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Poems to Remember (but how?)

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As is all too apparent, time got away from me this semester (luckily the undergraduate Romantics course at the University of Toronto is a two-semester course, so I will have plenty of opportunities to make up for my silence). I have a backlog of topics to address. Right now I’m thinking hardest--because I’ve just handed back the first set of papers and because we’ve just had a review session for the “term test” that will conclude this semester-- about my undergraduates’ relation to poetry and the panicky feelings many, though not all, have when invited to understand a poem as something other than a piece of prose arranged eccentrically on the page.

One thing I have been doing since the start of the class is to insist that poetry is written to be heard and sounded. That teachers of Romantic poetry should do such insisting will not be controversial for any visitors to this blog, but the good news is that, maybe in Canadian universities at least, there is a chance that more of our students will come to us already accustomed to think of the poem as an occasion for recitation. Scott Griffin, the benefactor and founder of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry has just announced a generously funded contest called “Poetry In Voice/ Les voix de la poésie” . The contest is intended to encourage the memorization and recitation of poetry. “The students will carry these gifts inside them for life,” Mr. Griffin says, a statement chiming serendipitously with the last lines of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper”. (In a follow-up posting, I want to talk about the class session in which that poem figured--and in which it generated an intense amount of discussion). When my students expressed concern last week that they wouldn’t remember the poetry we’d studied long enough to succeed in the test (never mind “for life”), I told them that retention becomes easier if you have enlisted to that end other senses beyond the reading eye --if your ear has encountered the sounds and rhythms, and you’ve had the feeling of the poem’s words in your mouth.

But what I mainly wanted to post about is my belated realization that my students need a lot of direction about how to take notes when they read poetry--and boost their powers of retention by that means. For years my syllabi have included this notice: “Please read with a pencil or pen in your hand. Prepared students are, in fact, usually those who write in their books and write a lot.” (It takes a leap of imagination for teachers to remember that our younger selves believed that neatness counted. And of course anthologies especially-- so like Bibles, books of books--can make readers’ marginalia seem desecrations. ) But only during the last couple weeks, as the test approaches and office hours gain popularity, have I realized that many students don’t know why their use of their pink and yellow highlighters wasn’t exactly what that instruction was promoting. They don’t know what it is one might be writing in the margins of poems. Because note-taking is (as the historian of the book Ann Blair has observed) “a hidden phase in the transmission of knowledge,” it was actually a challenge to give explicit guidance--to instruct them, variously, to e.g. take note of the words that repeat; mark the moments when the poem’s argument or mood shifts; look for the moments when the poem deviates from its previously set form; speculate about the word choices; scan the meter and mark the rhyme scheme. And my New Year’s resolution (the luxury of a two-semester long course is that one actually has opportunity to implement them) is to display some powerpoint slides made from photocopies of the pages in my own copies of our anthology to indicate what note-taking looks like, though I’ll feel a bit exposed by showing them. I’d of course love to hear about other teacher’s methods for making poems memorable (and--alas for this necessity!-- examinable).

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Poems to Remember (but how?)

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As is all too apparent, time got away from me this semester (luckily the undergraduate Romantics course at the University of Toronto is a two-semester course, so I will have plenty of opportunities to make up for my silence). I have a backlog of topics to address. Right now I’m thinking hardest--because I’ve just handed back the first set of papers and because we’ve just had a review session for the “term test” that will conclude this semester-- about my undergraduates’ relation to poetry and the panicky feelings many, though not all, have when invited to understand a poem as something other than a piece of prose arranged eccentrically on the page.

One thing I have been doing since the start of the class is to insist that poetry is written to be heard and sounded. That teachers of Romantic poetry should do such insisting will not be controversial for any visitors to this blog, but the good news is that, maybe in Canadian universities at least, there is a chance that more of our students will come to us already accustomed to think of the poem as an occasion for recitation. Scott Griffin, the benefactor and founder of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry has just announced a generously funded contest called “Poetry In Voice/ Les voix de la poésie” . The contest is intended to encourage the memorization and recitation of poetry. “The students will carry these gifts inside them for life,” Mr. Griffin says, a statement chiming serendipitously with the last lines of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper”. (In a follow-up posting, I want to talk about the class session in which that poem figured--and in which it generated an intense amount of discussion). When my students expressed concern last week that they wouldn’t remember the poetry we’d studied long enough to succeed in the test (never mind “for life”), I told them that retention becomes easier if you have enlisted to that end other senses beyond the reading eye --if your ear has encountered the sounds and rhythms, and you’ve had the feeling of the poem’s words in your mouth.

