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New New Officers

Please welcome the new officers for Fall 2015:

President: Fowzia Sharmeen

Vice President: Jesse Gray

Secretary: Amanda El Khoury

Treasurer: Freddy Garcia

We will soon be adding a contact page, and an “About the Board” page, in case you have any questions for our board or if you just wanna get to know the people in charge of 4Humanities at CSUN.

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New Officers

We are pleased to announce our new officers for the fall semester of 2014:

President: Lily Thiemens

Vice President: Lizette Hernandez

Secretary: Naz Keynejad

Treasurer: Rachelle Yousuf

We also have a new member, Star Glover, who will look after the blog for us.  Be on the lookout for further updates!

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Math Book Project –Beginnings

This past spring, my department offered the opportunity for me to work with Andrea Nemeth and Mark Schilling, each, like myself, faculty members at California State University Northridge (CSUN), on an experimental math textbook for a pre-statistics course at CSUN. I accepted the offer, as the project sounded creative and fun, and it came with a small stipend. I was surprised how the project opened up new paths of thinking and provided new avenues of research. This short write-up is to share my experience and preliminary thoughts on how this project, even at its early stages, can open up new possible lines of inquiry and  add to the conversation of humanities advocacy in general.


Andrea spearheaded the project as Assistant Director of the Developmental Math Program. When Andrea, Mark and I began brainstorming the project in April, Andrea had a basic outline of what she wanted: a narrative textbook that contained math questions. She and Mark threw around several ideas, including the idea of a road trip. My job was to write the narrative. I began writing a story that was in the genre of novels with which I was currently reading.

So, I wrote a murder-mystery novel. Mark and Andrea worked rigorously writing the math part of the book, which took the form of word problems that incorporated the content of the story (in oftentimes very creative ways), and we each revised and edited each other’s work as we wrote. By the end of summer, our rough “first edition” had been completed. It is currently being used in two sections of M096 at CSUN by over fifty students.

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I’ll do my best to explain what the book is about, and above I’ve included some screenshots, but everything is still in progress. It is a long-term idea in its first stages, but even at this point our process is worth discussing, if only in general terms.

Here is the basic plot of the story: four college students embark on a summer road trip at the behest of their math professor. He initially provides them with a vague outline of their trip, and, along the way, communicates with them via email to provide directions for their next stop. At each location, the students learn about and answer math questions that involve aspects of the area. Once answered, they earn some money that keeps them going. We tried to make the narrative as rooted in reality as possible, using real places, names, and even a mock crime report (below) and real newspaper clipping with photoshopped article (one of the clues to the mystery). The story also tries to incorporate many aspects of the country’s natural landscape. At one point, the students visit Zion National Park, for instance. They walk real trails, camp at a real campground, and sightsee some of the area’s natural formations. Throughout this part of the journey, they learn about Zion’s beautiful, but extreme trails, the Grand Canyon, and other natural wonders of the West.

Ultimately, the students realize this trip was not solely about learning math and seeing the country. The professor has another agenda for sending them on this trip: his aunt passed away suddenly decades ago, and he has not let go of the idea that her death could have been a murder. As the professor directs them where to go, the students uncover mysterious aspects about the circumstances of her death, ultimately involving themselves so deeply that they take actions to solve the mystery on their own. When they return, they are changed; they have a better understanding of both themselves and the country they’ve just travelled.Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 4.01.59 PM

The book is filled with mathematical tricks, tips, and clues, along with challenging word problems that cover several math topics, including Algebra (linear equalities, exponents, quadratic equations, graphing linear equalities and quadratic functions) and Statistics (population, parameter, sample, statistic, scatterplots, normal distribution, sample mean, median and mode, the idea of inference, and standard deviation), among others. There are also discussion questions and plenty of opportunities pedagogically for reading comprehension, even character analysis or plot analysis. Throughout the story, the reader sees the students challenge themselves, deal with tough situations, fall in love, recognize nature, and even try to understand the subtleties of their own self-defined identities as they get to know each other.

