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Reception and Advertising Benito

I realized two things as I began researching “reception history” of Benito Cereno: the first, that there is more critical reception of Herman Melville than a given person could ever attempt to consume; the second, that Melville was well-enough known that the reception of his work stretched beyond the typical discourse-based response to it. In the first vein, I initially attempted to read the text by thinking about how East-to-West migration of ex-slaves would have affects interpretations of the text, into criticism regarding homosociality and race, but I found a lot of this either predictable or as not quite connecting to the text in a way that I thought would be stimulating for the purpose of the project. This however led me to the second area of my research, which I used for my annotations, which was trying to examine how advertising, visual, and print culture “received” Benito Cereno.

I originally began combing through old newspapers in search of local reviews (in particular, a review I saw quoted in a different paper which compared Melville to Hawthorne.) My searches for “Melville” and “Benito Cereno,” did not yield results regarding my intended search, but they did pull a bunch of hits for advertisements for Putnam’s Magazine, and for The Piazza Tales. This led me to start considering how advertising and print culture was linked to the capitalist and imperialist critique’s held within the writing itself, and considering how the way the story was advertised—the visuals, rhetoric, and locations of these ads—laid the grounds for a more subtle effect on its reception. From there, I began to focus on interpreting more tangible aspects of the text itself. For example, finding where each of the 3 sections of the original text started and ended as they were printed in Putnam’s, and imagining how that would have affected a reader or critic’s reading of the text. I also considered how the other texts published around it in Putnam’s would have contextualized, and thus shaped the text. As we have been discussing the relationships of a given text to different mediums of reading/writing and the discourse around and upon it, this seemed like an important thread of reception that would, to an extent, form the basis for any other reception of it.

Ultimately, this alerted me to an advertising and print culture which Melville was writing directly into; it served partially as a reminder that one of the ironies of Benito Cereno is that it is both a political questioning of American capitalist preservation through slavery, as well as a reminder that his writing itself participates in the capital endeavor to fund his arts and free speech. Advertising also called into question whether or not the scholarly or critical reception I was searching for was mutually exclusive to these advertisements and listings. As part of the broader printing context in which Benito Cereno would have been greeted by the public—majority of whom I assume were not reading it critically—through these advertisements, which rarely include anything but a list of titles and a brief and vague comment. The advertisement below, which was published in tons of newspapers reads at the bottom, “A book of our author’s happiest style; it has been admired by all who read it as it passed through the press and we believe that it will be a favorite book.”


Such commentary does nothing to draw attention from the reader to the book’s content, but it does create a framework of excitement with which to approach the book. The self-creation of reception in this case still exists with literature, but with the lack of other contemporary criticism I wonder if the effect is felt more severely on the reader.

Working in a group and working on Manifold worked well for the purpose of this project. As a platform, Manifold was pretty flexible and leant itself as an excellent surface to annotate the text. I will say that a frustration I faced was in the separation of resources from annotations. While the resources could be given a long caption or analysis in itself, they existed very separately from the text, (it comes up as the icon of a box and when clicked opens a pop up of that resource, but when you re finished looking at the resource, it brings you to the very top of the story.) This was frustrating for me as I wanted to insert clippings from newspapers that I was finding within the text to bridge narrative and rhetorical analysis to issues subsisting in the visual print culture in which the text would have initially been read by the public. I also sometimes put my annotation as a caption for the resource, which made me unsure that my contribution would be understood as an annotation by a casual reader. The annotation side of Manifold is much more natural if a bit bare-bones; it does not allow for hyperlinks, images, italic or bold font, etc. which give scholarly annotations some life. I also couldn’t figure out how to see annotations by all authors besides scrolling through and manually selecting annotated passages. I felt like this made it harder for me to collaborate with my group members, because I had to work really hard just to see what and where they were annotating. Visually, the platform is beautiful, and easy to work with—especially in that everyone in the group could be admins and do work independently and with equal control on the text. I noticed that this project was collaborative on larger decision-making moments, but less collaborative on the actual getting-down-to-work part. Our email chain and google doc were really useful in re-affirming directions individuals were heading in, and creating an intertextual collage on the back-end of our final product, although at the end I felt like the annotations I created (as well as the annotations other group members created) were unique to their own lens of research and analysis. The synthesis of these things on a shared platform with collaborative background communication is definitely exciting to see come together on the Manifold Platform.

