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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 1, février 1996

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005710ar

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Article

Electronic Romanticism: The CD

David S. Miall

University of Alberta


1. Overview

1

The epoch of computer technology in literary studies is now well established. The recent dramatic change in accessibility of the internet, or the sudden upsurge in multimedia forms of publication challenge us all to rethink our scholarship, our writing practices, and what it is possible to do in the classroom. My contribution to this challenge will appear in the form of Romanticism: the CD, an extensive collection of texts and graphics that should assist teachers of British Romantic writing from high school to graduate school, as well as providing new resources for scholarship and research.

2

Thanks to Duncan Wu and Blackwell Publishers (who expect to publish the CD in 1997), a core component of the CD will be the complete text and annotations of Wu's recently published Romanticism: An Anthology. But this will provide only a part of the textual materials on the CD. Many other texts will be available, mainly in the form of substantial extracts (far longer than is usually possible in printed anthologies) from other writings of the Romantic period. These go well beyond those normally considered "literary" to include science, medicine, education, philosophy, travel, and the like. Many of the texts will be enhanced by graphics: illustrations from the books excerpted, contemporary prints and paintings, maps, diagrams, and modern photographs. I estimate that, in all, the CD will offer over two million words of text and about one thousand graphics (most in colour). These materials are presented within a hypertext environment: pointers to other texts in annotations, contextual references, background information, illustrations, and the like, are available as active links, whether from texts or from graphics. At the same time, texts are presented within a standard user interface: buttons available on screen help orient the user, and provide immediate links back to contents pages, so that the reader need never become "lost in hyperspace."

3

This is the basic outline of the package. In what follows, I elaborate on its design and some of the decisions behind it; I provide an illustrated example of a "node" and its links; and I discuss how the development version of the CD was used in one of my courses at the University of Alberta.

4

Additional information about the CD is available on the internet, and readers wishing to keep informed about the forthcoming publication can consult this page: British Romanticism: The CD. I will also be referring below to the home pages I maintain for teaching and research. At the moment a course on Gothic Fiction that I ran during the Autumn term, 1995, provides the most recent example of students' work, partly based on the hypertext. Next academic year I will be teaching three further courses in Romanticism, where use of the hypertext will be documented as it occurs. I also provide other information on the hypertext on a separate page: this is primarily intended to let my students know when significant updates to the hypertext are made in the computer labs where it is located. Incidentally, the development version of the hypertext will also be used on several other campuses this year in Canada and the United States, so that the package will be thoroughly "beta tested" before it is released. Any interesting information that comes out of this exercise will also be placed on the home page for the hypertext during the year.

2. Structure and Design

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When I first began to teach a Romanticism course back in the early 1980s, I was, I now realize, already yearning for the kind of resource that the CD will provide. The anthology that we used then was incomplete in various ways (aren't they always?), so that I felt obliged to supplement it with a booklet of my own that I compiled and had reproduced on campus, and sold to students for a couple of pounds. This included a number of other texts, mainly extracts from philosophy and aesthetics, marginal materials from notebooks or letters, and a chronology of the period.

6

I also wanted students to see the environment in which one important Romantic development occurred. Since this course took place at Cheltenham in the west of England, it was possible for us to reach the Quantock area in Somerset by coach in under two hours. The students and I would spend a couple of hours at Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey, then walk on the northern spur of the Quantock Hills, taking in the view of the Bristol Channel and returning via Alfoxton and Alfoxton Glen. In addition to seeing the landscape of "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" or "The Thorn," we would note the signs of a now lost industrial past; I would relate the tale of John Walford and Wordsworth's destroyed poem.

 

Figure

Quantock Hills (detail): poem locations, from a map of 1804 (57K)

7

When I moved to Alberta I could no longer take students to Somerset, but I could show them slides and talk about the landscape and history of Somerset as one of the perspectives in which the work of Coleridge and Wordsworth and the production of the Lyrical Ballads might be understood. The slide show flitted past students too quickly, however, and the anthologies continued to need supplementing. Thus in 1990 I conceived the notion of a hypertext package in which I would deliver the same information, but in a form that gave students better access and greater control over how they might use it.

