Category Archives: Bringing DH to the CC

Digital Redux

This past weekend, I attended THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy, a really wonderful gathering of like-minded teachers and tinkerers that gave me a better understanding of how doing DH at the CC can get done.

First of all, the tortured humanists stayed home or kept their torment as a sidebar.  The prevailing attitude could be summed up as, “Ok, so what can we make or do? How can we do it? What would be cool? What would work?” Intellectual work embodied in the Google doc, the tweet, the map, the mini-MOOC, the astronomy tool (you must visit the astronomy tool). Brainy, humanistic fun with a fully engaged group of young and not-so-young (ahem) scholars.

Not that Polly Anna was present–in fact, I really could feel the frustration and worry from those up and coming scholars whose core work is collaborative and hasn’t yet fit into the byzantine tenure metrics that were never that straightforward anyway but are a few years from acknowledging the intellectual labor of DH through tenure and promotion. But still. The work.

I still intend to revise the Google doc we developed during our session on how we might bring DH to community colleges and SLACs (as I was to learn that day small liberal arts colleges). In that session, Jesse, Meg, Keri, Tony, Mary and I brainstormed how we might collaborate to build a curricular path to DH at the lower-division levels and scaffold into four-year degrees, working in both directions.

But what I really came away with from that weekend was how so much of what folks are doing in hybrid pedagogies with DH tools is really not far from what some of my CC colleagues are already doing in brick-and-mortar, including my own offline teaching.  So I took out my (f2f) Shakespeare class “box assignment” menu that I hand to all my literature students at the beginning of class, and I quickly thought through how I might digitally redo them.  I posted my ideas  in a Google doc here. Of course, now the hard part comes–teaching these and developing the real step-by-steps, but that will come.

HT to Peter Rorabaugh for suggesting I post this and that other Campers do the same. Take your classroom practice and flip it, DH-style. And see what turns up. And share it. What can we make or do? How can we do it? What would be cool? What would work?


Close and Distant Reading of Student Work

DIGIWRIMO 2012: Close and Distant Reading of Student Work
Yesterday a colleague talked about the importance of teachers seeing the “Big Picture” of student success–of understanding not just what they were doing in the classroom, but also how what they were doing in the classroom connected to something larger–the student’s life before they got there and the student’s story after they left.

This makes me think of Franco Moretti and “distant reading”–how his methodology promotes a way of reading not just the local text but the local text within a vast context of all that was being thought and said–not just (Arnold’s) “best that has been thought and said.”

So this theme emerges then and a tension within it: when we read, we must choose what to read. And when we teach, develop expertise, study, write, we must choose where our focus will be. How can one do close reading and distant reading too–of texts and of students? When we know one small datum about a student–that they failed math twice last year or that this is their first term in college–what does that really tell us? When we read that “battle” is a word that is far more likely to be written in texts by American men than American women until the peak battles of the Civil War, what are we really reading? What are we finding out? I like that Ted Underwood reminds us that when we discover some such pattern it is only the beginning of  a question and not actually an answer.

Still, the tension between close and distant work with students–between reading up close what they have written, commenting on it up close, meeting with them in our offices–and reading about how few of the students who succeed in one’s own class will actually complete their degree–it reveals a problematic lack of correspondence between our efforts as teachers and the effects of those efforts–a lack which is rather demoralizing.

Perhaps that’s why institutions have traditionally separated out this work of close and distant reading. That institutional research reports gives the report cards to ed boards and faculty give the report cards to students. [499 words]


DH for College Now



Anne McGrail’s Googlepoint presentation about DH for College Now
For College Now teachers interested in getting their feet wet with digital humanities:

Germinal article by Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities and What is it Doing in English Departments?” more recently published in Matthew K. Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities which I highly recommend but which is a tome that takes some time investment (well worth it, but I’m not through it yet!)

Alan Liu’s wonderful essay, “Where is the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”

Text Mining: Ted Underwood of UIllinois Urbana provides a very useful overview of text mining.

Pedagogy/Assignment Ideas

Process Checklist for Integrating Digital Humanities into Courses by Rebecca Frost Davis of National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE).

An assignment to try: “Collaborative Annotation Assignment” of primary texts from the Women Writers Project at Brown University.

One of my favorite DH bloggers, Mark Sample, whose assignment here on reading Frankenstein aloud and then voting on “the sentence or phrase most pivotal or rich with interpretive potential. Peter Elbow would call it “the center of gravity” of the paragraph.” Not really digital, but sets the stage for a new way of looking at texts.

A “voice from the gaps” project from University of Minnesota which will be one of the end-of-term digital project options for my Women Writers class this Fall.

