In his chapter on remix, Adam Banks draws from the work of Catherine Latterell because of her attraction to the concept of remix as something that “allows students ways of juxtaposing texts and ideas from academic and popular culture as well as other forms of public discourse and encourages students to create a wide range of print, oral, and digital texts” (88). Although Banks is clearly interested in these pedagogical values of remix, he advocates that our definition of what remixes, mixtapes, and samples are and do should also emphasize how they enact a “synchronizing of generational commonalities and tensions that allows, even demands, innovation while remaining linked with histories and traditions” (90-1).
So, even if we aren’t explicitly utilizing African American rhetoric within our first-year composition courses, how can we get our students “to remix history in order to point a new way forward” (100)? Furthermore, how can we get them to recognize composition as one giant “digital humanities project, as a thorough linking of texts, techne, and technologies” (155)?
I’m especially interested in how Banks calls for a “linking of texts” that preserves their “histories and traditions” because it feels (at least to me) like he is proposing a New Historicist approach to composition, which could have numerous exciting possibilities. And I very much agree with his assertions that we, as teachers, cannot “create any syllabus or teach anything without the explicit and implicit borrowing and reuse that DJs have celebrated and mastered,” and that “[e]very course we teach is a mixtape” (138).
But what are some examples of texts that we can introduce into our first-year composition classrooms that carry with them historic import?
Well, I’d like to think that material culture (or Material Culture?) is a fine place to start.
In my past two years of teaching E110 here at UD, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching my students’ reactions when I introduce their final writing assignment of the semester: a material culture multimedia project that asks each of them to examine a significant object from their own lives. They first write a personal narrative detailing how that object has helped them understand who they are as individuals but also as members of various communities (family, school, hometown, teams, etc.). They must then transform that narrative generically for a class presentation.
Initially, they view material culture as just a bunch of “stuff,” not as a series of “texts” that can offer valuable insight into their personal histories. Sort of like this guy:
But their final projects almost always rise to the challenge:
And what I’ve received are narratives centered around extremely evocative objects: a childhood home, a bracelet commemorating a loved one, a tchotchke from their birth country, or even a video game that has helped them through major life transitions like divorce or changing school systems.
So, why material culture then? Well, for Banks, part of what is at stake in using African American rhetoric in composition is to show black students how to interact with their backgrounds/origins, and their capabilities in a multimodal world. Material culture, as I’ve shown in the project I have my students complete, achieves a similar end. Likewise, Banks wants us to educate our students on how “to critically examine the technologies they often use without careful consideration” (88). To that end, it would behoove us to conceptualize material culture not just as “stuff” but as an archollection (archive & collection) of critical life technologies, ones that we may take for granted through everyday use but nonetheless tell us a great deal about who we are, where we came from, and what we can do both inside and outside of the composition classroom.