This website brings together some selected, self-curated materials – notes, images, readings – generated by members of the 2013 Swarthmore College Victorian Novel Research Seminar. We imagine this site not as a complete record of our seminar, but as a one partial representation and re-organization of the kinds of knowledge our seminar generated.

About our categories and tags

The lefthand menu above the website’s “fold” sorts our archive items by categories we created.

Outlines are weekly discussion outlines created by pairs of seminar seminar members each week in collaboration with Rachel. They include excerpts from each week’s student-written seminar papers, criticism summaries, and close readings. (See our syllabus for more information about these different genres of seminar writing.)

Archive includes seminar members’ weekly uploads of examples of their in-seminar note-taking. Concept maps, doodles, annotated outlines populate this category.

The Way Things Looked holds photo documentation of the everyday life of our seminar, from our bookstacks to snack to what we wore. In some cases, the photos offer evidence of how we felt at different times of the semester and four-hour Monday afternoon seminar meetings – interested, bored, energized, tired, full of sugar.

Assignments includes the text of our research exercise and seminar members’ responses to research assignments related to our visit to Charles Reade’s archive at Princeton’s Firestone Library.

Interdisciplinary is an experimental category seminar members used occasionally to post material not directly related to seminar topics and/or Victorian literature and culture.

After Hours is another experimental category for less academic material.

Texts and Readings were designed to contain information about or summaries of our seminar texts and excerpts from our readings of the texts respectively. Readings turned out to duplicate the excerpting we did in our weekly outlines, though a few examples of how posts on “readings” might look are include Maddie’s reading of references to Frankenstein in Great Expectations and Danielle’s discussion of “portable property” and the law in Great Expectations. “Readings” could also eventually become a tag that could direct to a specific section of a weekly outline post. Texts has been populated with titles of texts read in the 2013 seminar and could eventually contain excerpts from or summaries of those texts, while we might use “readings” (which includes subcategories for “individual reading” and “collective reading” over the course of a future seminar for notes on specific seminar-generated interpretations. Seminar members also used “texts” to categorize posts describing suggested future readings.


About the site

As we worked together on this project, we tried to think about how our archive picks up  one of our seminar’s major preoccupations, the question of how Victorian readers and reviewers tamed the flood of novelistic narrative by developing and refining sophisticated techniques of knowledge organization like excerpting, commonplacing, and indexing. To create the site, we consulted together as a group to think about what kind of platform and interface we wanted – one that would chime with, but not attempt to imitate, the self-archiving of Victorian novelists and novels we study in the seminar. We also – crucially – needed a platform that would be simple for a set of users with radically different experience using digital tools. We settled on WPShower’s WordPress Imbalance 2 theme, partly inspired by seminar member Sierra Eckert’s earlier experience using the theme for her project Researching Benjamin Researching. Throughout the semester, WordPress’s prefabricated forms – especially the “excerpt” function for displaying excerpts or summaries of posts, the “gallery” function for displaying images, and the way it lets us use “tags” and “categories” – provided useful and frustrating in equal measure.


About the larger project

We also imagine this site as a very early, partial, fragmentary draft of a much larger project that seeks to step to the side of well-worn defenses of the humanities or of the study of literature. What, we want to know, would it look like to reorient our thinking about the English literature classroom so that we might assume that it is valuable and interesting to a variety of different audiences in specific, strategic ways, rather than trying (and failing) to imagine a generalized defense of “the study of literature” or “the humanities”? The opposite of imagining how technology might unproblematically “scale” teaching and learning, this project was a brief and very modest exercise in thinking about how simple and accessible digital tools can help us strategically represent and archive the intellectual work and social life of the small liberal arts classroom for an audience beyond its walls.