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2.1 Browsing the Gallery of Web-Based Texts

Learning Objectives

  1. Show how the web can be mined for a wealth of academically useful content.
  2. Introduce the concept of writing essays based on free, web-based texts.
  3. Explore how such texts lend themselves to critical inquiry.

Given that the focus of this chapter is on reading texts, the first section introduces a Note 2.5 "Gallery of Web-Based Texts". Think of this alphabetical, annotated collection of websites as an alternative collection of readings to which you and your instructor can return at other points in the course. If your instructor is assigning a traditional, bound reader in addition to this handbook, these sites might be purely supplemental, but if not, they might serve as a storehouse from which to build a free do-it-yourself reader that could be central to the work you do in your composition course.

Regardless of how you use these archives of texts, they’re meant to inspire you and your instructor to go on a scavenger hunt for other authoritative collections on the web. If your instructor is using a course management systemA web-based learning environment that organizes the work of a course (e.g., Blackboard). (like Blackboard) or a class-wide wikiAn interactive, shared website featuring content that can be edited by many users., these sites could easily be lodged in a document library of external links, and you and your instructor could add sites as you discover (and annotate) them. (Or, of course, additional sites may be added to this very chapter by your instructor through Unnamed Publisher’s customization feature.)

This collection of web-based archives, even though it references several million texts, merely scratches the surface of the massive amount of material that’s freely available on the web. Remember, too, that your college library has likely invested heavily in searchable academic databases to which you have access as a student. Faculty members and librarians at your institution may already be at work creating in-house collections of readings drawn from these databases. (For more on such databases, see Chapter 7 "Researching", Section 7.2 "Finding Print, Online, and Field Sources" and consult your college’s library staff.)

Because these noncommercial, nonpartisan websites are sponsored by governmental and educational entities and organizations, they are not likely to disappear, but there are no guarantees. If links go dead, try your favorite search engine to see if the documents you’re seeking have been lodged elsewhere.

The selection principle for this gallery is that the sites listed should be free of cost, free of commercial advertisements, free of partisanshipTaking an entirely one-sided point of view about a subject. (though multiple sides are often presented), and free of copyright wherever possible. If you’re not bothered by ads, you’ll find a wealth of additional content, much of which will be very useful.

Finally, remember, just because these sites are free of charge and free of copyright doesn’t mean you don’t have to cite them appropriately if you end up using content from them in your writing. See Chapter 22 "Appendix B: A Guide to Research and Documentation" of this book for information on how to document electronic texts. You and your instructor also need to be aware of any copyright restrictions on duplicating and redistributing content on these sites. These restrictions will usually be found at the site itself, but when in doubt, consult your college library staff.

Gallery of Web-Based Texts

Title: The Ad Council

URL: http://www.adcouncil.org

Brief description: Includes an archive of more than sixty-five years of public service advertising campaigns in print, radio, and television media.

Possible uses: Analyses of rhetorical technique in advertising; studies requiring historical context; comparisons of commercial and public-service marketing.

***

Title: American Experience

URL: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience

Brief description: Full-length documentaries produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), many available for viewing online, with additional resources provided at each film’s website.

Possible uses: Studies requiring historical context, comparisons of documentary and popular filmmaking, and comparisons of education and entertainment.

***

Title: Arts and Letters Daily

URL: http://www.aldaily.com

Brief description: A clearinghouse of web-based content (from magazines, newspapers, and blogs) on culture and current affairs sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education, updated daily, and archived from 1998 to the present.

Possible uses: Essays on contemporary topics; studies of the style and ideological cast of a particular commentator or columnist; generating ideas for possible topics for further research.

***

Title: The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy

URL: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/major.asp

Brief description: Yale University Law School’s collection of documents, including among many other items “Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents” (from which the demonstration text in Section 2.3 "Reading a Text Carefully and Closely" is taken).

Possible uses: Cross-disciplinary writing projects in history, religion, and political science; analyses of rhetorical and argumentative strategies.

***

Title: Big Questions Essay Series

URL: http://www.templeton.org/signature-programs/big-questions-essay-series

Brief description: A growing collection from the nonprofit Templeton Foundation, made up of essays by writers from different disciplines and backgrounds on several “big questions” (about a dozen essays per question).

Possible uses: Essay assignments on “great questions” requiring citation of conflicting sources; exercises on exploring alternative points of view; analyses of how biases, assumptions, and implications affect argument and rhetoric.

***

Title: C-SPAN Video Library

URL: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/videoLibrary

Brief description: An archive of more than 160,000 hours of digitized video programming on C-SPAN since 1987, including thousands of political debates and campaign ads; also applicable for the education category (see library for hundreds of commencement addresses).

Possible uses: Analyses of political advertising and comparisons with other kinds of commercials; analytical summaries of ideological positions along the American political spectrum from 1987 to the present; analyses of argumentative technique in political debates.

***

Title: From Revolution to Reconstruction…and What Happened Afterwards

URL: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/index.htm

Brief description: A collection of documents from American history from the colonial period to the present, sponsored by the United States Information Agency (USIA).

Possible uses: Analyses of rhetorical and argumentative strategies of documents in American history and government.

***

Title: Gallup

URL: http://www.gallup.com/home.aspx

Brief description: More than seventy-five years of polling data on myriad subjects, with constant updates from contemporary polls.

Possible uses: Analyses of American political and social trends from the 1930s to the present; comparisons with contemporaneous, parallel polls from other organizations; political science studies of polling methodology.

