Tag Archives: Karen Bourrier

Teaching the Dramatic Monologue

By Karen Bourrier

If your syllabus looks anything like mine, at least once a semester you’re dusting off your Tennyson and Browning skills and teaching the dramatic monologue. My personal favourites to teach are “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover” (Day One) and then “Tithonous,” “Ulysses,” and “St Simeon Stylites” (Day Two).

This semester I decided to do something a little different. I have the privilege of teaching my Victorian literature class in one of the fancy new classrooms at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. My 40-person class has six big touch screens, and as a result we’ve been able to do a lot of hands-on work in small groups leading into discussions with the whole class.

In the past, on Day One I’ve introduced the dramatic monologue in terms of Robert Langbaum’s classic argument that we both judge and sympathize with the speaker. (The Duke is so evil! But so compelling!). Then, on Day Two, I introduce Cornelia Pearsall’s idea that the speakers of the dramatic monologue may not be bumbling fools, but might be well aware of the aims of their own rhetoric. (What if St Simeon is in on the joke that you can’t ask to be made a saint, especially by whining about the 30 years you’ve already spent atop that pillar).

This semester, in introduced a new component. We used Prism, a tool developed by graduate students in the Praxis Program at UVa that allows classes to crowdsource interpretations of a text. Students highlight portions of a text as falling into one to three categories (or facets) designated by the instructor. Then, Prism collates all of the highlights to see how most people categorized each portion of the text, which should lead to further discussion.

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Prism allows collaborative highlighting of texts.

Prism works really well when you want students to highlight for two or three specific concepts, which is exactly what I wanted for my lesson plan on the dramatic monologue.

On day one, I asked students to highlight passages in Browning where they felt sympathy or judgment for the speaker. Starting with textual annotation and close reading actually led to a much more balanced discussion than I’ve had in the past when I’ve posed the question of whether we sympathize or judge Browning’s speakers. (I don’t think many students have outright sympathized with the Duke since the 1950s when Langbaum wrote his study.)

We then did two short mock trials, in which the Duke and Porphyria’s Lover stood accused of murder. One group stood as jury, and other groups were assigned the defense and the prosecution. It seems a little silly, but it was really fun, and all the same points came out that would have in a lecture or discussion. (Thanks to my colleague Anthony Camara for the mock trial idea!)

On day two, we used Prism again to highlight Tennyson, this time for sympathy, judgment, and comedy (shorthand for self-aware, motivated rhetoric), following Pearsall’s argument. Each group worked on a different dramatic monologue and was responsible for presenting their findings to the class. The groups also read portions of their assigned monologue aloud two different ways: as if the speaker is giving away more than he realizes (Langbaum) and as if he is in on the joke (Pearsall). Reading the dramatic monologues aloud helped a lot.

Many more students have decided to write on the dramatic monologue for their final paper than has been the case in the past, so I think this was a successful lesson. We’ll see tomorrow, when we tackle “Locksley Hall.” Am I the only one who has vivid memories of being an undergraduate and not understanding at all what was going on in that poem?

Floating Academy: The Transatlantic Digital Moonstone

the title page of the Moonstone shows an illustration of a naval scene.

The Moonstone, Harper’s Weekly, 1868-05-23. Image digitized by Melanie Radford, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Calgary Library.

By Karen Bourrier

In my senior seminar on “The Victorian Bestseller,” we’ve just finished a big class project. When I found out that our Special Collections at the University of Calgary holds both of the periodicals in which Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) was originally serialized–Harper’s Weekly in the U.S. and All the Year Round in the UK–the opportunity to get students into rare books and thinking about the material culture of the text was too good to pass up. In conjunction with Special Collections, the assignment I devised asked each student to take on one of the thirty-two parts The Moonstone originally appeared in, and to compare and contrast its publication in Harper’s and All the Year Round. Students selected and annotated about half a dozen images from the periodicals–which could be anything from advertisements, to illustrations, to the articles and fiction that appeared alongside the novel–to make an argument about the difference the publishing context makes to the reading experience. They then used Omeka to mount a digital exhibit showcasing what they had found in the archives. Our class archive now explores 13 out of 32 parts of the novel, leaving room for another class to try this project again.

