Bryn Mawr’s Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference, May 2017

cropped-blendlac_logo_resized-2Registration opens March 15, 2017 for the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference, held at Bryn Mawr College May 17-18, 2017. Our definition of blended learning is quite broad, encompassing many types of digital pedagogy projects. We invite interested LACOL faculty and staff to attend.

More details here: http://blendedlearning.blogs.brynmawr.edu/blended-learning-conference/

 

Read More

Digital culture and Cuba’s alternative Internet, student research at Swarthmore

Graffiti of national hero José Martí at a wifi hotspot (Photo Credit: D. Wertheimer)

By Daniela Wertheimer, Swarthmore College ’17

Wireless internet, or WiFi, arrived for the Cuban public as recently as 2015, and exists still in limited capacities for the regular public in 2016. The Internet and the concept of “networks” have become an important facet of economic, social, political and daily life for people globally. I conducted research on Internet and digital culture in the summer of 2016 in Havana, which is the metropolitan, political and economic center of the Caribbean island country. I spoke to a sample of young people living in Havana (millennials, considered those aged 18-35 for the purposes of this research) about their experiences with the Internet, and learned that there is a relationship between this group, the Cuban state, the city of Havana and “the globalized Internet.” More specially, I argue that

the Cuban state and its millennial demographic negotiate their values and needs by way of the urban internet geography of Havana. Through these spaces and relationships of negotiation, questions of urban and national identity are worked out.

My study aims to find new dimensionalities to the body of information available about digital and Internet culture in Havana, while giving weight to the idea of the city space of Havana. Cuba’s alternative Internet demonstrates that the line between physical and cyber worlds is entirely artificial, and perhaps offers a lesson in how technology advances public, private and political development. I hope to tell an important story about the surprising nature of a technology’s adaptation, generally speaking, as well as an important story about the relationship between the city of Havana and that which exceeds its physical limits. Perhaps most importantly, however, I hope that my research is able to illuminate certain characteristics of the Internet – its media, its content, and its materiality. (more…)

Read More

Digital Humanities for Undergraduates: Fostering Interdisciplinary Student Scholarship

Banner

In Fall 2016, the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges, comprised of Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps Colleges, launched their first Digital Humanities course, DH 150: Digital Humanities Studio. Under the leadership of Dr. Daniel Michon, the faculty director of the Mellon DH Grant and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, Eddie Surman, a Master’s student at Claremont Graduate University, and with the support of Dr. Ashley Sanders, Director of the Digital Research Studio, this course provided students an opportunity to collaborate with a professor to design and carry out original digital scholarship projects. One student group chose to recreate a portion of an ancient archeological site in Taxila, Pakistan in 3D and develop a virtual reality application for users to explore the site using the HTC Vive. The other group produced a georeferenced map of the archeological site at Sirkap in Taxila with a searchable and filterable heat map of material objects found at the site.

Interactive map created by students at Claremont Colleges
Interactive map created by students at Claremont Colleges

The second group was comprised of eight students, some coming from computer science, while others were humanities students. Their project, “Digitizing Material Culture: Explorations of Socioeconomic Distribution in Sirkap,” sought to determine if there was a correlation between room or house size and the number and variety of material objects found, and if this correlation could be used to draw conclusions about the socioeconomic status of inhabitants. While they concluded that there is, indeed, a correlation, they have not yet been able to make the link between this correlation and inhabitants’ “level of living.” However, their visualization project revealed several intriguing insights. For instance, they noticed that there were numerous sculptures in the Hellenistic style in the Apsidal temple, but the temple was used by Buddhist monks, and therefore, one would expect Indo-Parthian or Buddhist artifacts instead. They also found a high concentration of objects that were classified as “female” near Stupas and the Apsidal Temple, prompting additional questions for further research. While they were not able to accomplish all of their ambitious goals with this ten-week project, the documentation of their process and their machine-readable dataset are invaluable contributions to academics in many disciplines and to scholars of ancient Pakistan in particular.

(more…)

Read More

iPad Pro + Pencil as a Teaching Tool for Classics

bret2

At Haverford’s recent Teaching with Technology Forum, Associate Professor of Classics Bret Mulligan demonstrated a variety ways he uses an iPad Pro and Pencil as a teaching tool in his classroom.  As shown in the example below, recordings created with the Explain Everything app on the iPad can be easily shared with students online for later review.


