by Ian Frazer
Ivan Allen College Communications
Georgia Tech, and Atlanta with it, has a rich history of invention and innovation, both in the technological and cultural spheres.
It makes sense, then, that the School of Literature, Media and Communication (LMC) in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts has incubated the growth and development of the field of black media studies.
“It’s very joyful, it’s very black,” said Joycelyn Wilson, assistant professor in LMC. “It’s very necessary, and oftentimes when you’re doing that type of work, you’ve got to find somewhere where you fit.”
On Feb. 20 in the Student Center Ballroom, during a session of the Planet Deep South conference, Wilson explained the history and focus of the program and the kind of work it has inspired.
Former Ivan Allen College dean Jacqueline Royster, who was present at the talk, laid the groundwork for the field of study by, in response to the results of a five-year departmental review, tasking LMC leadership with examining how their courses and degrees fit institutional commitments to diversity and equity.
Royster also helped found the Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center (DILAC), which brought in Wilson and LMC Associate Professor Susana Morris as fellows, and envisioned a “cluster” of academics focused on expressions of black identity in digital culture.
Black Media Studies (BMS) is a multidisciplinary area of scholarship that bricolages a variety of approaches and methods to study the relationships between media, culture, and racial politics, particularly as it relates to people of African descent. BMS is also interested in the use of digital technologies to design and make media that connects to the cultural practices of black people.
Wilson described the goal as to understand the (re)production of knowledge, ideas, norms, and artifacts as embodied, mediated performance and fundamental to the media-making of black culture. BMS explores how media platforms create, market, curate, and preserve messages and representations of people of color through culture-producing industries such as music, film, television, social media. Two of its primary aims are to interrogate these representations and their sociocultural, geopolitical influences on culture and society.
The presentations by Wilson and her colleagues showed how that has taken shape within the program here. Wilson first described her own project Four Four Beat Labs, a “digital pedagogies incubator” that produces educational content focused around pop culture, designed for integration into educational models.
One of the most exciting outputs of Four Four Beat Labs has been building a digital environment to house the Michael Webster Vinyl Collection, an archive of thousands of vinyl records compiled by Webster, an Atlanta native and pioneering DJ in the city’s early hip-hop scene.
That design project, part of the HipHop2020 Curriculum Project, has resulted in a digital museum, with white walls and hardwood floors, that visitors can explore while checking out the archive, looking at paintings and listening to music from artists like Kanye West and Run the Jewels. The archive was initially planned to just be four rooms, but it has gradually expanded since, and Wilson hopes to eventually host it on virtual reality platforms.
The inspiration for the structure and message of Wilson’s work with Four Four Beat Labs is obvious: the source material of hip-hop, which is a pedagogical medium in itself.
“It always comes with instructions and a message,” she said.
Another presenter at the talk was John Thornton, academic professional and video production lab coordinator in LMC. Thornton’s talk revolved around film: He presented “Stop Playin’”, a documentary series that he shot at comics and pop culture conventions around the Southeast.
The series focuses on cultural and representation issues, particularly of minorities, at cons and in nerd culture in general. Thornton’s idea for “Stop Playin’” came from a conversation he had with his daughter about not seeing people like her represented in movies, and he explores that problem in interviews with cosplayers and fans.
“I just felt like hearing those stories would motivate other people – like my daughter, maybe – to feel like she had a space in that arena,” Thornton said.
The reach of Black Media Studies is not limited to these projects. Also seated at the table for the talk were Associate Professor André Brock, who in February published his book Distributed Blackness, an exploration of how African-American identity is expressed in online spaces; and Morris, who is working on a book exploring Afrofuturism and feminism.
Check out more work and perspectives by our BMS faculty: