To Eric Miller's homepage
"Response to the 2002-7 Strategic Plan"
by Eric Miller
Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Program in Folklore and Folklife,
University of Pennsylvania.
The University's brilliantly conceived and written 2002-7 Strategic
Plan -- "Building on Excellence: The Next Agenda"
<http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/FC-Agenda.html> -- rightly stresses
the needs: 1) to develop, and to increase communication amongst,
the University's de-centralized resources, resources that are
already in place; and 2) to increase communication between the
University and the outside world, in the neighborhood and in
My response offers some suggestions which might help the University
move in these directions.
1) Internet2 videoconferencing.
2) Technology training and access.
4) Jay Treat.
(This response is approximately 12 pages.)
1) Internet2 videoconferencing.
The University should dedicate as much resources as possible
to the development and implementation of Internet2
videoconferencing (while also continuing to develop regular
Internet videoconferencing, and ISDN-line videoconferencing).
Videoconferencing can be defined as an interactive
telecommunication process in which all parties can send
and receive audio and video to and from all other parties.
Videoconferencing is an ultimate form of interactive
telecommunication in that all other forms of electronic
communication can be practiced within and around a
videoconference. In my report, "Videoconferencing
at the University of Pennsylvania"
researched and written in Fall 1998 during my first semester
in residence at Penn as a Ph.D. student, I commented on
videoconferencing in general and gave reasons for the
University to develop its videoconferencing capabilities.
The University has done excellent work in developing its
videoconferencing facility in Grad. Ed. B24, now moved to
Two developments that have come to my awareness since
1998 are: 1) Internet2 videoconferencing; and 2) the ability
to relay the combined audio-video of a videoconference onto
the regular Internet -- that is, to webcast it live -- so
that others can observe the videoconferenced conversation and
participate in the event by sending e-mail to the parties at
one or more of the videoconferencing sites.
Two common forms of videoconferencing today are:
videoconferencing over the regular Internet (utilizing
software programs such as NetMeeting); and videoconferencing
over ISDN-lines. An advantage of videoconferencing over the
regular Internet is that there is no (per minute) cost.
Disadvantages include: the frame-rate is usually very slow
(perhaps three or four frames per second); the image on
one's computer screen is often small and not very sharp; and
NetMeeting, for example, allows only a two-way videoconference.
ISDN-line videoconferencing is expensive in that specialized
hardware is necessary at each site, and there is a per minute
cost for the use of the lines (ISDN-lines are a special type
of telephone line). ISDN-line videoconferencing is typically
practiced two-way, but through the use of (again, expensive)
technology referred to as a "bridge," multi-party ISDN-line
videoconferencing is possible.
Internet2 is the new generation of the Internet; it is being
developed by a small number of corporations and universities,
including Penn. Internet2 allows transmission of full-screen,
near-broadcast-quality video, at-or-approaching 30 frames per
second (the broadcast standard). As with the regular Internet,
there is no per minute charge for use of Internet2. Depending
on the software, an unlimited number of parties can participate
in an Internet2 videoconference. Internet2, and Internet2
videoconferencing in particular, represent cutting-edge
innovation in the practice of communication technology, and
Penn should continue to play a leading role in their
A disadvantage of Internet2 is that very few institutions
have access to it at present. However, in the course of
producing six videoconferences in the Graduate Student
Videoconferencing Series over the past two years in Towne
317-9, I have discovered that it is possible to simultaneously
webcast a videoconference onto the regular Internet -- and,
although I have to date only done this with ISDN-line
videoconferences, I am told that one can also do this with
Internet2 videoconferences. Through such webcasting, many
people could observe Internet2 videoconferencing.
Incidentally, although I cannot claim to have invented the
practice of webcasting an ISDN-line videoconference, I have
developed this practice in unique ways, including using a
video mixer to combine the local and incoming images.
Eventually, image manipulation practices such as video mixing,
keying (colorizing an image), horizontal-reversing of an image,
and electronic drawing will all be built into computer
videoconferencing programs, but in the meantime Penn might
want to consider the possibility of enabling these advanced
video techniques in Towne 317-9 through the use of external
pieces of hardware.