In terms of self-reflection, I feel like it took me a little while before jumping into the project as I spent most of my time exploring and learning the platform and then navigating how I wanted to approach researching and writing my annotations. My group took the approach of diving in and finding lots of different resources and compiling them into a word document, but I personally tend to work better when I have a specific lens or goal in mind. My initial approach in looking up traditional criticism of his work wasn’t very satisfying, and I wasn’t finding it very exciting to read criticism and then insert it into the text. This lead me into looking into the boundaries and repercussions of critical reception through the more everyday medium of visual print and advertising culture of newspapers. Taking the time and embracing the process of finding my way down this route over a week of research probably led me to have fewer annotations than I should have, because the time spent writing was spent instead working through archives and oftentimes hitting dead-ends. Regardless, it was a fun exercise in opening up a new area of inquiry not only for my reading of the text (and hopefully other people’s through my annotations!), but also into what I can considered “reception,” and why.

Mapping the text; “texting” the map

Our group set out to create an annotated edition of Benito Cereno using maps to situate it in social, historical, and postcolonial contexts, and to reveal what the narrative itself leaves “off the map”. As the project progressed, the concept of the map as metaphor–whether a means of geolocation, of representing history, or conferring identity, or of claiming some kind of physical, psychological, political, aesthetic, or linguistic space, among many possibilities–took over. We discussed using text to annotate a map, or using maps to annotate text. A map contains a multiplicity of meaning, depending on who made it and who is looking at it. It’s no wonder, then, that even with a central idea governing our project, we each have used “maps” as a jumping off point into different territories and concepts around what annotation is and what a map, or mapping, can be. Like annotation, mapping is a critical intervention. In some foundational way, is the text a map? What can a text map? What can’t it map? Benito Cereno was published serially. Does a text (or map, or annotation) have to exist in a centralized space, or can it be distributed across virtual and historical spaces? I think our multifaceted group project, in various ways, poses these questions, and attempts to answer at least some of them.

I chose a fairly orthdox approach, using maps and images, for the most part as contemporaneous as possible to either the setting or the publication of Benito Cereno, to provide historical background for words, places, and other elements in the first-published section of narrative that are part of an unwritten subtext of trade, colonial occupation, and religious and cultural violence. Finding and vetting such material is time consuming; using it to annotate a text requires additional framing by way of explanation or analysis.  It was fascinating, however, to discover items like a hand-drawn chart of a mid-19th century voyage from Boston to San Francisco around the perimeter of South America. This very real ship made much of the same route as the fictional San Dominick was first purported by Don Benito to have taken. Although Captain Delano had most recently been trading in China, his ship was a “sealer” based in Boston; I sealing expeditions from Northeast cities often went to the areas around the Falkland Islands to hunt. That chart could easily reflect previous voyages of the Bachelor’s Delight. Maps enable a diachronic visualization of history, real or imagined; geolocating a point in time is also a form of annotation.

Mapping Benito Cereno using Story Maps

The second group assignment called upon the class to create an annotated edition of Melville’s Benito Cereno.  We had been informally practicing this over the last few weeks by publicly annotating the text using hypothes.is.  I’ve enjoyed the overall experience of social annotation and look forward to future exploration of using annotation to explore material more.  However, after this culminating annotation project, I don’t think I’m any closer to have contributing to a formal annotated literary text, but I do think I was able to explore and play with the affordances digital humanities tools provide, most specifically Story Maps provided by ArcGIS.

First, I want to address my role in the group work.  I was absent from class the day the assignment was first introduced, and missed the opportunity to share with the class any initial thoughts I had about themes or approaches to annotating the text, but I did receive the detailed instructions from Jeff and chose to join the group that was focusing on the mapping aspect of approaching annotations in Benito.  I took a mapping course this past summer and learned to use ArcGIS and Story Maps from a scientific approach and I was interested in seeing where I could take my new skills and apply them to reading of a text within a more humanities based discipline.