But what I mainly wanted to post about is my belated realization that my students need a lot of direction about how to take notes when they read poetry--and boost their powers of retention by that means. For years my syllabi have included this notice: “Please read with a pencil or pen in your hand. Prepared students are, in fact, usually those who write in their books and write a lot.” (It takes a leap of imagination for teachers to remember that our younger selves believed that neatness counted. And of course anthologies especially-- so like Bibles, books of books--can make readers’ marginalia seem desecrations. ) But only during the last couple weeks, as the test approaches and office hours gain popularity, have I realized that many students don’t know why their use of their pink and yellow highlighters wasn’t exactly what that instruction was promoting. They don’t know what it is one might be writing in the margins of poems. Because note-taking is (as the historian of the book Ann Blair has observed) “a hidden phase in the transmission of knowledge,” it was actually a challenge to give explicit guidance--to instruct them, variously, to e.g. take note of the words that repeat; mark the moments when the poem’s argument or mood shifts; look for the moments when the poem deviates from its previously set form; speculate about the word choices; scan the meter and mark the rhyme scheme. And my New Year’s resolution (the luxury of a two-semester long course is that one actually has opportunity to implement them) is to display some powerpoint slides made from photocopies of the pages in my own copies of our anthology to indicate what note-taking looks like, though I’ll feel a bit exposed by showing them. I’d of course love to hear about other teacher’s methods for making poems memorable (and--alas for this necessity!-- examinable).

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"Teaching Romanticism"

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I have enjoyed reading this collective blog, and I have anticipated with pleasure making my own contributions. And anticipated, and anticipated.

I've found myself having trouble rustling up a post on teaching Romanticism, however, because I am not teaching Romanticism.  During the week before Thanksgiving break, a typical one in many ways, I taught King Lear in one class, taught White Teeth in another, and worked as department chair to host external reviewers whose visit was the culmination of a self-study.

That was a pretty good week, all in all, but it didn't lend itself to posting fresh insights about teaching Wordsworth. Those insights may come: I do teach a Romanticism seminar in the spring, and I'll go to London next fall to teach a literature-in-place course linked to a colleague's ecology-in-place course.

Before I teach those courses, however, I want to offer a different kind of post, meant primarily for the graduate students and job seekers in the audience. We often talk about teaching from the perspective of institutions that allow and require teaching specializations that do not characterize many of the jobs Romanticists hold.  As it happens, I love teaching Shakespeare and Zadie Smith as well as Coleridge and Austen, and I find satisfaction--OK, sometimes--in the way that smaller institutions ask faculty to get deeply involved in service and governance. (I am, for example, in my tenth year at Grinnell College and in my second term as department chair.)

In some ways, I do not have the job I imagined when I started my dissertation, but that indicates a failure was of imagination, not of the job.  To spark the imaginations of others, I will use this space in part to describe the working life of a liberal arts college Romanticist.  I welcome questions that will help me understand how to provide useful commentary from that perspective.

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Beyond Blake

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The other day I took students to see prized items at the E.J. Pratt Library.  As others have noted on this blog, students really seem to love Blake.  Luckily at Toronto we have an impressive Blake collection.  Because the students were so excited about Blake in class and seemed eager to write about him in their papers, I had expected that they would be most excited about seeing items such as electrotype plates of Songs of Innocence and Experience and copy M of “A Song of Liberty.”  The seminar took a pleasant but unexpected turn when one student, admiring the third edition of Darwin’s The Botanic Garden containing Blake’s engraving “The Fertilization of Egypt,” said that the paper seemed “cool.”  This prompted a series of questions about papermaking and printing in general.  The students did not know much about book production beyond Blake’s unique illuminated printing process.  This is perhaps not surprising, since Blake’s methods are so integral to understanding his texts.  Plus, sources such as The William Blake Archive give students easy access to Blake’s works, revealing them to be much more than printed words in the pages of their modern editions.  Though Blake is exceptional and deserves our and students’ attention, I do wonder if it might be worth spending some time in our classes discussing how, as one student put it, “normal books were made.”

