Electronic archives and the teaching of American literature

Anton Pokrivčák, University of Trnava, Slovakia;

Abstract: The contemporary world is digitized. We can see it everywhere, in technology, science, and human interactions. Perhaps no part of human activities would be unaffected by the computer’s power, including literature and its study. Printed books have been gradually substituted by electronic texts written on computers and displayed on monitors, e-readers, or smartphones. Therefore, the discussion and teaching of such texts must take this fact into account and approach them differently. 

However, reading a book on an e-reader is one thing. Still, the use of computers in studying, analyzing, and teaching literary works may be completely different. Using electronic devices for analysis or interpretation makes us realize that we are dealing with two contradictory phenomena belonging to two different paradigms of knowledge and that their overlapping must be appropriately thought over to avoid contaminating the research methods and, consequently, invalidating the results because “a method that cannot be made to suit the “truth” of its object can only teach delusion”. The purpose of this article, however, is not to reflect on the research methods of digital literary studies but to analyze how digital tools might work with literary texts in the American literature classroom. However, what has been said about the method also applies to the way of working with the text. One tool to be used for classroom activities with digital texts is digital archives. In this article, I will analyze three digital archives, the Melville Electronic Library, The Walt Whitman Archive, and the Dickinson Electronic Archives, to compare working with a literary text traditionally with its analysis using digital tools. The outcome should identify the benefits of working with digital material that enriches the traditionally understood literary text with new aspects, especially visualization, multimedia, and geo-localization. A not insignificant benefit also lies in the increased activity of students who can work independently with the text and enter into a critical dialogue with the author, following their creative process and not just being confronted with the text in its seemingly stable, fixed form that we are faced with in its traditional print format.


Keywords: digital, literary, studies, electronic, archives (Cambria, 10 pt.)




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