Professor Cirnigliaro and her literature students have created an online, virtual museum. Read below to learn about her motivations, techniques, and recommendations!
Why is this a useful teaching tool?
- Creating these representations is a requirement for students in all of my upper-division classes (Spanish 30 and above).
- This format allows me to assess students' understanding of the interconnectedness of certain expressions of the material cultures in early modern times.
- A public platform encourages students to think more like curators and to pay special attention to the editing process of writing in their second language.
- A cumulative space allows students to build on one another's knowledge across courses .
- Upper-division Spanish courses in seminar style, with 10-15 students at the intermediate or high level.
- Dual focus of courses include both cultural objects traditionally considered as "things" such as foodstuff and fashion, but also cultural objects like film or literature, which are traditionally understood as “less tangible.”
Categorizing and tagging are tools for students to engage with knowledge and the Humanities as discipline. They enable them to establish connections with other objects that they have not yet learned about, or that were not posted or commented on by themselves.
It is possible that students may have a very positivistic approach to museums, so objects immediately become associated with “historical fact,” whereas literature is associated with “a state of the mind”, “an opinion” or “a sentiment.” By introducing literature back into the objective world, and connecting it to other cultural objects that point to the same or relating topics, same preoccupations, same geography or political purpose, i.Mu.S.E.O makes visually and materially explicit the interconnectedness of the cultural object with its context of production and circulation.
Requiring students to tag and categorize textual pieces is one way of highlighting inter-textuality and cross-referencing between two poems, for example. But also, tagging and categorizing empowers the students to not only identify, but produce intertextuality.
I did not want students to feel like patrons who passively consume information about the past, and the texts and images that enable us to “reconstruct it.” I wanted the opposite. I wanted the Virtual Museum to be an opportunity to empower the students as curators, so that they could easily establish these connections between cultural objects from or in relation to early modern Spain, be it poetry, theater, narrative, chronicles, films, current pieces of news, pictures of actual museum pieces and links to whole other websites or digital repositories, etc.
An object is never alone. Texts, particularly literary ones, belong to a historical tradition of linguistic craftsmanship and artistry. As with the work of artists and as crafts(wo)men, literature belongs in the museum, as long as we understand museums in a very specific way: not as public institutions that make memorable the history of a particular civilization or time period such as early modernity in Spain, but as virtualized, interactive spaces such as this (or a similar project one might design with students), wherein we curate a certain repertoire that invites participation in interpreting the past. It is the viewer’s continued and ever-varied interaction with such collections that produces knowledge about them.
- An online tool for students to edit and publish content. We use WordPress for this Virtual Museum.
- Keep the Virtual Museum as flexible as possible. A tool that supports images, media, maps, and other learning objects like voice threads or “reply boxes” will allow students to make more connections.
- Start the site with a finite lexicon of 10 to 15 categories in one specific language (I chose English to clearly distinguish tags (etiquetas) from categories (categorías) .
In making explicit to students how we approach early modern cultural objects I truly believe early modern texts become less intimidating.
My student Josh Cetron was interested in the cultural interpretations of Yerba Mate as an intoxicating drug in a course I entitled Under the Influence: Intoxicating Goods and Vicious Texts from Early Modern Spain.
He posted a research piece, reflecting on a Jesuitic Spanish-American text, categorizing the material with TAGS he came up on his own, and Categories — which are part of a finite vocabulary list in English I provide and expand as the material requires it.
I assessed this piece looking not only at this student’s research accuracy, variety, rigor or creativity and his ability to demonstrate it in writing, but also on the ability of the student to create highly defined tags that relate his own arguments and, potentially, to other materials available in the site.