction at the very beginning, before they scroll through content.
Overall, MDC’s “digital public commons” is a valuable addition to the digital humanities landscape in Maine, since other such projects in the state are directly affiliated to academic centers. The project addresses both the advent of new technology and the application of technology-based methods to humanities issues. Of the six articles on the website, three have a “digital humanities” tag, and most of the explicitly digital humanities content addresses societal issues relevant to Maine that are connected to recent and emerging technologies.
One way for the developers to improve the project would be to clarify MDC’s focus and relationship to Maine. The “About MDC” webpage doesn’t explicitly address whether submissions and collaborations are to be limited to Maine. While most of the content has been contributed by authors in Maine, the “Borderlands” tab on the main menu features an article on the “cultural flavors” of the Mississippi Delta. In the “Submissions” section under “About MDC,” aspiring authors are encouraged to look at MDC content to see if the work they wish to publish is compatible with the style of previously published works. However, clearer explanation of submission criteria would encourage more contributions to the project from a variety of sources.
The project would also benefit from greater clarification of its collaborative mission. At present, visitors don’t have a clear sense of the collaborations that MDC is enabling other than providing a common publishing platform. If these design and thematic issues are addressed, MDC promises to be an excellent interactive space bridging the world of academic knowledge formation and community praxis.