Category Archives: Assignments to Try

Voices from the Gaps in Women Writers Class

A quick update on this assignment. While as with many mini-research assignments these can elicit very formulaic responses to questions, I also discovered that for several of the students, this was exactly the kind of assignment that drew them in and gave them a sense of ownership and discovery. One student talked movingly about how discovering a Filipino American author affected her and made her wish she had known about this writer when she was growing up Filipino in America; another mother of five wrote about an African American mystery novelist and discovered that while she hadn’t always admired the genre she could see how the work of this novelist could have a positive political dimension.


Introduction to Women Writers ENG260 Fall 2012
Second Blog Assignment:
Voices from the Gaps: Women Writer Discovery Blog Entry (mini-research/critical essay project posted onto your course blog) (10%)

Friday, Due Friday October 26 at midnight.


Post the URL to your completed blog entry in the Moodle assignment link that says “VOICES FROM THE GAPS: WOMEN WRITER DISCOVERY BLOG”. This is where your grade will show up in Moodle.  To find out what your URL for this blog entry is, go to your actual post and copy and paste the URL that shows up.

For this blog entry, you will be using the same blog that you created for your poetry map, only you will add a new post to it and title it “Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers Discovery Blog.” This assignment gives you the opportunity to explore a woman writer you may not have heard of before and to read what a fellow college student  has researched and wrote about her. You will then write about this artist in your blog, following some questions below. This blog should give you a sense of discovery.



You can choose whichever artist you are interested in as long as she is not one of the writers that we are working on in class. You must use the artist pages that are on this site as your source of information. If there are related links within the site, you can use information found on those sites as well, being sure to mark your reference in your blog by using hyperlinks.


To begin, you should have a notepad or an electronic notepad open so that you can record your findings as you go.  It’s always best to write down anything interesting so that later you can write more formal paragraphs from your notes.  Remember that any information you get from this or any source needs to be documented by pointing to the site.  Here’s a resource for finding out how to cite a web-based resource:


My advice is to create a draft in your word-processing program or on paper and then post your polished work on your blog as a final step. Your blog should answer the questions below. You should use an essay format, however, with your intended audience being your fellow students and other blog readers in the blogosphere who may be interested in reading what you have to say about this author.

  1. Who is the artist you have chosen?
  2. Why were you drawn to this artist?
  3. Summarize this artist’s major accomplishments. If you can, find something that they have created and describe it or discuss it.
  4. Talk about what is unique or unusual or interesting to you about this artist.
  5. Talk about how what you learned about this artist relates to some of the themes that we are exploring in our class:
  • about women’s identity as artists and difficulties they have;
  • about the role that race and ethnicity have played in the identity of this artist and also in their work;
  • about the relationship between money and a “room of one’s own” and this artist’s life and/or work
  • is the issue of a “single story” at play in their life or work? If so, how?

i)        What do you think of the student researcher’s work?

ii)      Be sure to provide a summary of your overall findings.

Once you have posted your entry, post the unique URL for this post to the Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers Discovery Blog link in the Moodle 5th week course block.

GRADING CRITERIA: (Satisfactory Grade Range: 70-80; Strong Grade Range: 80-90; Exemplary Grades 90-100)

  1. Follows instructions
  2. Blog entry demonstrates a thorough and correct if brief overview of the woman artist s/he chose (satisfactory). All sources are correctly cited either by linking to the sites. Strong entries make useful connections with course terms and course readings and discussions. Exemplary entries provide original or creative insight and/or connections.
  3. Blog entry demonstrates a general understanding of the chosen writer and her work (satisfactory).  Strong entries utilize course terms and work to discuss the artist and her work. Exemplary entries provide original or creative insight or connections about the chosen artist and course terms and discussions.
  4. Satisfactory blog entry provides a clear analysis and detailed response to the chosen artist page(s), using literary terms and reading skills learned in the class. The analysis answers the questions above. Strong analysis provides depth and connections; exemplary analysis uses the analysis as an occasion for an original or creative insight.
  5. Prompt posting assumed for all satisfactory grades. Late posts lose a 10% per day late.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Material Culture


This assignment uses resources from the University of Virginia’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture archive.  Students read a few chapters of the novel in their Norton Anthology and the goal is to get them to see the influence the novel has had on American culture in general and racist stereotypes in particular. The assignment was designed as a series of Moodle forums.

For DH Lab: Please choose at least TWO forums below to browse and answer questions in.


In class on Wednesday, we started to look at how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental form supported her novel’s rhetorical purpose: to protest the institution of slavery in America.

At the time of its writing, most black Americans responded enthusiastically to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Frederick Douglass was a friend of Stowe’s; she had consulted him on some sections of the book, and he praised the book in his writings. Most black abolitionists saw it as a tremendous help to their cause. Some, however, opposed the book, seeing Uncle Tom’s character as being too submissive and criticized Stowe for having her strongest black characters emigrate to Liberia.  To this day, it is difficult to fully comprehend the complexities of racist feeling in America in the wake of Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s publication and the Civil War that followed it.


