12.0267 teaching invitation

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 23 Oct 1998 09:29:47 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 267.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Sat, 17 Oct 1998 17:50:43 -0400
From: John Unsworth <jmu2m@virginia.edu>
Subject: teaching invitation (American Bestsellers)

This is an invitation to coordinate teaching activities and contribute
student work to an online database on American bestselling fiction. If you
teach 20th-century American literature, American Studies, publishing
history, bibliography, or library research skills, this might be of
interest to you.

Course Description:

During the spring of 1998 I taught an upper-level undergraduate lecture
course at the University of Virginia on 20th-century American best-sellers,
with 75 students. In support of this course, I set up a web-accessible
database to which students submitted their assignments. Each student chose
one best-seller at the beginning of the course, and during the semester
completed the following:

--a bibliographic description of a first edition (first editions of many of
these books can be found and bought in good condition over the web, for
less than $50--often for around $20)
--a publishing history
--a reception history
--a brief author bio
--a critical essay on the book OR (copyright permitting) a full-text
electronic edition (done in TEI, contributed to the Etext Center's publicly
accessible collections). Six students chose to do full-text electronic

In addition, we read (and I lectured on) one bestseller from each decade of
the 20th century. Actually, two from the forties.... The syllabus and the
results of the students research can be found on the web at:


The students did some remarkable work--the combination of doing original
research and having it published seemed to motivate them to go to great
lengths in their use of library reference resources and also in using the
web, mailing lists for librarians and special collections, and any other
resource they could get their hands on. The course also provided a good
way to survey the American 20th century.


I will be teaching this course again in the spring off 1999, and with the
top ten fiction bestsellers for each year from 1900 to 1994, there are
nearly a thousand books to choose from. I expect to have another 75
students, so we'll be 150 books into that number by the end of the spring.
If, during the coming spring or in some other semester, you would be
interested in teaching a course in which your students contribute to this
database, I would be very happy to coordinate the effort. Since the
assignments go into a database whose table and column structures are
already in place, it would be necessary for students to work off the same
assignment forms that I have used--these are not difficult to use, and I
spent very little time either in class or in office hours doing technical
support or hand-holding. Students need to be able to cut and paste, and
they need to be able to use fill-out forms in web browsers, but that's
about it--a pretty low bar, technically speaking.

If you're interested, please drop me a line.

John Unsworth

Humanist Discussion Group
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