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New Graduate Course Help

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This Fall, I'm teaching a graduate course in Romanticism. The last time I offered a graduate course (2 years ago on William Wordsworth), it was cancelled for low enrollment (only 7 signed up; I needed at least 10). This means that an entire generation of our MA graduate students haven't had any Romantic-era literature for their comprehensive exams. (The last class I taught in the graduate program was in 2008 and that was on Madness & Romanticism, based on an article I wrote for an Alexander Street Press database.) Most of the time, I hear them say that they had a Romantic-era survey in undergrad and don't need a grad course in Blake, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, or Coleridge to pass the exams. Grad courses specifically do not cater to the comprehensive exams, but it's been difficult erasing this culture from our program.  They will take a Victorian course and read all of Middlemarch and 3 or 4 Dickens novels, but Romanticism falls flat. For the Fall, I have no shame; I will resort to bribery and pop culture-isms to attract students to this course.

Yes, dear Teaching Romanticism Collection, I am asking for your help. I want to teach a course on the development of aesthetics in Romantic-era literature -- based on the summer NEH seminar with Stephen Behrendt. The readings will be based on those from the seminar plus any travel diaries, travelogues, ships' manifestos, letters that involve this idea of travel. The title:

Eat, Look, Go": Romanticism, Aestheticism, and the Sensualism of Travel

All of the usual suspects appear in the primary reading (MWS, PBS, STC, WW, DW, MW) but who else? Any suggestions? Perhaps we could create a map of their travel (staying with the digital theme that I typically incorporate). Or maybe I should kick it old school and just have them read, interact with the literature.  I'm not quite sure how to get eating in there, too.

Any suggestions?

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The inheritance of classroom culture

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A recent episode of This American Life includes the account of David MacLean, who loses his memory in India. It's a terrific story for many reasons, and want to pick up on a detail that comes up along the way.

Having regained some of his memories and visited his family in Ohio, MacLean returns to his apartment in India.

I was alone, and lonelier than I thought I could be in a room filled with things that I had selected. There were books. I opened them and found my handwriting in the margins. Still nothing. I had read these books. And now I had to read them again. But why bother? If I lost my memory again, all that work would be futile.

I have a related feeling about undergraduate teaching, at the level of the class rather than of the individual. With greater and lesser degrees of tinkering, I use most of my syllabi at least twice, sometimes more. The first group of students and I spend a semester reading together, developing a slow-developing conversation in which we compile a set of shared readings of passages, understandings of how each person in the room reacts to texts, and so forth: a collective version of MacLean's marginalia, some of it recorded (in papers, message board conversations, and so forth), most of it not.

The next group of students, however, inherits none of that classroom culture, and to me, starting the new class feels like forgetting. I appreciate the pleasures of discoveries that feel new; for example, I love watching class after class find their own ways of talking about the narration of Wuthering Heights as a function of Lockwood's relationship to Ellen Dean. But must we forget everything a class has learned when the semester break comes? I wonder whether our courses can, like Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," recognize the wonder of "first looking" while also prizing the community implied by appreciating what has come before.

Our current practices enforce forgetting. Grinnell, for instance, is a Blackboard school; as far as I know, that software has no way to pass message board discussions from one group of students to another. Even if it could, institutional protections of student privacy would raise serious barriers to such sharing.

What, then, do I need to cultivate a new approach that allows both for new insight and for inherited classroom culture, that allows for the celebration of primary and secondary discovery?

My main answer is this: to be the teacher I want to be, I need to become a better computer programmer. I need to be able to create environments where students can record their learning, share it, build on it, structure it so that it welcomes and grows from the participation of their successors. I also need to work with institutional authorities to make good-faith sharing of academic thoughts easy for students and professors.

My first, modest effort to create this effect involved The Transatlantic 1790s, a database-backed site created by a small group of students and me (they writing content, I writing code) in 2004. The following year, a seminar read some of those students' work and contributed to the site's bibliography as part of the work the class. That all went well enough to make me want to do more: with more skill and experience, I could routinely bring together the learning of students in multiple classes, and then the learning of others, to inspire the cultural evolution that stems from inherited thoughts.

