Afrofuturism to Vibranium and Beyond
Afrofuturism 2.0 is defined by Reynaldo Anderson as, “The early twenty-first century technogenesis of Black identity reflecting counter histories, hacking and or appropriating the influence of network software, database logic, cultural analytics, deep remixability, neurosciences, enhancement and augmentation, gender fluidity, posthuman possibility, the speculative sphere with transdisciplinary applications and has grown into an important Diasporic techno-cultural Pan African movement.”
Engaging this definition and others, Afrofuturism: To Vibranium and Beyond offers students the opportunity to practice recognizing and engaging the audio, visual, and theoretical iterations of the aesthetic/philosophy by reading science fiction and comic books by writers such as Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson; listening to the music by artists such as SunRa and Parliament-Funkadelic; watching films such as Yeelen, Sankofa, and Marvel’s Black Panther, and viewingthe art by creators such as Basquiat and Joshua Mays; and applying the theorizations of thinkers such as Alondra Nelson, Reynaldo Anderson and Sheree Thomas. The Digital Humanities component of this class will offer students two modules for exploring and using technologies such as audio editing (Audacity/GarageBand), WordPress website templates, RoundMe (360 degree-video stitching), 3D Printing, and others in an Afrofuturistic context
The first module, Sampling Afrofuturistic Sound, will introduce students to practitioners of Afrofuturism and the major discourses of the field. This module will focus on the sonic experience of Afrofuturism and will feature sixteen audio “texts” (on the syllabus) ranging from Afrofuturistic lectures to songs. Students will examine how the “conversations”between artists, writers, and theorists are similar, disparate, interpolated, and/or “sampled.” Students will then learn the basics of audio editing using Audacity or GarageBand to create three audio tracks (one track must be a collaboration with another student) to form an Intellectual Mixtape that places their ideas (using their voice) in conversation with the audio “texts” from the syllabus, and another audio oftheir choosing. Students will also add cover art that represents the content of their Intellectual Mixtapes and 250 words of “liner notes” for each track, explaining the process of creating the track and the connections they have made. The final versions of the Intellectual Mixtapes will showcase the students’ experiential learning and will be open to the public in The Cube at Virginia Tech. The Cube space is highly-adaptable and has been used to create immersive environments, intimate performances, audio and visual installations, research, and experimental investigations of all kinds.
The second module, Afrofuturism Aesthetics: Theorizing and Exhibiting at VT we will begin with theories of Afrofuturism. We will then research and have experiences at two institutions that feature Afrofuturism at work. The first excursion is the Christiansburg Institute, which has a rich history as the first African American school in Montgomery County (Virginia Tech is also in Montgomery County) that operated from 1866-1966. Students will then experience the Christiansburg Institute’s virtual reality project that uses primary sources to recreate the institute during its heyday and was made in collaboration with Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students. Students will then return from this experience and develop a short digital essay (posted on the class site) discussing Afrofuturism as a framework for understanding the impact of enhancement and augmentation on the continuing legacy of the Christiansburg Institute.
The second excursion is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where we will explore Afrofuturistic theories alongside the museum’s design, artifacts within the museum, representations of the museum in the digital realm (twitter, museum website, blogs, etc.), and 360-degree projects related to the museum (some of which my former students produced). We will debrief with discussions and activities pertaining to where and how students’ witnessed Afrofuturistic creations at work. For the final project, which will pull inspiration from the museumand the course at large, students will create an Afrofuturistic project/object and describe its use. These projects can range from a papier-mâché object (representing of a technology that is not yet created and/or a “natural” resource) to 3D printing of a tool or a short film. This final project is open to the students’ time and imagination—these two aspects are at a nexus of the future. The students’ final projects will be exhibited in the Athenaeum for public engagement and to showcase their experiential learning. The Athenaeum is a suite of spaces and services dedicated to cultivating digital research skills in the liberal arts and human sciences through collaborative, hands-on experience pursuing digital research projects.
The project is intended to investigate the correlation between students’ use of technology to produce humanities related “texts” and their experiences of empathy; their shifts in social expectations also known as role theory; and their connections to the subject matter. Starting in November, group leads will continue to work with Kim Filer (or one of the other staff members in TLOS), to conduct a Reflective Assessment of students' experiences in creating their intellectual mixtapes and afrofuturistic products. We will also work with Nathaniel Porter, the Newman Library’s Social Science Data Consultant & Data Education Coordinator, to develop two surveys to assess students’ understanding of technologies and students’ experiences of empathy and engagement. The group intends to publish the findings.