Throughout this semester, we have been surveying and observing the students. Our preliminary findings are positive: only 8 out of the 53 didn’t initially like the idea of learning math through a narrative, with most of those 8 being much less likely to read for pleasure than the others. One student even described the how the story “makes you want to keep going and see what happens at the end.” Words like “interesting,” “interactive,” “fun” and “exciting” were commonly part of responses to the question: “Do you like the idea of learning math through a story?”  Some have even confided that this is the only piece of fiction they’ve read all year. We are still waiting for the end of the semester surveys to take place, and it will be interesting to see if the story helped them learn the material, not just enjoy it. We realize this query may take several semesters to answer in any reliable way.

Although the purpose of this project specifically is to produce an effective math textbook, I wonder what implications this type of book would have for the humanities or humanities advocacy. Our group asks if this story could cause a difficult experience (learning math, or any other subject) to become more pleasurable; I wonder if this might, in turn, cause students to find reading stories in general more pleasurable. Moreover, if discovering a story in an unexpected place, like a math textbook, causes the students to enjoy reading the textbook more than they would have otherwise, could this cause them to read more on their own, or at least consider it? Also, if the students associate with a character in the story, does it strengthen their learning experience? If any of these questions prove to be true, this project could also be a way of introducing and discovering humanities materials, including newly digitized artifacts, manuscripts, museums, authors, to students or the public. There will be more to come in the coming months, but I welcome any comments, suggestions, or thoughts on this project.

Update (January 18, 2014): I am happy to report that the average passing rate for the Fall 2013 courses that used the book was 70%–up 10% from the previous average of 60%. Also, overall, the end-of-semester surveys report that the majority of students enjoyed learning math through a story. Below is a graph outlining these results:

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1) Amount of reading ok; 2) Enjoyed learning math through a story; 3) Enjoyed story; 4) Learning math through a story was effective. (on a scale of 1-5, Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree)

More to come as we adjust the surveys, textbook, and course instruction this semester.


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New MiniDoc: Telling Our Stories: A First-Year Students’ Panel on Literacy Narratives

4Humanities@CSUN proudly announces their new MiniDoc project: Telling Our Stories: A First-Year Students’ Panel on Literacy Narratives. (http://4humanities.org/2013/10/4humanities-minidoc-4/) 

This MiniDoc features a session from the 2013 Associate Graduate Students of English conference (AGSE), comprised of four first-year students’ who each share their literacy narrative in a conference-style panel. These students, Valerie Mok, Sarah Villagra, Renee Miller and Dennis Villa share the wisdom they’ve gained through their multicultural pasts. The film also features interviews the students’ professors, Prof. Gina Lawrence and Prof. Susana Marcelo, as well as Dr. Irene Clark, CSUN’s Stretch Curriculum Coordinator, to gain insight into the assignment and value of literacy narratives in general.

Literacy Narrative

From left to right: Valerie, Renee, Sarah, Dennis

The film begins with Dr. Clark describing how a literacy narrative, in its most “common form,” is a story where “the student begins with a place where he or she is on the outside, uncomfortable, not knowing something, needing to master something.” All of the students’ narratives exemplify this concept, each beginning in a place outside of his or her native culture, then ultimately reconciling both cultures into an identity with which he or she is more comfortable and is beneficial to his or her life and goals.

Prof. Gina Lawrence discusses the original literacy narrative assignment she presented to her students, which stemmed from David Sedaris’ collection of essays, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” and Amy Tan’s novel, “Mother Tongue.” Her student Valerie, who has only been in the United States for about three years, gives a Chinese Proverb that her mom offered her before coming to America that describes, in her words, “how  an object or product [as] it leaves its home town, immediately becomes a lot more valuable,” much like “imported goods.” She found this saying to be “slightly true,” and then goes on to explain how the British vocabulary she attained at a private Catholic high school in China led to a few misinterpretations at her American university. She follows up this story with an original song about her experiences, impressively played and sung on her ukulele.

