Category Archives: Digital Humanities

Digital Mapping Assignment – MLA presentation

Today I presented my Digital Mapping Project at MLA on the Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom session.  The panel was a great success and lots of people stopped by to view my slide show and to talk about using mapping in the undergraduate classroom.   As I ran out of handouts way too soon, I’m putting some of the information below.

The assignment

The grading rubric

Sample projects:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.!analysis

Feel free to email me with any questions:  kathryn[dot]crowther[at]lcc[dot]gatech[dot]edu


1 Comment

Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching

Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom: MLA 2012 Roundtable

I’m excited to be showcasing some of my students’ fabulous Digital Mapping Projects at an Electronic Roundtable/”Show & Tell” session at MLA in Seattle this January.  You can visit the official website of the panel here and read the descriptions of all the projects on display.

Here’s my original proposal for the panel:

At Georgia Tech we are encouraged to teach composition as multimodal and to design assignments that incorporate all aspects of communication.  Gone is the mandated five-paragraph essay and in its place is the possibility of creating a blog, a Dipity time-line, a word cloud, or a Prezi.  My assignments frequently set up a series of tasks and objectives but allow students to complete those tasks in a variety of different ways, using their choice of digital format.

The space for creativity that this opens up has been exciting but challenging, and I will use my presentation to present some of the potential benefits I see in pushing student creativity to the forefront of the composition classroom along with some of the possible problems and pitfalls. For the display portion of the presentation I will showcase a “digital mapping” assignment from my current English 1102 “Literary London” course, along with the detailed assignment, the objectives, and the assessment rubric.  The maps the students are producing include both“geographical” maps like a Google map of locations and landmarks in Oliver Twist or an interactive, annotated map of Mrs. Dalloway’s journey around London, and “digital mapping” projects which visualize data such as the statistics on the plague victims in Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year or use word- and tag-clouds to analyze the occurrence of dialect and slang in Oliver Twist.

Some of the questions and problems implicit in my presentation, which I will address in my discussion or introduction, include:  To what degree should we expect our students to be creative or original?  Is there a place for that in the composition classroom? What are the problems with encouraging creativity in the classroom – does creativity mean  “free-reign” or “multiple submission formats,” or “harder to grade”?  Is there a point at which digital pedagogy becomes too much about the technology?  How do we insure that the students are cognizant of how these creative approaches to teaching and assignments are meeting the course objectives and, more importantly, how they are equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in all kinds of careers?


Filed under Digital Humanities, Professional, Uncategorized

Salman Rushdie, StoryCorps, and SMARTech: Adventures in Digital Archiving

[Cross-posted from TECHStyle]

My class this semester revolved around the idea of people, material artifacts, and information that are “born digital.”  As my class blurb explains, “for people, this means that they are born into, and have only ever known, a world that prioritizes all forms of digitization; for materials and information, it means that they only exist in digital form.”  After spending the first part of the semester discussing “Digital Natives” and how these “born digital” people navigate the digital world, we turned in the second unit to the concept of digital archiving.  My inspiration for this class came in part from the Salman Rushdie exhibit at Emory University this fall, which showcased highlights from the Booker-prize winning author’s archive (housed at Emory), with a particular focus on the “born digital” aspects of his work.  My students visited the exhibit and I used their experience to get them thinking about and discussing the changes being wrought on institutions and people who work on processing, storing, and displaying information that only exists in digital form.

As my students discovered at the Rushdie exhibit, archiving the work of writers who have composed the majority of their drafts on a computer leads to a different type of preservation effort, one that involves retrieving and parsing through the data on the author’s computer, creating visual maps of the files and organization of the writer’s documents, protecting any private information, and figuring out how to give researchers and scholars access to the digital data.  In the exhibit, a section entitled ” Born Digital Rushdie” discussed the various challenges of creating a digital archive, and my students were interested in the ways that digital archives transform traditional notions of preservation and display. (You can read more about how Emory’s MARBL handled the challenge of processing one of the first literary digital archives here and watch videos describing how the archivists worked alongside computer experts to create a new methodology for preserving Rushdie’s digital materials here.)

The assignment to visit Rushdie’s archives laid the groundwork for a series of assignments that culminated in the students creating their own digital archives.  Using the “StoryCorps” model of interviewing a friend or family member to create an “oral history,” the assignment asked students to find a person at Georgia Tech or someone from the local Atlanta community who had an interesting and unique story to share (you can read the detailed assignment here).  In groups, students conducted interviews with people including the current Georgia Tech Student Body President, the first woman elected sheriff in Georgia (a student’s great-grandmother), a Hurricane Katrina survivor, a campus legend, a fourth-generation Tech student, several Deans and Tech alumni, and a star Georgia Tech football player. The students researched their subject, developed questions, and conducted twenty minute interviews.  They then edited those interviews down to 5-7 minute excerpts to create a distinct and concise central narrative (like the StoryCorps segments that air on NPR).  Finally, the students uploaded the interviews to Georgia Tech’s digital archiving program SMARTech (Scholarly Materials and Research at Tech).  You can go and listen to them here!

