Episode 63: Living and breathing Puerto Rico

Yarimar Bonilla is Professor in the Department of Africana & Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College and in the PhD Program in Anthropology at the Graduate Center. On July 1, she will assume the role of Acting Director of El Centro, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, the research center founded in 1973. In this episode, she talks with Vanessa Valdés, Director of the Black Studies Program and Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at City College and author of Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and Oshun’s Daughters: The Search for Womanhood in the Americas, among others. These two educators have much in common: CVs packed with powerful and passionate scholarship, a great respect for one another, and a strong belief that their work serves students, faculty, and the larger community.

Yarimar describes her journey from a childhood in Puerto Rico to life as a scholar and professor at CUNY. She shares personal stories as well meditations on a variety of connected questions, from the position and treatment of Caribbean studies in the academy and the legacy of Haitian-American anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot to the significance and aftereffects of Hurricane Maria. Yarimar has co-edited a book on Trouillot that will be published by Duke University Press this Fall.

Also mentioned in this episode:

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If you want to think and hear more about Puerto Rican migration, listen to the episode featuring Cristina Pérez Jiménez and Bret Maney.

If you want to think and hear more about the field of anthropology, listen to the episode featuring Alisse Waterston and Charlotte Corden.

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Episode 62: Jeremy Caplan on entrepreneurial media makers

Jeremy Caplan is the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. For the last fifteen months, he’s been busy helping faculty and students navigate the numerous challenges brought on by the pandemic. He also directs the new online intensive Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators 100-day certificate program which welcomed its first cohort in Fall 2020, coinciding with the continuation of COVID-19. The program, with its emphasis on independent, niche entrepreneurs, has so far attracted experienced students with specific interests who have projects in mind that they want to turn into a reality. As Jeremy explains, the timing of the program’s launch strangely benefited from a global online learning mindset. Another bonus: the virtual format allows for a diverse, international group.

Jeremy is in conversation in this episode with Michael Rain, an alumnus of the CUNY J-school program and a former fellow of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Among many concurrent projects, Michael is the founder of ENODI, a media and research company (and accompanying podcast) which highlights the lives, cultural innovations, and entrepreneurial work of first-generation and immigrant people. Listen to our 2019 conversation to learn more.

Jeremy and Michael also discuss the larger picture, including how change in the tech and business sectors have led to a revolution in journalism, giving agency to independent creators. And Michael makes sure to highlight Jeremy’s WonderTools newlestter, a curated collection of useful and time-saving apps and tools for digital creators. These two are ideal representatives of the CUNY journalism program which champions innovation in every aspect of media content creation.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter and at jeremycaplan.com 

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Episode 61: The urban optimism of Sunnyside Gardens

Jeffrey Kroessler and Laura Heim, a historian and an architect respectively, have lived in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens, for nearly two decades. They live there “specifically,” as Jeffrey says, having admired the vision of the neighborhood, one that is modeled after the garden city movement that began in late 19th century England. In this episode, Jeffrey and Laura talk with Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, about their book, Sunnyside Gardens: Planning and Preservation in a Historic Garden Suburb. Their book is a richly illustrated history of an urban community that encourages the reader to consider the social, cultural, and political functions of city spaces. They discuss the planning, evolution and preservation of this unique neighborhood as well as Levittown(s), Thomas Hobbes, and the question of what is being preserved and for whom. On the face of it preservation seems like an obviously worthwhile pursuit, but controversy comes in when policies conflict with personal property rights, and Jeffrey and Laura were deeply involved in the sometimes bitter fight to get the community designated as a historic district, which it was in 2007.

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Episode 60: How do we want to be human?

Alisse Waterston and Charlotte Corden are the author and illustrator, respectively, of the graphic novel, Light in Dark Times: The Human Search for Meaning, published by the University of Toronto Press this past Fall. In this episode, you’ll learn how the two met, how and why they created the book, and how they both discovered and approach the field of anthropology. You’ll also hear them talk about the rich and profound story within the book. In 160 pages, any one of which could easily fill a semester’s worth of discussion if not more, Alisse and Charlotte take readers on a journey, asking difficult existential questions (like the one titling this post), getting help along the way from a variety of writers, philosophers, anthropologists, and activists. The result is a beautiful, holistic and accessible book that’s been making waves across the globe. I’m not alone in believing that it would make the ideal text for a common reading experience for college students — or for humankind.

Related bonus material:

“Camoflauge” by Ellen Weinstein, is mentioned in the episode on the topic of trivia, a significant element in Light in Dark Times.

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Episode 59: LaGuardia students document and create through COVID

During the past year, we’ve had conversations with a number of CUNY citizens who have created something positive out of the COVID-19 experience. In September, Char Adams talked with us about COVID University New York, the podcast she co-produced with the Gotham Center that features the voices of a variety of New Yorkers and their work and challenges during the pandemic. In January, Cathy Davidson, Dree-el Simmons and Tatiana Ades shared with us the story behind their Manifold project, We Eat: A Student-Centered Cookbook, an unplanned project that was borne out of the abrupt turn we all took in March 2020 as a result of the move to remote teaching and learning. In this episode, Cynthia Tobar, Head of Archives at Bronx Community College, talks with Molly Rosner, Assistant Director of Education Programs at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College and Summer Walker, a student in LaGuardia’s Commercial Photography program, about the creation of Portraits of an Epicenter: NYC in Lockdown. This, too, was the result of an unexpected turn of events in Spring 2020. Eight student scholars had begun the semester with plans to engage with the Wagner and LaGuardia Archives to focus on 1980s New York but had to improvise quickly and ended up setting their sights very much on the current moment. While they used traditional practices of archive development and curating to create their new project, they went beyond collecting physical artifacts and ephemera to include the vulnerable, emotional aspects of their unique experiences as well. The moving portrayal helped the creators to process the present and serves as a valuable document of an unprecedented period that will be archived at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and available for researchers and future students.

