January 25, 2013
Course Highlight: Literary Annuals
A new course cropped up last fall to teach students how to approach literature from a research oriented point-of-view. “SCHC 452N: Literary Annuals” had its home in the Fritz-Hollings Library of Rare Books and Special Collections. Dr. Paula Feldman led the class as a graduate seminar, a group of eight students becoming experts on his or her literary annual of choice.
Literary annuals are gorgeously bound volumes that were considered status symbols in the nineteenth century because of their high cost and elaborate binding. High quality engravings by famous engravers of the time and writing from numerous authors such as Sir Walter Scott and Elizabeth Barrett Browning populated the pages of the various literary annuals. Each student chose to research one annual extensively and then used the research to form an introduction to the annual, available on the Fritz-Hollings Rare Book website.
This course not only gave undergraduate students the opportunity to formulate and publish original research in a previously undervalued field, but also afforded them the opportunity to interact with and care for old, rare books. In their interactions with these rare texts, students discovered the “forgotten” works of many canonical authors and encountered several other authors that are nearly absent from the literary canon.
English major Hannah Haulbrook was intrigued by the unique content, “as we began reading and studying the literary annuals, I developed a sincere passion for them. I found the literature within, which was largely erased from the literary canon, both enlightening and inspiring, opening a window into a world with which I was previously unacquainted.” The students also used the annuals as a window into the popular culture of nineteenth century Britain and America. Working closely with the literature and art available in the annuals, students determined the popular tastes of Romantic Era consumers, which ranged from pious moral lessons to subversive feminist literature.
Before the class, Kaelie Giffel says she “approached literature with close reading techniques,” while the class taught her “the importance of delving into the not only the work but also its cultural and historical context.” Haulbrook agrees. “Above all class taught me the value of literature, be it canonized or not, by Wordsworth or a nobody.”
What is particularly unique about this course is the amount of collaboration in which the students participated. Unlike traditional undergraduate courses, this course emphasized group work and research, with peer editing and constructive criticism from classmates playing large roles in each individual’s
research process. Together the students explored these forgotten mementos of the past, forming a more coherent picture of Romantic Era society. “This class [went] a long way in preparing me for graduate school… after the course, I had a published work, a great recommendation from Dr. Feldman, and the chance to present in a conference at the University,” says Giffel.
Article written by Hannah Haulbrook and Kaelie Giffel and edited by Doreen Rinehart.
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