***

Title: Google Books

URL: http://books.google.com

Brief description: Includes not only in-copyright/in-print and in-copyright/out-of-print books for purchase but also out-of-copyright books as free downloads.

Possible uses: Access to free, out-of-print, out-of-copyright, older, book-length content for historical, sociological studies.

***

Title: The Internet Archive

URL: http://www.archive.org

Brief description: Created by The Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 that is committed to preserving digitized materials, this collection includes not only websites in their original forms but also audio and video collections.

Possible uses: Historical analyses of websites since their inception; popular cultural analyses of film, television, radio, music, and advertising.

***

Title: The Living Room Candidate

URL: http://www.livingroomcandidate.org

Brief description: A collection of hundreds of television advertisements of presidential campaigns from 1952 to the present, sponsored and operated by the Museum of the Moving Image.

Possible uses: Analyses of the rhetoric of political television advertising across time (from 1952 to the present); comparisons between television and print advertising in politics; summaries of political party positions and ideologies.

***

Title: MIT Open Courseware

URL: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Brief description: One of the best collections of university lectures on the web, along with Yale’s (see Open Yale Courses).

Possible uses: Completely free access to complete lecture-based courses from some of the best professors on earth in almost every conceivable university subject.

***

Title: The National Archives Experience: Docs Teach

URL: http://docsteach.org

Brief description: Classroom activities, reading and writing assignments accompanied by document collections from the National Archives, each concentrating on a specific historical era.

Possible uses: Ready-made reading and writing assignment sequences of primary documents from American history; cross-disciplinary writing projects in history, religion, political science, and cultural geography.

***

Title: The Online Books Page

URL: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books

Brief description: A collection of more than forty thousand free books, as well as an extensive e-archive of e-archives (see Archives and Indexes/General), edited by John Mark Ockerbloom at the University of Pennsylvania since 1993.

Possible uses: Access to free, out-of-print, out-of-copyright, older, book-length content for historical, sociological studies; cross-disciplinary writing projects in history, religion, political science, and cultural geography.

***

Title: Open Yale Courses

URL: http://oyc.yale.edu

Brief description: One of the best collections of university lectures on the web, along with MIT’s (see MIT Open Courseware).

Possible uses: Completely free access to complete lecture-based courses from some of the best professors on earth in almost every conceivable subject.

***

Title: Project Gutenberg

URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

Brief description: The most established collection of more than thirty-three thousand book-length works originally published in paper form, digitized and downloadable in a variety of formats, and free of American copyright.

Possible uses: Analyses of older, book-length literary texts; studies of specific historical and cultural phenomena.

***

Title: the Poetry Foundation

URL: http://www.poetryfoundation.org

Brief description: Thousands of poems and poetry-related material collected into a searchable archive, managed and operated by the Poetry Foundation.

Possible uses: Analyses of poems and poetic language; studies of specific themes as expressed through the humanities.

***

Title: The Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS): Collections Search Center

URL: http://collections.si.edu/search

Brief description: A vast collection of more than 4.6 million books, manuscripts, periodicals, and other materials from the various museums, archives, and libraries of the Smithsonian Institution.

Possible uses: Historical and rhetorical analyses of texts and resources in a variety of disciplines in the arts and sciences.

***

Title: This I Believe

URL: http://thisibelieve.org

Brief description: A regular feature of National Public Radio (NPR) since 2006, a series of personal essays read aloud on a variety of topics, archived together with 1950s-era essays from a program of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

Possible uses: Comparisons of social issues across two historical periods (e.g., 2006 to the present vs. the 1950s); comparisons between the personal essay and other genres of exposition and exploration; comparisons between oral and written texts.

***

Title: The US Census Bureau

URL: http://www.census.gov

Brief description: A trove of demographic statistics and surveys with a variety of themes from the most recent census and those conducted previously.

Possible uses: Summaries, reports, and causal analyses of demographic trends in American society; evaluations of the uses of statistics as evidence; social science studies of polling methodology.

Key Takeaways

  • The web affords writing students and instructors countless opportunities to engage with texts in a variety of media and genres.
  • The vast majority of web-based texts are available free of charge. A significant minority of publicly and privately funded sites are also free of advertisement and often free of copyright.
  • Your status as a college student also puts you in a great position to make use of any online library databases to which your college subscribes.
  • Even though web texts are easily accessible, they still need to be documented appropriately when used as part of a writing project.

Exercises

  1. Individually or in a group, go on a scavenger hunt for another web-based archive of texts that could be useful to your composition class as part of a no-cost alternative to a pricey print collection of readings. Try to meet the same criteria this handbook uses: the collection of texts should be free of charge, free of copyright restriction, free of partisanship, and free of advertising (except for sponsorship information in the case of nonprofit organizations). Write up an annotated entry on what you find, following the same format used in the Note 2.5 "Gallery of Web-Based Texts".
  2. Individually or in a group, get to know the Note 2.5 "Gallery of Web-Based Texts" in more detail. Find and critically analyze five to ten individual texts from one archive. Your critical analysis should include answers to at least five of the questions in the list of questions about speaker, audience, statement, and relevance in the next section or at least five of the Twenty Questions about Self, Text, and Context in Chapter 1 "Writing to Think and Writing to Learn". Be prepared to present your findings in a class discussion, on the class discussion board, or on a class-wide wiki.
  3. Find two texts from two different archives in the Note 2.5 "Gallery of Web-Based Texts" that explore a similar theme or topic in different ways, either from two different ideological perspectives or through two different genres or media. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the two different texts.