Center for Teaching and Learning Summer Seminar: Great Works of Literature Cohort Project
Close Reading and Annotation Skills
Annotating/doing close-reading when reading on web pages
Most close-reading guides tell you to “start with a pencil in hand and annotate the text as you read.” How might this be done if you’re reading online? How might different online settings or devices change the age-old practice of annotation? These are questions that came up for me when I read articles online for the seminar last week, and so I was interested in thinking about close-reading and reading comprehension in the online context.
Word documents can be annotated using Track Changes, or they can be annotated using any systematized method you choose. For example, many magazine or newspaper editors prefer, instead of Track Changes, to insert comments in square brackets inside the text itself, often putting it in bold so it is easy to see. PDF documents can almost always be annotated (not if they are scanned images of printed out documents, though). You can highlight, underline, and write notes in bubbles in the margins. What if you are reading an article on the web, though?
Here is a link to a list of web annotation systems: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_annotation
I just spent 15 minutes playing around on scrible: http://www.scrible.com/why (free basic version allows for 125 MB of storage; free student/teacher version allows for 250 MB), and here’s my first annotated webpage: http://scrible.com/s/2HO20.
Here are some other links to annotation applications:
Annotating PDF documents: http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/04/try-crocodoc-for-collaboratively.html#.U6L_jy8ozSA
Annotating PDF, Word, and Image files from a web browser: http://groupdocs.com/apps/annotation
A sample close reading assignment: Sketching the Scene in Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”
- familiarize students with literary critical terminology
- encourage playfulness and creativity in a low stakes assignment
- get students in the habit of commenting on each other’s blog posts in a substantive way
Step 1: Read the poem at least twice.
Step 2: Wordsworth takes great pains to set the scene in the opening stanza. What does it look like to you? Using either pen/pencil/markers on paper or using any drawing software, draw what Wordsworth describes in the opening stanza.
Step 3: Load your drawing into a blog post and include an artist’s statement. What was difficult about choosing what to draw? What aspects of his description were more straightforward, what aspects were less clear? What choices were difficult to make? Why? What about the poem made those choices difficult?
Step 4: In class: discuss the tension in the poem between the physical world and the inner world, the senses and feelings.
Step 5: Back at home, write a second artist’s statement describing your drawing again, but this time in relation to the poem as a whole. In this statement, make sure to make use of at least three literary critical terms (i.e. repetition, line break, rhyme, personification, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.).
Step 6: Go somewhere in the city that means something to you. Make sure it’s someplace you’re returning to – someplace you’ve been before but not recently. Keeping Wordsworth’s poem in mind, write a poem about the experience of returning to a place that means a great deal to you.
Step 7: Write a poet’s statement. Describe your poem and the choices you made, using literary critical terms. You might also choose to compare your poem to Wordsworth’s.
Step 8: Read your classmate’s poems and comment substantively on at least 5 people’s poems. In your comments, make sure to use literary critical terminology.
Oral Presentation Skills
In my Great Works classes, the last two days of the semester are devoted to student presentations. The presentation is a combination of analysis and performance. Students build their oral communication skills with each small project and finally can use all skills in the final presentation. Students evaluate each other and write a self-assessment paragraph after presentations.
Pre-Presentation Readings on Effective / Dynamic Speaking Skills:
Effective Oral Communication: This PDF is for instructors, retrieved from BLSCI files but developed elsewhere. It has workshop questions built in, so an instructor can either use it to lead a workshop, or allow students to work on this as groups, or as individuals online.
A Guide to Oral Communication: Produced by BLSCI, this PDF is useful to distribute to students. It helps them think from early on audience, voice, and organizing their oral presentation.
There are two important rubrics that I attach to my syllabus, a grading rubric and a speaking rubric.
Here is a PDF of the oral communication rubric, also developed by the BLSCI team.
Here is a useful Speaking Skills assessment forms to distribute to students so they can fill out while their classmates present. Instructors can adjust as they see fit:
The most useful Ted Talk for building confidence is this one by Amy Cuddy on Power Postures and speaking.
Amy Cuddy: Body Language
With Great Works of Literature, we are dealing with ancient literature. These written texts were once put to memory and performed. The significance of poetry, performance and memorization is an important discussion in my classes. We play a memorization game, in which students memorize at least six lines of an ancient text and perform it. They are encouraged to not recite quickly from memory, but to attempt at performing it, meaning putting some emotion and meaning behind the selected verses. This assignment has had some beautiful results. For example, an international student performed Jason’s lines as he pleads with Medea in the last scene of Medea.
