Situated within the burgeoning interdisciplinary fields of health humanities and digital humanities, The Resemblage Project is a multimedia “text” that employs digital strategies to assemble and imaginatively re-present Scarborough’s stories of aging. The project is a critical intervention into Age Studies through arts-based research, based on the principle that all narratives are creative. The Resemblage Project thus serves as a platform for diverse, resonant modes of storytelling.
About Age Studies
Age Studies describes the critical study of age (the chronological number of years a person has lived); aging (the ongoing temporality of the body, including mental and physiological changes often associated with post-midlife); and older age (a vague, context-dependent designation generally starting at sixty-five years of age). As an interdisciplinary endeavour rooted in the arts and humanities, Age Studies differs from cognate fields (such as gerontology) that generally emphasize quantitative over qualitative methodologies. By contrast, Age Studies emphasizes creative and critical representations of the individual experience of age, aging, older age, and intergenerational relationships, using data and forms of knowledge that are not primarily quantitative or clinical.
The growth of Age Studies over the past forty years aligns with broader trends in arts- and humanities-based approaches to health, illness, (dis)ability, and embodiment (known as “medical” or “Health Humanities”). However, one limitation of Age Studies, as it is currently studied and taught, is its predominant focus on white, Western, female experience. While this has been pointed out before (see Baker, Chivers, and Hamraie), Age Studies has done little to reshape itself in response—a task made more challenging by the lack of textbooks and creative materials that would support that aim.
About Digital Humanities
Digital Humanities (DH) engages humanities methods and materials to “enchant” technical spaces. At its core, DH is about collaboration, creation and interpretation. Using technical tools, it tackles complex and diverse humanities topics through a range of methods, media styles and disruption of conventional procedures.
Discussions of older people’s relationships to digital life—when they occur—tend to focus on lack of access, social isolation, and vulnerability to online fraud (see, for example, important research at UofT’s TAGLab). However, humanities-based initiatives can expand the generative possibilities of older persons’ engagement with digital technologies.
Why Age Studies Needs Digital Humanities (and Vice-Versa)
Age Studies’ default settings of race, geography, and gender limit the scope of its study and clash with the experiences of an increasingly diverse student body. (Indeed, DH has faced similar criticism for its default whiteness.)
The launching of Canada’s first undergraduate Health Humanities program at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) highlights the need for a more expansive arena of practice for Age Studies in Canada. UTSC’s setting within Scarborough’s Malvern community prompts further vital questions: How can we ensure that Age Studies reflects—or at least resembles—the lived experiences of its learners in Scarborough and in the broader Canadian context? How to adapt, diversify, even decolonize Age Studies material, to make it a field that students and scholars can more meaningfully engage?
If Age Studies is to thrive, its stakeholders—not only scholarly audiences, but aging folks outside the academy as well—need critically and aesthetically provocative materials that address wide gaps between its core concepts and the plurality of aging stories, in the Scarborough community and beyond.
DH’s methods of participation and its nature of co-creation have especially liberating potential for traditionally marginalized subjects and experiences (Fraistat). Age Studies practitioners have argued that the powerful cultural narratives of old age as “decline” (Gullette) and “burden” (Warnes, Charise) produce and reflect dreadful, one dimensional portraits of aging. The multi-modal appeal of transmedia storytelling, as Jenkins, Maureen Wilson, and others have argued, has special appeal for the Millennial generation: a generation alternately portrayed as either the victims or perpetrators of widespread age discrimination in our own time.