• Spencer Bennington

Project Finale: Rhetorical History Map Timeline Thing GO!

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Hello everyone and welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! Last week I shared a story about my dear friend Tanya and how teaching can be a form of learning. But it's been a couple of weeks since I gave you an update on the intersection of my Martial Arts Studies Research and the field of Digital Humanities.

Last week, our class discussed the advent of E-literature and born digital narratives, stories, poetry, texts, etc. We looked at examples ranging from kinetic typography poetry, sound narratives, interactive RPGs as storytelling devices, computer generated haikus, and many more.

For a more involved explanation of what e-literature is, check out this sweet video:

This class made me remember my own experiences with digital storytelling at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. I took a class with the great John Barber and ended up making a hypertextual, semi-interactive narrative built from sound files and oral history snippets. It was called "The Patience of the Piano Tuner" and featured an interface where the user explored the narrative by clicking on different piano keys. In between sections with my Mom talking about our family history were audio clips of my Dad actually tuning a piano, what he does for a living. I loved this medium because I got to tell a story with this kind of auditory subtext of familial "attunement." In this way the narrative worked much the same way as a soundtrack works to compliment dialogue in film. The fact that my mom was also telling a story that involved my Dad, but his voice wasn't present (only the sounds of him working), also added a layer of depth to the narrative content.

Perhaps the most hilarious part of this e-text that I created, however, was the ending. Theoretically, the story ends when you hit the final key and "tune it" by listening to the last bit of narrative. But, because I overwhelmed Powerpoint with so many animations and linked slides, the presentation always crashed the program before showing the final slide. Knowing this, I let the narrative end this way, suggesting that some conflicts, and some pianos, never find the prefect fairy-tale resolutions of perfect pitch.

I may try and recover the files I used to make this presentation and port it over to Rhetorical Roundhouse in the future, or maybe I'll let the experience be an ephemeral art, one that inspires a new type of narrative to feature here.

For now, I have to focus on a different type of DH project. As the final component of my course this semester, I have to demo a project that is underway, one that I could complete with more time and resources, etc. I decided to try and learn a new platform for this project because it offers a way to present a more complex narrative than others I've used in the past.

In short, my goal is to present an interactive map and timeline of Tae Kwon Do's rhetorical history. That statement requires a little unpacking.

1. A "history" is a collection of narratives constructed from various points of view, archival evidence, and artifacts which indicate the ways a past event, institution, person, or thing can be understood in the present.

2. A "rhetorical history" does the same methodological work that a history does, but it focuses more on evidence which suggests how the object of study was talked about or communicated to audiences over multiple time periods. This history also looks at the different forms of communication, argument, or discourse facilitated by the object of study.

3. Adding a geo-spatial emphasis to a rhetorical history allows users to better understand how geographic region and cultural populations affect the kinds of conversations people had about the object of study over time in different places, as well as the physical, material location of people and artifacts involved.

4. Being able to interact with all of this data means that the user gets to experience a non-linear, layered narrative, one that reflects the multiple ways of interpreting the rhetorical past of, in this case, Tae Kwon Do as an institution.

To accomplish this goal, I wanted to combine the utility of programs like Story Map JS and Timeline JS.

And, what luck, there's a perfect platform for this kind of functionality in Neatline, a plugin for the interactive exhibit tool Omeka.

Now that I'd found the platform, I needed to make sense of some of the major dates in Taekwondo's rhetorical history. I had previously conceived of four major era's for this timeline and labeled them as major waves of Taekwondo's external rhetorics. The diagram below illustrates these four periods as well as some of the various "internal" or practitioner-facing, institutional rhetorics circulating during this time.

The four major rhetorical waves include post-war nationalistic efforts, racial branding of Taekwondo as distinct from other Asian martial arts, the cultural export of Taekwondo as a combat sport, and the present arguments surrounding Taekwondo as a diplomatic tool.

Within these waves are interesting people and divisions of Taekwondo styles or schools (kwans) that must be accounted for in a truly layered timeline as well. The following static timeline images do a pretty good job of showing some of these relationships.

Finally, within these historical moments are embedded various narrative or mythological histories to contend with, ones that Moenig 2015 has rightly identified as an "invented tradition." Some examples of this kind of legendary history are found in many Tae Kwon Do manuals which cite tomb paintings, stone reliefs, and tapestries like the ones below as ancient artifacts indicating the pre-modern existence of Tae Kwon Do.

One of the big challenges in creating an effective Neatline exhibit, then, is incorporating these kinds of ancient artifacts and texts with the narratives most commonly associated with them in conjunction with research which completely refutes their historical significance to Tae Kwon Do's development. Paul Bowman (2015) discusses the importance of handling the narrative history of martial arts in a conference address that's well worth a read (because it's good, not just because it took me an hour to figure out how to host locally on rhetoricalrounhouse.com.)

All in all, my discussion tomorrow night will compare the way users experience media like videos, website, and interactive online exhibits differently and they way those multiple experiences can affect their understanding of a concept. The medium is the message, after all, and if I've learned one thing in studying DH it's that we should pay more critical attention to the technologies interwoven into our daily lives and how they facilitate our understanding of the world. This blog series has tried to exemplify that way of seeing through the lens of a graduate student, an educator, an academic researcher, and a martial artist, but this critical awareness of the eversion of cyberspace is a kind of literacy necessary for all 21st century citizens, and one that I will continue to foster in my own practice.

Though my DH classroom days are coming to an end, expect more exciting digital projects exploring advances in Martial Arts Studies to come...I have a fancy new video series brewing as we speak!

As always, thanks for reading.


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