America in the Nineteenth Century, Virtually Yours

Purpose of the Seminar

Over the last decade, scholarly websites have been developed devoted to the major events, issues, and evolutions of the Nineteenth Century the Civil War, slavery, abolition, the growth of New York and other cities, Westward expansion, advances in health, photography, the railroad, and the publishing industry, suffrage for African-Americans and for women (see, e.g., the American Memory project at the Library of Congress, which has substantial holdings from the nineteenth century). Thus students investigating the history of the United States and our culture can now explore the century's developments virtually, through picture and sound, as well as linguistically, through words. This course will study the U.S. Nineteenth Century using and critically assessing these websites and, in many cases, producing websites as class projects. My own research has focused on the work of Emily Dickinson, on feminist, queer, textual, and reception theory, and on humanities computing. Examining Dickinson's publication of her work by circulating her poems in her letters to contemporaries led me to work extensively with the poet's surviving manuscripts, which in turn led to working with other scholars and students to develop the Dickinson Electronic Archives (DEA), a multi-purpose website. Researchers whose work focuses on that of Walt Whitman (1819-1892) developed projects in ways that led to the Whitman Hypertext Archive (WHA). In 1997, the two projects were awarded a major FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education) grant to develop The Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman, and American Culture.

This course will begin exploring the multiple websites surrounding and within that project and will use those to launch, as it were, the rest of the semester's interrogations of nineteenth-century topics and issues. For the semester project, students may choose among two kinds of options: a student choosing to write a paper will be asked to script an article-length critical analysis of, e.g., how the developments of a digital culture affect our thinking when we construct a narrative about "Nineteenth-Century America," about its authors, literary history, and so forth; OR, each student may opt to produce, either individually or as part of a collaborative venture, a website focused on some particular interest. Websites and papers that are first-rate will, if the student desires, be published as part of the DEA, WHA, and/or The Classroom Electric. One need not be web literate to participate and work in this seminar, as HTML training will be made available to anyone who wishes obtain this skill.

Course Readings

Bradley, Sculley and Harold W. Blodgett, eds. Leaves of Grass. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973.

Folsom, Ed and Kenneth M. Price. Whitman Hypertext Archive (WHA) Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), University of Virginia, 1995 to the present.

Hart, Ellen Louise and Martha Nell Smith, eds. Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson. Ashfield, MA: Paris Press, 1998.

Price, Kenneth M. and Martha Nell Smith, Project Directors. The Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman, and American Culture

Smith, Martha Nell. "Because the Plunge from the Front Overturned Us: The Dickinson Electronic Archives Project." Studies in the Literary Imagination 32:1 (Spring 1999): 133-51.

---, Coordinator & General Editor, Ellen Louise Hart, Marta Werner, General Editors, Dickinson Electronic Archives (DEA) Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), University of Virginia, 1995 to the present.

Werner, Marta. Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments, 1870-1886. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press,, 2000.

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Last updated on February 22, 2008