Review: The Videographic Essay – Criticism in Sound & Image


I have long been interested in assigning alternatives to the standard essay, and so I read Janine Utell’s recent guest-post here on teaching with video essays with great interest. I’ve long admired what Ryan has accomplished with his unessay assignment, and even tried to do my own kind of assignment using the great resource Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. I have yet to be successful in assigning a great not-essay assignment in a traditional literature or writing course, so I’m always looking for more resources, examples, and guides.

Serendipitously, just days before Janine’s post published, I had received my copy of Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell’s new book, The Videographic Essay: Criticism in Sound & Image. For only $5, it was hard not to buy it, and I’m really glad that I did. Keathley and Mittell, both professors at Middlebury College, based the book on the NEH ODH workshop they facilitated in 2015 on the same topic. The book includes a description of the assignments from the workshop, with reflection and classroom applications; a conversation between Eric Faden, an Associate Professor of English at Bucknell, and Kevin B. Lee, a videographer, which becomes a kind of oral history of film studies and the genre of the videographer essay; a critical reflection from workshop participant Catherine Grant; and an essay by Mittell on copyright and fair use.

While the focus of the book are those who are doing film scholarship, the exercises described in the first section can easily be adopted and adapted for other kinds of disciplines, as well as a useful way to help students (and faculty) think critically about the intersection of images, text, and sound, as well as practice and apply a variety of video editing techniques. The closing essay on fair use and copyright should be required reading for anyone working with these kinds of materials, and Mittell doesn’t just provide a how-to (or rather, what not to do), but engages in a serious and thoughtful discussion about the implication of the laws governing these issues.

And if it seems strange to hold a book on videographic essays (as it did to Faden and Lee), there is a multimedia companion book done in Scalar. The book contains examples of each of the exercises, produced by the participants in the workshop. You can also see some of the longer-form scholarship produced by some of the participants in a special issue of the journal [in]Transition.

This is a great resource, and I am going to be incorporating some of the exercises as potential options for students taking my Introduction to Digital Studies class in the fall. For $5, it is affordable to assign to students, and to pick up for yourself.

Do you have any resources on producing alternative forms of scholarship to share? Do so in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User Douglas Arruda]

(Typo fixed at 10.52.)

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