We begin class with one or two memorizations and all of this is meant to move away from technology completely and rely on the rhythm and rhyme of the epic poem to guide the narration. This assignment is mainly for poetry or drama.
I usually ask them to watch this TED talk on memory and we look also at the Method of the Loci, which is an ancient Greek memorization method. It is simply to think about the significance of memory skills in building communication skills. This semester my students were rather competitive with each other and were able to go well beyond six lines. The longest was seventy-five lines.This counted as participation. Participation makes up 20% of their grade and we have two self-assessment moments to see how they would grade themselves. It was a good opportunity for students to think about how they were contributing to the class. For an online setting, these self-assessments would be useful.
Archive Project: Digital Remix
This is a model for how this assignment could work, but it is quite flexible and very open to adjustments.
This archival project is designed to engage students in either a ENG2800 or 2850 class specifically within an online environment through digitized archival work. Students are here asked to create their own digital archive based in a text (or texts) we’ve studied in class, and post that archive project to a blog. (It would certainly be possible to make this a group work project and/or have a more involved posting process– students can be required to make a tumblr of their archive, for instance).
Assignment Details and Objectives: The digital humanities, in its openness and accessibility, has created a unique opportunity to research and teach through a more transnational lens that spans across time periods. This assignment aims to expose students to the transnational possibilities in the study of literature through this vast online network, while also exposing them to the meaning and purpose of archives more generally. Students will also have the opportunity to include other texts, visual art, music, sound, performance, tv clips, movie clips (and more!) into their archive. Learning about these other forms of media is intended to expand and reorient students’ understanding of their primary text. Creativity is emphasized here! Students should ‘think outside the box’ in the materials they source. As well, this assignment is intended to get students to do ‘fieldwork’ in New York, and perhaps see and think about their city differently.
Example Breakdown of Course Requirements: Students will create a digital archive both through images taken from the internet and through images they create and capture themselves. This example of how to breakdown the assignment aims to emphasize both ‘fieldwork’ and a global perspective.
1. The archive should include 8 items (this is an estimate, and it’s quite possible that more items or less items may work better depending on the course!) The student will be working with one “primary text” and all of the archived items will relate to this primary text, thereby creating a network of ideas.
2. Maximum two of those items can come from the same time period as the assigned text. Thus a student working on The Odyssey, for instance, can include an image of an Ancient Greek stage and an image of an Ancient Greek statue, but all other materials must come from different cultural contexts and/or different time periods. This is because this project is intended to take advantage of the digital humanities to reach across global context.
3. At least 3 of those items must be digital images taken by the student, and the student must visit at least 3 different settings to source these images. (A digital camera or phone would be required here.) In other words, the student could, for example, take 1 photo from the Guggenheim, 1 from an archived text at a library, and 1 from the MET, thereby fulfilling the requirements.
4.The remaining 5 images can come from the web and/or also from these (or other) physical sites.
Writing Component: Each archived item must be accompanied by background information as well as an explanation of the item’s connection to the primary text, and this should be at least 250 words. Citation info for each image is also required. Whether these archived items are from the web or from physical sites, they must reach across cultural and/or temporal boundaries. For instance, if a student were assigned The Odyssey, their connected archive items might include an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, an image of Asian art that evokes for the student a theme in The Odyssey (for example), a photograph of a Greek-style column on a building in NYC, etc. Ultimately students will have an archive that brings together text and image in a global context, and perhaps this can lead to a more in-depth essay project. This could then also be the basis to a f2f presentation, again depending on the course and instructor’s preference! I also think it would also be really interesting to require students in an online forum to respond to one another’s archives.
Potential Resources for this Archival Project: Students have free access to museums across the city, and sources do not have to come from museums, so students need not spend money. Here are some suggested sites for research:
- The MET: here specifically is the Ancient Greek archive, and here’s an example of thinking globally in a museum’s context,
- The Asia Society
- Museum for African Art (this links specifically to the educator’s guide)
- A guide to Chelsea’s free galleries
Assignment: Q&A Vlogging Post
Tag-Teams will be comprised of two students. You will each come up with two questions about the text for each other. You are required to answer these questions with external research or with quotes from the text. You will need to create one post on the class blog to hold your video Q&A session. You may either meet on your own and create one video file of this, or you may create separate files and respond to each other. Questions can relate to specific passages, time period of text, or cultural background of the text.