While there is a danger, as Crystal Lake voiced in an earlier post, of overwhelming students with information that takes valuable time away from primary texts themselves, I still think students of Romanticism would benefit from knowing more about how those primary texts were made.  I’m admittedly biased when it comes to such issues.  In addition to being a Teaching Assistant for the English Department, I am a Teaching Assistant for the undergraduate Book and Media Studies Program where I lecture about the hand-press period.  While I wasn’t surprised to find that the students in my Material Bibliography and Print Culture course are fascinated by the history of printing, I was impressed to find how much interest in book production my literature students expressed.  Once we covered the production of paper, they wanted to know how Blake’s illuminated printing differed from the examples of his commercial work I showed them (including his engravings of gallstones in James Earle’s Practical Observations on the Operation of the Stone).  They also wanted to know about the differences between copperplate engraving and the steel-plate engravings found in literary annuals.  In the context of these other “normal” books, Blake’s methods became even more exciting.  Moreover, providing students with an overview of Romantic-era book production brought home some of the ideas discussed in class, such as the fact that most books were expensive and that different social and economic classes bought and read different literature.

I am interested to know if others teach undergraduates about the material production of texts in addition to their socio-political contexts.  And, if so, how is this information introduced in the classroom?  I have come across an impressive number of YouTube videos about printing.  Many are poorly made, yet there are a few interesting ones that have helped book history undergraduates I’ve taught see printing in action.  (One decent short video I’ve come across includes superfluous puppets.)  I’d be interested if anyone else has similar videos or other tools that they either use in lectures or post on course websites for students to view on their own time.

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The Critic in the Classroom: "Tintern Abbey"

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When I teach Wordsworth’s  “Tintern Abbey,” I give students a handout with excerpts from three essays about the poem:

“Everyone knows that "Tintern Abbey" is a sad poem…” Quinney, Laura.  “Sensibility, and the Self-Disenchanted Self in ‘Tintern Abbey.’”  ELH 64.1

"Tintern Abbey" has a temporal structure of absence and presence which is folded upon itself and projected into the future as we move from memory to imagination: grammatically, the poem moves from the "present perfect," where the "past" is recuperable, to the "future" tense at the poem's close, where the present situation is imagined as already "past."

Lawder, Bruce. “Secret(ing) Conversations: Coleridge and Wordsworth.” New Literary History 32.1 (2001) 67-89.

The romantic critical tradition has read Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" as a poem about aesthetic contemplation, and about the "personal myth" of memory as salvation.  In this line of thinking, the poet's aesthetic contemplation entails both an objective focus on the natural setting of the Wye Valley, the Abbey's surroundings, and a subjective focus on perception and imagination, between what the "eye, and ear. . . half create, and what perceive" (lines 105-7). The poet's use of memory details a shift from past to present, from the loss of childhood's "glad animal movements" (line 74) to the "abundant recompense" of a mature imaginative sensibility. Likewise, it details another shift from present to future, a projected continuity wherein the poet's sister Dorothy represents for him a remembered existence even in his anticipatory absence; toward this end, the poem concludes in his final entreaty to her:
with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!

Hadley, Karen. “The Commodification of Time in Wordsworth's ‘Tintern Abbey.’”   Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42.4 (2002) 693-706.

The first excerpt cracks some of my students up while it annoys and confuses a few others, and we all note how tricky it would be for one of them to a write a sentence in their essays that begins “Everyone knows.”   It also forces the group assigned to this excerpt to instantly rethink their feelings about the poem. I am always pleasantly surprised by the discursive space Quinney’s bold claim opens up. They assume Quinney is describing the tone of the poem, a reasonable place to begin.  Students who might not answer the question “what is the tone of the poem?”—either because they hadn’t noticed it or wouldn’t have the language to describe it—suddenly have very strong opinions about this element of it.  The poem isn’t “sad,” they argue, but “happy.”  The most this group will allow, at the beginning of their work, is that the poem might be contemplative and bittersweet but they are emphatic in their belief that the poem is not sad.  Most of the time, someone will wonder what Quinney actually means when she describes the poem as sad. Is it sad in its tone? Is it sad in its subject matter?  Is it sad throughout or just in parts? Is it sad that Wordsworth wrote it? And, if things go well, someone asks about the introduction of the Dorothy figure and the language in that part of them poem, and I see students frantically flipping back and forth between the pages trying to sort through it all.  Their impulse is to read the introductory, biographical information at the start of the Wordsworth section, and someone will offer to do that, but then someone else remembers what I’ve been repeating every class and says, “textual evidence” (and I realize that I might be more like Cleanth Brooks than I care to admit).

Each excerpt provides its own challenges, but even students who struggle mightily with poetry enjoy this entry into the text.  I think they find it so satisfying for a number of reasons.  On a practical level, there is safety in numbers, so even if they’re overwhelmed by the longer excerpts, they are overwhelmed together. Each excerpt is so different that it also allows space for them to ask questions about specific lines and passages and to pay careful attention to Wordsworth's language. They also like puzzling out what the critic is actually trying to say.  When the group working with Lawder finally works out what he means when he points to the poem’s “temporal structure,” they happily start seeking out the shifts in tense in the poem. Lawder gives them the tools to breakdown a poem whose length is overwhelming while offering a theme they might have noticed without knowing how it contributes to a fuller interpretation of the poem.

