Mapping British Literature

For many years, I have taught the first half of the Survey of British Literature, a standard course in many undergraduate literary studies curricula. This course ends with a unit on eighteenth-century literature. I have always devoted that unit to texts that track eighteenth-century Britons’ growing engagement with the world, even if imaginative, by way of travel, trade, slavery, colonialism, and so forth. However, I have always speculated that students might not be familiar with many of the far-flung places referenced in these literary works, especially places whose names have changed over the centuries. 

This project in digital humanities gave me just the opportunity to enhance this unit. As the final project in my spring 2020 LITR 240 at Ramapo College, I asked each student to select one text from the final unit—a unit that included texts from Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko to Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative—and to map all of the place names in that text by using Recogito, a free, open-access mapping program. After I gave them a demonstration, students mapped their chosen texts and presented their maps orally to me as their final exam. During their presentations, they walked me through each mapped place name, provided its literary context, and explained how their maps help us understand the period’s global imagination. Students also submitted short response papers in which they reflected on what they learned—about geography, the period’s literature, the digital humanities, and so forth—from the project. 

All in all, the students exceeded my expectations. Most of the maps were complete and accurate, and many students made exciting connections between map and text. More importantly, students indicated that they learned a lot from the assignment and were eager to complete more projects in the digital humanities. 

Student Perspectives

Emily Brackenbury

For my Spring 2020 semester at Ramapo College, I was enrolled in the course, Survey of British Literature: Anglo-Saxon Period to Eighteenth Century, taught by Dr. Eric Daffron. Over the duration of the course, we studied various texts from early British literature, moving through different centuries as the course progressed. To finish the course, we had to complete a final project centered around an 18th century British text from our syllabus. However, the project itself was somewhat unconventional because rather than being just a traditional essay or presentation, the central task required for the final project incorporated elements of the digital humanities. As part of this final project, Dr. Daffron asked us to use the application, Recogito, to digitally map all of the locations referenced in our selected text.   

Personally, I found the experience of creating the digital map to be extremely helpful in understanding the context of my selected literary work. Having selected Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko as my text, which not only takes place on two different continents, but also references the wide-reaching influence of the triangular trade of the 18th century, the work contained a great number of locations around the globe. Not only did creating a map with Recogito allow me to become familiar with locations that I had previously not known, but it also allowed me to draw connections between all of the places listed and to see how influential the massive international trade systems of the 18th century were, leading to a growing globalization that would influence many aspects of British life during this time, including literature like Behn’s. Overall, I found my experience with this project to be very enlightening. Completing the mapping project allowed me to learn more about the history and geography surrounding the text, provided me with helpful context to my selected work, and ultimately, aided me in drawing more informed and comprehensive conclusions about the text itself.

Erin Schwarz

The mapping project completed in Dr. Daffron’s Survey of British Literature 240 class allowed me to use a previously unfamiliar software to expand my knowledge of both the piece of literature in focus and the digital humanities in general. For my project, I chose to write about The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (some of this information is drawn from my original response paper to this assignment). The assignment asked us to find different locations mentioned throughout the literature and map them on the software Recogito. By focusing on these specific locations, I was able to learn more about the story and the geographical implications that the locations provided. For example, before starting this assignment I never bothered to find the physical locations mentioned in the letters on a map. Having to map these locations showed me just how far Lady Mary Wortley Montagu went in her travels. Seeing the actual distance between these locations allowed me to see how drastically the culture changes she described happened in reference to their distance from each other.

While this physical representation of the story allowed me a greater understanding of the story, I also learned more about digital humanities. I have had experiences with the digital humanities before, so completing this assignment was challenging in a beneficial way. While I have used software’s to analyze stories and pieces of literature before, I have never come in contact with this particular software before. At first the software seemed quite daunting, but after reading the instructions provided by Dr. Daffron and looking around the software I found it to be very innovative and helpful. The project encouraged me to become more comfortable with Recogito and software similar to it. My experience in completing this mapping project was very educationally beneficial.