Tech Requirement: Phone/Tablet/Laptop/Computer with video recording capabilities
Format Options: You may use Youtube, Vimeo, or VoiceThread to create your audio/video files.
Resources: Baruch College Library Technology Loan Service is located on the 3rd Floor of the Library. Student Study Rooms may be borrowed to allow a quiet space for recordings. However, pair up with a classmate since study rooms have a two person minimum.
Links that explain how to upload & edit:
Links that explain how to upload & edit:
Lecture Assignment: 15 min Audio Lecture on VoiceThread + 1-2 pg Project Rationale + Works Cited Page
Requirements: Relevant images; each text used requires at least one external research source; a list of quotes used in your lecture.
Select One of the following options for your Lecture Topic:
1) Exile and Return: Compare at least three texts and discuss how the hero/heroes have handled exile and how did they make their return. What were the lessons learned in this banishment period? What impact does their return make on their society?
2) Style and Grace: Compare at least three texts in which the hero’s dress, style, and grace is valued over the traditional traits valued in an epic hero. What are the heroes’ traits? Why is there so much attention to detail? List what is valued and why. What does this mean to this society at the time it was written?
3) Life and Death: Compare at least three texts in which mortality is the question. Some questions to consider are: What is the purpose of life in this particular text? How is death dealt with in the texts? How does the hero face his mortality? What universal questions about life and death do these texts attempt to answer?
The following links include a video tutorial and instructional sheet on VoiceThread:
Material available in Video / Audio Format for Great Works 2800
The Learner Series in World Lit has created some excellent well-made videos about ancient texts. There are also maps and timelines to situate the works. The following bullet points link to these resources.
- The Odyssey
- The Tale of Genji
- Journey to the West
- The Popol Vuh
- The Shahnameh
- Although not the exact excerpts from the Norton, this link allows students to listen to the verse in both English and Farsi.
- Our Norton has the Sikander excerpts from the Shahnameh. Here is a link to a 1941 Bollywood film about Sikander on YouTube that contains the scene where he fights King Foor/Porus of India [Purushottama in Sanskrit] — the scene merges the elephant scene with Sikander’s killing of Foor. There are no subtitles, but just a minute or two of the footage is enough to show how it has been dramatized should be enough to bring a cross-cultural perspective.
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
- Simon Armitage, the translator of the poem in our edition of Norton Anthology of World Literature, travels through Gawain’s England and looks at the text as the world’s first Eco-Poem in an hour long documentary.
- Sita Sings the Blues: Nina Paley’s animation that presents her interweaving of her life with her interpretation of The Ramayana is great for a discussion of Sita.
- Epic of Sunjata
- Kieta, Heritage of the Griot [Dir. Dani Kouyate]. A popular film from West Africa made in the 1990s. Covers these moments: Buffalo Woman; Sunjata’s birth; Sunjata’s treatment in the kingdom; Sunjata finally raising himself to walk; and Sunjata’s exile.(Warning: one 15 min segment has no sound on YouTube only subtitles. But only an excerpt of the film is best).
Blogging 3D Printing Projects
a.) BLSCI offers support for 3D printing. They would offer one workshop for the instructor. Use of the facilities and support during use.
b.) 3D printing reading material and resources:
Here is some information on The Met on 3D printing: http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/museum-departments/office-of-the-director/digital-media-department/digital-underground/posts/2013/3d-printing
Here are the sculptures that have been uploaded onto The Met page on Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/met/designs/page:1
c.) Assignment [This yields multiple assignments because it is such an absorbing project]:
- Students would work in groups to select an era/region
- Research The Met artifacts available on Thingiverse and select one
- Trip to The Met is a requirement [in this sense it is tied to the NYC as lab] so the object can be photographed and experienced first hand.
- 3D model of selected sculpture
- Blog Post describing the process and the final product posted on blog [Project Description] and Presentation
- Short Essay with a description of the artifact and research done on it’s background.
Shortcomings of this Project: Although exciting because it is 3D printing, it may take a lot of class time. It may be worth breaking it up into parts and not have so many small assignments in this topic. Still it is a fascinating project for students and instructor. There is something very satisfying in playing around with new media tools and holding the Nemean Lion in your palm, versus taking a photo of it at The Met.