The group had some email discussion about how we would collaborate and what we would do with our text.  We settled on trying out Basecamp for our project’s management and I was an eager supporter of this because I had been meaning to identify an opportunity to use Basecamp for a project and am happy I got the chance through this project (thanks, Lisa for arranging this!).  There was some back and forth within Basecamp, but the group decided that as we did not have a unified vision for how to move forward, we should probably meet in person to discuss, so we met up before last week’s class.  We moved a little closer towards a shared vision, but we still left it very open to interpretation.  Essentially, we decided that two members in each group would take one part of the text originally published in Putnam’s Monthly in October, November, and December, 1855.

Segment 1: Kat / Lisa
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=msu.31293020757120;view=1up;seq=359
Segment 2: Lauren / Jenna
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=msu.31293020757120;view=1up;seq=465
Segment 3: Raven / Anthony
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=msu.31293020757120;view=1up;seq=639

We decided to continue using hypothes.is with the tag #BennyTheMap and address “what’s missing from Melville’s work.”  When annotating in the wild during the previous assignment, I was very interested in the context for where this story was first published: Putnam’s Weekly, so I annotated a bit about originally.  In retrospect, I wish I had pursued this more directly and mapped the missing context of the other items published in the same issues of Putnam’s that Benito was released in, but I really became obsessed with the mapping component of this and pursued identifying scholarship in response to Benito.  I found several articles through a Google Scholar search (as I wanted to find material that was available regardless of academic affiliation) and I thought that I would try and identify scholarly articles and use the map to geolocate where the scholarship was being published (i.e. which academic publishers) and where the scholars were located (i.e. academic affiliations).  After gathering this information and beginning to think about how I wanted to use different annotation tools, I revisited Story Maps (there was some early group discussion about each using different tools, but when we met in person, we decided for convenience to keep using hypothes.is, but when it came down to it, hypotehes.is was not going to work for me, so I deviated).

I intended to create my own map and locate the scholarly article and link out to them on the map, but when I started playing around in Story Maps, there were all kinds of freely available projects that mapped different aspects of the Slave Trade and I decided to use those as my annotations, while also including links to the scholarship I found (and I should mention that this scholarship was chosen purely on the ease of access through a Google Scholar search and has not been critically curated).  To stick with the agreement I made for annotating in hypothes.is, I have annotated the section I was assigned by linking out to my Story Map.

In summary, it seems I’ve deviated quite far from what the group decided, but I don’t think that’s too detrimental as we left it somewhat open to interpretation (besides, I got to use a new collaborative tool, Basecamp, so that’s a win for the collaborative process in my opinion) and I did use maps which was a very important part of the critical approach we decided to take.  Please check out my map below (hoping it embeds properly) or by going to this site.

Annotation Assignment Thoughts.

For the project, we each focused on a subset of the theme of ‘a critical history.’ Following our own personal tastes, each member conducted individual research pertaining to their intended focus (e.g. contemporary reception to Melville’s piece, readings from alternative backgrounds). My focus began as the critical interpretation of slave narratives in relationship to the novella but, as my reading progressed, it developed into a more abstract look into how critics have approached the relationship of history and “Benito Cereno” and how Delano’s historical narrative has been progressively undermined by literary readings over the last few decades of criticism. While our annotations should ideally flush out this research, it suffices to summarize that the rising critical awareness of the injustice of slave revolt trials can be seen at play in the frequent omissions and alterations witnessed in Melville’s adaptation of the legal document that concludes the novella. Rather than serving as a ‘true’ interpretation of events, the document has been denigrated by criticism into yet another example of obscurity, power, and race dynamics, only this time being revealed more in our ‘real’ codified histories rather than fictional narratives.

Having time to evaluate the project, I hope I express a shared feeling of greater ease when comparing this product with the audio-book assignment. While, obviously, this assignment required personal effort and a sizable degree of critical thought, the fact that we were ultimately collecting and displaying available research seemed to reduce the critical burden. In creating the audio-book, the sheer question of ‘how?’ seemed to be overwhelming; our decisions would ultimately limit the possibilities of production and possibly entail critical interpretations that we would not be able to divine until likely too late. Yet, for the annotation assignment, one did not feel such a ‘burden of choice.’ True, we were ultimately limiting ourselves with our selections. (What if I had not chosen to use Coulson’s essay on slave narratives? My annotations would have gone a different route. A new edition would have existed.) But, our selections would not limit the reading itself. The benefit of annotations is that they exist in the margins, that they are not direct impediments to our traditional routes of reading but, rather, accessories for the reader to use, or not use, as they may.

