- Lessons from the “City of Print”
Across eras, editors and writers in New York City have disseminated news and produced creative content in a plethora of publications, covering a wide range of political, social, and aesthetic concerns. This history served as the focus of an NEH Summer Institute “City of Print: New York and the Periodical Press,” in which all three of us participated in June 2015 (Mark Noonan serving as its Director). That summer, twenty-five faculty participants, in seminars and site visits, came to better understand the evolution of the New York periodical press, the shaping of readerships and genres, and the significance of place and space in the production of periodical literature.
The second iteration of the institute—this time fully online—transpired in June 2020, when matters of space, in its many manifestations, were suddenly under intense scrutiny. Owing to the pandemic, New York, like other urban centers, lost its cityness. Its theaters, restaurants, and sports venues were shuttered. Times Square became silent. The pandemic laid bare already existent disparities in New York and beyond, as some left the city for second homes, some were designated essential workers, while others had little option but to shelter in place, often in crowded conditions.
In May another pandemic—this one not a novel virus but rather our nation’s deeply entrenched anti-Black racism—inflicted its pain with the murder of George Floyd. The need to protest for Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the many victims of anti-Black racism who preceded them recently and throughout our history became more urgent than shelter-in-place guidelines for hundreds of thousands of people across the [End Page 117] nation, who brought renewed attention to the failure of the criminal justice system to serve and protect Black lives.
Anxiety, unrest, and rightful anger served as the backdrop to “City of Print” 2020, informing our Zoom discussion sessions, held each morning and afternoon for two weeks, from June 22 to July 3. Though far away from each other and our beloved New York streets and archives, our group forged a communal bond in sharing our thoughts and grievances. Together we pondered the history of progressive journalism and the ebb and flow of press liberty, the meaning of urban space when that space is no longer accessible, the “new” space of virtual reality, as well as issues of access and inclusion relating to technology, education, and democracy itself. We also wrestled with our roles as educators in the context of growing attacks from the Trump Administration on expertise and fact-based evidence, as well as decades of decision-making that have underfunded schools and universities. We grappled with ways in which that context has brought an impossible mix of ethical and financial considerations to our academic institutions, as we prepared for various methods of delivering our courses before a vaccine makes it safer to do so in the classroom.
Amidst these tensions and challenges, “City of Print” participants modeled how a fully online program could be implemented successfully. Before the institute, participants had access to a rich and varied reading list in Zotero and were given clear instructions as to scheduling and expectations. The “City of Print” site (cityofprint.com) offered links to pre-taped lectures (with accompanying discussion boards), virtual walking tours of New York neighborhoods, a blog, and a vast store of digital resources. The site also provided Zoom links for synchronous group discussion sessions that were meant to last sixty minutes but often went on for much longer.
In addition to informing and inspiring our research, our institute introduced innovative strategies and approaches for teaching in the remote classroom. Collectively, we learned how to deliver online education, developing assignments and resources that would prove relevant to students in our new era defined by COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, distrust of science and the media, and related concerns. In this essay, we hope to share how our experiences at the “City of Print” institute influenced our pedagogical practices as we prepare to deliver virtual and hybrid classroom models in the fall.
Teaching undergraduate literature courses at Pace University...