- A Digital Korl Woman: Students and Workers Recover the Spirit of Life in the Iron Mills from the Digital Factory to the Classroom
- Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 27, Number 2, 2017
- pp. 121-141
- View Citation
In this article, we reflect on a class collaboration at the intersection of social justice, digital labor, technology, pedagogy, and literature. The participatory installation discussed in this article centers on the crowdsourced creation of a modern-day "korl woman," a statuesque icon created by a working-class character and interpreted by a doctor and an upper-management character in Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills (1861). The korl woman becomes the focal point for Davis's exploration of industrial labor practices, immigrant workers, labor and class, and the indomitability of artistic expression. In the classroom, the korl woman was reignited as the focal point for a twenty-first-century exploration of digital labor practices, crowdsourced workers, and artistic expression. We focus on a project made with undergraduate students in a "Studies in Women's Literature" course to produce a digital korl woman—a digitally fabricated installation made, in part, by crowdsourced workers on Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk website. Studying Davis's Life in the Iron Mills primed students to think critically about exploitative factory labor before we asked them to design Mechanical Turk jobs for a virtual workforce. In essence, we made the students complicit in the relationship between interpretation and digital production—they embedded them in the text. This activity transformed the classroom into an interdisciplinary space in which we mediated the text of Life in the Iron Mills across time and media.