Tag Archives: History

Photographer discusses new book about Morris Brown College

Morris Brown College is old and mostly empty. Founded in 1881, it is one of the few historically black colleges started by African-Americans rather than white philanthropists. "Morris Brown came to be an institution noted for providing college access to the children of families with lesser means," notes the photographer of a new book on the institution. "By the turn of the millennium, its campus encompassed over 37 acres and over a dozen buildings; its student body numbered more than 2,000; its sports programs and marching band were legend; its alumni were fiercely loyal."

But Morris Brown largely closed its doors after losing accreditation in 2002. Thirteen years later, Stanley Pritchett, Morris Brown’s current president, is still fighting for the college’s life, selling assets and paying debts while the buildings sit largely deserted and slowly eroding. Those are the circumstances photographer Andrew Feiler captures in a new book of 60 pictures taken of the Morris Brown campus over a year. Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color (University of Georgia Press) takes its title from an inscription on a clock tower bell (pictured below) that reads, in part, "Dedicated to the Education of Youth, Without Regard to Sex, Race or Color."

Feiler answered questions about his new book via email.

Q: In an introductory passage, you describe some of the overarching questions that drew you to this story ("How do we create opportunity for all in America? How do we create on-ramps to the middle class?"), but how did you come to Morris Brown and this project in particular? Did you have any connection or familiarity to HBCUs going in?

A: Almost everything in the South has to be viewed through the prism of race. As a fifth-generation Georgian, and having grown up Jewish in the South, I have been shaped by the complexities of the South and of being a minority in the South. History, culture, race, injustice, progress … these are all parts of that complexity. When I read of Morris Brown’s bankruptcy filing, it felt like an important story along multiple dimensions: race, social justice, economic opportunity, religion, history. I didn’t have any direct connect with HBCUs and wasn’t sure where this story would lead, but it was a story I wanted to explore.

Q: You spent a year shooting these photos. Can you describe that process?

A: The school experience is one that’s very familiar to almost all Americans. The collegiate experience is one that’s familiar to many Americans. In the year that I spent shooting this work, I went looking for stories in these stilled classrooms and hallways, and I went looking for visual moments that illuminated stories. Chalkboards, desk chairs, locker rooms, band instruments … these are a visual language that connect each of us to the Morris Brown story and make it an American story.

The book opens with 10 historical images of the Morris Brown campus. The images date from as late as 1947 and as recent as 1986. They show people enlivening these spaces. There are no people specifically in any of my contemporary images, and yet by tapping into the iconic elements of the American educational experience, one feels the human presence in the stories. The feel of that human presence is one of the dimensions of this work that is resonating.

Q: What would you say these photographs tell us about the role of black colleges in America?

A: As part of this project I did a lot of research on HBCUs, and one statistic is striking: the roughly 100 HBCUs that remain are a mere 3 percent of colleges in America, but [their students] represent more than 10 percent of African-Americans who go to college and more than 25 percent who graduate with degrees. To me the key is choice. Faced with a choice, some folks choose HBCUs. It is choice that makes these schools an essential element in building a healthy American middle class.

Q: What have you taken away from this project? Those questions drew you in, but did you find answers?

A: There is a Morris Brown narrative in these photographs; there is an HBCU narrative. But when you consider the iconography of empty classrooms, hallways and locker rooms, the core narrative I found was about the American Dream. Education has been the foundational force in creating the very idea of the American Dream. Some of our most prestigious colleges predate the American Revolution. Free public education and land-grant colleges are mainstays of the American middle class. Historically black colleges, founded mostly in the decades after the Civil War, have been essential in creating opportunity for generations of African-Americans. The educational provisions of the GI Bill transformed America from relatively poor to relatively prosperous. Brown v. Board of Education was one of the high-water marks of the civil rights movement.

But today this tradition and legacy are at risk. Too many Americans cannot afford to go to college. Too many Americans are being crushed by college debt. Too many of these American dreams cannot be fully realized. And these truths are especially challenging for African-Americans. Video technology is transforming our understanding of the relationship between the police and African-American citizens. #BlackLivesMatter is one of the seminal cries of our times, and racially motivated murder soils our national soul. Our political, business and civic leadership need to come together to correct these conditions and restore educational access and affordability to its essential role as a pathway to American opportunity.

Gaines Hall was built in the 19th century and is one of the oldest and most historic buildings on the Morris Brown College campus. Tragically it was consumed by fire in September and may not survive. There are five images in book from Gaines including the cover photograph. Sara Allen Quadrangle was damaged by fire several years ago and has already had to be demolished. The horror of these events speaks to the fragility of all of our historical resources.

