Assignment Sequence: Women Writers in Review Tag Investigation Project

Developed by Jason M. Payton, Sam Houston State University

This assignment sequence was developed by Jason M. Payton for an early American literature course at Sam Houston State University (see the syllabus here). For a description of the assignment’s contexts, goals, and outcomes, please see the accompanying report.

Step One: Students will familiarize themselves with the Women Writers in Review website. This will include the following:

Step Two: Students will compare one curated source on WWiR and the original source on Google Books.

Step Three: Students will conduct a scavenger hunt exercise on WWiR, looking for the following:

  • Invocations of either “female writers” or “female readers”
  • References to or reprints of other reviews
  • Quotations of two or more paragraphs from reviewed texts
  • Discussions of gender equality, the rights of women, &c.
  • Usage of the word “fair” (bonus points if combined with “authoress”)

This exercise is designed to familiarize you with the process of browsing an archive, so you’ll have to explore a bit and skim several works until you get a sense of what interests you and where you want to focus your analysis. This exercise is also meant to familiarize you with the historical discourses surrounding women writers, women readers, and issues of gender. Be on the lookout for anything related to these issues, no matter how big or small.

Make a note in a Word document or Google Doc about your most significant findings, including citation information. We will share these observations with the WWP staff.

Step Four: I will divide the class into small groups of 4–5 students. Each group will then embark on the formal WWiR project, which will terminate in an in-class presentation on your findings. The most interesting findings will become part of my pedagogy essay for the WWP, where I serve as a pedagogy consultant.

Each small group will do the following:

  • Choose 1–2 major themes from the “Themes” tag list
  • Filter results by location to limit to the U.S.
  • Read all entries for each tag, filtered by location
  • Answer the following questions:
    • How are women writers portrayed in these reviews?
    • What rhetorical commonalities can you discern in published reviews of women’s writing?
    • What commonalities or differences can you discern in different authors’ treatment of your chosen theme?
    • How does the metadata help frame the reviews for you?
    • Are there any cases in which the metadata seems misleading or confusing?
    • Are there any cases where you wanted to create a new tag to capture something significant about the work, and if so, what would that tag be?
  • Keep a running note of observations about site design and usability

Step Five: Each group will deliberate about their findings and produce a preliminary report of its findings. This report will need to have the following:

  • An introduction stating the group’s chosen themes
  • An overview of findings that summarizes the most interesting findings on how women writers are represented in your reviews
  • A statement on the usefulness of the current metadata for your reviews, including any recommendations for new tags
  • A bibliography with a complete list of works consulted for the project

Step Six: I will review the preliminary reports and assess them in conjunction with WWPp staff to assess the usefulness of the results. Any recommendations for adjustments to individual groups’ search criteria or summary reports will be made, and groups will then have several weeks to conduct any necessary additional research and revise their summary reports.

Step Seven: Each group will present an overview of its findings to the class. Presentations will be 10 minutes long with 5 minutes for Q&A and will include the following:

  • A brief overview of your research and findings
  • A brief illustration of 1-2 of the most interesting works (PPT, Google Slider, or live WWiR demo)
  • A Q&A period where the group can field questions from the class and engage in informal dialog about the project.

Each group will submit to me as part of this final deliverable a copy of its revised summary report of findings.