SCREENCAST: B. Mulligan demonstrates the iPad/Pencil for a Latin lesson

(more…)

Read More

LACOL Hack-a-thon Toward a Collaborative Quantitative Skills Support Framework

light_maguirecrop

See also: QLAB project launch http://lacol.net/qlab-launch

This January, LACOL’s Quantitative Skills working group held a 3­-day intensive workshop (also known as a hack­-a­-thon) to explore a shared framework for review of online modules designed to strengthen students’ quantitative skills (QS) and quantitative reasoning (QR). The face-to-face event was designed by a core team of faculty and technologists from the QS group.  The workshop was hosted at Carleton College, with support from the Office of the President, Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, and Office of Academic Technology.

Click for the Slideshow
Click for the Slideshow

Goals for the LACOL QS hack-a-thon:

  1. Identify aspects of existing QS/QR curricula, frameworks, and methods to be adapted as an online module/program by participating colleges. The goal for the collaboration is to enhance, not replace, local offerings.
  2. Plan for participating campuses to pilot one of the frameworks and agree to a process for assessment and sharing results among campuses.
  3. Document workshop outcomes and recommendations to share with colleagues across the liberal arts.

Location: Carleton College

Dates: Jan 9-11, 2017 (live blogging)

Workshop Outline: click here

Special Guest: Jim Rolf, Shizuo Kakutani Lecturer in Mathematics at Yale University; lead for Yale Online Experiences for Yale Scholars (ONEXYS)

Workshop Participants: list

Background:

Throughout the year, the QS working group has been exploring ideas for a collaborative framework to curate or build online tools and resources – including metadata on related pedagogical practices – to support students with QS/QR. Earlier this year, QS group members contributed to a joint exercise informally titled “What do we mean by quantitative skills?” to generate a shared list of key skills across the quantitative disciplines that students will need to have or acquire early in their academic careers. This common skills list provides input into strategies for helping students identify and close gaps.
(more…)

Read More

Live from the LACOL QS Hack-a-thon at Carleton College (Jan 9-11)

Welcome! Here is a slideshow and live tweets from the #LACOLQS hack-a-thon, Jan 9-11 on the campus of Carleton College.

Colleagues with wide-ranging expertise and disciplinary interests from seven LACOL schools spent three days sharing, working and learning side-by-side at the hack-a-thon. Together, the team developed an initial draft and prototypes of a collaborative framework for creating/curating and evaluating online QS/QR modules that can boost students success and improve access. With inspiration from special guest Jim Rolf from Yale ONEXYS, we delved deeply into collaborative strategies for design, implementation and measuring effectiveness. A grand time was had by all … and more to come! (Read more about the project.)

  • Afternoon breakout  connecting Pomona colleagues to Carleton via Zoomhellip
    9 months ago Afternoon breakout ... connecting Pomona colleagues to Carleton via Zoom  #LACOLQS 
  • Getting modular LACOLQS
    9 months ago Getting modular  #LACOLQS 
  • Day 2 ! LACOLQS
    9 months ago Day 2 !  #LACOLQS 
  • Expert mingle! LACOLQS
    9 months ago Expert mingle!  #LACOLQS 
  • Next stop LACOLQS Hackathon carletoncollege
    10 months ago Next stop:  #LACOLQS  Hack-a-thon  @carletoncollege 
  • The incomparable J Russell at LACOLQS
    9 months ago The incomparable J Russell at  #LACOLQS 
  • Breakouts  headsdown work on topical modules in this casehellip
    9 months ago Breakouts ... heads-down work on topical modules (in this case, graphing)  #LACOLQS 
  • Welcome to colleagues joining remotely SF  LA for QShellip
    9 months ago Welcome to colleagues joining remotely (SF & LA) for QS hack-a-thon  #LACOLQS 
  • Problems problems LACOLQS
    9 months ago Problems problems  #LACOLQS 
  • Hacking the Qbits LACOLQS
    9 months ago Hacking the Q-bits  #LACOLQS 
  • Sharing our campus perspectives LACOLQS
    9 months ago Sharing our campus perspectives  #LACOLQS 
  • badges for Yales online summer bridge for QS ONEXYS LACOLQS
    2 years ago badges for Yale's online summer bridge for QS, ONEXYS  #LACOLQS 
  • Students perspective LACOLQS
    9 months ago Students perspective  #LACOLQS 
  • Yes we do LACOLQS
    9 months ago Yes we do.  #LACOLQS 
  • J Rolf shares insights from Yale ONEXYS LACOLQS
    9 months ago J Rolf shares insights from Yale ONEXYS  #LACOLQS 
  • Thanks to E Mistry and C Born in Carleton AThellip
    9 months ago Thanks to E Mistry and C Born in Carleton AT  #LACOLQS 
  • Packing a few essentials for the LACOLQS hackthon Jan 911hellip
    10 months ago Packing a few essentials for the  #LACOLQS  hack-thon, Jan 9-11  @carletoncollege 
  • M EblenZayas draws examples from Carleton CUBE to fuel collabhellip
    9 months ago M. Eblen-Zayas draws examples from Carleton CUBE to fuel collab  #LACOLQS 