My understanding is that the standard Penn server allows up
to 60 computers to receive a live webcast stream at once.
Videoconference-webcasts involve a hierarchy of communicators:
those at the top can see and hear each other; those less
privileged can see and hear the videoconferencers, but
cannot themselves be seen and heard, although they can
send in e-mails. (It is also possible for people to call
in via telephone to one or more of the videoconference sites,
and to have their voices relayed to the distant videoconference
partner[s] and to the webcast audience). All of this can
combine to form a hybrid communication event. Through the use
of websites, listservs, etc., participants can share material
and engage in discussion both before and after the actual
videoconference-webcast. In this way, asynchronous activities
can surround and support an synchronous event: that is, a
special event such as a videoconference-webcast can, temporally-
speaking, be in the middle of an extended event, with text and
other communication occurring in the weeks and months before
and after the videoconference-webcast.
I would encourage the University to produce videoconference-
webcasts for many purposes and in many contexts: academic,
alumni-related, community-related, etc. A wide variety of
symposiums could be held in this manner; and an interactive-
telecommunication-component could be added to any face-to-face
symposium occurring at Penn.
Penn can offer to a distant partner not only a videoconference
with people at Penn, but also, in the course of such a
videoconference, to relay the video and audio of that distant
partner onto the Internet, to a worldwide audience: this is
a tremendous gift that Penn can bestow upon videoconference
partners, and a beauty of it is that it costs Penn nothing
to webcast (once the very expensive system is in place).
After the videoconference-webcast, the recording of the live
webcast can remain accessible on the project webpage. Of
course, passwords can be used, so that only those registered
can receive a stream; pay-per-view webcasting is becoming common.
Providing webcasts for members of the Penn community at no fee,
or at a minimal fee, is a community service; both the form and
content of such events can be most educational for all concerned.
A wonderful model -- on a less elaborate scale -- for such
activity is the webcasting of audio from the Writers' House
that Prof. Al Filreis has been doing. People in the field of
literature all over the world now know that Penn's Writers'
House is a gateway to instantaneous international exposure.
I would like to give an example of a project that could be
developed through the use of videoconference-webcasts.
This semester (Spring 2002), the Graduate Student
Videoconference Series engaged in a videoconference with
Warlpiri aboriginal people (including members of the Tanami
Network, the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association,
and the Warlpiri Media Association) in Yuendumu, Northern
Territory, Australia. More information about this event,
as well as an audio-video recording of the videoconference-
webcast, can be found at
Members of the Tanami Network have been videoconferencing, with
various technologies, since 1992. They videoconference to sell art,
conduct family and kinship meetings and ceremonies, and for other
purposes. They have videoconferenced with Native-American
peoples in Canada and in the western USA, and with Saami people
in northern Scandinavia. Members of the Tanami Network have in
mind a global indigenous-people-based music-dance-storytelling
Were Penn to be interested in helping with aspects of such
a festival (including, for example, webcasting events), this
could produce numerous benefits for Penn, including
entrepreneurial possibilities. For example, Penn could help
to provide indigenous storytelling and other arts to school
children, in Philadelphia and around the world. Such activity
might lead to the arranging of travel tours (for people to visit
the indigenous people; and for the indigenous people to go on
tour). In the course of working on such a project, Penn might
develop collaborations with media businesses such as National
Geographic (magazine and TV). Near-instantaneous automatic
(or combined human/automatic) systems for transcription
(from voice to text, to create sub-titles) and/or translation
(from one language to another) would need to be developed
for cases in which the indigenous people might wish to speak
in their own languages, and in cases where webcast audience
members might only understand their own local language. The
use of videoconference-webcasts to teach languages (possibly
in collaboration with language-teaching businesses such as
Berlitz), and to teach about and give training in various
types of performance, would be explored and developed.
