Friday, March 8, 2013

A Post-Apocalyptic Frame for our Renaissance Project?

So, my students came through with their video segments for today. They were supposed to do something in 90 seconds to engage readers in one of the primary texts of Renaissance literature.

After enjoying the liveliness of these presentations (which you look at in prior posts), it is hard to go back to the prospect of creating a mere eBook, a set of mute and colorless texts lacking the vibrancy of my students' personalities and creativity.

What to do?

Well, I have an idea, and I'm interested to see how much my students like it. It's stemming from the hilarious Zombie Apocalypse video journal created by Dia Darcey. Dia did a fantastic job of representing Michel de Montaigne's "Of Cannibals" as she slowly became a zombie in the year 2800.

So here's my idea. Rather than merely assembling a brief but rather traditional set of texts to put into an eBook about Renaissance literature, what if we created a fictional frame, a master story, to which we could attach a short series of videos, the eBook, and some interactive features? We would interest our audience in Renaissance literature by giving them a fictional, interactive pretext for doing so. Here's what I have in mind:

The Story
When astronauts return to Earth following the first successful faster-than-light journey, the effects of relativity mean eight hundred Earth years have passed since they left. Earth of 2800 is not recognizable to them, having fallen into a second Dark Ages. Books and computers exist, but in scattered and fragmented form. It is impossible for the returning astronauts to rebuild the technological infrastructure of the world that they left. But enough knowledge lingers among the ruins to piece together how the culture of a prior age was reborn. Perhaps if they learned how the Europeans of the 15th-17th centuries revived ancient civilizations, they would be able to rejuvenate their own and bring about a second Renaissance.

The astronauts record their adventures in a series of video journals and organize their findings around six master themes that explain the first Renaissance. If they can stay close to those themes and teach one another what they have found, then a new civilization has hope. They must fight against the ignorance of Earth's inhabitants, and against TMI, a psychological condition which prevents people from understanding the past by overwhelming them with large amounts of disorganized knowledge. Their only hope is to keep what they discover short, clear, and interesting to the remaining inhabitants of Earth.

To engage the inhabitants and sustain their attention, the astronauts create brief activities that can keep the attention of these psychologically challenged people. Brief games, demonstrations, and presentations can make the earlier Renaissance understandable.

The Process
Students create and share extremely brief "teaser" videos about primary texts from the Renaissance -- always tying these back to one of the six master themes. They test this content by pitching it to real people. As they receive feedback from one another and from outsiders, this gives them a reason to circle back again to their content and flesh it out in a longer video that goes beyond "teaser" content to more detailed representation of the text in question. The longer videos are in turn linked to a chapter created for the eBook.

The videos would be published as a web series, loosely connected to each other by way of the master story frame, but tightly connected to a given student's prior video(s). The videos would not simply present information; they would provide the pretext for engaging real people through some kind of interactive activity.

Perhaps the eBook would be structured within the same frame story, in a symbiotic relationship with the videos so that those who encounter the eBook will be taken to the frame story in the video series. And that way, the necessarily short nature of the eBook would be understandable -- after all, only so much of the ancient literature could be recovered...

What do you think? Would this be engaging for you (as a creator, or as a viewer/reader)? We could even use a green screen to create the videos for the frame story -- putting us "on the set," as it were, of the returning space ship (see the still below of the virtual set that I actually already have).

Virtual sets are great fun and not hard to use.
Care to go to warp drive?


  1. Ho-boy. Does this mean even more videos? Because that last one took a lot out of me.

  2. I think as long as we have more time between classes to make these videos, we could get it done. It will make our story fun and reach out to a lot more potential readers than just someone searching for an eBook about the Renaissance.

