Forms of Scholarship: Multimodal


In our field, media studies, we take a cross-platform, comparative approach to studying various modes of communication. This comparative approach characterizes not only our subjects of study, but also our methods for producing that work, and our means of presenting its outcomes.We need to think about what technologies can serve us as research tools – as methods – and what can help us present our work in the most effective way possible. That’s in part what multimodal scholarship is about: thinking about how different media might allow you ask new research questions, engage your subject in new ways, and share your in-progress or finished work in ways that “do justice” to your subject and your argument, that give appropriate form to your content.

As media scholar Tara McPherson argues, researchers are more than “content providers”; they “fully engage with the platforms and tools of the digital era…. Who better [than media studies scholars] to reimagine the relationship of scholarly form to content than those who have devoted their careers to studying narrative structure, representation and meaning, or the aesthetics of visuality (and aurality)?” (120). “The multimodal humanist,” McPherson continues,

brings together databases, scholarly tools, networked writing, and peer-to-peer commentary while also leveraging the potential of visual and aural (and interactive) media that so dominate contemporary life… She aims to produce work that reconfigures the relationships among author, reader, and technology while investigating the computer simultaneously as a platform, a medium, and a visualization device. She thinks carefully about the relationship of form to content, expression to idea (120).

Engagement with these technologies as research tools “reorients the scholarly imagination,” she says, enables researchers to “understand their arguments and their objects of study differently, even better, when they approach them through multiple modalities and emergent and interconnected forms of literacy. The ability to deploy new experiential, emotional and even tactile aspects of argument and expression can open up fresh avenues of inquiry and research” (121).


What types of arguments might call for presentation in textual format, and which might best be presented in a video, a radio play, an interactive project, etc.? What are the affordances and limitations of each of these modalities of presentation? How do each of these formats serve as “interpretive platforms” that shape how we understand our research — even the questions we ask — and how others ultimately understand our shared conclusions?

FILM-end_thumb_w_580Media scholar-filmmaker Eric Faden found in film — particularly, the media stylo — a compelling means of making short, multimedia academic essays. Taking cues from Alexandre Austruc’s “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: Le Caméra Stylo,” he conceived of film and video as means of  thinking through theory, or creating media that simultaneously makes an argument about the moving image, while also critiquing its own process of production. He was thus able to devise an argumentative form that embodied the argument he put forward in his film’s content.

Because multimodal scholarship sometimes involves using copyrighted material in its production — in order to critique or comment on that material — we have to pay attention to issues of copyright and fair use. See the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ statement regarding fair use — which posits that scholars can use copyrighted material for “transformative” purposes, provided they use “only as much [of the source material] as necessary.” For various scenarios in which copyrighted material is used in the classroom or in student work, see Ewa McGrail’s “Copying Right and Copying Wrong…,” and for tips on how to use and cite photographs, see the Photo Credit Flowchart.

See also the “Short Guide to the Digital_Humanities,” on pp. 121 to 135, in on page 121, in Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner & Jeffrey Schnapp’s Digital_Humanities. For more on how to evaluate this work, see “Evaluating Multimodal Student Work.” And to find a community of multimodally-minded graduate students, check out HASTAC.


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Pia Jane Bijkerk, Yvette Van Boven & Erin Loechner,Photo Credit Flowchart, Reprinted on Frolic! (March 17, 2011).

Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner & Jeffrey Schnapp, Digital_Humanities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).

Center for Social Media, “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.”

Eric Faden, “A Manifesto for Critical Media” Mediascape (Spring 2008).

Shannon Mattern, “Evaluating Multimodal Student Work” Journal of Digital Humanities 1:4 (Fall 2012).

Ewa McGrail, “Copying Right and Copying Wrong with Web 2.0 Tools…” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 10:3 (2010).

Tara McPherson, “Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities” Cinema Journal 48:2 (Winter 2009): 119-123.

Society for Cinema and Media Studies, “Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Statement of Fair Use Best Practices for Media Studies Publishing” (2009).

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