Emily Melvin 

This past semester, I was given the opportunity to complete a final assignment in a fashion different than ones I have completed in the past. It was a challenge, but it ultimately introduced me to a new method of presentation and research, and it changed my perception of the standard final exam. In Dr. Daffron’s course LITR 240: Survey of British Literature, instead of having a traditional final exam, we were assigned a Mapping Project. In this project, we were asked to map out various locations mentioned in one of the assigned texts from the course in the online application Recogito, then create a six-minute oral presentation, which was delivered via WebEx between only the student and professor. This was a challenging project, as only being able to virtually present the final was an unfamiliar task. Of course, there were technical difficulties and stresses, but it ended up not being too bad. Frankly, I much prefer this method of a final exam than a test or elaborate essay. It was a way the class could become more engaged with the texts we read in class and gain a deeper, cultural understanding of the works. More importantly, it allowed us to expand our knowledge on digital humanities, the most impactful outcome from this project. Digital humanities was a fairly new term for me, but I quickly discovered its benefits as a student and professional in the world of humanities. This project not only challenged me analytically, but it taught me how to use digital applications to enhance and clearly visualize my work within the humanities. I would gladly complete this project again in a future course, and I believe fellow students would appreciate the creative and innovative final project format.

A year of experiments in Digital Humanities

Academic Year 2019-2020 was an auspicious year to begin experimenting in Digital Humanities in the classroom. I began in an effort to keep up to date with technologies that I could use as a supplement. I ended the year clinging to DH technologies that suddenly became essential as the Covid pandemic closed campuses across the country. When I began the year, I wanted to learn to use DH technologies for mapping (Recogito), annotating (Perusall), and audio/video recording (Techsmith Relay, now known as Techsmith Knowmia). 

I assumed that the big project would be use of mapping (Recogito) in my Survey of American Literature course, where students were reading Moby Dick (among other things). I had hoped to show the global interest of the book and therefor the international reach and foundations of American literature. Ironically, of all the things I tried, this was the one that I could not get to work at all and so I never really used it at all.  However, I did use Perusall, Techsmith, and other applications I had not planned on (blogging and and discussion forums, for instance). And these turned out to be the most effective. 

I learned the lesson that everyone tried to teach us as we began: do less and do it better rather than do more and do it worse. So it’s all for the best that I did not manage to get the mapping done. I used Perusall in all my courses and learned quickly that selected use of Perusall was much more effective than asking students to routinely use the platform. In fact, the single most effective use was using Perusall with readings of graphic novels, as it forced students to comment on images as well as text. The most successful use was with excerpts students read from R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis. After reading the comic strip, they also “read” canonical artistic renderings of the Genesis story they looked for on ArtStor, a visual arts database they have access to.

Once the pandemic closed the college in March, the most useful tool ended up being one I had not trained on at all: Techsmith which allowed for “quizzing” students’ reading. Actually, these “quizzes” served most usefully as “attendance.” In Spring 2020, “taking attendance” expanded—no longer meaning students were “in class” at class time, but that they did their work before the next class. As some students could not access our video classes at the assigned time, knowing they were checking in between class meetings was not just a way to see who was doing the work, but if anyone was in need of encouragement or other help. 


I was able to reach out to more than one student who stopped doing the work due to family or health issues. And that allowed me to connect them to services that could offer at least a little help. Also, Techsmith allows the user to get comfortable making videos and recording audio. After the semester ended, my colleagues and I made a “wevideo” movie (another DH application) to say goodbye to graduates whom we could not see off at commencement. Techsmith, more than any other tool, emerged as a useful, multi-application tool. Whether teaching at a distance or face to face, Techsmith seems a very useful and versatile way to quiz and to instruct. Below are three slides from a Techsmith from my Graphic Novel course, where students were reading Watchmen:

An unexpected use of DH methods happened because of the pandemic, rather than in spite of it. In my Graphic Novel course, students read Marjane Sartrapi’s Chicken with Plums, about an Iranian tar player. As it happens, a friend plays traditional Iranian drums in Portland, OR. I invited him and his musical partner to perform for the students via webex video links. The guests loaded music to YouTube and also performed live for the class (YouTube helped, as webex was not ideal for them to play “together” from two different homes in Portland). 

Had we not been forced into the situation, I do not know if I would have invited him via video. Now, I have to reconsider what it means to have a “guest” come to class. Below is a screenshot of the class listening to the music:

Recogito is not the only project that did not work out for me. I had hoped to have students in my Graphic Novel course record their group oral presentations as audio podcasts, to be posted on our learning management system page (Moodle). With the Covid shutdown, I could not do that in the Graphic Novel course. 

I did have students submit PowerPoint presentations instead of a paper for one assignment on visual composition; that worked well. Students in my Humanities class took it on themselves to record their group presentations via Techsmith, using audio, video, still images and text. This was a real success to be replicated. Other students responded via forums to the presentations, offering a virtual roundtable on their presentations. 

