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Compiling Context with Digitized Periodicals

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The National Era - 1 April 1852
Image Credit: 

Accessible Archives

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students examine and manipulate digitized page images in order to consider the presentation of serialized texts. “Compiling Context” is a versatile introduction to periodical print culture suitable for literature and rhetoric courses. 

Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Database and periodical research 

Required Materials: 

Digital access to periodical with original page images -- ideally with downloadable image files

USEFUL: A forum (e.g. a blog or wiki) where students post and comment on textual or visual compilations 

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

1. Access original page images of the source text. Library (subscription-based) newspaper databases often include original images, as do some free online services like Cornell's Making of America Collection

2. Provide access to students by 

a) downloading images of all or pertinent issues featuring the primary text (emphasizing the publication itself). High resolution images can be uploaded and selectively shared on Dropbox or Google Drive. The file viewer in Google Drive/Docs allows for high-resolution zoom while maintaining image quality and readability. 


b) Create a guide for students to access issues (emphasizing research techniques). See 'Instructions for Students' below for a sample guide to accessing Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era through Accessible Archives. This can allow students to familiarize themselves with databases and practice the necessary steps for retrieving and saving page images.

3. Have students visually examine digital images of the issue(s) containing the source text. In engaging with the serialized version of the text they can be encouraged to 

a) Consider relevant content published simultaneously with the primary text

b) Trace the evolution of political and social discourses across several issues or selected issues

4. Students then engage in the process of interpretive selection through either

a) Visual manipulation of the digitized source -- selection, cropping, digital mark-up, collage-making, etc. 


b) Textual summary of the digitized source

5. Have students submit or post their compilations of context (image files, short write-up) -- ideally in a forum that allows commenting or other forms of feedback. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Secure access to page images in advance. You may wish to limit or direct the attention students devote to the original publication. You might

  • Limit students to front pages, especially if the primary text customarily appears on this page. This is the case with Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Have students access issues and then peruse textual (OCR) lists of content rather than page images
  • Have students select a topic ahead of time and run limited searches on the periodical to trace how discourse shifts across a broader range of issues
Instructions For Students: 

I provided the following instructions for accessing Uncle Tom's Cabin in the National Era through the University of Texas at Austin's subscription to the "African American Newspapers: The 19th Century" series of the Accessible Archives primary-source database to students in my English 314L: Banned Books and Novel Ideas -- "Citizens and Censors" course:

1. Go to Google Drive where high quality jpeg images of the first ten installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are posted.

2. With a partner (where possible) note any significant headlines accompanying the installment you’re assigned.

3. If there are no significant headlines on the first page, or if you’d like more information:

a. navigate in a browser to

b. Click on the tab for ‘Databases’ and click the small link ‘Browse by type’ c. ‘Historical Newspapers’ > ‘African American Newspapers: The 19th Century’

d. On Accessible Archives, click the ‘Show more search boxes’ link.

i. ‘Stowe’ (AND) ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’

ii. Under Source, click and highlight ‘The National Era’

iii. 1851-06-01 to 1852-05-01

iv. Sort by Date

v. Scroll down to your installment date.

vi. Click on the installment or another article from your issue.

vii. Click ‘Issue Contents’ in the top menu

viii. Browse articles searching for anything relevant to Stowe’s novel.

Once students have access to issue images (and content lists, if need be) they can compile and present pertinent elements either visually using Photoshop and/or other image manipulation software to cut out specific articles or headlines. They may then unite these texts in the form of a collage or a written exposition interspersed with clippings from the digitized issue. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

This assignment can be designed to target specific skills (research, visual manipulation and creation, etc). 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

I would ideally preface this assignment with an Archive or Library day where students can at least see old periodicals and recognize how publication size/design standards have shifted over time.

Students were intrigued by the material elements of these publications (varying text sizes, different conceptions of "headlines" and emphasis, fading and blurring, markings suggesting provenence) even when they were only working with digitized images. 

Course Description: 

E314L: Banned Books and Novel Ideas -- "Censors and Citizens" 

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