The results were fascinating. Students found everything from advertisements for diamonds to articles on the colonies and knots and riddles–important contexts for a mystery story about a gem stolen from India! This project was both more work, and I think more rewarding, than the traditional research essay for all involved. It was only possible because of the tremendous support we had from Annie Murray, Kathryn Ranjit, and Catelynn Sahadath at the University of Calgary Library. Here are a few of my takeaways from the project:

  • This project required a lot more organization on my part as instructor. I started planning with our Head of Special Collections, Annie Murray, back in July, and it took a lot of co-ordination to book time for students in rare books, the digitization studio, and in a special metadata session. By contrast, I just wrote the prompts for our final research paper in an hour yesterday afternoon.
  • The project also took more time. We spent two class sessions on learning about Omeka and metadata, and I held extra office hours in case any technical problems cropped up for the students. Amazingly, other than some images being very slow to load, we didn’t have a lot of technical problems. But this also wasn’t a project where I felt comfortable just handing out the assignment and seeing what students turned in. (Actually, after having spent several years teaching writing, I don’t do that for essays either, but that’s another story!)
  • Having a small class size (in this case thirteen students) was essential to the project’s success given the organizational challenges and demands for time. I haven’t yet figured out how I would do this with a larger class (for example, one of our Victorian literature survey classes that typically have 40 students). Suggestions?
  • Although the technology turned out to be pretty easy for the students to navigate in the end, it was harder for them to complete the project without seeing an example. Many of us know what a successful essay looks like, but what does a successful digital exhibit look like? Hopefully, the next class won’t have this problem, since there are now many successful examples in our class archive!
  • Many students found the project more meaningful than essays they’d written in the past. In our final wrap-up session, several students commented on how this project felt like it meant more since it was for a public audience online, and not just their professor reading it. They even asked me to let them know if they’d “done anything wrong” so that they could fix it. I’ve never had students ask to revise their papers for no extra credit before!
  • I always build in the potential for anonymity when I require digital projects, but almost no one ever takes me up on it. One of the biggest thrills for students was seeing their projects indexed in a Google search, and students were also happy to have me tweet about it.

I want to stress that I still think writing research papers is essential to our discipline–my class is just starting to write their final research papers now. But it was a lot of fun to do something different, and it stretched both me and the students in new ways. Even if they’re not digital, I’d love to hear about assignments you’ve done in the Victorian studies classroom that depart from the traditional term paper. Let me know in the comments!

Floating Academy: Teaching the Yellow Nineties Online

Screenshot of the homepage of the Yellow Nineties Online.

By Karen Bourrier

A couple of years ago, Connie introduced us to The Yellow Nineties Online, a project edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff at Ryerson University dedicated to producing a TEI-edition of late Victorian periodicals including not only the Yellow Book but also periodicals like the Evergreen and the Pagan Review. Since that post, I’ve used The Yellow Nineties Online in two of my courses this past winter term (we don’t even pretend to call it a spring term here in Calgary!), and I thought it would be a good follow-up to blog about my experiences in the classroom here.

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Floating Academy: Twitter in the Victorian Studies Classroom

By Karen Bourrier

For the past few semesters, inspired by Joshua Eyeler’s post on “Teaching with Twitter; or Adventures in Student Engagement,” I’ve had a social media participation component in my classroom. I’ve now used Twitter at all levels, from the freshman writing seminar to the graduate classroom. It’s worked well in all of these settings, but I think I’ve had the most success at the 400-level, with third and fourth year university students studying Victorian literature. The reason for this success, I think, is two-fold. One, third and fourth year students are sophisticated and engaged enough with literature that they get the possibilities of the medium immediately: they use Twitter to respond in real-time to plot developments (there’s a madwoman in the attic!), to comment on versions of Victorian texts that have entered the cultural mainstream (Please sir, can I have some more?), and of course, to raise questions for class discussion. The second reason for this success, I think, is that third and fourth year university students are not yet too worried about formulating identities as professional literary critics on the web, which leaves room for a freewheeling discussion.

What I enjoy most about using Twitter in the classroom is finding out more about my students and what they think about the works we’re reading early on in the semester. I learn about their sense of humour and the many ways they encounter Victorian literature in popular culture. I also find out who the really smart but shy students are early on, since they will Tweet, but not necessarily put their hands up in a class of 40. (Incidentally, our class Twitter stream is also a pretty good gauge of who is keeping up with the reading!) In my class of 40, which is something in between a seminar and a lecture, social media fosters some of the bonds that would come from a smaller classroom. I also assign a Storify, where a student archives the Tweets from one day’s class, in lieu of a seminar presentation. This serves as a record and a study guide for the final exam.