Games provide epistemic frames for children and adults to understand how the world is or should be organized.  An “epistemic frame” is a cognitive and emotional structure that organizes and orients each person’s ways of knowing the world. It is made up of the values, knowledge, skills, identities, and rationales for decision making. An epistemic frame is highly relational: it provides hierarchies and relational connections among the people, places and things in our orbits.


Because of its pervasive popularity, Uncle Tom’s Cabin provided a new epistemic frame for white Americans (and Europeans) to comprehend the humanity of black slaves in an abolitionist context. For whites in America—Southerners and Northerners alike–this epistemic frame was grounded in Christian piety, the cult of true womanhood, and domestic individualism.  For example, when Eliza demonstrates powerful maternal devotion she provided white women with a model of identification, which changed those women’s epistemic frame.


Of course, for black American slaves, this epistemic frame was objectifying and imposed from without; it infantilized black men and valued male and female submission to “God’s will” as understood by white Southerners and Northerners. Thus, while we can admire Stowe’s rhetorical skill in mobilizing sentiment for a just cause, reading this novel we also bear witness to the racist effects of her choices.  If we can hold both of these contradictory ideas in our minds at once—Stowe’s achievement and her production of racist sterotypes—we can begin to understand this book’s place in our American Literature Survey.


For today’s DH Lab, FIRST click on each of the links below and follow the links to the web archive, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, maintained by the University of Virginia.

Once you’ve scanned everything, decide on a forum and answer the question(s) there. Feel free to enter into conversation with each other by replying to the original question and/or the responses of your classmates within the forum. But you should post about at least two sites.

Check out the two “Toy Villages” –Play Village Version 1 and Play Village Version 2. Notice that these villages include an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” feature. Answer both of these questions:

QUESTION 1: What do you make of this feature of a village game in a 1905 child’s toy?

QUESTION 2: The curators suggest that this is a “plantation recreation” game, even though not explicitly stated. How does this village contribute to the “epistemic frame” within which children would understand American history? The division of white and black roles in a given “village”?


To see the variety of cultural objects inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, you may want to browse the entire collection here.

How does it change your perspective to see not just children’s games but “adult toys” and other forms of entertainment emerge from Stowe’s novel?  Taken together, how do these artifacts–created over a period of 80 years–contribute to a cultural epistemic frame?



The profound learning that occurs with manipulable toys such as village sets and dolls goes beyond the narrative structure set up in Uncle Tom’s Cabin the novel, create an infinitely variable reorganization and reinforcement of the social structure.

Review the collection of paper dolls, cut-outs and rag dolls here. Then continue your reflection on how these objects of material culture contributed to the epistemic frame launched by the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Note the DATES each of these was produced: only one in 1865; the others were in the early 20th century.

QUESTION: In what contexts can you imagine these figures reinforced the lessons Stowe intended? In what contexts can you see these figures reinforcing emergent racist stereotypes that Stowe may not have intended? What significance could the dating hold?



Read the introduction to this game here click on the “Directions” on the left pane. Click on each of the different character cards, paying special attention to the different “whole families.”

QUESTIONS: What kind of epistemic frame does this card provide for the players?  How does it differ from the frame created in Uncle Tom Card Game #1?



First click on “See the Cards.” After you have seen the four sections of cards, go back and click on “Read the Rules,” and follow how the game is played.

QUESTIONHow does this card game reimagine the world of the novel? Do you think it’s true to the spirit of the novel? What advantages might such a game have in the abolitionist fight against slavery? [Note that it is published the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.]



Tiki-Toki Timelines


Just finished teaching this class, and overall it went well–if by “well” I mean students didn’t entirely mutiny. 75% of the students not only completed the assignment but also had time to get creative. My main requirements were that students would first find the timeline site, create an account, learn the steps for creating timeline entries and then read a couple established websites to do some research on Emily Dickinson and/or Harriet Jacobs. I also wanted them to understand why including the URL was important. Not only does it help everyone avoid plagiarism, it also helps students participate in an active way, sharing sites with one another.

Uneven preparation continues to hinder smooth progress: some students don’t have internet and so use classtime for things other than our research, etc. I require them to post the URL for their timeline to be sure that they have at least walked through the steps.

My Instructions for Creating Your Own Tiki-Toki Timeline for Women Writers

NOTE: You can develop one or more Tiki-Toki timelines for your final project if you wish. Today everyone will be tinkering with one.

IMPORTANT: By the end of class, post the URL for your tiki-toki timeline in this forum to get credit for attendance.