What happens when a group of students can recall the work of previous students they may not have met? I look forward to finding out.

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Frankenstein, Encore! (Or not?)

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I , like Katherine, have also been teaching Frankenstein, in my case in the “Romantic Poetry and Prose” survey I’ve been conducting since September. It’s hard to imagine a version of that course that could dispense with Frankenstein.

For a start, the novel itself enacts a kind of retrospective postmortem on the Romantic period, with its quotations from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Tintern Abbey” and Percy Shelley’s “Mutability.” At this stage in the academic year, I’m urging my students to look back and survey the literary history we’ve covered and, wonderfully, Shelley herself can look to be doing just wht I’m asking them to do.

Frankenstein is also--as all of us who have taught it know-- capable of seeming forever timely and relevant. This year, in my lecturing I followed, as I often do, the many scholars who have described the novel as Mary Shelley’s critique of the myth of solitary authorship and individual genius --a critique she enacts in the 1831 Preface especially as her recollections of the group ghost story contest, the books that fell into their hands that inspired it, the conversations about science to which she was “a devout but nearly silent listener,” all combine to diffuse authorial authority and sideline singular identities. (Mary Favret’s chapter on Frankenstein Romantic Correspondence still strikes me as the indispensable interpretation of Shelley’s project in these terms.) But this year I was able to refer to the film “The Social Network” as mounting a similar critique while it traces the lawsuits that call into question an account of Facebook as Mark Zuckenberg’s “baby” and nobody else’s. And, of course, rather more grimly, in thinking about Shelley as prescient critic of the costs of scientific progress my students couldn’t help but draw connections to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.

BUT . . . I also feel very slightly suspicious of my own attachment to the novel and worried about how often it’s taught in all manner of courses (with the result that very few of my students this year were Frankenstein-virgins.) So here is my question: what other novels do readers of this Blog assign or refer to alongside Romantic-period poems? What route do others take to supply the Prose for Romantic Poetry and Prose classes? In the autumn term I taught Castle Rackrent--a tonic dose of irony to offset all the sincerity of 1790s verse!. There are also great connections to be made, I think, between Edgeworth’s Preface and Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. But Edgeworth didn’t shape our subsequent discussions the way it’s clear Shelley will be shaping them.

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Frankenstein, Encore! (Or not?)

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I , like Katherine, have also been teaching Frankenstein, in my case in the “Romantic Poetry and Prose” survey I’ve been conducting since September. It’s hard to imagine a version of that course that could dispense with Frankenstein.

For a start, the novel itself enacts a kind of retrospective postmortem on the Romantic period, with its quotations from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Tintern Abbey” and Percy Shelley’s “Mutability.” At this stage in the academic year, I’m urging my students to look back and survey the literary history we’ve covered and, wonderfully, Shelley herself can look to be doing just wht I’m asking them to do.

Frankenstein is also--as all of us who have taught it know-- capable of seeming forever timely and relevant. This year, in my lecturing I followed, as I often do, the many scholars who have described the novel as Mary Shelley’s critique of the myth of solitary authorship and individual genius --a critique she enacts in the 1831 Preface especially as her recollections of the group ghost story contest, the books that fell into their hands that inspired it, the conversations about science to which she was “a devout but nearly silent listener,” all combine to diffuse authorial authority and sideline singular identities. (Mary Favret’s chapter on Frankenstein Romantic Correspondence still strikes me as the indispensable interpretation of Shelley’s project in these terms.) But this year I was able to refer to the film “The Social Network” as mounting a similar critique while it traces the lawsuits that call into question an account of Facebook as Mark Zuckenberg’s “baby” and nobody else’s. And, of course, rather more grimly, in thinking about Shelley as prescient critic of the costs of scientific progress my students couldn’t help but draw connections to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.