A large bell hangs in the clock tower of Fountain Hall, overlooking the quiet campus of Morris Brown College. Its inscription reads, in part, "Dedicated to the Education of Youth, Without Regard to Sex, Race or Color." This phrase lends title to this photographic project. Founded by African-Americans in 1881, Morris Brown lost its accreditation to financial pressures and scandal in 2002. Today its largely empty campus stands as a testament to a proud past, a challenging present and an uncertain future, not only for this one institution but for all of America’s historically black colleges and universities.

Photographs appear courtesy of Andrew Feiler.

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The Video Game and the Archaeologist – draft < Shawn Graham (Electric Archaeology)

[this is a draft of a short piece I am writing for a society journal, hence not peer reviewed. I would therefore welcome comments, keeping in mind that I wrote it in one sitting this AM. When it comes out formally – if – I’ll post the link here and direct folks to read the final product there. I think it hangs together more or less ok.]

Tell the colleagues in your department, in your company, that you play video games, and you will be greeted with one of only two reactions: a polite murmur accompanied by the dying look of ‘this person is not serious’, or the enthusiastic embrace of the true believer. There appears to be no middle ground. Yet, there is a long history of using games in education, in museum outreach, and in public archaeology. There is even a (much shorter) history of using games to persuade (as ‘serious games’ or ‘news games’). But there is practically no history at all of games being used to make a scholarly argument. This is to miss an opportunity.

It is important however to ask, at the outset, what do games teach? What do games do?

“The game, or any computer game for that matter, is ultimately about mechanics, and not about content. The content is window dressing, and deep playing of a game such as Civilization teaches little about history, but everything about how to manipulate the complex algorithms that model the simulation” (Kee & Graham, 274)

Let us dispense with the notion that there is anything inherently gauche about archaeologists interested in the possibilities of video games, or any ‘natural’ reason why archaeology as a discipline should not be concerned with them. Manipulating algorithms, modelling societies through simulation: archaeologists have been doing this for years, within the ambit of GIS and Agent Based Models. The difference is, games have better eye-candy and production values. They should. Gaming as an industry generates more money than all of Hollywood.

A potted synopsis of game studies

Broadly, there are two camps when it comes to analyzing the affective import of games. The ludologists, as the name implies, are interested in the rules of the games, the possibilities (or not) for action within the game. Narratologists on the other hand consider the story of the game, the story that emerges, or the story within which the game action takes place. Both approaches are useful for situating what a game does, or what a game achieves.

Another (rather archaeological) approach is to consider typologies of games. This is not to be confused with ‘genre’, as genres (‘first person shooter’; ‘rogue-like’; ‘management sim’; ‘casual’) are largely marketing categories that conflate issues of game play, or perspective, or agency, for the purposes of gaining space in the various venues where games are bought and sold. There is a voluminous literature on the typologies of games which try to distill essential features in order to understand the crucial ways in which games differ (the better to understand their narratological or ludological aspects). In the context of ‘historical’ games, a typology that helps us consider what aspects about the past we wish to communicate, to teach, focuses on categorizing how the game treats time and space.

Within ‘space’, we can ask how the game treats perspective, topography, and the environment. Within ‘time’, we can wonder about pace, representation, and teleology. Consider the games ‘Civilization IV’ and ‘Caesar IV’ as in Kee and Graham xxxx:

Caesar IV

Civilization IV





















The value of this kind of typology is that it would allow us consider our archaeological representations of space and time in that light, to work out what conventions of game design would be most affective in communicating the argument about the past that we wish to impart.

Third Space

Despite the neat breakdown between ‘narratology’ and ‘ludology’, which would seem to capture all there is to know about video games, there is a third space that games-about-history inhabit. Elliot and Kappel’s recent ‘Playing with the Past’ (2013) neatly captures this aspect. They point out that while games are systems of rules interpreted by the computer referee, and while these systems are enveloped within a narrative, games-about-the-past have a larger historical narrative within which the game’s narrative must take place. That is to say, the players and designers are working within historical frameworks from the outset that inform their understanding of the past. Hence to make the game, to play the game, necessarily involves the kind of historical thinking (about contingency, about causality, about equifinality) that characterizes professional thinking about the past. ‘Why did that happen? What would happen if?’ are questions players ask about the game, which are very nearly the same thing that we ask of the past.

