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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors
5. Review, page 1 of 20
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UbuWeb: The Robin Hood of the Avant-Garde

Labeling itself the "Robin Hood of the avant-garde" and the "unlikely definitive source for all things avant-garde on the internet," UbuWeb is an internet archive devoted to cataloging the digital ephemera of artists–from poets and writers, to visual artists and musicians. Ubu sees itself as issuing access to "the peripheries of artistic production" by providing free server space for the storage of otherwise obscure media as well as the more mainstream work of well-known artists. What began as a place to store and document visual and concrete poetry soon began to include audio and video as well; it has since expanded to become what they consider to be a repository for the avant garde–a definition that they admit is constantly evolving. 

While the site launched in 1996 as a small project run by volunteers, it is now affiliated with several university projects, consenting to become "the objects of university research in the Ideology and practice of radical distribution." Kenneth Goldsmith, an American poet and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is the founder and main voice behind the project. The archive's primary interests in avant-garde poetry and digital art are highly informed by Goldsmith, who began his career as a sculptor coming out of the Rhode Island School of Design before becoming a poet. Goldsmith's vision of a free archive undetermined by the politics of academia is enacted in the site's refusal to either accept money or ask for it. And although UbuWeb has by necessity aligned themselves with institutions (many of which Goldsmith is directly involved with (see here and here)), they remain loyal to their vision of a "gift economy" of plenitude and abundance, where the labor done to maintain the site, like the content it publishes, remains free.

Author: Emily Smith
Word Count: 305
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Discussion of "UbuWeb: The Robin Hood of the Avant-Garde"

An Interface Is an Argument

The idea that the design of a digital resource determines its use is an obvious but under-discussed concept in digital humanities. In spending time on UbuWeb for this assignment, it became clear that this particular resource's design is indeed intentionally seeking to determine how the resource is used for scholarship and for fun. As I discuss in the section on serendipity, the clutter of content on the main page makes the site's navigation overwhelming and confusing, but in this way it also seems to mimic the serendipitous process of digging through an archive. The site's design, unlike many other scholarly resources I have used on the internet, seemed self-conscious and intentional; its design corresponded with its ethos, and thus made its own argument about how scholarly work can be performed.

In asking us to evaluate a digital resource, and in doing so, to look beyond its content to understand its use and its efficacy, this assignment illuminated the relationship between form and content, and, I think, allowed us to move beyond the humanities' bias for the text by encouraging us to pay attention to the way in which tools—material and digital—facilitate and determine our access to and experience with text. It is in this sense that the development of such tools and platforms for research in the humanities can begin to be taken seriously as its own form of scholarly activity.

Author: Emily Smith
Word Count: 233

Posted on 9 July 2013, 11:32 am by Emily Smith  |  Permalink

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