  3. I agree that we need to use the creativity in this class to our advantage. I think we have incredible talent that could be used to help redefine the way that Renaissance literature is read and studied. Especially in our modern and highly digital age, we need something that will appeal to our contemporaries, but should we be neglecting other scholars and students who have been trained to study the same way since before…who knows when.
    I think it would be possible to bring the life and energy to the eBook the way we did with the videos, but I believe we need the free structure that we had with the videos in order for that to happen.
    I wonder what would happen if we were to assign each group to put together a series of “webisodes” relating to their theme and some of their primary texts. Ad Fontes would take their own spin on it, and would be able to pull things in as they saw fit, Brave new Worlds could create a new world and pull in texts as they saw fit. Using a premise of an online TV show would give us the structure we need, while still giving each group the autonomy that is necessary for letting creativity flow. I know for the Ad fonts group it would be interesting to do a talk show of sorts and bring in authors, primary texts, and other sources to meet current characters. What if Gandalf met Aeneas? Having those characters brush shoulders and talk about different things in their “lives” would introduce the texts in an understandable and creative way, while still sticking to the theme. This idea may not work for Brave New Worlds who may choose to go on a space adventure to see how that fits in. The Reformation people could make infomercials about their “new” ideas.
    In order to tie back to the texts, we could have a story book of sorts, or a "Channel Guide". It could be set up like a TV guide, or like a story book of sorts, with the anthology feel, mapping out which sections are for which ideas.
    Just some thoughts, and ramblings, but that’s my two cents.

  4. Nate - yes, more videos, but even at that we have to be fairly modest (and will more likely work within groups...)
    Amber - once we start shooting for viewers and not just readers the game changes (so we have to use care in the degree to which we do so -- though I think it can be done)
    Hannah -- awesome thoughts and suggestions! I'd like to hear what others think of your suggested approach.

    1. That's true; I should probably rephrase or explain what I meant a bit more. I don't think we should fish for more views - that will indeed take away from the whole point of our project. But I do think that by making it more engaging, by putting in videos to introduce our themes and primary texts like Hannah is suggesting, it will catch our audience's attention in perhaps a more effective way. Just like we've discussed in class and in the chapters we've read from Writing About Lit in the Digital Age, books are about making connections. With the eBook we have the potential to make those connections in different ways (text, pictures, videos, links, etc) that I think we should utilize, whereas just reading a textbook has a more limited way of connecting to the audience (not to say that just reading is bad or that it can't make great connections to the audience as well as or even better than an eBook can, there's just more things to play with creating this eBook so to speak).

  5. I agree with Hannah. I think videos could be a great way to make our eBook more interesting (despite my hatred for being on camera). And I love her idea of having each group have their own spin on the videos. When we first read the proposal, we were both concerned with how to use the proposed scenario without losing focus on our themes and what they really mean. I was thinking, "how is this going to work with Plough Boys without overshadowing it."

    My primary concern was how this may come off. We want to be creative, but we don't want to be so creative we lose our scholarly credibility. We don't want this to come off as a joke, so we should find a good balance between scholarly and creative. I think Hannah's idea solves a solid portion of that concern.

  6. OK, I love the 2800 story line idea, but I'm sure it's because I've been chewing on (ha) the juicy connections between the Renaissance and Post-Zombie-Apocalypse for at least three days (and maybe ever since I saw "Warm Bodies" for my Shakespeare capstone class). The premise of the story also reminds me of the movie coming out soon, Oblivion, where In 2073, a 37 year-old former-Marine Commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last few drone repairmen stationed at Earth which was nearly destroyed by an alien invasion 60 years ago. He is there as part of a massive operation to extract the planet's remaining vital resources, but he's "curious." The shots that stuck with me from the preview were of him flipping through old books and rappelling into old, burnt-out buildings. He's trying to recreate a story of what happened--through ad fontes! (just my take)

    Anyway, the pros that I see: ONLY THE MOST IMPORTANT literature would be involved in a project with the premises of the 2800 AD story, and that would cut out a lot of less-creative-space, cut it down to the bare essentials so we could focus on razor-sharp precision pieces. Anthologies (and cable, and the Internet)are all characterized by OVERWHELMINGLY LARGE (which before we considered one of the possible perks of our ebook--unlike a printed anthology, it could include everything). That's why I like the TMI idea--it's the actual state of the planet's trajectory. Sad. But maybe our generation's capacity to skip over large amounts of information makes it more capable of focusing and expanding on "the best" chunk of that info.