Read More

Experiments in Virtual Reality at W&L’s IQ Center

wl

Students, faculty, and technologists at Washington & Lee’s Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center have been experimenting with virtual reality (VR) for a couple years, starting with cell phone-based VR systems like Google Cardboard. This year W&L upgraded to a dedicated VR headset, called the HTC Vive. These new VR headsets provide a compelling (and immersive) way to visualize and interact with content but there is very little educational content currently available, especially for higher education. This means that, for the time being, getting the most out of these systems requires either creating original content or adapting existing material to work in VR.

Fortunately, when it comes to visualization, many of the workflows for generating and manipulating 3D content such as molecular modeling, 3D animation, motion capture, photogrammetry, geographic information systems, 360-degree photography and video translate well to VR platforms with a little work and a healthy respect for the current limitations of the hardware.

According to IQ Center Academic Technologist Dave Pfaff:

Developing interactive scenes for VR takes a little more work and some specialized skills, but the potential for creating educational tools that facilitate active and blended learning at all levels of education are virtually limitless.

Faculty and students, including a group from W&L Advanced Research Cohort (ARC), have launched a number of explorations this year that are highlighted in more detail on W&L’s Academic Technology Blog, including:

  • Interactive structural biology models (catalyzed phosphorylation reaction)
  • Photogrammetry models of campus buildings
  • Laser scan model of a Wooley Mammoth
  • Crystal structures in 3D
  • “Grabbable” MRI scans of the brain from the “Glass Brain” project
  • Motion capture animation from a dance class


Clip from W&L’s virtual reality lab


(more…)

Read More

Digital Composition, Archives, and Environmental Justice

hyland1
J. Hyland, Photo credit: Rachel Hochberg
Above: John Hyland

Top: Broken Treaties exhibit (Photo credit, Rachel Hochberg)

Students in an environmental studies-based writing seminar at Haverford College recently completed a digital humanities project—Broken Treaties, Forgotten Archives: Philadelphia Quakers, Allegany Senecas, and the Fight for Sacred Grounds—through Haverford’s Special Collections that focuses on the politics of water, environmental justice, and Indigenous rights. In this first-year seminar taught by John Hyland, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Haverford’s Writing Program, “Ecological Imaginaries: Identity, Violence, and the Environment,” students interrogated how imaginings of the environment are inseparable from issues of social justice. They spent significant time studying the Theodore Brinton Hetzel Papers, a Haverford alumnus who, along with other Philadelphia Quakers, served on the Friends Kinzua Dam Project in the 1950s and 1960s, a project that collaborated with the Seneca Nation of Indians in a fight to stop the construction of a 179-foot dam on the Allegheny River in Warren, Pennsylvania. The dam, which was completed in 1964, flooded out the sacred grounds of the Seneca Nation, dispossessing them of lands that had been granted to them in 1794 by the U.S. Government.

On designing the assignment, Hyland says,

By preparing little-known historical documents for a broader online audience, students learned how to think critically about questions of literacy in a digital environment for the liberal arts. This project’s shift toward an online audience pushed students to consider how their work would be received beyond classroom, and they quickly felt that much more was at stake in their writing than the completion of a seminar assignment.

With generous support from Haverford’s library staff, including Sarah Horowitz and Michael Zarafonetis, students prepared a selection of materials from the archive for digital platforms and curated a public exhibition in order to tell this story of a fight for Indigenous rights, sacredness, and environmental justice. Through this multimodal project, students composed different genres of writing and learned about the rhetorical contexts for digital platforms. They completed annotations using Neatline, constructed a timeline, and composed labels to accompany and introduce the archival items while also producing prospectuses, annotated bibliographies, and articles. In completing this project, students sought to provide a historical perspective on current events such as the current fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. By the project’s close, students possessed a nuanced appreciation for the ways that archives illuminate contemporary moments.

Broken Treaties, Forgotten Archives timeline
Broken Treaties, Forgotten Archives digital timeline

(more…)

Read More

Testing interactive online learning modules for STEM

Blended modules cover topics such as trigonometry and statistics.

