Author Archive

An Information Literacy Pre- and Post-Assessment for a Research-Intensive Undergraduate Class Using Primary Sources

August 21, 2013

Hi folks,

This is Dave Mazella, posting a follow-up to Anna and Eleanor’s previous discussion of teaching with ECCO. As we talked about pedagogical strategies for including ECCO in eighteenth-century courses, the question arose of how one might assess these kinds of activities and their impact on student learning.

Julie Grob, a UH special collections librarian and a collaborator of mine, has generously agreed to share this IL pre-course assessment that she designed for a research-intensive course we developed together. This kind of assessment, taken at the beginning and end of the semester, can help you assess the impact of a semester’s work in primary sources.  These questions were administered through surveymonkey.

The background to the course can be found in this co-written article we published in portal, a scholarly library journal available on JSTOR and Project MUSE. Julie developed these questions as we both worked through the ACRL Research Competency Outlines, which were very helpful for designing both assignments and assessments.




  • Have you previously taken ENGL 3301, Introduction to Literary Studies? [this is my Intro the Major course, which includes some work in Spec Collections]
  • Have you ever visited Special Collections, either with a class or on your own? If the former, for which class?
2. From the answers below, which is the best definition of primary sources?
  • materials from the 18th century only
  • the first sources you should look at when doing your research
  • sources that contain contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed that event
  • any sources held by a library, regardless of format

3. From the answers below, which is the best definition of secondary sources?

  • any materials held by a library that are not rare
  • sources that are not relevant to your particular research
  • sources that interpret an event, written by someone at least one step removed from that event
  • any materials that were published after the 18th century

4. What kinds of materials are found in the UH Libraries’ Special Collections? (Please check any that apply).

  • old books
  • new books
  • journals/magazines
  • newspapers
  • maps
  • letters
  • documents
  • photographs

5. How would you find out if a book about Benjamin Franklin is located in Special Collections?

  • Come to Special Collections and look at the paper card catalog
  • Come to Special Collections and wander through the book stacks
  • Search for books about Benjamin Franklin in the library catalog, then “limit” your search to Special Collections
  • Search for Benjamin Franklin under “archival finding aids” on the Special Collections website

6. Which of the following are common features of an 18th century book? (Select four).

  • printed on vellum (animal skin)
  • printed on paper
  • bound in leather
  • bound in colorful bookcloth
  • illustrated with engravings
  • illustrated with photographs
  • words have a “long s”words have a “double y”

7. What kind of source would be most important for a scholar to consult if he or she wants to do original research (that is, research that creates new knowledge in their field)?

  • an electronic source
  • a primary source
  • a secondary source

8. Which of the following databases would be most useful for finding articles about literature? (Select three).

  • ERIC
  • MLA
  • Philosopher’s Index
  • Project Muse
  • PubMed

9. If you search one of the Library’s electronic databases using a keyword and get back 500 hits, how might you most effectively change your search to get back a more manageable number of results?

  • use a totally different keyword
  • add a second keyword
  • do a keyword search using Google instead

10. Where are you most likely to find accurate information about a famous person from the 18th century?

  • Wikipedia (web site)
  • MLA (database)
  • Dictionary of National Biography (database)

We used this as part of our documentation of student learning for the SACS QEP, which helped fund the acquisition of some special collections material for the course.


Laura Stevens on Peer Review at the TSWL

January 9, 2012

To follow up on the recent discussion about evaluating digital scholarship, Gena Zuroski pointed me to this very thoughtful essay about peer-review by Laura Stevens as Editor of the Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.  Stevens weighs the crowd-sourcing experiment of Shakespeare Quarterly against maintaining a double-blind review process, and wonders whether it is even possible for identities to remain hidden when so much scholarship is previewed one way or another before it ever reaches “published” status.

On balance, Stevens decides that the type of scholarship and the mission of the journal demand that they stick to the current format.

The virtues of open feedback are great, but having viewed well over a thousand readers’ reports in my tenure as editor, I am convinced that most readers provide a more forthcoming assessment of our submissions when their identities are not disclosed to the authors. Such feedback of course can be difficult to read—we all have our stories to tell of stinging reports on our own work—but on the other hand we cannot dismiss the positive comments of anonymous readers as flattery, and that must always be a worry when the authors and readers are aware of each others’ identities. In sum, I feel that more would be lost than gained if Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature abandoned anonymous review in favor of open approaches. I may contemplate setting up an open, online review for a single article or small collection of submissions in the future, as a way of fostering this relatively new mode of scholarly interaction. For now, though, this journal is sticking with the traditional, confidential mode of peer review.

