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Erin Sherrets

I am currently a graduate student at Wright State University studying English literature. I am particularly interested in environmentalism and ecocrticism in 19th-century to present-day American literature. Outside of academia, I enjoy running long-distance and backpacking through mountains.

Why Do We Read This Stuff?

This question might be one students ask themselves. What’s the point of studying literature in an academic setting?

I’m a huge advocate for college not only being a catalyst to the job market and yet, it seems like that to be the only reason students go to college. Acquiring marketable skills to make money seems to be the driving force for many students. Ask yourself, why are you in college? What are your reasons for getting a higher education? I came to be a better human. And yes, a piece of paper that confirms I indeed can complete a degree program is important to me as well. I am in no way denouncing the idea that a college degree gets you a good paying job. I am only saying that there are other reasons to go to school than just to find a job to make loads of money.

This is where literature comes in and we return to my question of why do we read this stuff. Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the human condition as something that can’t be solved through traditional physical methods. “Life’s most fundamental conditions have little to do with money and are not generally solved by money. How does money solve the problem of grief, sickness, loss, rejection, disappointment? (13). If one were to spend their entire college career preparing to make money, how can these natural feelings of the human condition be rationalized? It may be difficult but there are other ways to understand meaning.

Chambers and Gregory are firm in understanding why we read literature as “It helps students gain a better understanding of their own circumstances through the study of others’ circumstances” (23). Happiness, fun, freedom, and excitement are also contained in the universal human condition that are also presented in narratives. Maybe take an extra literature class. Explore your options and be a better human. Why not go to college to be a better human?

Works Cited

Chambers, Ellie and Marshall Gregory. “The Discipline Today.” Teaching and Learning English Literature. Sage Publications, 2006. Online.

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Can I use First Person in my Paper?

Often in undergrad, I avoided using “I” or the first person point-of-view in any formal paper to be graded. It felt wrong to adhere to a style that I was taught in high school to avoid at all costs but not using it started to make me confused. If this paper is my own personal views (supported by hard evidence and research), why shouldn’t I explain my own understandings and how I got to them? Presenting my thoughts through third person was a challenge. I didn’t feel a connection with my intellectual thoughts presented in a formal academic paper; it didn’t feel like my own.

Sheridan Blau finds that letting students adopt the use of “I” helps them feel more of a producer rather than a consumer thus creating a more engaging atmosphere. Blau mentions “It is difficult to read a collection of scholarly or professional articles in any branch of the humanities or in many of the social sciences and in such professions as the law (including legal opinions written by state and federal judges) without noticing the judicious use of the first person, when it is called for and when alternative structures would be infelicitous” (158). So, if we are writing papers for a humanities class, wouldn’t it make sense to mirror the professionals and use first person as well? Well, of course.

Though, first person seems to be acceptable for these academic papers, it is not just an easy way out of creating a formal paper. Thoughts and ideas formulate from the evidence and research that should be present in the formal paper. The only way to create intellectual words on a page is through insightful thought gathered from observing and researching information. By intersecting the use of “I” and incorporating research and thought, students are able to gain a stronger connection to their work, thus creating pride and interest in their creation of a formal paper.

Works Cited

Blau, Sheridan D. “Writing Assignments in Literature Classrooms: The Problem.”The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003. 151-63. Print

Create your own Timeline

tower-of-london-3d

Facebook has recently changed their settings to present a person’s personal Facebook page as a timeline, illustrating life events in chronological order as digital information. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Victor Frankenstein’s monster’s life in a timeline!?

Tiki-Toki is an online software that helps its users create a visual timeline of any amount of extended events or even in our case, a timeline of a literary novel. It’s free to sign up and the outcome is beautiful. There’s even a way to make a timeline in 3D and add videos. There’s so many options to visually present information and would be a really cool project for class.

http://www.tiki-toki.com/

 

Incorporating the Digital and the Text

In the digital age, it’s virtually possible to communicate with almost anyone around the world thus creating a never-ending network of people. For an undergraduate class, I entered data into a software called Gephi https://gephi.org/ that created a visual network/graph, connecting people in ways I would have never guessed. I entered data on character interactions from the novel Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita (an incredible book I may add and recommend). After my network was visualized, I was able to understand certain aspects of the novel, for example, just because a character dies, it does not mean that their character dies out of the book. One specific character, who died early on in the book, still had heavy interaction throughout the rest of the novel through other characters thoughts and memories. Here was my network:

Tropic of Orange network image

The characters at the center of the graph are the primary characters. The thicker the connecting line, the more each character interacted with the other.

What would Robinson Crusoe’s network look like?

To Heck With Syllabus Day

New pencils, mark-free textbooks, and clean spiral notebooks typically mark the start of a new semester for college students. The excitement of another beginning is obviously shared throughout campus as students and teachers alike await a possibly successful semester. But what makes a semester successful, and how does one ensure it will be successful? These are questions all teachers experiment with and according to Elaine Showalter, the answer starts with the very first day of class. “In the real world of the semester, the first class offers a never-to-be-recaptured moment of excitement and opportunity. This is your chance to preview the best material you have” (46). The “you” she is speaking to is, of course, the teacher but the student especially benefits from this mode of pedagogy.

