David  McConeghy

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I started as an engineer at Duke in 1999. I decided I hated math, so I fled to the Department of Religion, where I found I was fascinated by sacred architecture, religious theory, and sacred space. (Not to mention religion and film, literature, music, and most other forms of popular culture.) I retained, oddly enough, quite a bit of the spatial interest that had led me to engineering in the first place. Even as I abandoned the math (and chemistry and calculus), I actually tried to keep some of the coding and computer science. Too bad I'm 10+ years out of date now.

I continued these interests in master's work at Miami University--focusing on Buddhist temples in India, Burma, Nepal, and Thailand, which I had learned about during a fall studying abroad in 2001. I also gained a love of travel and photography during this period. I can hardly go anywhere without some kind of camera now, and I'm always trying to plan the next exotic getaway.

As a graduate TA at Miami I found that I may love teaching even more than learning about religion. For me it was easier to get lost planning lessons and class exercises than it was getting lost in the archives. You can't always do field work, right? So I pressed on, moving to Santa Barbara to continue Ph.D. work at UCSB, specializing in 20th century American Religious History. I needed a stronger theoretical background for my work with sacred space, and the interdisciplinary approach of their Department of Religious Studies was the right kind of crucible to productively temper my enthusiasm for teaching with a healthy dose of research and method.

Now I'm about 6 months from finishing my dissertation on the spatial strategies that evangelical spiritual warriors us to fight cosmic battles against the forces of Satan. These strategies don't fit well within existing sacred space models, so my work tries to explain why there is a gap between practice and theory and what might be needed to bridge it.

  • Gaming in the Classroom

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    I’m an enormous fan of games of all types–word, board, computer, sport, team-building, card, theater–but finding inventive ways to integrate them into the (history) classroom is challenging.

    Background: I’m thinking specifically of the work of Jane McGonigal as in her work Reality is Broken and in this TED talk. While this is very well trodden ground at the primary school level, it feels underused still in higher education. But the educational possibilities of creating or playing games are easy to see:

    • My friend Emmanuel Schanzer teaches math by having students code computer games through his program, Bootstrap.
    • A colleague who teaches government at the local high school uses Diplomacy with his advanced students to demonstrate the give and take of international diplomacy.
    • History’s lessons were the inspiration for recent kickstarters on election rigging (Tammany Hall) and the Salem witch craft trials (Salem).
    • AAA video game releases use extensive historical elements to add depth to the gaming experience as in the Assassin’s Creed Series.

    Let’s have a session where we brainstorm ways to take advantage of gaming’s possibilities for learning.

    We can do this as a TALK session (discuss how, why, and when to introduce gaming and brainstorm games that would be appropriate for our teaching areas), a PLAY session (where myself and others can demonstrate simple games that can be extrapolated for specific pedagogical lessons), or a MAKE session (if folks have ideas about specific things they’d like to turn into games).

  • Twitter: Primary Source & Public Scholarship

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    Twitter is the epitome of risk/reward for scholars working with contemporary materials:

    Rewards?  It is a living, evolving archive that captures a diverse range of perspectives on contemporary events. The archive is public, easily accessible, and open for statistic manipulation and study.

    Risks? Twitter is a privately-owned company whose motivations are not synonymous with archivists, scholars, or the academy. Moreover, scholars interested in manipulating tweets must learn to digitally interface with the Twitter API and then must turn elsewhere, like Google Spreadsheets, to store and study their data.

    First, I’m interested in the ethics of scholarship and the public life of academics on platforms like Twitter. As scholars, how and where do we draw the lines about using Twitter as material for our research. Are we guided solely by own our academic obligations (IRBs)? What role do the legal and extra-legal rights of Twitter and its users play for us? What if we are “publishing” our introductory research online (e.g., on a personal or professional blog)? Do we owe our Twitter subjects an invitation to see themselves in our work? Should that invitation be made from within Twitter?

    Second, I’m interested in the technological demands of working with Twitter. How does one manage the technical challenges of an ever-growing archive (e.g., fed by daily automatic calls to Twitter that are placed in spreadsheets)? What are the limits of the documentation with Twitter? What are the emerging citation practices and writing conventions for intensive studies of material from Twitter?

    I can see this going in a few different directions. Some of this ground has been covered before, as in Jeffrey McClurken’s 2009 THATCamp on “Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events.” The interest there seemed to be documenting ‘significant events’ as they happened to preserve them. My interests differ in that I’m hoping to discuss Twitter as a kind of already preserved site, if one knows how to access it. That may just be nitpicking.

    This could also easily be split in two (a TEACH/MAKE session on the technical aspects of using/manipulating the Twitter API with Google scripts and a broader conversation about ethics and public scholarship on Twitter and other social media). I am comfortable facilitating a discussion, but I’m less comfortable being the only technical guru directing a teach/make session. If things went horribly wrong with the Google scripts (as they sometimes do) I might not have to skills to fix them on the fly. A technical buddy would be fantastic to make sure things don’t go too awry.

    Either of these sound like something you’d fancy?

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