An Anthology of One’s Own

Adding Scalar to Your Domain, Adding Hypothesis to Scalar

So in addition to starting a WordPress blog at my new domain last week, I also published the first sections of a book created in Scalar. I wanted to experiment with Scalar because there too you can add hypothes.is natively and we have lots of professors and teachers using hypothes.is + Scalar for both scholarly and pedagogical purposes so I thought I should know the set-up.

Again, adding Scalar through Installatron in Reclaim Hosting is too easy. (Seriously, everyone should register their own domain through Reclaim and begin building their own little Web homestead. I’m just getting started!)

And so is activating hypothes.is within your Scalar book–though unlike WordPress, for now it’s all or nothing in that every page is annotatable or none are. (Note to self: reach out to USC and chat about adding config options.)

By the end of a couple hours, I had the first few pages of my book: title page, forward, and a first selection.

dearreader

The book is a personal anthology of literature I’m calling An Anthology of My Own. The first entry is Billy Collin’s poem “Marginalia,” which I used to hand out to students in paper form at the start of every semester as a provocation for them to write in their (also paper) books. Because this is, naturally, an annotated and annotatable anthology of my own.

Now of course we can use hypothes.is, embedded in Scalar, or activated anywhere on the Web, to be active readers, critical thinkers, engaged digital citizens and humanists. Moreover, with Scalar + hypothes.is, I (or a student) can be part of the process of editing and publishing a book from start to finish: selecting the texts, laying out the pages and sections, writing copy for headnotes and footnotes, designing the cover. If I were still teaching this would be the final assignment of every unit, not the traditional essay.

In terms of my page for “Marginalia,” I added a neat background image of…marginalia, embedded Collins reading the poem from SoundCloud, and annotated the poem myself. Nothing technologically revolutionary. But’s that’s the point: anyone can do this!
marginalia

An Annotated Anthology of One’s Own

So, as I said last week, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the politics and pedagogies of the very important movement around “personal cyberinfrasctructure” led in part by the good folks at Reclaim Hosting. The idea of students owning their own domains and controlling their online identities could be seen as the technical equivalent of what thinkers in education have been philosophizing about since the advent of Web 2.0: that, in the Age of the Internet more than ever before, students can be active participants in the production of knowledge.

In my own experience, one of the most compelling examples of this educational philosophy in action–within the sphere of the English classroom–is when students use web annotation, whether collaboratively or individually, to become the scholarly editors of novels, short stories, and poems they’re studying. Elisa Beshero-Bondar, a long-time collaborator of mine from my days at (Lit) Genius, has been doing this for some time and has designed a most robust assignment for this type of activity.

Coleridge
Elisa’s students collaboratively annotating “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (along with Coleridge’s own annotations) on Bartleby.com

John O’Brien at UVA has also led some great work on student-authored anthologies, having undergraduates collaboratively annotate an anthology of eighteenth(ish) century literature.

Pope
John’s students collaboratively annotating “The Rape of the Lock” on a WordPress blog

John writes on the “About” page about the need for such work:

Many of the texts here are now available in free editions on the internet already, from places like Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, or Google Books. But most of these digital works have little textual authority, are poorly edited (if they were edited at all), and almost always lack the annotations and contextualization that modern readers need to make sense of them. And the proliferation of such free texts creates its own problem, as it is impossible for a student or general reader to know which (if any) of the many options is complete, authoritative, and useful. The odds of a casual reader or student finding a corrupt, incomplete, or otherwise useless digital edition of any of these works far exceeds the chance that they will land upon a good one.

Much of this is no doubt true and underlines the broad significance of such work by undergraduate digital humanities scholars like John’s students. It matters well beyond any particular course. They are creating and editing resources that are valuable to a much bigger classroom.

From my own position as a kind of rogue scholar, though, I’m all for the unabated proliferation of texts. And not only that, but to make things even more (wonderfully) complicated, I’m all for the proliferation of the scholarly apparatus around those texts as well. That is, I want there to be hundreds of online editions of every public realm work of literature annotated by different individuals and groups at different times and in different places. Let there be multiple layers of annotations at the Project Gutenberg Frankensteinone for every class that studies the text, or rogue scholar obsessed with Shelley’s “Modern Prometheus.” And let there too be a public layer in which teachers, students, and citizen-scholars who want to can work together beyond the boundaries of classrooms and campuses to think though the meanings of texts. Let there be multiple public layers, some with closed memberships: “UVA English Majors,” “marxists.org Reading Group,” “Norton Editors,” et al.

Will that technical and critical apparatus be hard to navigate? If those building the annotation tools and e-reading systems work with each other and with users to think through the user interface, then I believe the technical experience can be well-designed. Certainly any public layer will itself require filtering or moderation tools to be in place.

But in terms of the critical side of things–and I’m probably rehashing years of scholarly and teacherly debate around the usefulness of Wikipedia here–I think it’s probably just as important that a young person learn to navigate the layers of criticism around a work as it is do analyze the work itself, especially if we are also giving them the ability to host their own websites! Larry Hanley is right to connect EduPunk back to the American Transcendentalists. As Whitman writes in “Song of Myself”–for what else is the song of the Internet Age?:

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

Next week: I try to manually add hypothes.is to a PressBooks installation. Maybe.


Also published on Medium.