New Tools for New Stories: Summer Digital Humanities Fellowship

Submitted by Terrence E Schenold on
Living Fables / Losing My Wings

This summer I had the privilege of being a 2015 Fellow in the Digital Humanities at the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities. The fellowship brings together 10 scholars to work on projects in the humanities that use digital tools. Over the summer we talk about our ideas, plan our projects, and begin to implement them. The project I designed uses digital tools (html, java script, and Scalar) to explore the relatedness of all types of mammals through online interactive narratives. Entitled, “Living Fables: Losing My Wings”, the document mixes narratives from popular culture and science on the human and humanoid loss of wings. The intent of the site is to provoke readers to think differently about human and animal relationships by exploring how deeply connected all animals are through their genetics and their physiology. It does this by suggesting that much of the cultural productions of humans losing their wings are haunted by this close biological relationship. Humans have the genetic and physiological capabilities to develop wings; we just don’t do so because we have developed in a different fashion than winged animals.

Much like the curriculum of CHID, the project is designed to have multiple points of entry. On the first page of the project, a viewer will encounter an x ray of a human arm (see illustration). On this arm are seven different story circles, ranging from the human loss of wings in literature (such as found in China Miéville's, Perdido Street Station), comic books (think here of the Amazing X-Men’s Warren Worthington the Third), the use of disabled bodies in popular culture (think here of the exploitation of bodies in circus sideshows), or developmental biology (think here of the genetics of human limb formation). Every time a viewer hovers over one of the story circles, a ghostlike wing of a heron appears, reminding us that all development demands some type of loss. As the viewer navigates the site, they can then use the digital tools to mix up these different stories to create their own story about development, identity, and loss.

This is a project that teaching in CHID has uniquely prepared me for. Where else on campus can I mix the studies in the cultural study of biology, new media, animal studies, science fiction, and disability studies to create new types of stories? And as CHID continues to change and transform over the next few years, my project reminds me of the importance of acknowledging how the paths we choose are often shaped, even haunted, by the paths we leave behind.

Currently the project is seeking a home on the Internet. I’ll let you know once it finds a place to land.