I look forward to revisiting Techsmith and Peruall, to operationalizing a podcast presentation, and adding VidoAnt annotation tools to my courses in the fall. Thank you for the support!

Call for Papers – Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training

A Conference of the ADHO Special Interest Group for Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training 
Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) 2020
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 
5-6 June 2020 
Proposals, due 14 February 2020, via [https://forms.gle/3598xdXVQfSaJh1T7]

Please join us for the second conference of the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) Special Interest Group for Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training, to take place at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI, https://dhsi.org) in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on 5-6 June 2020.

Proposals are welcome on any topic informing or treating Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Training, including but not limited to: individual experiences with DH pedagogy, teaching and training; the student experience in DH courses and programs; ways in which universities, colleges, and other educational institutions are extending DH in the classroom; implementing DH pedagogical frameworks locally and working across institutions and training institutes to develop and collaborate on materials that can inform ways in which DH offerings and programs are formalized; how ‘traditional’ subjects in(con)form DH and are in(re/trans)formed by DH; inter- and trans-disciplinarity in DH curriculum; D or H cross(multi)disciplinarity by means of DH; assessment techniques in DH curriculum (what types of assessment should occur in digital humanities courses? and how might these assessment practices challenge existing university or community-based outcomes?); the multiple roles graduate student instructors inhabit in DH curricula (student, instructor, teaching assistant); DH training in an international context, how we articulate/coordinate/collaborate across international boundaries, and what we can learn from our differences; developing a multilingual lexicon for teaching DH; and discussion of pedagogical materials (syllabi, tutorials, exercises, learning outcomes, assessment and rubrics).

The event will open with a plenary talk and shared DHSI Institute Lecture by Elisabeth Burr (U Leipzig), director of the European Summer University in Digital Humanities. The event is open to all, and free to those registered for DHSI 2020.

Paper, panel, and session proposals may be submitted via [https://forms.gle/3598xdXVQfSaJh1T7], before 14 February 2020; proposals should include the name, affiliation, and email address of the proposed presenter(s), as well as title and abstract of one to two paragraphs (250 words maximum).

7th Annual Digital Pedagogy Institute Conference

The 7th Annual Digital Pedagogy Institute (DPI) Conference will be held August 5th – 6th, 2020 at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON.

Attended by faculty, researchers, graduate students, educational developers, librarians, and many other university personnel, this two-day conference includes keynote addresses, presentations, workshops, and digital tool training that focus on the innovative use of digital technologies to enhance and transform undergraduate and graduate teaching. Keep your eye out for the call for proposals early 2020.

What is Digital Pedagogy and how does it relate to you?

Read Digital Pedagogy – A Guide for Librarians, Faculty, and Students.

The DPI Conference explores:

· digital pedagogy best practices in STEM, the Humanities or Social Sciences;

· digital pedagogy collaborations between faculty, educational developers, librarians, and/or graduate/undergraduate students;

· digital pedagogy collaborations with organizations outside the academy;

· the state of digital pedagogy education in higher education;

· digital pedagogy case studies, including course and assignment innovations;

· innovative new uses for traditional digital pedagogy tools

The Digital Pedagogy Institute is a partnership between Brock University, University of Guelph, University of Toronto Scarborough Library, University of Waterloo, and Ryerson University.

What you can do now!

1. Learn more at the DPI conference website: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/conferences/digital-pedagogy-institute/

2. Follow us on Twitter: @DPIConference

Teaching Circle on Digital Humanities

Ramapo’s Faculty Resource Network is offering a teaching circle this semeser

Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom

One of the richest and fastest-growing areas for teaching, research, and scholarship in the humanities is in what has become known as the Digital Humanities.  The Faculty Resource Center (with the School of Humanities and Global Studies) would like to invite you to join a Teaching Circle devoted to Ramapo’s Digital Humanities Initiative.  Are you interested in incorporating digital tools, digital methods, or technology into your humanities courses?  Participants in this teaching circle will read and discuss the following book: “Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students” by Battershill and Ross (books provided by the FRC). Participants in this Teaching Circle will discuss methods of integrating digital technologies, experiential learning, and visual communication into humanities courses. Members serve as informal “discussion leaders” each week but the conversation is typically guided by the group at large.  

If you would like to join this teaching circle this semester, please click on the link below to register and reserve your book copy by September 23rd   https://www.ramapo.edu/frc/teaching-circles/.  If you do not register by this date, you may not be guaranteed a copy of the book/materials during the first few weeks of the teaching circle.