Change at any level, in any form, is always difficult in academic settings, because of the presumption that an innovation will create more problems than the status quo.  And this is probably as it should be, considering the importance of academic culture for preserving and transmitting what otherwise would not get preserved in a money-driven, presentist economic environment.

What reflective pieces like Stevens’ essay demonstrate, however, is that maintaining the status quo is itself problematic in all sorts of ways, involving its own complications, and demanding its own cost/benefit analysis, such as the one that Stevens provides here.


PS: I should also mention that Stevens also announces that EMOB’s own Anna Battigelli is joining the TSWL board.  Congratulation, Anna.

Digital Humanities at MLA?

December 31, 2011

I thought readers of this blog would be interested in Stanley’s Fish’s recent piece about DH as the next big thing at MLA, but be sure to read Ted Underwood’s response, as well.

Underwood’s post usefully reframes and redirects Fish’s narrative about DH “saving” literary studies, but Underwood patiently explains why DH is not, and should not be, interested in engaging in the kinds of generational/methodological combat that Fish is endorsing:

In literary studies, change has almost always taken place through a normative claim about the proper boundaries of the discipline. Always historicize! Or on second thought no, don’t historicize, but instead revive literary culture by returning to our core competence of close reading!

But in my experience digital humanists are really not interested in regulating disciplinary boundaries — except insofar as they want a seat at the table.

As Laura Rosenthal observed on the Long 18th, Fish insists upon reading DH and its ambitions as an Oedipal narrative about succession and its anxieties.  Underwood, correctly in my view, advocates instead for a more pluralist view of literary studies that could encompass a variety of theoretical and critical projects, including DH.

But I agree with Underwood that these kinds of battles over competing normative claims seem unsuited to DH, and misconceive its relation to literary studies as it is conventionally understood and practiced.  It does not aim to displace literary studies or interpretation, largely because it represents an ensemble of practices too amorphous to be strictly defined, anyway.  Nonetheless, it offers, as Underwood concludes, less a coherent theoretical or polemical project, as much as “the name of an opportunity.”

Technological change has made some of the embodiments of humanistic work — media, archives, institutions, perhaps curricula — a lot more plastic than they used to be. That could turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s neither of those just yet: the meaning of the opportunity is going to depend on what we make of it.


Using 18c Catalogs as finding aids in 18c BookTracker?

August 15, 2010

[x-posted on the 18th-century BookTracker Facebook discussion page]

As I was working today on BookTracker, I realized that there are quite a few catalogs etc. in Googlebooks, and I was wondering whether there might be a special section of the BookTracker devoted to such material. The rationale would be that there would be more information there than elsewhere about difficult to find titles. This is a type of information that to my knowledge is not getting aggregated elsewhere, but could be assembled pretty painlessly by the folks here, if the works contained in a catalog could be linked to a full catalog record. Thoughts?


Stephen Karian’s Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript: Intro and Ch. 1

July 26, 2010

When I first heard about Karian’s book, I was  intrigued, because ever since Hugh Kenner’s Stoic Comedians (1963) Swift has been the beneficiary of numerous studies that invoked an Enlightenment-era, democratizing “print culture” as one of the chief motivators behind his satire.  For both Swift and these 20th century critics, “Grub Street” stood for all the democratized (and therefore degraded) knowledge-production, communications, and political behavior that Swift seemed to both loathe and formally imitate in his own writings.

Consequently, Swift, like Sterne, has always seemed to be an author particularly conscious of the ways in which the forms and conventions of print help to shape its meanings for readers, fostering what Kenner, under the influence of Walter Ong, termed his awareness of “book as book.”  Swift’s consciousness of print, as evidenced by his parodies of print conventions like Dedications, Prefaces, and footnotes in works like a Tale of a Tub, helped make him an emblematic figure more generally for the literary implications of print culture from the ’60s and ’70s onward.

During that time, however, our knowledge of both print culture and its larger social, economic, and cultural contexts has expanded enormously.  Since 1963, for example, historians like Eisenstein, Johns and many others have amassed, synthesized, and debated the significance of a vast amount of information concerning the historical emergence and distinctive features of print culture, while scholars like McKenzie, Ezell, Love, and now McKitterick have contributed their own appreciation for the interrelatedness of manuscript and print production during the early modern period, including the long eighteenth century.

In his very lucid introduction to Swift in Print and Manuscript, Karian helpfully outlines his  methodological debts to this “second wave” of historical scholarship that stresses the “interactivity and fluidity” of print and manuscript, while noting that this scholarship is influenced by “our contemporary existence as members of an emerging digital culture that is still very much immersed in print” (2). (more…)

My special collections assignment for Swift and Literary Studies

June 13, 2010

Hi everyone,

Since Anna and Eleanor asked about this, I thought it would be easiest just to give you a bit of a background to the special collections work that I do with my students, then show you the assignment, and see what comments or suggestions you all might have.

