The Bildungsroman Project: an Undergraduate Digital Humanities Initiative

When the UNC-CH literature program granted me a Literature in the Genres class this semester, they gave me the challenging freedom of unlimited possibilities. What would I pick? I hemmed and I hawed, and then the answer struck me as if it were the only one with an arm. I would teach on the bildungsroman.

“Bildungsroman” means “novel of formation” in German, and what could be more relevant to undergraduates than the stories of how young people find their rightful places in the world?  Besides, our whole culture is obsessed with coming-of-age narratives, as even the briefest dip into movie listings will demonstrate. (Anyone hear of The Perks of Being a Wallflower this year? Or last year'sTwilight: Breaking Dawn? Maybe An Education from the year before?) Our class could start with Dickens's Great Expectations and read all the way up to Blankets, a spellbinding 2003 graphic novel by Craig Thompson. A bildungsroman course! It was on.

One week before the semester began, however, I was baffled. Where were the online resources to which I could point my students?  I was shocked that no sophisticated and aesthetically-pleasing website existed to both showcase existing bildungsromane and foster new ones. That frustration became a challenge, and that challenge became a plan. If the website I wanted didn’t exist, we would make one.

We did, and it's here, and I'm incredibly proud. So please, click on the logo below and scram.

Seriously, go!

Okay. My goodness. Why are you still around? Maybe you're a pedagogical thinker or a creative type who is interested in the process of collaboration. Maybe you care about the birthing, not just the baby. If so, here are some details for you.

Early in the term, I asked the class to generate submission guidelines for creative personal narratives, close readings of individual texts, and encyclopedic overviews of both the bildungsroman’s representative works and its cultural context. The students then signed up for topics and formulated selection committees to identify the most publishable writing. Selected authors then had to work with copyeditors to polish their articles. Once the pieces were revised, a team of content uploaders published them to the web. We also had an outreach committee who worked on promotion, planned our launch party, and helped me with the Instagram contests we ran in order to connect with depictions of coming of age in visual art.

At times our classroom felt like a pressroom, and I saw students working extra hard because they knew that everything they wrote had the potential to reach an audience limited only by the size of our ability to attract it. I worked considerably harder too.  I took the student submissions very seriously, but some how grading them became fun. Actually fun! That last bit was a new and welcome experience for one who loves to teach but hates to evaluate. Perhaps I can't speak for others, but I'm beginning to wonder if project courses aren't one of the very best ways to learn.

With The Bildungsroman Project we’ve striven to create a self-sustaining digital humanities initiative that will continue welcoming submissions from writers both in my future classes and from English speakers everywhere. My vision values excellence in both content and design, and my hope is that the website can become an undergraduate journal that features both scholarly and creative writing. Please check out our hard work, and consider encouraging any college students you know to submit their own!

"A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap."

After three difficult years searching for a full-time professorship, I was surprised and delighted by an abundance of options early in the 2012-2013 market season. I have accepted a tenure track post in English at Lee University in Cleveland, TN.  The energy, leadership, and warmth in Lee's Literature and Language program parallels nothing I have ever seen, and I am so excited to begin teaching and learning there in August.

Administrative Approval.jpg

The Honourable Mr. Bunbury of Derbyshire extends his approval, though I imagine he will attempt to rescind it within the first ten minutes of our seven hour trip to Tennessee.

British Accents, The Secret Garden, and a Muhnkeh!

I'm nothing if not an Anglophile, and we tend to find our own. Thus, it surprises me that I don't encounter more links to Sounds Familiar, the British Library's interactive map of dialects. Its recordings reach back several generations, representing the vastly varying speech patterns of that venerable island kingdom. Sounds Familiar also includes fascinating and accessible written explanations of the linguistic phenomenons as one hears them, and the recordings reveal an oral history that is engaging in its own right. My favorite discovery? That "Queen's English" is really a misnomer. What we think of as the most proper British accent is called Received Pronunciation, and it is not region-specific at all, though it can tell us a lot about the social class of the speaker.

So what does the Queen speak? Linguists claim that Queen Elizabeth II has a dialect entirely to herself. This is so richly symbolic of the entire state of the British monarchy that I nearly fell off my chair.

Click this screenshot to visit Sounds Familiar.

Click this screenshot to visit Sounds Familiar.

When I teach The Secret Garden I like to introduce my students to recordings of Yorkshire speech so that they understand why Mary Lennox had a hard time understanding Martha, Dickon, Ben Weatherstaff, and the rest. Sometimes I show them Sounds Familiar, but usually we don't get any further than this YouTube clip of little Millen Eve I've before the classroom erupts in delight.

Millen Eve's uncle made the video, and I told him in the YouTube comments that we used it in class. He direct messaged me and said that his niece's accent is sadly almost gone now, some five years later. I'm glad he preserved it, and my class and I were thrilled that he reached out to us. Someone tell the British Library to put this on Sounds Familiar!