This project was originally conceived as a way to help students keep the large amount of material they were internalizing in an organized and accessible format. The students read British and American fiction, poetry, essays, articles, political tracts, historical periods and events, and cultural formations, and in discussion we decided some sort of framework would be extremely helpful for seeing how this information was interrelated.
I am somewhat capable with web pages, and make one for every class I teach, and thought this would be a good venue for such information. The web-based timeline consists of the significant dates across the middle (publication dates of significant texts, dates of important historical events); significant historical events immediately above the dates, events that helped shaped the culture and were responded to in literature and other writing; the authors and titles of significant texts immediately below the dates, physically placed in context with the historical events; historical periods immediately above the historical events, such as the Jacksonian Period, the Reign of King James I, the Cromwellian Period, King Phillip’s War, etc., giving a broader rubric for which to understand the historical and social pressures which the historical events and literary publications were occurring within; and finally cultural formations immediately below the significant texts, showing such periods as the Puritan, Cavalier, Augustan, Sensibility and Victorian cultural formations (which are of course in dialogue with the various texts and historical circumstances).
The course was organized around historical events and cultural formations, and focused on how the texts fit within such a framework. What we did was get the dates for the texts down from the syllabus, so we had a fairly complete line for dates from the beginning. We would add historical events, texts, and periods as they arose in lecture. In discussion the students had set groups of three they would break up into once a week. These groups were then assigned various texts, and would have discuss and electronically hand in paragraphs on
1.) The social/historical context that the text occurs within (such as Rip Van Winkle Rip falls asleep pre-Civil War and wakes up in a new post-war world),
2.) Some sort of claim for the piece either a claim that’s identifiable within the piece, such as Addison’s The Aims of the Spectator or Franklin’s The Way to Wealth, or a claim that they would develop via their own discussion when there wasn’t a clearly identifiable one in the work, as with William Blake’s work, or Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn.
3.) A paragraph on how the claim is either informed by the context or comments on the context that they have already written. This helps the students see how the social and historical events, as seen in the timeline, relate to the texts that they’re reading.
I then take these electronic submissions and make hyperlinked pages for them on the timeline. The result is any student can browse the timeline, see where a text fits within a cultural or historical context, and then click on the name of the text and have a short explanation of how the text is related to its historical and literary contexts. This proved very useful for reviewing for midterms and finals, for keeping up to date on the large amount of texts we were reading, and provided for a great deal of student interaction. Finally, I put in about 2 hours worth of music on the bottom-right for the students to listen to while they were browsing (I used to have a radio show, so I was just indulging myself, really).This project proved useful to my class and the course as a whole, and will be used again by ENGL 382. I learned that other sections used the timeline as a resource as well as my section. I am also preparing something like it for ENGL 383, but will learn how to create cascading style sheets over the summer so I can create cleaner pages. I believe the basic framework would work for any survey course, and each class that used such a tool could create its own hyperlinked context/claims responses to the texts. As a lecture device, all the different sections responses could be linked to the one timeline, creating a dialogue across sections.