Genre Activity: 19th C. Periodicals & Dickens Journal Online

While I have incorporated fairy tales into teaching genre in a composition course, below is an excellent “genre activity” that pulls from my field of 19th century British literature. It is an actual competition, if you are interested in writing for Dickens’ Household Words, but the instructions seem to also fit a writing assignment emphasizing genre, audience, and publication format. It also encourages the use of technology and the exploration of Victorian culture and literature. Moreover, at least until Nov. 15, 2014, it is a real-world writing assignment, writing that serves a purpose outside of the classroom. I could envision using this writing assignment in a general composition course, but also in an introduction to literature or 19th c. survey course. Has anyone taught a similar assignment? If so, was it successful?

Competition Announcement–Deadline Extended!

Written by John Drew

We are delighted to announce our first LITERARY JOURNALISM COMPETITION. Write an article (reportage, sketch, exposé, informative factual account, digest, etc.), short story, instalment of serial fiction, or poem(s), suitable for publication in a weekly number of Household Words or All the Year Round. If you are not sure what to write, browse the contents of either journal, using the navigation tools above. Minimum word-length is 1,500 words/60 lines of poetry; maximum word-length is 2,000 words. No author’s name should appear on the pages of your entry: name and contact details should be supplied as a separate final sheet, to permit anonymous judging.

Send your entry to djo@buckingham.ac.uk as an e-mail attachment, by midnight on Saturday, 15 November 2014; at the same time, make the minimum donation using the ‘Charities Aid Foundation’ widget on the right of our homepage, to cover entry costs. Once your entry and your donation have been matched up, your entry will be passed to an expert panel of judges. Short-listed entrants will be informed by the end of November; winners will be announced during the Festive Season Details of prizes given on website; winning entries will be typeset in an ‘Extra Twenty-First-Century Number,’ available by Christmas. We hope you enjoy participating!

via Welcome to DJO.

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Response to “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities” (with Class Activity)

For the past five years, I’ve been examining the pros and cons of reading on-screen versus in print. The bottom line is that while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called “deep reading” is nearly always better done in print.

Naomi S. Baron via How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Baron’s short discussion of digital versus print texts in the humanities classroom caught my eye, probably because it reinforced some thoughts I expressed in a previous post when a family friend urged me to purchase e-texts so he’d have less books to move for me. In that post, I commented that bound books are easier to use in the classroom, and Baron supports that statement in “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities”; she writes of the results of a survey taken by students on the pros and cons of bound books and e-books:

Several open-ended questions on my survey were particularly revelatory. I asked what people liked most (and least) about reading in each medium. Common responses for what students liked most about reading in print included “I can write on the pages and remember the material easier” and “it’s easier to focus.” When asked what they liked least about reading on-screen, a number of Japanese students reported that it wasn’t “real reading,” while respondents from all three countries complained that they “get distracted” or “don’t absorb as much.”

My all-time favorite reply to the question “What is the one thing you like least about reading in print?” came from an American: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.” Isn’t careful reading what academe was designed to promote?

Which brings us back to the humanities.

Readings in the humanities tend to be lengthy, intellectually weighty, or both. The challenge of digital reading for the humanities is that screens—particularly those on devices with Internet connections—undermine our encounters with meaty texts. These devices weren’t designed for focused concentration, reading slowly, pausing to argue virtually with the author, or rereading. Rather, they are information and communication machines, best used for searching and skimming—not scrutinizing.

Teachers and scholars must look beyond today’s career-mindedness in talking about challenges to the humanities. We need to think more carefully about students’ mounting rejection of long-form reading, now intensified by digital technologies that further complicate our struggle to engage students in serious text-based inquiry. (Baron)

As a student, I can testify to the veracity of Baron’s survey results. Texts that I read via a paper copy (whether a bound book or printed article) invariably taught me more and stayed with me longer than those texts read digitally. In fact, as a graduate student, I would frequently make decisions regarding whether to purchase print copies or digital copies of a text based on whether I thought the text would (or could) prove to be significant or relevant to my personal research interests and fields of study; texts that merely fell into required reading for a course were downloaded digitally as not being worth the (extra) money spent.

Kindle App, e-texts, technology

Screen Shot of my Kindle App for Mac

But as a graduate student in English literature, I am far more aware of my personal reading habits and reading needs than first- or second-year undergrads.