Complementing this relief was our selection of publishing: we decided to use Manifold for our annotations. As the application hides annotations and resources until a user chooses to engage with them, our annotations took on a more laissez faire aspect. What if the critical insights I provided were haphazard? The reader can simply ignore. What if someone knew a critical argument that made this theory unfounded? They could simply reply. Such an ephemeral nature of annotation, while understandably open to abuse in a public setting, relieved even the financial and personal costs of a traditional annotated edition. It permitted us the freedom to simply “play” with the readings of the text, comfortable that we were simply engaging, not providing definitive readings.

Manifold Critical Responses to “Benito Cereno”

It’s hard to throw a polished hatchet around without hitting someone familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s line that the medium is the message. And our group began this project thinking that Medium would be our medium. We loved it for its unstuffy, modern feel that invited conversation—real social reading. But, our lens for the project was critical responses over time, a focus perhaps better suited to a more intentionally academic platform. After a brief experiment with MIT’s Annotation Studio (which had some useful hypothes.is-esque features such as tagging), we found Manifold—a gem of a close-reading environment largely fashioned by CUNY’s Digital Initiatives group. We loved it for its elegant design, ease of annotation, and, perhaps more vital to our intent, the ability to connect multimedia resources both directly in the text as well as outside of it.

Looking to uncover a broad swath of critical opinions, we each chose interest-driven angles such as Travis’s legal slant and Patrick’s psychological one. Culling responses from 1856 to 2014, our annotations formed something of a social dialogue over time, revealing as much about the critics as the story itself. The responses sometimes differed radically with one another challenging the seemingly authoritative nature criticism and suggesting, perhaps, that, just like reader marginalia reveals much about its writer, so too critical responses reveal much about the critic’s times—not a ground-breaking thought, but one brought to the fore through our process.

Both our individual choices of what critical strands to follow and the critical responses themselves hearkened to Schact’s thoughts about power of collaborative annotation that can “build community, empower students to speak, and underscore the inherently collective nature of creativity and interpretation.” Our findings also supported Barthes’ ideas in that the Text generated by Benito Cereno across these 160 years truly has a unique relationship with the sign: the relationship between Melville’s signifiers and the seemingly signified changed significantly through the decades. The sheer variety of critical responses suggests that this Text has unlimited symbolic, stretching even beyond the knowledge base of Melville who both did not directly understand the Muslim identity of the slaves about which he wrote and could not have had a 20th-century understanding of mental illness or queer theory.

My particular focus, driven by our in-class discussions, was to investigate black and white responses for different audiences over time: an 1856 review in a women’s magazine under a female editor, a white man writing for the New York Times in 1927, an African-American critic writing in the Journal of Negro History in 1956, and Greg Grandin and Toni Morrison writing in the Nation in 2014.

Two of those responses were particularly profound, both on their own and juxtaposed. The first was from Herbert L. Matthews, the white, male reviewer writing in May of 1927 for the Times who was giddy about the publication of a new, stand-alone edition of Benito Cereno, complete with powerful illustrations. Matthews pitches the story solely as a thrilling, maritime mystery, not once mentioning anything about race despite the illustration that accompanied the article: an exaggerated image of a knife-wielding, mid-revolt slave, with others menacingly in the background. While slavery, at that point, had been legally abolished for over 40 years, the Times had since been covering the legacy of enslavement: horrific accounts of lynchings and the push for anti-lynching legislation. In fact, it had covered such topics over 20 times in 1927 in the months before Matthews’ review. His blindness to the racial dimensions of the plot, let alone the undercurrent and context of the tale, is fairly astounding. As a critic, Matthews is, in many ways, Delano—a perhaps well-intended liberal missing the reality of racial struggle around him.

In sharp contrast, Sidney Kaplan, an African-American male writing thirty years later for the Journal of Negro History, not only addresses the racial implications of the story, but takes head-on Melville’s culpability in perpetuating a dehumanized view of the black world. Kaplan points to Melville’s decision to elevate to near martyrdom the real-life, and by legal reports, morally bankrupt Cereno, kowtowing more to a public fear of slave insurrections than to whatever abolitionist tendencies he might have displayed in Moby Dick. Though literally a century separated their writing, Kaplan and Melville both were writing a decade before decisive events in American racial history, and both experienced the fomenting struggles. In such a parallel time, and while still praising Melville’s writerly craft, Kaplan indicts Melville as a near contemporary. For a tale that in many senses ends with the words “the negro,” BC’s reception by the Journal of Negro History, is both aware of Melville’s text and context, as well as its own, and that awareness makes the conviction all the more poignant.

