Academic journal article ARIEL

Digital Archives in the Wired World Literature Classroom in the US

Academic journal article ARIEL

Digital Archives in the Wired World Literature Classroom in the US

Article excerpt

Abstract: Digitized archival materials open up exciting possibilities for teaching and learning in the undergraduate world literature classroom. Generally, undergraduates are not introduced to archival analysis until their junior or senior years, if at all. However, current research suggests that students can benefit greatly from even preliminary exposure to archives early in their undergraduate careers, by means of short-term, small-scale archival research tasks. This essay draws on case studies from the author's introductory world literature classes to demonstrate how digital archives enable students to tap into the rich history of English-language world literature as intimately tied to legacies and contexts of imperialism. It concludes with strategies and considerations to assist educators interested in incorporating digital archives into the undergraduate world literature classroom.

Keywords: world literature, digital archives, digital humanities, British imperialism, American imperialism, undergraduate research, inquiry-based learning

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Digitized archival materials open exciting possibilities for teaching and learning in the undergraduate world literature classroom. Due to the ongoing digitization of correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, oral testimony, government records, out of print journals and political pamphlets, and other artifacts at archival institutions around the world, global pedagogies can increasingly benefit from the incomparable sense of context offered by archives. In this essay I reflect on my own recent experiences in the classroom and detail the value of integrating components of archival research and analysis in world literature lesson plans. Analyzing selected digitized archival materials alongside literature allows students to contextualize course readings in terms of the literary, social, and political networks that influenced the authors under discussion and shaped the significant movements of centuries past, including abolitionism, pan-Africanism, Irish literary nationalism, and Indian anti-imperialism.

In the introductory world literature survey courses I taught at the University of Texas at Austin during the spring of 2014, I presented multimedia lectures on Anglophone world literatures emerging from and speaking to specific British and American colonial contexts throughout history. I incorporated digitized text, image, video, and audio artifacts into lectures and invited students to participate in in-class archival analysis. I observed that archival materials generated enthusiastic student responses, created opportunities to build digital and information literacy, and strengthened student engagement with course concepts. In this essay, I draw on case studies from my world literature classes (1) to demonstrate how digital archives enable students to tap into the rich history of English-language world literature as intimately tied to legacies and contexts of imperialism. I also offer strategies and considerations to assist educators interested in incorporating digital archives into the undergraduate world literature classroom.

Generally, undergraduates are not introduced to archives until their junior or senior years, if at all. Of course, long-term archival research projects require advanced skills in critical thinking, analysis, and interpretation as well as mastery of pertinent contexts, histories, and languages. However, current research suggests that students can benefit greatly from even a preliminary exposure to archives early in their undergraduate careers, by means of short-term, small-scale archival research tasks. (2) Experts such as Barbara Rockenbach and Marcus Robyns emphasize that such tasks help build students' information literacy, internal authority, recognition of the contingent nature of primary sources, and ability to process multiple diverging perspectives. Developing these skills early in their programs of study increases undergraduates' capacities to absorb and critically analyze information as well as the likelihood that they will pursue advanced research projects. …

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