Learning from YouTube

Case Study #5

Project Title: ‘Learning from YouTube’


Principals: Alex Juhasz & Craig Dietrich (designer)

What is It:
Learning from YouTube includes a carefully designed and organized online collection of YouTube videos, texts, and links published by MIT Press as a “book” using the Scalar digital platform. As the site splash page indicates, “YouTube is the subject, form, method, problem and solution of this video-book.” The searchable project includes 16 sequenced YouTours, 22 tags, and approximately 250 “texteos.” A texteo is defined as “A page in this publication that expresses meaning through the integration of design, written text, and video (text+video=texteo).” The texteos themselves were produced by Juhasz and her students as part of a class called “Learning from YouTube,” and as part of Juhasz’s concurrent and subsequent publication project. They include both “live blogs” and “captured reflections.” Most offer analysis of YouTube tropes, themes, and communities. Additional texteos offer metacommentary on the class experience, on composing in and for YouTube, and on critique of the emergent form and its social, cultural, and political effects. The video-book project functions as both an experiment in multimodal authorship which attempts to engage the object of inquiry in the terms of its production, and as documentation of a particular pedagogical moment and process for the primary author and her students. It was supported by NEH and Mellon and developed in part through a Vectors Summer Institute.

Abstract: (from the MIT Press catalogue)

Issues Raised:

  • Is it a book? Should it count as one? Why or why not? (MIT thinks it is one, and the primary author argues it should be considered one)
  • How does such a project compare to other forms of scholarly output in terms of depth, complexity, rigor, time spent, etc.?
  • What are the standards for review of a somewhat novel form intentionally in dialog with a specific media formation (in this case, the YouTube phenomenon)?
  • Collaborative authorship – who did what? What counts as the primary author’s achievement? Can that be determined?
  • Are technical affordances a factor in evaluation? If so, how?
  • Who is qualified to evaluate the work within a department or program?
  • Content includes documentation of substantial student work and pedagogical documentation, as well as media analysis and design by the author – are all of these factors equally relevant as “research” for departmental and institutional purposes?
  • How was it supported? Do internal and external grants and other forms of external validation(such as its selection for long-term sustainability) factor into evaluation?
  • What advice would be appropriate to give junior scholars interested in pursuing such work?


Authorship Statement: (from Juhasz)
I believe that scholarly work about the internet/databases should reside within these formats for political and formal reasons so that they can make a critical intervention into Internet culture (thereby modeling the internet we’d like to see), within and using the vernaculars they are describing, and without trans-coding or translation (i.e. describing videos). Also, a good deal of my argument is made in video/design not just in text as is true for YouTube, the thing/place/mode I study.

The work was supported by an NEH summer humanities residency at Vectors, and then their ongoing technical support (itself supported by the Mellon as part of a grant to think about academic publishing online). I wrote it, but also designed and implemented it with a really skilled team who were themselves financially supported.

To be properly evaluated readers need to be conversant with new media forms, and open to experimentation and play. My readers for the press were carefully selected to have these skills and interests. Regular day-to-day professors would need me to introduce them to the project and given them a brief walk through to be able to “get it.”: http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/learningfromyoutube/texteo.php?composite=217&tour=21

Tenure and Promotion Considerations:

Alexandra Juhasz is Professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College, Claremont, California.
(from Juhasz)

I write and think a lot about these issues [tenure and promotion], and often suggest that the reason I could experiment in this way is that I am already Full and have no more promotions to go (and have already written other “real” books already). Furthermore, I am in a school and department that values a variety of scholarly outputs, so the case is easier where I work (something I have worked to produce across my stay at Pitzer). I bemoan this as a major problem in that young scholars should be the ones taking risks, leading fields, and being inventive.

Or in a nutshell:
if I was coming up for promotion I would list it as a book.

From Juhasz’s CV:
Books Juhasz, p. 2
AIDS TV: Identity, Community and Alternative Video (Duke University Press, 1995).
Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2001).
F is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing, ed. with Jesse Lerner
(University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
Learning from YouTube (The MIT Press, 2011).
Blackwell Companions to Film Studies: Documentary and Documentary Histories. Co-editor with Alisa Lebow (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Press, forthcoming 2013/15).
Sisters in the Life: 25 Years of Out African American Lesbian Mediamaking (1986 – 2011), Co-editor with Yvonne Welbon (under contract consideration, Routledge).

(Juhasz) You could use some of my writing about these matters (from the video-book itself): i.e.





sponsored by the MLA Committee on Information Technology