Hadley’s assertions allow them to recontextualize their initial response to the poem. For reasons that have a lot to do with the very term “Romanticism” in general and Wordsworth’s subject matter in particular, I find that my students read him with an incredibly sentimental eye.  They also project onto him their own experience, so they see the poem as happy because they imagine how happy they would be to revisit a place from their past.  This is a fine place to begin, but my goal is to push them into the poem and its language (this partly out of fear that I’ll get journal entries with titles like “My Own Private ‘Tintern Abbey’” rather than critical essays when they turn in their first full writing assignment ), and Lawder’s work with the poem moves them to a place where they can consider its philosophy against their own world view—one that works differently in real time than it does in their heads. Hadley’s argument asks them to rethink the pleasure of memory, and they do that by paying close attention to how Dorothy is addressed in the poem.

I teach poetry and fiction in my Romanticism class. Students tend to be more comfortable with the prose than the verse, and I’ve been trying to work out ways to give them more of a foothold with the poetry while still leaving them plenty of space to work with it on its own terms.  I’ve found that these critical tidbits lead to productive work, particularly in helping students solidify their own sense of the poem; because when they finally “get” the critic, what they are really understanding more concretely is their own initial responses to the text.

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Teaching Playfulness in Romanticism

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These posts on Teaching Romanticism have been intriguing and thoughtful. Thank you for putting this together!

I always find that Romanticism and textual studies are good segue into Digital Humanities for teaching and research.  I began teaching at San Jose State University 5 years ago and opened with a very traditional Romantic-era survey of Romanticism.  We followed the timeline, began with Blake and ended with Mary Shelley. We ranged over the slavery issue and working class poets, though there were very few of those poets being printed.  The Mellor & Matlak anthology was my guide because it offered thematic arrangement of materials while still including the women poets who, I felt, were integral to the understanding of collaborative creative moments among our canonical Big 6.  But, the course wasn't satisfying. The only assignment where students actually engaged with the material at some depth was the recitation, and even then they were fearful instead of fearless and playful.  Considering who I have become as a researcher and how involved I am in Digital Humanities work, I wanted to bring a sense of passion and engagement to my teaching.  Textual studies and Digital Humanities seems to do that for me, allowing me time to play with the material, see patterns, extrapolate theses that haven't been otherwise contemplated in the field.  In constructing this type of course, I had to first determine what would be considered playful by my students.

In Digital Humanities circles, we often talk about collaboration between disciplines, among scholars, and with technologists. While progress in the field is nurtured certainly by this type of research, what of our students? How are we shepherding Digital Humanities to those undergraduates who could most benefit from exposure to collaborative tools or humanities computing strategies? Happily, HASTAC has been addressing pedagogy, most specifically with Cathy Davidson's post "Research is Teaching" and the wildly successful forum "Teaching with Technology and Curiosity."

Collaboration, shared knowledge, open access, extra-disciplinarity. These are the major tenets of Digital Humanities. However, what is missing in this list is something required of all digital projects: play. Roger Caillois qualifies this type of unstructured activity as “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill” (Man, Play and Games 2001; 6). This lack of structure, leads to exploration, discovery, and production of knowledge in ways that were only imagined twenty years ago. Typically though we don't allow our students this sense of play in their traditional studies. Especially in literary studies, we supply students with the end-product but don't expose them to the theories and the methodologies always.  We separate those kinds of issues into other courses (e.g., Introduction to Literary Criticism or Introduction to Research Methods). When faculty bring a particular perspective, for example textual studies or feminist theory, to a classroom setting, the methods for exploring and discovering aren't exposed to students. Instead, we're offering them the one big major tool, close reading, for their arsenal.  Students then live with some anxiety that there's one way to read a text and, more often, ask "how does the professor want me to read this?"  It becomes a guessing “game” instead of an exploration and discovery of the literature. In the final essay, we expect students to offer a discovery, a research paper, or an analysis.  But, if we haven't exposed them to the methodology and the theory, how can they adequately achieve a true exploration of the literature? In this way, the course becomes a game with an outcome, consequences, and rigid rules. Using Digital Humanities strategies, I want to instill a sense, even if it's artificial, that literary studies are a “free and voluntary activity, a source of joy and amusement” as Caillois defines “play” (6).

