A Digital Korl Woman

“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. Vol. 27, No. 2, 2017.

A Digital Korl Women was the first project that xtine burrough and Sabrina Starnaman produced together with students in Dr. Starnaman's Spring 2016 “Studies in Women’s Literature” course. We consider this project a pilot version of what became two larger projects: The Laboring Self, created to raise awareness with public audiences in museums and galleries, and Return to Sender, an artist-activist workshop that we have delivered on university campuses, with high school students at the Dallas Museum of Art, and at the Humanizing the Digital Conference (with a pedagogical focus as Conscious Machines) by way of the University of North Texas Onstead Institute. While working on our exhibitions and workshops in 2016-17, we wrote an article about the pilot classroom project, which was published in Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy in 2017.

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.

This article by xtine burrough and Sabrina Starnaman appears in Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy. Vol. 27, No. 2, 2017, pp. 121-141. JSTOR www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/trajincschped.27.2.0121