While this assignment was designed to get students thinking about the ramifications of digital archiving (and the commensurate loss of materiality), it also challenged them to use communication skills that they don’t get much opportunity to practice – crafting thoughtful questions, steering and controlling the direction and pace of an interview, and editing an oral history to create a focused narrative while ethically representing the actual words and intention of the speaker.  Interestingly, the students seemed divided on how they found the experience of working in a primarily oral/aural mode.  Some said they found that editing and listening to the interviews forcing them to focus more intently on the words and made them realize how much they usually seek out a visual accompaniment.  Others said that they felt like the interviews would have been enhanced by including a visual element, and, indeed, some groups opted to video the interview and then extract the audio track later.  One student posted a blog entry about his desire to include the visual element of the interview, writing that “I viewed everything he [the interviewee] spoke to us about in my head as pictures we could flash up on a screen when he said this or that.”

The project, then, had some unexpected results, pushing students to think about their tendency as digital natives to depend on visual media to communicate and receive a message.  But perhaps most significantly, students were asked to reflect on the value of oral histories and the potential of digital archiving to preserve and make available the narratives of ordinary people who have extraordinary stories to tell.  And, in doing so, the students have left their own permanent digital legacy at Georgia Tech.

Please go and listen to some of their stories and let me know what you think!

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching

Literary London

I just finalized my course description for this spring – here is the blurb for the course catalog:

This section of English 1102 will examine London as it is depicted in literature and as it functions as a center of literary production. Using texts including newspapers, diary entries, maps, poetry, and fiction we willcompare the “real” London with the fictional London and use that comparison to uncover the ideas, anxieties, and identities that the city inspires. Units will discuss issues such as urbanization, disease in the city, industrialization, immigration, and terrorism. Texts may include Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, Eliot’s The Waste Land and McEwan’s Saturday as well as short selections from essays, poetry, and historical texts. Over the course of the semester, students will write papers and develop projects which will practice critical thinking and writing skills and which deploy all the elements of WOVEN (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, Non-verbal) communication.

I’m excited about the way the topic gives us the opportunity to think about the city itself as a location and a product of very particular social forces as well as considering the ways that London’s unique identity functions in literature.  I’m planning on doing a mapping project with Mrs. Dalloway and possibly a wiki-type project to “map” The Waste Land.  There are so many types of texts we can draw from– newspaper archives, early photographs, journal entries, and contemporary films such as 28 Days Later and Children of Men— come to mind.   I think I’ll organize the course around themes with each unit focusing on a type of research material and strategies for

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching

Creativity and Digital Pedagogy

I’ve been thinking a lot about the capacity of the digital humanities to open up assignments in traditional English and composition classes to more creative possibilities.  In my first-year writing course this semester, my students are working on an identity project.  The first component was a traditional personal essay, a short 2-page piece on notions of identity.  I followed the paper with a second assignment:  a digital identity project.  This assignment allows the students to transform their original piece into a more creative interpretation of their identity trait, thinking specifically about how their chosen medium contributes to the message they are trying to convey.  One of the goals of the assignment is to push visual communication to the forefront and to allow us to discuss visual design and rhetoric.  Another goal is to force the students to consider how a given medium contributes to the message it is communicating and to choose a medium based on those qualities.  I’ve given them some suggestions for the medium (slideshow, short video, Google Map, photo collage, Pecha Kucha etc.) but I’m hoping they will surprise me with their creativity.

So far, the students have responded well to the assignment and have generated some interesting ideas.  However, many of them responded with anxiety at the the prospect of an open assignment that leaves them free to chose the medium and/or technology and the message.  I’ve explained to them that part of the assignment is about actually making this decision — a decision they will be forced to make many times in the future — and that selecting a medium and connecting design principles to questions of communication are skills that will serve them well.

But I’m also hoping that the open parameters of the assignment will tap into their individual creativity and encourage them to think outside of “what is required of me for this assignment” and to consider how their skills and interests can best contribute to a successful project.  In this way, then, I’m hopeful that the flexibility and openness that — at least in this instance — digital pedagogy provides, will serve to bring that creativity into the classroom.


One thing I haven’t touched on here is the possible clash between creativity and copyright, especially in a digital environment.  My students will be discussing this tomorrow, so that might be the topic of a follow-up post.

I will post some sample projects in a few weeks to showcase the students’ work.


Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching, Writing about writing

Why is a Victorianist teaching at Georgia Tech?

