Student Stories

Humanities Matter: Students Discuss What Draws them to the Humanities

In October 2020, the virtual meeting “Humanities Matter” brought together Georgetown students and faculty to discuss what draws undergraduates and graduates to the humanities, what kinds of humanities work students find the most fulfilling, what encourages them to pursue that work, and what they intend to do with that learning experience.

The starting point for this lively conversation were four interdisciplinary and multimedia humanities projects that students presented during the event.

Daniel Giguere (MA’19, English)

Daniel created the website Reading Romantic Violence  on the use of literature to cope with trauma and domestic violence.

Clare Reid (MA’21, English)

Clare crafted the graphic essay Things are Different Now  on the role of storytelling to understand and cope with the pandemic.

Maya Tenzer (C’21, Economics and Italian)

Maya organized the documentary series “Hoya Hybrid Stories” an opportunity for Georgetown students to learn about documentary methods through workshops and to produce their own short documentaries in response to the pandemic and our current academic dispersal.

Mariah Johnson (C’21, American Studies)

Mariah shared her work in progress for her senior thesis “Digital Blackface on TikTok” which focuses on interdisciplinary critical reading strategies as important tools for understanding social media.

Here is her reflection on the rationale of her research project:

Mariah Johnson (C’21)

As someone who has spent hours upon hours watching TikToks during quarantine, I have always been fascinated with almost every aspect of the app. But the more I watched, the more I became specifically interested in why Black TikTok creators like Tabitha Brown and Tega Danillea Orhororoo have gone viral for their performances, which are videos of them going about their lives and doing what they love.

What seemingly distinguishes them from others making similar videos is their Blackness. Thus, when it came time to pick an idea for my senior thesis, I knew I wanted it to focus on how Black creators on TikTok perform their Blackness and how these performances complicate or reinforce existing signifiers of Blackness in popular culture. Currently there is not a body of research for this idea, which would involve connecting discourse regarding Blackness as a performance that Black people alter and discourse about how racially-based performances function within a space like TikTok, which differs from other social media apps in terms of its highly personal and customizable nature. My project will seek to fill that research gap through a close analysis of TikToks made by Black creators for what the signifiers of Blackness are and how these signifiers are being performed. My close readings will be informed by interviews with TikTok creators, academic theory about performativity and signifiers of blackness, and secondary sources about how Black people function in digital life. My ultimate goal with this project lies in showing the agency of Black people to create, subvert, and reinforce what it means to be Black in American popular culture.

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