The odd student won’t complete the Twitter assignment. That’s okay, it’s only worth 5% and won’t kill their grade. When I started this assignment, I thought more students would want to remain anonymous, and though I have the option written into the assignment, I have yet to have a single student take me up on it. If you are interested in seeing what we’ve done with Twitter, you can take a look at our Storify archives for Early Victorian Literature here, and Late Victorian Literature here.

I’ll post my assignment below. In the meantime, I’d love to know, have you used social media in the classroom? Was it successful?

Twitter Assignment for ENGL 449

The social networking site Twitter has gained tremendous currency over the past few years as a place where academics and professionals can learn and share ideas. To spark our class conversations and keep them going throughout the week, everyone in the class will tweet a minimum of six times a week (three tweets per class). We will use the hashtag #ENG449 to keep track of the tweets. The only guidelines are that your tweets must be respectful and relevant to the class. Your tweets could include 1) a question or an observation about the reading 2) a quotation from the reading 3) a response to a tweet 4) a link to a relevant resource (scholarly article, film adaptation etc.). Each student will also be responsible for creating a Storify narrative of the tweets from one day’s class, due before the next class, which I will post to our course website, and which everyone can draw on to generate ideas for papers and to study for the final exam.

Because Twitter is public, I encourage you to put your best, most professional foot forward in your tweets. You can follow your classmates and me @kbourrier, but I also encourage you to follow people in your future career path. It will be easiest for everyone in the class to link Twitter identities with classroom identities if you are comfortable using your name and a picture of yourself as part of your Twitter handle, but this is not required. If you choose to be anonymous, let me know what your Twitter handle is so that I can give you credit for participation. Students who complete the Storify assignment, the minimum number of tweets (78) and whose tweets show engagement with the texts can expect to receive an A- (4/5), with an A+ (5/5) being reserved for exceptional engagement.

Adapted from Josh Eyler, Rice University: https://josheyler.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/teaching-with-twitter-or-adventures-in-student-engagement/

Floating Academy: NAVSA 2014

By Karen Bourrier

The banner for NAVSA 2014, http://navsa2014.com.

The banner for NAVSA 2014, http://navsa2014.com.

Along with other Floating Academy bloggers, including Daniel Martin, I’ve just returned from NAVSA 2014 in London, Ontario. It was a wonderful conference as always, and we all owe a huge thanks to Chris Keep and the conference organizers at Western. I realized that I have now been attending NAVSA for ten years. Where did that time go? I attended my first NAVSA as a graduate student and observer back in 2004, when it was at the University of Toronto. As a Canadian, I have to say that it’s great that NAVSA, the North American Victorian Studies Association, is in Canada every three years or so. Little did I know in 2004 that NAVSA was a young organization at the time, founded in 2002. This year, the presidency was handed over from the inimitable Dino Felluga to Marlene Tromp. As I remarked to a grad school friend, we pretty much came of age in the profession as NAVSA did. Now that I’m a few years out of grad school I value NAVSA not only for the intellectual exchange but also as an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and scholars I’ve met throughout the years. Though, as I noted back in 2012, it’s a big conference, and if you want to make sure you see people it pays to make plans for coffee or dinner in advance!

A few trends that I noticed at this year’s NAVSA were many papers touching on animal studies (including Gillian Beer’s keynote), the great popularity of Dickens (even more so than George Eliot) and the increased presence of social media. But, rather than trying to summarize the whole conference myself, I thought I’d do something different and make a Storify of all the tweets. Enjoy!

Interview with Karen Bourrier at VSAWC 2014

By Reba Ouimet

At the 2014 Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference in Banff, Alberta, we had the opportunity to interview several notable Victorian scholars about their research on community. The conference was held at the Banff Park Lodge on 26 and 27 April, and it revolved around the topic of Victorian communities. We sat down with Dr. Karen Bourrier at the conference and asked her to speak about her contributions in the area of community involvement. Dr. Bourrier’s research focuses on disability and masculinity in the Victorian novel, and she was very interested in the theme of the conference due to the intersections between her community outreach work and her research:

Not only do I have a public outreach project right now, Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts, but my whole research project was actually inspired by my work in the community to begin with, before I began [my dissertation]…. When I was in high school, … and all the way through graduate school, I was involved in working with people with disabilities in the community, so while I was at Cornell, I worked with the service for community living, which was a great experience and really inspired me to look at how disability had been represented historically, and so when I was turning my dissertation into a book project, I really felt it was important to share my findings…. I realized very quickly that I could gain a much broader public audience by doing this work digitally. So that’s how the project was born; … it’s kind of about community outreach [at] both ends.

