Contributors: Meg, Jesse, Amanda

Time to read: 4 mins

When students hold a novel that was published in the Victorian era, when they touch a costume from that same era, not only does the historical past become more immediate, but these experiences invite students to engage critically with the materials of the past, in order to help them interrogate the present.  

Jesse Erickson, assistant professor in English and coordinator of special collections and digital humanities, is leveraging the Mark Samuels Lasner collections, the Fashion Department’s Historical Costume collection, and the UD Library, Museums and Press’ special collections and films in his course HONR290 “Vampires and Dandies: Victorian popular fiction and print culture.” 

In this course, by investigating a range of genre literature in their period formats, students will formulate and address questions regarding the intrinsic value of looking at a text in relation to its materiality. How does the experience of reading a novel as a three-volume hardcover first edition differ from reading it as a cheap paperback reprint? Why do the cheap editions so often feature eye-catching illustrations as opposed to the comparatively sober blind stamping or gilt of an edition bound in publisher’s cloth? What do these cover illustrations say about the ways in which authors and their content were marketed to a reading public? What does each have to say about the public’s relation to class, race, and gender concerns? 

At the end of Jesse’s course, students will create a peer-reviewed eJournal based upon their analysis of these collections, providing yet another opportunity for students to examine how the format in which information is delivered impacts the way it is received by an audience.

The eJournal is designed to give students practical experience in scholarly communication. Increasingly, twenty-first century scholarship in Victorian studies and popular fiction is taking the form of essays published in digitally mediated, open access electronic journals. The peer review process is designed to be a lesson in the intellectual apparatuses of quality control. Students are tasked with circulating their papers among their groups for feedback, allowing them to get an additional layer of oversight for their work. Upon completion of the review process, students will select the papers they determine are best suited to submit to the journal, which they will all work on building collaboratively in class. Everyone takes part in the publication process and is able to cultivate digital skills sets alongside skills in knowledge production and composition. The end result should exemplify a seamless integration of the critical analysis of primary sources and an immersive engagement with the course readings.

As the final project in Jesse’s course demonstrates, when students are challenged to work in new digital formats, they gain real opportunities to practice new as well as familiar skills. Assignments that ask students to generate podcasts or video essays are another vehicle for authentic learning experiences. As students create digital materials, they must grapple with tough questions of ownership and copyright, and analyze how the audience experience changes and can be manipulated by through the constraints and opportunities offered by different technologies and formats. For example, when students are asked to create a website, they must analyze how their choices regarding site elements, such as navigational structure, impact the experience and message conveyed with the site. These assignments offer a way to encourage students to develop a habit of asking the same questions of the websites they encounter daily. Moving Fictions, the site developed by Associate Professor in English Emily Davis’ classes over the last three semesters, is an example of an ongoing project in which students not only create the content, but also play an instrumental role in developing the structure and design of the site. 

The upcoming CTAL Friday Roundtable, “Assignments That Click: Tapping into Student Creativity with Digital Multimedia Projects,” will highlight examples of successful digital multimedia projects as well as provide best practices and resources to help faculty get started in developing a new assignment.  Faculty members Emily Davis, Associate Professor of English, Tom Guiler, Assistant Professor of History and Public Humanities Academic Programs, and Dustin Morris, Postdoctoral Researcher in Writing Pedagogy will be on hand to share their experiences of developing and implementing digital multimedia assignments in their courses to offer.  The discussion will take place October 4 from 3:30-5p. For more information and to register here.

We hope you’ll join us for a great discussion!  If you can’t make it and want to learn more about how the library can support your course, visit the library instruction page, or contact mgrotti@udel.edu.

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