See also:

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Episode 58: City Tech librarians talk podcasting

I recently got to catch up with two of my CUNY library colleagues – Junior Tidal and Nora Almeida. At New York City College of Technology, they produce and host City Tech Stories, a podcast whose episodes center around a theme and include perspectives from across the college. In our conversation, they share their audio trajectories, podcast habits and give us a preview of their forthcoming books. Junior’s, Podcasting: A Practical Guide for Librarians, is just about to be released by Rowman & Littlefield in May, and it’s one I highly recommend every library get into their collection. Junior tells us how the book came to be and a bit of what’s in store. Nora’s book, The Social Movement Archive, co-written with Jen Hoyer, will be coming out later this year.

Mentioned in this episode:

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Episode 57: Jojo Karlin on drawing ideas

Some of Jojo’s doodles

Even if you don’t know Jojo Karlin personally, there’s a chance you’ve seen her on your Zoom screen in the past year – she attends a lot of meetings. Or you may have seen her doodles on Instagram or Twitter, which is how I encountered her. In an interview with NYU Libraries last Fall, she explains how her doodling helps her to process academic concepts. In this episode, she expands on the why and the how of her note taking process and about the effect her drawings have had on others. She talks about how and why she came to draw her dissertation on Virginia Woolf, about the experience of taking visual notes both in person and via Zoom, about digital humanities, open access, Manifold (she is a champion and shepherd of the digital platform), and the call to be curious at heart of the Graduate Center.

You can see the many charming drawings that Jojo has created on her web site. She also illustrated the portraits on the cover of Nancy K. Miller’s My Brilliant Friends. (Nancy was in conversation with Jason Tougaw on Episode 25.)

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Episode 56: Illuminating the activism of Black women

Jeanne Theoharis (Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College) and Yoruba Richen (Directory of the Documentary Program at Newmark Graduate School of Journalism) share a deep knowledge of the civil rights movement and a keen interest in reinterpreting and promoting the “fables” that often get flattened or distorted or abbreviated in the collective retelling. They accomplish this in their work as a historian and as a filmmaker. Yoruba is the director, most recently, of How it Feels to Be Free, a documentary that gives literal voice to Ruth Feldstein’s 2013 book. The film presents the stories of six iconic African American women entertainers – Lena Horne, Pam Grier, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, and Cicely Tyson – who champion civil rights and challenge racists stereotypes. HIFTBF is available to watch as part of the PBS American Masters series and is being screened at the Athena Film Festival through the end of March. Jeanne and Yoruba discuss the making of the film, including the perennial challenges of finding/accessing archival footage as well as funding. They also consider other recent screen narratives of Black lives, both historical – Ma Rainey, Fred Hampton, Billie Holliday – and contemporary, including Yoruba’s recent film The Killing of Breonna Taylor.

Jeanne is the author of the award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Beacon Press, 2013) and has recently published a new edition for young people. In this episode, Jeanne describes the origins of her activism and of her focus on African American history, which includes time spent as a student of civil rights leader Julian Bond.

We can look forward to a continuing dialogue between Yoruba and Jeanne who are collaborating on an upcoming project about Rosa Parks.

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Episode 55: Amy Adamczyk on parents and religion

Amy Adamczyk is Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her latest book, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation, is co-authored with Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and is soon to be released by Oxford University Press. I talked with Amy about the new book and about some of her other work. She’s incredibly productive and is always in the midst of a fascinating and socially relevant research project.

For Handing Down the Faith, she and her team interviewed more than 230 parents in the U.S. – diverse in numerous ways – who shared their thoughts and feelings about how they’re raising their children with (or in some cases without) their faith. This excerpt from the book’s introduction provides a teaser for what the researchers aimed to do: “We know a lot about the importance of parents in faith transmission and factors that influence its effectiveness. But we know much less about the actual beliefs, feelings, and activities of the parents themselves when it comes to the intergenerational transmission of religious faith and practice… What do American religious parents actually assume, desire, and say they do to try to pass on religion to their children?”

Amy also tells us about her recent article (co-authored with Jacob Felson) in the American Sociological Association journal Socius, titled “Online or In-Person?  Examining College Decisions to Reopen during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Fall 2020,” which delivered some surprising results.

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Episode 54: Kathleen Collins on coming of age with TV

I was honored to talk about my new book, From Rabbit Ears to the Rabbit Hole, with our wonderful guest host extraordinaire, Beth Harpaz. She happens to be the Platonic Ideal of my target reader, and to illustrate this, she speaks in Ubbi Dubbi and sings a snippet of the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle and the theme song to Hodge Podge Lodge. But as you’ll hear Beth attest, there’s something in Rabbit Ears for people of all stripes. (As editor of CUNY SUM, Beth also wrote this summary. What a great image she found!)

It may come across as easy breezy, but I wrestled with being a “guest” on my own podcast. I wish that weren’t the case. For anyone who has ever produced a creative work only to watch it disappear into a black hole shortly after its unveiling, you know that unless you are already famous, dogged self-promotion is an absolute necessity. I was emboldened by Amanda Hirsch’s piece about this.  She recently reminded her Twitter followers that for women, “self-promotion is actually a social justice issue.” So for anyone out there making something, especially if you’re a woman, it’s your civic duty to put yourself out there, for yourself and for all of us.

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