8

I acquired a colour scanner and began converting my stock of photographs and slides to computer graphics. And I began compiling lists of the texts that I wanted to make available to students. The major problem at that stage was the primitive state of available authoring packages for hypertext. I lost much time attempting to make several serve my purpose: either they lacked the ability to cope with the high quality graphics I was producing, or they required too much low level programming to achieve effective screen design. At length I settled on HyperWriter! from Ntergaid: first the DOS version, then more recently the Windows version. While this package still has one or two minor irritations and bugs, the authoring process is relatively quick and efficient. It also has two other significant advantages: it is very robust, so that users are unlikely to make it crash or cause Windows errors (in fact I have never seen this happen so far); and once the authoring package has been bought, Ntergaid allows distribution of the run time version of the program (called HyperReader) at no additional cost.

9

More recently, with the advent of HTML coding, I have considered whether an internet browser might provide an effective vehicle for distributing the hypertext (it could, for example, still be packaged on CD but accessed as a set of local files under Netscape). This offers the significant advantage that remote resources could be integrated with the hypertext. So far, however, the quality of the graphics is inferior in this environment, and it offers too little control over screen design. The JAVA extension and other improvements may soon make it possible to design a more suitable environment, but for the first edition of the CD I have decided to remain with HyperWriter! This decision, of course, does not preclude running an internet browser alongside the hypertext, offering pointers to the main resources for Romanticism on the net, such as this journal or The Voice of the Shuttle, so that students and scholars of the future will have at their fingertips both local and remote resources.

10

The first basic principle underlying the hypertext is this. Recent developments in Romantic scholarship suggest that there is now a significant need for a much wider range of primary texts and other historical materials. While reprint editions of scarce texts have been produced for a number of years, and continue to appear (such as Jonathan Wordsworth's admirable Woodstock series), these tend to be too expensive for students, and in times of shrinking budgets in universities and colleges, many libraries cannot afford them either. Other scarce materials from the period, such as journals and magazines, are also generally not available in libraries except at the larger, well-endowed institutions.

11

Secondly, we are now much more aware of the links between the different texts, both "canonical" and otherwise. At least some of the rich intertextuality that weaves through romantic discourse can be suggested by the hypertext environment: by pointers to influential sources on a given text (e.g., Davy's lyrical writings on chemistry that anticipate the science of Frankenstein), by links showing where one text plays off against another, such as Robinson's poem to Coleridge and "Kubla Khan," or by links that enable a specific topos to be traced through a series of texts. And, of course, connections can also be made to visual sources and influences.

12

Thus, the first aim of the hypertext is to make available a generous selection of primary texts from the period. These will sit alongside the "canonical" literary texts, providing an environment for studying the literary texts in relation to the time in which they were produced. These additional primary texts, as noted earlier, will be drawn from a range of genres: medicine, science, education, etc. Each is lightly annotated, and a headnote provides full bibliographical details and a brief overview of the author and the significance of the text. A contents table provides direct access to the excerpts available. Pagination of the original edition from which a text is taken is provided throughout, so that a scholar wishing to cite from the text can refer to it independently of the CD, and other scholars who lack access to the CD can still locate such references.

13

Interpretive comment, beyond that necessary in headnotes, is avoided. At this stage, I have chosen to include primary texts only. While the choice of which texts to include is obviously influenced by current critical interests, to tie the texts to the interpretive perspectives now in ascendance seemed inappropriate. Perspectives change, and, in any case, it seemed to me that students who are expected to be the primary users of the hypertext should be free to pursue or discover perspectives of their own (more on student empowerment below).

 

Figure

Main Screen, showing buttons for contents pages, etc. (21K)

14

Several contents pages provide the main organizing framework for the various kinds of text. The Wu anthology texts are accessed though the first set of contents pages, called Texts. The complete table of contents of the anthology is offered, in which authors are placed chronologically in order of date of birth; but the first screen provides in addition an alphabetical list of authors, with each name linked to the appropriate place in the chronological section. The user can thus see immediately which texts are in the printed anthology, and call up the work of a specific author.

