News & Notes


We're Done (for now) (5/23/08):
This semester began as an experiment in collaborative learning.  With twelve students willing to follow (virtually) blindly into this morass, the class took on an adventurous spirit.  By the final weeks, the students were creating the content with their presentations on Shelley's The Last Man.  Each student brought his or her own specialties to the presentation and widened our understanding of this apocalyptic, queer, classical and existential novel.  In August 2008, I will present about TechnoRomanticism and our pedagogical experiences at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism international conference in Toronto, Canada.  Below is the initial abstract but I have much more to incorporate over the coming Summer months.  It was a thrill to watch this experiment unfold and the frustrations/fears of students abate (somewhat) by the course conclusion this week.  Since students were responsible for creating their final projects as a website using Google's Page Creator, they are responsible for maintaining and sustaining them for other students to ogle.  They are, however, all ALIVE and viewable from the Student Projects page.


TechnoRomantic Anxieties: Our Hideous Progeny
to be presented at NASSR 2008, Toronto, Canada

Dr. Katherine D. Harris

At the publication of Lyrical Ballads� second edition in 1800, print technologies were just beginning a great upheaval that would change the production of the book and consequently, the commodification of idealized and monastic authorship: The wooden and iron handpress give way to the platen and cylinder printing presses. Handmade paper becomes mechanized with a later conversion from rag/linen paper to wood pulp that causes the cost of paper to drop by half. Illustration processes become more elaborate, eschewing the wood engraving for the metal plate and eventually the color lithographic process. Type punches are still created by skilled craftsmen but the work of casting letters into usable type doubles in production by the 1820s. The invention of stereotyping allows printers to free up their type (their main capital) to perform multiple jobs in a single day. Copyright will not be updated until 1842, and international copyright will not protect British authors for another eighty years. All of this innovation in print culture makes available an avalanche of reading materials for Romantic-era audiences, as has been discussed by William St. Clair and other book historians.

However, Romantic scholars do not necessarily have access to all of this cultural material and must rely on libraries, archivists and, only recently, digital editions and archives. With this shift to the digital, Alan Liu and Jerome McGann, among others, have proffered that current information technology represents a version of Romanticism. Similar to the Rosetta Stone or even Borges� "total book," the Web has become a venue for expanding cultural knowledge. But why use Romanticism to help students, even scholars, understand current innovations in technology? Is it the assertion of self or loss of individuality; the change in literacy; the alteration of symbolic language; the revision to publishing; the oversaturation of the visual; the shift in capitalism and industry; the decimation of the natural environment? This list makes Romanticism seem like an antidote to our current technology-dependent culture. Before we can talk about the Romanticizing of technology in our twenty-first century, we must first consider the technologies contemporary to Romanticism � primarily the technology of the book. These technologies shaped the commodification of authorship as well as print distribution. In studying these technologies, scholars and students gain an understanding of the cultural moment as well as participate in the same type of creativity that the Romantic authors experienced: not the monastic creative moment that is so often touted about our Romantic authors but the collaborative, textual rendering of literature.

In an effort to capitulate this collaborative culture, I am asking fifteen graduate and undergraduate students to participate in an environment that will wade through technology (and the inherent anxiety) as it is apparent in Mary Shelley�s Frankenstein. In an effort to reproduce the cultural moment, we will move through the semester in the style of radial reading, a literary multi-tasking that we perform so well today. Each week will require students to read only a few chapters of Frankenstein; however, at the same class meeting, other texts will also be introduced to explicate, exonerate or complicate these chapters. In this way, students will be just as inundated with texts as Romantic audiences. In the spirit of Mark Phillipson�s Romantic Audience Project wiki, students will create a new edition of Frankenstein by annotating, linking and collaborating using Google Apps, a collaborative digital space that resists proprietary software � similar to copyright debates of the early nineteenth century � and mimics the collaborative nature of Romantic literature. Using such online resources as the Romantic Chronology, NINES Collex, Thomas Carlyle Letters, Blake Archive, Rossetti Archive, Poetess Archive and many others, students will gain an understanding of literary production. By the end of the semester, students will have replaced this ideal, utopic Romantic author with collaborative models that they themselves participate in � students become agents of Romanticism. For this presentation, I will address not only the Romanticization of information technology in the twenty-first century but also the groundwork laid by the Romantics� revolution in print culture as seen by the primary audience for this study, our "cool" students. Since NASSR occurs after the conclusion of this course, I will also be able to provide insight into using new tools and a curriculum that is more familiar than we think.


Update to Google Groups

We began the semester attempting to use Google Groups.  However, that application has some major issues that restricts updates to the Reading Schedule or editing any other documents that were placed in the Group.  For this reason, we've ditched the Google Groups except for the Discussion Board, which we'll use for Reading Responses and Reflective Blogs. It's difficult to predict the perils and pitfalls of technology. 

We documented our first day in the Digital Session with some images that we left on Picasa.  Here's the result:

Introductory Note (1/23/08)
Rather than my usual static HTML course web pages, I have begun experimenting with Google Groups, Google Docs and other Google Apps as an alternative collaborative learning environment.  Working in the SJSU Incubator Classroom in Fall 2007 allowed me to really integrate collaborative tools into a graduate course (PBwiki, Moodle, blog & discussion forum).

This semester, my undergraduate course is gaining valuable expertise in using these new collaborative tools.  What better course to experiment in than TechnoRomanticism! The Google area will not be public while we are working through the semester.  However, it's my hope that we can reveal our (Post) Postmodern version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by the conclusion of the semester.

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