Category Archives: Response

The Monstrosity of Reading in Context

When I first proposed my project, I thought that a classroom assignment would be more interesting seeing as I’ve never tried organizing one before (see previous post to understand why my project is changing in direction). The project that I previously proposed had no focus and introduced a variety of themes, one of which was the function of language in conversation. I have decided to stick with the 1818 edition, rather than compare the two texts as it would be too ambitious of a project in this given time frame.

When I first approached Frankenstein in the extra credit assignment, I started to see a trend in Safie, recognized as the Arabian, and her father, the Turk. One of the questions I hope to answer in my final paper is why Mary Shelley chose to interchangeably use different identifiers throughout the text. Why is Henry Clerval not referred to with an identifier?

Furthermore, with Frankenstein, one of the key aspects I noticed was the acquisition of language and the authority envisioned by the characters through their interaction(s) with one another. To approach this project, I am comparing the acquisition of language through the monster’s perspective versus how Victor Frankenstein treats language in interactions with others (e.g. Henry Clerval).  By narrowing it down to a category for comparison, I will be able to take a pedagogical approach on how the name functions, especially through postcolonial criticism. How are the characters exploited through their loss of a name? or through dominant languages? The digital tool I will be using is Keyword in Context and I will use it to assist my analysis rather than as the primary method of research.

When researching, I found a variety of sources referring to Frankenstein as a postcolonial text, I started to stumble on other questions. Why didn’t any characters leave Europe? Why does Safie adopt the cottagers language rather than teach them hers? I will evaluate the postcolonial frame that Shelley introduces even through Victor Frankenstein’s education (Ingolstadt, for one) in contrast to the monster who is educated through observation. What is being exploited and how is this put into context in how the story is set up?

Looking at words and the frequency of them in the characters’ interactions will allow me to create a foundation of evidence for how Victor and the creature treat others. There is a western approach in how they move towards this encapsulation of language. The subplots are the main focus of this research as they are key points where the two encounter sub-characters and attempt to establish power through language. How does this speak to the larger context of European conquest and exploration of other cultures (540)?

 

Some of the sources I am working on:

Christie, William. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Critical and Cultural Heritage.” The Two Romanticisms and Other Essays: Mystery and Interpretation in Romantic Literature, Sydney University Press, AUSTRALIA, 2016, pp. 231–268. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1d10h2h.14.

DIX, HYWEL ROWLAND. “Postcolonial Britain.” After Raymond Williams: Cultural Materialism and the Break-Up of Britain, 2nd ed., University of Wales Press, 2013, pp. 111–142. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qhdnr.11.

Ransom, Amy J. “Mary Shelley’s ‘Hideous Progeny.’” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 2010, pp. 314–316. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25746415.

SUDAN, RAJANI. “Fair Exotics: Two Case Histories in Frankenstein and Villette.” Fair Exotics: Xenophobic Subjects in English Literature, 1720-1850, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, pp. 117–147. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fj36r.7.

Lost in Visualization

“I know what to do when I see words on page; when I look at this graph, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to read it.” Andrew Stauffer, quoted by Laura Mandell, sums up how I’m feeling at this point in the class. The entire time I read Mandell’s essay, and the second time, I vaguely followed what she was explaining, but ultimately could not see a reason to mimic or pursue similar studies in visualization. It was interesting to see her map out Southey’s letter writing relationships, but funnily enough, the entire time I kept thinking that I would have rather worked with straight data and created a visual myself. (Through pad and paper no less.)

giphy
Pretty much how I view these visualizations.

I found it interesting that in both Moretti and Mandell the issue of interpreting data correctly was a common thread, and both made caveats that “errors” or “miscalculations” were common. Maybe I am a skeptic, but it seems that every assumption or “interpretation” that was made of the data, in Moretti especially, was unfounded. Mandell explains that “a major principle of Information Visualisation is that the first thing we will see when we look at a visualisation is “errors” in our data.” Moretti also states that “quantitive explanandum and a qualitative explanans leave you often with a perfectly clear problem— and no idea of a solution.” (26)

I think both of these authors were interesting in what they were pursuing or attempting to visualize, but their exercises seemed more effort than they were worth. Mandell’s graph could be used to graph character relationships, especially in novels such as War and Peace or anything Homer, to aid with following which character is related to whom and why, but many people create their own methods for figuring those relationships out. Moretti’s graphs could be used to visualize when an author published during their lifetime, which could help frame an understanding of the life events that influenced the novels- which would be very helpful, but could be visualized in a more coherent way.

These visualizations to me seem like a PC person created them, and my Mac brain cannot compute. Voyant’s tools seem more universal in comprehension, and could be used in the classroom setting with more ease. I especially like the “Termsberry” that connects the top words in the novel (based on volume) with other words that are used with it. That could be useful in comparing and contrasting the meanings of these words and how those meanings affect the characters, plot, etc.

ron-swanson-computer-throw-out-parks-and-rec
Have the digital humanities gone too far? (Kidding!)

 

My favorite tool thus far was “tagcrowd.” I think that could be useful in many assignments, such as handing creative writing students the most used words from their favorite book with the assignment of writing a poem using only those words or a poem encompassing every word. For example, you could limit Frankenstein to 6 of its most used words and ask students to write a sestina with them.