The wide range of critical responses begs the question, who is the implied reader of Melville’s text? A commercially desirable one? One who, like the Times reviewer, is hungry for a good mystery regardless of moral implication (which, by its original serialization in 1855’s holiday season, certainly seems plausible) ? One who is looking for a political commitment, just years before the Civil War, to either abolition or enslavement? One looking for a lesson on human nature, like those in the tales of ancient storytellers? More than what’s truly going on in the San Dominick, that may be the real mystery of Benito Cereno.

To see our project, make an account at https://cuny.manifoldapp.org

 

Playing novels: some thoughts about Ivanhoe

Katharina asked the very useful question last week, after I suggested that one or both groups might choose a substitute for the planned Billy Budd: what makes for a good text to play via Ivanhoe? Here are some thoughts on that score:

  • you can “play” virtually any fictional narrative (or even historical event, legal debate, etc.): as long as there are an array of different personae to inhabit, the play will work.
  • shorter is better: in my experience, the game works best in groups of 4-7, to allow for a range of different personae and to give a sense of the text as a whole. As I joked in class, Russian “doorstop” novels have too many characters and too much plot complexity to work well. Novella-length is great, given the time constraints.
  • public-domain is always nice but less necessary here: we are transforming these texts and thus can “publish” our work in the open under “fair use.” So the only downside is the expense, potentially, of getting your hands on an in-copyright text.
  • interesting publication history: if you dig deeply enough, almost any text has a rich publication history on some level, but it’s nice to think about texts that occasioned some kind of vivid debate, or had unusual itineraries through the publication process, or otherwise teach us something about the production/consumption/distribution of texts.
  • As I mentioned in class, the Bedford Cultural Edition series has a few 19thC texts that have rich publication histories, are of manageable length, and are chock-full of the kinds of cultural materials that would enhance your play.

For an example, check out the site in which my honors course at Hunter played Charles Chesnutt’s The Conjure Tales last term. As you can see, both teams played the same text but with different emphases and different “paratextual” characters. The fun of the game emerges through the interactions, in which players, much as in improvised music or theater or dance, have to listen to one another in order for their expressions to mesh with the whole. Of course your play will look very different, but I think these students did great things with the project.

Benny the History Pin Map

Map of publication locations of Benito Cereno

I am in the maps group with Anthony, Kat, Lauren, Lisa, and Raven, but it’s possible that my project relates more closely to the reception history group. I became interested in Benito Cereno book covers (rather than focusing on some element of the second installment of BC, as originally published in Putnam’s Monthly, which is what I had planned to do) and decided to try mapping them using History Pin, which I learned about from my library’s Digital Scholarship Librarian, Madiha Zahra Choksi.

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Annotation and Epistolarity

Just at the beginning of his article, Jones points out “as long as there has been writing, there have been readers who follow along and ‘write back.’” It caught my attention sent me to Blair’s discussion of note-taking and her reference to linking it to different forms of communication and inscription (newspapers, diaries, lecture notes,) and Bush’s argument that note-taking’s primary use is in referencing and informing discussion. We have followed these principals in our use of hypothes.is, and we’ve discussed how our social annotation creates a dialogue, and a Barthesian reading through writing. Because the nature of annotation as presented by all as a dialogue, I was prompted to think of how annotation intersects with the epistolary genre. The most obvious is that their primary medium shares a signifier, “note,” as well as in the corporeal acts required to create them—the typing to function “memex,” and the friction of pen on paper—but more so that correspondence is inherent to both genres.

