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Final rendering of 3D model of Bethel Seminary.
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Creating Dynamic Undergraduate Learning Laboratories through Collaboration Between Archives, Libraries, and Digital Humanities

Abstract

In an environment of rapid change in higher education in which institutions strive to lure prospective students with unique curricula, there is a growing need to provide innovative pedagogical experiences for students through collaborations among archives, libraries, and digital humanities. Three colleagues at a small Liberal Arts university—a digital librarian, a historian-archivist, and a historian-digital humanist—planned an integrated set of assignments and projects in an “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course that introduced students to archival management and digitization of archival material. This article demonstrates how we developed this signature course and curriculum on a limited budget in the context of a liberal arts university, and illuminate how it capitalized on relationships forged among the archives, the library, the history department and the digital humanities program. We first describe our collaborative workflow, and how we involve undergraduate student-workers in these efforts. Next, we provide a detailed lesson plan for an Introduction to Digital Humanities course that integrates traditional archival materials, in this case photographs and blueprints of campus structures, into a digital archive. Finally, we share how our students converted these photographs and blueprints into digital 3D models via Sketchup, a powerful architectural modeling software.

Introduction

In an environment of rapid change in higher education in which institutions strive to lure prospective students with unique curricula, there is an increasing need to provide innovative pedagogical experiences for students through collaborations among libraries, archives, and digital humanities. There is also a growing body of literature—on research support for scholarship, curriculum development, collaborative publishing, and on shared values across these organizations and disciplines—about how historians, librarians, archivists, and digital humanists can forge mutually supportive relationships (Locke 2017; Middleton and York 2014; Rutner and Schonfeld 2012; Svensson 2010, para. 39; Vandgrift and Varner 2013). Kent Gerber (Digital Library Manager) Diana Magnuson, (archivist at the History Center and historian), and Charlie Goldberg (Digital Humanities coordinator and historian), are colleagues who set out to do just that at Bethel University, a small Christian Liberal Arts university in St. Paul, Minnesota. Applying insights from these literatures to the ever-evolving landscape of humanities teaching in higher education, the three planned an integrated set of assignments and projects that spanned a new “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course. “Introduction to Digital Humanities” was the first course in the new Digital Humanities major, and was designed to: engage and motivate students early in the curriculum with “hands-on, experiential, and project-based learning … where students think critically with digital methods” (Burdick et al. 2012, 134); “develop a broader set of skills … essential to students’ success in their future careers” (Karukstis and Elgren 2007, 3); and give students meaningful experiences and agency as a form of “professional scholarship” rather than placing them in a position of fulfilling “menial labor in a large-scale project” (Murphy and Smith 2017, para. 8). Our thinking about the design of this course was influenced by the pedagogical theory of Brett D. Hirsch, Paolo Freire, and Claire Bishop (Murphy and Smith 2017). Collaborative teaching always poses special challenges, but we anticipated that our diverse backgrounds and training would result in a rewarding and distinctive experience for our students.

This article will explain how we developed this signature course and curriculum in the context of a liberal arts university, and illuminate how it capitalized on relationships forged among the archives, the library, the history department and the digital humanities program. Built on the foundation of the material holdings of the History Center (Magnuson), the Digital Library (Gerber) was able to grow connections and extend the reach of these materials through an infrastructure of digital skills and collections. This combination provided a robust environment for the campus community to seek and eventually establish a Digital Humanities program, including a new major and a new faculty member (Goldberg) to develop and coordinate the program. The curriculum developed along the lines of Cordell’s four principles of how to incorporate digital humanities into the classroom, including starting small, integrating when possible, scaffolding everything, and thinking locally (2016). These relationships and principles enabled the development of a course, “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” which engages the archives, the digital library, and digital humanities domains in a mutually supportive and emergent cycle of learning and research.

Opportunities for undergraduate digital humanities scholarship and pedagogy are burgeoning, particularly at more prestigious liberal arts institutions. Occidental College in California, Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and Hamilton College in New York all maintain well-funded centers for either Digital Liberal Arts or Digital Humanities focused on undergraduate students. There are also several noteworthy inter-institutional collaborations among liberal arts schools—COPLACDigital (comprised of more than twelve schools), the Five Colleges of Ohio (Oberlin College, Denison University, Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the College of Wooster), the Five Colleges Consortium in New England (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst) and St. Olaf, Macalester, and Carleton Colleges in Minnesota have all received collaborative grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

At schools (like our own) that lack these resources, it can sometimes feel like the unique pedagogical opportunities afforded by this support are beyond the reach of faculty and staff. Our aim here is to describe our collaborative experiences and provide other scholars with a model of how the archive can intersect with digitization efforts and undergraduate pedagogy at smaller institutions of higher education. Together, these assignments and projects produced learning outcomes related to concepts in the humanities, archival research methods, digital competencies, information literacy, and digital humanities tools and software (Association of College and Research Libraries 2016; Bryn Mawr College n.d.).

History Center

The History Center, the archives at Bethel University, contains the institutional records of the university and its founding church denomination, known as Converge (formerly the Baptist General Conference). The History Center provides stewardship of manuscript and digital materials, collects historically relevant materials, curates three-dimensional objects, offers access to special collections, assists researchers, documents the story of its institutions and supports the mission of Bethel University and Converge. The types of collections housed at the History Center include but are not limited to: institutional records of Bethel University (college and seminary); Baptist General Conference (and all its iterations) minutes and annual reports; conference and university publications; church and district records (from both active and closed churches); home and foreign mission records; Swedish Bibles and hymnals; bibliographic records on conference pastors and lay persons; photographs and other media.

The director of archives at Bethel University (Magnuson) is a part-time position created in 1998 and held by a full time faculty member in the history department. This dual appointment provides unique positioning for the faculty member to provide a bridge for students between academic and public history. Students in her classes work with a variety of primary source materials, regardless of the level of the history course. Through the faculty member’s engagement with students in the classroom, Magnuson identifies students with proclivity for detail, curiosity about archival work, and willingness to explore a variety of primary source material. Sometimes, just by working with primary sources, or hearing a description of archival work or records management, a student reacts enthusiastically to the physical and intellectual encounter: “This is so cool, where can I have more of this kind of experience?” Over and over again, the experience of encountering a primary source in its original form is at once awe inspiring and profoundly transformative for the student. It is one thing to read about one of the first professing Baptist believers in nineteenth century Sweden and the impact this life had on Swedish Baptists in America, but it is quite another kind of experience to encounter in person the artifact of his diary (Olson 1952).

Two or three students each year are invited to work with the director of archives as student archive assistants. Students with a major or minor in history are given preference in the application process. Once hired, over the course of an academic year, students are exposed to and trained in: initial stages of archival control; digital inventory projects; arrangement and description; digital metadata entry; and patron assistance. For example, our students have contributed to developing collections focusing on photographs, film, artifacts, institutional records such as catalogs, yearbooks, and student publications.

In 2009 Bethel University hired someone for the newly created position of Digital Library Manager (Gerber). Since then, both the History Center and the Digital Library have transformed into dynamic learning laboratories for our undergraduate students to experience first-hand the tools of the professions of history and digital librarianship. The now nearly decade-long partnership between the History Center and the Digital Library is characterized by lively and productive collaboration on a number of fronts. For example, students hired by the history department are trained and work with both the Director of Archives and the Digital Library Manager. Major equipment that benefits both the History Center and the Digital Library has been purchased through mutual consultation and contribution of funding, such as an overhead book scanner and 3D scanner. Monthly meetings identify and move forward projects, workflow, grant applications, institutional initiatives, web presence, and troubleshooting as the need arises. At the behest of the Director of Archives and the Digital Library Manager, two foundational committees were formed to anchor our institutional conversations about our cultural heritage: the Cultural Heritage Committee and the Digital Library Advisory Committee, respectively. These committees support the History Center and the Digital Library through institution-wide input, drawing committee members from faculty, staff, and administration. In tandem we are significantly growing the breadth, depth, and reach of our collections, not only to our Bethel community, but to the world.

The Digital Library as Infrastructure and Bridge between the Archive and the Classroom

Of the Bethel Digital Library’s twenty-six collections spanning five major themes—Bethel History, Art and Creative Works, Faculty and Student Scholarship, Natural History, and the Student Experience—the majority of the content comes from the cultural heritage materials held in the History Center. Digitization of these unique materials broadens their availability to the community for teaching and research while simultaneously preserving the originals from wear because they do not need to be handled as frequently. Regular conversation between the Digital Library Manager and the Director of the Archives developed the library and archive as an infrastructure of values, practices, and workflows enabling a deeper understanding of Bethel’s cultural holdings and a broader reach of those materials to the Bethel community and beyond (Gerber 2017; Mattern 2014). In one of his series of four seminal articles on digital humanities, Director of the HUMLab in Umea University, Patrick Svensson discusses how the research-oriented infrastructure of technology, relationships, and practices, called “cyberinfrastructure” can be built specifically for humanities teaching and research (2011). Magnuson and Gerber’s collaboration developed a cyberinfrastructure at Bethel with the scanners, software, networked computing, meetings, digital collections, and committees mentioned above. The shape and scale of these resources influences a broad range of digital humanities literacies and competencies, as Murphy and Smith point out in their introduction to the special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly focused on undergraduate education (2017, para. 7).

Bringing student workers into this cyberinfrastructure of the Digital Library and History Center also continued this cooperation and cross-pollination of knowledge and skills, and introduced them to information literacy skills and digital competencies. The first set of concepts these students learn are aspects of the Association of College and Research Libraries Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. Information literacy is “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” Knowledge of these skills has particular potency due to the influence of Mackey and Jacobson’s (2014) concept of “metaliteracy,” which expanded on information-literacy abilities with respect to the networked digital environment, rapidly changing media, increased consumption and production of media, and critical reflection upon one’s self and the information environment (ACRL 2015, para. 5). The Framework consists of six frames, or core concepts, of information literacy, which are marked by certain knowledge practices and dispositions when a learner moves through a threshold of awareness from novice to expert. The six frames are, in alphabetical order: 1) Authority is Constructed and Contextual; 2) Information Creation as a Process; 3) Information Has Value; 4) Research as Inquiry; 5) Scholarship as Conversation; 6) Searching as Strategic Exploration.

Digital competencies, as developed at Bryn Mawr College, are a useful complement to information literacy, spanning media and disciplines, specifically focused on the digital environment, and developed within the context of a small, liberal arts college. This model of skills is organized into five focus areas and can be used as learning objectives or as descriptions of skills one already has. The five focus areas are: 1) Digital Survival Skills; 2) Digital Communication; 3) Data Management and Preservation; 4) Data Analysis and Presentation; and 5) Critical Making, Design, and Development (Bryn Mawr, n.d.).

Informed by their work in the archives with historical materials, student workers in the archive and the Digital Library are exposed to and develop skills and competencies related to the above ACRL information literacy frames and the Bryn Mawr digital competencies. They accomplish this through learning the processes of digitization, learning how to use scanning equipment and image manipulation software, writing descriptive metadata, and encoding finding aids in a version of XML called Encoded Archival Description (EAD) for public display. Going through these processes introduced students to information literacy frames of “Information Creation as a Process” and “Information has Value” as well as digital competencies like “Digital Survival Skills,” “Data Management and Preservation,” and “Data Analysis and Presentation” (Association of College and Research Libraries 2016; Bryn Mawr, n.d.). As students begin work with the Digital Library, they begin to realize the limit of their own skills and abilities with technology and recognize how they can grow their awareness and competencies with “Digital Survival Skills,” particularly in the subcategory of “metacognition and lifelong learning.” The competency of “Data Management and Preservation” included learning more sophisticated hardware like flatbed scanners and the software environment of spreadsheets. The flatbed scanner process involved scanning at a high enough resolution for the resulting image to represent the original in print or digital formats as well as enable the ability to zoom in for very close examination afforded by a digital format. Some students had not used spreadsheets before and learned how to navigate a spreadsheet and use them to organize different categories of data and store multiple records of items. Students were introduced to the domain of “Digital Analysis and Presentation” through classification methodologies and learned how to navigate a digital archive to research a topic of interest. The skills students learned from these experiences motivated them to learn more and prepared them for further study in graduate school or employment in the cultural heritage sector. This built a culture of trust, common understanding, and shared competencies between both units and set a foundation for further integration of Bethel’s cultural heritage in the classroom and the establishment of the Digital Humanities major (Bryn Mawr College n.d.).

While these competencies and literacies were building in student workers, it was necessary to integrate the learning of these concepts more broadly into the general curriculum so that more students could benefit. Some classroom opportunities emerged as a result of the digitization activities in various classes and disciplines. Students researched historical events and trends through their increased access to documents within a collection like the historical student newspaper collection for their journalism projects, engaging the frames of “Research as Inquiry” and “Searching as Strategic Exploration.” Students in a computer science course on data mining were also able to use the corpus of metadata from collections like the student newspaper, college catalogs, and faculty research as an object of study in their projects to identify trends in course offerings, changes in campus space, changes in school mascots through the years, and profiles of particular individuals in Bethel’s history. These assignments and experiences also built some familiarity with ways to engage archival material in classes other than a history class. Some of these students were excited to make these discoveries and had a heightened interest in the history of the institution, but their ability to pursue it in any depth was limited by the length of one single assignment.

In 2017, two developments in Bethel’s cyberinfrastructure improved the scope and scale for student learning anchored in these concepts: the launch of Bethel’s Makerspace in the Library and the creation of a Digital Humanities major. Bethel’s Makerspace is the result of a purposeful design discussion consisting of a cross-disciplinary group of faculty, staff, and administrators. This discussion resulted in a technology-infused space in the Library to explore innovative, creative technologies and encourage collaboration and experiential classroom experiences through the use of 3D scanners, 3D modeling and media production software, photo studio equipment, movable furniture, 3D printers, and meeting space for groups and classes. With the Digital Humanities program in place beginning in 2017, a new opportunity emerged for students to use the Makerspace as a lab to learn information-literacy concepts and digital competencies as demonstrated by other programs (Locke 2017, para. 8–49; White 2017, 399–402), and to engage more fully in the physical archive and the digital collections.

The Archive in Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Powerful technology has never been more accessible to educators, even, as we describe above, to educators at smaller schools like our own. Yet there remains the assumption that the digital humanities are best left to R1 institutions with deep pockets and deep rosters of instructors and support staff (Alexander and Frost Davis 2012; Battershill and Ross 2017, 13–24). However, there is a growing conversation and community of practice for undergraduate and liberal-arts–oriented digital humanities education, like the Liberal Arts Colleges section of the Digital Library Federation, that seeks ways for smaller institutions to thrive (Buurma and Levine 2016; Christian-Lamb and Shrout 2017; Locke 2017, para. 7). Bethel has been able to do this through incremental financial investments in technology and intentional partnerships like the efforts of the History Center and Digital Library mentioned above. In 2016–2017, Bethel designed and launched a new undergraduate Digital Humanities major informed by concepts from digital humanities pedagogy that capitalized on the existing technical and relational investments that can be available to faculty at most institutions with limited means (Brier 2012; Cordell 2016; Wosh, Moran, and Katz 2012).

We have benefited greatly by our archival holdings in the History Center. A particular challenge to incorporating digital humanities in the classroom is avoiding the technological black hole, whereby the technology used to make something becomes the focus of the thing itself, demanding the attention of both instructor and student at the expense of the humanistic subject. The archive, as an essential repository of humanistic data, can help anchor the traditional humanities at the center of digital humanities pedagogy. Here, we share an example of a lesson plan that aims to do just this—to craft an undergraduate archival project that is at once technologically sophisticated yet true to traditional humanistic values—all without the use of expensive equipment.

This project was inspired by a research trip Goldberg made to Rome as a graduate student at Syracuse University. On a day off from research, he visited Cinecittà, a large film studio just outside the city that housed the set for the 2005 HBO series Rome. The studio still maintains the set, featuring a scale replica of the ancient Roman forum, and allows visitors to traipse the grounds as part of a tour. As a Roman historian, standing in a replica of the forum was a powerful experience for Goldberg, and delivered a new sense of historical place and space that examining traditional scholarly materials—maps, plans, and written descriptions—couldn’t match.

When Goldberg arrived at Bethel in the Fall of 2016 and began designing the Digital Humanities curriculum, he looked for ways to emulate his experience abroad. Digital 3D modeling, including virtual reality applications, can provide such an immersive experience for the viewer, and holds a special value for bringing archival materials to life (Goode 2017). Working in tandem with Magnuson and Gerber, it became apparent that the History Center archive contained a treasure trove of materials pertaining to the university’s spatial past: photographs of historical groundbreaking ceremonies, architectural blueprints, and design sketches. Particularly alluring were plans and renderings for campus expansions that never panned out; such materials suggested alternative campus realities that would have fundamentally altered the contexts of how students, faculty, and staff interact with one another on a daily basis.

During a summer meeting in the History Center, we began to design a six-week lesson plan for Goldberg’s semester-long Introduction to Digital Humanities course. Our primary pedagogical goals were twofold: 1) to introduce students to archival digitization practices, culminating with the creation of digital records for traditional archival materials; and 2) to create immersive, experiential worlds based on the History Center’s architectural records. We determined that Trimble’s Sketchup, a 3D modeling program used by architects, interior designers, and engineers, was the best software tool for goal #2. Even more, Trimble provides 30-day trial versions of its Pro software for educators and students, long enough to cover the three weeks dedicated to 3D modeling in this assignment. They also now offer Sketchup for Web, an entirely online, cloud-based version of the software, which eliminates the need to install the software on campus or student computers, though it does lack certain key features of the Pro version.

For this assignment, students chose a building, actually built or only existing in design plans, from the campus’s present or past. They chose two photographs or other visual records of it from the History Center (such as blueprints or design illustrations), and were tasked with incorporating these as entries into the Digital Library. This aspect of the assignment was structured over three weeks, and gave students an introduction to many of the professional archival practices and digitization fundamentals described above, providing a hands-on “experiential” learning opportunity that immersed them in the fabric of our institutional history. Finally, students were to create 3D digital models of their structure using Sketchup. This final step also took three weeks.

