Teaching Romanticism in a...Library?

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This past August I was hired by Emory University as a Mellon Fellow for their Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC). The Commons is funded by a grant, and is charged with increasing the opportunities for digital scholarship on campus. We also help develop two large-scale digital projects per semester. This semester, for example, we are involved in "Lynching in Georgia 1875-1930" (a project chronicling the many lynchings that took place in the state of Georgia) and "Commonwealth" (an update to the Postcolonial Theory website maintained by Emory University).

All of these developments are extremely exciting for me, and yet I have wrestled with the problem of what it means to teach Romanticism in my current position. My role as a Fellow doesn't cancel out my identity as a Romanticist. As one of my colleagues says "I'm a historian, who just happens to work in a library." Well, I am a Romanticist who just happens to work in a library. I don't teach formally, but I also feel that what it means to "teach" is being questioned in a University that simply hasn't recognized how radically social media has already changed education.

One of the things I mentioned in the job talk for my current position is that the role of the librarian has to change as well. The library is often seen as a place where knowledge is held, where professionals help students and academics find the knowledge they need. It's an important space, but a space nonetheless. What would it mean, I asked my audience, to think of the librarian as an advocate for digital scholarship? as someone who sits on dissertation committees or tenure and review boards? as someone who teaches?

I'm not someone who thinks that disciplinarity is over, yet I also feel that the future will force many of us to think of disciplinarity in novel ways. And I also feel that something dramatic happened in 2006 when Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig can created H-Bot, a computer that can answer basic history questions with Google. H-Bot, they claimed, makes multiple-choice tests obsolete.

So I write this post for two reasons. First, a provocation: what sort of role do teachers, and specifically teachers of Romanticism, take when many answers are available to students anytime and anywhere? Second, a reflection on my current delimma: what does it mean that I, a digital humanist and Romanticist working at the library, participate in the teaching of Romanticism? I hope to use the next series of blog posts, with conversations sparked along the way, to help answer that question.

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1 Comment

Roger, I was thinking

I was thinking yesterday, in a slanted way, about the questions you raise at the end of your post, especially the first one about a teacher's role in the age of Google answers. I sometimes ask for anonymous feedback from my students (especially in my Romanticism survey courses) to find out what kinds of review they'd like on conceptual terms, historical context, or approaches to reading. This time around, many of them asked for "more history" or for information on things like Blake's views on religion and Revolution. My sophomores and juniors have been reading _Marriage of Heaven and Hell_ and have been getting frustrated. I think this "eternal struggle" is pretty standard for one's first run-in with Blake's longer works, but it was interesting to think that my students so quickly wanted alleviate the tension, rather than to dwell in (im)possibility.

They could find this kind information on Google--pretty easily--if they took the time to look. Maybe they didn't have time (and as we approach the paper-crunch before Fall break, I'm willing to believe that) or they didn't know how to find this information or they wanted me to narrate it, filter it, digest it for them. On one hand, I do think it's my job to sketch Blake into some sort of historical, theoretical, literary field that is palatable and digestible for them. On the other hand (and this is the argument I perhaps too earnestly tried to perform of at the beginning of class yesterday), what would be the fun of me telling them Blake's views? (Not to mention he might rise up from his grave and haunt my small New England backyard, shouting, "Urizen! Urizen!") Though Blake scholars have long compared Blakean nodal logic to the web, I'm coming to wonder whether the teacher/professor/librarian should be not anti-context but anti-information?