The world of academia just got a little less flat.
While everyone was wishing one another a happy #StarWarsDay yesterday or enjoying #FCBD (that’s Free Comic Book Day for those who don’t get out much) the day previous, I'm guessing that considerably fewer were paying attention to what Nick Sousanis was doing at Teachers College, Columbia University.
He was defending his doctoral dissertation, written entirely in comic book form.
Writing a dissertation is challenging enough, but what Nick has undertaken is a step beyond challenging. His dissertation, “Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry into Learning in Many Dimensions,” uses visual narrative in a way that may cause a few traditionalists to raise a Spockian eyebrow, but his work and its particular form are an important contribution to academia.
As Sydni Dunn noted in her Chronicle article on Nick's dissertation earlier this year, his work is being recognized by other academics as part of an important development in the evolution of research at the doctoral level:
Sousanis’ work is just one example of this evolution, says Sidonie Smith, director of the Institute for the Humanities at University of Michigan, who is a former president of the Modern Language Association. Smith has also seen dissertations presented as series of articles, as public blogs, and as interactive digital projects, to name a few.
In earlier blogs I’ve provided K-12 teachers with a a rationale for comics in education and in other posts have discussed both why we should teach comics and how we can explain to fellow colleagues and administrators the reason they should be included in the curriculum.
Nick’s work should help to make such conversations easier.
Next time someone balks at your suggestion of choosing The Silence of Our Friends or Boxers & Saints for a unit on cultural conflict because "comics aren’t academic," show them Nick’s dissertation and tell them that the 21st century has arrived and that they should put down their copy of Martin Chuzzlewit and come outside and play!
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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