As Digital Library manager, Gerber took the lead in the first half of the assignment. Because most students were freshmen, we assumed no previous exposure to the archival setting. We therefore took a field trip to the History Center, where Magnuson gave an overview of her work there and introduced students to basic archival practices. We then reassembled as a class to learn some basic digital competencies like how medium impacts the experience and the meaning of an archival item by comparing and contrasting physical and digital versions of the same object. Once introduced to this framework, the class focused on how any object, be it a photograph, document, or physical object, possesses a range of features unique to it and how to attach a description of it to a digital file in order to be intelligible and findable by both humans and computers. To use a nonarchival example, an action figure is made of a certain material (e.g., “plastic”), is a certain size (e.g. “8 inches tall”), made by a certain company (e.g., “Mattel”), in a certain year. This basic principle is a crucial aspect of proper digital asset management, and allowed us to introduce the concept of “metadata,” or information about an object that describes its characteristics. We stressed the importance of metadata in the archival setting and introduced our students to the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, an international organization dedicated to maintaining a standard and best practices for describing and managing any kind of information artifact including archival material. At its heart, Dublin Core consists of fifteen common elements necessary to describe the metadata of any archival object (e.g., “Title,” “Creator,” “Subject,” “Description,” etc.). We then looked at how items catalogued in the Digital Library store this metadata and apply local standards, like the Bethel Digital Library Metadata Entry Guidelines, adapted from the Minnesota Digital Library Metadata Entry Guidelines, to determine what kind of information is needed in each element. We focused particularly on the purpose of the Title and Description elements in the Historical Photographs Collection and analyzed the quality of the entries based on how well they provided context and facilitated discovery of the item by a potential researcher. For example, the Title element for the image of Esther Sabel, a prominent woman in Bethel’s history, was used to demonstrate levels of quality seen in Table 1: Poor – “Woman,” Good – “Portrait of Esther Sabel,” Better – “Portrait of Esther Sabel, Head of Bible and Missionary Training School.” Finally, based on this scaffolding, students were given the assignment of analyzing two images in the Historical Photographs Collection with insufficient or erroneous metadata, and improving the records in this Metadata Improvement Worksheet using a shared Google Spreadsheet.

Poor Descriptive Titles Good Descriptive Titles Better Descriptive Titles
These titles lack specificity and do NOT assist users in finding materials. These are examples of basic descriptive titles. These titles provide users with more specific information and relay exactly what is in the image.
Woman Portrait of Esther Sabel Portrait of Esther Sabel, Head of Bible and Missionary Training School
Crowd of People Group of students sitting on grass Group of seven students outside signing yearbooks
Table 1. Excerpt from Bethel Digital Library Metadata Entry Guidelines.

In the second week, we gathered several folders of photographs, blueprints, and architectural renderings awaiting catalogue entry in the History Center, and had our students spend some time perusing their contents. Since the assignment was quite long at six weeks and culminated in a large finished digital work that some students found intimidating, we found that students greatly appreciated this unstructured exploration, or “tinkering” (Sayers 2011) time. These photographs provided intimate glimpses into the university’s past and unrealized future(s), and motivated our students to find out more about the students who came before them. Students then selected two images for entry into the Digital Library, and received their second assignment: tracking down the necessary metadata. Their submissions would become a publicly-available part of the Historical Photograph Collection, adding a “real-world” application incentive to this assignment. Some images were easier to provide metadata for than in others, with dates or a list of subjects written on the back. Photographs of ground-breaking ceremonies could be dated by looking up construction dates for buildings on campus. Others required reasoned speculation. Dates for difficult photographs could be estimated by the style of clothing of the people photographed, for example.

In the third week, students wrote a two- to three-page blog post synthesizing Digital Library records into a narrative of a past campus event. Some students chose to write on their dorms or the campus building they had previously studied, while others wrote on a key historical event, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s scheduled visit to campus in the 1960s. This aspect, since it required close reading of a text or texts, was the component of the assignment most aligned with the traditional humanities, and helped alleviate some anxiety in the instructors that this digital-centered project might stray from core humanities values.

In the second half of the assignment, students created three-dimensional digital models of their campus building using Trimble’s Sketchup. Sketchup is a popular software tool with an active and enthusiastic online support community. Having access to a wide range of tutorial walkthroughs and videos greatly reduced the learning curve for acclimating both instructor and student to the software. There are also several guides and tutorials written specifically for those in the digital humanities community, which provide helpful tips for applying it to the humanities classroom. In particular, Goldberg benefited from the step-by-step guide for creating 3D models from historical photographs written by Hannah Jacobs at Duke University’s Wired! Lab, as well as Kaelin Jewell’s use of Sketchup to bring medieval building plans to life (Jewell 2017). We have made Goldberg’s intro and advanced tutorials available online. The fourth week was devoted to installing Sketchup on student computers and learning the basics. Students with experience playing video games tended to get up to speed faster than others, as the software’s simulated three-dimensional environment can be disorienting at first. Students, and instructors, should be encouraged to simply search Google if there is a particular process they are struggling with, since there are many helpful tutorials on YouTube.

After we learned the basic functionality, we began to translate our photographs into architectural models in Sketchup. The program allows the user to upload an image and transform the two-dimensions represented within it into three dimensions of digital space. It does this by insinuating axis lines on the image, and “pushing” the façade of the building back into a third dimension, as demonstrated in these two photos:

Figure 1. Screenshot of a building in Sketchup showing how 2D images are projected into 3D space.
 
Figure 2. Screenshot of a building in Sketchup showing early stages of 3D modeling from a 2D photo of a building.
 

Because this process involves transforming a two-dimensional image into three-dimensional space, it is imperative to start with the right kind of image. The one used above demonstrates the proper perspective; essentially, the image must contain a vanishing point. Head-on images do not allow the user to determine how deep the actual physical building is and are therefore not usable in this process.

Next, the user can begin to add features to their model, referring back to the two-dimensional image as necessary. In our class, we allowed students two additional weeks to complete this process. We found this to be necessary since none of our students were previously familiar with Sketchup. This time therefore allowed them to troubleshoot errors as they came up. Class time was dedicated to working on our models together. Students and instructors collaborated with one another and shared strategies and tips. Finally, the completed models were rendered with V-Ray, a plugin for Sketchup which places the models in simulated environments, adding convincing lighting and other scenery effects.

Many projects succeeded. Graham McGrew, for example, started with an unbuilt plan from the 1960s for an A-frame building to house the university’s seminary chapel, as shown in this final rendered image:

Figure 3. Final rendering of un-built “A”-frame chapel made by Graham McGrew.
 

Another student, Bobbie Jo Chapkin, chose to model the existing Seminary building, as shown in this final rendered image:

Figure 4. Final rendering of 3D model of Bethel Seminary.
 

There are clear challenges to incorporating archival practices into digital humanities pedagogy. Regarding our lesson here, students lacking familiarity with video games or other three-dimensional computing tools may find orienting themselves to Sketchup challenging. And, as with any large project, the quality of the final products will depend entirely on the effort and energy students put in. Still, this project successfully combined a focus on the humanistic value of the archive with a modern software application to create a sophisticated experience that recreated an episode from our past campus.

Expanding from this specific project to consider the collaborative efforts described here generally, the intersection between three diverse academic disciplines might be thought to be a difficult place for three busy researchers and teachers to land upon. However, we feel that the best strategy for effecting meaningful interdisciplinary pedagogy in the archive and the humanities is to encourage organic opportunities to develop at their own pace, and to scaffold larger projects such as this one upon the foundations already laid. Our efforts were long in the making—Bethel’s archivist position was created in 1998, its digital librarian position in 2009, and its Digital Humanities position in 2016. Rome, even as a modern HBO set, wasn’t built in a day. Though incorporating the traditional archive into digital undergraduate pedagogy is a relatively recent effort, it still rests primarily on tried-and-true humanities principles like thoughtful reading, analysis, and attention to detail.

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Svensson, Patrik. 2010. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 4 (1). http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/4/1/000080/000080.html

Svensson, Patrik. 2011. “From Optical Fiber to Conceptual Cyberinfrastructure.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5 (1). http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/5/1/000090/000090.html.

Vandegrift, Micah and Stewart Varner. 2013. “Evolving in Common: Creating Mutually Supportive Relationships between Libraries and the Digital Humanities.” Journal of Library Administration 53 (1): 67–78.

White, Krista. 2017. “Visualizing Oral Histories: A Lab Model using Multimedia DH to Incorporate ACRL Framework Standards into Liberal Arts Education.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 24 (2-4): 393–417.
https://doi.org/10.1080/10691316.2017.1325722.

Wosh, Peter J., Cathy Moran Hajo, and Esther Katz. 2012. “Teaching Digital Skills in an Archives and Public History Curriculum.” In Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics, edited by Brett D. Hirsch. 79–96. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers. http://books.openedition.org/obp/1620.

Appendix – Technology Tools

Spreadsheets (Google Sheets, Excel)
CONTENTdm
Epson Expression XL 10000 Flatbed Scanner
Sketchup
V-Ray plugin for Sketchup

About the Authors

Kent Gerber, the Digital Library Manager at Bethel University, is responsible for the library’s digital collections, the Makerspace, and collaborative digital scholarship projects. He holds an MLIS and Certificate of Advanced Studies in Digital Libraries from Syracuse University and focuses on how libraries engage with technology, teaching, research, cultural heritage, and digital humanities through facilitating conversation. He serves on the Operations Committee for the Minnesota Digital Library and co-designed new Bethel programs including the Digital Humanities major and the Makerspace.

Charlie Goldberg is Assistant Professor of History and Digital Humanities Coordinator at Bethel University. He helped design and currently oversees Bethel’s undergraduate Digital Humanities major. He has a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, and his primary research pertains to gender and politics in ancient Greece and Rome.

Diana L. Magnuson is Professor of History at Bethel University and Director of Archives, History Center of Bethel University and Converge. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and teaches courses on American history, introduction to history, and geography. As Director of Archives, Magnuson stewards and provides access to manuscripts, media, three-dimensional objects, and digital materials that document the institutional history of Bethel University and Converge. Magnuson also curates the institutional history of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

1939 cartoon of caricatures at the NYPL reading room
1

The Space Between Researcher, Object, Institution: Building Collaborative Knowledge with Primary Sources

Abstract

As archival and special collections resources become increasingly available in digital environments, our need to understand these documents in the context of their original material forms remains. As a result, techniques for teaching primary source literacy are a topic of rich discussion in special collections, archives, and library institutions, especially as information professionals consider ways to expand both research and readership. In light of the significant focus on undergraduate populations in many case studies on special collections pedagogy, this article discusses a year-long pilot program titled “The Collaborative Research Seminar on Archives and Special Collections” between the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the New York Public Library. To frame this interdisciplinary graduate seminar, which addressed both the theory and praxis of primary source research, I first discuss pedagogical frameworks, including Jacques Rancière’s critique of explication and Paulo Freire’s “banking model,” alongside Adrienne Rich’s teaching notes from her time at CUNY and Patrick Williams’ work on embodiment and archives. I then explore participant responses that address imagination, experimentation, and identification in the reading room—especially after the methods of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, a key contributor to this program. By enumerating the practices that informed and constituted the Seminar, I suggest that we might consider conversation, experience, and experimentation as fundamental values in special collections pedagogy.

As we envision the digital futures of books, manuscripts, and archives, there is no substitute for historicization: books and manuscripts are technologies too, and foregrounding this perspective allows us to contextualize our work with digital facsimiles, metadata, and resources. This conversation far predates our current moment of digital profusion; in Orality and Literacy (1982), Walter J. Ong compares Plato’s critique of writing to contemporaneous critiques of computation, noting that “once the word is technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology has done with it without the aid of the highest technology available.” Ong continues, arguing that this technology is not “merely used to convey the critique” but rather brings “the critique into existence” (78). To corroborate this: when we explore the implications of our material history, our work increasingly, though not exclusively, occurs within or alongside digital context. We write about rare and archival materials in digital spaces, create digital repositories of items, and use digital methods to analyze documents, from transcription services to x-ray spectroscopy. Yet handling, working with, and conceptualizing primary source materials are skills that can be gained through a combination of experience and instruction. Forms of digital access to these items do not circumvent the need for these skills, but only expand their value.

While there are decades of research on the concept of information literacy, the idea of “primary source literacy” is relatively nascent both as a professional term and as a template for specific pedagogical strategies (Carini 2016, 191). Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah Torres’ “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise” (2003) posits an influential three-part standard: domain or subject-focused knowledge, artifactual literacy, and the idea of “archival intelligence,” which consists of understanding archival theory and practices, negotiating strategies to handle the ambiguity of primary sources, and creating meaning from the artifactual or material qualities of a source. In addition, professional organizations for libraries such as the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and ACRL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) have formed a “Joint Task Force on Primary Source Literacy” (2015), whose guidelines have been approved as of 2018. These guidelines, which consolidate decades of work among information professionals in these organizations, attest to the growing importance of quantifying and understanding the ways in which we teach within special collections, archives, and libraries.

Today, teaching techniques that animate these guidelines are most visible in case studies or digital toolkits (such as Brooklyn Historical Society’s “Teach Archives” in 2013), designed to illuminate the pedagogy of specific institutions, as well as the Society of American Archivists’ recent publication series, “Case Studies on Teaching with Primary Sources (TWPS)” (2018), which animates the “Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy” by the same organization. These resources are often extensive, such as Using Primary Sources: Hands-On Instructional Exercises (Bahde, Smedberg, and Taormina 2014), a text designed to share both activities and types of learning goals across a range of collections and populations (vii). These techniques and examples often emphasize hands-on, lesson-based learning, as opposed to presentations or “show-and-tells” that exhibit materials but do not provide instruction on how to analyze them or access them in the context of a research visit. As embodied by Past or Portal?: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives (Mitchell, Seiden, and Taraba 2012), the increasing volume of specific case studies across materials and institutions contributes to the robust conversation on pedagogy in special collections, particularly at the undergraduate level. However, beyond resources such as the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) report, Terra Cognita: Graduate Students in the Archives (2016), which surveys the findings of the CLIR Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, few resources or literature exists for teaching primary source literacy to graduate populations, especially in a multidisciplinary context.[1]

At the graduate level, students often seek basic training that echoes aspects of Yakel and Torres’ (2003) idea of primary source literacy and includes negotiating materials in special collections and archives, navigating catalogs and finding aids that are primarily hosted in digital spaces, and managing information and notes once in the reading room. The types of questions that accompany graduate-level primary source literacy align with Yakel and Torres’ concept of “archival intelligence,” and are enumerated in the CLIR report Terra Cognita (2016): “Navigating Institutions,” “Negotiating Expectations,” “Documenting Processes,” and “Finding What You Need”—all essential aspects of archival research that involve technical knowledge, critical thinking, project management, and interpersonal skills. However, particularly in fields with a strong theoretical component, or in programs that require teaching, graduate students are also often primed for conversations not just on resources or skill development but also on special collections pedagogy itself. Special collections-based classes with graduate students are not just an opportunity to impart skills or information, but to critically examine “the archive” as a theoretical, conceptual, and literal space. As a result of the so-called “archival turn” in literary studies, for instance, sparked in part by Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1995), the idea of the archive, which graduate students often theorize in their work, may have little in common with an institution they visit to conduct research that is staffed by humans (not theories), with unique management and custodial procedures, reflecting a history all its own. In particular, scholars and archivists have different stakes in their definitions of what constitutes an archive or special collection, and how these sites signify critically, conceptually, and literally. By speaking across these disciplinary boundaries, we can more equitably offer credit and share responsibilities for making the material traces of history visible and accessible to those who need them. And given the critical possibilities of this interaction, special collections pedagogy stands to benefit from a model in which knowledge of primary source work is not just transmitted, but actively co-created with a highly proficient and critically engaged population.

To frame key features of critical pedagogy specifically for work in special collections,[2] we might consider the standard “show-and-tell” class visit, in which a librarian or curator imparts information about objects on display, as an example of Paulo Freire’s “banking model” of education from his canonical Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). In this model, knowledge is “bestowed” by those in possession of it unto those who do not, and students may only participate in “receiving, filing, and storing the deposits” of knowledge they are granted within the educational context (72). While these “show-and-tells” often have a highly affective component—since generally the most striking or historically important objects are featured, which can feel special or exclusive—they rhetorically foreground a teaching model in which the instructor is the gatekeeper or expert, and students the initiates. This model, based on explication, is the target of Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1987), in which he argues that a student who “is explained to” is susceptible to submit to a “hierarchical world of intelligence,” in which an explanation can always be obtained or offered as superior to the student’s own intuition and research (8). Rancière suggests that by explicating, instead of fostering the development of communal knowledge and conversation that he terms “universal learning,” we may well reinstate hierarchies of knowledge that certainly apply to the special collections reading room and should be challenged: the trope of the omniscient librarian, or the equally inaccurate librarian who solely pages items without interest or understanding.

If we consider the dynamic of the reading room—the physical space in which archival encounters occur—they are not dissimilar to the hierarchies of access that Rancière (1987) describes within learning: the uneven distribution of knowledge in the room, the presence of obstacles or facilitators that mediate the flow of materials that may yield knowledge, the differing institutional and disciplinary vocabularies on either side of the reference desk. Many of these discrepancies may have practical and professional purpose; for instance, security considerations require material to be distributed according to certain protocols, and standards for metadata and cataloging are often in place to facilitate physical access and storage of materials. In addition, many misperceptions about the figure of librarian or archivist as all-knowing or gatekeeping conceal the fact that staff often work with little resources, within hierarchies of supervision, and in light of their own interests or challenges regarding the material in their care.

However, the presence of these limitations offers us critical possibility, and likewise opportunity to re-examine their usefulness as policies. For instance, Patrick Williams’ (2016) work on critical library pedagogy cites Audre Lorde’s exhortation to examine not just books, but also our interactions with them, and asks what possibilities might unfold if we approach special collections work in this embodied way (111). Continuing in this critical pedagogical vein, we might also consider Rancière’s (1987) idea of intelligence as “the power to make oneself understood through another’s verification,” which includes dialogue, participation, and experimentation (73). Together, these theories suggest that rather than a pedagogical model that views student knowledge, particularly at the graduate level, as deficient and in need of augmentation, teaching models within special collections might collaboratively cover the technical basics expressed by Yakel and Torres (2003)—such as negotiating discovery systems, reading a finding aid, or mastering a research statement in the reference interview—while also allowing students and facilitators to build and develop collective knowledge that addresses both practical and conceptual considerations for primary source work in a digital era. In doing so, we can reframe teaching and outreach as acts of equity and access, expanding the historically narrow range of who feels empowered to conduct primary source work.

