The Academic GIF

GIF from In the Mood for Love

I wrote several months ago about the experience of working alongside UMW’s Chinese History scholar Sue Fernsebner to start imagining how she might integrate animated GIFs into a curriculum centered around film analysis. I tongue-and-cheek referred to it as GIFiculum, or GIF as curriculum. Sue has been doing some serious work on this front, and she recently emailed me about how she will be re-structuring her Chinese History through Film course to make the GIF work central to the film analysis in the final paper. Framing it, to use Sue’s words, as “an exercise in visual and thematic analysis.” How cool is this?

A few of us from DTLT will be heading to her class around mid-semester to run a workshop for the students on creating GIFs. This is something Andy Rush and I did last semester and it was a blast. There will also be a GIF Awards ceremony the final week of the course to collectively analyze and discuss what makes an effective “visual and thematic analysis” in this medium.

What’s so cool about this for me is that all that play around the GIFs that was part of the ds106 open course/communty over the past few years could easily have been written off by faculty as a waste of time. So to see it being thoughtfully integrated into a history curriculum that reinforces some of the basic elements of visual literacy and reading media is awesome. This is exactly what we should be be doing as an intellectual community, and with faculty like Sue Fernsebner there’s no reason it can’t be a lot of fun! This is very good omen to start the Spring semester.

What’s more, given that Sue has an extremely popular Tumblr about Chinese Culture and History, I would imagine the next iteration of this course might be to open it up for broader feedback on students’ work as well as an invitation for GIF analysis from the web at large. This course would be a brilliant candidate for a ds106-like course hub that bleeds onto the web ins ome pwoerful ways. Who doesn’t like to watch, learn, and share about film?

FInally, this semester there are some excellent new films on the syllabus: Happy Together (1987), Devils on the Doorstep (2000), In the Mood for Love (2000). It should be an amazing class—Sue Fernsebner is the real deal Holyfield!

In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share… you know what they did? They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.


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5 Responses to The Academic GIF

  1. Mariana Funes says:


    What and incredible development. Do video the class you will give to the students? I imagine that it will be a self contained class with the whole process. Would be awesome to have available for DS106? Also love this definition ‘an exercise in visual and thematic analysis’ – I absolutely see it. Picking the moment, selecting the frames, the speed of each frame…we are using certain unconscious aesthetic criteria when we choose all this and more for each gif. And what about MBS when he chooses how to tile the gif, the size of the tiles…

    Thanks for this – appeals to the academic in me: I am not ‘just’ having fun when I gif my evenings away I am engaging in visual and thematic analysis. I knew there was a point to this addiction 🙂

  2. Bryan says:

    Seriously how cool is this? Wow. Would be fun to work this into some history projects in Talons this spring. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Reverend says:

    Just like you, her framing of the GIF is really cool. GThat’s the thing about working within a networkers of researchers and teachers, they think abotu this stuff and remind you that works and frames do matter. I lvoe it.

    Now it’s your turn to share what you do. You know I am a BIG FAN!

  4. Pingback: 106 drop in » Blog Archive » But is Gif Art?

  5. MBS says:

    Just found this post Jim and I can’t wait to see how this pans out in the classroom. One of my favorite readings of film through the GIF are the Full Movie GIFs on Reddit. It takes an incredibly close reading of a film to select the 300-400 frames to represent the entire narrative.

    I’ve started working on Psycho to make my first FullMovieGIF (the subReddit has no Hitchcock!), and I immediately started to pick up on things not previously noticed. Quick example was Marion Crane speaking about respectability while buttoning her blouse in the opening hotel tryst scene. I would never have made the connection between that line and her action if I hadn’t been looking for the perfect frames to represent that scene.

    And then there’s this crazy project which is still in-progress, creating 54 GIFs to represent the 54 shots in the infamous shower scene. I’m trying to carver out time and compare my reading of the scene with Philip J. Skerry’s Psycho In the Shower, exhaustive cut-by-cut analysis.

    Please update us with Sue’s progress at some point. I’m really intrigued!

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