YouTubers and trolls on social media can teach us a lot about our culture and societal shifts that are coming or already underway.
While anthropologists might study society through artifacts from around the world, other researchers study the cultural shifts happening in real time in the virtual world.
University of Central Florida Professor Anastasia Salter is one of those scholars. She was recently awarded one of only four National Endowment for the Humanities grants in Florida this cycle. The grant will help her teach faculty from around the country how to use modern tools to explore cyber communities, tackling things like race, gender equality and justice in different ways.
“We study digital cultures,” Salter says. “We study online communities and we’re interested in examining how technology impacts their world and our society.”
Some examples may appear silly, such as: How do fandoms look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what does that tell us about society’s attitudes about the criminal justice system? Other case studies have a direct impact on democracy, such as the effective use of disinformation through Facebook when it comes to election cycles.
But the impact goes beyond the obvious. For example, it was fandoms surrounding the musical Hamilton that helped propel the production by little-known artist Lin-Manuel Miranda to the Broadway hit it is today, researchers say. Despite this, there is little research into the impact of the digital world on the way communities take in theater, despite having access to data that these digital communities create.
Online communities have developed their own cultures, and as technology changes the impacts on those communities have ripple effects on the offline world. In order to understand those connections, it is critical to understand the communities and the tools that can shed light on their activities.
The NEH grant will allow Salter and colleague Mel Stanfill to host a five-day institute in summer 2020. They will collaborate with instructors from around the country and work with 25 humanists on tools and methods they can use in conducting their research on digital culture.
The UCF faculty members will take applications and select the 25 participants during the next few months.
Salter is an associate professor of texts and technology, and games and interactive media, and director of the doctoral program in texts and technology. Her research areas include digital narratives, electronic literature, social media, and gender and marginalized voices in technology. She has written multiple books and is on the board of directors of the Electronic Literature Organization. She is also director of the graduate programs for the College of Arts and Humanities.
Stanfill is an assistant professor of texts and technology, and games and interactive media, and their research areas include digital labor, media industry studies, fan studies, queer theory, race and gender studies. Stanfill’s recent book addresses the exploitation of fans by the media industry.