The two genres share a distinct relationship with transmission and documentation. Blair’s piece is ultimately concerned with transmission, and she addresses that the “note” in “note-taking” is one that is grounded in a desire to converse with a text or an author, and that the desire to read other people’s annotations—typically scholars or experts—is useful in informing the reader of conversations, albeit fragmented ones. While she addresses that these are pragmatic, academic uses (more akin to “memex” in Bush), what sets note-taking apart is “thought and expression” and “personal memory on paper” (99,106). This deeply human aspect doesn’t at all deviate from the epistolary genre: texts are often written ephemerally; they are fragmented both in writing, and historically, in lagging or interrupted delivery; authors pick and choose what they wish to address based on the content of interest from the initial letter; and they represent conversation between one author and another who’s natural and required response to reading is writing in return. Furthermore, their mediums share a signifier: the “note” can be the scribble in a margin, a grocery list, a telegram, a diary entry, or a letter. Blair uses the terms “thought and expression” and “personal memory on paper” to describe note-taking, but in my opinion they fit in even more organically with letter-writing, or perhaps note-making.

This emphasizes the call-and-response nature of the note, but also the note’s form as being both independent of, but intimately linked to the text is responds to. I first think of archives of letters which may only have one side of the correspondence. In this situation, lacking the other half doesn’t render them null, but rather emphasizes the role of response as a valid and fulfilling means of approaching a given text. Another example are annotation editions of texts; Ulysses Annotated does not contain the written prose of Joyce’s novel, but rather dedicates the pages solely to dissecting the book’s allusions in its own separate body. This publication comes off not as inherently epistolary but as one with coded language, saying to Joyce, “hey, we figured your riddles,” and separately to its compatriots in reading Joyce, “we got your back.” These independent bodies of annotation slide into Bush’s examination of the “record” and the role of the machine in storage and transmission. In these cases, the note itself becomes the archive of conversation. But the engineered machines that Bush conceives of with “memex” technology is actually better suited for the longer-form, independent, more epistolary note-making rather than the marginal annotation. In my experience, at least, it’s pretty difficult to annotate on a computer without additional programs (like hypothes.is) which allow you to do so—and it’s worth pointing out that programs devised by this construction are, in themselves, a practice in notation through a language of codes written between electric signals.

Creating this metaphor for myself continued to solidify the conversations we’ve been having around social annotation both as a way of communicating with a text and author, as well as with each other. Blair’s mention of the diary format, an epistolary medium, for note-taking against the robotic and photo-textual methods in Bush against the contemporary and pragmatic suggestions in Jones emphasized communication among texts and readers as critical to comprehension. The differences across them reminded me of the non-teleological nature of note-taking as it is embodied by any style of notation—hypothes.is or (oftentimes) letter writing. It also causes me to wonder what value it might be to approach annotation as a project in more literal letter-writing (though, I guess that’s what we are doing in [what Jones would agree are useful] blog posts)—framing annotations as directed explicitly toward the author, the text, other readers, and myself as figures that will respond and converse based off of contributions and engagement, as opposed to the single-word side note, symbol, highlight, or other scribble.

Public Annotation as a Tool, not a Solution

For this week’s reading I centered my thoughts on Jason B. Jones, “There are No New Directions in Annotations”, with particular interest to how public/digital annotation carries on a tradition of learning pedagogy and comprehension of literary materials, whilst also balancing the responsibility of digital pedagogy, an action described by Jones as “the critical approach to canonical  work”. How can (if possible) these two polarizing notions meld and encourage students to feel more empowered in the classroom?

While idealistic in his argument, what Jones does not consider are the systemic silencers that have historically pushed marginalized voices away from feeling represented in the classroom and learning process. To collaborate in such formats might encourage deconstruction of texts within the traditional literary cannon, but does not consider students as independent creators of knowledge. It also does not consider the social construction involved in collaborating to offer bodies of knowledge that has historically been left out of consideration into academic settings. How do we being to plant the seeds to empower students to feel voiced in the classroom in an way that engages with positive deviance?  To be able to achieve the goals Jones describes, would require a radical deconstruction and social training that recognizes the disparity in cultural productions in academia, rather than pour down information and texts to students, with limited engagement and comparison that draws from other texts. While Hypothesis and other annotation tools are incredibly useful in engaging with material, it fails to cross-engage students across texts, and does not foster students to provide much outside of it’s contents unless provided by facilitators in the learning process. The concept of seeing one’s self in any cultural medium can have impact beyond which can motivate students to incorporate these digital tools into their learning process to create the change Jones explained, but they are also not required to achieve this.