In what follows, I will suggest how this teaching model applies specifically to interdisciplinary graduate populations, and will discuss the technical and conceptual underpinnings of a year-long project titled the “Collaborative Research Seminar on Archives and Special Collections,” conducted with staff and support from the Graduate Center, CUNY and the New York Public Library. This project entailed numerous group meetings to discuss institutional partnerships, pedagogy, and student research, and culminated in two two-hour long seminars each semester, each hosting under twenty students, faculty, and staff that had been selected by application. While many aspects of this project used digital platforms—for promotion of the event, for applications, for communicating with participants, for locating relevant materials, and for follow-up communication with participants who elected to write blog posts about the experience—the core of this program was conversational, in-person, and interactive with materials. And after Ong’s (1982) discussion of using the highest technology available to understand those prior, this project uses digital methods—such as this article, as well as student blogs—to make its non-digital elements visible. Not as a preliminary to digital work, but as an essential interlocutor for it, the Seminar focused on cultivating the in-person conversations, relationships, and experiences that prepare participants for confident and critical engagement with primary source materials. Thus, I present this project as a case study, for the specificity the genre offers, but also invested in developing a pedagogical frame that considers two core principles—conversation and experience—that allow us to not only impart primary source literacy skills, but also reconsider the possibilities of what counts as “research” in our embodied encounters with primary sources.[3]

The Seminar

Background

The Collaborative Research Seminar on Archives and Special Collections began as a project in the spring of 2017 to engage graduate students, faculty, and staff in academic and cultural institutions with primary source research methods, and to increase dialogue between the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the New York Public Library.[4] In early 2017, I developed the idea for the Seminar with Alycia Sellie, Assistant Professor and Associate Librarian for Collections at the Graduate Center, CUNY, as well as subject specialist for the English program. Adam Rosenkranz, Gale Burrow, and Lisa Crane (2016) at Claremont University, who document their own “Primary Source Lab Series” begun in 2012, cite this type of collaboration—between subject specialist and librarians—as an effective model for graduate-level primary source teaching. However, like many projects, this one began not with a literature review but with an immediate concern: as a specialist, my daily work consisted of collaborating with a variety of researchers and materials, while my evenings were spent working as a graduate student in the Graduate Center, CUNY’s English Ph.D. program. I wanted to consider a structure to share my experiences as a library specialist with my academic colleagues and also to create a platform for my Library colleagues to share their expertise, ideas, and sentiments about their work. This commitment to representing voices across institutions was comprehensive, and involved a Seminar committee that included the Graduate Center Library’s Alycia Sellie, Roxanne Shirazi, and Polly Thistlethwaite, the New York Public Library’s Jessica Pigza and Thomas Lannon, faculty advisors Ammiel Alcalay (Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative) and Duncan Faherty (The Early Research Initiative), the Center for the Humanities’ Kendra Sullivan and Sampson Starkweather, and Matthew K. Gold and Lisa Rhody from Graduate Center Digital Initiatives. Together, the committee negotiated pedagogical structure, the application process, and decisions that ultimately contributed to the collaborative nature of the program.[5] The Seminar was designed for the needs of an interdisciplinary and varied applicant pool, with the perspectives of numerous committee members, facilitators, and participants whose work addresses academia, radical archives, publishing, and special collections librarianship. As Marcus C. Robyns (2001) indicates, teaching primary sources beyond discipline-specific skills and knowledge allows us to envision “the archives [as] not only a repository of the past but also a challenging center of critical inquiry” with multiple interlocutors and facets, and the Collaborative Research Seminar sought to create an experience that spoke to this concept (365).

A key part of the Seminar’s pedagogy took up the primary source principles of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, begun in 2010. This publishing initiative, under the editorship of Ammiel Alcalay and consulting editorship of Kate Tarlow Morgan, in conjunction with staff from the Center for the Humanities, connects doctoral students and guest editors with projects that explore the archives of under-published and underrepresented authors of the twentieth century, as well as lesser or unknown aspects of well-known authors. The results are published annually and draw on a variety of authors from Langston Hughes to William S. Burroughs, Kenneth Koch to Toni Cade Bambara, Diane di Prima to Ed Dorn. As editor Megan Paslawski (2013) notes, the principle of Lost & Found is to “follow the person,” an ethos that Alcalay and the editors take literally—as in, visiting poets or the unexpected institutional and personal places their works lead—and also archivally. Instead of privileging scholarly conversations and secondary knowledge that categorizes materials, Lost & Found editors are encouraged to listen closely to the documents, engaging what their primary materiality might mean (8). Given Rancière’s (1987) Jacotot, whose teaching method rests on distributing literature and then engaging with it closely, carefully, and extensively without explication, Lost & Found’s exhortation to “follow the person” models a mode of both pedagogy and academic research centered on fidelity, community, connection. As Paslawski (2013) notes, this method “allow[s] more than words to be found” in its requirement that we examine what is there, listen to it on its own terms, and forsake traditional narratives about materials for the paths they indicate (9). This method encourages a different practice of engaging with archival materials, by fostering personal relationships with heirs and literary estates, former colleagues, and other archivists, editors, and scholars to generate new insights and interest in the subject. In particular, this entails “rescuing” literary figures from the way they have been historicized (or forgotten), in order to understand the person who actually was, and restoring the live-wire network of authors and collaborators instead of siloing authors by style or literary movement. While Lost & Found focuses on twentieth-century poetry that might broadly be considered as part of the New American poetry milieu (even as it challenges the value of such a categorization), its methods are applicable to a variety of primary sources—many of which we examined in the Collaborative Research Seminar itself.

As an essential teaching resource, Lost & Found has published archival materials on pedagogy that were generated by poets who taught at City University of New York, including Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, and Toni Cade Bambara. These poets were hired as instructors by Mina Shaughnessy, the Director of the CUNY SEEK Program (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) in the late 1960s. This program, which came to City College in 1965 as a pre-baccalaureate program, sought to provide additional instruction and educational support to students from a more diverse range of communities, and to increase the percentage of African-American and Puerto Rican students at City College (Rich et al. 2013, 1). In a chapbook of her archival materials from this era, Lost & Found editors include quotations by Adrienne Rich of Paulo Freire, among numerous other critical pedagogy voices, as she writes her own powerful methods of teaching. In her “Notes, Statements & Memos on SEEK, Basic Writing & the Interdisciplinary Program (1962-1972),” Adrienne Rich writes of her class English 1.8:

The problem for the teacher is to make the term’s work supportive and relevant for each and every student: to help dislocate ‘blocks,’ to open possibilities of expression, to help each student as much as possible to become the kind of writer he is meant to be. It is not simply to turn out 15 people who can pass the English proficiency examination, although we hope that that will inevitably result. (Rich et al 2013, 18-19)

While Rich’s subject is writing, this type of pedagogy is widely applicable. Rancière (1987) expresses similar sentiments—“the problem is to reveal an intelligence to itself”—but Rich’s model is distinctly expressive and supportive, beyond a baseline of fostering student self-motivation and independence (28). As with the Seminar, we might think beyond activities designed to produce proficiencies (like Rich, while acknowledging that these are essential), but look ahead to the outcome of fostering the unique type of primary source researcher our students want to and need to be. As with Rich’s pedagogy, this type of mentorship is an act of equity in its potential to expand who believes themself to be a writer, or an archival researcher—and thus, a custodian and author of our material history.

Implementation

As with any conversation on pedagogy, theoretical robustness depends on good implementation: this starts with understanding both learning goals and student needs. To learn more about self-reported student needs and interests, as well as manage enrollment numbers, the Seminar began its pilot year with an application process. Both the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the New York Public Library are considering how to contribute the resources necessary to continue, given that 117 students, faculty, and staff from primarily the Graduate Center, CUNY applied over the course of the pilot year in two application cycles. The volume of applicants attests to the need for this type of programming, and while the demand for the Seminar far exceeded our instructional capacity at the time, I connected with all applicants to provide additional resources and support for their work.[6] Expressing interest across a wide swath of disciplines, skill levels, and even academic status, the application results of the Collaborative Research Seminar foregrounded the need for pedagogy with an interdisciplinary audience in mind. Given that most case studies for special collections pedagogy focus on class-specific visits that have a set subject or topic, the Collaborative Research Seminar explores a teaching model that challenges us to give voice to interdisciplinary archival experiences.

The first iteration of the Seminar in Spring 2017 was hosted jointly at the Graduate Center Library and the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room of the New York Public Library, with a cohort of 12 participants selected from 58 applicants. The second iteration involved 19 participants from 59 applicants, as an experiment to determine scalability of the pedagogical model. Most of the participants were graduate students, with one or two faculty members at each Seminar; the committee decided to prioritize graduate student applications and work towards a different model to specifically address the different needs of faculty. All participants from both sessions were given the opportunity to publish a blog, funded by the Center for the Humanities, about their experience and the items they examined at the New York Public Library, and to join the working group Primary Source, also through the Center for the Humanities. Given also the inability of the program’s structure to accommodate all applicants due to staffing and resources—a conflict at odds with the very mission of the program to increase access to special collections work—much remains to be seen as to the possibilities of this model.[7]

Each Seminar consisted of two sessions—held for two hours in the evening, two weeks apart. The first session was hosted by the Graduate Center Library and oriented participants towards specific questions and concerns in archival work. The second session was hosted in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room at the New York Public Library, and consisted of hands-on experiences with collection holdings. I worked with staff from the New York Public Library to curate objects from the second session in response to conversations and feedback from the first session, either around an area of research interest or a theme in archival work. Each session concluded with a short exit survey that participants completed on paper, containing basic response questions, including hopes for future sessions or information that was helpful or still being digested. To accommodate the variety of skill levels in the Seminar, participants also received a sheet on how to handle special collections material, as well as a hand-out on other Graduate Center and New York Public Library collections and resources available to them as their research progresses.

In the Spring Seminar, with a cohort of 12 students, Alycia Sellie and I led the initial session of the first Seminar with an open-ended discussion on archival work. Topics discussed included challenges with finding relevant resources, negotiating expectations in reading rooms, and collaborating with archival staff. The session concluded with small group work browsing NYPL’s Archives Portal and digital catalog to find items of interest for the second session. Participants wrote suggestions for second session on notecards and submitted them before leaving. After a debriefing meeting that included feedback from the Seminar committee, I worked with Thomas Lannon and Jessica Pigza to lead the second session. Using New York Public Library collection materials from multiple curatorial units, we conceived of research tables as “stations” that addressed specific fields of knowledge or types of archival materials—including institutional records, books and annotation, serial publications, family papers, lightly processed archival boxes, and others. Items were arranged by their designated theme on a table, where participants were invited to rotate either solo or with colleagues to examine the materials. After rotating through stations, participants reconvened for a large group discussion about materials they encountered. The session ended with completion of feedback forms, and an invitation for participants to stay involved by writing a blog post or joining the working group for Primary Source at the Center for the Humanities.

The Fall Seminar operated on a similar principle, although with a slightly larger cohort of 19 participants. In advance of the first session, the Collaborative Research Seminar committee distributed a list of readings to participants to assist in framing their Seminar experience, including introductions to the field of archives as well as accounts of specific experiences with primary source work (Appendix A). To accommodate a larger cohort of students, the first session drew on the rotating station model of the second session of the first Seminar. Staffed by Meredith Mann (NYPL), Tal Nadan (NYPL), Alycia Sellie (GC CUNY), Roxanne Shirazi (GC CUNY), Thomas Lannon (NYPL), and myself, the rotating stations covered four main themes. These themes, collaboratively developed and inspired by Roxanne Shirazi’s sharing of the CLIR report Terra Cognita (2016), included “Navigating Institutions,” “Negotiating Expectations,” “Documenting Processes,” and “Finding What You Need.” Participants rotated through the first three stations for short amounts of time, and then remained as a whole group in the final station—an exploration of archival vocabulary, New York Public Library discovery tools, and a working session where the group populated a shared Google Doc with items of interest as a way to experiment with collections discovery. The relatively high ratio of facilitators to participants allowed for a variety of pedagogical approaches within each station—from small activities to open discussion—as well as offered participants an opportunity to meet and connect with librarians at the Graduate Center and the New York Public Library.

The second session of the Fall Seminar followed the model of the Seminar’s first iteration, featuring a series of curated stations designed around groups of documents from the New York Public Library’s curatorial units of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. After rotating through a few stations, either collaboratively or solo, participants convened for a larger follow-up discussion. The session ended with completion of feedback forms, and an invitation for participants to stay involved by writing a blog post or joining Primary Source at the Center for the Humanities.

For both of the second sessions of the Seminar, material selection was an especially important component. We sought to not only choose generative items that spoke to multiple research possibilities, but to create a pedagogical framework in which participants could encounter these items with as little predetermination as possible. Given the interdisciplinary nature and varied skill levels of the participants, the principle of “listening closely” to documents on their own terms was key to the success of the hands-on portion of the Seminar. This was accomplished in part by mitigating expectations: in the application phase of the program, we asked participants to submit research interests, but reinforced that the Seminar was not a reference consultation and they were likely to encounter materials that did not speak to their current research topics. This openness was also facilitated by the manner in which participants were invited to encounter the materials themselves in the second session—by roaming from table to table, alone or among colleagues, for suggested ten-minute intervals.

Curated stations in the reading room had minimal didactics, generally only including a small slip that indicated whether or not items could be photographed for online distribution (as on social media networks, such as Twitter). For some archival materials, we would supply the finding aid or the catalog record as an additional object on the table in its own right, to facilitate the iterative practice of negotiating the physical object alongside its metadata. Participants were encouraged to learn about the materials in this exploratory manner by speaking with the session’s facilitators and their colleagues, as well as being attentive to the nature of the encounter itself, beyond how the item might apply to their specific research. We ended the second session with a framing discussion, that allowed us as a group to consider the possibilities and limitations of such an interdisciplinary openness to materials, and what types of encounters encourage increased comfort and skill with primary source work.

Specific examples of collection items from the first Seminar included Isaac Newton’s assistant’s edits on the Principia (1687), Wallace Berman’s innovative literary mail-magazine Semina, Sylvia Plath’s annotations of The Four Quartets, a copy of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as a book-in-parts, Patti Smith’s notebooks juxtaposed alongside nineteenth-century commonplace books, a single box from the Timothy Leary Papers, Noah Webster’s correspondence with his daughters, among many others. These items, which range from rare books to periodicals, archival material to unique manuscript items, offered participants a variety of archival encounters to experience and discuss. Likewise, in the second session, selections included Muriel Rukeyser’s reading notes on Willard Gibbs, a collection of archival research done by Rukeyser; the mimeographed biweekly magazine, The Floating Bear, edited by Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones; the San Quentin execution register; photographs by Jessie Tarbox Beals of the Health School at P.S. 40 in New York City in 1918, from the People’s Institute records; affidavits and inspector’s reports from Brooklyn and East Harlem from the Committee of Fifteen records; as well as documents relating to early printing in Peru, 1584-1628. Each of these stations presented a range of materials that, whether or not they directly addressed participants’ research field, afforded increased experience with the first steps of meaning-making with primary sources—to look closely, and listen to the documents.

This type of close attention was modeled in multiple ways across a single collection. The New Yorker records station, curated by Tal Nadan and Meredith Mann, contained a typescript of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and letters to the editor in response, a print copy of The New Yorker from the Library’s general research division, and a computer opened to the New Yorker Digital Archive database. Here, we encouraged participants to think of the different digital and paper materialities of these items and how they might serve varying forms of research. For instance, sometimes a searchable database of digitized items is far more expedient than searching individual items, depending on the research question. Through printouts of the digital catalog records and discussion of digital resources, we sought to underscore how different materialities address different research needs.

With material selections for special collections teaching, it is difficult to avoid the act of curation, which is traditionally associated with the “show-and-tell” format. Expertise and knowledge of collections is a valuable pedagogical resource, to frame disciplinary and methodological approaches to materials widely, as well as suggest the sheer variety of encounters that can occur in special collections. While the very act of creating stations constituted curation in the Seminar’s pedagogical model, the approach to material selection in conversation—noting its arbitrariness, its relationship to a librarian’s personal interest, and its value as an example of a type of record group—opened the idea of selection for questioning. In this way, by understanding that one must start somewhere for hands-on primary source work but that this act nevertheless predetermines the experience, the pedagogy of the Seminar used discussion to reframe and question the authority of material selection.

The final aspect of each iteration of the Seminar was post-assessment, a practice that is encouraged by Anne Bahde and Heather Smedberg (2012), who advocate for “measuring the magic” as an essential component to facilitate primary source literacy and build on Esther Grassian and Joan Kaplowitz’s (2009) instructional literacy assessments of reaction, learning, and performance assessments. These translate to three rhythmic questions: “did they like it?” “did they get it?” and “can they do it?” (156). To address this, the Seminar used a questionnaire assessment, which entailed completion of a paper exit survey after each session. For the initial session, questions focused on clarifying learning objectives and understanding how participants felt about the experience, and for the second session, the questions focused on the entire Seminar structure more broadly.

In terms of “did they like it”: all participants said they would recommend the program to a colleague, and when the second Seminar cohort was asked if their likelihood of using New York Public Library materials increased as a result of the Seminar, all answered affirmatively. The question of whether participants “got it” creatively appears in the resulting blog posts published through the Center for the Humanities, which I will address shortly. As for “can they do it”: the nature of graduate research is long and winding, with results diffused across publications, papers, and dissertations. Thus, while assessment is a key consideration, given the complexity of the materials and subjects we teach, metrics for assessment in graduate populations may ultimately constitute very long-term and qualitative information. In the case of the Seminar, while we have provisional information as to its reception and success, it may be too early to understand the impact on its participants and facilitators. What does offer extensive insight, however, are participant-generated blog posts that reflect on the experience.