    Cons--like Julie Ann and Hannah said, this idea has the capacity to overwhelm themes and constrain instead of open broad horizons of creativity. I love the idea of giving each group the freedom to run with their specific theme, having a "the Look" fashion show or something for Sprezzatura versus a boxing match for Plowboys (I'm just shooting from the hip here, ignore these) but I think this expansion would make the day to day life and our production schedule completely over the top. If each person (in two different groups, remember) had to think of a uniting, feasible-to-video theme for their group along with how each text would fit in and then make all those connections through text, video, interactive activities etc, the creativity would become an overwhelming chore instead of a joy.

    I think we're getting at something really important--accessibility (to the TMI'd audience), marketability (whether in an ebook or on youtube or maybe even outside a cereal box) feasibility (for our schedules and stress levels) and creativity (and excitement!!).

  7. I guess one concern that I've had since really diving into digital culture is the accessibility of non-text formats, in that search engines, though they boast the ability to search for images and sound files, are still primarily based around text. One of the major limitations of videos is that technology is still undeveloped in the area of video/sound searches, which means that for the information to be available to someone outside the sphere of influence of those directly associated with the project, there would have to be some sort of textual transcript of each video. I really like the idea of using videos as a means of exploring the different areas, given the enormous talent of the students in the class, but at the same time, I wonder how much that would limit the eBook in terms of being a searchable medium (i.e. content search rather than hashtag/label). I guess the other possibility, though, is we could just hire leading software engineers to invent video/sound searches... :)

  8. I think there are some great advantages to use video journals or what have you, as part of the way we pursue the creation of this project. I am a very visual learner personally and found it much more engaging to create the video than anything else we've done so far this semester. I also believe that in this day and age, people are much more willing to watch a 90 to 180 second video over a page of text. I believe that if done correctly, we'll be able to reach a greater audience.

    However, I realize that making these videos is not everyone's forte and that this was probably the most time consuming project for some people. I'm not sure that requiring everyone to participate using these videos is the best idea, but I think we can benefit greatly from including videos as part of the project.

  9. Lots of thoughts.

    I think that the astronaut story might overshadow our 6 main themes. I agree with Julie Anne, I think we need to find a balance between scholarly and creative, we don't want this to come off as a joke. I want to be part of a project I can be proud of, a project I can show to future employers.

    Hannah has some really great ideas, I like the idea of introducing authors and their work in a more personal way. Let's get to know these people. Sometimes I think we forget these texts are directly connected to CREATIVE PEOPLE, JUST LIKE US!

    I also agree with Josh, videos should be part of the project, but like he said--video production is not for everyone, I am one of those people.

  10. Great discussion, and I appreciate you all for sounding in quickly and with some thought. (Did anyone notice that a non-class member, Greg Bayles, is contributing nicely with his input? Thanks, Greg!)

    I understand concerns about the astronaut / post-apocalyptic story being corny or overshadowing the serious content we hope to assemble. We don't have to go with that, but we do need to find a workable pretext for connecting the six themes and teams, and frankly, an engaging fictional narrative will go a long way with more people than simply stitching things together under the heading of Renaissance Literature. Remember Shakespeare? He managed to be wildly entertaining while exploring serious concepts. I ran this by some professional colleagues, by the way, from out of state, and they loved the idea (and actually reposted it to their Google+ stream). So we are getting some modest but useful social proof from outsiders about this overarching concept for the project.

    Maybe we can borrow the concept of "serious play" in thinking of our approach. Dia's Zombie videos are a perfect example. She truly did get to the heart of Montaigne and both the brave new worlds theme and the what a piece of work is man theme. She's given us proof positive that you can cross the bridge between a serious text and an entertaining contemporary medium. If she can pull that together with just her and her husband in a day's time, I do not think that it's impossible to contemplate six such videos or sequences. Note that what is NOT needed is long, highly edited, or highly produced videos.

    However, I do believe we need an engaging frame. There are Renaissance precedents for this (such as separate sonnets being connected in a crown or "corona"). We don't have to go with my proposed frame story, but I hope that you are all seing the value of having SOME such story to give cohesion. We have to think in terms of capturing the attention of those who are not at all interested in the actual literature or time period (in my opinion).

    I like the idea of getting extremely lean in our use of texts. Would it be possible to illustrate each theme with a single text? It scares me to think of it.

    I look forward to hearing more thoughts on this. Come Monday we will have to commit ourselves to a plan of action. We don't have the luxury of too much time to debate anymore.