15

The second contents page is for Gothic fiction. Given the importance of this area now in teaching and research, it seemed appropriate to make special provision for it. For each novel listed, two documents are provided, and for some novels additional documents are available. First, while the full text of the novels is not offered, a detailed plot summary of each novel is given (with page references keyed to the most common editions in print, usually Oxford Classics). For students who are studying these texts for the first time, the summaries prove effective as reminders, and enable students quickly to locate passages to which they wish to return. Second, a full collection of reviews of each novel is provided, extracted from the journals of the period (except for lengthy quotations and plot summaries). For some novels, additional documentation is provided pointing to other texts or supporting graphics (maps, landscape). For example, the section on Radcliffe offers links to some of the travel writing on which she drew, and a map showing where the main scenes of The Italian are supposed to be located. For Godwin's Caleb Williams, I provide some of the legal background to which Godwin appealed when defending the novel in the British Critic in 1795, so that students can judge the accuracy of the novel for themselves. A number of other documents relevant to studying the Gothic are also available here, such as articles from contemporary journals on the supernatural, the Inquisition, or sensibility.

16

The third contents page is called Contexts. It offers a classified list of other texts and resources for Romantic studies. In addition to a Chronology, the main categories are: historical documents, social history, education, feminist writing, aesthetics, the arts, science, and medicine. Texts range from Williams's Letters on the French Revolution, to Beddoes Hyg_. The section on the arts includes an alphabetical index by artist to all the prints and paintings from the Romantic period included in the hypertext (which are otherwise scattered through a range of other documents): each entry is linked directly to its graphic, which makes it possible to review systematically all the works by a particular artist.

17

The fourth main contents page is Geography. This is divided into four main sections. First, a range of maps is available, to help students locate where some of the authors lived and travelled. For example, Wordsworth's 1790 walking tour is comprehensively documented through three maps, each of which has numerous links from the locations through which Wordsworth passed: these call up a description, extracts from Wordsworth's writing (if relevant), and links to a set of pictures (modern photographs and contemporary prints and paintings). The second section offers links to "geographical chronologies": these give detailed information on the lives of several authors, with links to geographical information, allowing students to locate all the important sites in Europe for that author's works. For example, the chronology for Percy Shelley provides links to documents on his travels in the summer of 1816, such as the sailing tour on Lake Geneva and the journey to Chamonix. The third section is a collection of travel writing: Piozzi on Italy, or Gilpin on the Wye (most of the documents here are enhanced by illustrations). The fourth section consists of texts of exploration, such as Bruce on the Nile, or Bertram in South Carolina and Florida.

18

Each of these contents pages is available directly from the main screen. Also available here are a biographical dictionary, offering short biographies of a number of major and minor figures of the period; and an Index to all the document and graphic files. The Index serves to bring together the texts of an author or documents about the author which otherwise occur in separate categories in the contents pages. It also provides a list, by geographical area, of both the photographs and the prints and paintings on the CD, so that the user can systematically work through a given area viewing all the landscape scenes available (both works of art and photographs). The last main contents page is that on Projects: this contains advice to students on pursuing research questions, collaborating with other students, and presenting reports.

19

Finally, the hypertext (through facilities built into the program by Ntergaid) offers the ability to leave bookmarks, run predefined tours, or do a word search on all the documents in the collection: buttons are provided on the main screen for each of these functions (as well as being available from buttons on screen in every text document). The tour function, in particular, will help teachers wishing to provide their own links between documents or set specific pathways for students to follow.

3. An Example Node

 

Figure

The Shelleys at Chamonix (15K)

20

The appearance of a typical text document is shown here, taken from the top of the document on the Shelleys at Chamonix. Functions to assist the reader are available from the top row of buttons, such as bookmarks, or searching. The buttons at the foot of the screen are for navigating up and down the document, returning to the primary contents page for that document (here, Geography), and exiting the program. These two sets of buttons are always available in text documents.