Research in Great Works of Literature
This project took shape out of a desire to engage Great Works of Literature students, who are mostly not English majors, in research that would 1) be interesting and engaging and 2) promote effective strategies for reading and analyzing difficult texts. The annotation assignment offers a model of the kind of assignment that could adapt well to a hybrid course format, since students work collaboratively outside of class and could be guided to bring the spirit and results of this collaboration to f2f sessions. In the act of annotating the texts and responding to one another’s annotations, students learn to slow down, to read reflectively and recursively, and to look up words, allusions, and references that puzzle or otherwise interest them, thereby uncovering the historical, social, religious, cultural and local contexts that inform literary texts.
Poetry Genius, which bills itself as “your guide to the global canon,” is a useful resource for thinking about annotation. The site claims to work with teachers to customize content; check out the Education page. I plan to use the excerpt from Junot Diaz’s The Incredible Life of Oscar Wao, annotated by Diaz himself, when I teach the novel in the fall.
Resources for Developing Assignments
Review of Undergraduate Research Programs, Prepared by Kate O’Donoghue, Center for Teaching and Learning, Baruch College
Resources for Student Publication
From the web description:
Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric is a refereed journal dedicated to publishing research articles written by undergraduates in a wide variety of disciplines associated with rhetoric and writing. It is guided by these central beliefs: (1) that research can and should be a crucial component of rhetorical education and (2) that undergraduates engaged in research about writing and rhetoric should have opportunities to share their work with a broader audience of students, scholars, and teachers through national publication.
Young Scholars in Writing is intended to be a resource for students engaged in undergraduate research and for scholars who are interested in new advances or theories relating to language, composition, rhetoric, and related fields.
The Baruch College Writing Centeri Magazine
Literature and the Visual Arts (Franz Kafka; Jorge Borges)
Following are two sample assignments experimenting with implementing art, along with other media and resources.
Learning Goals: to deepen student involvement with the text; to teach interdisciplinary thinking; to help students learn to navigate a variety of sources and media; to aid students to take authority for their work, by publishing several pieces of text online.
I) German Expressionism: Working together in small groups, students are to create a short, collaborative narrative (1-2 pages) developing an Expressionistic theme that emerges in both Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Nietzsche’s, “The Parable of the Madman.” They will have read both texts before they begin these tasks. The final result will be graded as an essay assignment.
a ) Groups will write a guided blog response to each text and explore a different (chosen or assigned) Expressionistic theme that emerges in both texts, which we will then discuss together in the f2f.
b) The groups will visit the MOMA museum’s extensive collection of Expressionistic works and choose two pieces (not necessarily by the same artist) that seem to complement or form a dialogue with an Expressionistic theme they are examining in Kafka and Nietzsche.
- Groups will post their chosen pieces (or links to those pieces) online, with a brief account as to how they plan to connect those pieces to their chosen theme.
- Groups will respond to at least two other groups’ chosen works, and respond to both the works and the discussions of those works.
c) Groups will then write a short piece of fiction (no aesthetic restraints!) that develops their theme.
- Groups will read/present their stories/art during the f2f.
- The class will respond with suggestions for revisions.
d) Groups will post their revised narratives online for a grade. Each narrative must include a short bibliography of at least three of the following linked sources:
- Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman”
- The Kafka Project
- MOMA Collections
- Expressionism in Music
- Arthur Schoenburg: Biography
- Arthur Schoenburg: Five Pieces for Orchestra
- Alban Berg: Examples of Music
- Alban Berg: Glenn Gould Playing Sonata in One Movement
II) South American Magical Realism: Students are to work in pairs and explore the idea of the labyrinth in Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths.” After they have read the text, but BEFORE we have discussed this as a class, they will complete the following:
a) Choose a labyrinth location (NYC or elsewhere) and make a visit.
- “Walk the labyrinth,” focusing on a specific problem or question (we will have discussed this process in the f2f).
- Post a picture of themselves in the labyrinth and a short, loosely structured response to their visit.
b) In the following f2f, we will continue the discussion of their visit, and how this experience with the labyrinth connects to the text, which we will at this time explore deeply together.
c) Pairs will choose a specific passage (approx. 10-15 sentences) that illuminates the idea of the labyrinth for them.
- Pairs will post the quotation online as a blog, and discuss, loosely, why they chose their passage.
- Pairs will then respond, again loosely, to at least two other posted quotations.