Conversation and Archival Encounter

While the success of these Seminars in terms of quality of conversation, depth of thought, and general demand and interest is due to a special alchemy of enthusiastic instructors, participants, and diverse expertise, I observed two fundamental pedagogical features within the structure of the Collaborative Research Seminar. These two features—conversation, and what I will term the “archival encounter”—challenge the general protocols of the reading room in ways that are productive for both participants and instructors. In doing so, they offer an opportunity to rethink what is in fact occurring when we teach with special collections or work with primary source materials.

“The archive” is often an archetype of rules, silence, and prowess—quiet rooms with careful pencils, researchers with well-formulated questions, librarians as gatekeepers to the treasures. Even with proper training on and permission to handle rare items, students may, as Patrick Williams (2018) notes, appear “almost scared to move” (118). We might consider this timidity as a result of the aura of the materials themselves, as Williams discusses, and also the imposing aura of the institution—including reading room, policies, and atmosphere. These archetypes (and indeed, stereotypes) obscure many of the realities of reading rooms, from the intellectual labor of staff to institutional hierarchies and pressures, and deserve to be thoroughly questioned (if not outright debunked). Thus, to encourage conversation around methods, to invite participants to encounter materials without research questions, context, or any hope of being an instant expert, is to de-center the authority of the reading room and reference model of special collections. This act not only demystifies, but also reimagines what parts of the archival encounter might be considered research: emotion alongside analysis, touch alongside historical knowing.

In their assessment of an undergraduate-based special collections program, Melissa Hubbard and Megan Lotts (2013) reiterate the importance of responsiveness and experience in their program’s success, encouraging students to relate materials to their “own thoughts and feelings” as a way to “view themselves not only as consumers of information, but also as interpreters and creators” (32). Hubbard and Lotts describe a relatively familiar process to those who have worked in special collections: the realization that authority and answers are not to be uncovered and “consum[ed],” but rather forged. Like the methods of Rancière’s Jacotot, the experience of encountering primary sources—especially during a class visit, in the context of a seminar, or in early stages of research—defies simple explication or understanding and instead asks for more of the researcher: thinking, feeling, creating context. As Patrick Williams (2016) notes, the general focus on explication, or the “supplying [of] answers” in response to materials, is often transformed when the reading room becomes a classroom space, “relieved by the overwhelming impulse to notice the odd or unexpected attributes of the materials with which we share space” (118). Williams’ word, “relieved,” is critical to the affective experience of this type of encounter—when we examine items that are not part of our fieldwork, that float without context for that initial moment of encounter, the experience of archival work is suddenly not about context or answers, but about immediacy. The moment of the encounter becomes a close orbit between the object and the ability to make sense of its form, our feeling.

This intensity of encounter often leads to imagination and identification as powerful forms of archival knowing, such as those described by Iris Cushing (2017), a participant in the first Seminar who returned to the Berg Collection to work on The Floating Bear, a rapidly and frequently published mimeograph newsletter edited by Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka from 1961 to 1971. As part of her investigation, Cushing considers the question of context by examining the variety of authors represented in The Floating Bear, noting how the material document collapses the temporal distance between her and her subject, as well as creates a force-field of focus unto itself. Writing about these poets, she notes:

Those people are very close (their work is in my hands) and yet very far away (as it was made over half a century ago). In the Bear the names of the authors are placed after their work, so if I didn’t recognize the poem, I wouldn’t know who wrote it unless I turned a few pages. There’s no table of contents. The poem is the total focus of attention. I begin to read, my eyes wandering over the plain, uncluttered space of the page. (Cushing 2017)

While Cushing’s observations are specific to The Floating Bear’s decisions in layout and publishing, her statement that “the poem is the total focus of attention,” in the absence of paratextual information such as a table of contents, author biographies, or even secondary research in the moment of the encounter, might be a metaphor for the type of archival encounter that occurred in the Collaborative Research Seminar more generally. Cushing follows the imperative of the poem as “total focus of attention” as she states, “I begin to read,” offering a succinct methodology for archival work: find the focus in the material itself and encounter it on its own terms. Doing so, as she finds, leads to imaginative possibilities, generated by this specific materiality:

Sliding the very first issue of the Bear out of its white envelope, I found myself holding a stapled packet of 8 ½ x 11” pages, creased long ago from being folded in half for mailing. There was a purple 3-cent stamp in the top right corner, and a typed mailing label above the masthead, bearing the address of the poet John Wieners. Instantly I envisioned the young poet on a day 56 years ago, checking his mail, loosening the staple holding the newsletter closed (a staple now rusty with age) and sitting down to read it. (Cushing 2017)

Here, Cushing demonstrates not only the act of physically investigating the material for signs of its context—the fold in the paper, the stamp, the address—but also a key recipient, the poet John Wieners, wiggling the staple that holds the mimeographed pages closed. This act of imagination requires context—such as knowledge of Wieners’ status as a poet in the New American milieu, as well as the importance of The Floating Bear for creating poetic community when poets were far-flung, often broke, and hungry for each others’ work. However, as Cushing narrates, the act of sitting in a special collections reading room, imagining the addressee at a kitchen table, attests to the particular magic of primary source work—like crystals, these objects may hold energy of eras prior, memories, and experiences that we might tap into through imagination and experience. This collapse of boundaries is critical in the archival encounter, and the implementation of stations in the Collaborative Research Seminar intends to create space for these moments.

Writing on Valerie Solanas’s annotated SCUM Manifesto held in the Manuscripts Division, Collaborative Research Seminar participant Cory Tamler (2017) notes that

During the Collaborative Research Seminar we tried to think beyond the limitations of the practical and to imagine what might be possible within archives. I got fired up by instances of time leaving marks in an archive, on an object; an object’s temporal layers. What drew me to the annotated SCUM Manifesto is the way it contains two characters who are the same person. It’s a record of a conversation between the author and herself, but it’s a performative conversation, enacted for an audience (but what audience?) that was already historicizing her through public characterizations of her sexuality and mental health. It resists the freezing action of historicization, existing within time dynamically.

Together, conversation and “the encounter” in the Collaborative Research Seminar might echo Rancière’s (1987) idea of the material book as a site for “verification” based on its material qualities: “the materiality of each word, the curve of each sign” (15). When enmeshed as a pedagogical strategy, conversation and experience focus the instructors or facilitators not on verification of the student’s “knowledge, but the attention he gives to what he is doing and saying” (32). The second session is particularly instrumental for this process, since materials are presented as stations that participants can engage at will. Instructors may choose to circulate and linger around their favorite stations, sharing conversation with participants, or might abstain from revealing contextual details. The focus is not on transmitting knowledge, but on framing our experiences in terms of the material conditions that inspire them.

Conclusion

At its core, the move to create practical resources and theoretical constructs around the particulars of special collections pedagogy rests on a political and ethical imperative. The movement to reconsider radical, inclusive pedagogy and decenter the economic and cultural hierarchies that restrict access to education reminds us of important precedent for destabilizing the idea of who certain institutions are meant to serve. Libraries, from the nineteenth century onward, have served as symbols of democracy (even though they may be more accurately seen as testaments to benevolent capitalism)—the New York Public Library’s latest slogan is “Libraries are for Everyone,” and now, “Knowledge is Power.” At the same time, a public institution like the New York Public Library also contains reading rooms for rare books and archives, whose use is governed under significantly different conditions than the rest of the Library. While these practices are ultimately important for the safe preservation of materials, they nevertheless create mystique, and in some cases intimidation, for those who are not used to the rhythms of special collections—students who have not been told or taught that the materials of primary sources are theirs to examine, analyze, and place within history.

For instance, Cecilia Caballero’s (2017) “Mothering While Brown in White Spaces, Or, When I Took My Son to Octavia Butler’s Exhibit,” raised extensive conversation around institutional knowledge as a fundamental gatekeeping concern in primary source literacy, and in particular the political stakes of such uneven distribution of this knowledge. Caballero notes that while she applied to a fellowship to gain access to the Octavia Butler material at the Huntington Library, she took her unsuccessful application as an indication that she was not able to access the archive as a researcher and had to instead attend an exhibition of Butler’s work to examine it in person. While the Huntington Library, as well as many other major collections, permit researchers with a reference application alone, the fact that this only transparent to those already “in-the-know” poses a challenge to truly diversifying the researchers and research that occurs in special collections. Thus, to reconsider the role of special collections pedagogy as a fundamental act of access, and an act of making reading rooms more diverse and equitable, we must think critically about ways we might teach primary source research skills, including how to make meaning around objects, the institutions that hold them, and the community of people they engage.

As special collections continue to invest in digitization—whether that means making catalog records or finding aids available online, digitizing images of collection materials with accompanying metadata, or sharing born-digital materials in reading rooms and through online reference correspondence—we must consider how these materials are currently being used and also how they might possibly be used in the future. In determining the future of digitally-inflected archives and special collections, there is no substitute for conversations with the research populations we hope to serve and expand. To that end, the Seminar demonstrates through its teaching model, through student blogs, and through this very article, that the fundamental piece of context for primary materials is not necessarily secondary sources, nor is it an understanding of the differences between digital and analog archival objects. Rather, by understanding our embodied selves, we might collectively acknowledge the depth of knowledge that primary source practices afford.

It is my hope that the Collaborative Research Seminar might serve as an extensible and adaptable format for creating community and conversation between libraries and graduate institutions, as well as a model for an interactive approach to special collections pedagogy. While this collaborative model is an investment, for both institutions as participants, and requires extensive administrative support, as well as time spent teaching, coordinating student blogs, and following up with individual reference support, it nevertheless affords a starting point for thinking through specific practices of special collections pedagogy with graduate populations. In particular, it suggests that special collections pedagogy for graduate students is well-served by taking full advantage of methods that foreground conversation and experience, so that we might use interdisciplinary and multi-level classrooms as an occasion to listen closely to our primary sources and the ways they challenge institutional and disciplinary categories. In doing so, we will expand the possibilities of primary source work for our next generation of researchers, and welcome their fresh insights to conversations in higher education and cultural institutions alike.

Notes

[1] While this may be in part a result of changing disciplinary training, or lack of institutional resources on both sides, it may also be in part because of the high expectations of professionalization in graduate programs today—that graduate students should already have these abilities, even though the literature on undergraduate primary source literacy strongly indicates that these skills are not taught at that level evenly or consistently.

[2] While special collections, archives, libraries, and even museums all constitute different repositories for artifacts and records that we might consider primary sources, I refer specifically to library contexts in this article, and use the term “special collections” as the most capacious and broadly-applicable term, since they often contain a mixture of rare books, literary manuscripts, and archives as part of research collections curated and designated for primary source work.

[3] During this article, at times I may foreground the first person “I” to indicate aspects of my professional and personal experience that shaped this program as well as my critical response to it, including my status as a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), during planning; as a literary manuscripts specialist at the New York Public Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature; and as an editor of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, a publishing collective for primary source materials. It is my hope that this specificity will make clear the veritable alchemy that constitutes primary source pedagogy, as well as encourage others to reflect on their unique capacity to create similar projects with their own strengths and intentions.

[4] While the special collections of the New York Public Library have a longstanding relationship with CUNY students, and for decades have partnered with professors and staff to facilitate class visits, no formal structure exists to consistently and annually link the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the New York Public Library on the specific topic of primary source literacy and practices. Given the size and scope of both of these institutions, as well as the variety of student and instructor needs from special collections class visits, this is of course understandable. At the same time, the Seminar’s collaborative design, with two sessions that span the Graduate Center Library and the manuscript and print-based special collections of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, fills a gap in graduate and professional-level instruction on primary source research methods across these institutions, and considers how a sustainable model of engagement might look in future iterations.

[5] Additional teaching was provided by Tal Nadan, Meredith Mann, and Emilie Yardley-Hodges from the New York Public Library.

[6] This additional support took the form of a digital resource with a list of New York Public Library and Graduate Center resources, individual reference consultations via email or in person, and an invitation to join an open-ended working group titled “Primary Source,” with the Center for the Humanities.

[7] This Seminar is not a sole effort within the New York Public Library or the Graduate Center Library to consider special collections pedagogy; numerous staff are engaged with this question, across divisions and disciplines, at any given time. Rather, I intend to examine the practical and theoretical considerations of this particular event while making visible as much as possible the labor contributed by staff members from both institutions.

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APPENDIX A: Advance reading list for Fall 2017 first session of Collaborative Research Seminar.

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About the Author

Mary Catherine Kinniburgh works at the New York Public Library, where she specializes in literary manuscripts and exhibitions. She earned her doctorate from the Graduate Center, CUNY, where her dissertation focused on libraries belonging to poets like Charles Olson and Diane di Prima in postwar America. She has served as a Digital Fellow at CUNY and Columbia Libraries, a Teaching Fellow at Brooklyn College, and is currently an editor for Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.

Student writing prompt that reads: "Our past, undoubtedly, influences our future. Looking back at your past, was there any experience (physically, emotionally, mentally) that greatly impacted the kind of student you are today? What was the nature of this experience; was it bad, good, embarrassing, etc.? Try your best to reconstruct that experience. If proven to be difficult, use your imagination and develop an idea similar to that experience - draw from that idea, and construct an essay around that thought. Paint a map for your readers, who will also be witnessing this journey with you."
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“Diving Into the Wreck”: (Re)Creating the Archive in the First Year Writing Classroom

Abstract

“I came to explore the wreck,” Adrienne Rich begins in her poem “Diving into the Wreck,” and tumbles to the depths of her questions about efficacy—of speaking, of writing, and of teaching—during a time when students activists shut down campuses across the country, striking for anti-racist education policies from curriculum design to admissions. With a desire to connect our students at Brooklyn and Queens College with the history of student activism at CUNY, we developed a semester long peer-peer writing exchange to take place between our composition classes where our students developed and exchanged writing prompts inspired by Rich’s archival teaching material. By having our students document and record the unfolding of their written exchange, we argue that this type of collaborative project offers a new way of conceiving how participants in a classroom can build, envision, and record new ways of learning. As every classroom leaves behind an archive of writing, notes, and lesson plans, we ask, what do we do with the written materials we and our students leave behind, the materials that signal the embodied work of building a space of learning? How can the work that students leave behind inspire and enact its own unique pedagogy? This paper will present the unfolding of our students’ writing exchange, ultimately demonstrating that the archive of materials left behind by Rich and our own project can further inspire students and instructors to question what is possible while living and working in the ever-shifting space of the writing classroom.

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

-Adrienne Rich, “Diving Into the Wreck”(2013, 22)

Student writing prompt that reads: "Our past, undoubtedly, influences our future. Looking back at your past, was there any experience (physically, emotionally, mentally) that greatly impacted the kind of student you are today? What was the nature of this experience; was it bad, good, embarrassing, etc.? Try your best to reconstruct that experience. If proven to be difficult, use your imagination and develop an idea similar to that experience - draw from that idea, and construct an essay around that thought. Paint a map for your readers, who will also be witnessing this journey with you."

Figure 1. The image above shows a writing prompt created by a first year writing student at CUNY for the intra-classroom writing exchange between Brooklyn and Queens College.

“I came to explore the wreck,” Adrienne Rich begins her poem, and tumbles to the depths of her questions about efficacy—of speaking, writing, and teaching—during a time when student activists shut down campuses across the country, striking for antiracist education policies from curriculum design to admissions. When, as instructors of writing at Queens College and Brooklyn College, CUNY, we realized that we’d independently assigned our first-year writing classrooms selections from Rich’s recently published archive of teaching materials, we knew that beyond reading and analyzing her writing exercises, syllabi, or notes, our students would need to produce an archive of teaching materials of their own. We wondered, what could the process of recording and collecting their own work teach our students about the archive itself?

Designed as a collaboration between our students, ourselves, and Adrienne Rich’s teaching materials from Basic Writing at City College, we created an intra-classroom writing exchange in Spring 2018 which drew on the recent publication, ‘What We Are Part Of’: Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974, (Parts I & II), published by Lost & Found: the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative in 2013. The project involved a total of forty-nine students, twenty-five at Queens and twenty-four at Brooklyn; half of the twenty-four Brooklyn College students were in CUNY’s SEEK (Search For Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) Program. Working simultaneously with other primary documents circulating during Adrienne Rich’s time at CUNY, our classes used digital file-sharing technology to eventually create an archive of their own writings. While discussing that no archive is ever complete–that any written record is a reconstruction of a lived context–we approached the archive as an evolving and contingent pedagogical map. Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving Into the Wreck” was an important locus for this conversation because of the ways we were able to evoke the poem in the classroom as a living archive in a critically contingent digital space such as PennSound. Both classes listened to audio recordings hosted on UPenn’s poetry archive, giving students the chance to hear a recording of Adrienne Rich reading “Diving into the Wreck” at Stanford in the 1970s. The resonance of the poem’s themes in our own classrooms emphasized how the archive is kept alive and determined by the spaces in which it is contained. Ultimately, this allowed students to envision themselves as doing the work of both institutional critique and self archiving.

Tracing the Archive through CUNY’s History of Teacher & Student Activism

Lost & Found: the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, published by the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center, CUNY, publishes “extra-poetic” material such as correspondence, journals, notes, transcriptions of letters and syllabi and pedagogical residue related to New American Poetry. Lost & Found “finds” the archive in sites which concretely include personal and institutional collections, raw materials gathered by editors, in interviews with living writers and selections from their material records, documents which circulate among poets, scholars, educators and fans, and in recirculated volumes which find their homes in collections, in libraries and in the classroom. More abstractly, the project locates the archive in person-to-person contact, verbal and non-quantifiable exchange, affective registers and especially in friendship.

The extent to which the classroom and the archive are considered together in the Lost & Found project cannot be understated. The publication collects pedagogical materials from a generation of poet educators teaching at CUNY in the 1960s and ‘70s. The Center for Humanities curates suggested groupings on their website for contemporary educators engaged in the building of syllabi for courses across CUNY and beyond with themed collections such as “Feminist Practice and Writing”; “Teaching Pedagogies/Methodologies”; “Resistance”; “Friendship and Politics”; “Radical Poetics”; “Queer Poetics,” and more.