Starting in the fall of 2016, faculty at Bryn Mawr and seven partner liberal arts colleges (including LACOL member Vassar College) are field-testing faculty-authored online learning modules they have developed and refined over the past two years as part of the Blended, Just-in-Time Math Fundamentals program. Led by Bryn Mawr professor of physics, Elizabeth McCormack, the Math Fundamentals program tackles math review for students enrolled in introductory STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses. It is designed as a scalable, affordable method for helping students who are interested in STEM fields and generally college-ready in math, but who have areas of weakness or lack experience with applied mathematics, to build skills and confidence needed to thrive in introductory STEM courses.

For example, a student taking introductory physics will need to draw on trigonometry in order to solve certain types of vector problems. While most students encounter trigonometry at some point in high school math courses, the timing, breadth and depth of that exposure can vary considerably. To help these students, physics, chemistry and calculus professors at Allegheny, Bryn Mawr, Franklin & Marshall, Grinnell, Lafayette, Mills, Smith, St. Olaf, and Vassar colleges have worked with instructional designers to develop a “sandwich” approach to math review. Each module starts with a worked example of a canonical course problem — such as resolving vectors in introductory physics. This example identifies the fundamental math skills needed to solve the problem and provides links to online, interactive self-assessment and practice resources. According to the project manager Jennifer Spohrer, Manager of Educational Technology Services at Bryn Mawr:

These resources give students individualized feedback on their mastery of math fundamentals. Meanwhile, faculty, academic support staff, and peer tutors can review students’ work to provide additional assistance to those who need it. Students then solve a “do-it-yourself” version of the original problem to practice applying those skills in context.

(more…)

Read More

Education in the age of social media, student explorations

Prof. Alice Lesnick

Through four pivotal online media platforms, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, Professor Alice Lesnick, Director of the Bi-College Education Program, has invited her students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford to critically engage with these tools in order to understand how they play important, complex, and contested roles in education within and beyond classroom contexts. For each online media platform, a different guest speaker in Lesnick’s Education, Technology, and Society course spent time working with groups on learning one platform and applying this platform into the context of their field placement. For example, students who worked with high school students in a Philadelphia charter school read the Wikipedia entry on charter schools in order think about what needs to be added or changed. Prof. Lesnick noted:

The purpose of this project is to have students think more critically and creatively about their consumption and experience of online media so that they will become better decision makers and have the digital literacy to understand usability as well as the complexities behind these tools.


VIDEO CLIP

Bryn Mawr College Tech Talk: Education in the Age of Social Media


(more…)

Read More

Webinar: Carleton Cube Debrief (October 19)

Meeting:

Debrief on Carleton’s CUBE pilot (online summer bridge program for quantitative skills)

On October 19, LACOL held a webinar with special guests Melissa Eblen-Zayas and Janet Russell from Carleton College.  In this one-hour session, Melissa and Janet shared their experiences running the first iteration of the ‘Carleton Undergraduate Bridge Experience’ or CUBE, a new online summer bridge program designed to support entering students with quantitative skills and reasoning.  Carleton’s creative approach to developing CUBE riveted the audience at the June LACOL workshop as the pilot was just getting underway.  Now in this “debrief” session, you can hear all about what went into running the program in the first round, how students responded, and the lessons that were learned.  The meeting was held in Zoom with ample opportunity for Q&A and discussion.  Contact Liz Evans (eevans@haverford.edu) for more information.

Special Guests:

  • Melissa Eblen-Zayas, Associate Professor of Physics and Director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, Carleton College
  • Janet Russell, Director of Academic Technology, Carleton College

Related Resources:

Date:

Wednesday, Oct 19

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-2-22-05-pm

Read More

Digital Stories of Diversity and Inclusion at Haverford College

mnoda3
screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-4-21-06-pm
Above: Digital storyteller Manar Darwish

Top:  Image by storyteller Moeka Noda, Haverford ’19

Over fall break, a dedicated group of students and faculty at Haverford College spent three days developing their own digital stories, bringing together traditional storytelling and modern multimedia production. The experience was jointly sponsored by the President’s Office initiative on Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Academic Resources and Instructional Technology Services as a way to illuminate personal stories that reflect many campus perspectives. Each participant arrived to the workshop with at least one story that they planned to explore over the course of the workshop. Their task was to create a 3-5 minute video which featured a recorded voice-over and personally curated still imagery.