To this end, I combined textual editing with technology in my Romantic Literature Survey course. We had the use of a spectacular room, filled with hardware and software everywhere:

TechnoRomanticism: We created our own digital edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Along the way, we created a collaborative timeline using MIT's SIMILE & Timeline script. We didn't even begin to create a website until some of the preliminary assignments are done -- assignments that look at the construction of this novel, both linguistically and bibliographically. Every 2 weeks, we held a workshop on some digital assignment and acquired 1 new skill, not even necessarily a new tool, but a skill. We practiced radial and ergodic reading by taking on only 2 chapters of Frankenstein each week.  However, we read other literature into the novel.  For instance, at one point "... Tintern Abbey" is quoted in the novel, but if students haven't had a chance to read or study this particular poem, they would have a difficult time understanding its interruption of the narrative.  So, we studied the poem as we were studying that very chapter. By not overloading undergraduate students with readings, we were really able to spend an entire class meeting on both the poem and the novel's page.

That strategy gave way to self-interruptions in constructing their digital editions -- what did it mean to provide a hyperlink in the middle of a paragraph? How does it interrupt the musings on Nature, the soul and science?  All of it, all of it went back to Romanticism's major ideas.

Is anyone else performing these kinds of interruptions and collaborations in their own courses?

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Teaching Playfulness in Romanticism

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These posts on Teaching Romanticism have been intriguing and thoughtful. Thank you for putting this together!

I always find that Romanticism and textual studies are good segue into Digital Humanities for teaching and research.  I began teaching at San Jose State University 5 years ago and opened with a very traditional Romantic-era survey of Romanticism.  We followed the timeline, began with Blake and ended with Mary Shelley. We ranged over the slavery issue and working class poets, though there were very few of those poets being printed.  The Mellor & Matlak anthology was my guide because it offered thematic arrangement of materials while still including the women poets who, I felt, were integral to the understanding of collaborative creative moments among our canonical Big 6.  But, the course wasn't satisfying. The only assignment where students actually engaged with the material at some depth was the recitation, and even then they were fearful instead of fearless and playful.  Considering who I have become as a researcher and how involved I am in Digital Humanities work, I wanted to bring a sense of passion and engagement to my teaching.  Textual studies and Digital Humanities seems to do that for me, allowing me time to play with the material, see patterns, extrapolate theses that haven't been otherwise contemplated in the field.  In constructing this type of course, I had to first determine what would be considered playful by my students.

In Digital Humanities circles, we often talk about collaboration between disciplines, among scholars, and with technologists. While progress in the field is nurtured certainly by this type of research, what of our students? How are we shepherding Digital Humanities to those undergraduates who could most benefit from exposure to collaborative tools or humanities computing strategies? Happily, HASTAC has been addressing pedagogy, most specifically with Cathy Davidson's post "Research is Teaching" and the wildly successful forum "Teaching with Technology and Curiosity."

Collaboration, shared knowledge, open access, extra-disciplinarity. These are the major tenets of Digital Humanities. However, what is missing in this list is something required of all digital projects: play. Roger Caillois qualifies this type of unstructured activity as “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill” (Man, Play and Games 2001; 6). This lack of structure, leads to exploration, discovery, and production of knowledge in ways that were only imagined twenty years ago. Typically though we don't allow our students this sense of play in their traditional studies. Especially in literary studies, we supply students with the end-product but don't expose them to the theories and the methodologies always.  We separate those kinds of issues into other courses (e.g., Introduction to Literary Criticism or Introduction to Research Methods). When faculty bring a particular perspective, for example textual studies or feminist theory, to a classroom setting, the methods for exploring and discovering aren't exposed to students. Instead, we're offering them the one big major tool, close reading, for their arsenal.  Students then live with some anxiety that there's one way to read a text and, more often, ask "how does the professor want me to read this?"  It becomes a guessing “game” instead of an exploration and discovery of the literature. In the final essay, we expect students to offer a discovery, a research paper, or an analysis.  But, if we haven't exposed them to the methodology and the theory, how can they adequately achieve a true exploration of the literature? In this way, the course becomes a game with an outcome, consequences, and rigid rules. Using Digital Humanities strategies, I want to instill a sense, even if it's artificial, that literary studies are a “free and voluntary activity, a source of joy and amusement” as Caillois defines “play” (6).

