Archives and Collaborative Documents in the Literature Classroom

Last Tuesday, I wrote about some of the ways I have been implementing technology into my composition and literature classrooms. Today, I want to speak about a couple of more ways that I am incorporating the Internet and Web 2.0 tools into the literature classroom.

Before I begin, though, I would like to address a couple of issues that may arise when thinking about using these types of tools in the classroom. Some believe that we, as teachers, should change our approaches to teaching because supposedly our students learn differently from the ways that we have learned. I do not think that this is a new phenomenon. I just think that as we get older we continue to learn and figure out what works best for ourselves; however, that same method may not necessarily work for our students. The second issue deals with the belief that students want to use technology in the classroom or that they know how to use certain technological tools. This, of course, is not necessarily true across the board. The main factors in getting students interested, in any project, are the project’s construction, our enthusiasm as teachers, and the ways that they project will help students succeed in the future.

When thinking about my literature course this semester, I decided to start making a Prezi for students. Honestly, I did not think that the Prezi would continue throughout the course of the semester, but it has become a staple of my class. The Prezi highlights the conversations that occur between the texts that we are studying this semester, showing students the ways that authors as divergent as Mary Rowlandson and Harriet Jacobs or Sarah Kemble Knight and David Walker relate and respond to one another across decades and even centuries. While they may not respond directly to one another they maintain ongoing conversations that continue even today. (Click on the image below to view the Prezi.)

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The link below will take you to the Prezi, which is still a work in progress. It follows the reading schedule I posted in August, and it will continue through the end of the semester. There are a couple of notes about the Prezi that need to be said. One, I began by providing a works cited slide for the texts that I reference. However, this slide became too big, so I started adding the bibliographic information on the slide where the quote appears. Sometimes I do this simply with a book cover or, if no book cover is available or it is a chapter or article, I provide the full bibliographic information. Regarding images, I try to give information about them when needed. As well, there are links to other sites throughout the Prezi to give students further information. Finally, after each section, I include a “Questions to Consider” slide that focuses on the readings for that day and also ties those readings into broader conversations. Note: The Prezi does not include the entire lecture from the class. Students still need to take notes. 

While the above example does not have students actively using the technology to engage with the material being discussed, the next two activities have the class use Google Docs and archival websites to think through texts in the course. For he class period where we read Anne Bradstreet and Emily Dickinson, I presented the slides from the Prezi then had students annotate some of the selections on their own. To do this, I constructed two Google Docs pages (one for each course) and placed some poems from Bradstreet and Dickinson in each document. Each class had different poems. From there, students, in class, were required to annotate the poems by adding comments to specific words or lines.

For example, one student, when annotating “My obscure lines shall not dim their worth” from the fist stanza of Bradstreet’s “The Prologue,” wrote that the line continues Bradstreet’s stance of humility because she claims that she cannot write about “historical topics” due to her supposed lack of ability because of her gender. Elsewhere, another student focused on the word “suggestion” in Dickinson’s “The Bible is an antique volume-.” Annotating the word, which appears in the third line (“At the suggestion of Holy specters-“), the student noted that “suggestion” creates an view that she is confronting the Bible and its content coming through divine inspiration.

After class, I provided students with both documents so they could see the annotations for the poems we read. Rather than lecturing about each poem, students actively engaged with the poetry, even using web sites such as BYU’s Emily Dickinson Lexicon, to understand it better and to explore the thoughts and themes of each author. Along with this, the documents provide students with collaborative texts that they can use to not only better understand the poems but to study for the final exam and other projects as well.

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For today’s class, we are looking at some writings from John Russwurm who, along with Samuel Cornish, started the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper in the United States. Taking a cue from “Using Digital Archives to Teach Nineteenth-Century African American Literature” on the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies‘ site, students will begin class by browsing through issues of Freedom’s Journal on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website. As they browse through the issues, they will find an article, story, or announcement and answer the following questions.

  1. What piece did you find on the website? Summarize the piece.
  2. What does the piece you found say about the goals of the Freedom’s Journal?
  3. Based on your readings from John Russwurm, how does the piece you found correspond to his beliefs and the purpose of the paper?
  4. How does the piece you found challenge or reinforce your views of African American communities in the early part of the nineteenth century?
  5. What effects on their audience do you think the editors hope to achieve with the piece that you found?

There are more questions that could be asked; however, with the time limits of my courses, these questions correspond to the readings we will examine from Russwurm. By examining the paper, students engage in archival research. Part of the class will be spent talking about this aspect, after they complete the activity, to show students what researchers do, and what they can do with the ready availability of archives online that allow them to research various texts from anywhere in the world.

What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Archives and Collaborative Documents in the Literature Classroom

  1. Pingback: Phillis Wheatley’s “To Maecenas” and Subversion | Interminable Rambling

  2. Pingback: Working With Archives in the Literature Classroom | Interminable Rambling

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