  1. Go to
  2. Click on “free sign up”
    1. Choose a username: “YOURNAMEEnglish260”
    2. Type in your email address
    3. Choose an easy-to-remember password
    4. Click on the box that says “I agree to terms…” and click “Sign Up”
    5. Once you have signed up, click on “log in” and type your new username and password.
    6. Once you are logged in, click “Create New Timeline”
    7. Click on the triangle that says “ADMIN”
    8. Go to “Settings” in the ADMIN box at the top right-hand side of the screen.
    9. Give your timeline a title. You can change this in future if you wish.
    10. Choose a start and end date. You should start around 1800 for our purposes, although this can change if you wish later.
    11. Click on “SAVE”.
    12. Next, we’re going to write an entry for our timeline.
    13. Go to this link:
    14. Reading this page, I find that 1890 is the date when E.D.’s first volume is published.
    15. To add an entry, we go to the ADMIN box and click on “stories.” Then we go to “+Create New Story”
    16. We give the story a title: “First volume of E.D. poems published.”
    17. We give the story a date: We know it’s 1890, but right now I’m not sure what month, so I will write January.
    18. Now enter the information, perhaps putting some context: “Four years after her death, her first volume of poems is published.
    19. Now copy and paste the link into the place where it says “Link”. This will allow your readers to know where you found this information and to follow up. You MUST provide a link to information that is in your timeline. If you use information you find elsewhere, you should include that citation within the story block.
    20. Click “save.”
    21. Now we’re going to create a category so that when you add different women writers to your timeline you can easily see which one the timeline is about. You can change these later, but we’ll do the same one together today.
    22. Go to the ADMIN block and click on “Categories”.
    23. Click “Create New Category”
    24. Give a title “Emily Dickinson” to the first one.
    25. Click on the “colour” bar and choose a color.
    26. Click “SAVE.”
    27. Now go to your story on Emily Dickinson and Click “Edit.”
    28. Go to “category” and Choose “Emily Dickinson.”
    29. Click SAVE.
    30. Now for the rest of class, spend time reading around in the links below. When you find interesting information that would be useful in a timeline of E.D., go to your tiki-toki timeline and follow these same instructions. Be sure you include the link where you found the info each time you add a new story.


Doc McGrail’s Tiki Toki Timeline is here.!date=1830-12-10_12:00:00!

For Emily Dickinson:

General Information:

A timeline of Emily Dickinson’s life

Dickinson archives with interesting photographs (“deguerrotypes”) of two women, one of them Dickinson the other Kate Scott, who some believe E.D. was in love with:

A university research site:

A site that explores E.D.’s poetry and correspondence with Susan Huntington Dickinson, her sister-in-law.

For fun: a collection of E.D.’s letters to Thomas W Higginson—for a look at her handwriting:

For Harriet Jacobs:

General research:

PBS Series on Harriet Jacobs

A timeline of Civil War-related events:



Ngrams on 18th and 19th Century Themes

ASSIGNMENT: Ngrams on 18th and 19th Century American Lit Themes at the Mid-Term

Prior to this DH Lab, we had finished the mid-term class assessment, and had made our way up through The Scarlett Letter. The lab class is just 50 minutes, so to introduce the concept of Ngrams, I used the now-classic TED talk “What We Learned from 5 Million Books”; it provided a quick introduction to the Google Ngram viewer and what it might afford students for text mining purposes.

On our Moodle LMS, I provide links to Ted Underwood’s Stone and the Shell Blog on etymology and poetic diction so that  really engaged students can read Professor Underwood’s lucid and sophisticated ideas about what text mining is beyond Google. And I also link to the Atlantic Monthly’s article on the new Google Ngram viewer.  I try to adhere to my own “DH at the CC” principle of “do it during class or they won’t get to do it at all.”

Here are the instructions I gave to students in a smart classroom with some demo’ing on my part first:

For this week’s DH Lab, use your readings so far and the examples from The Atlantic Monthly and the TEDx talk to dig around the 19th century for trends in the way people were writing about themes from the decades that we’ve been reading in.

(Start with 1800-1900 in American English but you can play around with those years if it serves your research purpose….)

You will probably have to try a few of them before you find any that make some real sense. Once you find an ngram that seems interesting or telling to you, post the link to it and offer a comment on what you think it might mean. In other words, try your hand at “culturomics” and text mining.

And here are some interesting ngrams that students found. What I like about these is how their tacit and emerging ideas about American literature and history are present in their choice of word pairs and clusters.



Scott found that “heaven” and “hell” were less prevalent than “god” and the “devil.”


From Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative to Equiano’s Slave Narrative, the juxtaposition of captivity/slavery and Christian ideology was emerging as a theme for students.



Some students used the lab to follow their own interests, as here with “easter” and “christmas”–interesting nonetheless.


This student found an interesting trend that suggested while “old” and “new” changed places, “change” was less commented upon.

