What I’m Working On: Ashanka Kumari

the-man-behind-the-curtain-oBesides acting as the woman behind the curtain of this series, I am, like others have said, working on several different research and teaching projects spanning my interests in multimodal composition and pedagogy, digital humanities, and the intersections among identity studies, popular culture, and social media:

  • I’m working on lesson planning for DMA with Caitlin Ray and Brit Thompson aka “Team Pedagogy.” We’re preparing for this summer’s games and entertainment themed camp with the rest of the 2016 DMA Team: Michelle Day, Jessica Newman, and Andrea Olinger (see Megan Hartline’s post and this article).
  • I’m working on getting MASH: A Journal of Media, Arts, and Humanities off the ground with Rick Wysocki and Patrick Danner (see Rick’s post).
  • I’m working on creating animated spectral images for Livingstone Online, a digital humanities archival project surrounding the writings of 19th century explorer David Livingstone. These images will be part of my presentation at the upcoming Digital Humanities 2016 conference in Kraków, Poland in July.
  • I’m working on wrapping up both the print and online editions of this year’s Cardinal Compositions with Michael Baumann, Khirsten Echols, Mariah Douglas, and Steve Smith.

DSC_0146-9These are a few highlights of my research/teaching projects outside of coursework this semester. For the remainder of this piece and because it’s that time of the semester, I want to focus on the final projects for coursework I’m wrapping up this spring.

For Bronwyn Williams’ English 603: Genre: Film, Theory, & Practice course, I am working on a comparative analysis of four critically acclaimed Bollywood films in the last 20 years: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham (2001), My Name is Khan (2010), and Dilwale (2015). These films span multiple genres under the “Bollywood musical” umbrella and star the same two leads (Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol). Here, I’m most interested in the representations of Indian identity and culture present in these films. Do Indian cultural representations change over time to reflect real-world societal and cultural changes? I’m thinking a lot about the active discussions on women’s rights in India, for instance. These movies are still primarily male dominated in terms of how they showcase romantic/marital/household life, and I hope to argue whether these representations are realistic indicators of the shifts in Indian culture. I hope to include vignettes of my own experiences growing up in an Indian household and negotiating my own struggle with what it means to be a woman in this culture.

My Name is Khan (2010) also appears briefly in my “Adopt-a-Book” project for Beth Boehm’s English 681: Literature & Pedagogy course. For this project, I have adopted Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and am developing materials for an imagined “Special Topics in American Literature: Literature of 9/11” course. Putting together the annotated bibliography and syllabus are ways that I am trying to work toward the literary area I hope to pursue for my SLA exam next year.

And, last but not least, for Stephen Schneider’s English 687: Rhetoric of Social Movements course, I am working on two projects:

  • A collaborative project mapping women’s rights in Louisville with Laura Matravers, Layne Gordon, and Michelle Day. We’re focusing on two narratives: one surrounding women’s suffrage as it took place at sites on 4th Street from 1881-1913; and the other on more contemporary movements around women’s sex(uality) and sexual exploitation. Ultimately, our maps and research narratives will live online for public consumption.
  • A keyword essay on “hashtag activism,” as I’m increasingly interested in the ways we engage through hashtags. I’m hoping to link this term to collective and public memory rhetorics of social movements and consider how this form of activism contributes to the multiple dimensions of remembering and historical accounts.

All of the above is messy—and that’s fine. What I’m working on is linking threads and narrowing my ideas to a future dissertation focus, to taking on the PhD identity, and most of all, to more writing, to continuing to do what I love.


Ashanka Kumari is a 1st-year doctoral student and fellow in our program and research assistant for the Livingstone Online and Spectral Imaging projects. She currently serves as the secretary and social media manager for the English Graduate Organization, secretary for the Minority Association of Graduate Students, and an editor of Cardinal CompositionsMASH: A Journal of Media, Arts, and Humanities, and Western American Literature journals.

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