HC User Spotlight: The American Literature Anthology Project

Humanities Commons members are building wonderful and creative sites and blogs on our platform. We want to highlight your work, so over the next few months, I will be writing blog posts and conducting interviews to put a spotlight on individual users. We hope that these posts not only serve to celebrate HC members’ creations, but that they also work to provide members with a better understanding of the various possibilities that Humanities Commons offers. Above all, we hope these posts inspire you!

Before I dive into our first featured HC site, let me introduce myself. My name is Caitlin Duffy and I am a doctoral student in the English department at Stony Brook University. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to work as an intern with the Humanities Commons team (I definitely recommend interning with the MLA if you get the chance). As part of my continued connection with Humanities Commons, doing some freelance community engagement, I am writing some posts for this team blog.

For my first post, it seems only right to feature a site built by one of my professors. This semester I was fortunate enough to work as a TA with Dr. Andrew Newman for his American Literature I survey course for English majors. Rather than assigning an expensive anthology or multiple texts, Newman instead created an open access digital anthology, titled the “American Literature Anthology Project.” According to the description found on its home page, “This site presents a ground-up, dynamic, open-access anthology of American literature before 1900, developed by faculty and students in the English department at Stony Brook University. At present, it comprises most of the primary source texts for three Spring 2018 courses.”

Through this site, Newman has been able to design an entirely open access syllabus and has been able to share his anthology with other professors in his department. Additionally, by requiring the use of a Hypothes.is group, which allows users to annotate any web document privately, publicly, or to an assigned group, students in his class take control of their own learning by helping to create their own annotated edition of the anthology. While most of these are available only to members of the class, you can see some of the student-produced annotations through the “Public” layer of Hypothes.is.

I hope that this blog post and Newman’s work encourages other members to use sites in new and interesting ways, including as a teaching tool. In order to provide a deeper understanding of his project, Andrew Newman answered a few of my questions.


1.Why did you choose Humanity Commons to house your project?

Since the anthology is composed of texts imported from Open access archives, especially Project Gutenberg, I didn’t want to house it on a platform that is in any way proprietary. Hosting it there was also a way to point towards the longer-term vision of the project as a collaborative resource, and it provided an occasion to introduce students to the principles of OA and commons.

2. How has your digital anthology impacted your teaching? Has it changed the dynamic of your classroom in any way?

In a mid-semester, students overwhelmingly indicated that they preferred the digital anthology to a paper one. I know that cost-savings is part of this preference, though I’m not sure how much. I think efficiency is also a factor – it’s frustrating to purchase and carry around a huge anthology like Volumes A & B of the Norton Anthology of American Literature and only read a small fraction of it. I think even the etext versions of these anthologies create a sense of superfluity. So as an instructor, I like the flexibility to create a table of contents that matches my course exactly, and I think the students like that too. Then, collaborative annotation using hypo.thesis affords a sense of being in the text together. At its best, we’ve been able to do live annotation in the classroom, sometimes using a projection screen. Sometimes a question comes up, such as a historical reference, and we find that one of the participants has already supplied an annotation. But working with etexts in the classroom also has much-noted disadvantages, so I still want to learn to optimize their affordances and minimize the tendency towards distraction.

3. Do you have any plans to add to your project? If so, can you describe them?

I specialize in a field where all the primary sources are out of copyright and most are available as etexts. I expect to keep building and create new TOCs for every course 8 teach in American literature before 1900, and I hope Americanist colleagues and our counterparts in British lit will do the same. I also plan to develop literary-historical timelines using the TimeLineJS tool.

4. Would you recommend Humanities Commons to other scholars and educators? Why or why not?

Of course! So many recent developments locally (on my campus, anyway) and nationally are really demoralizing for humanities scholars. We need to share a collective bright spot.

5. Has your use of Humanities Commons (overall, not just with the anthology) surprised you in any way? Were there features or results you weren’t expecting?

I’m pleased to have my Humanities Commons profile supersede my department webpage as my virtual intellectual home. I like the ability to create WordPress sites. I just finished a book, so I’m looking forward to building, exploring and connecting more this summer and in coming academic year.

6. What is your project’s ideal future? Do you hope others will use it? If so, how?

Ideally, other HC users around world will join in and create TOCs for their courses.

7. Do you have any advice for other educators who are considering building an anthology on Humanities Commons?

I think it would be great to collaborate from the get-go: plan with a colleague on another campus and have a virtual anthology become a shared space where two or more interpretive communities convene.


Andrew Newman’s “American Literature Anthology Project” can be found at https://amlit1.hcommons.org/.

You can contact Andrew Newman by emailing him at Andrew.Newman@stonybrook.edu.

If you’re interested in learning more about building sites on Humanities Commons, please visit our Site Guide.