My strongest impression of using this assignment in class is that students were thoroughly engaged in it, looking for words that would bring an interesting data patten. One or two were satisfied with utterly flat lines, such as what emerged for “who, what, where, when, how, why,” but overall students posted intriguing ngrams that led them to more questions than answers–which is just what I had wanted them to see about this kind of text mining.

What continues to be a challenge in doing DH at this level is to fully integrate these new tools into class in a way that supports their ongoing 10-week investigation of the subject matter–here, “American Literature.” Last term, In Women Writers, I focused too much on the tools and left the integration behind. This term, I’m asking them to use fewer tools and leading them through a more archival approach–through primary sources, material culture etc. Since we only have one day in the lab–and students thoroughly enjoy and engage in face-to-face discussion the other two days, it will be a matter of really designing each of these assignments in such a way that each of these labs will give a double aha moment: about how new tools can offer new ways to think about old ideas and even lead to new questions altogether….


Live Tweeting Last of the Mohicans


Last week, our DH Lab involved everyone getting a Twitter account, learning about hashtags and then live-tweeting a clip from Last of the Mohicans. In some ways, the digital components of this term’s class are a little less ambitious than last term’s, as I am trying to respond to students’ criticism in the Women Writers class in Fall that we did a lot of digital work but it wasn’t tightly linked to the course content for a given week. (We always worked with women’s texts, for example, but they might be different from the ones we were reading on the syllabus. The annotation project, for example, involved obscure women writers that aren’t anthologized or even published outside the Brown Women Writer’s Project.)

So, since we were reading James Fenimore Cooper, the Twitter exercise allowed for a direct engagement “lite” with the text, via Miami Vice director Michael Mann’s version of the story. And it didn’t hurt that Daniel Day Lewis starred twenty years ago playing Natty Bumppo. We’ve talked a lot about his Lincoln this term.

Here’s the Storify of the Tweets from the live tweeting activity and the student instructions for the DH lab. There were more than 120 tweets during the 25-minute film clip. Since this is an entirely new class for me, I can’t take the time to create a really meaningful Storify with organized commentary, but for now they are curated. In yesterday’s DH lab I showed students the Storify; no one in the room had heard of it and we had a brief discussion about the genres that are springing up via social media and I suggested that at the very end of the second American Lit survey we might want to consider this genre of writing.

Live Tweeting Last of the Mohicans

NOTE: DO NOT LIVE TWEET AT THE MOVIES! It is rude and distracting.

Learning Goals of this exercise:

  • Use 21st century social media to comment upon a late 20th century Hollywood film adaptation of an early 20th century film adaptation of a 19th Century colonial American novel of an 18th century war between the English, the French and the Mohican and Huron tribes of North America.
  • Participate in the “culture of academic reputation” that emerges when a Tweet is interesting enough or engaging or useful enough that it gets “Retweeted” and thus develops a following.
  • Establish a Twitter account if you don’t already have one.
  • Learn how to create #hashtags for a community of peers interested in the same topic or idea
  • Practice using the 140-character constraint to make meaningful comments that contribute to a dialogue about an event (such as our clip from Last of the Mohicans).


  1. Establish a Twitter account if you don’t have one. For more info on Twitter for beginners is here.
  2. You can establish a new account just for this class if you wish, as I have done. My handle is @DocMcGrail.
  3. Post your handle in the Digital Humanties Lab #4 so that everyone can find you and follow you in this class. If you don’t want your social tweets from the rest of your life to be followed, create an Eng253 or LCC handle for yourself. Twitter lets you have as many as you’d like.
  4. Go to
  5. Follow instructions for signing up, and sign in to Twitter
  6. Once the film begins, create 140-character comments on the film using the hashtag #LCCeng253 at the end of your tweet.
  7. Be sure to use #LCCeng253 so that all of today’s tweets will show up on the same page.

Some prompts for tweets:

  1. Something from the film triggers a memory or a thought related to our other readings or discussions in class.
  2. Something from the film runs counter to your understanding of history or culture of the time—either of 1826 when Cooper published the novel or 1757 when the novel is set.
  3. Something startles or surprises you.
  4. Something that impresses or engages you particularly about a scene, an actor or dialogue.
  5. You come up with something witty to say about the film that you think might be interesting to your peers.


As you are reading other students’ tweets, when you find something interesting, “retweet” it! This will share your peer’s tweet with your followers, and build your peer’s reputation. At the end of class, we will be able to see whose tweets get the most RT’s.




Google Maps of Huck Finn’s Journey

Digital Humanities Lab #2 Using Google Maps to Create a Geographic Plot Summary and Analysis of Huckleberry Finn


  • Learn how to use custom Google Maps as an alternative essay format that provides 3-D information about your subject matter.
  • Learn how to annotate a Google Map
  • Think about the “river of life” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by plotting events in the novel onto a physical map of the Mississippi River and its surrounding area.
  • Think about the plot of Huck Finn in terms of the geography of slave states and free states and how that geography functions as a meaningful narrative undercurrent throughout.