21

Within the document itself other links are provided: links to text and maps are defined by green triangle symbols. At the upper right are links to one or more contents pages from which the document can be called, but unlike the contents button, which always returns to the beginning of the contents page, this link goes directly to the relevant place in the table of contents. The Shelley document links to both the Gothic and the Geography contents pages. At the top left are provided any other general links: in this instance, the Shelley document can be seen in the context of the chronology for Percy Shelley's life, and the location of Chamonix can be seen on a map illustrating the Shelleys' summer in Switzerland. (A link to another more detailed sketch map of Chamonix itself is found a little further on in the document.)

22

Following the main title, printed in larger font, the source of the document is shown —here, History of a Six Weeks' Tour. Then a table of extracts is provided where each entry is linked directly to a section of the document. A short paragraph follows, orienting a reader who may be unfamiliar with the the document to the significance of the author or the document. In this example a link is provided to the relevant poem by Percy Shelley, and other links are to the names of previous visitors to Chamonix whose writings can be seen elsewhere in the hypertext. Shelley's remarkable response to Chamonix can thus be set alongside some almost equally remarkable accounts by Bourrit or Coxe.

23

These elements (source, table of extracts, etc.) are normally provided at the top of every text document, where this is based on a Romantic period text. Other documents, such as chronologies, or novel summaries, follow this model where appropriate. In the remainder of the document the substance of the text is given: relevant links to other texts and graphics are embedded within it in the case of prose, or as marginal annotations in the case of poetry. From the Shelley letter the first extract is Shelley's description of the Cascade de l'Arpenaz. Here a link to a photograph of the waterfall is provided (links to pictures are shown between blue triangles), and a link to the line in "Mont Blanc" where Shelley, somewhat more obscurely, describes the waterfall. The photograph enables the student to see how the rock over which the waterfall descends, dividing it in two, might have appeared to Shelley as (in his phrase) "some colossal Egyptian deity." (In the corresponding section of "Mont Blanc," at the line "Robes some unsculptured image," the word image is repeated in the right margin, with a link to the same photograph.)

 

Figure

F. G. Lardy, Entrance to the Valley of Chamonix (256K)

24

A further set of links is provided elsewhere in the Shelley letter, including several prints of Chamonix from the Romantic period (by artists such as Lardy, Hackert, and Bourrit): the reader can thus compare the reception of this famous Alpine landscape by both Shelley and contempory artists. The views of the glaciers, in particular, are accompanied by notes pointing out that the glaciers have receded considerably in recent times: in 1816 the Shelleys saw the glaciers descending as far as the pastures and cornfields in the valley of Chamonix —probably the furthest the glaciers had descended for a hundred years or more, according to the evidence of older residents at Chamonix or Grindelwald (whose accounts are cited in other documents). This helps the reader to understand why Shelley places such emphasis on the destructive power of the glaciers both in his letter (citing Buffon's "gloomy theory") and in "Mont Blanc."

4. Student Work with the Hypertext

25

The current development version of the hypertext was available to students in a recent course I ran at Alberta on Gothic Fiction that lasted for one term (13 weeks). This version offered many of the non-canonical texts mentioned above and some three hundred graphics, but the texts from Wu's anthology were not yet included. The hypertext was installed in two computer labs on campus, and we held several sessions in one of the labs during the course: this enabled students to become familiar with the hypertext, and allowed class time for them to work with it (although the assumption was that students would spend time with it outside class as they would with the library). In evaluating the course, students said they found the hypertext informative and easy to use. "A great way to integrate computer technology and English literature," as one student remarked.

26

The hypertext gave students direct access to research materials of the kind they would normally not be expected to use, or even find without a detailed bibliography. But without some initial guidance and an explicit rationale for classroom work, many students might find this array of materials confusing. Thus the discussion of some basic principles for its use formed an important part of classroom work. In addition, the hypertext offers a section on projects: this includes a rationale for independent and collaborative work and several sections on specific methods for studying and reporting on research findings. My overall aim, of which the hypertext forms an important part, is to empower students to develop and pursue their own interests in the form of research projects. For this to be effective, however, students need some tools for independent and collaborative work: providing these, and allowing class time for students to experiment with them, forms a significant component of the first few weeks of the course. These tools (described and illustrated in the hypertext) include methods for analysing texts, and the use of diagrams for representing ideas and their relationships, such as a web, flowchart, or Venn diagram. Diagrams offer the advantage that other students in the class can profit more readily from the thinking of a particular group of students (diagrams were shared either immediately in class, or through being placed on a home page for the course that I maintained).