Well, this is just one example of a possible videoconference-
I would like to propose that my cohort of Penn graduate students
should be known as the "V generation" -- that is, the first
generation of videoconferencing graduate students. We initiated
the Graduate Student Videoconference Series in Fall 2000; and
Penn Ph.D. students in Sociology, Anthropology, and Folklore
participated in this spring's final event (the Series' history
One way to help Penn graduate students develop in this direction
would be to install Internet2 videoconferencing capability in
the splendid new Graduate Student Center. Internet2
videoconferencing should exist there in an unpressured,
coffee-house atmosphere (again, unlike ISDN-line videoconferencing,
Internet2 videoconferencing does not cost anything per minute).
The pressure of always having to engage in rigorous academic
activity over videoconferencing is one of the factors that has
limited its growth. Were the process to occur 'casually,'
enabling graduate students around the world to informally meet
and talk, I suspect that very soon substantial shared academic
projects would come into being as a result.
For the record, the first two years of the Graduate Student
Videoconference Series have consisted of the following six events:
St. John's U. (Staten Island campus); American Studies scholar,
Dr. Stephen Paul Miller.
"The Cultural DNA Underlying the Construction of Much of an
Epoch's Phenomena; Focusing on the 1970s."
NYU, Performance Studies Dept.; Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
"Liveness in Mediated Performance."
City College of San Francisco, Mass Media Program.
"The Roles of Listener-sponsors in the Pacifica Radio Network."
NYU, Performance Studies Dept.
"Virtual Performing and Archiving."
This year the Series theme has been, "Videoconferencing with
Warlpiri people involved with arts and media (including members
of the Tanami Network, the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal
Association, and the Warlpiri Media Association), in Yuendumu,
Northern Territory, Australia.
"Old and New Forms of Storytelling."
Indigenous women social workers (members of the Women's Justice
Network) in Brisbane, east Australia.
"Domestic Violence in Indigenous Communities."
VHS videocassettes of all of these events are available.
Webcast recordings of this spring's events can be accessed at
Background information about these events can be found at
The Series faculty advisor has been Dr. David Azzolina (adjunct
Folklore professor and Van Pelt reference librarian). Dr. Jay
Treat (director, Educational Computing, SAS) has operated the
equipment. John MacDermott (director, Educational Technology,
SAS) has made Towne 317-9 available. Funding for the ISDN-line
costs has come from the Folklore Program (last year) and
GSAC (this year). Come September, I am scheduled to
embark for two years of doctoral fieldwork in south India;
it is unclear whether the Series, which I have founded and
directed, would continue in my absence: I certainly hope it does.
2) Technology training and access.
Resources are always limited, but this should not prevent us
from imagining what the ideal situation would be, and, through
practicing the art of the possible, from approaching that ideal
as fully as we can.
As suggested in the Strategic Plan, every Penn student should
indeed take a course about communication technology. Such
a course might include instruction about, and hands-on
experiential learning with: website design; digital video and
audio recording and editing; sending and receiving video clips
on the Internet; and audio-and-videoconferencing (via the
Internet, Internet2, ISDN-lines, satellites, etc.). Students
should be trained to approach communication technology with a
problem-solving attitude: not just as users but as designers.
At present, it seems that the great majority of Penn
undergraduate and graduate students do not even begin to
develop their Penn websites; many do not seem to know that
they can ask for one. To the degree that it is feasible,
every Penn student should be encouraged and assisted in this
matter. I have placed every paper I have written in graduate
school on my website, and I highly recommend this practice.
Writing term papers remains the standard ordeal for a student
in higher education. It is a lonely experience, often with
little intellectual and social payback at the end: often just
a few comments from a professor. Placing term papers on a
student's website enables the student to get further feedback,
and to publicly build on his/her work over time.
There should be increased coordination between 1) residential
housing computer facilities, 2) the computers students have
in their dorm rooms, 3) computer access elsewhere on campus,
and 4) the use of computers for academic courses. Students,
and the University, should take full and systematic advantage
of the magnificent highspeed Internet access in all dorm rooms.
One way to develop relations with neighborhood people is to
permit them to use the University's computer and video facilities.
This would require careful marshaling and allocating of resources
(instruction, equipment, repair and maintenance, computer memory
for data storage, security guards where appropriate, etc.).
24-hour access should be considered.