BUT . . . I also feel very slightly suspicious of my own attachment to the novel and worried about how often it’s taught in all manner of courses (with the result that very few of my students this year were Frankenstein-virgins.) So here is my question: what other novels do readers of this Blog assign or refer to alongside Romantic-period poems? What route do others take to supply the Prose for Romantic Poetry and Prose classes? In the autumn term I taught Castle Rackrent--a tonic dose of irony to offset all the sincerity of 1790s verse!. There are also great connections to be made, I think, between Edgeworth’s Preface and Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads. But Edgeworth didn’t shape our subsequent discussions the way it’s clear Shelley will be shaping them.

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Down & Dirty Frankenstein

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I posted a blog last month about re-instating Frankenstein into my British Literature Survey course 1800-present. With most of our blogs here, that one was more fully formed than what I'm about to post. So, this constitutes my foray into brainstorming blogging rather than essaying blogging:

Well, we just finished Frankenstein and moved to Jane Eyre. Our discussions and my lecture were really inspired by the students -- we moved into this idea that Victor never could express love because he didn't really get a lesson in it. Any type of love. That might return us back to the lack of mother issue (and then there's Elizabeth) but it got us out of the idea that he's only a narcissist, the favored reception of Victor most times that I've taught this novel.  This means that each time Victor takes a sabbatical to restore his health, he seems to be searching for something along the lines of Wordsworth's speaker in "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey." But, Victor never quite approaches the contemplative, soulful reverie with a mansion in the mind or even considering another person. He lives as he dreams, alone (taken from Heart of Darkness). In fact, I see more and more that Victor represents the Modernist or post-Victorian view of individuality than he does the Romantic-era version. Even the Shelley and Byron versions inadequately describe the loneliness of this fella.
Not a single student empathized with Victor -- usually one or two take up his cause. Almost all sympathized with the creature/monster, though he's quite a despicable character.
One scene we discussed closely -- the abortion of the female creature and eventual discarding of the parts -- inspired conversation about Victor's sense of humanity. Victor looks directly at the creature, notes the longing and loneliness on his face as he gazes toward the future Mrs. Creature; but even in the light of this knowledge, Victor is suddenly struck with a conscience and shreds his experiment. Of course this angers the creature, but we were all struck at the violent intentionality of Victor's actions. He says he was acting out of concern for mankind, but it seems he was acting more cruelly than we really notice about Victor.
In the end, Victor didn't even rate up there with Satan as a redeemable character. This might be a bit of a stretch, but by looking at different areas, we were really able to come up with a variant reading, at least variant from what I've taught before.
This saved Victor for me. I'll teach Frankenstein again. Perhaps next time, we'll focus only on the peripheral characters, Clerval and Elizabeth.

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Down & Dirty Frankenstein

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I posted a blog last month about re-instating Frankenstein into my British Literature Survey course 1800-present. With most of our blogs here, that one was more fully formed than what I'm about to post. So, this constitutes my foray into brainstorming blogging rather than essaying blogging:

Well, we just finished Frankenstein and moved to Jane Eyre. Our discussions and my lecture were really inspired by the students -- we moved into this idea that Victor never could express love because he didn't really get a lesson in it. Any type of love. That might return us back to the lack of mother issue (and then there's Elizabeth) but it got us out of the idea that he's only a narcissist, the favored reception of Victor most times that I've taught this novel.  This means that each time Victor takes a sabbatical to restore his health, he seems to be searching for something along the lines of Wordsworth's speaker in "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey." But, Victor never quite approaches the contemplative, soulful reverie with a mansion in the mind or even considering another person. He lives as he dreams, alone (taken from Heart of Darkness). In fact, I see more and more that Victor represents the Modernist or post-Victorian view of individuality than he does the Romantic-era version. Even the Shelley and Byron versions inadequately describe the loneliness of this fella.
Not a single student empathized with Victor -- usually one or two take up his cause. Almost all sympathized with the creature/monster, though he's quite a despicable character.
One scene we discussed closely -- the abortion of the female creature and eventual discarding of the parts -- inspired conversation about Victor's sense of humanity. Victor looks directly at the creature, notes the longing and loneliness on his face as he gazes toward the future Mrs. Creature; but even in the light of this knowledge, Victor is suddenly struck with a conscience and shreds his experiment. Of course this angers the creature, but we were all struck at the violent intentionality of Victor's actions. He says he was acting out of concern for mankind, but it seems he was acting more cruelly than we really notice about Victor.
In the end, Victor didn't even rate up there with Satan as a redeemable character. This might be a bit of a stretch, but by looking at different areas, we were really able to come up with a variant reading, at least variant from what I've taught before.
This saved Victor for me. I'll teach Frankenstein again. Perhaps next time, we'll focus only on the peripheral characters, Clerval and Elizabeth.

