Digital Humanities project focuses on digital literacy with BookTok Collective

· 3 min read

Digital Humanities project focuses on digital literacy with BookTok Collective

DH Fellow, Hanna Varilek, talks to CDRH staff about her project, The BookTok Collective.
DH fellow Hanna Varilek talks to CDRH staff about her project, The BookTok Collective.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln student Hanna Varilek spent the summer as a Digital Humanities Summer Fellow building her project The BookTok Collective — an interactive website that highlights BookTok content creators’ valuable contributions for inspiring a new generation of readers and writers worldwide.

Entering the second year of her master’s degree in English, Varilek explained that her research focuses on digital literacy as well as literacy sponsorship that entails BookTok creators thinking creatively to promote literacy to their audiences. Varilek broadly described literacy sponsorship as people or entities — like a library — that promote and support reading and writing.

BookTok is a digital literacy sub-community on the social media platform TikTok where creators and consumers discuss literature. Varilek, a BookTok video creator herself, used her resources as a digital humanities fellow to elevate the impactful work being done by the diverse world of BookTok’s creators through the BookTok Collective.

“It’s important to me that I reach out to creators who I believe have a substantial amount of content that reflects the multitude of conversations and concepts that have circulated and continue to circulate on BookTok,” Varilek said.

The BookTok Collective will recognize the digital community’s potential for promoting literacy and cultivating creative ways of thinking about literacy sponsorship, oppressive algorithms, and the ongoing debate of literacy versus orality. The Collective will also potentially become a vehicle to preserve some of the content of the BookTok community.

Varilek is incorporating creators who directly act as literacy sponsors, particularly with videos that persuade viewers and followers to support marginalized authors and creators. She strives for her website to adequately reflect the vibrant BookTok community that comprises creators of all races, ethnicities, genders and more.

“BookTok is what ultimately inspired me to return to academia and purse an MA degree,” Varilek said.

In addition to Varilek, three Nebraska doctoral students participated in the Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship program: Samantha Gilmore, Mackayla Kelsey and Makena Nail. Their digital humanities projects focused on building a digital edition of a nineteenth-century periodical, designing an emerging media arts toolkit for teachers, and analyzing United States book banning over time.

In the program, the students are dedicated researchers who get to experience collaboration and engage in cross-disciplinary work to build humanities-engaged digital content. Under the direction of Carrie Heitman, associate director at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities Associate, the fellowship offers a stipend to select Nebraska U graduate students to focus on their own digital humanities projects.

As the only master’s student in the group, Varilek said the program has provided her the opportunity to exchange ideas and absorb intellectual abilities from the other fellows. Being able to work together with her associate fellows every day was a wonderful experience during Varilek’s involvement.

“I’ve learned really well how to communicate what it is I’m working on and get a really good elevator pitch going for how to communicate my ideas and my project,” Varilek said. “I would not be where I am today without this wonderful community, and I hope that in building the BookTok Collective I can further inspire others as well.”

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