- Pairs will then do a careful explication of the text and post this close reading/analysis as a blog. They will also need to cite at least two of the following linked resources.
- Pairs will then respond online to at least two other blogs. This will be a close reading of their peer’s explication, and will include suggestions as to how one may get even closer to the text.
d)Pairs will post the final explications for a grade.
e) In the f2f, we will discuss the gratifications/problems of this process, and how the explication helps to deepen our involvement with the text.
Resources: E-reserve pages from The Labyrinth: Symbol of Fear, Rebirth, and by Helmut Jaskolski.
- Labyrinth Walk in NYC
- Magical Realism
- C.G. Jung Foundation, NYC
- Borges’ Interview
- Magical Realism and the New World Baroque, Lois Zamora
The Poetry and Drawings of William Blake
1. Close reading and comprehension of “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” by William Blake.
2. An understanding of Blake’s meaning of “Innocence” and “Experience” and their relationship to other Romantic ideals (e.g. Burke’s sublime, Wordsworth’s pre-existence).
3. Connecting literary texts (poem) with visual materials (Blake’s drawings) and how these two media interact to create meaning.
4. Introduction to issues of textual scholarship and archival study and how to incorporate these skills into student research.
The first component of the assignment is an in-class reading of the two poems and an introduction to Blake as a visual artist.
1. Blake and religion
a. Biblical allusion in “The Lamb”
b. Notion of innocence and its connection to knowledge
2. Blake and nature
a. Classical allusions in “The Tyger”
b. How does experience relate to knowledge
3. Central paradox of these two poems
a. Who is better equipped for self-knowledge and awareness?
b. Which allows for a more thorough relationship to one’s place in the world and closer understanding of spirituality
After this initial group close reading, I show students examples of Blake’s illustrations and point out the differences between the various editions of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience.” We will look at different versions of both “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” discuss how the poem and the illustration interact, and how the variances between editions may help us to get a richer sense of each poem’s meaning. For example, Why are most versions of “The Lamb” very similar, while “The Tyger” changes dramatically, especially in color, between editions.
Each student will consult the Blake online archive (maintained by University of Virginia) to select one poem from “Songs” and in a brief research essay describe how the illustration and the poem interact to create meaning. This essay needs to incorporate comparative analysis of the poem and how it exists in different editions, pushing students to hone the skills of analyzing subtle contrasts in textual scholarship, which in the case of Blake also includes formal visual analysis (handout provided) of color, tone, line, etc. Along with the essay analyzing the poem, its illustrations, and how it changes in different editions, the students will make their own illustration of the poem using any publishing/imaging software they can access.
Literature and Music (Jun’ichiro Tanizaki; Naguib Mahfouz)
The following examples use music, with a variety of other media, to enhance students’ appreciation and understanding of the text.
Learning Goals: to help students to examine different perspectives of a text; to increase student involvement with a text; to aid students in understanding the differences between a variety of genres; to expand their understanding of online resources; to help students to gain more authority over their work, again, by publishing several texts online.
Early 20th Century Japanese Prose
Each student is to create a video essay that connects the archetypes of light and dark to a specific theme evolving from Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. Before this assignment is given, students will have read the text and also viewed the film Rashomon, by Akira Kurasawa.
a) Read In Praise of Shadows carefully, again, and choose at least four rich quotations that speak to your focus.
- Post your quotations online as a blog.
- Respond to at least two blogs of your classmates, and discuss what themes/ideas/images seem to be emerging.
- Integrate suggestions for your quotations and write this up in a loosely formatted blog
b) Look carefully at the following links to Japanese Black and White Ink Art, and the online collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or make a visit!) and choose at least two pieces of Black and White Ink Art and/or pieces of traditional/contemporary Japanese art from the Met’s collections. As an alternative to the static art, you may choose a short clip from Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon.
- Post the visual piece online, with a brief description, in the form of a blog, as to how you plan to connect the art/film clip to your chosen theme.
- Respond to at least two other blogs, and explore ways your peers might expand their
c) Listen to the clip from the traditional Impressionistic Japanese Music link, and integrate this piece (or another similar in kind) as a soundtrack (partial or full) for your video essay.
- Post a short blog discussing how you will connect this music to your chosen focus, or, if you are using other music, post that piece and explain how that connects to your thesis.