The background here is that, while I am not really a bibliographer or researcher in the History of the Book, I think these issues are interesting and pertinent for students in literary studies, especially in regards to undergraduate research.  Frankly, though, the focus is really on the research dimension, and getting in the habit of extracting, and building upon, the information they can glean from these items.

I’ve always had a special collections “day” since I started teaching this course, but after a decade or so, I’ve learned how to get more from special collections visits by focusing on the Swift-oriented rare book materials as the basis for small, discrete, group research projects that are explicitly aligned with their course readings in Swift and Swift literary criticism.  I do rely heavily on group work in this course, which I’ve never regretted, but which does demand some special pedagogical attention for it to work.  This is their first group assignment, and it comes just after I’ve formed my five “research teams,” which consist of 3-4 people, and are organized around certain recurring themes of Swift criticism (Swift and Empire, Swift and Femininity, etc.) which vary slightly from term to term.

The point of the assignment is for them to handle some Swift or Swift-oriented books, and then make some connections in a brief course blog post between what they have examined, what they have researched, and their overarching Swift topic.   This group project demands that they describe and compare the physical attributes of some items examined, speculate a little about the sources behind the item, then do a little research off-site (using our library digital resources like the ODNB, MUSE/JSTOR, etc.) to generate about a paragraph’s worth of information about either a) the Swift work examined, b) the editor or bookseller named, and any connections to Swift, or c) any historical person named in the work, and his or her connections to Swift.

This is posted on the course blog the same week as the visit, and students are able to view and compare each others’ findings.

The other important aspect to this exercise is my “sourcing heuristic,” which I developed from Samuel Wineburg and his followers for teaching historical thinking, and which I now try to incorporate into all my classes as a way to explain the uses of historical materials.  I think I’ve discussed this before, in my description of my Burney assignment, but I really do think this is an important aspect of our research.  I am simply asking them to ask a simple series of questions about whatever text or item they handle, and try to answer them as they learn more: Who wrote it?  When (and where) was it published? What type of document is it?  What type of audience was it written for? And finally, Why was it written? If the majority of students are able to ask and answer these questions about whatever they read in a literature class by the time the semester ends, I’m doing a pretty good job.

I should add that in my own thinking about literary studies (as a discipline? as a set of professional practices?), I’m much more inclined to think that the core of our disciplinary practices reside in organizing principles like sourcing and organizing concepts like “author,” “work,” “genre,” “period,” rather than in a list of canonical writings or writers as such  In other words, I’m interested in teaching students how these lists, or canons, are generated, and how disagreements are argued, rather than trying to get them to memorize and recall a particular version of the list.  To enter into that scholarly discussion, however, they have to understand how that information is collected and those valuations are asserted and argued and finally collected in particular bodies of critical traditions.  That, after all, is what the course is about.

So here’s the worksheet.


[ I’d be thrilled if others took this assignment and adapted it for their own classes, but please leave a note here to let me know your name, institution, and the class for which you adapted it.  Thanks.]


A Message from ASECS President, Peter Reill

December 3, 2009

[h/t: C18-L; x-posted on The Long Eighteenth]

[Hi everyone, I don’t mean to hijack discussion, but I thought this message from Peter Reill was extremely relevant to the conversations we’ve been having here and on the Long 18th about the digital divide and the problems of unequal access to scholarly resources.  If you feel strongly about this, please contact Peter at the email address listed below.  Best, DM]

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to ask for you help and guidance concerning an issue that is becoming increasingly important as the digital revolution in scholarship gathers momentum. I have been asked to attend a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation that addresses the question of the increasingly unequal access of scholars to digital resource databases that are critical to pursuing research in their fields. I have become more aware of this problem after a meeting of the ISECS executive meeting where our Japanese colleagues asked for help to access ECCO. And the more I talk with people newly hired at universities or colleges unable to afford the fees charged by specialist databases the more important this issue has become for me. As I ponder the implications of this tendency, it is clear that it’s solution is even  more crucial for recent graduates who have yet to get a permanent position and independent scholars who cannot afford to subscribe to specialist databases.

It is a problem very few address. The Mellon meeting, which will be held in February asks us, members of societies “focused on clearly delineated areas and primarily concerned with advancing scholarship in their fields” to answer a number of queries that are both scholarly and organizational in character. I hope that those of you concerned with these issues would send me your thoughts about them. It is my plan to propose your ideas that I will outline in the next Newsletter, which will appear before the meeting, giving you another chance to express you views on the subject and any others relevant to the issue.