I think Baron’s short essay may prove useful in introductory English classrooms, particularly those introducing students to the study of literature (although it could be equally relevant in the composition classroom if reading skills are being stressed). This is not to force my students to purchase paper copies of texts, but to at least get them thinking about the difference medium can have on their reading practices. Such a discussion could easily be used to transition into a discussion of close reading strategies or even active reading and learning; it would also offer students an opportunity to reflect on their current reading practices.

Furthermore, an activity whereby half the class is asked to read Baron’s piece (or an assigned short story or critical article) online while the other is given a paper copy to read could prove both interesting and enlightening. Would the students with the paper copy of such a short piece prove more able to discuss the points in detail than those who read online? Or would the results of such a small sampling prove to be inconclusive, or even the opposite? No matter the result, I think such an activity and discussion could function as a simple and productive gateway to what we mean by “reading” in the English classroom. Moreover, I think this activity would urge students to reflect on their own reading practices and encourage them to make thoughtful choices when it comes to reading medium and their learning in general.

Happy Never After by Saint Hoax: Disney & Domestic Abuse

Happy Never After

“An awareness campaign targeting any girl / woman who has been subject to domestic violence. The aim of the poster series is to encourage victims to report their cases in order for the authorities to prevent it from happening again.”

Saint Hoax Batter Cinderella

via Happy Never After.

I was introduced to Saint Hoax’s “Happy Never After” series of posters featuring Disney princesses as domestic abuse victims via this Jezebel article. As described on the artist’s website (and quoted above) these posters are intended to encourage awareness, reporting, and prevention of domestic violence, and while there have been several variations on the topics of both domestic violence and Disney princesses, this one by Saint Hoax struck me as particularly effective.

Featuring a battered Cinderella, Jasmine (Alladin), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Ariel (The Little Mermaid), each poster has the same caption:

“WHEN DID HE STOP TREATING YOU LIKE A PRINCESS? It’s never too late to put an end to it.”

I think part of what makes this series so powerful is that it gets right to a basic, pervasive cultural belief: marriage and romance leads to happily ever after.

Teaching fairy tales last semester, I asked my students for the components that form the genre of the fairy tale (What is a fairy tale?), and I was stunned by the number of students, especially female students, who insisted that fairy tales need to have a romantic component. Likely drawing on cultural ideas concerning the fairy-tale wedding and the wedding day as a bride’s chance to be treated and look like a princess, not to mention the heavy influence of Disney’s princess films on their conception of fairy tales, for these female students, fairy tales are inseparable from the marriage plot. Happily ever after weddings were so essential to the fairy tale that most of these students were more than willing to discount and discard stories that did not feature this romantic component as not being fairy tales. Furthermore, when my students were asked to write their own original fairy tale, almost all featured a romantic plot, even those written by students who did not explicitly include romance and marriage as part of their definition of the fairy-tale genre.

So for adults and young adults like my students last semester, who cannot separate weddings and marriage from fairy tales, these posters seem particularly impactful. These Disney princesses, these epitomes of feminine beauty that lead to a presumably happily ever after wedding, live on in perfection after the end of their respective Disney films (sequels not withstanding). So to show that even these women might be abused, that the models of happily ever after romance might not live up to their own mythology, is, I think, profound.

It also may help to alleviate shame in a similar manner. If Cinderella can be fooled, if the male perfection of Prince Charming can be a deceitful masking of an abusive boyfriend or husband, then the idea that a “regular,” flesh and blood contemporary woman might make the same mistake of finding herself in an abusive relationship is a lot less surprising or even embarrassing. If a “real” princess can be abused and presumably stand up to and leave her abusing, princely husband, then so can the every woman.

I am constantly intrigued by the many ways Disney princesses are reinvented by artists (and I actually have a Pinterest board basically devoted to the topic), but this poster series by Saint Hoax stands out among the crowd for me. Reminiscent of the less “pretty” and more violent and dark fairy tales of previous centuries, these posters help remove the Disney veneer of perfection and utter happiness, and for a good cause. As visual rhetoric, I think “Happy Never After” succeeds in communicating its message, and I think these images would prove to be useful subjects of discussion in both the basic composition and fairy tale classroom, probably (possibly?) with a trigger warning in advance to prepare any student victims of domestic abuse. (Trigger warnings have been a topic of debate this year and The Chronicle of Education and other publications have featured several articles on the topic, including this one and this one. I also responded to a practicum discussion on the topic in this previous post, although I haven’t decided how I feel about the subject of trigger warnings overall.)