- Respond to at least two other classmates’ posts, and discuss ways your peers could more deeply explore the connection between music and the chosen theme.
d) Post the entire essay online. Classmates will compose two questions about two video essays and post online. We will continue the discussion in the f2f.
e) Students will post the final version of the video essay online for a grade. Students will need to cite, as credits, at least two of the following linked resources:
- Japanese Black and White Ink Art/ Zen
- Traditional Impressionistic Japanese Music
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Japanese Collections
- Metropolitan Museum Timeline
- The Japan Society
Contemporary Egyptian/Arabic Fiction
Students will form online research groups discussing the idea of enlightenment in “Zaabalawi,” by Mahfouz. Before these tasks have begun, students will have read this text and discussed it in the f2f.
a) Students will break up into the following online research groups:
- i. Mysticism in Sufi Music
- ii. Mysticism in Arabic and Islamic Philosophy
- iii. Mysticism in Contemporary Egyptian or Middle Eastern Art
- iv. Mysticism in Traditional Egyptian or Middle Eastern Art
- v. Basic Definitions of Mysticism
- vi. Basic Fairytale Elements.
b) Each group will compose an outline of salient points emerging from their research and post this online as a group blog. They will need to cite from at least two of the following linked sources.
c) Each group (as a whole) will respond online to the other groups, by composing at least two questions for each group.
d)Groups will then compile the list of online questions and compose a cogent response, which they will then bring to the f2f, where we will work together to deepen our understanding of the text.
New York City as a Learning Lab
The potential for teaching a hybrid course in New York City stretches far beyond the incorporation of new technology as tools for teaching and learning. Thinking of innovation more broadly as the capabilities of our students to be both creative producers and engaged users within the learning environment, we must also understand the class as an expanded entity—stretching beyond the school building and scheduling block—to be an active aspect of students lives beyond the traditional spheres of learning. Hybrid classes allow for a deconstruction of the temporal and physical parameters of the classroom while tethering independent, out-of-the-box, and open platform assignments and sites of learning to the goals of the course. Interactive and expressive technologies such as blogs, digital photography, video, and other new tools can be paired with other resources such as museums, performance, and urban phenomena in New York City to encourage students to understand, analyze, and process their own contemporary experience with the texts read in Great Works II. The deconstructed class can be networked via new technological tools, communication that includes both f2f and social media, and sites of critical interaction that transforms the urban experience into learning and thinking opportunities.
One challenge of using the city as a part of the classroom is knowing how to stage or scaffold the assignments: when to explicate a poem first, and when to send them out first to experience something relevant to the poem; how to bring the experience they had outside the classroom into the classroom in a meaningful way; how many layers of work an assignment should have, and how much back and forth between class-time and outside of class time works best for any given learning goal. These are just a few questions that instructors will have to consider when building these assignments in a hybrid course. These are not new questions, but they do manifest differently in a hybrid course environment.
New York City as a Learning Lab: Taking a walk with Prufrock
One of the greatest challenges when teaching modernist literature is that students cannot penetrate the stylistic rigors of the text to see that what Woolf, Joyce, Eliot and others are really discussing the pressures and pleasures that students today also feel. In our experience students do not have the faintest clue what’s going on in Eliot’s free-verse dramatic monologue (as in, they don’t really even get that it’s a walk around town) when they start reading it. This assignment can serve as an introduction to the Modernist aesthetic lifting the bar of difficulty until they have a breakthrough and realize it’s so recognizable.Whether it is the difficulties of sex and relationships, the strain of fitting in to be accepted in society and alternately the anguish of alienation, or the joys of those moments when we can, like Woolf urges, look life in the face. This sample assignment is based on the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot and incorporates technologies that allow students to experience the work outside the classroom in hopes that they can reflect upon it in new ways.
The first component of the assignment involves the students doing an individual close reading of the poem. As “Prufrock” includes both stylistic difficulties and numerous allusions, the students will initially read the text alongside a “cheat sheet” that simply defines some of the poetic devices Eliot employs as well as an annotations of the allusions and more arcane vocabulary. Additionally, they will answer a set of guided questions that get them to understand the basics of what’s going on in the poem and annotate the poem with their answers on a scrible site. This process will document their close reading and push them to tie their comprehension of the poem directly to the text.