Collaborative Close Reading, by Danica Savonick delves into what public annotation might look like in paper form within the classroom. As she describes, most of he students have not had experience in being expected to annotate in a traditional style, which makes this version of written/public annotation a way to introduce students without the intimidation of dropping a new tool on them with the expectation to produce thought in a specific matter. I was most struck by the use of handwriting, which is arguably a dying skill and expression of individuality, and the inherent practice of what it means to share a physical space with peers in the classroom. 

The beauty in this work in rooted in understanding the dismantling of power dynamics in the classroom, while providing a framework of direction to give students a foundational set of knowledge rooted in interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship. She states, “In most of the classes I’ve taught, the first step is always teaching students how to annotate: how to notice the peculiarities and perplexities of literary language in its efforts to estrange readers and push us to think differently about the world”. This again reflects the structural process of engaging students with openly criticizing texts presented to them in the traditional literary cannon and the beauty that comes from students and educators fostering an equal production of wisdom and learning. Even in the simplest comprehension the vividness of colors, coding, written word, and community engagement are calling back to a history of oral tradition, and visual knowledge that is so often overclouded in the framework of the illusion-ed concept of what is traditional in any literary context.

Digital Shakespeare Anthology

While reading Blair’s work, I noticed how she left out footnoting as a form of notetaking. I searched the text for the term, and it does actually appear, in a footnote! But she doesn’t spend any time discussing the implications of the footnote in literature, which struck me as odd, because I rely so heavily on them particularly when reading Shakespeare. And then it was Jones’ piece that got me to thinking about annotation in Shakespeare. Which brings me to the focus of this blog in how might we create a digitally open Shakespeare anthology environment that brings together the scholarly conversation afforded by annotation, but further, provides the opportunity for users to link articles, explanations, imagery, sound, and discussion on elements of Shakespeare’s work not to be limited to theme, symbolism, contextualization/historicity, biographical information of the author and characters (the ones that lived at least) and verbiage.

 

When I got to the part in Blair’s article about Francis Bacon saying “I think… that in general one Man’s Notes will little profit another, because one man’s Conceit doth so much differ from another’s; and also because the bare Note itself is nothing so much worth, as the suggestion it gives the Reader,” I shuddered. Fortunately, she goes on to explain that using others’ notes was and is quite common and has value, but for the sake of this project, how great would it be to include Shakespeare’s own notes to be read in tandem with the plays and sonnets? Those that have been archived could easily become part of this effort and could really help the user get an in-depth justification of what is being read.

 

I think my favorite part of this would be the possibilities for annotation of artifacts related to the symbolism and themes within a text. For example, in Hamlet, Ophelia’s flowers that she hands out after she goes mad represent different emotions and representations of the characters. When she gives King Claudius fennel, it was because these flowers were believed to ward off evil and thus, that King Claudius is evil. Imagery of the flower and information explaining this interpretation could be provided that make for a richer digital experience than just reading Hamlet on a screen.

 

Furthermore, in college, I did a project on Jewish mysticism in The Tempest. Bits of the story that relate to the Kabballah and the Talmud (the second time this week we’re discussing the Talmud!) could send the reader off to any number of sources. Being able to make digital connections between the text and what Shakespeare was saying beneath the words is a very exciting concept to me.

 

Jones recollects being in Santa Cruz and exploring alternative-metered poems of Robert Browning. Couldn’t Shakespeare’s sonnets be played within a similar way? And also explained and elaborated upon for the reader. And read aloud (the audiobook project “layers” Sabina discussed during the presentations come to mind). Not to mention, the sonnets (and the plays) use language quite playfully and multi-definitionally. Annotation that explores this aspect would really bring the work to life.

 

And to have this project open-source, in that it could be added to by anyone, makes it participatory and inviting. But Anthony’s point about a fine balance in his blog between the “laws of Wikipedia” and the fear of fake news from non-creditworthy sources is a concern. I guess that is something I will have to muddle over. But the implications for the livelihood of Shakespeare’s work, and the pedagogy therein makes me think this would be something really valuable to work on. And really, this could be done with any writer’s work, I just happen to be engulfed by all of Shakespeare’s universal wisdom.

 

Art, music, live performance, recitation, these are all things that could be part of a digital anthology. Maybe this is already happening and I missed the boat… let me know if you know of something along these lines! Bush quotes “The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected,” and I think that nicely summarizes my vision. And if I am going to quote, I may as well throw in the big guy himself: “All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Such is the case for a digital Shakespeare anthology.