  1. Begin by opening two tabs, one with Moodle and one with Google Maps here:
  2. Next click on “Get Directions” and type in “FROM Eugene Oregon” “TO Hannibal Missouri”
  3. 1948 miles, 30 hours by car.
  4. Next click on “My places”
  5. Next click on “Maps”
  6. Next click on the red square button that says “Create Map”
  7. [Click on the “interactive tutorial” link so that you get a feel for how to create your own Huck Finn map.]
  8. Title your map using your first name and “Huck Finn” and click on the “unlisted” option to keep your work private. Save your map.
  9. To get credit for your DH Lab today, click “done” and then go to “My Maps” then click on the title of your map, click on the blue “collaborate” link and then cut and paste your URL into the DH Lab in Moodle.  Once you have created content in your map, this will show up when Doc McGrail grades the lab.
  10. To begin adding content to your map, search for the REAL place of “Hannibal, Missouri” so that you can begin to plot your map in St. Petersburg, Missouri, the fictionalized place in Huck Finn. See below where I have typed in “Hannibal, MO”.


Now that you know where to begin, you’ll want to put your own “custom place” into your map. Find the blue balloon icon and click on it.

Blue balloon is the middle icon next to the “hand” above.


12. Use the zoom feature on the left to give you a broader view of the Mississippi and Huck and Jim’s journey. Use the “hand” icon to move the map around so you can follow the Mississippi all the way from St. Petersburg to the end of the novel.

13. One scholar of Twain has created a map that offers a tour through the novel and includes some historical material. Take a look at Byer’s Google Map analysis of the novel here to get a sense of the potential for this project:

13. For today, your job is to create a map entry for one of the episodes in your reading so far. [Look below to see a list of episodes or choose one that sticks out in your mind so far.] To do this, locate where the episode takes place geographically and place a blue map icon there. There is a map below with some clues, and you can also use Byer’s Huck Finn’s Journey assignment to help you choose. Create a blue icon for your location and move it to the place on your own map where you think it should go.

14. To get credit for your DH Lab today, post the URL to your saved map and include a comment in your blue icon box . TO DO THIS: When you’re done, you can click “done” and then go to “My Maps” and you’ll be able to click on your map, click on “collaborate” and then cut and paste your URL into the DH Lab in Moodle

NOTE: If this project appeals to you, you can also develop it for your CLOSE READING NOTE for Monday.  For the reading note, choose 4 other episodes from the novel, and create an analytical note for each. Your analytical note should include some in-depth discussion of the following:

  • A key quote
  • A key conflict of this episode
  • A key lesson that Huck learns through this episode
  • How this episode contributes to the “imagined community” of the developing American nation, either in its moral questions, its customs and manners, its dialect, the myths it adheres to, ideas of race, class, gender, education….
  • A key question that the episode suggests

 Suggested episodic table of contents. 

  • This list is taken from Seth Hudson’s English Class Blog Choose one of these episodes to map in your Google Map
  • Episode One: Chapters 1-4
    Characters introduced, We see Huck’s conflict with society.
  • Episode Two: Chapters 5-7
    Huck is Kidnapped by and escapes from Pap.
  • Episode Three: Chapters 8-11
    Huck meets Jim; they salvage the house w/ the dead man. Huck dresses like a girl to get info.
  • Episode Four: Chapters 12-15
    Huck and Jim interact with the robbers on the Walter Scott
  • Episode Five: Chapters 16-18
    Huck and Jim make it to Cairo. The Grangerfords vs. the Shepardsons. Back on the Mississippi
  • Episode Six: Chapters19-20
    The Duke and the King are introduced. Indian Pirate con.
  • Episode Seven: 21-23
    The Royale Nonesuch
  • Episode Eight: 24-30
    The death of Peter Wilks
  • Episode Nine: 31-33
    Jim is sold by the King. The King and the Duke strike out on their own. Huck becomes Tom Sawyer
  • Episode Ten: 34-43
    Huck and Tom “free” Jim.

From David Wells, “More on the Geography of Huck Finn” South Atlantic Bulletin 38.4 Nov. 1973


Digging in the Archives: the Gospel of Slavery



To submit your entry, just click on “Add submission” and cut and paste your URL for your blog post into that submission box, add comments if you wish, and then submit.

For today’s Digital Humanities Lab assignment, you will be working directly with the pages of the 1864 children’s book, The Gospel of Slavery. 

You should begin by reading the entire book quickly through. Then each of you will take one page to work with, answering these questions (we’ll select by going around the room so no one has the same letter).

Work through the questions in MS Word, and then cut and paste your answers into your BLOG page in Blogger. (This is the blog page/URL that you posted in our first lab.) Post your URL in Moodle so that everyone in the class can find your work and also so you can get a grade.


