ON BUILDING THINGS: Student-Designed Print and Digital Exhibits in the Book History Class

Article excerpt

Book history pedagogy often teaches students the hands-on skills of book production as a means of understanding the social and theoretical concerns of authorship, reading, and publishing. In book history classes students edit texts (Kelemen 160), make paper (Barrett 146), and even read by candlelight (Stam 74). Book history pedagogy has been drawn to this method of combining theory and practice because it allows students to focus on the many different people involved in the creation of any kind of text who have an impact on a text's interpretation. As book history scholarship has become as concerned with digitized texts as physical ones, it seems a fitting time to widen book history's practical pedagogy into the methodologies of the digital humanities and have students experience the communications circuits of online texts as well. In my senior assignment course at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), as students both develop and reflect on print and digital media, I ask them to replace a competitive, evolutionary narrative in which successive innovations replace outmoded technologies with a model more akin to Susan Gustafson's work, which explains that we should study "verbal media as always emerging, always in flux, and always in relation to one another" (353). By inhabiting roles related to media production students begin to interrogate the ways in which print and digital media inform and influence one another.

This article discusses the layout and outcomes of my senior assignment course focused on the interplay between the fields of book history and the digital humanities. SIUE 's senior assignment program is a nationally recognized capstone experience in which students create large-scale senior projects; in this English department version, the seminar course culminates with a fifteen-page research paper. SIUE is a master's comprehensive university with a mixture of traditional college students living in dorms, commuting students with families, first generation college students, and students transferring from community colleges. The last time I taught the course, two of the students came to SIUE directly from high school, one was a transfer student, four had children at home, another was returning for her second degree, and several were English Education majors about to begin their student teaching in the fall. This is usually the students' first experience both with book history and with web production. The small class size and advanced student level makes the senior assignment course an ideal environment for pedagogical experimentation. Students are prepared for some of the unconventional aspects of this course even if they are unfamiliar with the content. My version of the course requires students to create rare book exhibits in both physical and digital forms in order to explore theoretical questions about the production, dissemination, and reception of texts in both print and digital forms.1

I hold the class in SIUE's library, a space that is itself engaged with the interplay between print and digital forms. The class met full time in their conference room and computer labs, creating a direct partnership with library faculty that has proved beneficial to students. This gives the students first-hand knowledge of the ways in which print and digital media interconnect in a research library's holdings. Our library's archivist, Steve Kerber, and librarian, Lydia Jackson, provide students with instruction about the co-existence of print and digital resources on site. Although the university's special collections department is small, it holds a variety of artifacts representative of book technologies from different historical periods and some nineteenth-century journals of local interest that I incorporate into the course alongside digital manifestations of similar artifacts.

Students are better able to analyze discourses about materiality and digitization if they produce both kinds of media. …