The second component involves listening to an MP3 of Eliot reading “Prufrock” during a walk through the city. This walk, like Prufrock’s, can meander without an intended destinations. Students can pause the recording to get to an analogous place in the city that inspires reflection similar to the poem, or just let the words guide where the walk eventually ends. Upon finishing this step, students should in a blog post of 500 words discuss their understanding of the poem and how it relates to their everyday life, the insights or difficulties they experienced with “reading” a text as they walk through the city, and any moments of particular synchronicity between their walk and Eliot’s poem. This piece of writing would serve as a low-stakes assessment of their comprehension of the text and their ability to engage with it in a meaningful and purposeful way.
The third component incorporates a website called Zeemaps to annotate at least five places—either from their walk with the poem, or from their lives—on a map according to lines from the poem. This open source platform will allow the students to map the poem together, making “Prufrock” a guide of each student’s subjective understanding of the city. Using the lines of the poem as markers on the map, each student will annotate the location with a description of why that line coincides with that spot and their experience of it and can upload specific pictures of the place or events that have happened there. These pictures and annotations can reflect directly on their own life experiences, or merely analyze and interpret that passage of the poem. I have started a sample map here (it is not perfect and shows my own trial and error, though the entry on the Metropolitan Museum is a good model for how I envision the project):
Finally, we would convene as a class to discuss the poem, explore their annotations on the scrible site, I would have the class share the map that each have marked. I am curious about how different lines may register with different kinds of places in the city, as well as understand how the students relate to the poem differently. The goal for this exercise is for them to literally be at home with Modernism, experience it as part of their day-to-day lives as a means to help them understand both what Eliot is saying and how it reflects universal aspects of our urban lives.
New York City as Learning Lab: Partnering with New York Cares
I organized a roundtable last semester on writing poetry and translation in order to further reading comprehension in Great Works classes. Esther Allen, who we invited to be one of the presenters at the roundtable, suggested partnerships with New York Cares, a volunteer organization that students at Baruch are already familiar with (I think she mentioned that many of them get involved automatically as part of the Freshman seminar?). One thing she suggested was having students read to the elderly or to young people in libraries. We could create assignments where students bring a text they’re reading for class (they can choose?) and read it to a group of people in a nursing home. The student can then try to discuss the text, ask what they think, and kind of lead a seminar with their audience. Then, they can reflect on that experience, write about it, turn it into a larger project of bringing literature to the community, writing about what that was like, how that made the literature more relevant, etc.
Literary Translation in Great Works of Literature Classes
- I’m interested in providing resources for the instructor who wants to help her students consider the art of literary translation and the choices that translators make. In Great Works of Literature classes, students may write critical/analytical essays on literary translation, or they may write their own literary translations of class readings. They could also present on texts they are reading in translation, comparing different translations or arguing for or against the choices the translators have made. The options for engaging with translation in Great Works classes are endless
Some kind of translation assignment would work well in a hybrid class because it combines close reading and writing. Thus, while students are working outside of class on either an informal or formal writing assignment or presentation prep, they are simultaneously reading (and rereading) a class text extra carefully, thinking about shades of meaning.
The assignment can be both analytical and creative, as suggested above, and it can be tied to a fun class activity (everyone tries their hand on translating a stanza of a dense Keats poem, for instance, into contemporary English). Students could do web research on their own time, comparing various translations available electronically (Baudelaire and Neruda, for instance, are two poets I’ve taught whose work is readily available, in different translations, online) as they prepare for a presentation or draft an essay. Reading different translations side-by-side illuminates how much a translator’s choices can impact meaning and tone—among other qualities—in a text. I once saw an instructor teach an amazing class for which students had read three different translations of Genesis. And I’ve often had students comment on different translations of Chinese poetry and prose, pointing out specifically where and how they fail, and why.
Many of the sources listed below could be assigned as class readings, depending on how much time the instructor wants to allot to the assignment.
Resources for Faculty and Students
- Check out the collection, In Translation: Translators on their Work and What it Means, edited by Esther Allen of Baruch and Susan Bernofsky.
From the web description:
This anthology features essays by some of the world’s most skillful writers and translators, including Haruki Murakami, Alice Kaplan, Peter Cole, Eliot Weinberger, Forrest Gander, Clare Cavanagh, David Bellos, and José Manuel Prieto. Discussing the process and possibilities of their art, they cast translation as a fine balance between scholarly and creative expression. The volume provides students and professionals with much-needed guidance on technique and style, while affirming for all readers the cultural, political, and aesthetic relevance of translation.