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Less a Discussion, More an Invitation

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You may be interested in the following considering that many Digital Humanities projects have come from Romantic-era studies and considering that we've been skewing some of our discussions here towards digital projects and whatnot. Please consider submitting, dear readers and contributors!

*Electronic Roundtable Demonstrating Digital Pedagogy*

*MLA 2012*
*Seattle, Washington*
*January 5-8, 2012*

Discussions about digital projects and digital tools often focus on
research goals. For this electronic roundtable, we will instead demonstrate
how these digital resources, tools, and projects have been integrated into
undergraduate and graduate curriculum in alignment with the MLA 2012
Presidential Theme: Language, Literature, Learning. Proposals may include
demonstrations of:

-  successful collaboration with undergraduates on your digital scholarly
project;
-  specific assignments, including student learning goals, teaching
strategies, successes/failures, grading rubrics;
-  integrating digital assignments with general education requirements;
-  assessment of student digital projects;
-  constructing syllabi with digital-focused assignments;
-  portals for collecting digital-focused syllabi and assignments.

This Roundtable session will contain up to eight presenters. Presenters
will engage in informal discussion or offer interactive electronic
demonstrations. Electronic roundtables allow attendees to circulate among
eight stations that will be set up around the meeting room with appropriate
audiovisual equipment.

Presenters are welcome from a broad range of institutions with a range of
contexts and budget demands. Selection of participants will be based on a
cross-spectrum of styles, classrooms, student experience, successes, and
failures. If possible, we will try to submit two electronic roundtables;
however, this is a Special Session not yet accepted by the MLA.

300-word proposals by March 1 to Katherine D. Harris (
katherine.harris@sjsu.edu). Please email with questions.

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Scribd, the Collaborative Classroom, and the Paperless Blake Class

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Like Kate Singer, I too have been thinking about the rise of the Digital Humanities at MLA 2011. I agree, largely, that making should be a hallmark of identifying as a digital humanist but - like Kate - I wonder if making is limited to coding. Building or making may refer to the construction of scholarly and student communities.  Matt Kirschenbaum in "What is Digital Humanities and What's it Doing in English Departments?" makes the following claim:

Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend upon networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. Isn't that something you want in your English Department?

One way I try to engage in the collaborative infrastructure that Kirschenbaum imagines here is by publishing my syllabi on Scribd. Scribd is a website that allows you to upload, share, and embed .pdf files. Here is a copy of my syllabus:
[scribd id=46615462 key=key-1ila71b42dcxy3sh8q5p]

Scribd reformats your documents to allow them to be read on smartphones and tablets like the iPad, and any document type may be uploaded (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .ppx (for PowerPoint), xml, OpenOffice). Readers can, furthermore, share whatever documents they find on Scribd by "readcasting" them. Readcasting generates Facebook updates and Tweets with links to the document being read. Readcasting can, for example, be a useful way to have students engage in peer review and collaborative research.

Of course, copyright does become a problem with Scribd. Users have in the past violated copyright by placing protected documents on the server. However, I do feel that Scribd opens up some really interesting possibilities - especially for classrooms that wish to do away with paper.