Professor Marcelo introduces her student Sarah’s story as “one that a lot of people can connect to”—a struggle between learning two different languages is one that “produces a kind of erasure of her identity when she learns to speak English and that becomes the dominant tongue that ends up taking over.” Sarah’s poetic narrative is an impressive multilingual mix of Spanish and English, proving that instead of an “erasure,” she’s learned to successfully integrate her two identities into one. She says, initially, “since school became a home away from home, [she] accustomed [her]self with English so thoroughly that [her] tongue forgot the sweet taste and romantic curves of [her] native language.” Her parents responded by calling her “Gringa,” or “whitewashed,” resulting in her an embarrassment and disappointment at her new bilingualism and a feeling that she was negligent in retaining her native culture. Ultimately, however, she concludes that since “words heal, […] bless, and they touch the lives of many near and far,” she would like to “be able to do this in as many languages as possible […] for all who are willing to hear [her].”

Prof. Marcelo continues by introducing another student, Dennis, whose story is similar to Sarah’s, even though his native tongue is Tagalog. In Dennis’ case, however, it was not his internal struggle that preceded his acceptance of his bilingualism; rather it was the negative comments of his peers. He describes how people referred to him as “FOB,” or “fresh off the boat.” “Like a bird trapped in a cage,” he continues, as early as fourth grade, he felt “constricted and bound to a life of humiliation and mockery.” It wasn’t until, determined to get into the high school of his choice, he “proudly reflected on [his] past experiences” as part of a high school placement exam. He describes feeling “free for the first time,” and how this experience not only allowed him to become “a better writer,” but also made him “a wiser, more humble individual.”

Lastly, Prof. Marcelo introduces Renee, a student who initially “never really connected to reading and writing” and considered them part of “her lowest skill [set].”  Unlike the other students, Renee was born and grew up in the US; however, in elementary school, she was an “outcast”—her private elementary school, was “made up of 85% Caucasian [students], and 3% African American,” thus causing her to “hate going to school.” She now feels “the sky’s the limit,” and, after recognizing the benefits of learning English, she now feels the world “has opened up to her.” She feels she “has gained so much from the subject she despised,” as “words not only changed [her] life, but shaped the way [she] is now.” She now recognizes the power of words, as they consoled her during the grieving of her father’s death and encouraged her to do well on a test. The most important words, she recalls, came from her grandmother who told her “to remember who you [she] is.” Those words, she says, she’ll never forget.

About the Professors:

Dr.Irene Clark, Professor of English, Director of Composition, and Director of the Master’s option in Rhetoric and Composition at California State University, Northridge, has researched and published on a wide-range of writing-oriented topics, including composition theory and practice, different approaches to the writing center, genre theory, and learning transfer. Her most recent book is the second edition of Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing, published by Routledge/ Taylor and Francis. She is currently working on a book that focuses on genre theory and transferability.

Prof. Gina Lawrence is now a first year PhD student at the University of Texas at El Paso, but she received her B.A. in English Subject Matter and her M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition from California State University, Northridge, where she also worked as a Supplemental Instructor and Teaching Associate. She has spent the last year studying new media, in particular, blogging, as a tool in the writing classroom to facilitate both audience awareness and regular, focused writing. Her current research interests include feminist rhetorics, food studies, and new media. While her CSUN peers greatly miss her, Lawrence’s hope is that UTEP will offer her a space to pursue these interests as well as explore new ideas in the rapidly expanding and exciting field of composition studies.

Prof. Susana Marcelo is pursuing a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing at California State University, Northridge where she is also a second-year teaching associate. Her background includes being an editor and writer for six years working with newspapers, content strategists, and an eclectic list of companies focused on print and online publishing.

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New MiniDoc: #toofew:THATcamp Feminisms Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

4Humanities@CSUN is pleased to showcase the event #toofew: THATcamp Feminisms Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in its newest MiniDoc production. The film features Dr. Jacque Wernimont, an Assistant Professor of English at Scripps College, who describes the mission behind this event as educating and training users to transform Wikipedia into an encyclopedia that “represents people of color, women, and people with other gender or sex identities;” currently, she states, “the majority of editors are men between their twenties and thirties.” Part of the collaborative, informal THATcamp “unconference” series, THATcamp Feminisms began as “a set of conversations” about incorporating each cultural criticism, including feminist theory, and coding into the practices of digital humanities.  THATcamp Feminisms West was held March 15-16th, with Friday morning dedicated to the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

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This event has gained popularity amongst humanities and digital humanities scholars, with many of the participants having travelled to attend the event including Emily Kugler, an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Others were more local; Genevieve Carpio, took a break from her studies as a graduate student at USC in American Studies and Ethnicity to start a new Wikipedia entry on the Padua Hills Theatre, which she says was an intersection of gender and ethnicity and a project from where “a lot of active Chicanas came.”