To this end, I combined textual editing with technology in my Romantic Literature Survey course. We had the use of a spectacular room, filled with hardware and software everywhere:

TechnoRomanticism: We created our own digital edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Along the way, we created a collaborative timeline using MIT's SIMILE & Timeline script. We didn't even begin to create a website until some of the preliminary assignments are done -- assignments that look at the construction of this novel, both linguistically and bibliographically. Every 2 weeks, we held a workshop on some digital assignment and acquired 1 new skill, not even necessarily a new tool, but a skill. We practiced radial and ergodic reading by taking on only 2 chapters of Frankenstein each week.  However, we read other literature into the novel.  For instance, at one point "... Tintern Abbey" is quoted in the novel, but if students haven't had a chance to read or study this particular poem, they would have a difficult time understanding its interruption of the narrative.  So, we studied the poem as we were studying that very chapter. By not overloading undergraduate students with readings, we were really able to spend an entire class meeting on both the poem and the novel's page.

That strategy gave way to self-interruptions in constructing their digital editions -- what did it mean to provide a hyperlink in the middle of a paragraph? How does it interrupt the musings on Nature, the soul and science?  All of it, all of it went back to Romanticism's major ideas.

Is anyone else performing these kinds of interruptions and collaborations in their own courses?

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Parent Section: 

Pedagogies

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Pedagogies Blog

Teaching Playfulness in Romanticism

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

These posts on Teaching Romanticism have been intriguing and thoughtful. Thank you for putting this together!

I always find that Romanticism and textual studies are good segue into Digital Humanities for teaching and research.  I began teaching at San Jose State University 5 years ago and opened with a very traditional Romantic-era survey of Romanticism.  We followed the timeline, began with Blake and ended with Mary Shelley. We ranged over the slavery issue and working class poets, though there were very few of those poets being printed.  The Mellor & Matlak anthology was my guide because it offered thematic arrangement of materials while still including the women poets who, I felt, were integral to the understanding of collaborative creative moments among our canonical Big 6.  But, the course wasn't satisfying. The only assignment where students actually engaged with the material at some depth was the recitation, and even then they were fearful instead of fearless and playful.  Considering who I have become as a researcher and how involved I am in Digital Humanities work, I wanted to bring a sense of passion and engagement to my teaching.  Textual studies and Digital Humanities seems to do that for me, allowing me time to play with the material, see patterns, extrapolate theses that haven't been otherwise contemplated in the field.  In constructing this type of course, I had to first determine what would be considered playful by my students.

In Digital Humanities circles, we often talk about collaboration between disciplines, among scholars, and with technologists. While progress in the field is nurtured certainly by this type of research, what of our students? How are we shepherding Digital Humanities to those undergraduates who could most benefit from exposure to collaborative tools or humanities computing strategies? Happily, HASTAC has been addressing pedagogy, most specifically with Cathy Davidson's post "Research is Teaching" and the wildly successful forum "Teaching with Technology and Curiosity."

Collaboration, shared knowledge, open access, extra-disciplinarity. These are the major tenets of Digital Humanities. However, what is missing in this list is something required of all digital projects: play. Roger Caillois qualifies this type of unstructured activity as “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill” (Man, Play and Games 2001; 6). This lack of structure, leads to exploration, discovery, and production of knowledge in ways that were only imagined twenty years ago. Typically though we don't allow our students this sense of play in their traditional studies. Especially in literary studies, we supply students with the end-product but don't expose them to the theories and the methodologies always.  We separate those kinds of issues into other courses (e.g., Introduction to Literary Criticism or Introduction to Research Methods). When faculty bring a particular perspective, for example textual studies or feminist theory, to a classroom setting, the methods for exploring and discovering aren't exposed to students. Instead, we're offering them the one big major tool, close reading, for their arsenal.  Students then live with some anxiety that there's one way to read a text and, more often, ask "how does the professor want me to read this?"  It becomes a guessing “game” instead of an exploration and discovery of the literature. In the final essay, we expect students to offer a discovery, a research paper, or an analysis.  But, if we haven't exposed them to the methodology and the theory, how can they adequately achieve a true exploration of the literature? In this way, the course becomes a game with an outcome, consequences, and rigid rules. Using Digital Humanities strategies, I want to instill a sense, even if it's artificial, that literary studies are a “free and voluntary activity, a source of joy and amusement” as Caillois defines “play” (6).