An ambitious and untried resource that I am still tinkering with: I think it would be fantastic for history projects with primary or secondary sources, and especially family history projects.  However, given my students’ skills at this point and the goals of my Women Writers class, I’m not going to try it yet. But if you’re interested, especially if you have the same students for a year, I highly recommend reading ProfHacker’s series on “Teaching with Omeka.


Poetry Map Blog Entry for Women Writers

A collection of notes from my first hybird “digital humanities” class at Lane.I am teaching this introductory class MW in a traditional classroom, with Friday’s class in a computer lab. Several blogging assignments will encourage students to try out their writing in a public forum, and we will use the Friday class to look at other digital humanities projects, and encourage students to tinker and create digital projects that begin with what digital fluencies they have and build on them.

Here is the Poetry Map Blog Entry assignment that I started out the term with. We have returned to this assignment each week for a few moments in the lab, since some students have had trouble figuring out how to set up their blogs. Some are unused to commands such as “Ctrl V” and instead use their mouse. It has surprised me how many students don’t know about this command.


Introduction to Women Writers ENG260 Fall 2012

Doc McGrail

First Blog Assignment: Poetry Map Blog Entry


Post the URL to your completed blog entry in the Moodle assignment link that says “POETRY MAP BLOG ENTRY”. This is where your grade will show up in Moodle.


For this blog entry, you will be learning something about the poetry scene in one state in the U.S., and exploring the life and poetry of one of the women poets in that state.  You will then choose a single poem by that poet to write about.  You will post your work to your blog as a Poetry Map entry.  Use the title “Poetry Map: State of {xxx}. Poet: {xxx}

This assignment will probably take you 2 hours to complete, depending on how engaged you are with the assignment, among other things.  The blog entry has two parts. The written part has a short research component (I will direct you to the site) and also a literary analysis component (I will provide questions to guide your response/analysis).  You should plan to spend an hour browsing the website for your assigned state, choosing one of the poets on this site, and one of her poems to write about. You should plan to spend another hour writing up your blog entry about the poetry scene, where women seem to fit into it, and about the poet herself and her poem.



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 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:


First of all, scroll to the bottom of this document to find your name and your assigned state.  You will need this information in order to complete the assignment.


Next, go to the National Poetry Map on here:



Click on your assigned state. You will find a wealth of information about poets and poetry from that state.  Spend some time becoming familiar with the different links and resources on your page.  Concentrate on the poets who are women, since that’s what you’ll be writing about.


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. You will be creating a two-part blog entry (you can separate it with headings):


Give your Blog readers a sense of the “poetry scene” in your state by writing a paragraph or two in which you answer the following questions:

1. What is your assigned state?
2.. What are the names of the women poets from your state?
3.  What kinds of reading series, conferences, and literary festivals are happening in your state? What specific mention is made of women poets?


The second part of your blog entry is more detailed.  Choose ONE WOMAN POET from your state and read what the website has to say about that poet.  Take notes on things about this poet that interested you.  Then read some of that poet’s poems (there should be some links to poet’s poems on the site.)  Get a general feel for that poet’s style and subject matter.

Next, choose ONE POEM by that same poet.  You will write a brief (250-word) response/analysis of the poem using what you are learning in class to talk about the poem.

Here are some questions that can guide your analysis.  You can begin by first drafting answers to the questions and then use your answers to write your analysis/response in paragraph form.

1.  Who is the speaker of the poem? Is it an adult or child? Man or woman? Happy? Lonely? Puzzled? Other?  Remember that the speaker in a poem is NOT the same thing as the poet (the person actually writing the poem.) The speaker is a creation that the poet has

2.  Who is being addressed in this poem? Sometimes a speaker will address a specific audience, sometimes a more generalized group.

3.  What is the situation being described in this poem?

4.  What is the tone of this poem?

5.  What is the poem’s argument or main point?

6.  What are some remarkable features of the meter, rhyme scheme or line length/line breaks that you think are important for understanding the poem?

7. Is there something in the poem that makes you think about what you are learning in class about women writers in their social and historical context? If so, discuss that.

Once you have answered these questions, you can begin to develop your two-part blog entry, using the answers to construct your essay.

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 “poetry scene” in the assigned state (satisfactory). All sources are correctly cited either by linking to the site or by creating a works cited list at the end. Strong entries do all this and also make useful connections with course terms and course readings and discussions. Exemplary entries do all this and provide original or creative insight and/or connections.
  3. Blog entry demonstrates a general understanding of the chosen poet and the poetry posted on the site for that poet (satisfactory).  Strong entries do this and utilize course terms and work to discuss the poet and poetry. Exemplary entries do this and provide original or creative insight or connections about the chosen poet and course terms and discussions.
  4. Satisfactory blog entry provides a clear analysis and detailed response to the chosen poem, using literary terms and reading skills learned in the class. The analysis answers the questions. Strong analysis does this and provides depth and connections; exemplary analysis does this and 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.