Series IV’s “What We Are Part Of”: Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974, Adrienne Rich (Parts I & II), collects the material traces of poet Adrienne Rich’s teachings at City College, and the series’ pedagogical focus continues with Series VII’s publication of investigations into other CUNY poets and educators: June Jordan: ‘Life Studies,’ 1966-1976, Audre Lorde: I teach myself in outline, Notes, Journals, Syllabi, & an Excerpt from Deotha, and Toni Cade Bambara: “Realizing the Dream of a Black University” & Other Writings (Parts I & II).

In the volume we introduced to our CUNY classrooms, we discussed how the notes, syllabi, and writing assignments created by Adrienne Rich exist not only as a record of poetic inquiry and pedagogical theory that Rich engaged with while teaching at City College, but also as a testament to the relationships formed through Rich’s commitment to deploying the “classroom” as a performative space in which writing, protest, and embodied action intersected. In designing an assignment sequence of our own, we noted the contingency inherent to the notion of the “classroom” for Rich: with classes closed frequently during the period due to student strikes and institutional flux, letters exchanged in the mail and individual meetings off-campus became the learning environments for Rich’s composition students.

(Dis)Locating the Classroom

The ontological designation that comes with naming helps us understand that Rich often called the classroom into being through an act of naming alone: to declare an exchange a “classroom” makes it so, whether in a basement cafeteria or by way of the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, where Rich locates the classroom is as important as how and where she dislocates it, for to her the classroom is also “cell–unit–enclosed & enclosing space in which teacher & students are alone together / Can be a prison cell / commune / trap / junction–place of coming-together / torture chamber”(Rich 2013, vol. 1, 15). In our own writing exchange, the use of file-sharing technology facilitated the exchange of student writing outside and between our two classrooms. Each classroom was able to create a folder of student work in Dropbox that functioned as an online dossier. So while our classrooms were separated across two different physical campuses, our students’ works were collected in this temporary digital classroom.

Printout: Notes, Statements, & Memos on SEEK 1969–1972. Introductory: What we are a part of. Classroom as cell—unit—enclosed & enclosing space in which teacher & students are alone together. Can be prison cell, commune, trap, junction—place of coming-together, torture chamber. But also part of much bigger nationwide cultural revolution: "Compensatory" education increasingly important aspect of "higher" education. a) movement for social change—break down false barriers of class & color to make all education truly open to all people who want it. b) movement for educational reform—such programs are surely going to effect changes in nature of teaching at all levels. c) At present, we are involved in THE key area of university teaching new territory—few if any proven "methods". Many inherited prejudices & rigidities stand in our way. a) in the educational hierarchy which has a vested interest in old methods. b) in students who have been taught that the classroom is something apart from "life" except that it will eventually either help you or prevent you from getting paycheck—are unaccustomed to relating classroom experience to larger whole.

Figure 2. Image from Adrienne Rich, “What We are Part Of”: Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974 ed. Iemanjá Brown, Stefania Heim, erica kaufman, Kristin Moriah, Conor Tomás Reed, Talia Shalev and Wendy Tronrud, (Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative Series IV, 2013), 15.

In a memo on SEEK from 1969 or 1970 (exact date unknown), Rich goes on to suggest that the classroom is “also part of much bigger nationwide cultural revolution,” elaborated as such

a. movement for social change–break down false barriers of class & color to
make all education truly open to all people who want it b. movement for educational reform–such programs are surely going to effect changes in nature of teaching at all levels […]. (Rich 2013, vol. 1, 15).

To locate the classroom in the exchange between teacher and student and simultaneously in the nationwide cultural revolution is to bring politics to the classroom and the classroom to the world. Rich knew that to teach in the classroom was to engage the world from close proximity, a paradox because such engagement allowed her to tap into much more far-reaching social and political engagements than she’d found through poetry alone.

CUNY Students and the Archive

Focusing on Rich’s Writing Exercises, the first written component of the assignment sequence asked students to respond to a “Dream Course” exercise in which Rich prompted her students with the following:

Writing exercises drawn from various classes 1969–1974: "Write a description of a course you would like to take some day—on any subject, or covering any kind of material. Talk about how you feel this material could best be taught, and what you would hope to be doing in the course. (It might be film-making, writing, history, some technical skill, contemporary issues, art, etc.) Talk about how you'd like this course to be run, under what conditions you would most enjoy and profit from it—how much classroom time how much reading and writing, how much individual work with a teacher, field trips, etc. If you know books you would like to be reading in such a course, name them, telling why you chose them. Also tell why this particular course would seem valuable to you, what you hope to gain from it for your life."

Figure 3. Image from Adrienne Rich, “What We are Part Of”: Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974 ed. Iemanjá Brown, Stefania Heim, erica kaufman, Kristin Moriah, Conor Tomás Reed, Talia Shalev, and Wendy Tronrud, (Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative Series IV, 2013), 7–8.

This first part of the assignment sequence asks students to put themselves in Rich’s classroom and imagine how the stakes of writing changed when the campus was transformed by protests. Our students were asked to read the “5 Demands” distributed in 1969 by a group of Black and Puerto Rican students at City College asking for equal representation and anti-racist admissions processes, as well as flyers, pamphlets, and notes that circulated across CUNY. Some of these materials can be found in the CUNY Digital History Archive, an online archive that collects digitized materials from CUNY’s history beginning in 1847 with the creation of the Free Academy in New York City and continuing to the present moment. To help students conceptualize their relationship to wider CUNY history, the CDHA offers a rich entry into the history of CUNY’s infrastructure, policies, and impact as a public institution, a history that implicates each student and determines their experience of education in the present. For instance, in order to access the “5 Demands,” students had to locate a link titled the “Creation of CUNY–Open Admissions Struggle” from a longer timeline, which ushered them to a page presenting wider archival materials from the late 1960s (oral histories, articles from student newspapers, and faculty memos). The CDHA’s Project History, which we also explored in the classroom setting, emphasizes that the CHDA emerged out of “gaps in the knowledge of CUNY faculty, students, staff, and alumni about that history,” a mission that resonated with our class’ focus on the archive as a means of generating engagement in the present with activism in the past.

Typewritten list of demands and justifications. Demand 1: A School of Black and Puerto Rican Studies. Demand 2: A Freshman Orientation for Black and Puerto Rican Students. Demand 3: That the SEEK Students have a Determining Voice in the Setting of Guidelines for the SEEK Program, Including the Hiring and Firing of SEEK Personnel. Demand 4: That the Racial Composition of the Entering Freshman Class be Racially Reflective of the High School Population.

 

Typewritten list of demands and justifications, continued. Demand 5: That All Education Majors be Required to take Black and Puerto Rican History and the Spanish Language. Followed by a summary of the events of the April 1969 City College occupation.

Figure 4. Unknown, “Five Demands,” CUNY Digital History Archive, accessed September 26, 2018, http://cdha.cuny.edu/items/show/6952.

The next component of the assignment sequence had students compose their own writing prompts to be exchanged through the same Dropbox folder with a student at a different campus. Giving students the option to use the Dream Course they designed as inspiration for their exercise, we randomly assigned partners to students at Queens and Brooklyn Colleges. Two weeks later, after our students received their completed assignments, each class discussed their initial reactions to their partners’ responses and to the assignment sequence more broadly. Finally, our students reflected on their experience on their own and turned in a portfolio of the whole exchange, including a final reflection essay.

Documenting the Present

The exchange took place in a dialogic space in which students used their own assignment to deepen their understanding of Adrienne Rich’s pedagogy as emerging out of a moment when students were calling their education into question. After discussing the “5 Demands,” current Brooklyn and Queens students prompted their partners to speak about contemporary debates including discussions around tuition-free higher education. One student wrote to his partner:

Writing Prompt: "The topic of tuition, free tuition, how high or low tuition should be, is constantly being discussed by students, professors, institutions, as well as law makers, and politicians. For this assignment you are asked to give your take on this debate. What do you believe you should be paying for a degree? Should students who cannot afford College be forced into taking out loans that will take them years to pay off? Be sure to not only discuss your opinion but why this will be most beneficial for everyone."

Figure 5. The above image shows a student prompt created for the writing exchange.

In asking each other to use writing as means of interrogating the wider education system in their current moment, these students performed—and, in turn, affirmed—continuities between the historical conditions of Rich’s archive and the present moment. Linking student activism in the late 1960s to debates around Free Tuition at CUNY in early 2018, another student used the assignment to prompt questions about education and access:

Writing Prompt: "Write a 1-2 page response, size 12 Times New Roman, double spaced. Describe what would your life be like if you did not have a college education and in what ways would it affect your life as it is now. Explain and give examples on how your attitude towards education would be and how would you view people who do not have the privilege to have an education."

Figure 6. The above image shows a student prompt created for the writing exchange.

Adrienne Rich’s Writing Exercises are opportunities for “reflection and action,” each assignment prompting students to tease out a “relationship to his [her/their] world, to his identity, to his sense of time and space, his trust in and suspicion of others, his ways of identifying others” (Rich 2013, vol. 1, 30) By  designing their own writing prompts and then documenting the unfolding of an epistolary exchange, students came to a new way of conceiving of how participants in a classroom can build, envision, and also leave a record of the work that can move beyond the space and time of a single classroom.

Remarking on the experience of working with partners they have never met in person, a student at Brooklyn College observed that the structure of the assignment performs the process of community building and activism: “[The exchange] could be seen as a performance from Adrienne Rich’s notes on teaching…it could resemble the strike from the 70s and us having to always engage even with students we have not interacted with.” During the university-wide strike, solidarity meant connecting students from different CUNY institutions through a circulation of flyers, memos, and other written material; community was created through shared embodied demonstrations and exchanges across CUNY’s disparate campuses. As this student points out, this project forged connections between students from Queens and Brooklyn, which helped students feel embedded in CUNY, a public university comprised of twenty-five campuses across New York City’s five boroughs. Now as the complexity of our students’ exchange is embodied in—and reduced to—a folder of written documents, our students experienced how the archive is always incomplete in so far as it is only a fragment of a dynamic and living context; furthermore, the archive is always changing as it is part of an ongoing dialogue between the moment of its creation and the work it inspires today.

Next Steps

When we envision future iterations of this assignment, we realize we as instructors need to account for how the habits and codes we used to relate to students influenced the structure of the exchange. As one student suggests, allowing students to contact each other on their own terms—rather than through the instructors—would emphasize the importance of writing for one another rather than depending on the instructors’ authority. Beyond putting students in direct contact with one another in both public and private platforms for exchange, we conceptualize a means of engaging a wider public by collaborating more directly with existing digital platforms such as Lost & Found, CDHA, and PennSound. Since these public archives served as key pedagogical material and framing devices for students, we envision the next steps of this project as not just engaging with but contributing to their form and content. Projects that allow students to engage with the historical record through a practice of self-archiving challenge us to restructure existing hierarchies and rethink where and how learning takes place. By envisioning a type of study rooted in investigating and enacting the process of building an archive, this project produces an immaterial space within the university where students shift the power and become the interlocutors for each other.

It is in this not-yet-mediated space of connectivity and exchange that we were able to honor and continue the work of CUNY’s student-activists; it is here that we can build new archives of learning in and beyond the classroom, to “reexamine all that we’ve been doing, try untested things, put ourselves on the line, be willing to take risks” (Rich 2013, vol. 1, 16).

Bibliography

Rich, Adrienne. 1973. Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971–1972. 1st ed. New York: Norton.

Rich, Adrienne. 2013. “What We Are Part Of.” In Teaching at CUNY: 1968-1974, vol. 1–2, ed. Iemanja Brown et al. New York: Lost and Found.

Lost & Found. n.d. “About Lost & Found.” Accessed June 15, 2018. https://www.centerforthehumanities.org/lost-and-found/about-lost-and-found.

About the Authors

Marguerite Daisy Atterbury is a writer and doctoral student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research centers on 20/21st C. poetry with an interest in gender, race and coloniality. She is the co-director of NM Poetics, an annual summer program founded in 2010 to support conversation around aesthetics and politics in northern New Mexico. Her work engages audiences through various media including film, installation and performance as well as more traditional outlets of production and publication. She received her MFA from the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College.

Maxine Krenzel is a doctoral student in English at CUNY’s Graduate Center. Her research interests are in composition-rhetoric theory, focusing on the history and pedagogy of first year writing programs, as well as feminist theory and autobiography. She teaches writing, literature, and ESL courses at Brooklyn College.

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Engaging Women’s History through Collaborative Archival Wikipedia Projects

Abstract

This paper considers the potential of archivist–faculty collaboration to open and build engagement with women’s history–related collections. Collaborative digital scholarship projects built around institutional primary-source collections advance course- and discipline-specific goals and impart critical lessons about research and knowledge production to students. We share and reflect upon a dynamic Wikipedia project carried out in a feminist theory course, highlighting an accessible approach to archival research and digital methods. The project produced work that emphasized academic challenges and debates around sources of knowledge. Over two iterations of the project, students interacted with the library’s archival materials, analyzing and synthesizing this information into Wikipedia articles, and engaging in discussions of archival practice and feminist knowledge production.

We propose that Wikipedia offers a unique set of openings into women’s history for undergraduate students, providing an accessible platform with a low barrier of entry for students coming to a digital project for the first time. Wikipedia provides a compelling base for students to engage with global audiences while struggling with editorial criteria that value objectivity and notoriety. Through the collaboration between students, archivists, faculty, and Wiki Education Foundation staff, this project demonstrates the importance of a team approach to supporting students as they work through a challenging research project for a public audience.

Introduction

Wikipedia is an open access, online resource built on the creative and administrative contributions of thousands of individuals around the world. With more than 35 million articles in 280 languages, Wikipedia is a ubiquitous presence in popular culture and the classroom alike. An immediately familiar resource for students (and often the place where they begin their research), Wikipedia is increasingly recognized as an essential component of the research process, “an essential tool for getting our digital collections out to our users at the point of their information need” (Lally and Dunford 2007; cf. Head and Eisenberg 2010). The openness of the platform to anyone interested in contributing, however, has exposed some biases and deficiencies in the encyclopedia’s coverage and editing community. Wikipedia has a major gender imbalance in contributing editors—women are estimated to make up 9 to 13 percent of them (Wadewitz 2013; Bayer 2015)—and the editing community has largely minimized women’s history, with an estimated 15.5 to 17 percent of the biographical articles focusing on women (Proffitt 2018; Moravec 2018).

Feminist activists and scholars have developed a set of approaches to address the Wikipedia gender gap. In 2012, undergraduate student Emily Temple-Wood founded the WikiProject Women Scientists, which sought to ensure “the quality and coverage of biographies of women scientists.” Alongside Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, she co-founded WikiProject Women in Red. On Wikipedia, red links mean that “the linked-to page does not exist‍.” The Women in Red project continues to create lists of links that are either about “a woman, or a work created by a woman.” These efforts garnered Temple-Wood and Stephenson-Goodknight the first co-awarded Wikipedian of the Year award. Aaron Halfaker (2017) notes how Temple-Wood’s efforts not only improved the quantity of content related to women on Wikipedia, but also the quality of entries.

Collective gatherings have shown promise for supporting new editors, as groups like Art+Feminism, AfroCROWD, Fembot, and FemTechNet have taken a “do-it-yourself and do-it-with-others” approach. Wiki edit-a-thons hosted by such groups take place in public spaces like coffee shops and museums, and at libraries ranging from New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to Connecticut College’s Shain Library, the site of this study (Boboltz 2017). Librarians have taken on a key role in facilitating the work of groups seeking to add content about marginalized people and issues to Wikipedia. They have sought out ways to not only support activists doing this work, but also to institutionalize engagement with Wikipedia. For example, at West Virginia University, academic librarians worked to enable students to receive required service credit hours for editing Wikipedia, drawing sorority groups and graduate students into this work (Doyle 2018, 63). Finally, as evidenced by the work of Wiki Education, classes are increasingly bringing together student learning with editing Wikipedia: in the Fall 2018 session, 321 classes participated across a wide range of academic fields.

Over three iterations, a feminist theory class and the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives at Connecticut College collaborated on an in-depth Wikipedia archival research assignment (Appendix 1) with a twofold goal: first, to address some of these Wikipedia deficiencies by creating and editing articles through a feminist scholarship lens, and second, to engage students in the process of knowledge creation for a public audience (Appendix 2). This project built upon an ongoing collaboration between faculty and archivists to develop project-based learning opportunities in institutional collections, and reflects a growing recognition of Wikipedia’s potential for generating “meaningful service learning experience[s]” for students (Davis 2018, 87). The first iteration of the course allowed students to develop topics that were far ranging, but this initial approach resulted in some issues with their engagement with Wikipedia (e.g. overly specific topics or concepts that were difficult to document). The second and third iterations of this course focused on identifying gaps in Wikipedia that could be directly tied to the Lear Center’s collections. The team reviewed course learning goals and developed a list of relevant material in the Lear Center (Appendix 3) which connected to themes in feminist theory such as women’s leadership, ecofeminism, poverty, and racial and disability justice. Students conducted research using these collections and worked to either generate or modify existing Wikipedia content. Students then summarized their experience in public presentations at the end of the semester. The resulting project represents a collaborative approach between students, faculty, and archivists, and showcases the community of shared interests and values that are fundamental to the digital humanities (Scheinfeldt 2010). This paper argues for the power and potential of this type of collaboration in developing projects that challenge students to engage in practical feminist praxis and to make connections between theory, archives, and public digital engagement.

Digital engagement with Wikipedia offers a unique set of openings into feminist theory and history for undergraduate students. Wikipedia serves as an accessible platform for students to consider questions of evidence, representation, and knowledge creation. While many use Wikipedia as the first stop for information, few understand how this information is created. The project team recognized that the platform’s ubiquity and familiarity could serve a dual purpose: first, to emphasize the importance of contributing reliable, accurate information to a site used by so many, and second, to help mitigate potential nervousness about working with digital technology in the public realm. This pedagogical approach ensures that students understand the historical and political context of Wikipedia and its community. They can draw upon their experience with this platform to ask questions and actively engage with media.

