200 Years & “It’s Still Alive” (Take 2)


(Illustration by Henning Wagenbreth, The New Yorker)

Franco Moretti begins the second chapter of Graphs, Maps, Trees by posing the following question: “Do maps add anything to our knowledge of literature?”(35). I would vehemently argue that yes, they do. Specifically, they enable the student/reader to be able to comprehend and theorize about the text in a new, deeper, and more meaningful way. As Moretti himself acknowledges, when you read a book, you are able to imagine the locale. However, if you take that information further, and proceed to organize it visually in terms of a map, then as Moretti notes, “everything changes”(36). Patterns begin to emerge that were not readily apparent in the text. For example, to use the Mitford text that Moretti examines, what had been understood as linear narrative space suddenly becomes circular, as seen in his illustration:


Over the past few days I have experimented with two new DH tools (new to me, anyway), namely Timeline JS and GoConqr. Both of these tools would be valuable assets in a variety of college classrooms, but my focus here is specifically on how I could utilize them in a literature or writing class. As an instructor, I know that the more I am able to specifically tailor my course content, the more interesting it will be to my students. Likewise, the more agency students are able to have in terms of their own learning, the more successful they will be in terms of knowledge acquisition. I found that both Timeline and GoConqr were relatively easy programs to use, adapt, and connect to various topics.

I recently read an article in The New Yorker by Jill Lepore, entitled “It’s Still Alive: Two Hundred Years of “Frankenstein.” Using some key dates and information from Lepore’s article, along with the addition of some basic biographical information, I decided to experiment with the Timeline JS program. That program allows users to create a new timeline using an existing Google Spreadsheet template that they provide, so it is quite simple to manipulate. Students could utilize this program individually, or in groups, to create presentations to share with the class. Once the data and supplemental images are input into the spreadsheet, it is a simple process to input the link into the Timeline JS program and publish the timeline. Here is a link to a sample timeline that I created (note:  I plan to continue to expand this timeline with more information, but for the moment have limited this sample timeline to some basic dates and biographical information about Shelley’s life):

Mary Shelley Sample Timeline

Unlike Timeline JS, which is solely for creating timelines, GoConqr is a much more dynamic suite of tools that enables students and instructors to create various type of content and learning aids such as slide sets, mind maps, flashcards, and even quizzes. I used it to create two sample slides that I have linked here, the first of which contains the embedded article by Lepore, and the second of which contains the full page artwork that accompanied her article:

2 Sample GoConqr Slides

Another thing that makes GoConqr particularly valuable is that it is also available as an app for cell phones. As an instructor, I could easily embed PDFs for my students and they could read them virtually anywhere, making coursework more accessible to all. Students could also create their own study materials, and could easily collaborate on group projects as well.

Moretti concludes his Maps chapter by noting that he has “made maps/diagrams of fictional worlds, where the real and the imaginary coexist in varying, often elusive proportions”(63). Such visualizations, particularly when created by students themselves, enable them to move beyond a superficial understanding of the text and to be actively involved in their own learning. Web 2.0 tools such as Timeline JS and GoConqr would enable students to do precisely that, in ways far greater than Moretti could have even begun to conceptualize when he first published Graphs, Maps, Trees in 2005. (662)

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4 thoughts on “200 Years & “It’s Still Alive” (Take 2)

  1. I love the timeline that you created of Mary Shelley’s life! I felt that compared to reading a biography on Wikipedia, it visually engages the viewer, and perhaps even breaks the fourth wall. With images, it makes me feel like I want to get to know more about her. I think that a fictional text works best when a map is provided, seeing as it is unfamiliar to the student. (Going back to Safa’s post, there is a map of this made-up county. I remember taking the class and constantly going back and forth between the text and the map). Do you feel that it may be distracting to the reader to some extent if there’s that back-and-forth? How familiar should a reader be with a made-up fictional world and its geography?

  2. Wow! I’m amazed by Shelley’s Time Line biography!
    I totally agree with you Amy, Time Line and GoConqr tools are easy to use and adapt. Also, as a reader, I think that the outcome graphs of these tools is very entertaining. They are very easy to read and understand by all students regardless of their majors or interests.
    Great work Amy!

  3. I agree that maps do serve a purpose within literature but at the same time I could see why the question was posed in the first place. The literature should be able to speak for itself without any visual assistance as one of the purposes of literature is for the audience to rely on themselves to interpret the writing. Nevertheless, I agree on Moretti’s conclusion of imaginary coexisting with the reality through visualization (maps or other devices). I also believe you did a great job with demonstrating the two, different apps, especially with GoConqr as I appreciated the example to understand the app further. I believe your use of the two could be easily incorporated into a lesson plan, allowing the Timeline JS as the lesson/demonstration with the GoConqr as the online-activity or quiz.

  4. The GoConqr tool strikes me as a more dynamic version of Powerpoint, including additional embedding features. This makes it more conducive to classroom activities since most students already gain quite a bit of experience with Powerpoint during their academic career, making for a smooth transition. I would even consider using this in the future for my own presentations, depending on what tools I need.

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