The Strategic Plan mentions the possibilities of an Arts and
Humanities website and calendar; an Institute for World Cultures;
and a university-wide Teaching and Learning Center. All of
these are great ideas! Regarding the latter: it would be great to
offer to graduate students and professors training in such practices
as (with and without technology) engendering classroom discussion,
and discussing readings.
One of Penn's great strengths has traditionally been its teaching
of many languages, including rare and ancient ones. In the USA
today, there is much lip-service given to "diversity" and the
"multi-cultural": the teaching of many languages helps to make
Penn the real thing in this regard. The School of Arts and
Science's teaching of living languages is useful for business,
and this should be more fully integrated with the Wharton
Penn language instructors have put a great deal of thought
into the question of how to teach languages. The proposed
Teaching and Learning Center might include presentation and
discussion of the language teaching methodologies Penn
instructors have developed. Both with and without new
technology, which techniques work, and which do not? (My
personal interest is in developing ways of using verbal play
and games in the language teaching and acquisition processes.)
My sense is that language students sometimes do not dedicate
enough time to oral practice, and as a result do not always
fully internalize the material. Perhaps through the use of
audio- and video-mediated communication, Penn students might
be able to find distant practice-partners 24-hours-a-day.
(Penn might also be interested in providing language tutors --
to students at Penn and beyond -- via this technology.)
I believe there is a need for, in some form, a university-wide
Media Center. As I wrote in my aforementioned Fall 98 report,
in section 2) The Need for...a Media Center:
"Penn's media-related courses, centers, and facilities are widely
diffused. The problem is that at the moment students are not aware
of the options... Communication and publicity joining the parts
are lacking. What is needed is a university-wide traditional and
interactive/telecommunicational/digital/new Media Center, where
Penn citizens could go to learn about all of the options for study
of, training in, and use of communication technologies... The
Penn Media Center would have to be a team effort. Perhaps the
website, "Computing Services and Resources at Penn"
<http://www.upenn.edu/computing/view/service.html> could be
expanded to create a new version which would include mention
of (non-computer) media training and loan facilities as well as
all media-related courses, both analytical and applied."
The Penn Media Center could begin simply as a website,
e-mail address, and telephone number, and perhaps an office
where one could pick up literature.
A factor that needs to be kept in mind is that the University's
academic communication entity, the Annenberg School, continues
to focus on the sociology of mass communication. For the most
part, Penn students who wish to receive training in the use of
new technology in an academic context must do so elsewhere,
especially in the Graduate School of Fine Arts, which now has
excellent new media training facilities.
Some of the key developers of videoconferencing at Penn are:
When I was researching my report on videoconferencing at
Penn in Fall 1998, of all the departments of the School of Arts
and Science, the Physics Dept. seemed to be the most advanced
in terms of integrating videoconferencing into everyday academic
life. The Physics Dept. has an ISDN-line videoconferencing facility
(managed by Walter Kononenko) nearby its other classrooms in
the David Rittenhouse Building.
_Prof. Surendra Gambhir, South Asia Regional Studies Dept._
Prof. Gambhir, who chairs the Language Committee of the American
Institute of Indian Studies, videoconferences with scholars
around the world via Netmeeting (over the regular Internet).
_Sr. Teresita Hinnegan, Nursing School._
The Nursing School has featured a training program via
videoconference for many years.
_Prof. Kostas Daniilidis, GRASP (General Robotics, Automation,
Sensing, and Perception Laboratory)._
Prof. Daniilidis teaches in the Computer and Information Science
Dept., Engineering School. GRASP, which utilizes Internet2, is
developing three-dimensional videoconferencing, also known as
tele-immersion. This work is related to fields such as virtual
reality and computer-supported cooperative work.
_Prof. David Farber, Computer Information Sciences Dept.,
Prof. Farber is Professor of Telecommunication Systems, and is
a world-renowned authority on the subject.
_Gregory Palmer, MAGPI (Mid-Atlantic Gigapop in Philadelphia
Leading the development of Internet2 at Penn.
_Gates Rhodes and Chris Cook, Penn Video Network /
Penn Video Productions._
Gates Rhodes was a pioneer of videoconferencing over the
original Internet; I am certain that he has a great deal to
contribute to the development of Internet2. Chris Cook
operates Penn's facility for downlinking video from satellites:
such video is shown to special gatherings and/or relayed onto
Penn's cable TV system. (Penn does not currently have
satellite uplink capability.)