Another group came down from UC Santa Barbara to join in in the edit-a-thon. One of these students, Amanda Phillips, expanded the entry on psychologist Bracha L. Ettinger’s feminist theory book, The Matrixial Gaze, which Phillips describes as a “feminist re-imagining of the gaze in terms of focusing on connectedness versus castration.”

Wernimont also explains how #toofew was always intended to be a virtual event, with scholars participating online. Some did participate virtually, and tweeted about their process while they edited. Brian Croxall (@briancroxall) attended virtually, for instance, and tweeted about how two articles on Gayatri Gopinath were written simultaneously that morning.

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Wernimont  hopes that this project increases the awareness of the imbalance of the quality and quantity of articles written by and about women and people of color, and that the editing session will continue with both a national and international response. As the sessions have increased from three THATcamps (West, East, and South), to five different events, it seems they are on their way.

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Books For Africa MiniDoc

4Humanities@CSUN is pleased to introduce graduate student Naomi Carrington in it’s second MiniDoc presentation. In this short video, Carrington’s passion for literacy, diversity, and charity are exhibited as she discusses her project Books for Africa. Part of the charitable offerings of the organization Better World Books, this project allows a participant to send books to an underprivileged place of their choosing completely free of cost. Carrington describes how a trip to Africa in 2009 provided the impetus for her desire to dedicate some of her time and effort while in graduate school to their cause. Thus, in fall 2012, she reached out to Better World Books and asked for the materials to gather and send books to Africa. Her project ultimately brought in over four hundred pounds of books that were shipped overseas in December.

From a similar motivation stems Carrington’s study in multicultural literacy. As a Teaching Associate at CSUN during the Rhetoric and Composition program, she has taught several first-year composition courses. Throughout this experience, she’s encountered a multitude of students from diverse backgrounds; these students’ experiences, she’s noticed, often lead to varying levels of competency in Standard English. Moreover, she recognized a need to create a space in the classroom for these students’ variations of English and the issues they face because of these differences.

“There’s not really a place for different voices that have been pushed to the side as lesser-than or nonacademic, and these all have their own structures and systems, their own language even though they’re English. It could be someone who’s from a community in Downtown L.A. or someone who learned English in Korea—there should be a place for that in the classroom […] It’s really important for the person to feel secure, and if that means they need to leave parts of their culture behind because they want to assimilate to something, then that’s that, but the problem I see is that they don’t have a choice, and it’s that choice that I think they should be given.”

Carrington has already scheduled another Books for Africa event to take place at CSUN mid-April, and hopes for these events to continue once she’s graduated, which will be this coming May. She’s also presented her scholarship at several conferences, including the prestigious Conference for College Composition and Communication in March 2013.

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New Officers!!!

4Humanities@CSUN has elected brand new officers for the Spring 2013 semester and 2013-2014 school year. We are so excited to have them on board, and their insight, energy, and creativity is a huge contribution to our cause!

Below is a list of our new officers and current faculty supervisors:

President: Melissa Filbeck, melissa.filbeck(at)googlemail.com

Vice President: Hannah Jorgeson, hannah.jorgenson.22(at)my.csun.edu

Treasurer: Naomi Carrington, naomi.carrington.82(at)my.csun.edu

Secretary: Stephanie Harper, stephanie.harper.15(at)my.csun.edu

Faculty Supervisors: Dr. Scott Kleinman, scott.kleinman(at)csun.edu

Prof. Kristin Cornelius, kristin.cornelius@csun.edu

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The Camera is Here!

4humanities officers with camera

From left to right: Noa, Michael, Kristin, and Naomi

A little over a year ago, at the Digital Humanities conference at Stanford, I sat in on a luncheon speech by Dr. Alan Liu from UCSB where he put out a call to the attendees to start local chapters of his new organization, 4Humanities, at their universities. This organization advocates for humanities scholarship and research, garnering support both locally and on a national level. I took his call to heart, and, when I returned to CSUN in the fall, I started a local chapter: 4Humanities@CSUN. Our chapter was also fortunate enough to be sponsored by CSUN’s new Center for the Digital Humanities.

