COPLACDigital: Constructing Identities and Making Sense of our Surroundings.

Course Description: In the light of increased sensitivities towards global threats, people are afraid of strangers. This course aims to give students the time and tools to reflect upon the meaning of “strange.” How is strangeness constructed? What is strange in one place at one time may not be considered strange elsewhere. How do we identify ourselves as being part of a particular culture and nation? What is familiar and what is alien to us and why? Through discussing these questions we can identify and explore larger issues, drawing from our respective local cultures. Course materials include film and short philosophical and literary texts. Students are welcomed from a wide variety of disciplines. They will venture out into their own communities to find local examples of strangeness and familiarity in the form of images, places, legends and stories, sayings, and history and see how the local fits in with larger narratives. This research will be used to create digital projects of “making strange” that will be part of the COPLACDigital site and provide a resource for thinking through the issues of strangeness.


Learning Contract

                                                               Learning Contract


                                                        Mana Abdi & Donald Hutchins


                                                    Drs Yvonne Franke & Janet Wesselius

                                                        Making Strange in America

                                            A COPLAC Digital Humanities Project

                                                                Mission Statement

It is our goal to further our understanding of the American perspective of strangeness by analyzing and engaging various aspects of “normal” and “alternative” cultural forms. We will actively observe and reflect on the inter-workings of our daily routine and their socio-cultural implications, and then will immerse ourselves in alternative manners in order to compare the perspectives. Afterward, we will compare our findings and deduce the similarities and differences, and extrapolate a deeper lesson relating to strangeness in our culture. For example, the two of us have different religious views. We will analyze our own individually, and then will explore an alternative or alternatives; then reflect on our experience. We will then bridge our experiences with the underlying lesson/moral/findings/etc. By first framing our pursuit in our personal realm, we set the standard by which we can measure strange. Our alternative, then, exemplifies key aspects of both perspectives, which brings out the strangeness in them both; allowing us to focus in, quantify and qualify those qualities. From there, our experiences will be meshed, in a sort of peer-review, where the common particulars will ideally provide us with a universal foundation for understanding the phenomena of “strangeness”.


Our research will entail interdisciplinary collaboration, potentially including faculty, student, and community members from our campus and the surrounding areas. We will also utilize course materials, personal and campus resources, including but not limited to campus databases, library stacks, personal experiences and materials, and audiovisuals(i.e. art or media). We may also employ a journalistic style interview to obtain information, which may require the use of audio recording and/or word editing resources. Further, we may also utilize video or audio in various forms(music, art, video, podcast, etc.), which would either require audio/visual recording and editing software or permission from the owners of original materials. As we move forward, some resources may change and ideas for easier alternatives may arise that alter the route we take to achieve our goals.

24 Feb 2017: Learning contract due; “Who’re You?” exercise(pick your brain for starting points)

This piece contextualizes who we “are” since no one truly knows us– possibly including ourselves.

27 Feb – 5 Mar 2017: Outline and draft “You” from before college– highlight points of strangeness

6 – 12 Mar 2017: Brainstorm and collaborate for “College Strangeness” exercise

13 – 19 Mar 2017: “College Strangeness” exercise; alternatives, interviews, and results

This exercise refers to degree that our expectations pre-college were/were not met throughout our service.

20 – 26 Mar 2017: Bridge pre- and post- college Strangeness– “what does it all mean to you, for you?”

27 Mar – 2 Apr 2017: Begin meshing/peer-review process; begin to illustrate or highlight universalities

3 – 9 Apr 2017: Conclude and finalize research findings; condense information in business report format

10 – 16 Apr 2017: Finalize report and findings; be sure data is organized and placed properly

17 – 25 Apr 2017: Final editing/instructor feedback (presentation?)

26 April 2017: Last day of class: Presentation(?)

Strangeness by Donald Hutchins IV


Is the experience of

imposing our preconceived notions

upon that which is, for the first time, relating

with our sense of the world and

our place in it.


is your conscience

scouring the stacks of your

past selves and relations with the

world, looking for the color or shape that

lie before your unexpecting, virgin eyes

 blinding your senses as your inner

self calls you to say there’s

nothing here;

“that is



is the barrier we appropriate

to defend our habits

from change.


is the box in the

hall closet for deposit

of the differences we wish

not to talk about when

certain folks are

over for tea

only the contents

are a human being;

they encompass our

inner meanings and

isolated feelings of

the way all these

social dealings


our place and taste

in our homes and bodies.


blames a concept,

an interchangeable face

or fact of mob mentality

with no peer-review

and nothing to

say to you

because another


would be

different than

imposing our biases

on what we see before us

when our conscience is confronted

with something new, but just ignores us

and paints the image with a question mark face

but with angry eyebrows to perpetuate hate so

it’s easier to make fates for kids and elders

in poor states, while another turns the

tide to desecrate all other’s faiths

so they never really ever

feel home in this



is the normalization

of victimization through

unconscious habituation of

inaction through disinterest of

the innate person and principles of

their being and place, value, meaning in

the world, as a vast interconnected system

of the same beings at various degrees

frequencies, and vibrations of

energy and raw potential

for just about



is the dualism of

our life in the cosmos,

and the paradoxes.


is the opposite

of seeing the grass

greener on the other side

or the glitter of gold

as the sun shines

bright and



occurs when we

are incapable of

facing the unknown

without the habit of

judgement, founded

in the known, jumps

before the urge to

seize an opportunity

to learn and see,

once again,


Making sense of the strangeness

In the process of making sense of the strangeness that surrounds us, one must ask what is being “normal American”  and proceed to ask is that the normal that they want to be part of. Depending who you ask, whether they be female, male, old, young, black, white religious, atheist, Republican, Democrats It is guaranteed that one will get a variety of different answers. In this guarantee of a variety of different answers is also the things that often lead us to create categories such as “Us vs. them” mentality, Social norms, and most importantly the ability to impose an identity on others. The “Us vs Them” mentality prevents us from expanding our horizon and circle of people. Social norms are designed to make us feel comfortable with the positions that society made us believe we belong in. Granted the severity of this differentiates but as human beings we all have the tendency to fear what we do not know so imposing identities makes feel better about our placement in the world. At any given time someone is being asked to separate, conform and accept by others and often these demands are being done by people who genuinely believe they are doing what is in our best interest and this is the problem.We pretend that we know people even though we realize as human being we are incredibly complicated. No two souls could ever have the same stories so if we want to better understand all the things that appear strange to us, let’s first be okay with the fact that strangeness is normal. Hopefully, by normalizing the things we find strange we will be able to not demand other to separate, conform and accepted things the way in which we perceived them to be “normal”.  In doing this project I realized that I’ve found comfort in knowing that I exist where I am, always between communities, always between places.