27

For much of the course, students worked in small groups (usually consisting of four students). At first, students generally pursued issues within the framework that I presented during lectures, and at times I set specific tasks for students to complete in group discussion. However, for a major project that students carried out towards the end of the course they had become familiar enough with the subject and the available resources for some wide-ranging issues to be examined: these extended from nostalgia for the medieval, through various gender issues, to the role of the supernatural or religion. Here are two brief examples from the work that students did, one textual, the other diagrammatic.

28

In her report on Eliza Fenwick's Secresy, one student examined the theme of education after reviewing Fenwick's relationship to feminist thinkers of the period, and after reading the extracts from books on women's education available in the hypertext, such as John Gregory and Hester Chapone. She argued that Sibella Valmont illustrates Wollstonecraft's insistence that women could benefit from education equally with men. "This is quite a change from the traditional views on female education, which held that women did not have the mental capacity to learn mathematics, sciences, and all the other subjects presented to young men." Yet, she notes that among the reviews of the novel, only the Monthly Review "mentions a tyrannical system of education." In general, she says, "the reviewers did not seem offended by Mr. Valmont's treatment of Sibella while they seemed profoundly offended by Sibella as she steps out of line."

29

After their study of several novels, Wollstonecraft's Vindication, and material on the supernatural in the hypertext, two other students created a poster-sized display "On the supernatural and the position of women in gothic fiction." This consisted mainly of analytical work represented in diagrams (influenced by the hypertext section on these techniques). One web diagram, for example, was entitled "The susceptibility of female characters to supernatural ideas." This attempted to account in particular for the behaviour of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. Taking "fantasy / imagination" as the main phenomenon to be explained, and placing these words centrally on the diagram, links point to the role of women's passivity, their lack of goals and objectives, the inadequacy of male explanations of events, and the role of feelings with insufficient knowledge, and the roles of intuition, and superstition. In her report on the project, one of these students remarked: "I found that using graphs encouraged me to think about my ideas in a precise manner, and to consider the ways in which they interrelated."

30

During the Gothic course, issues quite often arose during class discussion, or while students worked in groups, whose analysis would have profited from access to the hypertext. In future courses, it would be helpful to have the hypertext available immediately in the classroom, rather than being obliged to take students to a computer lab. At the moment this would only be possible by running it from a mobile or portable computer, which is not a very convenient option; our classrooms are not otherwise equipped for computer-based visual displays. While this remains problematic, it is clearly essential to give students ready access to the hypertext outside class. In the longer term our intention is that students will be able to buy the CD just as they would a course book, and for a similar price. Half of the students in the Gothic Fiction course, as it turned out, had access to a computer with a compact disk drive, and would have been able to run the hypertext if had been available as a CD. No doubt this proportion of students with CD drives will increase.

5. Conclusion

31

In summary, Romanticism: the CD offers three main advantages, each of which is in tune with recent Romantic scholarship and developments in classroom practice. First, it undertakes to break down canonical boundaries, and to do so perhaps more radically than any printed anthology can hope to do, given the restrictions on the cost of the printed book. Second, the wide range of additional texts from the Romantic period, the rich array of graphics, and the numerous hypertext links provided between these materials, will serve to contextualize Romantic writing, and enable a much fuller sense of history and landscape to inform students' learning. Third, giving students direct access to research materials on this scale considerably increases the authority and independence of students' work, and provides opportunities for research normally only available to the advanced scholar. Perhaps it will, for this reason, be an agent for attracting a new generation of students to the study of Romantic literature.


Auteur : David S. Miall
Titre : Electronic Romanticism: The CD
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 1, février 1996
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005710ar
DOI : 10.7202/005710ar

Copyright © Michael Eberle-Sinatra 1996-2002 — All rights reserved

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