Fraistat, "Digitizing Romanticism: Introduction"

Digitizing Romanticism


Neil Fraistat, University of Maryland

Prepared for "Digitizing Romanticism," Session chaired by Neil Fraistat, University of Maryland

We'll be proceeding today in a workshop format, with a series of short presentations and demonstrations followed by an open discussion between the panelists and you all. We hope this discussion will focus not just on the individual projects themselves, but also on the larger issues raised— both practical and theoretical—by the digitizing of Romanticism. For whether we like it or not, the advent of powerful, content-driven, discipline-specific, digital resources—from CD-ROMs, to databases, to search engines, to Websites, not to mention electronic discussion lists—are helping to transform the way Romanticists do their teaching, research, and publishing—and to present us all with new possibilities for public outreach.

I'd like to begin the presentations by briefly throwing into our workshop mix two new features of the Romantic Circles Website that speak to some of the possibilities of digitizing Romantcism that I've just invoked. The first is a preview of our new home page, which will publicly replace our present home page sometime in the next two weeks:

I draw your attenton to this page not just for the zippy new design, which should make navigating the site quicker and easier, or for the jazzy new java-driven mouseovers that describe each of the sections of RC and highlight new features in each of them, but for the new search engine we have installed that allows for complex and flexible top-down searches of the Website as a whole and that returns each hit as a link ready to be visited. For instance, I recently searched all of Romantic Circles for the name "Wellington" and received 26 documents: among them, passages from our electronic editions of Percy Shelley's "The Devil's Walk" and "The Medusa of Leonard da Vinci," William Hone's The Political House that Jack Built, L. E. L.'s "Verses" and The Keepsake for 1829, and Mary Shelley's The Last Man. But I also received linked documents from The Keats Shelley Bibliography for 1998, which resides in our Scholarly Resources section, a chapter of Terry Kelley's book Reinventing Allegory, which is in our Cambridge University Press section, and an essay by Bill Keach on the young Shelley, which is in our Romantic Praxis section. The larger point here is that with the addition of this search engine Romantic Circles as a whole will function as a database; each new resource we add will be important not just for itself, but for what it adds to the totality of the whole database.

The second new feature is called Romantic Circles High School, a site built by and for high school students and teachers in collaboration with us—the development of which is being supported by a three-year, quarter of a million dollar grant from the NEH.

RC High School will include: (1) Electronic hypermedia editions of literary works of the Romantic period created specifically for the use of the high school classroom, with hypertext links, annotation, multimedia features, and introductory materials suitable for secondary education. (2) Online study tools: for example, a time-line of a single year in the life of Dorothy Wordsworth, keyed to entries from her diary, images and maps of the English Lake District, and William Wordsworth's poems. In each case, the tools will be developed to dovetail with the language arts and literature curriculum in specific schools. (3) The centerpiece of the project is an entirely new "virtual campus" constructed in Romantic Circles' existing MOOspace, called Romantic Circles High School.

The virtual high school building itself will be a large stone edifice (perhaps with statues in its niches of Shelley and Byron and Felicia Hemans, or Victor Frankentstein's Creature) with a long central hallway opening onto unlimited classroom space. We are developing a JAVA-driven Web interface, so that the MOO's text-based virtual reality will be accessible in Webspace, serving attractive fonts and images along with textual descriptions and conversation. This will allow users to encounter an image of the building, then go to a map from which he or she can navigate the halls of the school. Though one may find "objects" such as banks of lockers, a library, a playground, graffiti covered walls, and so on, the main purpose will be a series of virtual classrooms—which will be turned over to participating classes for decoration and the installation of special projects.

These special projects might include, for example, everything from Web page reports on a class field trip to London, the building of a virtual Keats house, the production of individual essays, or a text-based antique cabinet of curiosities programmed to contain "objects" from romantic period England. So besides meeting in and sharing and exploring the online space, the students will be able to participate in what might be called virtual "artifact handling": the active examination and studying of everything from an Aeolian harp (complete with image and sound), to a poet's rare manuscript or rough-draft notebook, to a nineteenth-century "Claude glass" (a special curved mirror for viewing and sketching "picturesque" landscapes like those of Claude Lorraine)—each teaching valuable historical and cultural lessons through student-driven interaction and questioning, an active engagement in the process of discovery.