  1. What letter/page are you working with?
    Describe the picture at the top of the page in detail: describe the action and the actors. Who is at the center or figures most prominently? What purpose does this serve?
    This is a primer, i.e., an elementary textbook for teaching children to read.  Beginning with the letter itself and what is “stands for” in this book, summarize the major “lesson” being taught on your page.  How does the rhyming scheme support the message?
    Notice that there are two parts to “read” on each page beyond the picture itself: a rhyming section and a commentary beneath it.  Do these sections have different audiences do you think? Who are they?
    Think about all three sections of your page now. What is the abolitionist story that is being told here?  Is there more than one?
    How does this text fit within our study so far of Equiano’s narrative and of the history of slavery in the U.S.?  What does it suggest to you about abolitionists during the Civil War? What is unsettling to you about the genre of primer as an abolitionist work?
    What kinds of questions would you like answered about this book? What perplexes or puzzles you?  How might you find answers to your questions? Who is “Iron Gray” and why is he on the title page? Speculate on Thomas’s use of this name.
    Before you complete your blog post, be sure to include the primary source information. In your blog, you can begin by creating a link directly to the page. But you should also include the complete citation information at the bottom of the page. Title of the Book, Author of the Book, Title of the Collection, Where the Collection is Housed (click on “Home” for most archives), [you don’t need to include  the URL for MLA citation style, but you might want to keep it handy for your own future use], then include Web and date accessed.

HT to Rebecca Onion in Slate for sharing her discovery of this text.


Crowdsourced Annotation and Margaret Fuller

ASSIGNMENT: Crowdsourced American Lit I Class Annotation of Margaret Fuller’s “The Great Lawsuit”

[This assignment was inspired by two web projects: the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced transcription project “What’s on the Menu” and Brown Women Writer’s Project’s Collaborative Annotation Project.]


Margaret Fuller’s text, “The Great Lawsuit” is rich with references to cultural, historical and political figures and literary texts and characters. For the reader new to studying literature, this can make the text seem “boring” because impenetrable. At the same time, the average undergraduate student who isn’t passionate about literature may not find time to look up every reference in order to deepen his or her understanding of Fuller’s meanings. However, 28 average students might be willing to look up one, and together an entire class could combine their knowledge into a single “interpretively enhanced document” that includes both basic informational details about a given reference (such as those provided in a Norton Anthology footnote) and also an interpretive nudge that might help the classroom of reader’s contextual reading. This crowdsourced annotation draws upon the collective intelligence and work of 28 American Literature Survey students to create a nuanced and rich textual experience of “The Great Lawsuit.”


  • Develop close-reading skills by providing a brief interpretation of how the background information on Fuller’s literary reference informs a reading of Fuller’s rhetorical strategy and meaning
  • Develop web-based research skills to find useful and substantive information about a cultural, literary or historical reference and apply those skills in an interpretive literary context.
  • Develop skills in 21st century digital literacy skills by participating in a crowdsourcing activity that reflects an emerging need in the wake of a flood of raw literary data.
  • Develop student success skills in interdependence in a peer-reviewed learning environment
  • Develop writing skills: ability to communicate information and interpretations succinctly for a college audience of students and the instructor


NOTE: Students post the google doc here as a footnote and not in Moodle.


  1. First find your name below by scrolling beneath these instructions. Your name is assigned a number (somewhat randomly—based on last name alpha).
  2. Scroll down to the “explanatory note” assignment that corresponds to the number next to your name. This is your assigned “Close Reading Note” assignment.
  3. Log into Google Drive (using your gmail acct or your Blogger account.)
  4. Search the Google doc to find WHERE in Margaret Fuller’s text your assignment shows up. (for example, type in “Hercules” to see where Fuller mentions “Hercules.” If you re-read that section, you’ll know the direction of your mini-research.
  5. 5.      Use the web to find enough information about your assigned text to offer an explanatory note. Avoid .com sites. “.edu and .org” sites are often the most reliable. Wikipedia is a good starting place but may not be enough.
  6. Draft your note in Word and save your document so that you won’t lose it in translation!
  7. What is an explanatory note? An explanatory note gives not only information about the reference in Fuller’s text but also a brief interpretive explanation about the meaning created in Fuller’s text by including this reference.  You don’t need to stay within the usual 300-500-word CRN word count. The important thing to consider is: will this help my fellow student understand Fuller’s essay?
  8. Go to the shared Google doc.
  9. In the shared Google Doc, search and find the reference so you know where to insert your explanatory note. (Remember that for #1-4 you have one of the “background notes” and you should insert at the top of the document.)
  10. To insert a footnote, place your cursor where you want the note to go, click on “Insert” and scroll down to “Footnote.” Then cut and paste your note from Word into the note.
  11. When you are finished with your note, place your cursor back on the word that you annotated. Google Drive saves automatically.
  12. You now have participated in a crowdsourced annotation project.