The PEN International Report on the International Situation of Literary Translation, Ed. Esther Allen
From the Foreword by Paul Auster:
Doestoevsky, Heraclitus, Dante, Virgil, Homer, Cervantes, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Hölderlin, and scores of other poets and writers who have marked me forever—I, an American, whose only foreign language is French—have all been revealed to me, read by me, digested by me, in translation. Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.
I would like to offer a salute and a declaration of thanks to all these men and women, these translators, who toil so selflessly to keep literature alive for everyone.
- Esther Allen’s article, “Footnotes sans Frontières: Translation and Textual Scholarship,” offers instructors insight into how translation relates to critical analysis of literary texts and how literature teachers might help students think about translation (and annotation). I see this less as an article that instructors might assign to students (thought they might); I think it’s a rich read for literature teachers. (I have it in PDF—anyone know how to insert PDFs?)
- PEN American Center is the U.S. branch of the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 in direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that contributed to the First World War. PEN American Center was founded in 1922 and is the largest of the 144 PEN centers in 101 countries that together compose International PEN. – See more.
PEN has a translation committee that advocates for literary translators. PEN also maintains a blog focusing on free expression and advancing literature. See this recent post, a poem, “The Future of Writing in English.”Some of PEN’s current initiatives include freedom of expression in China, digital freedom, and reckoning with torture, so PEN resources clearly have connections to many of the ideological issues GW classes encounter.
The PEN World Voices Festival happens in NYC every spring.
- Words Without Borders. From the website:
Words Without Borders opens doors to international exchange through translation, publication, and promotion of the best international literature. Every month we publish select prose and poetry on our site. In addition we develop print anthologies, work with educators to bring literature in translation into classrooms, host events with foreign authors, and maintain an extensive archive of global writing.
Words Without Borders is building their education initiative, which you can read about here. Check out this post on teaching translation. It focuses on the advanced language class, but it offers a good list of qualities for students to consider when writing (or analyzing) a literary translation (audience, types of Englishes (idiom) and why translate into one instead of another, voice).
- The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) webpage includes links to resources as well as a fantastic definition of literary translation:
Literary translation bridges the delicate emotional connections between cultures and languages and furthers the understanding of human beings across national borders. In the act of literary translation the soul of another culture becomes transparent, and the translator recreates the refined sensibilities of foreign countries and their people through the linguistic, musical, rhythmic, and visual possibilities of the new language.
Professor Rainer Schulte, Co-Founder of ALTA
Li Po Translation Comparison
I’ve had a lot of success using a Li Po (also known as Li Bo or Li Bai) poem in three different translations (“The River Merchant’s Wife,” by Ezra Pound, “Chang-Kan” by Amy Lowell, and “Chang-kan” by Arthur Whaley). None of these translations are in the Norton, though others of his poems are. We also read those other poems to get as rich a sense of the poet as possible, and to help students cross reference within a poet’s work. I’ve heard students say things like, “this translation doesn’t get his voice right – in his other poem he is so playful, but in this translation the tone is so sedate and it doesn’t seem right.”
Using this poem has helped to draw out native Chinese speakers, something we would especially welcome in a class when we meet and discuss less regularly. As Cheryl said in a comment to this assignment, it gives the students “a great platform for showcasing their native and English fluencies.”
A way to use this in a hybrid course would be to have students read all three versions at home. Then, still at home, break the students into groups and assign them the task of detailing 3 differences between the 3 poems and detailing what effect each difference has on the poem (or 10 differences, or whatever you choose).
That way they come to class ready to discuss the choices each translator made. This is a simple “at home” assignment and it could be beefed up in many ways. For example, each group could also be responsible for collaborating on a new translation based on the three translations at hand. They could do this on Google Docs and provide notes/rationale for their choices, and then present the Google Doc/new translation in f2f class time.
Teaching using original student writing and translation: some notes
What follows are some very sketchy notes that come from a roundtable I organized on teaching great works of literature by asking students to create their own poetry and translations. These ideas come from Ely Shipley and Esther Allen.
-asking students to translate something into English (if it is already in English, that could mean translating it into more contemporary English, Rap English, Shakespearean English, text-lingo English, etc.)
-every student makes a translation of the same poem and the class binds a book at the end, with each translator’s preface appended to their translation.
-going to poetry readings, reading poetry at poetry readings
All of these ideas would be really nicely complemented by hybridity. A lot of the creative work that goes into these assignments might best be done at home, anyway.