YOUR ASSIGNED STATE: (list of students’ names and states here)

You should do this as soon as you can so you can begin working and ask questions if you come into difficulty.

  1. Get a gmail account if you don’t already have one. Go to and click on “Get Started.”
  2. Go to here and sign in with your username and password.
  3. You will find yourself on the “Dashboard”. Click on “Create a Blog.”
  4. Name your blog. Choose something descriptive. Your first name and Eng260 is easy to remember too.
  5. Choose a template
  6. Start blogging. You can begin by going to the “New Post” link at the top of the page.
  7. Go to “Design” to find the “Settings” tab. This is where you can set your privacy setting. To keep it private while still sharing it with your fellow students, you can upload the link to your blog in the assignment forum “Poetry Map Blog Entry.”
  8. Here’s my own beginning Poetic Anthology Blog, entitled “April is the Cruelest Month”….





Notes on First Digital Day in Women Writers

…In which the instructor’s careful planning is undermined by the brick and mortar realities of teaching in a classroom….

The best thing I did on this day: I wrote on the whiteboard:
Digital Humanities Rules of Engagement

Be courteous and generous at all times with each other. (I forgot to include “patient.”)

No texting, IMs, tweets, blogs, surfing except for ENG260


This text was accompanied by a mini-lecture to everyone that is indebted to what I’ve learned about DH in twitter and elsewhere: we are experimenting, we are doing something new, and we need generosity and courtesy in order to proceed fearlessly. It was lucky that I wrote this up on the board first thing, because the way things unfolded for the next 50 minutes, I ended up relying on these rules of engagement several times.


Our first class met in a really nice computer lab space. My goal was to get every student to establish a new blog for work just on our class, and to introduce them to our first digital assignment: The Poetry Map Blog Entry.

It was a comical start to my project, for all my careful preparations. After having loaded all of the instructions onto Moodle, I entered the classroom with my passkey, ready to open up the Moodle site in the sleek new computer classroom and carefully walk each student through the steps involved. However, I forgot the tiny key for access to the keyboard. A fatal error. By the time I came back to the classroom with the key, students were logged into Moodle and some of them were hopelessly lost. Some hadn’t used Firefox and so couldn’t access the page correctly. Some started to print out random pages, sending the printer into paroxysms of production in what should be a paperless session. Luckily, there were also some very generous and digitally fluent students who started helping others out, and I walked around the room trying to put out fires.

Then Moodle seized up entirely, kicking everyone off of the site and sending everyone in a panic. Sigh. I then scrambled to instruct 26 students, each at a different stage of creating their blog, in next steps

As the class descended briefly into chaos, I had to point to the white board a couple times….Some students were defiant: “I don’t do blogs. I hate blogging.” [To which I fearlessly had to reply, “You don’t have to like blogging, you just have to do it for this course.”] Why don’t we used Facebook instead?” Some were derailed by Google’s insistence on their adding friends to their G+ account (which gave me the opportunity to discuss online privacy).

Lessons learned:
Bring all keys
Ask students not to turn on their computers until everyone is on the same page.


Word Clouds and Harriet Jacobs

IN-CLASS WORD CLOUDS AND Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

(Note: After I had taught and wrote about this, Jacob Heil @dr_heil led me to Ryan Cordell’s more developed work with word clouds and Paul Fyfe’s “How to Not Read a Victorian Novel.” My next foray will benefit enormously from their work.)

Each Friday we have an hour in the computer lab. Today, we went to and spent half of the class selecting chapters from Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to create “beautiful word clouds.” I am charmed by word clouds, and I think that they provide an engaging and unintimidating way to introduce data visualization–its affordances and its pitfalls–to students, even those who are struggling with how to use “Ctrl V” or who don’t know why we have to use Firefox as our browser.

I was guided by Ted Underwood’s blog on “Where to Start with Text Mining,” to introduce students to the purpose of text mining. I knew we wouldn’t go anywhere near the primary research he and his colleagues are working with. But getting students to have a sense of these categories of text mining helped them see what “big data” can do in the humanities. Underwood’s list pointed the way: Categorize documents.  Contrast the vocabulary of different corpora.  Trace the history of particular features (words or phrases) over time. Cluster features that tend to be associated in a given corpus of documents (aka topic modeling). Entity extraction. Visualization.

