Document Type

Conference Presentation

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American Antiquarian Society’s Historical Periodicals Collection, Dordt College, American literature, digital humanities


This past summer, our small college’s library purchased a permanent subscription to the American Antiquarian Society’s new Historical Periodicals Collection (series 1-5). In northwest Iowa, where there is no such database for hundreds of miles, this purchase is a research boon for local scholars. The catch, though? I needed to implement the database thoroughly in the college’s only early American literature class, a traditional survey spanning 1492 to 1865. Beyond all of the topics, authors, and agendas that could be covered—and the typical dilemma between coverage and depth in a survey class—now I needed to incorporate the teaching of periodical research, the history of periodicals in America, and the myriad ways that periodicals, authors, literature of various types, and reading publics intersected. All that in fifteen short weeks. My paper will illustrate specifically how I implemented the database into the survey class this fall, the first time I’ve used such a digital archive in any class. Our class combined a non-linear structure—we cycled through the period three times—with a battery of bibliography-and-analysis assignments that aided the students in teaching themselves about American periodicals. While covering traditional subjects (the Puritans, Ben Franklin, slavery), the course required students to investigate the discourses of periodicals on these subjects, and how these discourses were reaffirmed, altered, or attacked by literature that interacted with these periodicals (e.g., Defoe, Wheatley, Melville). I found that the course structure and the bibliography assignments were crucial in enhancing student learning of the period, which helped invigorate class discussion. I’ll discuss the specific nature of my assignments and student outcomes, which were mostly positive, but also discuss what I would have to change the next time this course is offered.


Paper presented at the American Literature Association's 25th Annual Conference on American Literature held in Washington, DC, May 22-25, 2014.