Dear Reader, I Texted Him: Digital Pedagogy, Student Engagement, and Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers (BWWC 2016)

This panel explores the scene of digital pedagogy in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature classroom as it relates specifically to teaching women writers. In particular, our panel examines the challenges and benefits of using digital tools and thinking through notions of the digital in order to engage students of diverse backgrounds in nuanced and complex readings of these texts. The panel included three short presentations in order to allow for roundtable-style discussion of the methodological and practical questions raised by this sort of digital humanities work. As part of the panel, we have included the resources below so that attendees who want to experiment on their own with these projects have the means to do so.


Digital Doppelgangers:
Participatory Culture and Context Collapse in 19th and 21st Century Media
Andrea Rehn
Presentation Slides & Talk
Social media invites users to produce content by narrating themselves according to the affordances of the platform. Facebook, for example, prompts users with the question “What’s on your mind?,” Instagram invites digitally-manipulated photographs, and Twitter asks users to explain in 140 characters “What’s happening?” The current ubiquity of these and other social media platforms means that students are increasingly aware of the wide implications, and often highly gendered consequences, of their own mediated self-expressions. This awareness can set the stage for richly intercontextual analyses of nineteenth century fictions that enable students to discover relationships between literary devices such as free indirect discourse and narrative framing while also exercising increasing agency in their own digital self-creation.

In this paper, I describe a digital pedagogical approach to a British fiction survey course in which students both use and critique digital tools to read and write about nineteenth century fiction. This approach involves defamiliarizing narrative structures as well as Web 2.0 affordances by analyzing how they shape interaction and interpretation. For example, theorists of social media identify “context collapse” as the potential for distinct social media audiences to combine and create unexpected (and often, unwanted) interpretations (boyd 31). Students are often haunted by memories of context collapse in their own lives, and very quickly see analogies in the central crises of novels as disparate as Austen’s Lady Susan, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Eliot’s Middlemarch. In class, students begin to create what Gardner Campbell calls their own “personal cyberinfrastructure” in order to gain power in shaping their own multi-faceted digital identities as they research and socially annotate novels that stage just such self-inventions. Tools discussed may include, Reclaim Hosting, Voyant, and Juxta.

Andrea Rehn, Associate Professor of English and Director of Digital Liberal Arts at Whittier College, teaches nineteenth century British literature and culture, critical theory, and digital humanities. Recent publications include articles on Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, and digital pedagogy. Find her work at,, and

Talking Back to Jane Austen:
Digital Pedagogy in the First-Year Classroom
Caitlin L. Kelly
Presentation Slides
In this presentation, I explore how digital tools allow us to be more inclusive in our classes, making the work of 18th- and 19th-century women writers more accessible to our students. In so doing, I argue that digital pedagogy is a feminist pedagogy: it helps us to cultivate collaboration and community among our students that, in turn, encourages new and unheard voices to join the conversation. Here, I turn to my experience teaching Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) within the context of first-year multimodal composition where students too often feel as if they do not have a contribution to make to the discussion surrounding the texts that we teach.

In integrating digital pedagogy into my courses, I have taken my cues from the wildly successful web series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2013). The series, disseminated on multiple freely accessible platforms is itself a model of an accessible, collaborative space; it promotes that openness and inclusivity in its fiction through the use of a video blog in which the protagonist directly addresses a worldwide audience through YouTube. In challenging traditional ways of responding to the novel, the web series becomes a model for me and for my students. For my students, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries models ways for them to use digital platforms to “talk back” to Austen; in turn, it has challenged me to make space in my courses for those responses. In this talk, I will share an assignment from my Fall 2015 course in which I took up that challenge, giving students a wide range of latitude in how they responded to Pride and Prejudice. Through creating artifacts such as Buzzfeed quizzes and listicles, video reviews, a trailer for a reality television series, and advice columns, I saw my students demonstrate nuanced understandings of the novel’s characters and contexts that were amplified through the digital tools that they used.

Caitlin L. Kelly is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she teaches multimodal composition and serves as a Professional Tutor in the Communication Center. In her research, she is interested in the 18th- and 19th-century novel, focusing particularly on representations of devotional practice and evangelicalism.


Visual Bibliographies and Victorian Legal Evidence:
Pinterest and Putting Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley on Trial
Lisa Hager
Presentation Slides

Using an assignment in which students debated and created a Pinterest board about the justness of the punishment that Lady Audley receives at the hand of Robert Audley at the conclusion of Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, this paper will reflect on pedagogical practices that connect the digital with participatory reading practices that enable to students to offer their own unique, source-based assessments of the text. For this project, students worked in opposing-side groups to debate, during an in-class literary trial, whether Lady Audley’s punishment would be considered correct in terms of Victorian legal and mental health practices. Students then created individual Pinterest boards with evidence from the text and other visual and textual sources, and then they wrote analytical essays making their arguments about Lady Audley and the reflecting on the process of the assignment.

In discussing this project, I assess the advantages and limitations of this kind of approach to the teaching the novel. Specifically, I want to challenge the either/or mentality that so often accompanies the use of digital tools in the literature classroom. Instead, I argue that the success of this project from both my own and my students’ points of view was rooted in the combination of pedagogical moves (group work/ individual work; digital creation/ face-to-face conversation). The goal of my paper will be to suggest a digital pedagogy of Victorian literature that reflects the hybrid nature of Victorian texts in its content and methodology.

Assignment Documents:

Student Pinterest Boards:

Lisa Hager is an Associate Professor of English and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she co-directs the LGBTQIA Resource Center. Her current book project looks at the relationship between the New Woman and the Victorian family, and she has published articles on Victorian sexology, the New Woman, aesthetics, steampunk, queer studies, the Powerpuff Girls, and digital humanities.

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One Response to Dear Reader, I Texted Him: Digital Pedagogy, Student Engagement, and Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers (BWWC 2016)

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