New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO Generation'
New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO Generation'
Stefania Crowther (University of London), Ethan Jordan (Michigan Technological University), Jacqueline Wernimont (Brown University), and Hillary Nunn (University of Akron)
Stefania Crowther, Ethan Jordan, Jacqueline Wernimont and Hillary Nunn. "New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO Generation'.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 3.1-30
Students and scholars today are faced with a pleasant sort of problem - how to manage our new avenues of access to primary documents. One element of this problem is the difficulty in transforming all of this new information into insight regarding texts, textual practices, and historical contexts. This question is particularly acute for literary scholars working on the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, for whom the landscape of texts has been dramatically altered by the developments in digital imaging projects and in electronic text production. Digital resources like EEBO (Early English Books Online), Evans Early American Imprints, ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online), and SCETI (Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image) serve an immediate and much needed pragmatic function, making early printed texts accessible to a broader range of readers. The implications this new availability will have on scholarship and pedagogy, however, have only recently begun to be explored.
These issues prove especially significant for academics just entering the field, ourselves among them. As young scholars, we each began research projects that simply would not have been possible without Early English Books Online, the digital resource that will serve as our focus in this essay. While the early modern texts to which EEBO provides access are also available on microfilm, our projects relied heavily on the electronic resource's increased search capabilities for their success. Supplying downloadable .PDF versions of almost one hundred thousand texts, EEBO, simply put, made our literary and historical work possible, and it no doubt continues to do so for many undergraduates for whom extensive research in a distant archive makes little sense without digital resources. Further, EEBO gave some of us the flexibility to work around full-time work schedules that made the traditional brick and mortar library, especially the rare book collection, difficult to access. While these experiences represent the positive elements of digital text archives, we have also found our own subsequent access to these archives limited by lack of institutional subscription or by independent scholar status. It has become quite obvious to us that, as students with good access and adequate technology, we were working from within a position of privilege. Not every undergraduate classroom has technological capability, not every institution can afford to subscribe to digital archives, and, despite the commonplace that all students are technophiles, we realize as newer teachers that not every student owns a computer, nor is every student at home in the digital world. Finally, those of us who are currently looking toward our careers as professional scholars have noted that faculty familiarity with digital archives and new research technologies can be surprisingly scant.
The predicaments of access, along with the academy's still-evolving stance toward the role of electronic resources in scholarship and teaching, have a particularly strong impact on younger scholars like ourselves. As members of the first generation to have enjoyed the use of electronic archives and texts as students, we now find ourselves engaging with these digital tools as we enter into new roles as teachers in our own classrooms. Our largely positive experiences with EEBO - a resource first introduced in 1998 - leave us eager to introduce our students to the exciting research possibilities digital tools bring to the undergraduate classroom. It is significant, too, that three of the four of us never encountered EEBO in classroom settings during our years as students; while we all have found the easy electronic access it offers to early modern books invaluable to our own research, we lack models for incorporating the collection in our teaching. Just as importantly, the sheer amount of information about the early modern period that a tool like EEBO offers our students can seem a challenge to our evolving notions of ourselves as classroom instructors. Not only do we suddenly find ourselves guiding students through the steps of using unfamiliar (and constantly changing) online resources; we also put our own sense of the field to the test by inviting these students to confront us, in a public setting no less, with the often unfamiliar texts that their research yields. As we work with students and peers to develop the technological expertise needed to utilize these resources in the classroom and in our research, we are also confronting the implications of these new archival forms for our own theoretical positions, both as teachers and as scholars. In short, we find that a new conceptual vocabulary - one that strives to pinpoint the contributions and limitations of digital resources within the field - is being created as we work.
The unpredictability that research in EEBO might bring, both to the classroom and to our research more broadly, ultimately brings about new insight not just into the early modern period, but also into the nature of literary scholarship. The conversations that EEBO and other digital resources provoke can provide a valuable means of exploring the ways that four hundred years worth of scholars have engaged with texts, allowing users a deeper understanding of what generations of academics have considered worthy of study. This conversation in turn helps students - and beginning faculty - to see room for their own work within the wider discipline. Just as importantly, digital resources like EEBO allow students and teachers alike to see how earlier generations of scholars have found new things to say about an old, but still evolving, body of literature.
Scholarly Approaches and Classroom Practice: EEBO and the Expanding Reading List
The multiplicity of methodologies practiced today in early modern literary scholarship offer a variety of patterns for using electronic resources in scholarship and teaching, often presenting a bewildering number of avenues for those seeking to find meaningful ways of using - and even scrutinizing - such tools in their work. The manner in which our methodologies interact with digital tools, when they either provide us with objects of study (in the form of the archive) or serve as research tools (blogs, wikis, and digital collaboration, for example), can be radically different. These differences make it impossible to say that digital text resources like EEBO function in any single way to advance the field. Scholars of varying dispositions and methodologies value the electronic source's ability to manipulate our view of literary history, if not of time itself. A brief and limited survey of some differences will illuminate this point. For those working to theorize and understand the "morphospace" of literary history, discussed at length below, the digital archive makes possible a manipulation of vast arrays of texts, on a scale simply not possible prior to text encoding. This reduction in the sheer scale of labor needed to survey a broad spectrum of texts has enabled scholars like Franco Moretti and Martin Mueller to recognize (and visualize) trends spanning decades that were not visible to earlier generations. As we will discuss later in this paper, this new capability has enabled both scholars and students to interrogate previously held assumptions regarding changes within literary genres.
For the historicist critic, the digital archive makes available the artefacts of a more complete discursive system, bringing broadsides, ballads, royal decrees, poetry, short fiction, and prose narratives of all sorts into the critical purview in ways that modern print publication has failed to accomplish. Similarly, the presence of a much wider range of authors within the digital archive continues the work of making the marginalized and underrepresented more visible - a project which may be a corrective both to historical directed exclusion and to our own predilection for familiar forms and the vernacular languages. In many ways this makes the digital archive a more democratic space, no longer restricting the scholar - and more particularly, the student - to the boundaries of the canonical works more easily found in print. It opens up the possibility of serendipitous discovery and the return of a more eclectic analytic method, one that harkens back to its early modern predecessor, the commonplace …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: New Scholarship, New Pedagogies: Views from the 'EEBO Generation'. Contributors: Not available. Journal title: Early Modern Literary Studies. Volume: 14. Issue: 2 Publication date: September 2008. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Matthew Steggle. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.