This Close Reading Note follows the same grading criteria as all CRNs listed on the Moodle page.


  1. Annie
  2. Connor
  3. Laura
  4. Nicole
  5. Zachary
  6. Morgan
  7. Torin
  8. Jake
  9. Wilson
  10. Cole
  11. Michael
  12. Logan
  13. Jennifer
  14. Shannon
  15. Stuart
  16. Kelly
  17. Jill
  18. Makenzie
  19. Theodore
  20. Brendan C.
  21. Kristin R.
  22. Scott W.
  23. Erica
  24. Zoe
  25. Marcus
  26. Anthony
  27. Callista


  1. An introductory note on Transcendentalism
  2. An explanatory note on Margaret Fuller
  3. An explanatory note on the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments
  4. An explanatory note on Godey’s Lady’s Book Fashion Plates
  5. An explanatory note on George Sand
  6. An explanatory note on La Roche Mauprat
  7. An explanatory note on Mary Wollstonecraft
  8. An explanatory note on Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  9. An explanatory note on William Godwin
  10. An explanatory note on Alexander Pope’s poem, “Eloisa to Abelard” and brief background about its source in the 12th century lovers’ story.
  11. An explanatory note on William and Mary Howitt
  12. An explanatory note on Goethe’s play, Goetz von Berlichengen
  13. An explanatory note on Manzoni’s play Adelchi
  14. An explanatory note on Nikolas Ludwig, Count von Zinzerdorf
  15. An explanatory note on Pharisaism
  16. An explanatory note on the Muse
  17. An explanatory note on Minerva
  18. An explanatory note on Hercules
  19. An explanatory note on Syrens or Sirens
  20. An explanatory note on Newton
  21. An explanatory note on Rhea, Pallas and Jove
  22. An explanatory note on Robert Southey’s The Curse of Kehama
  23. An explanatory note on Ceres
  24. An explanatory note on Athena
  25. An explanatory note on Wilhelm Meister by Goethe
  26. An explanatory note on Queen Victoria
  27. An explanatory note on the naming of the state of Virginia


Google Docs Live for Crowdsourced Annotations


Collaborative Annotation Project (Primary Source)

This Digital Humanities Lab assignment is taken from the Women Writers Project at Brown University Collaborative Annotation Project. We’re working in Google docs, which is working great–especially since today for example one student was home with a sick child and was Googling her groupmates while they were working.

Caveats so far: Students don’t really know what “annotation” means and aren’t quite sure how what we’re doing matters. I think I might create a very short video next time that will help them understand how the primary source material we’re working with differs from the textbooks they read in college or the wikipedia entries they rely on. Maybe bring in the Dictionary of Literary Biography and some of the other major guides and annotations.

Since this is an embedded assignment (not in a Digital Humanities class but rather in a DH-infused Women Writers class) we have so much material to cover that taking a whole unit on annotation issues isn’t practical. My goal with these assignments this first time around is to really see what works, what sticks with them, what needs tinkering with. (We spend a lot of our time doing historical background work in class, such as viewing this BBC video about Pakistan and Partition in India in order to read Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee. So it’s a matter of priorities and time….)

Here are the instructions to students. I have also created a Google doc that is heavily indebted to the Women Writer’s Project but has instructions geared to my students.


  1. To begin, find out what group you are in (scroll down below).
  2. Then, go to this website and scroll down to the list of suggested texts. Browse the texts and see which ones appeal: there are poems, recipes, letters to young ladies, the accession speech of Queen Elizabeth.
  3. Your group should agree on which text you’ll be working with: Women Writers Online
  4. Then sit together and read the document that you chose.
  5. I have prepared your Google docs with the questions below embedded in the documents. Once you have chosen which text(s) you will annotate, you should copy and paste these texts into your Google doc below these questions. This will serve as the basis for your new, annotated version of the text.
  6. Now you should answer questions 1-6 to determine your procedure and rationale for your annotations. NOTE: These questions are just the first step to your annotation project. Once you’ve answered the questions, it is time to do the annotations.
  7. It’s a good idea to sign into Google so that it will be clear as you’re working who is doing which pieces of work. If you choose not to sign in, then be sure to mark your work as you go–either using a color code or keeping track with other forms of signature.Working as a group (or dividing the text into sections so that each of you can work independently on a separate section), go through the text and add annotations following the rationale developed by your group in the earlier discussion.


  1. What aspects of the text most need explanation for a modern audience? (For instance, unfamiliar names, references to places and events, unfamiliar words, historical and political background, information about the author’s life, etc.) Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.
  2. What kinds of information would a contemporary have had which modern readers no longer possess? Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.
  3. What kinds of information might we want to have that a contemporary would not have had access to? Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.
  4. What would be the most important things to explain for a novice reader? What would most contribute to a productive reading of the text? What do you not need to explain? Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.
  5. Identify the specific details you plan to comment on in the annotation process, and describe why you chose to focus on these. For instance, if your group decided to identify individuals and events named in the text, explain the rationale for your decision. What kind of reading and research will your annotations support? Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.
  6. How should your annotations be presented to be most effective? (As footnotes, endnotes, marginal notes, some other format?) What difference does this make to the reader’s experience of the text? Your answers to this question will create an action item for your project.