To begin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing Nimisha Ladva led a group discussion on various story arcs and how change agents can affect characters to ultimately provide some form of realization or epiphany. Breakout groups were formed in order to share stories and provide critical feedback. As one student reflected,

Sharing the story in groups and getting feedback were good experiences, and also were helpful to articulate my thoughts and elaborate my story. Also, I really liked the workshop’s small, relaxing community.

As the workshop progressed, Digital Media Specialist Charles Woodard and Instructional Technology Specialist Alexander Savoth guided the group as they assembled images and recorded their voice-overs using a suite of tools including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Audacity. Images were laid into a timeline in Adobe Premiere, synched to their recorded voice-over and keyframed to add the illusion of motion. Participants shared their work and received very positive feedback in a screening held on campus three weeks following the workshop. Students also shared reflections on the experience which are detailed on Haverford’s Instructional Technology Blog.

Additional resources:

Read More

About Davidson College

E. H. Little Library, Davidson College
E. H. Little Library, Davidson College

Davidson College seeks out intellectually curious students who are committed to developing their talents for lives of leadership and service.

Small classes enable our renowned faculty to work closely with students, engaging them directly in original research and creative work across the arts, sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In the classroom and beyond, Davidson cultivates students’ compassion, creativity, resilience, and moral courage.

(more…)

Read More

About Hamilton College

Hamilton Home SlideChartered in 1812, Hamilton College is a coeducational, residential liberal arts institution of approximately 1800 students, nestled among the foothills of the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Education in all its forms is the central mission of Hamilton College. The pivotal commitment of the faculty, administration, and staff to the intellectual and personal development of students is the College’s most important and enduring tradition. Hamilton’s curriculum reflects an appropriate respect for breadth and depth in the study of the liberal arts, while continuing its traditional emphasis upon oral and written communication. The fundamental purpose of a Hamilton education is to enable young men and women of extraordinary talent to realize their fullest capabilities, for their own benefit and for the world in which they live.

(more…)

Read More

Exploration of Blended Course Offerings for Upper Level Mathematics

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.53.29 PM
Prof. Stephan Garcia, Pomona College
Assoc. Prof. Stephan Garcia, Pomona College, co-lead of the LACOL ‘Upper Level Math’ project
(with Assoc. Prof. Steven Miller of Williams College, pictured above)

Update on Phase II: http://lacol.net/hu-garcia-math-stats-pilots

In September 2016, a team of mathematics faculty, technologists and instructional designers from six leading liberal arts colleges (LACOL member schools Amherst, Haverford, Pomona, Swarthmore, Vassar and Williams) are launching a new collaboration to explore blended course sharing for select topics in advanced mathematics. The goal of the project is to experiment with models for shared course delivery which can supplement residential classroom learning and expand curricular offerings for math majors. Inspired by some independent experimentation and brainstorming between faculty team leads, Assoc. Prof. Steven Miller at Williams College (pictured above) and Assoc. Prof. Stephan Ramon Garcia (pictured at right), a group of six mathematicians from across LACOL began talking about possibilities for a multi-campus collaboration in early 2016. These conversations eventually led to a full project proposal which gained strong support from LACOL’s Faculty and Administrative Advisory Councils. The project was officially approved in July 2016 as a two-phased initiative. In the first phase (academic year 2016/2017), a feasibility study is planned which will execute several experiments and “proofs of concept” involving online/blended course elements such as lecture capture, online coaching and problem solving sessions (synchronous and asynchronous) and peer mentoring. With support from the multi-campus project team, these efforts will be spearheaded by Miller at Williams College in connection with his Spring 2017 ‘Problem Solving’ course. In phase two (academic year 2017/2018), findings from phase one will be brought to bear in a pilot course offering, ‘Real and Functional Analysis’, taught by Garcia. In a fully realized vision, the course would be offered both face to face at Pomona, and also opened virtually to interested students at all LACOL campuses. Local faculty and support contacts at each campus would help ensure students experience the best aspects of on-campus and on-line liberal arts learning.

Since mathematics faculty at all LACOL schools already teach a variety of advanced topics, this project will investigate how online/blended sharing may expand access to a richer array of options to meet student interests.  Miller notes:

While liberal arts colleges excel in engaged faculty and personal interactions with students, we do not always have the course offerings available at larger institutions with graduate programs. Though often our students are ready for such classes, at each institution there are practical limits to offering them every year. Our goal is to increase the wealth and frequency of the advanced classes our students need, both for graduate study and to delve deeply in the subject.