Personally, visualizing novels is a personal discovery, and to lose that process to collaboration or having to view the data through someone else’s visualization, makes the process more difficult and time consuming. Ultimately, I will need to play with these tools more as for now I’m baffled by what they are visualizing and how that helps to further our knowledge of novels. (554)

Original Post

The Modern Prometheus

I was very excited to receive this prompt as in undergrad and especially now, I oftentimes think of better ways to teach course material. As English and Humanities majors I find there’s this expectation that we are all amazing at reading, retaining, and interpreting texts, but that is not always the case. For example, I can’t stand Chaucer, Dickens, or Proust and in undergrad I struggled with them. I didn’t want to interact with the text, I couldn’t understand the language, I was unmotivated simply because these texts were difficult for me to comprehend through traditional means.

Even before reading the chapter on designing classroom activities, I knew that if I were teaching I would begin with a Buzzfeed quiz. Call me a millennial, but those quizzes are addicting and fun, and in the teaching sphere they would also help students collaborate with each other and connect to the text. The idea I had in mind was a simple “personality” quiz, “Which character from Shelley’s Frankenstein are you?” (If you go to the link it is a quiz I made very quickly as an example.) By beginning with something personal, I have ensured that the students who take the quiz connect to the text. This connection works both if the students have previously read the text or if the text is new to them. If they are reading for the first time and they received an answer of “The Creature” from the personality quiz, they will read the novel with more empathy towards the creature as they have “connected” with him through the quiz. Similar to if they have read the novel before, they may reread or think about the novel in a different way depending on the results of the personality quiz.

The great thing about this quiz is it can be a catalyst for later activities. Once the students have found their personality/character match, I could assign them a social media project where they cultivate a Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blog, Vine (RIP), Instagram, or Snapchat for their character. With Shelley’s novel, this would be ironic and fun, as we could “modernize” the “modern Prometheus” with an active Twitter account.

In my head this project would span the entire semester (though it could also be done in a week or any period of time), ending with an analysis paper where the students would defend their understanding of the character by comparing and contrasting in-depth interpretation of text to their social media accounts.

An assignment like this is full of digital humanities tools: social media, online research, quizzes, etc., but it also allows for creativity and individual understanding of text. If someone is having trouble getting into or comprehending the text, giving them a singular focus and homework that seems more fun, will motivate them and help them with the text. Students can receive overarching understanding of a novel in class, but by allowing them this creativity to explore the text in their own individual ways and ensuring that the content they come up with makes sense through the use of the final (defense) paper, they will better retain the knowledge of this novel, than through traditional means.

Side note: It’s also a good idea to search a few key terms from your text on Buzzfeed, such as Frankenstein, as some funny posts come up that could spark classroom discussions. For example, this link could spark discussion on how the creature is described in the novel versus how he is portrayed in media. (585)

Original Post

A Book by Any Other Name is…

In my experience, digital editions of novels are often discouraged from use in the academic sphere. I believe this is due to the stigma of digital versions and the ability to trust their sourcing and completeness. Anything can be put online, and even the examples on the class blog show no digital edition is created equal.

Aesthetically and emotionally speaking, turning the pages in a print edition is my preferred method. I never feel the same excitement when the Kindle app displays “98% Read” in the right hand corner, than when I realize I have one chapter left in my physical book. But in college (to keep down costs) and in my professional life (carrying books on the metro was a hassle) I used digital editions of literature. When I switched I thought my engagement would change due to the lack of an emotional response, but instead I found my engagement increased.

Digital editions bring together the written and studied word, and instant gratification. If I don’t know the definition of a word, I can tap it and the Webster definition pops up. If a phrase or excerpt intrigues me, I can highlight and google that exact spot and find secondary sources with in-depth analyses. However, not all editions, print, digital, or otherwise are the same.

Take, for example, the Project Gutenberg (PG) edition of Frankenstein. It is one webpage with hyperlinks to various chapters, but is barebones. There are no annotations, footnotes, or any original publishing information. There is no preface or quote from Paradise Lost, and the book is not divided into three volumes. There are benefits to the simplicity as it is free, wifi is only needed once, and the document is searchable (which, when PG was created was the goal). Now compare this edition to the University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) edition. In UPenn’s edition there are biographies for notable allusions, annotations, maps, critical commentaries, and much more. It is a hub of information that has set up the novel exactly as it was in print, three volumes, correct chapter numbers, and the pages are set up to mimic the original text. It is amazing, but requires consistent wifi, is exasperating and time-consuming to read as each page has to load, and the annotations, while helpful, are not as intuitive as they could be, as they are on separate webpages that draw the reader from the content.

Digital editions are a necessity for the future of the study of humanities as they offer universal access, instant information, and searchable documents; but they need to be streamlined, de-stigmatized, and created from trusted sources with accurate annotations. Print copies, while tactile and emotionally connective, require the reader access to other facilities, whether that be other works, libraries, or the internet, all of which costs money and time. On the flip side, print copies ensure that readers learn how to research accurate and trustworthy sources, whereas digital editions may be too much information, too easily.

Personally, I hope print books never die out, but academically, I feel digital editions, if created well, are more inclusive and conducive for learning. (520)


Image grabbed from Scientific American and Getty Images.

 

Original Post