Digital Enhancements

Jonathan Beecher Field
Clemson University

I taught the Columbian Magazine issue at the end of a semester where I was trying out a lot of new things on the syllabus. I teach in South Carolina, and one of the challenges of spring semester is that by the time the students get back from spring break, it is about as warm at Clemson as it was on break, which can make the tail end of an Early American class hard to teach. So I planned to compress the normal upper level American survey to before Spring break, and have Reading the Columbian together as a sort of standalone minimester. Unfortunately, weather pushed some of the classes back, so we lost some meetings.

My plan was to have individual students present on individual items, and produce some sort of a digital enhancement/explanation of the work they did. Basically, my idea was naïve outsider DH projects. The quality of those varied, mostly as a function of skills students brought with them, but there were some good ones.  Among the best was a student-produced trailer-style video which riffed on the “Locusts” essay as a means of promoting the magazine, though there were solid prezis and dramatic enactments, etc.

The best discussions we had, were the ones about what the magazine is as a whole. In other words, we did ok talking about the two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, etc, but the conversations about who would make a print culture Big Mac like the Columbian, and who would want to buy this particular sandwich. One thing these conversations revealed was how much a kind of aspirational desire binds magazines and their readers. If we read magazines because we want to have lifestyles like the people we see in them, publishers of magazines also produce a document for their (and their advertisers’) ideal reader. To this end, I showed them a couple of the old (SFW) “What sort of man reads Playboy?” ads that ran in Playboy long ago to show how sophisticated demographically desriable their readers are. I offered extra credit for a “What sort of man (or woman) reads The Columbian Magazine.”  More seriously, it was useful to have this curious collection of things that the publishers of the Columbian wanted citizens of their new nation to want to read. It was a new way to approach larger questions about the work literature does in the early Republic, and I was very glad to have the opportunity to do so. Many thanks and kudos to all involved in JTO who made it possible.

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