The questions the Mellon proposes are: “How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field, and how are scholars’
careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources? Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership? How well situated is your society to serve as a conduit to these resources, and what would be required to make that possible?”

Are these questions sufficient? Are there any more issues I should be raising? What kinds of solutions do you propose?

I look forward to your responses and to using them to highlight an important issue for all of us.



My email address is;

Histories of Reading/Reading Processes conference at Columbia U.

October 9, 2009

Ade1a has just informed us about this timely 18th century conference taking place at Columbia U. on the 16th of October, featuring a keynote by Matthew Kirschenbaum (U Maryland), talks by Columbia faculty and grad students, and special sessions on EEBO and ECCO.   She hopes that NY-area 18c scholars will come, and that those who cannot visit, will visit the blog and post questions.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about the conversations that take place there.


my new Jane Austen course: UPDATE

August 23, 2009

Since Anna requested this, I’m letting people take a peek at my course-blog syllabus for my Jane Austen and the Undergraduate Novel Course for the next few days; I’ll have to shut down access after then, as soon as students begin having their discussions.  I’m still working on the blog, but the The syllabus and resource page will should give you at least an idea of what I’m up to.  I expect I’ll build some of the Burney assignments into their weekly blogging assignment.

Any thoughts, suggestions?


on the uses of newspapers, in and out of the classroom (updated)

August 19, 2009

I found this post from Rachel at  A Historian’s Craft (via Carnivalesque 52) a while back, and thought it would be a useful way to discuss the Burney collection and its potential for the classroom.  Frankly, since I had already spent part of the summer reading Scottish newspapers in Edinburgh, I was very interested in what Rachel had to say about the best ways to plow through such materials.

I think the best advice in Rachel’s post is to prepare a list of themes or events to use while browsing, since it’s so easy to get lost in the columns and columns of details.  This would be expecially important for students, if you expected them to find anything relevant to a particular novel.

I also agree with Rachel that the letters and advertisements in newspapers are probably the most interesting to us as researchers, because they are the most human, least standardized elements of a very standardized medium.  They provide a period flavor to readers that other parts of the paper do not, largely because they contain such a concentration of “everyday life” and its unspoken/barely spoken assumptions.  I suspect that for a novel class, these would often be the most important parts.

Since I got access to the Burney, I’ve been playing around with the keyword searching, figuring out the types of assignments that would work best for my Austen and her Predecessors novel course, and this is what I’m thinking:

  • keyword searching in newspapers works really well for author/work information, since it is mostly contained in advertisements.  I’d pair this up wth the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to see if students could compare the publication information they find in the newspapers with what they find in the bio.
  • advertisements also yield good contextual clues for everyday products or practices unlikely to be fully glossed.  So, for example, I found some good ads for “masquerades” and “masquerade-makers” that would be useful for readers of Fantomina.  Students are probably best off getting these kinds of keywords assigned to them, at least initially.  I’d pair this exercise with a period dictionary, to see if the terms coincide or diverge.
  • I think historical events, if they could be named with some precision, could be usefully glossed using the Burney.  Unfortunately, many of the novels that we’re reading (Haywood and Davys, for example) are less interested in such “realism,” though that of course makes for another point of entry into a discussion of such issues as realism.  And I’d endorse prefacing any use of the Burney with a discussion of realism and the critical debates surrounding its “rise,” including the Campbell article, I suppose.
  • A more general way to approach this kind of historicization, though, would be to assign students the task of finding the first advertisement of the assigned novel, then browsing the issue of the newspaper in which it occurred, to see what historical events, political debates, etc. are occurring at the moment of its first appearance.  If you were doing this, you would be facing a “stump the prof” style exercise unless you were fully prepared before they undertook their researches (not a bad thing, actually).  It would be interesting to compare their newspapers’ versions of that year with a typical scholarly chronology, and discuss the differences.
  • It would also be useful to see if you could get students to find real-world analogues to situations in the novels, but this would take some experience and direction, I think.  It might also work better if teachers found such an analogue ahead of time, and used it for discussion.
  • Overall, the effect of the Burney searches is pointillistic: you get details, very much embedded in local contexts, without much explanation of their significance.  So the kind of general question that a student might have, like, “why doesn’t Fantomina get married at the end?” will not get addressed by this kind of research activity.  But it would be interesting to see how one could use this resource to investigat the multifactedness of eighteenth-century marriages, for example.  This would require a series of directed prompts, I think.
  • As I read over my bullet-points, I’m noticing that the best uses of Burney would entail pairing it up with other kinds of resources (ODNB, dictionaries, chronlogies, etc.) so that students could follow up on what they found in Burney with additional information.

So these are some of my initial reactions.  What do the rest of you think?