RAP and the outside world
RAP could have been password-protected or limited to campus-based browsers, shielding student work from worldwide appraisal. In many cases, we would recommend such blocks; in fact, we restricted access to wikis accompanying two later seminars at Bowdoin. Screened in this way, students are not burdened with the exposure of their writing to readers having nothing to do with the class.
But with RAP the idea was to cultivate a bit of self-consciousness: to help students feel, experientially, uncertainties of dissemination akin to those shaping poetry of the romantic era. It is valuable, of course, to read about the many technological upheavals that make audience relations such an unpredictable, dominant topic for these poets. Essays on alterations in publication and address during the Romantic era by critics such as Lee Erickson, Jon Klancher, Steven Behrendt, Mary Favret, and Lucy Newlyn certainly enriched class discussion. But actually using new dissemination technology to uncertain ends allowed students to cultivate a historicist framework for the early nineteenth century as measured against the present day.
Working on a wiki, then, students were able to both investigate and experience what Newlyn terms, in the subtitle to her study Reading, Writing, and Romanticism, the "anxiety of reception" — and to measure the way such anxiety lines up against the reach of the world wide web.
Despite such pedagogical reasons for posting RAP on the web, thereby making it accessible to anyone online, the site cannot pretend to be authoritative or comprehensive. A visitor directed to this site by, say, Google (a search engine that has particularly valued the site) might feel like she has intruded, or entered someone else's conversation box. There is no way to join in, for outsiders to post along with students or react to their observations.
A dynamic list of 'most viewed' pages lives in the navigation column on the right of every page; by just browsing RAP, visitors (and the search engines that steer them) can rework the prominence of certain pages. But that's mild participation, to say the least.
In fact RAP is a tool for a specific class, with visitors relegated to a read-only role. To wish more from it may be a result of its promise: the world (ok, a tiny sliver of it) may or may not yearn to jump into a collaborative conversation about British romanticism. Extending wiki interaction to a much wider community of users could be problematic, but it certainly has been done in other contexts (see, for example, Wikipedia). Use of this software by a humanities-based community outside of a classroom would be interesting, but RAP is not that application. RAP remains an archive of work done by one class, and thus it is probably most of interest as a pedagogical experiment.
That said, the work that these eight students did becomes exemplary because of the visibility of this site; it can be framed as representative of college-level engagement with romantic texts. It's very conceivable that another student in, say, Australia doing a report on Ode to a Nightingale might regard thoughts she stumbles across on RAP as authoritative. We've actually already experienced a certain 'loop back' effect, in which a Bowdoin student, citing an essay the instructor coded and posted for a student at Berkeley some years back, cited the Berkeley essay as a source, unaware that it was the work of a peer. This citation served us as vivid evidence that information online is not intrinsically authoritative and must all the more be appraised. At any rate RAP is labeled as work generated at Bowdoin College by students, and disseminates across the internet as such.