So we began with visualization. No one in the room had heard of “wordle”–which surprised me. And so we went went to UNC’s website where a full-text version of the book was available in a single page, and I asked them to select “all” and copy this into the wordle window.  The wordle we all came up with, more or less, looked like this:


We quickly saw that “Page” was not a word that would help us to interpret Jacobs’s book, and so this led us to a very clear idea of the methodological problems that might come up with text mining: all words in a book don’t “mean” the same, and so finding ways to filter those words out is key.

I walked them through the quick process of “find” and “replace” in Word, such that we got rid of the offending “Page,” and a new wordle emerged:


A wordle using the text of _Incidents_ with the word “Page” removed 297 times.

Everyone now saw that “children” was the most frequent word in the book. While “Flint” and “master” and “slave” were also prevalent, this word “children” supported our discussions all week about the book: that Jacobs had a rhetorical purpose in mind: she wanted to build a bridge between herself and her audience, and being first a child and then a mother helped her to do this with her white audience.

I then asked students to spend the rest of the class selecting portions of the book–chapters that had intrigued them or interested them–and see how creating a wordle supported their initial interpretations. We all wrote up our comments in the live forum in our LMS.

During class, one student went and found a text by Sojourner Truth and created a wordle and reported on the prevalence of “God” (smaller in Jacobs’s text).


A wordle from Sojourner Truth’s narrative.

I think that I will use this wordle exercise again–and maybe extend it to the ngram viewer so that we can look more closely at relationships among words over time.

Definitely a useful introduction–very small steps, just enough to intrigue the students but not overwhelm them. Something to build on this term.


Walt Whitman–Drafts and Revisions

Adapted from Ed Folsom’s Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman and American Culture


Read the instructions below and then post your response to the Moodle forum. If you have time, respond to your peers and begin a conversation about Whitman and how his poetic device of cataloging can help us become better readers and interpreters of American Literature.

For today’s Digital Humanities Lab, your job is to explore this “e pluribus unum” work of “Song of Myself” and think about the mechanisms of continuity, unity, fluidity in Whitman’s manuscripts alongside the discontinuities, deletions, substitutions and redirections that run through the surviving drafts of his poem.

  1. Go to the Whitman Archive page “Whitman Manuscript Drafts of Song of Myself” (1855) here. Read what author Ed Folsom says about the collection of manuscript drafts of the poem.
  2. Next, open a second tab and go to one completed version of “Song of Myself” online (this one from University of Illinois’s Modern American Poetry site–a really useful one to bookmark).
  3. To complete your perusal, you will spend some time toggling between these two sites. Start with the original draft manuscript fragments located in the left frame and find lines that interest you.Select just a short phrase that you think might have found its way into the final form. (If you choose too large a phrase, it may be hard to find.) Click on the example below to enlarge:
  4. Then see what you can find in the final draft form that matches the draft phrase or words. To locate words or phrases that you find in the drafts in the final form, go to the final poem and type “Control F” and a box will open on your screen. Type in those words and see if they are in the final poem. Click on the example below to enlarge:
  5. Click on the DIGITAL HUMANITIES LAB RESPONSE link in Moodle to post your responses.


  1. EVERYONE ANSWER THIS QUESTION: A question of composition:  What scraps and patches of poetic drafting eventually find themselves in Whitman’s final poem?  What does this collection of digitized manuscript fragments—and their subsequent scattering in four archives—tell you about the composing process?


  1. A question of formal devices: The poetic device of cataloging that Whitman uses here and throughout his ouevre provides a dynamic model of inclusiveness, as if the goal of his poetry is to collect everything under a single “roof” of poetry. What are the advantages of this device? What are its limitations?
  2. A question of poetic nation-building: What aspects of Whitman’s fragments and final poem “Song of Myself” situate the poet and poem in larger themes of American literature and culture—the sense of a “boundless dream” and hunger for new beginnings?
  3. A question of comparison: For those of you familiar also with Emily Dickinson: compare Whitman’s sprawling freedom with Dickinson’s tightly bound intensity and talk about how they are both somehow “American” by talking about the emerging national literary characteristics or persistent themes, tone, concerns, focus etc.
  4. Which of the scraps (“the cocktail napkin drafts”) in this collection are most interesting to you and why?
  5. If you’re interested in the printing/publishing aspect of literary enterprise, you may want to read the entire article by Ed Folsom, University of Iowa. What does he say about the value of the “HRC manuscript” to literary scholars and why?
  6. Think about your own writing and thinking and revising process. What is the significance of this collection of fragments to you?



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.]