The team partnered with the Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Ed), a non-profit entity separate from Wikipedia that supports faculty who incorporate Wikipedia into their curriculum. The program emphasizes that students “gain key 21st century skills like media literacy, writing and research development, and critical thinking, while content gaps on Wikipedia get filled thanks to [their] efforts” (Wiki Education, n.d.). Wiki Ed provides tools and resources, including interactive tutorials about the tenets of Wikipedia and basics of editing and adding content. The Wiki Ed Dashboard serves as the digital home for the class, enabling faculty to create and manage their Wikipedia assignment and to monitor student progress. For students, it contains the tutorials and relevant information for the Wikipedia assignment and allows them to track the progress on their article as well as that of their classmates. Faculty and archives staff use the dashboard to design and monitor students’ work in real time.

A key aim of the project was that students experience the process of conducting and presenting research. Much of feminist theory is based in intensive critique of research and representational practices. Students risk becoming either highly critical of all scholarship without engaging the merits of the work or fearful of creating their own work, believing that it will also be easily criticized. In this assignment, students learned to balance rigorous critique with a strong understanding of knowledge production. Editing content for a general audience on Wikipedia raised the stakes for students: the challenge of writing for the public proved more rewarding than the perceived standard of writing for only the instructor (Davis 2018, 88). The team presented Wikipedia’s overlapping gender and racial imbalance as a problem that students had the power to address as part of a broader scholar-activist community. Student feedback about the challenge and meaning of the assignment supports scholars’ arguments that structured opportunities for student interaction with institutional special collections and archives generate deeper engagement with and investment in research and its meaning (Tally and Goldenberg 2005).

Institutional Context

Connecticut College is a private, undergraduate liberal arts institution in New London, Connecticut. It offers 56 majors, minors, and certificates to approximately 1850 undergraduates. As with many liberal arts colleges, Conn’s culture is deeply rooted in teaching and learning. These efforts are supported by several campus resources and partnerships, including the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Technology Fellows Program, as well as by collaborations between faculty and staff in the six academic centers across campus, the campus’ Charles E. Shain Library, and the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives. The Lear Center is home to Connecticut College’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, and archives. The Center works extensively with faculty to develop projects which engage students in active primary source research, both in the classroom and increasingly as a part of the College’s emerging Digital Scholarship program. The Digital Scholarship program provides technological, project, and platform support for student, staff, and faculty digital projects with a focus on the pedagogical, classroom-based side of digital scholarship. The Lear Center has been involved with the College’s Digital Scholarship efforts from the start, as it sees digital scholarship as a natural extension of outreach and use activities. By combining primary source research with digital methodologies, the Lear Center offers students a unique opportunity to become active producers of knowledge, rather than passive consumers, and to convey this knowledge to a real-world audience.

Wikipedia as a Space for Feminist Praxis and Skill-Building

Gender, Sexuality, and Intersectionality Studies (GSIS) emphasizes feminist praxis, the “philosophy and practice of participatory democracy and situated knowledges” (Naples and Dobson 2001, 117). At its heart, feminist praxis is a call for hands-on engagement with core questions within the field, particularly in how each person can participate in the creation, circulation, and usage of knowledge. While feminist theory can be taught in a manner that solely focuses on theories of gender, sexuality, and other categories of analysis, the course provides an opportunity to enact a praxis-based pedagogical strategy. This approach can deepen students’ understanding of theory, asking them to apply theory to their work and consider its accuracy or limitations when put into practice.

Feminist theory presents a challenge to undergraduate students who are drawn into GSIS through varying avenues. As feminist theory is interdisciplinary, students encounter authors that may be writing from fields or on topics they have yet to study. They also may not have developed necessary reading skills or frustration tolerance (that is, the ability to navigate work that is dense, references unfamiliar ideas and academic jargon, or challenges their perspective). Scholar Gloria Anzaldúa (1991, 252) argues that “[t]heory serves those that create it” and that as a queer woman of color, she had to challenge existing theories to adequately account for her knowledge and experiences. Indeed, students may struggle to see themselves or their concerns in texts that are written in a language and for an audience far removed from themselves, or in the disproportionate amount of scholarship written by white Western cisgender women. However, Anzaldúa also reminds us that works have “doors and windows,” or entradas (1991, 257). As readers come with a need to find themselves in texts, having multiple entradas through diverse course readings and assignments creates a range of opportunities to engage with and find connections to feminist theory. It is imperative for instructors to find ways to address these concerns while ensuring that students directly work with the scholarship that undergirds the field and its contributions more broadly.

The Advanced Readings in Feminist Theory course is a required annual offering for both GSIS majors and minors (see Appendix 4 for the 2017 syllabus). This 300-level class is for some students their first undergraduate course that heavily centers theoretical work. This course draws students from a range of disciplines including English, Music, East Asian Studies, and Psychology. In the 2017 version, McCann’s and Kim’s edited collection, Feminist Theory Reader (2016), and Moraga’s and Anzaldúa’s edited collection, This Bridge Called My Back (2015), served as the core texts, along with additional readings. Key themes included theorizations of inequality, violence, and intersectional feminism along with epistemological frameworks such as standpoint theory and feminist phenomenology. The learning goals for the semester sought to ensure that students would be able to:

  • Knowledgeably discuss key forms of feminist theory in terms of their content and implications
  • Articulate the significance of feminist theories to their own research and education
  • Effectively present their research to a public audience online and in person

It was important to devise course assignments that asked students to put into practice the frameworks they were using so that they could more critically understand the stakes of feminist theory, articulate key ideas in their own words, and apply these concepts to unique projects.

The platform of Wikipedia offered a novel means to take feminist theory out of the ivory tower and illuminate the value of the course content for students. Positioned as editors, students were challenged to make meaning out of theory and archival materials for a broad audience. Working with Wikipedia made coursework relevant by making it accessible to a public at large, thus enabling to students to find a compelling reason to stay engaged throughout.

Collaboration in the Archives, Navigating Wikipedia’s Norms

Coupling the Wikipedia platform with archival research provided a set of connections and resources to facilitate the achievement of these pedagogical aims (see the Fall 2017 course dashboard). Faculty and archives staff reviewed course learning goals and core themes and identified relevant, robust topics in the collection that either had underdeveloped pages or were absent from Wikipedia. Collections were assessed to ensure each had sufficient primary and secondary material to build an entry that would meet Wikipedia’s standards. Students used primary source material such as photographs, correspondence, and reports, while drawing upon secondary sources to verify their claims and authenticate their subject’s notability, a critical standard of Wikipedia.

The practice element of feminist praxis requires skill building and serves to reinforce the content of feminist scholarship. As students worked with Wikipedia, they practiced what feminist theorist Donna Haraway describes as learning the ins and outs of knowledge production and representation. She argues that “understanding how these visual systems work, technically, socially, and physically, ought to be a way of embodying feminist objectivity” (Haraway 1988, 583). Through the process of conducting research in the archives and in secondary sources, drafting and revising content for Wikipedia, and then presenting and reflecting on this work, students were challenged to consider multiple facets of knowledge production. Moreover, they encountered those questions and challenges at the heart of feminist debates about epistemology, as they considered the perspectives included in the archival source material, their own positionality in relation to their research, and the dynamics that exist within Wikipedia vis-à-vis its standards and editing community.

Wikipedia’s policies and practices hold both potential and barriers for its usage in a feminist classroom. The formal policies are expressed most directly through the Five Pillars that address the basics of Wikipedia. While the first and third pillars state basic elements of Wikipedia (it is an encyclopedia; free content that is edited), the second, fourth, and fifth pillars present elements of Wikipedian culture. Pillar two, “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view,” contains the key conflicts that are perennially navigated in our feminist theory assignment and have been challenged by feminist scholars (Gauthier and Sawchuk 2017). It states:

We strive for articles in an impartial tone that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence. We avoid advocacy, and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them. In some areas there may be just one well-recognized point of view; in others, we describe multiple points of view, presenting each accurately and in context rather than as “the truth” or “the best view.” All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources, especially when the topic is controversial or is on living persons. Editors’ personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong. (Wikipedia 2018)

In response to standpoint and situated knowledge theories, it is de rigueur in feminist theory to recognize and acknowledge one’s relationship to a topic (Collins 1986; Haraway 1988; Harding 1992). While feminist scholars range in their approach to academic tone, there is generally an acceptance of taking stances that explicitly embrace values such as antiracism and antisexism, rather than avoiding any direct acknowledgment of their interest in a subject and the stakes of inquiry (hooks 1998; Mohanty 2003). The encyclopedia form of Wikipedia thus at once provides an opportunity to build a broader audience for feminist-themed topics while disavowing the motivation that drives feminist engagement with the platform.

A critical analysis of power and the circulation of knowledge also conflicts with the assertion in the second pillar that as members of Wikipedia, “We strive for articles that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone.” Michelle Moravec’s essay “The Endless Night of Wikipedia’s Notable Woman Problem” provides insight from the field of women’s history about why assumptions about prominence continue to stymie the work of feminist Wikipedians. She argues that it is important to:

consider the difference between notability and notoriety from a historical perspective. One might be well known while remaining relatively unimportant from a historical perspective. Such distinctions are collapsed in Wikipedia, assuming that a body of writing about a historical subject stands as prima facie evidence of notability. (Moravec 2018)

The presumption of prominence fails to address the ebb and flow of cultural memory, and in practice requires that women rise to a level of exceptionality to register as worthy of inclusion in Wikipedia. Moravec cites the reality that the “‘List of Pornographic Actresses’ on Wikipedia is lengthier and more actively edited than the ‘List of Female Poets.’” While arguably both lists could serve as useful sources of information, this gap highlights an editorial priority based on editors’ personal consumption practices rather than the quantity or quality of an artist’s contributions. Wikipedia itself has articles addressing the challenges of notability, and includes discussions of the two camps, deletionists and inclusionists, who struggle over either stringent adherence to the requirement or the allowance of entries that are viewed as “harmless.” The ongoing struggle over how to best balance the intention of Wikipedia to serve as a reliable source of information with the demand for increasing inclusion of diverse content, and editors who echo broader debates within feminist scholarship and our society at large, is critical for students to take on in their learning.

Screenshot of a Wikipedia article featuring poet Eli Coppola.

Figure 1. A student created a new Wikipedia entry for Eli Coppola, a poet whose work addresses disability and sexuality.

Assessment and Outcome

The project’s aims—archives staff’s desire to develop extended, class-based community engagement with library resources and collections, and the faculty member’s desire for students to participate in the collaborative process of planning, conducting, and presenting their research to a public audience—were met. The project’s design allowed students to demonstrate their learning through multiple formats (archival research, work with Wikipedia, a poster presentation, and a reflection essay), as well as to provide feedback through the reflection essay, in-class discussions, and the anonymous, end-of-semester teaching evaluation. While students at times struggled with the assignment, the project team determined that they not only gained skills related to feminist theory, metaliteracy, and critical reading, but recognized the long-term value of their work for their future careers.

Students presented their work publicly in the college library through poster presentations. Along with a final reflection essay, these components served to assist students in recognizing the level of effort that they put into this project and its significance to their understanding of feminist theory. Students’ projects were assessed on their work in the archives, the Wiki dashboard, effort and collaboration with classmates, and their poster presentation and reflection essay (Appendix 5, Appendix 6). This assessment approach emphasized students’ engagement and centered the need to connect their work with archival material and Wikipedia with course readings. The assignment set a clear expectation that students engage in feminist praxis, considering how the work they were doing in researching and creating public-facing content was informed by feminist theory and vice versa.

Course outcomes

Students’ reflection essays[1] provide insight into how they understood the work they did throughout the project and what doors opened for them. They were asked to make a unique argument about the assignment in terms of feminist theory and a core facet of the project. Students highlighted their priorities, including gaining a deeper understanding of key questions in the course content, challenging the limitations of Wikipedia, and preparing for post-graduate life. One student made explicit how the assignment addressed theoretical questions within the field:

Similar to how feminist epistemology seeks to change, redefine, and rewrite mainstream theories which exclude women’s narratives … metaliteracy “challenges traditional skills-based approaches to information literacy” [Mackey and Jacobson 2011, 62].

By putting questions of epistemology into conversation with metaliteracy, the student emphasized the ways that the assignment helped students think and act critically in their project work.

Two students’ responses to engaging with Wikipedia demonstrate the struggles they encountered and their differing attitudes to the project’s outcomes. The first student’s response centered on the importance of working in the archives. They wrote, “Through the use of primary documents and news clippings found in the archives, I was able to navigate the problematic limitations that Wikipedia exhibits.” They found that the collections provided the necessary content to ensure that they were showing notability and to avoid challenges raised by Wiki editors.

Screenshot showing the revision history for a Wikipedia article on Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider.” A highlighted revision from 20 December 2016 shows an editor’s challenge to the inclusion of Lorde’s self-described sexuality in the article.

Figure 2. A Wiki editor claimed that naming Audre Lorde’s “sexual preference” was offensive. Lorde was a famously self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who emphasized the importance of naming herself in her writing. This editing challenge suggests a bias against public identification of LGBTQ people.

In contrast, another student was frustrated by the constraints of Wikipedia. They argued that due to Wikipedia’s neutrality standards “feminist knowledge is neither present in its full unapologetic extent, nor is it accessible to the global web users.” The student recognized the potential of Wikipedia to reach many people and was thus frustrated that the process of composing work for Wikipedia required both a tone and selection of content that did not align with either the student’s understanding of feminist knowledge or course readings that were unapologetically explicit in their political aims. While this response may be viewed as a negative outcome, it showed students’ conscious engagement with a critical question about how feminist knowledge circulates and is constrained, as well as a deeper understanding of how Wikipedia operates.

A final example of student reflection essay suggests why collaboration is key to the assignment. They observed that:

collaborating with the Wiki Education Foundation and the Linda Lear Center gave me confidence… as well as built upon my skills… being able to see the results of our work on such a public and well-known domain, shows that our work as students is valued and relevant to scholarship; we don’t have to wait to enter the professional realm to have our work recognized.

In this case, the student recognized how they were supported by archives and Wiki Ed staff as they worked toward creating a public-facing article. The student identified this assignment as opening a door into a public realm that they had previously assumed would only become available after graduation. Teaching evaluations showed that students thought about the value of the assignment. One student emphasized the role that writing for Wikipedia had in their investment in the project, noting:

The work I did on Wikipedia will be looked at by hundreds of people even after the project is done, instead of just a paper that will only be read by my professor… I was surprised [by] how much it exposed me to new and constructive ways of research.

The student found that knowing that their work would be read by a wide audience rather than simply by a professor for evaluative purposes was motivating. Moreover, the assignment introduced archival research and pushed them to delve into how what they were exploring in the archives could be put into conversation with other sources. For another student, “The Wikipedia project was difficult but it was one of the most important projects I have ever done for a class.” This student echoed a sense among many students that the assignment was higher in difficulty because of the effort required to collect, analyze, and create multiple representations of their findings. By the end of the semester, students recognized the value of learning how to create and share information with an audience beyond the walls of their institution.

Sharing this project with a broader Digital Humanities community through blog posts and conferences produced further positive outcomes. For example, Alex Ketchum, feminist food scholar, tweeted that the description of this digital project at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference in part inspired her own digital project (Ketchum 2018). Each project adds to the network of possibilities, inviting conversations and collaborations that move ideas forward and create a rich community experience.

Archives outcomes

The use of Wikipedia to develop an online presence for underrepresented archival collections offered a meaningful opportunity to generate greater access and exposure to these collections, as well as to create a valuable public-facing resource. Working with faculty and students provided an opportunity to examine collections through a feminist lens, bringing to a global audience the lives and histories of women with little public representation. Through multiple sections of the class, twenty-six entries were created on the work of women whose contributions ranged from environmental and labor activism to civic and institutional leadership. Each entry cites the Lear Center’s collections, increasing exposure of its archives and encouraging engagement on a global scale (Appendix 2).

Staff contribution at each stage of the project emphasized the power and potential of collaboration. Archives staff worked with faculty to develop course outcomes and select appropriate collections, and provided an important support system for students throughout the project. Staff engaged students in the work of primary source research, helping them think through ways of structuring their entries, find additional sources, and cite material appropriately. The intensive one-on-one work opened important avenues for conversations about the complexities of archives and archival research, the ethical issues surrounding privacy, the gaps in our collections, and the resulting archival silences.

Conclusion

The collaboration between faculty, students, archives staff, and Wiki Ed produced a successful project from both pedagogical and archival perspectives. It opened doors for students to engage deeply with feminist scholarship as they created content for Wikipedia on topics related to gender and sexuality. The topics chosen from within the archives were carefully selected to address gaps in Wikipedia. This approach led to important conversations with students about how sexist, racist, and other forms of bias are expressed in Wikipedia. As students became more confident as editors, they were able to identify and address more complex issues of bias: for example, the shortage of articles that focus on women and other underrepresented groups, the types of information certain articles emphasized, and the ways in which all that information was linked within Wikipedia. In individual meetings and in-class sessions, students discussed how these gaps are created and how their role as editors was vital in helping to fill them. Students also benefited from sharing their experiences with the Connecticut College community: they came to see themselves as knowledge-producers, educating others about the biases and gaps in Wikipedia, as well as about the potential of the platform.

This project also provided a supportive environment for students to undertake archival work. By collaborating closely with archival staff, students experienced first-hand the complexities of archival research, engaging with archivists on issues of collection development, privacy, copyright, and gaps in archival records. In addition, the project generated opportunities for discussion about what materials from these collections could be used as citable evidence in Wikipedia articles. These exchanges made working in the archives a richer experience for students and staff.

The ongoing pedagogical value of this project is clear to Connecticut College’s GSIS department. Now in its fourth iteration, under the direction of a new GSIS faculty member, the project has become a core component of the department’s approach to teaching feminist theory. This project is a flexible, extensible way for students to directly engage in feminist praxis, providing students with the opportunity to address real-world inequalities in Wikipedia and to consider how their own research is informed by feminist theory. The project has the flexibility to expand by incorporating the use of digitized collections from other institutions to explore topics and content not held in the Lear Center. This extension has exciting possibilities for students as they explore different collections and learn about the differences and similarities in using analog and digital collections. For faculty and archival staff, this project deepened an already positive working relationship and inspired further exploration of digital humanities work in other classes.