Launch of the ‘Upper Level Math’ project has stirred excitement across the Consortium.  The math team’s work is seen as an opportunity to collaboratively experiment with emerging online/blended pedagogies that might be useful in a variety of disciplines. It is also a chance for the schools to explore related policy issues of faculty and student credit in the context of online/blended course delivery and consortial partnerships.  In considering these issues, the team will draw on experiences from peer institutions and other consortia who have been investigating these new models in a variety of ways.  Swarthmore College Professor of Cell Biology Liz Vallen, who evaluated the project in-depth as a member of LACOL’s Faculty Advisory Council, commented:

This [project] seems exactly aligned with LACOL’s goals as it is leveraging the consortium to increase course offerings and availability at partner institutions. The other big benefit of this work is that it is a concrete example that will be a great pilot experiment to see if this is something feasible and beneficial within the LACOL framework.

(more…)

Read More

Faux Epistolary Travel Novels: summer in Philadelphia with the Early Novels Database

END_1
The Early Novels Database (END) Project creates super-rich metadata to help researchers imagine new histories for the novel.
Early Novels Database metadata helps researchers imagine new histories for the novel.

by Caroline McArdle, Williams College ’18

I learned about The Early Novels Database when my English professor, Emily Vasiliauskas, told me about a joint END/LACOL effort to include more undergraduate students through summer internships. The project offered a unique combination of scholarly research available to undergraduates in the humanities with an introduction to a rapidly emerging sector of my own field I knew very little about. Throughout the summer, I worked with peers and mentors from Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library, Haverford College, and the Tri-College Digital Humanities initiative to gather metadata on early English novels. The experience acquainted me with the breadth and depth of works beyond the traditional literary canon. It also provided me with a rare opportunity to learn unfamiliar skills in the digital humanities in the context of my own discipline.

The daily routine of paging through dozens of never before cataloged early modern novels might seem repetitive on the surface. In practice it acquainted me with a new way of close reading distinct from what I was accustomed to in my academic courses. I learned about preservation and handling techniques essential to maintaining special collections and preserving aging works. I became fascinated with the question of the book as object. Specifically, I was interested in books which had been physically torn, annotated, or stitched together, and books which comprised edited compilations of other works. One of the most interesting examples of alteration to the book as object is the popular 18th century practice of binding together periodicals received over a subscription period to form one larger volume. Certainly, there is a sense of continuity or comprehensiveness, even status, that comes with a complete set of matching volumes, a gilt-edged collection of encyclopedias. I wonder whether at least a portion of the appeal of this completeness might have been the pretense of omniscience, or appearance of omniscience, it conferred on the owner.

At one time, owning a complete set of encyclopedias might have connoted possession of nearly all officially recorded, general knowledge—a possession that, in the digital age, is simultaneously impossible in physical form as information is constantly generated, and accessible to everyone via the Internet.

The practice of interacting constantly with dozens of rare books gave rise to my final project, Imagined Distance: Visualizing Place and Space in Faux Epistolary Travel Novels. I had the opportunity to peruse a variety of epistolary novels. Many of the characters wrote to one another across divides of cultural and physical geography, age, gender, and class background. My project focused on how epistolary novels ignore, honor, or attempt to collapse those distances: geographical, emotional, or even spiritual. I sought to contrast and quantitate, when or if possible, the various types of distances in a novel as the author conceived of them with the distances I could map through various digital tools that use a standard Mercator projection. I used a corpus of literature that eventually organized itself around a particular subgenre, one both oddly specific and widely published in the 18th century.

This genre, faux epistolary travel fiction, emerged as a way for Europeans to read about the adventures of primarily non-white travelers–except those travelers were actually white British writers impersonating people of color.

What I found so interesting, even alarming, about the faux travel fiction trend in particular is that it creates and then purports to collapse a fictional distance from the dominant culture that the writer does not actually have to negotiate in the first place.

I used the intentionally blunt tool of mapping out locations I noted in the novels, noticing which details fell off the page. I was particularly interested in those distances that defied my attempts at modelling. After completing close readings, I used the Stanford Name Entity Recognizer tool to identify locations in the novels I’d selected. I created in Google My Maps a map of each of the novels, with their geographical references displayed on a standard Mercator projection map, and I used Google Fusion Tables as a further tool for exploration. I brought together my newfound facility with digital tools and my love for geography in literature in a final public presentation supported by faculty and my peers. Examples of the maps I created can be found at the top of this post and below.

Figure 2: Visualization of place names from faux epistolary novels.
Figure 1 (top) and Figure 2 (above): Visualizations of place names from faux epistolary novels.

(more…)

Read More