Saviour and friend,how wonderful art Thou!
my companion upon the changeful way,
the comforter of its weariness,
my guide to the eternal town,
the welcome at its gate.
~ Alistair Maclean
I posted an article on Facebook about the MLA's consideration of alternative formats for dissertations. AKMA Adam, Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, and Michael Duffy offered their wisdom there. Given the dramatic shift in technology in the last few decades, and a correlated shift in pedadogy, why are we demanding that Ph.D. dissertations be in text form? From the article:
The average humanities doctoral student takes nine years to earn a Ph.D. That fact was cited frequently here (and not with pride) at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. Richard E. Miller, an English professor at Rutgers University's main campus in New Brunswick, said that the nine-year period means that those finishing dissertations today started them before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Kindles, iPads or streaming video had been invented.
So much has changed, he said, but dissertation norms haven't, to the detriment of English and other language programs. "Are we writing books for the 19th century or preparing people to work in the 21st?" he asked.
Perhaps a scholarly argument would benefit from a mixed media presentation. If one were to write about, say, sonic theology, would one not benefit from being able to offer music/sound as one means of argumentation, or at the very least a facet to one's argument? I would assume so, but then I've been wrong about these things before.
In liturgical studies, researchers have been taking advantage of video and audio technology for some time. Ethnomusicologists are sound engineers in the field. Once upon a time a researcher had to rely upon her keen ear and memory to transcribe the music she heard. Though this is still a valued skill (and one I will have to master), sound recordings have become a great aid in field research and in presentations at conferences and in the class room. Liturgical studies employs similar methods. We no longer study the rubrics of a prayer book alone. We have video of the rite as performed by specific communities. The technological innovations present their own pedagogical challenges. A video is a two-dimensional representation of a rite and not the rite itself, for example. representations of any kind have limitations. An audio recording can be perceived as rather "disembodied." A teacher will, of course, need to address these particular limitations in some way.
This evening I am attending a lecture at one of the member seminaries here at the GTU. It's an exploration of theological aesthetics and pedagogy, "Beauty and Beast: The role of the arts in Jesuit higher education." I expect there will be music, dance, and visual arts. The presenter is the professor of my music and theology class. She has gathered an ensemble to work through original music just for this purpose. Yes, there will be text. Yes, she will read from a manuscript. She will also sing. I'm looking forward to experiencing how she does this.
As the moorland pool images the sun,
so in our hours of self-giving Thou shinest on us,
and we mirror Thee to others.
But of that other land, our heaven to be,
we have no picture at all.
Only we know that Thou art there,
and Jesus the door and the welcome
of each faithful one.
~ Alistair Maclean
This is a video of Bobby McFerrin teaching improv theory and technique. Implicit in this conversation is cognitive theory, developmental psychology, and music theory. He develops his ideas and then demonstrates them by singing. As he suggests, there's something courageous in this kind of presentation. There's a vulnerability when we step away from the imagined security of text.
I have been watching more and more of these videos to see how Bobby does what he does. There's some wonderful pedagogy here that steps beyond simply demonstrating his mastery of music. He invites all of us into the experience of music, into our own sonic selves. This strikes me as good pedagogy. Why is it so hard to imagine that good scholarly argumentation could be presented in the same way?
I hope I get to sing at my dissertation defense...assuming I get that far, of course. Ha!