_Ira Winston, John MacDermott, and others._
These individuals have built a world-class televideo room,
first in Grad. Ed. B24, now in Towne 317-9.
_Erin Fallon, director, MMETS (Multi-media Educational
MMETS assists much of the Penn community with communication
equipment and operators, accessories, back-up systems, etc.
Penn has worked with numerous companies over the years to
provide various types of distance learning experiences,
and I am aware that Penn has offered courses via webcast to
College of General Studies and other non-traditional students.
In all of these cases, careful monitoring and adjusting --
with creative use of various technologies, both synchronous and
asynchronous -- must constantly be practiced to ensure a rich
and satisfying communication and education experience for all
I am writing this response only as a lowly graduate student;
of course I do not in any way speak for the Folklore Program.
At present, only two universities in the entire USA can give
a Ph.D. in Folklore: Penn and Indiana. In Folklore and related
fields, Penn is very famous on the international level as a center
for Folklore scholarship; Penn Folklore has played a leading role
in the modern history of the discipline.
Among the definitions of folklore are that it consists of:
1) traditional methods of expression and production; 2) artistic
communication in small groups; and 3) that which grows between
any people who share any experience. It can be said that the
discipline of Folklore is 2/3 the study of verbal arts and other
behavior and performance, and 1/3 the study of material culture;
plus the study of beliefs. ("Folklife" can refer to culture that
develops around occupations and vocations.) Story and storytelling
is central to much folklore. It has been said (certainly with
hyperbole!) that folklore is the interdisciplinary discipline,
and that the study of storytelling is the interdisciplinary
Penn Folklore was recently reduced from a department to a program.
The undergraduate major is currently unavailable. What exist now
are 1) the Graduate Program in Folklore and Folklife; and 2) the
Center for Folklore and Ethnography. Undergraduate Folklore
courses are still taught, and there remains an undergraduate
The University should help Penn Folklore regain stability: a new
chair of the Folklore Program will need to be named relatively
soon, and Penn Folklore faculty -- including the world-famous
scholars, Dr. Dan Ben-Amos (the present chair) and Dr. Roger
Abrahams (partially-retired) -- should be consulted regarding
this matter. Beginning in the 60s, Drs. Ben-Amos and Abrahams
led a generation of scholars who founded the "performance-centered
approach to folklore," that is, the study of folklore as process
Folklore has had a great influence on the rest of academia,
both in general and at Penn. For example, it is largely due
to Folklore's influence that in History the study of people's
everyday experience is now considered, along with the great
deeds and writings of great men.
As with any university, Penn as a whole and each component
part of it has its own folklore. Penn Folklore should be
involved in helping to develop and document the ongoing
traditions within the University.
The study of folklore is valuable to businesspeople, and
Wharton students would benefit from wider exposure to
Folklore studies. To cite just two applications: salespeople
must understand different ways of speaking; and marketing and
advertising need to be tailored to local cultures.
Penn Folklore has an incredibly rich heritage and community
of Ph.D. graduates. William Ferris, the recent director of
the NEH, is a Penn Folklore Ph.D. The recently-appointed
director of Penn's Center for Folklore and Ethnography,
Dr. Mary Hufford, has for many years worked in the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington, D.C., and been a key figure in
the Mid-Atlantic Folklore Association. There are many Penn
Folklore Ph.D.s in government and community arts and heritage
agencies throughout the country. These people have great
expertise in developing heritage exhibitions (that is, in
developing, celebrating, and marketing local heritage for
tourism and other purposes); in helping local people to
develop cottage craft industries; and in working with local
residents to improve relations between various community groups,
and between community members and visitors. Penn Folklore Ph.D.
alums, and "Friends of Penn Folklore" (as the group of and
around Penn Folklore alums is informally known), would, I
am certain, welcome opportunities to be more active and helpful
members of the Penn community.
