Posted by: Ellie Kutz | May 4, 2010

Integrating Digital Scholarship and Student Learning: Mapping 17th Century London

Visit the website that Cheryl Nixon (English) and Malcolm Smuts (History) have created on “Politics, Literary Culture & Theatrical Media in London : 1625-1725” ( www.london.umb.edu) and you’ll find a treasure trove of material related to the cultural and political world of London in the 17th century.  The materials include detailed discussion of themes than run through various literary and historical documents about the period—from theatrical media to vice and crimes, highlighted key episodes such as the fire of London and the revolution of 1688, a great deal of information about the city’s geography in this period, and a wonderful collection of interactive maps that let users connect the historical and cultural understandings gained elsewhere in the site to the physical layout of the 17th century city and find (and learn more about) relevant landmarks. The site also offers a collection of images of the period—of the court, of the theater, of a London hanging—images that provide visual context for important background and themes. In addition, the site points the user to a rich array of additional resources—print, websites, and audio (songs of the period).

The two scholars are currently using this site in a team-taught interdisciplinary graduate course to help students orient themselves within the political and cultural geography of London.  The website allows their students to familiarize themselves with the wide variety of textual and performative media the course covers. 

But the website goes beyond what a typical online course site in Blackboard or Wikispaces might do.  It offers not only access to a range of resources—textual, audio, and visual—but also a coherent approach to those resources—a framing and commentary that reflects the unique understandings gained through this cross-disciplinary collaboration.  It models the exciting possibilities of scholarly websites that many see as an alternative to the traditional print or even digitized monograph.  Two of the affordances of websites for such scholarly purposes, according to a recent report on “The Scholarly Monograph’s Descendents,” (Lynch) are 1) their nonlinear navigation, which allows (and even requires) new ways of constructing arguments in less linear ways, and 2) their capacity for the integration of audio and visual materials, allowing such materials to play a larger role in digital scholarly discourse.   

This website, designed with the technical support of Lisa Link in Web Services, provides elegant and easy entry to the full range of materials, but also reflects the underlying arguments that the two scholars are making about the critical issues of this period of London’s history and culture, and the new ways of seeing these issues that the integration of multi-media resources allows.  It provides a resource not only for students and scholars of this period, but for those of us who are interested in the ongoing reconceptualization of what teaching and scholarship might look like in a digital age.

Lynch, C.  (2007). The scholarly monograph’s descendents. Association of Research Libraries Reports <http://www.arl.org/resources/pubs/specscholmono/Lynch.shtml>
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