The academic year 2011-2012 proved to be one of planning. We laid the foundation for many of the projects we hope to produce this year. One of the main focuses of our group, a project called the Mini-Documentary Project, stems from the idea that many people do not support the humanities because they simply don’t know what it is or what humanists do. This project involves our chapter buying a high-quality personal documentary camera that we could use to document humanities scholarship. My idea is to make small, 5-7 minute films that show the discovery and research process, as well as the output (a publication or conference talk) of humanities work. I believe this would put the “human” back into the “humanities,” giving a face and personality to a piece of scholarship, thus making it more accessible and interesting for someone who is not familiar with scholarly work. These documentaries would include interviews with the scholar(s), dialogue or debate, places and the process of research, and the reception of a work or project. They not only could be circulated throughout the 4Humanities and DH communities on their blogs and websites, but also on Youtube and other non-scholarly forums to reach a wider audience.

My officers and I spent months during last academic year thinking up ways to get funding for the camera. At first we thought of fundraising activities, but seeing as the camera and accessories would total $2300, we decided that might take a while. Instead, over the course of the year, we were very fortunate to receive private donations from Dr. Alan Liu and Oliver Pinchot, as well as some funding from Associated Students at CSUN. Michael Green (the current acting president) and I each donated as well, and after quite a bit of process, the camera is finally here!! I am thrilled my idea has become a reality, and I cannot wait to see the projects that come from this purchase. We already have three planned recordings, so hopefully we will see some output in the next few months.

A great deal of thanks belongs to Dr. Alan Liu, Oliver Pinchot, and Michael Green for facilitating and supporting this process.

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Current Projects

1.Undergraduate Digital Showcase/ First-Year Feature Project

The CSUN College of Humanities offers several courses that facilitate the creation of digital projects by students, including the different levels of freshman writing that comprise the new Stretch curriculum. In order to provide public recognition for the exemplary work being done by CSUN students, the Center for the Digital Humanities is creating an “Undergraduate Digital Showcase” for the best digital projects by undergraduate students. The program is being undertaken as part of the Humanities Undergraduate Outreach Project of the 4Humanities initiative, a multi-institution consortium that advocates for the Humanities.
The Undergraduate Digital Showcase will display five of the best student projects on the Center for the Digital Humanities web site, and the showcase may also be duplicated on the 4Humanities site. A “First-Year Feature” subcategory will highlight the most outstanding digital project by a first-year student on a subject in the Humanities or a closely related field. All formats are accepted, and projects can either be individually or collaboratively authored. Projects must be nominated by a faculty member.

Link: http://www.csun.edu/digitalhumanities/2012/student-project-showcase/

2. CSUN Mini-Documentary Backpack Project

This project facilitates the making of short, mini-documentaries that promote humanities scholarship by giving a narrative voice to the research process. These mini-films will depict the process of doing humanities research through interviews with students and scholars as they work on their scholarly activities. In addition to interviews, the films will show methods, and may include debate and dialogue with other students and/or scholars. Each film will cover one research project. In essence, these documentaries would bring the “human” back to humanities work by showing real people engaging in scholarly activities. These short films could be posted on the 4Humanties website, CSUN’s Center for the Digital Humanities website, and elsewhere.

Basic Guidelines:
o The film must be about 5 minutes long (no more than 7 minutes).*
o The film must explore the process of scholarly “discovery” or “invention.”
o The film must show the research process.
o If the project is placed within the public sphere (through a conference, publication, reading, presentation, etc) within the time-frame of the documentary, the film will also depict this process.

The idea is to produce short, easy-to-watch films that are accessible to students and the larger public, and that can thus promote the value inherent in humanities research activities to as large an audience as possible. Making these activities more visible and less mysterious will both encourage students to engage in the same scholarly activities as depicted in the films, and promote to the public the value of these activities for society in general. At CSUN (or whatever future schools also implement this project), these documentary films will have a further benefit of showcasing the quality research taking place at a non-research-intensive university and helping to justify this work to administrators and the general public.




Harry Potter



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Friday, May 4th
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