Notes

[1] Quotations in this section come from students’ reflection essays completed at the end of the Wikipedia assignment in Professor Rotramel’s courses in the fall of 2016 and 2017. Names are withheld to maintain student privacy.

Bibliography

Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1991. “To(o) Queer the Writer—Loca, escritora y chicana.” In Inversions: Writing by Dykes, Queers, and Lesbians, edited by Betsy Warland, 249–61. Vancouver: Press Gang.

Bayer, Tilman. 2015. “How many women edit Wikipedia?” WikiMedia (blog), April 30, 2015. https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/04/30/how-many-women-edit-wikipedia/.

Boboltz, Sara. 2017. “Editors Are Trying To Fix Wikipedia’s Gender And Racial Bias Problem.” Huffington Post, December 6, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/15/wikipedia-gender-racial-bias_n_7054550.html.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 1986. “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought.” Social Problems 33 (6): S14–S32.

Davis, Lianna L. 2018. “Wikipedia and Education: A Natural Collaboration, Supported by Libraries.” In Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge, edited by Merrilee Proffitt, 87–104. Chicago: American Library Association.

Doyle, Kelly. 2018. “Minding the Gaps: Engaging Academic Libraries to Address Content and User Imbalances on Wikipedia.” In Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge, edited by Merrilee Proffitt, 55–68. Chicago: ALA Editions.

Gauthier, Maude, and Kim Sawchuk. 2017. “Not Notable Enough: Feminism and Expertise in Wikipedia.”Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 14 (4): 85–402.

Halfaker, Aaron. 2017. “Interpolating quality dynamics in Wikipedia and demonstrating the Keilana Effect.” Wikimedia Meta-Wiki. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research:Interpolating_quality_dynamics_in_Wikipedia_and_demonstrating_the_Keilana_Effect

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.”Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–99.

Harding, Sandra. 1992.“Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is ‘Strong Objectivity?’” The Centennial Review 36 (3): 437–470.

Head, Alison J., and Michael B. Eisenberg. 2010. “Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age.” Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Seattle: The Information School, University of Washington.

hooks, bell. 1989. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Ketchum, Alex (@aketchum22). 2018. “Last summer, I had the pleasure to be part of Women’s History in the Digital World #WHDW17. Panelists @rlprm & @AriellaRotramel, Elizabeth Novara + Leslie Fields.” Twitter, May 24, 2018, 4:51 p.m. https://twitter.com/aketchum22/status/999754907329662976.

Lally, Ann M., and Carolyn E. Dunford. 2007. “Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections.” D-Lib Magazine 13, no. 5/6, (May/June): http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may07/lally/05lally.html.

Mackey, Thomas P., and Trudi E. Jacobsen. 2011. “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College & Research Libraries 72 (1): 62–78.

McCann, Carole, and Seung-kyung Kim, eds. 2016. Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge Press.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 2003. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. 2015. This Bridge Called My Back. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Moravec, Michelle. 2018. “The Endless Night of Wikipedia’s Notable Woman Problem.” b2o: an online journal.
http://www.boundary2.org/2018/08/moravec/.

Naples, Nancy A., and Marnie Dobson. 2001. “Feminists and the Welfare State: Aboriginal Health Care Workers and U.S. Community Workers of Color.” NWSA Journal 13 (3): 116–37.

Proffitt, Merrilee. 2018. Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge. Chicago: ALA Editions, the American Library Association.

Scheinfeldt, Tom. 2010. “Stuff Digital Humanists Like: Defining Digital Humanities by its Values.” Found History (blog), December 2, 2010.
https://foundhistory.org/2010/12/stuff-digital-humanists-like/

Tally, Bill, and Lauren Goldenberg. 2005. “Fostering Historical Thinking with Digitized Primary Sources.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 38 (1): 1–21.

Wadewitz, Adrianne. 2013. “Wikipedia Is Pushing the Boundaries of Scholarly Practice but the Gender Gap Must Be Addressed.” LSE Impact Blog (blog), The London School of Economics and Political Science. April 9, 2013.
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/04/09/change-the-world-edit-wikipedia/

Wiki Education. n.d. “About Us.” Accessed October 17, 2018.
https://wikiedu.org/about-us/.

Wikipedia. 2018. “Wikipedia: Five Pillars.” Last modified September 15, 2018.
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Five_pillars&oldid=859616109.

About the Author

Ariella Rotramel is the Vandana Shiva Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Intersectionality Studies at Connecticut College. Rotramel’s research and teaching interests include social movements, gender and women’s history, women and work, ethnic studies, queer and sexuality studies, community-based learning, and digital humanities and metaliteracy education.

Rebecca Parmer is the Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut. She has previously held positions at Connecticut College, the USS Constitution Museum, and Northeastern University. Her research interests include exploring archival pedagogy in undergraduate and graduate education and examining the impact of inquiry- and project-based engagement in college and university archives.

Rose Oliveira is the Linda Lear Special Collections Librarian at Connecticut College, where she preserves, describes, and provides access to the manuscripts, rare book, and art collections held by the college. She has previously held positions at Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives and The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University. She holds a master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management from Simmons College in Boston.

5

Teaching Literature Through Technology: Sherlock Holmes and Digital Humanities

Abstract

How do we incorporate technology into the contemporary classroom? How do we balance the needs of teaching literature with teaching students to use that technology? This article takes up “Digital Tools for the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London,” an introductory digital humanities class, as a case study to address these questions. The course uses the Holmes stories as a corpus on which to practice basic digital humanities methodologies and tools, including visualizations, digital archives and editions, mapping (GIS), and distant reading, in order to better understand the texts themselves. This approach lets students find new patterns in well-known texts, explore the function of space in literature, and historicize their own technological moment.

 

 

As Digital Humanities materializes in undergraduate classrooms, faculty face the problem of how to teach introductory methods courses: the umbrella term digital humanities covers such a wide array of practices—from building digital editions and archives to big data projects—that even defining the term is no easy task. For anyone trying to create an interdisciplinary digital humanities class, the challenges multiply: the course needs to be applicable to students in such diverse fields as History, English, Anthropology, Music, Graphic Design, or Education, all of which examine different corpora; yet it still needs a unifying concept and corpus so the students can see how applying concepts such as digital mapping or distant reading can spark new insights.

To address these issues, I created “Digital Tools for the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London,” which uses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories as a corpus on which to practice basic digital humanities methodologies and tools. The Holmes stories provide the perfect set of texts for a DH class, as they are flexible enough for us to use them in every unit: we use visualization tools (such as Voyant and word trees) to look for patterns in words and in sentence structure within a story, build a digital archive of Holmes artifacts, make TEI-encoded digital editions of Holmes stories, create maps of where characters travel, and topic model all 56 short stories to find thematic patterns. With this structure, students learn some of the most important digital humanities methodologies, analyze the Holmes stories from multiple perspectives, and use the character of Holmes as a model for both humanistic and scientific inquiry.

The stories also facilitate an interdisciplinary approach: they touch on issues of gender, class, race, the arts, politics, empire, and law. This ensures that students from almost any field can find something relevant to their major. Perhaps most helpfully for this class, Holmes solves his cases not just through his quasi-supernatural cognitive abilities, but also through his mastery of Victorian technology, including the photograph, railroad, and daily periodicals. This focus on technology enables students to address the similarities between the industrial and digital revolutions: the anxieties that accompany the rise of blogs and Twitter echo Victorian concerns about the proliferation of print and periodicals, as both audiences were wary about the increased public voice such technologies could invite. These connections help students historicize their own technological moment and better understand both the Victorian period and the discourses around modern technology. The course begins with close-reading and discussion of four Holmes stories to introduce students to the central themes of the class and of Victorian studies, and we use these stories as our core texts with which we practice digital humanities methodologies, so students can see first-hand how visualizations, maps, archives, and distant reading can lead us to new interpretations.

Teaching these methodologies, from digital archives to mapping, requires a tripartite structure that I have dubbed “Read, Play, Build.” First, students read articles from books and blog posts about the pros and cons of each methodological approach. They then examine current projects to discuss the ways each approach enhances scholarly fields and poses new research questions. Each unit concludes with an in-class lab component, in which students build small projects on the Holmes stories using a well-known tool and analyze the result. This structure ensures that students receive both theoretical and practical experience with each methodology and can see first-hand its strengths and weaknesses.

This structure is particularly successful in the digital archives unit, in part because the Holmes stories themselves show the benefit of compiling archives: Holmes maintains an archive, or “index,” which he consults regularly. Watson explains its significance in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” which we read in class: “For many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnish information” (Conan Doyle [1891] 2006, 5). Holmes’s compulsion to categorize and preserve is a central humanist task—we use and compile archives of our own (whether digital or physical) in the course of our research all the time—and in this story, we see Holmes using the archive to solve cases. After seeing the archive in action, used and compiled by one of the great fictional geniuses of Western literature, the students are more ready to build their own archives.

Before building, however, we begin by examining a seminal work of archive theory: Jerome McGann’s 1996 essay, “Radiant Textuality.” From it, students learn how digital archives preserve works in danger of disintegrating, grant access to works from all over the world to make scholarship more equitable, and enable interdisciplinary and multimodal scholarship by including audio and video in ways that conventional print scholarship cannot. Students then examine McGann’s famous digital project mentioned in the article, The Rossetti Archive, which includes scans of every known painting, sketch, poem, manuscript, and translation produced by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as essays on the importance and critical history of each item. Once the students have learned how to evaluate archives from their study of The Rossetti Archive, they apply this knowledge themselves by adding to a class archive of Holmes artifacts at holmesiana.net. This archive is powered by the content management system Omeka: a tool that lets people easily create websites without needing web design or development experience. Omeka is particularly useful for this project because, unlike other content management systems, it is specifically designed for curating digital collections of objects that resemble online museum exhibits. For this assignment, students choose three items related to Holmes (e.g. images, video or audio clips, or websites), upload them to the archive, group them into a collection, and then create an “exhibit,” or an essay that uses the items as illustrations. These exhibits range from analyses of portrayals of Irene Adler across multiple adaptations to discussions of the soundtrack in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie. This assignment does more than just teach students how to use a tool: it helps them see the broad appeal of Holmes stories, their role in contemporary popular culture, and, most importantly, the potential for digital tools to change the medium in which we make our scholarly arguments.

We conclude our archive unit by using Book Traces, a tool invented by Andrew Stauffer at the University of Virginia. Book Traces collects examples of nineteenth-century marginalia, or traces of previous readers—including dedications, inscriptions, pressed flowers, newspaper clippings—from nineteenth-century books found in the stacks (not Special Collections) of college and university libraries. When users find these traces, they upload images of the traces (and transcriptions if possible) to booktraces.org, thus contributing to a crowdsourced archive of how nineteenth-century readers interacted with books. We work with Stephan Macaluso, a librarian at SUNY New Paltz, who teaches the students how to recognize Spencerian handwriting (as opposed to Copperplate or the Palmer Method) so students can figure out if the notes in the books were written before or after 1923. Students also learn how to identify notes written in steel-point pen or fountain pen compared with ballpoint to further aid them in dating the traces, before they are let loose in the stacks to find their examples. Even though only 2000 books in our library are from before 1923, my students have had great success finding items for Book Traces. For instance, one student found the book Shakespeare: The Man and his Stage with the inscription “To Barry Lupino . . . .a souvenir, Theatre Royal Huddersfield, July 16, 1923 from Alfred Wareing”: with some research, she was able to determine that Lupino was a British actor, and Wareing, a theatrical producer with a reputation for producing demanding productions and creating the Theatre Royal. From this, my student concluded that this book had been a gift from the producer to an actor in the production, and that the people involved in the production had used this book to influence their Shakespeare productions. During the course of this project in Fall 2015, my students uploaded the 400th unique volume into Book Traces, and were thanked by Andrew Stauffer himself over Twitter.

This project has multiple benefits. First, it introduces students to the library. Many of my students are in their first semester of college and have never done research, been in the stacks, or looked for a book by call number, and Book Traces turns a library day into a fun and educational scavenger hunt. Book Traces also teaches students about the importance of libraries, even in a digital world: since so many books are digital and since shelf space is expensive, many libraries are forced to sell or destroy books that have free copies online. This project demonstrates why each book is important, and why it is not sufficient to have an online edition only. The assignment also encourages students to rethink their definition of a book: it is not merely the words of a story or poem, but the physical object itself, with all the marks that tell its history and highlight the differences in how nineteenth-century and modern readers used books and understood works of literature. Finally, the project lets students participate in a high-profile digital humanities project: they apply their learning outside the confines of the classroom by crowdsourcing, collaborating with each other and with a librarian, communicating directly with a well-known scholar, and creating new knowledge that will further scholarship on the nineteenth century.

The class also uses simple visualization tools to learn more about Sherlock Holmes stories. For example, as an introduction to visualizations, students read articles about the pros and cons of word clouds. For any readers new to this phenomenon, word clouds are visualizations of word frequency in texts, in which words are larger the more times they appear. Students make word clouds of Holmes stories, write blog posts on their findings, and then discuss the results with their classmates. They have made several interesting observations, particularly with “A Scandal in Bohemia.” “Scandal” is the only work in the Holmes corpus involving Irene Adler, the only woman who outwits Holmes. Adler’s ingenuity causes Holmes to reevaluate his opinion of women: as Watson writes at the story’s end, Holmes “used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late” (Conan Doyle [1891] 2006, 15). One might imagine that a story that revolves around a woman and the worth of women would mention words related to women (such as “woman,” “women,” or “Miss”) at least as frequently, if not more so, than words relating to men, especially since the story begins and ends by foregrounding Adler’s gender.[1] However, the word cloud actually shows that, although much of the narrative revolves around finding Adler and her photograph, the story contains far more references to men than to women: “men,” “man,” “Mr.,” and “gentleman” occur 45 times, whereas “woman,” “women,” “lady,” and “miss” occur 27 times. This difference suggests that, while the text focuses on one woman’s femininity, its sentences themselves focus more on the actions of men.

A word cloud of “A Scandal in Bohemia” in which “Holmes” is the largest word, closely followed by “man” and “photograph.”

Figure 1: Word Cloud of “A Scandal in Bohemia”

 

Students wanted to investigate gender in “A Scandal in Bohemia” at a more sophisticated level than a word cloud allows, so they switched to “word trees,” which, as Wattenberg and Viégas (2008) have explained, are “graphical version[s] of the traditional ‘keyword-in-context’ method [that] enable[…] rapid querying and exploration of bodies of text.” Word trees provide a more granular display of sentence construction and patterns by showing how particular words appear in context: users upload a text, search for a word, and are shown a visualization of the words that appear immediately before or immediately after that word in the text. My students uploaded the text of “A Scandal in Bohemia” into Jason Davies’s word tree tool to compare how Conan Doyle used the words “Holmes” and “Adler.” For example, a search for “Holmes” demonstrates that his name is often followed by verbs of action: Holmes “whistled,” “caught,” “laughed,” “scribbled,” “dashed,” “rushed,” “staggered,” etc. Essentially, then, Holmes is characterized by his movements and actions in the story, even though his actions end up being fruitless, as Adler evades him.

2. A screenshot of Jason Davies’s Word Tree tool showing the word “Holmes” and all words that come immediately after it in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Holmes” is sometimes followed by punctuation (e.g. a period or comma), but usually by verbs (“whistled,” “caught,” “laughed,” etc.)

Figure 2: Word Tree with “Holmes” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

 

The word “Holmes” is often preceded by “said,” “remarked,” “asked,” or by the rest of his name and title (e.g. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes”). Syntactically, then, throughout the story, Holmes is associated with his actions and speech, and has a high degree of agency.

3. A screenshot of Jason Davies’s Word Tree tool showing the word “Holmes” and all words that come immediately before it in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Holmes” is most often preceded by “Mr. Sherlock” or “said.”

Figure 3: Word Tree with “Holmes” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

 

A search for “Adler,” however, shows that her name is only followed by a verb once: the word “is” (in the phrase “is married”). Even though she, like Holmes, takes action repeatedly in the story, those actions are not syntactically associated with her name, and in fact, her action is technically associated with losing her name (as she becomes Norton rather than Adler). “Adler” is most frequently followed immediately by punctuation: a question mark, commas, and periods. Unlike Holmes, then, her name is syntactically associated with pausing and stopping, and thereby with silence and passivity.

4. A screenshot of Jason Davies’s Word Tree tool showing the word “Adler” and all words that come immediately after it in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Adler” is usually followed by punctuation (comma, period, or question mark), and only once by a verb (“is”).

Figure 4: Word Tree with “Adler” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

 

When we reverse the tree and see what comes before “Adler,” we see that every instance is about her name: “Adler” is always preceded by “of Irene,” “Irene,” “Miss,” or “née” (as in “Irene Norton, née Adler). Again, unlike Holmes, whose name was prefaced by words associated with speech (and only sometimes with his full name), Adler is linked to her name only, and not her words, which again decreases her agency and actions.

5. A screenshot of Jason Davies’s Word Tree tool showing the word “Adler” and all words that come immediately before it in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Adler” is usually preceded by “of Irene,” “Irene,” “Miss,” or “nee.”

Figure 5: Word Tree with “Adler” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

 

From these visualizations, we can see that, while the story does feature a proto-feminist plot, in which an intelligent, remarkable woman defeats Holmes, its sentence structure does not endorse that standpoint. Instead, the sentence construction renders Adler as a passive figure whose agency is only exercised in marriage. Word trees help us complicate the conventional feminist interpretation of the text.

Visualization technologies can illuminate more than patterns in sentences: they can also provoke new insights about geography in texts. Holmes stories lend themselves to spatial analysis, as they are very invested in locations: Holmes, Watson, and the criminals they track down often travel across London and beyond, and the stories painstakingly describe the paths they traverse. “The Blue Carbuncle,” for example, mentions the exact streets Holmes and Watson walk through en route to Covent Garden. However, many students have never been to London, and they know even less about areas of London in the nineteenth century. To address this, students read articles about GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) to understand how digital mapping projects require plotting data on maps and looking for patterns, rather than just digitizing historical maps. Then, they learn how to use a number of nineteenth-century mapping projects: “The Charles Booth Online Archive” is a digitized, searchable version of Booth’s poverty maps that let users see the income level of each area of London; “Locating London’s Past” lets users map crime data from the Old Bailey archive in addition to data on coroners’ records, poor relief, and population data; “London Buildings and Monuments illustrated in the Victorian Web” includes images and descriptions of various London landmarks; and “Mapping Emotions in Victorian London” maps positive and negative emotions associated with streets and landmarks in London from passages in nineteenth-century novels.

