Teaching with the Yellow Nineties Online

Screenshot shows the homepage of the Yellow Nineties Online.
Screenshot of the Yellow Nineties Online.

[Reposted from the Floating Academy]

A couple of years ago, Connie introduced us to The Yellow Nineties Online, a project edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff at Ryerson University dedicated to producing a TEI-edition of late Victorian periodicals including not only the Yellow Book but also periodicals like the Evergreen and the Pagan Review. Since that post, I’ve used The Yellow Nineties Online in two of my courses this past winter term (we don’t even pretend to call it a spring term here in Calgary!), and I thought it would be a good follow-up to blog about my experiences in the classroom here.

The first class I used the Yellow Nineties Online in was a 400-level undergraduate seminar on “Late Victorian Literature.” As I drew up the initial syllabus for this course, I was dismayed. Sure, we had lots of crowd-pleasers–Thomas Hardy and Oscar Wilde and the Sherlock Holmes stories–but with the exception of Olive Schreiner, we had no women writers, and not enough poetry. The Yellow Book came to the rescue. We started right on the first day of class with a discussion of the scandal caused by some of the poetry and artwork in the first issue (especially Arthur Symon’s poem about the pleasures of prostitutes “Stella Maris”), which was a great introduction to the themes of decadence and sexuality that would underpin much of the course. We picked up this thread later in the semester by looking at poetry by women in The Yellow Book before and after the Wilde Trial. I based my text selection and our discussion on Linda Hughes’s article, “Women Poets and Contested Spaces in the Yellow Book,” which argues that women poets were able to express more sympathy to Wilde than men were in the aftermath of the trial. We then moved on to reading Wilde himself.

I thought this unit was a great success. Looking at the periodical culture of the 1890s gave students a much richer idea of the fin de siècle than reading The Picture of Dorian Gray alone would have done. We got to discuss non-canonical women writers, print culture, and the relationship between literature and art. I’d venture to say that most of my students could now identify an Aubrey Beardsley. Some of the strongest final papers came from a prompt asking students to compare the representation of gender in one issue of the Yellow Book before the Wilde trials and one after.

In my graduate seminar on “Digitizing Victorian Women Writers“, we took our engagement with fin de siècle women writers a step further and considered the digital environment of The Yellow Nineties Online. We had begun our own digital project, a TEI edition of Dinah Mulock Craik’s letters, available at Digital Dinah Craik. Together, we looked at the underlying code for The Yellow Nineties, which facilitated a discussion about how the types of choices one makes in encoding always lead to an interpretation of the text. We found that while we had focused our encoding efforts on context, tagging people and places in Dinah Craik’s letters, the editors of The Yellow Nineties Online had focused on aesthetics, tagging physical features of the page, including catchwords and detailed descriptions of the artwork. Comparing our two projects helped us to see how encoding always represents an interpretation of a text, rather than a transparent reproduction of it. One student, Sidney Cunningham, produced an excellent final project exploring gender and art in the print and online versions of The Yellow Book.

I’m not alone in expanding my syllabi to include periodicals. The Summer 2015 issue of the Victorian Periodicals Review on “Digital Pedagogies” has many more wonderful examples of how instructors are using these resources in the classroom. The wave of digitization of Victorian newspapers and periodicals in the past ten years has truly expanded what’s possible in the classroom. And I found that including the digital edition of a periodical on a syllabus even encouraged some students to venture into the Rare Books room to look at the originals!

Have you included digital editions of periodicals on your syllabi? Tell us how it’s gone in the comments!

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