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9.9 End-of-Chapter Assessment

Key Takeaways

  • New technologies, and in particular the Internet, are reshaping readers’ relationships to literary texts. Literary scholars should be actively working to understand these changes.
  • Writing for the web can differ dramatically from writing standard literary research papers. Writing on the web is usually more concise, precise, and skimmable. Online writing links to other resources whenever appropriate and attends to the aesthetic appeal of texts.
  • Digital projects offer new opportunities for collaboration between students and professors. Compiling thematic research collections gives students the opportunity to work directly with primary sources and publish scholarship available to other scholars and students around the world.
  • Mapping texts can give literary scholars a new perspective on texts, highlighting aspects of place that are less apparent in prose.

Writing Exercises

  1. Visit Wordpress.org and create a new blog where you can write your ideas about the texts you are reading in your class. Commit yourself to writing at least one post per week, and invite your classmates to comment on your posts. See if their questions help you hone your ideas for development in later, more formal papers and projects: Does writing “in public” change the way you approach what is, in essence, a journal of your evolving classroom experiences?
  2. Visit Google Lit trips (http://www.googlelittrips.org), a site that hosts “free downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth.”“About Google Lit Trips,” http://www.googlelittrips.org. Find a map of a book with which you are familiar, perhaps James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (http://www.googlelittrips.com/GoogleLit/Hi_Ed/Entries/2007/10/27_Portrait_of_the_Artist_as_a_Young_Manby_James_Joyce.html) or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (http://www.googlelittrips.com/GoogleLit/Hi_Ed/Entries/2008/3/31_The_Road_by_Cormac_McCarthy.html).James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London: Urban Romantics, 2011); Cormac McCarthy, The Road (New York: Knopf, 2006). Then start writing: How do these maps flesh out your understanding of the literary work? What do they highlight? What do they obscure?

Instructor Supplement: Class Exercises

  1. One digital humanities methodology not discussed in this chapter is textual analysis, which is the use of computational tools to discover patterns in textual data. On the ProfHacker blog, Julie Meloni described Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) as “the gateway drug to textual analysis” (http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordles-or-the-gateway-drug-to-textual-analysis/22781).Julie Meloni, “Wordles, or the Gateway Drug to Textual Analysis,” ProfHacker (blog), The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 21, 2009, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordles-or-the-gateway-drug-to-textual-analysis/22781. Wordle allows users to generate word clouds from blocks of text. In these word clouds, the most frequently used words in the text block are represented the largest. For this exercise, bring your class into a computer lab (or have them use laptops) and point them to Wordle.net. Ask them to copy and paste the full text of a poem, short story, or novel you’re reading in class into Wordle’s text field. You can find the raw text of many literary works on the web on sites like Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org). Once they’ve generated their word clouds, ask them to brainstorm ideas about what those word clouds might tell us about the text:

    1. Do the clouds highlight key words or ideas they didn’t notice before?
    2. Do the clouds deemphasize words or ideas they think are central to the text?
    3. Are there any interesting relationships they spot in the clouds—related words of similar (or very divergent) size? Do character names appear, and what do their sizes indicate about the importance of particular characters to the text?
    4. What important ideas do the word clouds seem to miss about the text?

      These discussions can serve as useful “jumping off” points into the richer details of the text itself.

      Bonus idea: You can use word clouds to brainstorm ideas for close readings of texts (see Chapter 2 "Writing about Form: Developing the Foundations of Close Reading"). Words that show up in large fonts in the word cloud might make good subjects for detailed analysis.

  2. As we suggested in the section on digital timelines, timeline projects can help students make sense of literary works with complex chronologies—particularly works that jumble the order of events, such as Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html). Introductory students often struggle to understand precisely when events happened in relation to one another. Untangling those stories’ chronologies can help students understand the work as a whole. You can then move on to talk about why the author may have chosen to reorder events, which can lead to higher-order discussions. In short, you can move from “What happened in this story?” to “Why is the story structured in this way?”—which is a more satisfying conversation for most literature teachers!

    For this assignment, reserve a computer lab. Put students into groups of two or three and spend a few minutes explaining how to build a timeline in a program such as Dipity (http://www.dipity.com). You should, of course, familiarize yourself with the software in advance of this class. Once students understand how to use the software, set them loose: ask them to create a timeline of events from the work under study in the order they occurred in the world of the work, not in the order in which they are presented to the reader. Depending on what work you are studying, give students significant time to tease out their timelines from the work—a story like “A Rose for Emily” can take an entire class period.

    You can, of course, ask students to create these timelines using paper and pencil, though if you plan to assign a larger timeline assignment then this in-class work can help train students to use the timeline software. You might consider compiling the class’ best work into one master timeline that you can share with the class for later reference.

    Bonus idea: On his blog, Brian Croxall describes building a collaborative timeline of American history as a cumulative project with students in his American Literature classes (http://www.briancroxall.net/2010/02/03/assignment-the-american-century-geospatial-timeline). Building a timeline as a class allows students to benefit from their colleagues’ work and helps hold all students to a higher standard. Rather than individual timeline assignments, you might consider a distributed, collaborative timeline assignment.

  3. Using Maria’s project as a model, divide your class into groups and ask them to use Google Earth (and perhaps Rumsey’s Map Collection) to plot the events in a text you are reading in class. This can be a large scale map (as is Maria’s, which spans the globe), or a very local map (see Brian Croxall’s assignment to map the events of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway: http://www.briancroxall.net/dh/assignments/mapping-mrs-dalloway.Brian Croxall, “Mapping Mrs. Dalloway,” Introduction to Digital Humanities, Emory University, http://www.briancroxall.net/dh/assignments/mapping-mrs-dalloway. The maps Brian’s class created are available here: http://www.briancroxall.net/dh/2011/10/03/maps-of-mrs-dalloway).Brian Croxall, “Maps of Mrs. Dalloway,” Introduction to Digital Humanities, Emory University, http://www.briancroxall.net/dh/2011/10/03/maps-of-mrs-dalloway. You should ask them to annotate each location with information from the text. You could also ask them to add historical information about the location itself. After they’ve worked on this project, you could ask them to reflect on their experiences—in particular, you might ask them to reflect on how plotting the events of text spatially shifted their understanding of the text itself.

Instructor Supplement: Class Peer Review

  1. Have students conduct peer review on one of the sample papers using the organizational peer-review guide found in Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.8 "Chapter 9: Digital Project":

    1. Place students in groups of three to four and have them reread the paper for peer review and fill out the guide sheet
    2. Have students discuss their feedback responses to the sample paper.
    3. Have students list the major feedback they discussed.
    4. Put the major issues on the blackboard or whiteboard.
    5. Discuss these responses. Make certain that you let students know that any paper can be improved.
  2. Plan to have your students conduct peer review on the drafts of their papers that they are writing in your class. Use the peer-review guide from Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.8 "Chapter 9: Digital Project" and have them work in groups of three and do the following:

    1. Bring two hard copies of their paper so that each member can read the paper, OR work in a computer lab where students can share their papers on line. You may want to use the educational software that your campus supports—for example, Blackboard or Moodle—or you can have students use Google Drive to set up their peer-review groups.
    2. Have two students focus on the first paper in the group. While these students are reading, have the other student read the other two student papers.
    3. The two students should quickly fill out the peer-review sheet and then have a brief conversation about the strengths of the paper and ways the paper could be improved.
    4. Move to the next student and follow the same process. Depending on the length of your class, you may have to reduce the peer-review groups to two students.
    5. If time permits, ask the students to provide general comments—or ask questions—about the specific papers or the assignment overall.
    6. You may want to use peer review for each paper in your class.