The fact of the matter is, while the content of a game is important, it is not as important as the system of rules and relationships that govern the emergent play; reflecting on why game play evolves the way it does forces the player to understand the rules of representation. This means that game players think about the past in ways that are the same as the kind of thinking about the past that we want in our students and publics. If one studies the communities of players that coalesce around particular games (especially games that allow for ‘modding’, or re-writing of the game rules, e.g, the Civilization franchise), one finds quite heated discussions about how best to represent the past, debates over the consequences and meanings of modifications to the games, and – while maybe sometimes not the most factually informed debates – a keen understanding of process in the past (Graham, rolling own article).


The training of archaeologists has long had an emphasis on the practical – we learn how to be archaeologists by doing archaeology. We perform the learning. Where, and from whom, we learn the hands-on aspects of archaeology has a deep influence on how we think archaeologically, how we understand the past. This is of course why we speak of ‘schools’ of thought. To play a video game well involves that same aspect of performance, and the ‘who made this and how did they imagine the world’ matters equally as much. When we play a game well, we have internalized how that game represents its world. We have internalized an understanding of the system of rules and relationships that we might not even be aware of. The learning that happens through video games is deep, and is tied to what psychologists call ‘flow’. Games don’t just represent a world: they actively watch the player. The best games adjust their difficulty in such a way as to achieve a flow state, a sense of mastery that sits in the sweet spot where the challenge is just hard enough to be difficult, but not so difficult that the player gives up in frustration.  The best learning, in whatever context, is tied to that same sense.

In representing a world to use, the system of rules and relationships that govern the emergent game play are akin to the systems of rules and relationships that we as scholars use to construct our ideas about the past: game rules are historiography. They are method and theory, all in one.  In the same way that an agent based simulation of the past encodes our ideas about how phenomenon x worked in the past (so that we can see what the consequences are of that idea for household formation amongst the Anasazi, say) game rules do encode ideas about (inter alia) power, ideology, action, colonialism, and empire. The game theorist Ian Bogost calls these ‘procedural rhetorics’, the arguments made by code (2007); the historian William Urrichio explicitly called code historiography (2005).  Games about the past will be played, experienced, and internalized by orders of magnitude more people than who ever read our formal archaeologies. And the experience will resonate far more deeply than any visit to a site or museum. We ignore games as a venue for our scholarship at our peril.

The Payoff

I have been arguing by omission that the content, the window dressing (the pretty graphics; the hyper-realistic depictions of textures and atmospheres, the 3d sound, the voice acting) does not matter nearly as much as close experience and engagement with the code and its emergent outcomes. That engagements allows a connection here with the kind of archaeology argued for by scholars such as Stuart Eve (xxxx) that seeks to use the mechanics of games and allied technologies such as mixed or augmented realities to focus on understanding the systems of relationships amongst the full sensory experience of the past. Eve calls this an ‘embodied GIS’ which does not focus on the archaeologist’s subjective experience of place, but rather, explores how sound, views, lighting (and indeed, smell and touch) combine or are constrained by the archaeology of a place experienced in that place.  This suggests a way forward for the use of games as both a tool for research on the past, and a way to communicate that research to our various publics.

Finally, we can turn our critical apparatus back to front and consider games as a venue within which we may do archaeology. Search online for ‘archaeogaming’. The most succinct definition of what this can be comes from Meghan Dennis:

Archaeogaming is the utilization and treatment of immaterial space to study created culture, specifically through videogames.

It requires treating a game world, a world bounded and defined by the limitations of its hardware, software and coding choices, as both a closed universe and as an extension of the external culture that created it. Everything that goes into the immaterial space comes from its external cultural source, in one way or another. Because of this, we see the same problems in studying culture in games as in studying culture in the material world.

Archaeogaming is a subdiscipline that requires the same standards of practice as the physical collection of excavated data, only with a different toolset. It also provides the opportunity to use game worlds to reflect on practice, theory and the perceptions of our discipline.

Video games are an extraordinarily rich tool, area of research, and affective mode of communication whose possibilities we haven’t even begun to explore. Yet, they are not so foreign to the archaeologist’s ‘formal’ computational experience, with ties to GIS, Agent Based Models, and reconstructions. Play on!

[yah, I need to work on that ending.]

from Electra Atlantis: Digital Approaches to Antiquity http://ift.tt/1RL2aNI

Editors’ Choice: Data Mapping Leads to New Visions of Reconstruction

In the Reconstruction South, it was frequently the army that upheld newly freed people’s rights. But where was the army, how much of the South could it access, and did it have the power to uphold emancipation in more remote areas? With their recently published digital project, Mapping Occupation, Gregory P. Downs (UC Davis) and…

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from Digital Humanities Now http://ift.tt/1G7QUtB