Besides the virtual classrooms and other features I've named, the newly-built high school will also include a Virtual Teachers' Lounge, where teachers from around the country can log-in for real-time live communication, discussing assignments and curriculum ideas, posting queries to colleagues, holding impromptu meetings, and asking for or lending help on the teaching of literature. I want to emphasize that this will be a space open to all participating teachers, cutting across the existing barriers between secondary and higher education. A high school teacher in Chicago will be able to meet with and discuss the teaching of poetry with a university professor from, say, the University of California, and another high school teacher in Washington D.C. Occasional scheduled faculty symposia will encourage such interactions. There will also be a series of Virtual Offices, where teachers and selected and trained graduate tutors from around the country can meet, one-on-one or in small groups consisting of one or two students, for "MOOtorials"—concentrated tutoring in literary studies and writing.

As we look to the future, it is clear that educators will have to think beyond the Web as it currently exists. Using such online virtual spaces—however they develop in coming years—is one direction educational technology is likely to evolve. As we begin to experiment along these lines, we plan to do so in ways that break out of the isolated higher and secondary categories of such education. The point, in the end, is not the technology but the series of overlapping educational communities built around or enhanced by this technology. We believe that such an approach can radically change the relationship of a student to the material, between students and teachers, and among students themselves‹as they work together in a larger online community to build new forms of education, and to produce knowledge of the humanities for themselves and others.

We have already begun work with four pilot high schools in Florida, Maryland, Chicago, and San Diego. But one of the reasons I have mentioned the RC High School Project in this forum is that we would like to identify Romanticists who might be interested in participating in such a project. Please do let me know either here at the Conference or through email, if you are interested.

I'd like to move now to the presentations from the rest of the panel, beginning with Theresa Kelley and Richard Sha, who will be talking to us about the Romantic Circles Art Gallery. Terry Kelley is currently professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. In January 2000, she will join the English faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is the author of Wordsworth's Revisionary Aesthetics and of Reinventing Allegory, which won the SCMLA prize for the best scholarly book by one of its members in 1997. Terry is also co-editor with Paula Feldman of Romantic Women Writers, and she has written widely on the sister arts, Romantic aesthetics, philosophy, and poetics. Her current work includes a book-length study of botanical culture in Romanticism and essays on Romantic women writers.

Richard Sha is associate Professor of English at the American University. He is the author of The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism and is currently working on aesthetics and sexuality in Romanticism.

Our next presentation, which was co-written by Julie Shaffer, will be by Emma Clery, a British Academy Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University who is developing The Corvey Project Website, about which she will be speaking today.

Julie Shaffer teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and this year is also a British Academy Research Fellow working at the SHU Corvey Collection. She has published on Austen, Edgeworth, and Burney, as well as on many virtually unknown female novelists in the Corvey collection and is currently working on a book on illegitimacy in women's novels of the Romantic era.

The next presentation is by Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Thomas C. Crochunis, the General Editors of The British Women Playwrights around 1800 web project, about which they will speak. Michael is the founding editor of Romanticism On the Net, an electronic, peer-reviewed journal devoted to Romantic studies. He has published an electronic edition of Mary Shelley's "The Mortal Immortal" with Romantic Circles and several articles on the Shelleys, Hunt, and William Gibson. He is currently completing a study of Leigh Hunt.

Tom is an independent scholar, currently working as a communications specialist for the U.S. Department of Education research laboratory at Brown University. Since finishing his dissertation at Rutgers University, "Staged Reading: Theatrical Character in the Dramatic Poetry of Robert Browning," he has co-edited a forthcoming volume of essays on Joanna Baillie's plays and dramaturgy. In 1998, he was guest editor of a special issue of Romanticism on the Net on British Women Playwrights around 1800.

Our final presentation is by Kyle Grimes, Associate Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Alabama. Kyle has published numerous essays on such topics as the nature of literary language; censorship; printing and publishing history; and radicalism in literature. His electronic publications include a Bibliography of the Works of William Hone and an edition of Hone's The Political House that Jack Built, which appears on the Romantic Circles Website. He currently serves as Bibliographer to the Keats-Shelley Association of America and is working on a "BioText" of William Hone—a combined print and hypertext biography. He will be talking today about the romantics bibliography database he is bulding for Romantic Circles.

Return to the Digitizing Romanticism Homepage

Go to Kelley and Sha, The Sister Arts Go Digital: The Romantic Circles Art Gallery

Go to Clery, The Corvey Project: Collaborative Excavation of the Professional Woman Writer, 1790-1840

Go to Crochunis and Eberle-Sintra, Editing Electronically Women Playwrights of the Romantic Period

Go to Grimes, Beyond the Paper Chase: Building a Comprehensive Online Romantics Bibliography—A Progress Report