I say this in response to a recent post on the NASSR listserv by Adam Komisaruk:

I'm slated to teach a graduate "readings" course in Blake this summer, and book orders are due soon.  As I contemplate and reject several alternatives (the Dover facsimiles are too sporadic, the Princeton facsimiles are too expensive, the Erdman/Bloom lacks illustrations, etc.), I'm wondering about the viability of "going paperless."  I've already requested a fully wired classroom--i.e., with individual iMac terminals, overhead projection, and a high-speed Internet connection--so, assuming my students have similar equipment at home, I could conceivably use the Blake Archive and eE as my texts.

The majority of respondents mentioned using the Johnson/Grant Norton edition in conjunction with The Blake Archive. While I largely agree that this is a great way to go (I'm currently using the Johnson/Grant edition in my Blake class), I feel that the current generation of students is too savvy with the internet and social media to passively accept the edition we order in the bookstore. For example, I ordered the Johnson/Grant edition, but I know that many of my students use the free Erdman edition of Blake on the Blake Digital Text Project, supplementing it with the Archive and tagging websites and .pdfs using Diigo or A.nnotate. I initially resisted this development in my class but inspired by Komisaruk's comment, an article by Leeann Hunter, and a revealing expose on the textbook industry by Anya Kamentz, I've decided to encourage the digital revolution percolating in my students.

Instead of assigning individual papers, I maintain a Wordpress site called William Blake and Media as a hub for my collaborative classroom. On the site, you can find my Scribd syllabus, a description of the first and second projects, a group blog maintained by my students, and a Twitter feed. I use these, in conjunction with papers distributed by Scribd, as a way to reduce (if not currently eliminate) paper in my Blake class. Check out the site and give me some suggestions.

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Scribd, the Collaborative Classroom, and the Paperless Blake Class

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Like Kate Singer, I too have been thinking about the rise of the Digital Humanities at MLA 2011. I agree, largely, that making should be a hallmark of identifying as a digital humanist but - like Kate - I wonder if making is limited to coding. Building or making may refer to the construction of scholarly and student communities.  Matt Kirschenbaum in "What is Digital Humanities and What's it Doing in English Departments?" makes the following claim:

Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend upon networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. Isn't that something you want in your English Department?

One way I try to engage in the collaborative infrastructure that Kirschenbaum imagines here is by publishing my syllabi on Scribd. Scribd is a website that allows you to upload, share, and embed .pdf files. Here is a copy of my syllabus:
[scribd id=46615462 key=key-1ila71b42dcxy3sh8q5p]

Scribd reformats your documents to allow them to be read on smartphones and tablets like the iPad, and any document type may be uploaded (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .ppx (for PowerPoint), xml, OpenOffice). Readers can, furthermore, share whatever documents they find on Scribd by "readcasting" them. Readcasting generates Facebook updates and Tweets with links to the document being read. Readcasting can, for example, be a useful way to have students engage in peer review and collaborative research.

Of course, copyright does become a problem with Scribd. Users have in the past violated copyright by placing protected documents on the server. However, I do feel that Scribd opens up some really interesting possibilities - especially for classrooms that wish to do away with paper.

I say this in response to a recent post on the NASSR listserv by Adam Komisaruk:

I'm slated to teach a graduate "readings" course in Blake this summer, and book orders are due soon.  As I contemplate and reject several alternatives (the Dover facsimiles are too sporadic, the Princeton facsimiles are too expensive, the Erdman/Bloom lacks illustrations, etc.), I'm wondering about the viability of "going paperless."  I've already requested a fully wired classroom--i.e., with individual iMac terminals, overhead projection, and a high-speed Internet connection--so, assuming my students have similar equipment at home, I could conceivably use the Blake Archive and eE as my texts.

