Last night, the Gustatory Romanticists met for a dinner party and attempted to adhere to the "Man of Taste" virtues and follow the decorum dictated by our various cookery and social experts. (Food is always an incredible way to gather people.) After we dined on red-wine braised short ribs, challah bread, mango salad, black bean salad, apple butter & ginger cookies, egg salad, mashed potatoes, some good wine, we moved to the eggnog, brownies, and a synopsis of final projects.
Though this graduate course attempt to infuse a little of Digital Humanities with a GIS/mapping collaborative project (that fell through), it turns out that Digital Humanities methodologies were already natural to these graduate students. One participant produced a short video of Presumption (very well acted and produced!), another studied Angelica's Ladies Library (with the help of UC Boulder's Kirstyn Leuner and Google Books), another looked at erotica and pornography (but I won't show you those images!), another focused on botany and women, several others used research from various disciplines (theology, child psychology, etc.).
After this super fabulous array of projects was thoroughly discussed, I ventured to query them about other types of courses, perhaps even one on late 20th-21st Century writing. Anne Carson's Nox and Jonathan Safron Foer's Tree of Codes came up; after a quick look at the visual aspects of these books, we talked about a class that focused on history of the book to ground discussions about these two texts. Hmmm..... They also asked for a graduate course on the Gothic, or to take an undergraduate course on the Gothic. Since I'm teaching that course now and it won't come back for rotation for another 2 years, it looks like they're on their own. Our graduate program struggles somewhat with the number of courses we can offer; this means it's unlikely we could hold a course on the Gothic. Hmm....but it's got me thinking.
We've concluded our semester in this crowd-sourced graduate course on Romanticism, gustatory pleasure, aesthetics, and travel. It was a wild ride. But, I found that we lapsed into the old readings and the old paradigms fairly quickly. The mapping assignment went away because I couldn't find us a computer lab. And, the participants really, really enjoyed literature that I thought they would surely hate (The Prelude, The Vindications, for example!).
In the end, I realize that I could have offered them a course on Gothic Romanticism or Feminist Romanticism to their delight (hindsight, you know). But, we did do something that I've never done before: This semester, I began inviting students to my apartment for dinners. A regular group of students is doing some non-credit bearing work on the Beard-stair Project. I cook for them; they eat; we talk. Worked well. So I decided to try it with our Romantics participants -- after all, most of the literature that we're reading extols the virtues of communal food consumption.
I introduced the class to my personal collection of British and American literary annuals and their precursors. Most of them had already visited our Special Collections and heard me chat about history of the book and New Historicism as methodologies for some intriguing research.
We spent an evening noshing in my apartment and gathered around my coffee table littered with only half of my private collection. The only imperative was to read, wander, query through the books and talk to one another. To focus some of their searching, I supplied them with the Faxon and Boyle bibliographies (one with a list of authors, the other with bibliographic descriptions of literary annuals). They read through my PBSA article femininity and the material object as well as a draft of my forthcoming collection of Gothic short stories from British literary annuals. I lamented the fact that we don’t have an adequate database of all the poetry, fiction, non-fiction, images, title pages, authors, publishers, etc. of the literary annuals. Looking at the books sitting on my coffee table was daunting when I asked them to dig in. Where do they start?
We used the Poetess Archive Database and the Forget Me Not Archive to search for famous authors or other poetry of the same theme. One student found a very unflattering engraving of Byron (which dashed all of their thoughts about his attractiveness). Others found references to Shakespeare intriguing within a severely truncated playbook of Romantic-era productions. Yet others found silly poetry and insipid engravings. But, we were traversing these literary annuals as a moment to decipher this concept of aesthetics, taste, pleasure, leisure in the Romantic Era. Who decides the literariness of Literature? Are there some gems buried in the annuals? (My answer is, yes, unequivocally.) And what’s the difference between reading these poems and writings in an anthology versus read them in their original? (We had to haul in extra light so everyone could read.)
I’m not quite sure how they perceived that day’s gathering or the efficacy of handling this type of collection. But, the final projects (as they’ve hinted at so far) are really interesting, far-reaching, exploratory, and a good portion delving into New Historicism strategies coupled with close readings. And a good time was had by all....