7 December 2017
Kristen Abbott Bennett
The Kit Marlowe Project was brought to life by undergraduates enrolled in Stonehill College’s Fall 2017 team-taught Learning Community entitled “A Rogue’s Progress: Mapping Kit Marlowe’s Social Networks.” But our team extended well beyond instructors Kristen Abbott Bennett and Scott Hamlin. We had much help turning a concept into work products from Scott Cohen and his fellows at Stonehill’s Digital Innovation Lab, plus our TAs Jenny Carion (’19) and Casey Lyons (’19).
The class owes much to what I learned as a Pedagogical Partner collaborating with Janelle Jenstad, Martin Holmes, and Kim McLean-Fiander at the Map of Early Modern London. In Spring 2016, Janelle and I ran courses in tandem at the University of Victoria and Stonehill respectively that incorpororated rigorous research-based learning practices as a way of introducing students to unfamiliar material, then the history of early modern English book trade. Janelle’s students were 300-level English majors. My class was composed of sophomores majoring in anything but English taking their required Learning Community. But they rose to the challenge and generated solid scholarly research about early modern printers and publishers. The research unit was followed up by writing introductions to little-known texts from the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database, and later transcribing, encoding, and editing Thomas Dekker’s The Gull’s Hornbook using Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) methods. At the end of the course, students reflected in metacognitive essays (with no small degree of awe) that they had learned skills that they could apply well beyond college. One of the most frequent words students used in those essays was “patience.” They learned to be patient with themselves as they conducted research, cross-checking sources, and sometimes learning that no information is itself information. They learned to be patient with themselves as they learned to read early modern blackletter fonts and give themselves time to comprehend the texts they were working with in both the EEBO and encoding units. And they learned to be patient with their peers when they worked in small groups transcribing, encoding, and editing The Gull’s Hornbook. Click here to see sample syllabi and assignments from “Pop Culture and Bibliodigigogy in Early Modern England” published by the Women Writers Project in Spring 2016.
Our class lived up to its name of “Learning Community” as we worked closely with the MoEML team. I continued my collaborations with MoEML as a Pedagogical Partner through Spring 2017, relying much on Martin Holmes’ brilliant design of encoding templates and schemas that I could use in my courses.
During my three-semester long partnership with MoEML, my students generated LOTS of content. The problem was that, although their work was very good, it wasn’t ready to publish. Although I included lessons on writing for new media, and their writing and citation skills improved much – it wasn’t enough. Initially, I thought I could simply edit their contributions myself and submit them for publication. But with 25 students in each class and a backlog of @100 assignments, that plan quickly proved to be unrealistic.
My solution was to force-multiply the concept of “Learning Community” and extend the student collaborations across semesters. For example, students in the Spring 2017 “Rogues Progress” course wrote encyclopedia entries about Marlowe’s known associates and, when possible, mapped their locations to MoEML’s Agas Map. These entries were good, but many were too lengthy for publication, required minor fact-checking, or needed to be revised for clarity. By assigning students in the subsequent Fall 2017 section editorial responsibilities, they not only learned about writing for new media and the rigors of fact-checking, but this activity also introduced them to Marlowe’s life and times. As editors, students discovered a new-found sense of responsibility for not only their work, but their peers’. They took pains to do well, if not for themselves, then for others and the greater project at hand. In sum, the initial challenge posed by student-generated research in need of revision has been transformed into an extraordinary opportunity for students to learn from one another, collaborating over time.
How it played out
The Kit Marlowe Project is an admittedly ambitious title for a course project, but it is also one that inspires students to rise to the occasion. The student-generated web-exhibits reflect the class’s enthusiastic exploration of “Marlowe” on the internet. I initially designed two online scavenger hunts. The first encouraged them to find out whatever they could about Marlowe and the second introduced them to Marlowe scholarship. Almost every student was drawn to the conspiracy theories surrounding Marlowe’s death and the outlandish suggestions that Marlowe was “really” Shakespeare. After settling down into small groups, they expanded their horizons and dedicated themselves to learning about one element of Marlowe’s life that they were interested in. Their projects, notably those requiring comprehensive knowledge about Marlowe, may only have scratched his story’s surface, but faithfully represent students’ interests. My goal is to continue to refine and build these exhibits with future classes.
In addition to the web exhibits, students are doing the exciting work of transcribing, encoding, and publishing texts related to Marlowe. Our site will be the first to offer Marlowe’s works in the context of contemporary works and present them in the context of the intertextual conversations. In Fall 2017, students encoded selections from Francis Meres’s Wits Treasury and John Davies’ Epigrams (prefacing Marlowe’s Elegies).* We have published these editions using the TAPAS Project interface and linked them to the site. One of the most exciting learning outcomes from our encoding projects is that students have been able to connect metacognitively with their own reading practices. Much as in my earlier “Bibliodigigogy” course, many reflect that these experiences have taught them to be more attentive and patient readers.
In sum, this website represents both a work product and a pedagogical resource. In Spring 2018, Stonehill students will have the opportunity to read the works their predecessors’ encoded works to glean insight into how others thought of Marlowe and his works. We will also use the encyclopedia as a resource for learning about Marlowe’s social networks as students learn how to edit the website, creating internal and external links to relevant materials. Students will also read Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus before transcribing and encoding two seventeenth-century prose/verse adaptions of the play for publication.
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” Not yet, but perhaps this class and its output may offer a model for others to create ways to explore student-scholar models of research based learning using digital humanities methods.
*These texts are presently unavailable to the general public as carefully encoded documents. Moving forward, students will continue transcribing and encoding texts that may lie behind institutional paywalls to make them accessible to all.
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