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Electronic Literary Study: A Pro-Seminar

ENGL 205.301
TR 1:30-3

This course will be designed to introduce advanced undergraduate students to the range of new opportunities for literary research afforded by recent technological innovation.  We will begin by familiarizing ourselves with the various electronic environments now available, with a sufficient amount of the incumbent languages of access so that we can feel comfortable in using them together and independently.  But it should be emphasized that participants do not need to have an immersion in this technology and its languages prior to the seminar.  What will matter is a serious literary base and an avid interest in exploring the range of opportunities just now opening up.  If we don't know all the necessary technology, we will find someone who does to help us out.  The seminar will, generally speaking, be a collaborative venture: self- educating, self-motivating, and intellectually self-supporting.  The primary necessity for its participants will be imagination.  "What is now proved was once only imagined," Blake reminds us.

We will begin at the basic level of new research tools: e.g. designing projects that will plumb the multifaceted electronic Oxford English Dictionary and various resources of the Research Library Network (RLIN). Our next step will be to investigate how recent software might facilitate literary inquiry, as much to sharpen our sense of new questions to ask as to learn the practical means to begin answering them.  We will then move out to consider the resources of the Internet and the World Wide Web, where we will drop in on libraries and archives around the world.  If the class is sufficiently varied in interest and eccentricity, we should be able in this segment to divide up this universe in order to pursue individual study projects that can then be shared together.  Perhaps, too, we will be able to discover "virtual" environments in which we can share our efforts with others pursuing similar efforts here and abroad.  At this point, having tested the rocket engines and contemplated the cosmos, the seminar will assume more specific concerns, addressing some ongoing conceptual changes being enforced by the new technology.  Among these will be the way in which the "text," as we are accustomed to think of it, is being transformed into "texts." Another will be in terms of what constitutes a "canon." To this end we expect to be able to borrow a number of texts from various current centers of computer scholarship: viz. the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia (where the new D.G. Rossetti electronic edition is being created) and, particularly, the Brown University Women Writers Project, which will open up certain of its texts in an electronic environment for the first time.  Finally, in the last weeks we will turn to the ongoing project surrounding "Frankenstein: the Pennsylvania Electronic Edition" and will
both test out its principles and research capacities and as a joint project help in a key area to construct the critical library that will be embedded in the edition.

The class will divide its venue between a regular seminar room and the MMETS computer classroom in DRL.  Although we will move in a logical way through the various components noted above and will thus maintain a structured continuity, at all points we will be ready to follow and share individual paths of discovery.  There will be small study projects for the various segments of the course, but the major work will be an individually constructed "home page," containing a logbook of online experience throughout the term and accounts of the various experiments and lines of inquiry attempted during it.