The University has made interaction with the community a
priority: Roger Abrahams (the founder and original director of
the Center for Folklore and Ethnography) wrote his dissertation
about speech practices of African-American men in a Philadelphia
neighborhood. This was a landmark project in ethnography, which
involves living in the midst of the people one is studying and
getting to know them in a holistic sense. The Center for Folklore
and Ethnography, which maintains a university-wide listserv,
should be widely utilized by the University, both for intra- and
The "sociolinguistic moment" of the 60s and 70s occurred largely
at Penn. This development was led by scholars such as Erving
Goffman (Sociology Dept.); Ray Birdwhistell (Communication
School); and Dell Hymes (Folklore and Anthropology Depts.,
and Education School). Birdwhistell developed the modern
study of "sociokinetics"; Hymes founded the interdisciplinary
field, the "ethnography of speaking." The University should
ensure that this historic interdisciplinary study of micro-behavior,
interactionism, situationism, and conversation analysis should
be built upon. One individual who is today carrying this tradition
forward at Penn, and whose work should be encouraged and expanded,
is Anthropology professor Asif Agha, a member of the Folklore
faculty group, who specializes in various types of discourse
analysis and who has established a Semiotics Lab, which is
equipped with computer and video equipment that enables the
close study of human behavior.
Another Folklore-related field that was pioneered at Penn in
the 60s and 70s and that should be nurtured and built upon
is "indigenous media," the study of how indigenous people use
modern communication technology. Sol Worth (Communication
School), a founder of this field, initiated a project that
involved teaching Navaho people in Arizona how to use film
equipment: this project culminated in the classic book,
Through Navaho Eyes. One of Sol Worth's students, Dr.
Larry Gross, is a member of the Communication School faculty
and is in the Folklore faculty group. Incidentally, many
years ago Dr. Elihu Katz -- also a faculty member of the
Communication School, and a reader for my communication-related
Ph.D. exam -- proposed the establishment of an Institute for
the Translation of Tradition. Perhaps Folklore and Communication
could assist with the proposed Institute for World Cultures.
4) Jay Treat.
A quiet but major factor in Penn's success in developing
communication technology in recent years has been the
mix of humanities scholarship and deployment of technology
practiced by Dr. James O'Donnell, Professor of Classical Studies,
and Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing;
Dr. Joseph Farrell, Professor of Classical Studies, and Associate
Dean for Graduate Education; and others. I am hoping that
Penn's impending loss of Dr. O'Donnell will not auger the end
of Penn's humanities/technology synergy
Another member of this humanities/technology nexus has been
Dr. Jay Treat, director, SAS Educational Computing. Jay Treat's
dissertation concerned the Song of Songs; he reads Latin, Greek,
Hebrew, and Aramaic, and is sensitive to technical issues
surrounding the use on computers of multiple fonts and scripts
of many languages. One of Jay Treat's tasks has been to act as
an interface between Penn faculty members, their computers, and
Penn's computer network. Many Penn faculty members, especially
the older ones, begin with little or no expertise with technology.
Jay Treat's patience and thoroughness with these individuals has
kept the heart of Penn's humanities scholarship world functioning
smoothly in relation to communication technology for many years.
During my three years of Ph.D. coursework, it was my great honor
and pleasure to serve as an assistant to Jay Treat. As mentioned
above, he has operated the equipment for the Graduate Student
Videoconference Series; without his support and guidance, this
Series would most likely never have come into being. A humanities
scholar such as Jay Treat being director of Educational Computing
for the School of Arts and Science is to me a wonderful microcosm
of what Penn is all about.
Jay Treat has taught numerous courses at Penn, including
Technological Approaches to the Humanities (graduate course),
Computers and the Humanities (undergraduate course), and various
Religion courses. At this point in his career, he would like to
dedicate more time to teaching courses in the field in which he
was originally trained: Early Christianity. It would be an absolute
tragedy for Penn were Dr. Treat to leave his position as director of
SAS Educational Computing. I urge Penn to help find creative ways
for Jay Treat to teach, as well as do technology work, here at Penn;
and/or to facilitate him teaching elsewhere while continuing to do
technology work at Penn. It is a fact of life that the field of
practical technology is dominated by younger people who do not
have backgrounds in humanities scholarship; conditions should be
developed that acknowledge and honor Jay Treat's dual perspectives
as a senior technology expert and a humanities scholar.
