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Electronic Seminar

ENGL 505.401
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

This course is designed to introduce advanced undergraduate and graduate students to the range of new opportunities for literary research afforded by recent technological innovation. We will need to familiarize ourselves with the various electronic environments now available, learning 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. Where 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). 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. At this point, 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 will consider 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. We will collectively analyze different examples of hypertext fiction and editorial, projects in hypertext, including the project I am editing, "Frankenstein: the Pennsylvania Electronic Edition," so as to test out the principles and research capacities of a hypertext edition. Members of the seminar will also pursue analytical projects using various software programs that allow new approaches to literary scholarship and perhaps creating others as we can imagine their need.

The class will divide its venue between the MMETS seminar room and 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. Beside the major analytical opportunities there will be small study projects for the various segments of the course and the development of individually constructed homepages containing a logbook of online experience throughout the term and accounts of the various experiments and lines of inquiry attempted during it. The seminar will end with several weeks of presentations in which members' individual research projects will be demonstrated and collectively discussed.