I was asked this very question during one of my first classes at Tech this week.  When I introduced myself as a scholar of nineteenth-century literature, my students looked puzzled:  what was a Victorianist doing at Georgia Tech?  And why, they asked, was I teaching a writing class focused on the concept of being “born digital”?  I found myself called upon to make the same connections in the classroom that I make all the time in my own research and, on occasion, at conferences and in interviews.

It’s easy to answer the question on a superficial level:  I’m not only a scholar of literature, I’m a scholar of language and, therefore, a scholar of communication.  I am also a writer and a researcher and all of these skills qualify me to teach writing (though it’s interesting that I — and the majority of my writing teacher colleagues — have never actually taken a writing class).   So that could answer the why am I teaching writing part, but it doesn’t get to the deeper connections between my expertise in Victorian literature and my interest in the specifically digital pedagogy associated with teaching writing at Tech.

When I think about what is so interesting about the nineteenth century, I think of the sense of excitement, of discovery and progress we get from the newspapers, letters, novels and essays of the period; the feeling that new and amazing things were happening that were pushing the Victorians faster than ever before into a technology-filled future of possibilities.  The way that technology like the steam engine and the printing press created networks of information and, almost overnight, transformed local and global communication, mirrors the way the internet and digital technologies have connected our contemporary world.

And so when I teach about our digital world and the way it has revolutionized communication, I am thinking about the Victorians and the new world opened up to them by train travel and the telegraph — a world that was transformed in notions of distance and time — and, commensurately, a world that seemed both promising and threatening in the possibilities it presented.  In my writing classes, then, we think about the basics of communication and rhetoric and how they work in all the different media and how they are transformed in the era of digital communication.

I’m also thinking about materiality and the way Victorians commodified and fetishized it  (museums,”Great” exhibitions department stores etc.),  and the way we are dealing with losing it through digitization.  In my “Born Digital” class we’re considering the ramifications of digitization on museums and exhibits, on book production, and on information storage.  This focus on materiality is also reflected in my work on Steampunk, a literary and cultural movement which anachronistically strives to restore the notion of craft to contemporary technology by refashioning it “nineteenth-century” style.

In so many ways, then, the excitement and the reservations of the Victorians regarding the explosion of technology in their time are mirrored in our own.  And it is in thinking about how the Victorians’ attitude towards the rapid transformation of systems like communication and information processing affected their ability to move forward  that we can reflect upon our own.

So when I walk into a first-year writing course focused on the digital era, I am bringing with me all of the Victorians’ excitement and all of their reservations about a world transformed by technology.  Think of it like this:  I may be wearing a corset, but that’s an iPhone in my pocket.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching, Victoriana


Welcome to the Arcades.  I’ve created this space as a place for me to do some informal musing on topics related to my research and teaching, with the goal that frequent short writing will keep my ideas flowing and my writing skills honed.  In fact, just writing this introduction I’m having to think so much about the flow of my prose, what “voice” I should have in this space, how to organize spontaneous ideas into coherent posts – it’s already working!

I’ve titled this blog “The Arcades” because I envision it as a vast space to wander around, framed and supported by the many thrusts of my ideas and interests.  I also think of it as a Victorian space, a space designed to be both ornamental and eminently practical (many arcades were designed as shelters for pedestrians).  Arcades also make me think of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and — to bring in my interest in the digital — arcade games.  The picture on this blog’s header is of the Cleveland Arcade built in 1890 and captures the sense of space with structure that I hope this blog will be for me.

I’ll be writing about Victorian literature and culture as it relates to my research, but also as I see it intersecting with my other interests in Neo-Victorian and Steampunk literature, and my teaching in the digital humanities.  I can also envision posts dealing with general pedagogy, course design, and teaching with technology which are all topics I’ll be considering on a daily basis as I teach first-year English at Georgia Tech.  And finally, as a candidate on the job market, I will be chronicling my experience in the job search and using this site as a place to direct people who are interested in my teaching and research.

I’m also going to set myself some challenges related to reading and writing.  My first is my goal to complete a revision of an article draft that I have been working on this summer.  More on that to follow, but I will use this space to keep myself motivated about my writing and to set myself writing goals.  Secondly, I plan to write a weekly review on new journal articles and academic texts which relate to my research and to Victorian scholarship in general.  And finally, I have set myself a “Victorian Novel Challenge” — I’m planning on reading (or re-reading as the case may be) 50 Victorian novels (or collections of stories or poetry) by fall 2011.  I will post my reading list here and chronicle my progress in regular installments.  This would be a whole lot easier if I were a Modernist…

So, come on in, wander around, and say hello.  This is a big space, I wouldn’t mind some company.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Books, Books, Digital Humanities, Miscellaneous, Professional, Teaching, Victoriana, Writing about writing