Although, the title to this post claims to get rid of syllabus day entirely, I (and Showalter) am only suggesting to further its significance by not ending class early with just syllabus the material. Classroom and student expectations are an absolute must when it comes to first day material, but what if the literature class expanded beyond syllabus day? By expanding I mean to say, include the planned material for the course. Start reading a book as a class, ask students what they want out of the course, or even engage in an activity that incorporates the novels at hand. It goes without saying that some teachers have already implemented this kind of approach, but I have definitely taken classes where the syllabus was read out loud and then the students were sent home for the day. How does that get students eager to learn? I, and many critics, argue that it is a simple mistake that can easily be changed.

Works Cited

Showalter, Elaine. Teaching Literature. Indianapolis: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. Print.

 

Questions to Consider:

If, according to Showalter, getting students excited about learning is not entirely up to the teacher, how else can students be encouraged?

How could we incorporate Lynda Barry’s methods into the first day in a literature classroom?

Experimental ‘Making’ & ‘Doing’

Within the Digital Humanities, a new wave of teaching has formulated thus creating an experimental methodology. This innovative pedagogy would be understood as more hands-on for both teachers students. Leigh Bonds proposes “while the means may differ from text-based assignments, the inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration remain consistent” (152). This new way of teaching coerces students into engaging and thinking about ideas, just as scholars do in their disciplines. Relatively new, DH has moved past the initial steps and moved into explicating this philosophy.

It isn’t the material that’s changing, rather, the way teaching is explicated. Dr. Crystal Lake contributes her projects toward this pedagogy in her undergraduate Great Books course. One class period was spent splitting up her students into small groups, giving each group a poster board and coloring materials. Each group was instructed to draw a map based on different three pages of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and at the end of the class, each poster was aligned into a timeline of events. The timeline portrayed the difference in setting and emotion constantly changing in the book. This activity engaged students in thinking critically about imminent and important details in the novel. It also gave students insight on aesthetic effects presented in literature.

Bonds explains “through ‘making’ and ‘doing,’ students ultimately gain a better understanding of DH work in humanities disciplines” (150). By allowing her students to engage in creative outlets, Lake contributes toward this “making” and “doing” philosophy of DH. This movement toward more student involvement also holds something valuable to the teachers. Instead of delivering knowledge to students, teachers now can partake with students in producing knowledge. Bonds terms this a “methodology of experimentation.” Teachers can collaborate with students on critical thinking in aesthetic ways, allowing teachers to also learn from the students.

Bonds, E. Leigh. “Listening in on the Conversations: An Overview of Digital Humanities Pedagogy.” The CEA Critic76.2 (2014): 147-157. Print.

This online hub is dedicated to connecting scholars in the digital humanities who are interested in collaborating projects.  The DHCommons centers their focus on collaboration between universities across the country including UPENN, Yale, and UC Berkley.

Contributing scholars offer peer reviews on digital projects and introduces developing projects to the Digital Humanities world. The site offers a blogging platform, as well as a journal, and a collaboration page to find partners for projects. Check out the projects tab to really see how huge DH is.

http://dhcommons.org/

 

laptop book.jpg

What is a book? What is literature? Is a book full of pictures literature? Bound pieces of paper stacked and glued together often seems like the definition to a book. Since the discourse of literature is the study of books, couldn’t us as students be studying medical journals, printed art, and biographies? And, as the digital world evolves, digitized text is becoming easier to distribute. Do words electronically glued together count as a book? Digital humanists could surely answer this for us… right?

You’re Reading Too Much Into It

Often, the phrase “you’re reading too much into it” has been used by people to help their friends get past over-thinking a clearly obvious encounter. A simple example could be Lisa waving hello to Tina and receiving no wave back. This awkward encounter could have Lisa jumping to conclusions thinking Tina no longer cares for Lisa as a friend whereas Tina just didn’t see her. Where could this phrase “you’re reading too much into it” have come from? It quite possibly could have came from a Marxist or Freudian reading  in that focuses on meaning that is hidden between the lines such as, an overcast sky representing evil. The sky is overcast often, especially in certain geographical locations, so evil must be present in England all the time, or maybe, I’m just reading too much into it.

Moving beyond a somewhat dated way of interpretation, Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus are interested in using “surface reading” to best identify meaning in a text. “We take surface to mean what is evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth” (9).  So the overcast sky so often described in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, might just mean the state of Washington has an overcast sky. Surface reading is not so much as simple and vague as described here and holds much more meaning than observing the sky patterns. “Surface Reading: An Introduction” goes on to explain “Description sees no need to translate the text into a theoretical or historical metalanguage in order to make the text meaningful” (11). This idea allows the reader to interpret and evaluate the text without the suspicion that holds hidden meanings. Because, frankly, life would get quite confusing if our books didn’t say what they meant.

Works Cited

Best, Stephen and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations 108.1 (2009): 1-21. JSTOR. Web.

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