Once you have answered questions 1-6, you can fine-tune your text selection. If you chose a whole book or collection, you should decide on a manageable selection for each member of your group to work on. Or alternatively, you can select a group-sized document and then divide up the work so that different members will follow the leads set out from your answers to questions 1-6 above.

Whichever way you go, be sure you choose a manageable but challenging selection (perhaps a single poem or equivalent each or a page or long paragraph of prose).

[Today in class, Katlyn took a recipe from one of the books and completely translated it from 17th century English into contemporary recipe language. This works great for a recipe. She will be making notes about her rationale for doing that in the Google doc. But would it be a good idea to completely translate a poem? What might be lost by doing that? Perhaps using the “Comments” section in Google would work better with poetry–maintaining the original material qualities of the poem while also preparing a modern audience for some of the unfamiliarity of it. [Links to Google docs have been unlinked to protect student information]

Google Doc for Group 1 Mohammed, Wanetta, Tonia, Jessica

Google Doc for Group 2 Courtney A., Nikki, Kasha, Destaney, Duskin

Google Doc for Group 3 Lorrie, Symone, Ryan, Jess, Teresa

Google Doc for Group 4 Courtney W, Katlyn, Michael, Edward

Google Doc for Group 5 Kaitlyn, Matt, Ahleah, Syrena, Michelle

Follow Up: How Well Did Your Annotations Help Your Reader?
When the annotation process is complete, each group should choose another Google doc from a different group to read.  (Each group would then be reviewing an unfamiliar text that has been annotated.)  Each group should compare the annotated version with the original, and then in discussion consider the following questions:

  1. How much difference did the annotations make to the comprehensibility of the text? What insights were possible with the annotated version that were not possible with the original?
  2. What kinds of annotations were most helpful? Which ones were least helpful?
  3. What is the overall effect of the annotation on the text? How does it alter your impression of the text?
  4. How did the annotations address you as a reader? What knowledge did they assume you had? Did you feel comfortable in that role?


As digital humanities work is often collaborative in nature, the same issues that come up with scholars with respect to documenting contributions emerges with students. (This has always been true of collaborative group work.)  So I have created a collaborative grading rubric for students to grade their own work on this project. A version of the Collaborative Grading Rubric is available as a Google doc–formatting didn’t quite translate from Word, but it’s legible here.


New Category of DH Participation: Tinkering Lurker

So I have been following digital humanities scholars and scholarship since around summer 2011, with a goal of developing a sabbatical project that I call “Bringing Digital Humanities to the Community College and Vice Versa.”  Happily, I was awarded the sabbatical, and I plan to take it Fall 2013 after I finish work on a Title III grant.

My commitment to DH so far has been first to follow scholars who post on the internet, to find published materials of interest and to read them as much as possible. But since our work at the community college leaves very little room for sustained concentration, my main commitment has been to find a DH site every day and to write some kind of meaningful and if possible substantive tweet about it every day. I haven’t missed many days, and so at this point, I say with Mark Sample that “serial concentration is deep concentration.” In fact, this form of concentrated but interstitial work has been something of a revelation. Zotero has been essential in this regard, because while I tweet about a great site I see or read, I want to go back to them all someday, and I work from 3 computers every day.

I’m taking on this blog as a way to record my thinking over the next year before I actually take my sabbatical, and to try to synthesize ideas that have come to me serially. There are many threads that are floating through the DH scholarly world right now, but NONE of them are about DH at the CC, and I think that this blog can help me to reflect on the relevance of the conversations I read for DH work at Lane.

For example, just yesterday I found a fantastic little collection at the NY Public Library. The menus themselves are fascinating–just seeing what people were paying a lot of money for in New York hotel restaurants helps explain why people were thinner in the 30s! But how is this relevant for a community college? It just so happens that the library is looking for transcribers! That’s right, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can go into the collection and transcribe the words on the menu, verbatim, with prices, and participate in digital humanities archiving. This would be a great service learning project for our Culinary Arts students. And while they’re learning culinary and dietary history, students are also getting practice at digital literacy and transcription. To understand that the menus are photographs and therefore not searchable is a really important lesson in how technology and marking up works.

In the “real” DH world as I see it practiced, the coin of the scholarly and reputational realm is coding and markup. And I sure hope to learn that. But I also think there’s a lot of DH that can be done at the freshman and sophomore level that may involve coding but that may not.Doing a service learning project such as the one I describe takes a tiny dip into understanding DH. These are the kinds of insights I’d like to collect in the coming year. And I’ll collect them here.