I am a native New Yorker and I hope to be based in NYC
throughout my career. This Spring semester, I have taught
three courses: Expository Writing and Introduction to
Literature, at Fordham U.'s Lincoln Center campus; and
Storytelling: from True-life Stories to Myths,at NYU's
School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Myself
and others are attempting to found the NYC and International
However, I hope to remain related to Penn throughout my
teaching, researching, and videoconferencing career. In
addition to my academic work, I am a small businessperson/
entrepreneur, having co-founded Eric & Co. Video with a
partner 15 years ago; this company now specializes in
directing/facilitating videoconferences and webcasts in
a wide variety of contexts.
My dissertation-in-process, entitled "Storytelling and
Videoconferencing," will attempt to apply the approach of
the "sociolinguistic moment" to the study and design of
videoconferencing (and interactive telecommunication in
general). Sociolinguistic/kinetic research and methodology --
much of it, as mentioned, originally developed at Penn in the
1960s and 1970s -- is extremely useful for analyzing behavior
in videoconferences, and for designing videoconference
systems and environments in which people can interact richly
and effectively. I believe a central mission of my career
will be to -- both analytically and practically -- apply this
treasury of thought, which I hope to add to, to video-mediated
communication. Thus, I will always be in debt to Penn, and
I will always be drawn to it.
As mentioned above, for three years I was fortunate enough to
be an assistant to Jay Treat; during the last two of those years
I also had the incredible honor and privilege of being Roger
Abrahams' research assistant: these two relationships have
formed the basis on my Penn Ph.D. educational experience.
For my dissertation research, I am planning to live for a year
in a mountain village in Tamilnadu, south India. I will be
studying various types of storytelling there, including that
which occurs in everyday conversation and in ritual events, but
my focus will be on how young children use verbal play and games
in the oral language acquisition process.
In April 2004, following the year of ethnographic fieldwork,
I am scheduled to facilitate a videoconference-webcast between
a site in Tamilnadu and Penn. I will be on the Tamilnadu side,
with some of my year-long informants; among the people on the
Penn side will be Tamil immigrants to the USA who live in the
Philadelphia area and their Tamil-American children, whom I
have also spent time with. Thus, this videoconference-webcast
will at once be an experiment in "multi-sited ethnography";
an attempt at "ethnographic videoconferencing" (a term I have
coined); and an attempt to see what happens to various types
of storytelling when they are attempted via videoconference.
I am proposing that this event be related, at least peripherally
and informally, to the global indigenous-people-based
videoconference-webcast festival mentioned near the opening
of this response: I will be guided in the videoconference process
by members of the Tanami Network -- Warlpiri aboriginal people of
As Penn, to my knowledge, presently has no faculty member
who is expert in the psychological, social, and aesthetic aspects
of videoconferencing, I will consider all Penn staff and faculty
members who are involved with videoconferencing in any way to
be honorary extended members of my dissertation committee. I do
not wish to pursue an off-campus scholar of videoconferencing for
my dissertation committee, as there is already one outside expert
on my committee: Dr. Paul Greene, a south India performance scholar
who received his Ph.D. from Penn Anthropopolgy in 1995, and who
is presently teaching at Penn State U. (Media campus). Dr. Greene
is an ethnomusicologist and writes about, among other things, issues
involving music and communication technology.
I am very grateful to the University for having recently awarded
to me a Penfield Fellowship, which will fund the first year of
my two-year dissertation-research project. (I will be living in
Tamilnadu for approximately six months before and six months after
the stay in the mountain village.) The fieldwork and dissertation
are proposed in further detail at
Below are titles and website addresses of some of my writings
about videoconferencing. I am hoping that this material has been,
and might continue to be, useful to Penn. As mentioned, I will
always be at the University's service.
"Videoconferencing at the University of Pennsylvania (Fall 1998)"
"Principles of Videoconferencing"
"Videoconferencing and Memory of Previous Media"
"Videoconferencing for Folklorists"
Abstract of paper presented at the 1999 annual meeting
of the American Folklore Society.