To this end, I combined textual editing with technology in my Romantic Literature Survey course. We had the use of a spectacular room, filled with hardware and software everywhere:

TechnoRomanticism: We created our own digital edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Along the way, we created a collaborative timeline using MIT's SIMILE & Timeline script. We didn't even begin to create a website until some of the preliminary assignments are done -- assignments that look at the construction of this novel, both linguistically and bibliographically. Every 2 weeks, we held a workshop on some digital assignment and acquired 1 new skill, not even necessarily a new tool, but a skill. We practiced radial and ergodic reading by taking on only 2 chapters of Frankenstein each week.  However, we read other literature into the novel.  For instance, at one point "... Tintern Abbey" is quoted in the novel, but if students haven't had a chance to read or study this particular poem, they would have a difficult time understanding its interruption of the narrative.  So, we studied the poem as we were studying that very chapter. By not overloading undergraduate students with readings, we were really able to spend an entire class meeting on both the poem and the novel's page.

That strategy gave way to self-interruptions in constructing their digital editions -- what did it mean to provide a hyperlink in the middle of a paragraph? How does it interrupt the musings on Nature, the soul and science?  All of it, all of it went back to Romanticism's major ideas.

Is anyone else performing these kinds of interruptions and collaborations in their own courses?

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Blake and the Digital Humanities

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My course for the next semester is heavily involved in the "digital humanities." Recently, Alex Reid wrote a fascinating post on his blog "Digital Digs" about what he called the "strong" and the "weak" versions of the digital humanities. The weak definition, Reid says "is one that draws some fuzzy and arbitrary line among digital technologies and says if you use these technologies to study humanistic content then you are a digital humanist." The strong version, on the other hand, "has two main components. There are makers, who build various digital tools for use in humanistic research and teaching. Then there are researchers, who study humanistic aspects of digital media and culture." Reid admits that this second definition might be too limiting, since the digital humanities are becoming more inclusive, and suggests a third category "adapters, who are taking emerging technologies and developing new scholarly and pedagogical methods. The difference being that adapters would be see disseminating knowledge about new digital methods and adapted tools as part of their scholarly work rather than simply using the tools to create familiar scholarly products."

Reid's third category is particularly interesting to me, since I feel that Blake held an "adapter" role in the development of a mass print culture during the Romantic period. In Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (2003), Janine Barchas cites Blake as an author whose combination of verbal and visual elements shows the need to move beyond the traditional bibliographic vocabulary used to describe "illustrations" and "design." In fact, along with writers like Alexander Pope and Laurence Sterne, Blake "include[s] a far wider variety of graphic designs (for example ornamentation and punctuation) which the scholarly community is just beginning to recognize as textual phenomena with interpretive impact" (9). Blake, Pope, and Sterne inhabit a transitionary period between manuscript and mass print culture in the eighteenth century, one that was slowly giving way to the woodcuts and the novelistic illustrations that would become more central as the novel emerged as the dominant middle-class form of narrative in the nineteenth century. Blake's designs, however, also allude to medieval forms of illumination, and in this capacity, they inhabit an adaptive role for both the visual and the textual aspects of modern print culture.

I want to use my course to see if Blake can be used in a similar adaptive capability for digital and participatory culture. My thesis isn't very new. Marcel O' Gorman, for example, uses Blake as a "pictoral schema for organizing and generating knowledge," specifically for what he calls a "hypericonomy:" a series of icons used to "encapsulate an argument and present it pictorially." My course would push O' Gorman's hypericonomic project into the realm of social and collaborative media.

With this in mind, I consulted the extremely useful DH Questions and Answers message board hosted by the Association for Computers and the Humanities. You can find a record of my conversation with the digital humanities community here. To summarize, I mentioned my desire to have my students create a DH tool over the course of the semester - and that I'd like the tool to rearrange William Blake's textual corpus according to specific tags. The responses were wide and varied. Patrick Murray John, for example, suggested that I have the students build the project three times: in Wordpress, in Drupal, and in Omeka. Wordpress and Drupal are both content management systems (CMS) that build websites around blog-based designs. Users can upload plugins and modules to expand the basic functionality of the site. Omeka is also a CMS, but it is built specifically for publishing online exhibitions.

I got many great suggestions for the class, including one from Dorethea Salo that suggested I look specifically at how different media platforms use different forms of programming, but I felt by the end of the discussion that I was getting away from my core-interest in applying William Blake and Romanticism to concerns in the digital humanities. That being said, I would suggest that anyone who is interested in the digital humanities or digital pedagogy visit DH Questions and Answers. It's an invaluable tool for learning about and experiencing the breadth of knowledge and experience held by the digital humanities community.

I'd like to turn my question it to the RC community. What are some suggestions for tools that will help scholars, students, even non-academic admirers of Blake to understand his work? I'm not looking for the programming-specific advice I got on the digital humanities board. Rather, I'd like something akin to a wish list. What do you want, as a scholar or a teacher, that could help you explore the world of William Blake?

