As a wrote about a few weeks ago, I have asked the students in my Shakespeare in Context course to adopt an edition of one of the plays on our syllabus and write about it in a three-part assignment. The only stipulation is that the book be a "used" edition of Shakespeare (and, yes, library books count). I've come to think about my students' individual efforts to acquire their books together as a process of building a special collection unique to this class. When they hand in the third and final part of the assignment in November, I'll have 32 different editions of Shakespeare on my desk, many of which I will be seeing in person for the first time.
I have just finished reading my students' descriptions of their books and wanted to share a few observations:
- Several students "adopted" books that belong(ed) to their parents, grandparents, or other relative and remarked on how studying the same book gave them a chance to bridge the generational divide. For some, even the process of asking to use the book for this assignment opened up a conversation with family about Shakespeare and inheritance.
- Many students found their books at local used bookstores that they had never visited before this assignment. Similarly, some visited the stacks in the library for the first time.
- I was pleased at the range of books my students ended up choosing: standalone scholarly editions, high school textbooks, comic books, performance editions, prose adaptations, literature anthologies, multi-volume "works," etc. By my students' accounts, almost all their books exhibited signs of use (from inscriptions to doodles to dog-earing to underlining/highlighting to general wear-and-tear).
My major take-away from how this assignment is going so far is this: Students don't need to be working with "rare" materials to study how and why material textuality matters. They only need the occasion and the time to hold, examine, experience, observe, notice, and describe what they see and feel (and smell—many students wrote about the scent of their books!).
All this said, I wanted to share the second part of the assignment, in which students will follow up on one or more of the observations about they made about their adopted book in PART 1. As always, I would welcome feedback and ideas for ways to modify this part of the assignment for future iterations.
PART 2: CONTEXTUALIZE YOUR EDITION
This second part of the Adopt-a-Book Assignment asks you to take some of the observations you made about your book in the previous part and follow up on them with original research. Here, the goal is to learn as much as you possibly can about one or more aspects of your book. In my comments on Part 1 of the assignment, I highlighted a few of the ways you could contextualize your observations through original research. You are not bound to my suggestions, especially if you are more interested in a different aspect of the book. Either way, I strongly recommend that you consult with me about tailoring research strategies to your specific line(s) of research.
STEP 1. I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT... ?
Based on the observations you made about your book in Part 1 of the Adopt-a-Book Assignment, identify at least five aspects of the book you’d like to know more about.
FOR EXAMPLE: For Part 1, say I wrote about a miniature edition of Othello that was published around 1920 by the Knickerbocker Leather and Novelty Company in New York. You can see an image of Othello with other editions in the Knickerbocker Shakespeare series pictured at the top of this post (with a quarter for scale). I might want to know more about...
(1) ...The Knickerbocker Leather and Novelty Company: what else they publish/sell.
(2) ...miniature editions of Shakespeare, in general.
(3) ...the intended readership for these books.
(4) ...the portrait of Shakespeare on the first page of the Knickerbocker Othello.
(5) ...how much of the text is cut in the Knickerbocker Shakespeare edition of Othello.
Once you’ve made your list, select one or two items to research. You are more than welcome to consult with me at this stage in the process, but please make sure to bring your completed “I Want To Know More About...” list to my office hours or our arranged meeting.
STEP 2. RESEARCH!
First, identify at least three sources that will allow you to illuminate each of the items you’ve chosen to research. (If you’ve chosen to research two items, you need to do all the components of this step twice.) The original research you conduct here may include searches on the open Internet (i.e., Google or other similar search engines). However, you must cite at least one source from (1) an academic database/online resource, or (2) a book from Cabell Library. Links to many academic databases/resources are available via the “Shakespeare Resources” link on our course Bb site. Links to other relevant ones can be found in the Arts and Humanities categories of the VCU Libraries database repository. I will be happy to point you in the direction of resources that will help you gather sources that relate to your chosen topic(s).
Secondly, list those sources, using the correct MLA citation format:
For instructions on how to format citations for electronic sources, see here.
For instructions on how to format citations for books, see here.
For instructions on how to format citations for journal articles, see here.
Finally, explain how each of your sources will help you illuminate the aspect of your book you want to know more about [at least 100 words for each source].
STEP 3. WRITE!
If you’ve chosen to follow up on a single item from the list you made in STEP 1, you must write 800-1,000 words. If you’ve chosen to follow up on two items, you must write 400-500 words about each.
The instructions here are simple: explain what you have learned about your book from conducting original research. How you structure your explanation is up to you, but it should have a clear, navigable structure. In other words, do not write a stream-of-consciousness response to this prompt. The purpose of each paragraph should be evident, as should the connections among paragraphs. Make sure your main point is clear from the top and that you’ve answered the question “so what?” by the end.