The majority of respondents mentioned using the Johnson/Grant Norton edition in conjunction with The Blake Archive. While I largely agree that this is a great way to go (I'm currently using the Johnson/Grant edition in my Blake class), I feel that the current generation of students is too savvy with the internet and social media to passively accept the edition we order in the bookstore. For example, I ordered the Johnson/Grant edition, but I know that many of my students use the free Erdman edition of Blake on the Blake Digital Text Project, supplementing it with the Archive and tagging websites and .pdfs using Diigo or A.nnotate. I initially resisted this development in my class but inspired by Komisaruk's comment, an article by Leeann Hunter, and a revealing expose on the textbook industry by Anya Kamentz, I've decided to encourage the digital revolution percolating in my students.

Instead of assigning individual papers, I maintain a Wordpress site called William Blake and Media as a hub for my collaborative classroom. On the site, you can find my Scribd syllabus, a description of the first and second projects, a group blog maintained by my students, and a Twitter feed. I use these, in conjunction with papers distributed by Scribd, as a way to reduce (if not currently eliminate) paper in my Blake class. Check out the site and give me some suggestions.

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Scribd, the Collaborative Classroom, and the Paperless Blake Class

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Like Kate Singer, I too have been thinking about the rise of the Digital Humanities at MLA 2011. I agree, largely, that making should be a hallmark of identifying as a digital humanist but - like Kate - I wonder if making is limited to coding. Building or making may refer to the construction of scholarly and student communities.  Matt Kirschenbaum in "What is Digital Humanities and What's it Doing in English Departments?" makes the following claim:

Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend upon networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. Isn't that something you want in your English Department?

One way I try to engage in the collaborative infrastructure that Kirschenbaum imagines here is by publishing my syllabi on Scribd. Scribd is a website that allows you to upload, share, and embed .pdf files. Here is a copy of my syllabus:
[scribd id=46615462 key=key-1ila71b42dcxy3sh8q5p]

Scribd reformats your documents to allow them to be read on smartphones and tablets like the iPad, and any document type may be uploaded (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .ppx (for PowerPoint), xml, OpenOffice). Readers can, furthermore, share whatever documents they find on Scribd by "readcasting" them. Readcasting generates Facebook updates and Tweets with links to the document being read. Readcasting can, for example, be a useful way to have students engage in peer review and collaborative research.

Of course, copyright does become a problem with Scribd. Users have in the past violated copyright by placing protected documents on the server. However, I do feel that Scribd opens up some really interesting possibilities - especially for classrooms that wish to do away with paper.

I say this in response to a recent post on the NASSR listserv by Adam Komisaruk:

I'm slated to teach a graduate "readings" course in Blake this summer, and book orders are due soon.  As I contemplate and reject several alternatives (the Dover facsimiles are too sporadic, the Princeton facsimiles are too expensive, the Erdman/Bloom lacks illustrations, etc.), I'm wondering about the viability of "going paperless."  I've already requested a fully wired classroom--i.e., with individual iMac terminals, overhead projection, and a high-speed Internet connection--so, assuming my students have similar equipment at home, I could conceivably use the Blake Archive and eE as my texts.

The majority of respondents mentioned using the Johnson/Grant Norton edition in conjunction with The Blake Archive. While I largely agree that this is a great way to go (I'm currently using the Johnson/Grant edition in my Blake class), I feel that the current generation of students is too savvy with the internet and social media to passively accept the edition we order in the bookstore. For example, I ordered the Johnson/Grant edition, but I know that many of my students use the free Erdman edition of Blake on the Blake Digital Text Project, supplementing it with the Archive and tagging websites and .pdfs using Diigo or A.nnotate. I initially resisted this development in my class but inspired by Komisaruk's comment, an article by Leeann Hunter, and a revealing expose on the textbook industry by Anya Kamentz, I've decided to encourage the digital revolution percolating in my students.

Instead of assigning individual papers, I maintain a Wordpress site called William Blake and Media as a hub for my collaborative classroom. On the site, you can find my Scribd syllabus, a description of the first and second projects, a group blog maintained by my students, and a Twitter feed. I use these, in conjunction with papers distributed by Scribd, as a way to reduce (if not currently eliminate) paper in my Blake class. Check out the site and give me some suggestions.

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