References

Barchas, Janine. Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

O'Gorman, Marcel. "The Fourfold Visions of William Blake and Martin Heidegger." Romantic Circles Praxis Series. (2005). Web. 07 November 2010.

Reid, Alex. "Weak and Strong Defintions of Digital Humanities." Digital Digs. 03 November 2010. Web. 07 November 2010.

Pedagogies Blog Categories: 

Parent Section: 

Pedagogies

Parent Resource: 

Pedagogies Blog

Blake and the Digital Humanities

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

My course for the next semester is heavily involved in the "digital humanities." Recently, Alex Reid wrote a fascinating post on his blog "Digital Digs" about what he called the "strong" and the "weak" versions of the digital humanities. The weak definition, Reid says "is one that draws some fuzzy and arbitrary line among digital technologies and says if you use these technologies to study humanistic content then you are a digital humanist." The strong version, on the other hand, "has two main components. There are makers, who build various digital tools for use in humanistic research and teaching. Then there are researchers, who study humanistic aspects of digital media and culture." Reid admits that this second definition might be too limiting, since the digital humanities are becoming more inclusive, and suggests a third category "adapters, who are taking emerging technologies and developing new scholarly and pedagogical methods. The difference being that adapters would be see disseminating knowledge about new digital methods and adapted tools as part of their scholarly work rather than simply using the tools to create familiar scholarly products."

Reid's third category is particularly interesting to me, since I feel that Blake held an "adapter" role in the development of a mass print culture during the Romantic period. In Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (2003), Janine Barchas cites Blake as an author whose combination of verbal and visual elements shows the need to move beyond the traditional bibliographic vocabulary used to describe "illustrations" and "design." In fact, along with writers like Alexander Pope and Laurence Sterne, Blake "include[s] a far wider variety of graphic designs (for example ornamentation and punctuation) which the scholarly community is just beginning to recognize as textual phenomena with interpretive impact" (9). Blake, Pope, and Sterne inhabit a transitionary period between manuscript and mass print culture in the eighteenth century, one that was slowly giving way to the woodcuts and the novelistic illustrations that would become more central as the novel emerged as the dominant middle-class form of narrative in the nineteenth century. Blake's designs, however, also allude to medieval forms of illumination, and in this capacity, they inhabit an adaptive role for both the visual and the textual aspects of modern print culture.

I want to use my course to see if Blake can be used in a similar adaptive capability for digital and participatory culture. My thesis isn't very new. Marcel O' Gorman, for example, uses Blake as a "pictoral schema for organizing and generating knowledge," specifically for what he calls a "hypericonomy:" a series of icons used to "encapsulate an argument and present it pictorially." My course would push O' Gorman's hypericonomic project into the realm of social and collaborative media.

With this in mind, I consulted the extremely useful DH Questions and Answers message board hosted by the Association for Computers and the Humanities. You can find a record of my conversation with the digital humanities community here. To summarize, I mentioned my desire to have my students create a DH tool over the course of the semester - and that I'd like the tool to rearrange William Blake's textual corpus according to specific tags. The responses were wide and varied. Patrick Murray John, for example, suggested that I have the students build the project three times: in Wordpress, in Drupal, and in Omeka. Wordpress and Drupal are both content management systems (CMS) that build websites around blog-based designs. Users can upload plugins and modules to expand the basic functionality of the site. Omeka is also a CMS, but it is built specifically for publishing online exhibitions.

I got many great suggestions for the class, including one from Dorethea Salo that suggested I look specifically at how different media platforms use different forms of programming, but I felt by the end of the discussion that I was getting away from my core-interest in applying William Blake and Romanticism to concerns in the digital humanities. That being said, I would suggest that anyone who is interested in the digital humanities or digital pedagogy visit DH Questions and Answers. It's an invaluable tool for learning about and experiencing the breadth of knowledge and experience held by the digital humanities community.

I'd like to turn my question it to the RC community. What are some suggestions for tools that will help scholars, students, even non-academic admirers of Blake to understand his work? I'm not looking for the programming-specific advice I got on the digital humanities board. Rather, I'd like something akin to a wish list. What do you want, as a scholar or a teacher, that could help you explore the world of William Blake?

References

Barchas, Janine. Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

O'Gorman, Marcel. "The Fourfold Visions of William Blake and Martin Heidegger." Romantic Circles Praxis Series. (2005). Web. 07 November 2010.

Reid, Alex. "Weak and Strong Defintions of Digital Humanities." Digital Digs. 03 November 2010. Web. 07 November 2010.

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