Dr. Bourrier’s own research project, Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts, is an interdisciplinary reader comprised of primary texts, objects, and artifacts related to disability in the nineteenth century. The scholars contributing to the project are from Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, and all are in different stages of their careers. The contributors have taken “various artifacts and annotated them and introduced them to a public audience to help people gain an appreciation for the different niches that disability found in nineteenth century society” as part of an effort to show that disability was part of public discourse in the Victorian era.

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We also asked Dr. Bourrier about the role played by students in her project, as well as if she had any advice for students who hoped to become engaged with the community. Dr. Bourrier’s enthusiastic response was heartening for graduate and undergraduate students alike. While she initially believed that the Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures and Contexts project would involve established academics reformulating previously published work for a broader, online audience, she was happily surprised at the extent to which students became important to both her project and her community outreach work. She stated, “students who have not yet placed their work in a scholarly journal are using the digital reader as a first venue of publication…. It’s great for the graduate students, who are able to get their name on this original research and get it out there much faster than a traditional journal would allow.” Dr. Bourrier espoused the virtues of the digital humanities community, describing it as an extremely welcoming and open, in contrast to traditional scholarship, and she encouraged young scholars to ask questions and get involved as early as possible.

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If readers are interested in learning more about Dr. Karen Bourrier’s project, they can visit its website: nineteenthcenturydisability.org. In the second video clip, above, she mentions the value of THATCamp for community building and skill development. To find out more, visit the Humanities and Technology Camp website.

Floating Academy: Digitizing Nineteenth-Century Women: All or Nothing?

By Karen Bourrier

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait
Gallery (NPG x128457)

Over the past couple of years, my attention has been caught by new projects that digitize the letters of Victorian women writers. I’d like to share two of them here, The Olive Schreiner Letters Project and the Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge. To me, these projects fulfill the best promises of the digital humanities, to make texts by marginalized writers freely and widely available.

The Olive Schreiner Letters project makes almost 5000 letters of the feminist and socialist writer, best known for the novel, The Story of an African Farm, freely available online. The letters, held in 16 archives across three continents, have been transcribed, double-checked, and marked up in TEI. The editors describe their impressive workflow here. (For more on the technical aspects of editing a digital edition of letters, see Miriam Posner’s helpful blog post, How Did they Make That?). Similarly, Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan, and Helen Schinske have collaborated to offer for the first time the unpublished letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge, carefully transcribed and double-checked, as an antidote to the partial information we have had about this popular mid-Victorian woman writer. I wish this archive had been available a few years ago while I was writing a chapter on Yonge, and can only say that it has already proven helpful to me in contextualizing women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century marketplace.

I would love someday to digitize the letters of the Victorian woman writer who has caught my imagination, Dinah Mulock Craik. However, as these projects make clear, to digitize her correspondence would be a massive undertaking, perhaps best taken on by a collaborative group of senior academics. This kind of project aims for a completeness and a totality that can be intimidating. For a long time I thought it had to be all or nothing: either digitize every known letter or throw in the towel. Then, another project on a nineteenth-century woman, Documenting Teresa Carreño, by Anna Kijas, came to my attention. This project, which is currently in process, brings together fascinating objects like theater bills and tour maps, as well as the letters of the Venezuelan singer and composer.

Seeing this project made me wonder about another, more provisional possibility. Why does it have to be all or nothing? Why not put together an archive excerpting some but not all letters and perhaps also including objects ranging from a YouTube performance of one of Craik’s poems to a cabinet card photograph. This could be a repository of interesting items that I’ve found but have not yet fit into a more traditional scholarly format.

I’d be interested to learn if others have run into a similar dilemma with their research. Have you ever had an “all or nothing” moment with a project? What artifacts have you run across in your research that don’t fit into a traditional scholarly format, but could perhaps be shared in another form? What is the value of doing something more provisional with research, or of sharing research online before it is complete?

Karen Bourrier

Dr. Karen Bourrier is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Calgary. Dr. Bourrier received her PhD from Cornell University and has previously lectured at Boston University. Her research interests include the Victorian novel, gender, disability studies, the history of medicine, and women’s writing. Dr. Bourrier has published articles in journals such as Prose Studies, The Victorian Review, and Dickens Studies Annual.