Among the many assignments for the course on Scottish Literature I taught in Winter term for the University of Washington, my favorite was the creation of a Complete Works of Alexander Smith. mith (1830-1867) is a marvelously gifted poet of the Scottish working class who exploded onto the worldwide literary scene in the 1850's and was hardly ever heard from again, despite pleas every 30 years or so, by someone who actually read his work, for people to appreciate his genius. (For more on this phenomenon from a scholarly angle, see LaPorte and Rudy eds. Special Edition of Victorian Poetry vol. 42.4 2004) The pleas are ignored of course, and nothing of Smith's has been in print for 100 years. As a class, we took it upon ourselves to make a scholarly edition, (of James Thomson B.V., in another section) complete with introductions and footnotes, transcribing from scanned manuscripts where necessary.Read More
This is my tenth year of teaching at the university level, and while I usually have students make some kind of project in addition to writing essays, the projects for the class I've just finished were exceptional, for the clarity of thought that went into them, and the sheer import of the undertakings.
The class was called Texting: Writing about Digital Humanities, and the idea was to introduce students at an early stage in their academic careers (this was my first time teaching Freshmen in quite a while) to the plethora of tools available to them during this explosion of all things digital, but also to the problems surrounding the humanities generally, and the digital ones specifically. Not least: what are they?
If nothing else, I wanted to gain, over the course of the class, an answer to that question, and so we set out, week by week, confronting the memes and websites, databases, archives, and articles that make up the debates surrounding
- Digital Music
- Digital Scholarship
- Digital Poetics
- The New Aesthetic
- News Aggregators
- Centers, Symposia, Initiatives
- DH Resources particular to UW
One student, in a farewell blog post, summed up our project particularly well:
After taking English classes for more than 7 years, I expected to re-learn about things I have already been taught. How wrong I was. My English 111 class's focus was digital humanities; something I've never even heard of. We learned to navigate our way of information, data, history, poems, research, and so much more through the future of the digital age. We live in this digital age and it only grows from here, so I thought that learning about it now will only allow us to strive for greater success later. It doesn't end here. We would take digital works of course, such as articles, blogs, poems and really learn to dig deep into them and read. Read for context, read for analytical purpose, but we also read for style. Like what apprentices do, we learned from people who were better than us, who had mastered what we desired.
The class explicitly aimed at education's not being theoretical. I didn't just want them to know what I could tell them during our ten weeks together, but how to learn/make/do whatever it is they are individually in to better ever afterward. Again, a student summed it up better than I can:
I remember in our first day of class, our teacher told us something that stuck with me. He said, "You can do, what you can do." He put great emphasis on how much impact one person can make if they really wanted to. Throughout the whole quarter, we learned about many great organizations and devices that became successful just because one person had a crazy idea. Due to English 111, I have learned "One person is all it takes", is overused for a reason; because it's true.
You can read more of the students' weekly responses here.
This is the really exciting part. The students completed two large projects for the class in groups; one of them, called "The New Aesthetic Project," I'll have to tell you about later; the other was a Free Project of their own choice and devise. The prompt said simply find something that could be better and make it that way using the tools we've discussed. Here's a sample of what they outlined and built:
- A Facebook page--The Husky Food Project--featuring photos and reviews of every restaurant, eatery, or coffee stand on campus
- A book (pdf preview here), yes, that you can buy in hardback, softcover, or pdf from here, which is a guide to all the public art on University of Washington's campus, featuring pictures, history, and a short description of each.
- A Comprehensive Digital Map of UW building interiors (for finding your class on the first day of school, bathrooms, etc) whose pitch is just a model of professionalism and urgency.
- An e-book about 100 Changes Due to Tech.
- A website listing all the free products available to students at UW
The point is, I was impressed. These students, for many of whom this was their first college class ever, conceived of, argued for the importance of, and executed significant projects they designed, while writing papers, doing readings, and keeping up with the other, rather large project we were working on as a class. Hats off!