Students then choose a location from one of the Holmes stories we discussed in class, research it using previously mentioned websites to compare Conan Doyle’s fictionalized account of the area with the historical spot, and then map the locations with either Mapbox or Google Maps and look for patterns. They analyze the connections and often come up with interesting results. For example, one student considered the significance of Leadenhall Street in “A Case of Identity.” In that story, a wine importer (Mr. Windibank) disguises himself in order to court and then abandon his stepdaughter at the altar so she would be heartbroken and never marry, and he could live off of the interest of her inheritance. The fake fiancé claimed to work in Leadenhall Street and had the stepdaughter address her letters to him to the post office there. One student’s research showed that Leadenhall Street was the headquarters of the East India Company until it was disbanded in 1861, and this prompted her to observe parallels between the former East India Company and Mr. Windibank: both were importers of foreign goods, both were very invested in profits, and both acted cruelly to obtain those profits and to control others.[2] Consequently, what initially seemed to be a small, insignificant geographic reference turned into a detail that illuminated a character’s moral failings and also a larger political argument.

These small-scale research projects are equally illuminating for fictional locations: students also realized that, in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” all streets or locations most associated with Irene Adler are fictional, whereas all other landmarks in the story existed. This discovery prompted a passionate discussion about geography and feminism in the text: students debated whether Conan Doyle was trying to avoid being sued for libel, to claim that an intelligent women like Adler could never really exist, or to dramatize Adler’s ability to slip through Holmes’s fingers by having her slip through our own (since she can never be mapped). Without these mapping technologies, students wouldn’t realize the ways in which questions of geography are inextricably related to class, gender, and other political issues.

The Sherlock Holmes focus is useful beyond its application to visualization and spatial analysis: the character of Holmes himself provides a valuable introduction to the history of technology and close-reading. In “A Case of Identity,” for instance, Holmes proves that the stepfather is the criminal and that the stepfather and the missing fiancé are the same person by examining typewritten letters sent by both, in which certain print characters had the same idiosyncrasies due to wear and tear on the keys: as Holmes says, “a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unless they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on one side. . . [I]n this note . . . in every case there is some little slurring over of the ‘e,’ and a slight defect in the tail of the ‘r’” (Conan Doyle 1891, 14). This quotation not only shows how technology solves the case, but also how, even within the mechanical, the human (and humanist) shines through. Other Holmes stories likewise unite Victorian technology and writing: in “The Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes tracks down the owner of a Christmas goose (and missing bowler hat) by advertising in widely-circulated Victorian newspapers, specifically the “Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James’s, Evening News Standard, [and the] Echo” (Conan Doyle 1892, 8), papers whose distribution was only made possible by advances in paper and printing technology. Throughout the Holmes canon, then, cases revolve around Victorian technological advances because of how dramatically these innovations changed forms and methods of communication. To modern readers, and especially to students, these inventions hardly seem to count as technology, because “the technological” today is so often synonymous with “the digital.” The Holmes stories function as a corrective to that attitude: they encourage students to rethink their definition of “technology” to better understand the Victorian period as well as their own time.

Holmes’s facility with technology also furthers our image of Holmes as an expert thinker: his observational skills and “deductive reasoning” are already famous in popular consciousness. He repeatedly insists on the scientific method and the importance of unbiased data gathering, famously saying in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts” (Conan Doyle [1891] 2006, 3). Consequently, Holmes becomes a useful model for a digital humanist, especially when students may be unused to thinking about data in a humanities context.

In spite of his emphasis on scientific reasoning, Holmes is, at heart, quite the humanist. In addition to his love of the violin, opera, theater, French literature and archiving, Holmes also provides students with a metaphorical model of a close reader; this can be especially useful when teaching an interdisciplinary class full of students for whom close reading is a confounding, magical process. One particular passage, from “The Blue Carbuncle,” helpfully dramatizes Holmes’s analytical abilities. When examining a bowler hat, he first makes pronouncements about it, and then breaks down the close-reading process, explaining each step: “This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world” (Conan Doyle 1892, 4). To Watson (in this metaphor, the non-English major), it seems almost magical that someone could get so much meaning from such a small object (in this metaphor, the paragraph). And yet, by observing the style, the band, and later the hair and the size, and comparing those observations to his mental repository of expected characteristics and actions for people, Holmes figures out who must have owned the hat, much as we observe imagery patterns, sentence construction, and other narrative devices and compare them to our repository of genre or stylistic expectations to come up with a reading of a paragraph (or work as a whole).

Sherlock Holmes, then, brings together the humanities, the sciences, and the technological; the local and the global; and, in the classroom, the past and the present. Although we only read a small subset of the Holmes stories, they provide the perfect corpus for working across disciplinary boundaries, including History, Literature, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Sociology, Law, and Anthropology. As they are short stories, they are the perfect length for courses that contain students from majors beyond English, and their comparative brevity enables us to devote more time to the theoretical and practical import of digital humanities methodologies. Teaching Holmes stories with digital tools lets students build on the traditional humanities skills of close-reading, noting patterns, and using archives. It augments that scholarly toolkit by guiding students to a better understanding of rhetorical patterns and spatial significance, while also introducing them to techniques that have broad applications in their own fields beyond the nineteenth-century focus of this class. The stories’ own investment in technology lays the groundwork for the course’s own technological focus, and this enables us to thematically tie together the digital humanities methodologies with the Victorian works we study.

Naturally, this project has its challenges: for instance, students from the so-called “digital native” generation are often anything but. While some have specialized computer skills, including video editing or programming, most have only minimal experience, such as word processing or social media. Few have built their own projects, experimented with currently existing digital tools, or thought about how digital technologies can challenge conventional traditions of scholarship. Most students find digital technology intimidating, as they are aware of the limits of their knowledge and are afraid to experiment enough to figure out how programs work—an aspect of trial and error necessary to excel in digital humanities. To overcome these hurdles, I provide my students with detailed instructions, both written and verbal, for every lab day, and I meet outside of class with any students who need additional support. I also model trial and error throughout the semester: if a tool or project produces errors the first time, I explain the reasons I think it might be glitching and then walk them through the troubleshooting process (which often involves Google searches) so they can have the skills and confidence to try to address any stumbling blocks that might arise. I also update the syllabus each time I teach the course: for instance, I cut a unit on topic modeling the Holmes stories and graphing the results when I realized that students needed a comfort level with history and complex visualizations that was greater than I could provide in two weeks. I look forward to making additional alterations to the course as the field of digital humanities changes and new tools and methodologies become available.

The most recent incarnation of “Digital Tools for the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London,” from Fall 2015, has a course website that includes the syllabus, assignments, grading rubric, and student blogs; I hope they inspire others to borrow or build on my ideas. The approach can easily be adapted to a wide range of literary periods and authors, and is especially suited to works that reference real places and historical events, and works that have become part of pop culture. This structure teaches students history, literature, and technology in greater depth and with a greater degree of interaction and intellectual curiosity than often occurs in traditional classroom.

Appendix: Sample Assignments for “Digital Tools in the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London”

Online Assignment #2: Omeka Archive

Instructions:

As a class, we’re building an archive of items related to Sherlock Holmes stories (http://holmesiana.net/). Each student will contribute three related items, one collection (with your 3 items), and one exhibit (with a 300-word essay on the items) to the archive.

Due:

  1. Due 9/21 by 9:30am: Accept the Omeka invitation, create an account, and bring three related digital items for inclusion in a Holmes archive.
  2. Due9/25 by 8pm: Add three items, 1 collection, and 1 exhibit that contains a 300-word essay using the objects you added as images. Post links to the items, collection, and exhibit to the class blog.

Items:

These items can be anything at all: illustrations from the original Holmes stories, photographs of locations mentioned in the stories or of props in the movies, images of movie or TV show posters of adaptations, pictures of games based on Holmes, audio clips of theme songs of different Holmes adaptations, video clips of the credit sequences of different adaptations, etc. The only requirements are that the items involve Holmes and that you have the permission to put them online.

Copyright:

You CAN’T: upload a clip/poster from a TV show/movie/CD that you or a random YouTube user made

You CAN: use material from an official account (BBC, MGM) as long as you include a link (the image/clip URL) to the source.

Item Metadata:

For each item, you must write down the Title, Subject, Description, Creator, Publisher, a URL, and Item Type.

Getting Started:

  1. Check your email and look for an email from “A Study in Holmesiana Administrator vs hotrods.reclaimhosting.com <swafforj@newpaltz.edu>” with the subject heading is “Activate your account with the A Study in Holmesiana repository.” NOTE: Check your spam folder. It will probably be there.
  2. Open the email and click the link inside. You will be asked to create a password.
  3. Type your username (written in the email) and password to log in.

How to Add an Item:

(Modified from http://omeka.org/codex/Managing_Items_2.0)

  1. From your items page (net/admin/itemsclick the “Add an Item” button.
  2. This takes you to the admin/items/add page where you see a navigation bar across the top pointing you to different stages of adding an item.
  3. The first tab shows the Dublin Core metafields. Enter the Title, Subject, Description, Creator, and Publisher information.
  4. The Item Type Metadata tab lets you choose a specific item type for the object you are adding. Once you choose the type by using the drop-down menu, relevant metadata fields appear for you to complete.
    • If you have an image, select “Still Image” and put the URL of your image in the “External Image URL” field.
    • If you have a video, choose “Moving Image” and paste the embed code for the player in the “Player” field. Don’t know how to get the embed code? Follow these instructions.
  5. The Files tab lets you upload files to an item.
    • If you have an image, upload your image by clicking “Choose File” and selecting the file.
    • If you have a video from YouTube, you’ll need to make an image. Copy and paste the YouTube URL from the top of the webpage into this website, right-click on the image labeled “Normal Quality,” save it to the Desktop, and then upload it to Holmesiana.net through the Files menu.
  6. The Tags tab allows you add keyword tags to your item.
  7. IMPORTANT: Click the “Public” checkbox under “Add Item.”
  8. Click “Add Item” to add your item to Holmesiana.net

How to Build a Collection:

(Modified from http://omeka.org/codex/Managing_Collections)

  1. Next, you’ll group your items into a collection based on a similar theme.
  2. Come up with a name for your collection (e.g. “Irene Adler in Adaptations.”)
  3. Click on the “Collections” tab in the /admin interface top navigation bar. Any collections you create will be listed on the /admin/collections page.
  4. Click “Add a Collection.”
  5. Name and describe your collection.
  6. Click the “Public” checkbox to make this collection visible to the public.
  7. Be sure to click “Save Collection” to save your newly created collection.
  8. Next, assign items to a collection:
    1. Open an item you want to add to the collection.
    2. To the right of the page, under the “Add Item” button is a drop-down menu where you can assign your item to a collection. Remember, items can only belong to one collection.
  9. Be sure to click the “Add Item” button to save your data.

How to Build an Exhibit:

(Modified from http://omeka.org/codex/Plugins/ExhibitBuilder)

  1. Click on the Exhibits tab in the top nav bar of the Admin interface, and click the “Add Exhibits” button on the right side. You will arrive at an Exhibit Metadata page. Fill in the empty fields.
    • Exhibit Title: This is the title of the entire exhibit (e.g. “Irene Adler in Adaptations”).
    • Exhibit Slug (no spaces or special characters): This is the exhibit name as it appears in the website URL. “For example, “music” is the slug in http://holmesiana.net/exhibits/show/music
    • Exhibit Credits: These will appear with description on the public site. Put your name here.
    • Exhibit Description: Write a brief introduction to the entire exhibit that appears on the public site.
    • Exhibit Tags: Tags help associate exhibits with other items in your archive.
    • Exhibit is featured: Leave this blank.
    • Exhibit is public/not public: Check “Public.”
    • Exhibit Theme: By default, “Current Public Theme” is selected. DO NOT CHANGE THE THEME.
    • Use Summary Page: Uncheck the box. This will get rid of a title page for your exhibit.
  1. To proceed with your exhibit, you must create a page, so click“Add Page.”
  2. Give your page a title and a slug (e.g. “Adler Adaptations” for the title and “adler” for the slug).
  3. Next, you choose the layout for your exhibit. Since you’ll be writing 300 words about the objects in your archive, you’ll want to select “File with Text.” This lets you include images and a description about them.
  4. Select “Add New Content Block.”
  5. Now, you’re ready to add your text and items.
  6. Click the “Add Item” button, select your first item, click “Select Item,” give it a short caption (under a sentence), and click “Apply.”
  7. Type your text about the first item in the box labeled “Text” below.
  8. Click on the arrow next to the words “Layout Options.” Adjust the drop-down menus to change the position and size of your image.
  9. Repeat steps 5-9 for each item in your exhibit. Remember to click “Save Changes” frequently.
  10. Congrats! You made an exhibit! Click “Save Changes” one last time, then go to http://holmesiana.net, click “Browse Exhibits,” and find yours. Click on it and make sure you’re happy with how it looks.

Online Assignment #3: Book Traces

Instructions:

  1. Search the library catalogue for books published between 1820-1923 from the library stacks (not special collections) based on a certain topic (see list of topics below). Look through these books to find one with marginalia (annotations or marks) or inserts from the 19thcentury. Take pictures of up to five instances of marginalia or inserts in the book, fill out the information about your book and its marginalia, including the “description” field, on http://www.booktraces.org/, upload your photos, and submit your entry.

NOTE: If you have looked through 20 books from the 19th century without finding marginalia, you may stop searching, but you must still write a blog post.

  1. Write a 300-word blog post about the traces you found; provide information about the book it occurs in (title, author, publisher, etc.), describe the traces, include pictures of them, and include the link to your book on Book Traces. Explain what the traces have to do with the topic of the book and the pages on which they appear. If a trace includes a name or date, look up the person or date and provide any relevant info you can find (use Google). Here are sample blog posts about Book Traces written by undergraduates at Davidson College: http://sites.davidson.edu/dig350/category/prompts/prompt-3

If you can’t find any traces of previous readers, explain what search terms you used to find 19th century books, give some sample titles of books you looked at, and give some guesses about why books with your selected topic do not include any evidence of earlier readers.

The blog post and Book Traces submission are due by 9/30 by 8pm (6% of final grade).

USEFUL TIP: Book Traces states that participants have had the most luck finding markings in books from the PR or PS call numbers (British and American Literature), but it also recommends French and Spanish literature, history, religious texts, and philosophy.

Sample Traces:

Marginal notes, inscriptions, owner’s names, any other type of writing, drawing, bookmarks, inserts, clippings pasted into the book, photos, original manuscripts, letters.

Search Terms (grouped by category) in STL catalogue (http://library.newpaltz.edu):

  1. Literature, Poetry (or “Poetical Works”), Shakespeare, Impressions
  2. Women
  3. Antiquities
  4. Music (or Songs), Theater (and Theatre),
  5. Art, Fashion
  6. Travel, Empire, England,
  7. Science, Mathematics
  8. Law
  9. Religion
  10. History

Online Assignment #8: Victorian London Locations

Instructions:

In class, you’ll be split into three groups that correspond to the four Holmes stories we’ve read this semester. Choose a location from the Holmes story you’ve selected, research it using online scholarly sources on Victorian London, and write a blog post about how and why that background information about the location affects our understanding of the story.

Due:

11/8 by 8pm

Details:

  1. Choose one spot (not Baker Street) mentioned in the Holmes story you signed up for.
  2. Do a search for your street this digital map of Victorian London (http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/ – zoom=12&lat=51.5021&lon=-0.1032&layers=163) and then zoom in and take a screenshot.
  3. Use a combination of the following sites to learn about the area you have chosen:
  1. Write a blog post about what you’ve learned about the area and how it relates to the Holmes stories
  2. Include 3-4 specific details about the location
    b. Explain the location’s importance to the Holmes story, in terms of plot and theme
    c. Include screenshots and any other pictures you’ve found that you think will be helpful.

[1] The story begins with the sentence “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman” (1) and concludes with a restatement of that opening idea: “And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honorable title of the woman” (15)

[2] Conan Doyle again critiqued the East India Company’s unethical imperial project in a later work, The Mystery of Cloomber, set during the First Afghan War. In it, a Major-General in the East India Company massacres a group of Afridis on holy ground, and is punished for his crime years later.

Bibliography

Conan Doyle, Arthur. 1892. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” The Strand Magazine 3 (13): 73-85. Internet Archive. Accessed October 15, 2015. https://archive.org/details/StrandMagazine13.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. 1891. “A Case of Identity.” The Strand Magazine 2 (9): 248-259. Internet Archive. Accessed October 15, 2015. https://archive.org/details/StrandMagazine9.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. (1891) 2006. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Facsimile reproduction of The Strand Magazine 1: January 27, 2006. Stanford: Stanford Continuing Studies. Accessed October 15, 2015. http://sherlockholmes.stanford.edu/pdf/holmes_01.pdf.

McGann, Jerome. 1996. “Radiant textuality.” Victorian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social, Political, and Cultural Studies 39 (3): 379.

Wattenberg, M., and F. B. Viégas. 2008. “The Word Tree, an Interactive Visual Concordance.” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 14 (6): 1221–28. doi:10.1109/TVCG.2008.172. Accessed October 15, 2015. http://hint.fm/papers/wordtree_final2.pdf.

Joanna Swafford is the Assistant Professor for Interdisciplinary and Digital Teaching and Scholarship at SUNY New Paltz, specializing in Digital Humanities, Victorian Literature and Culture, Sound, and Gender Studies. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Debates in Digital Humanities, Provoke!: Digital Sound Studies,Victorian Poetry, and Victorian Review. She is the project director for Songs of the Victorians (http://www.songsofthevictorians.com/), Augmented Notes (http://www.augmentednotes.com/), and Sounding Poetry, and is the co-founder and coordinator of DASH (Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities) Lab at SUNY New Paltz. She is also Head of Pedagogical Initiatives for NINES.org (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship).

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