New Tools for Old Texts: The Digital Humanities and Early Modern Pedagogy

“We are in the midst of remaking the humanities, making our own tools as higher education is being reshaped, and embracing new ways to unlock our creativity.” This statement summarizes Elliott Visconsi’s philosophy on pedagogy in a digital age.

Visconsi, Associate Professor of English and Law at Notre Dame University, and Katherine Rowe, Professor and Chair of the English Department at Bryn Mawr College, are developing ways to capitalize on the power of emerging digital technologies and apply it to early modern literary scholarship and teaching. In a talk on February 18, sponsored by the Mellon Initiatives in Early Modern Studies and Digital Cultures and the Humanities Innovation Lab, Rowe and Visconsi explained their approach to using and creating digital tools “from the ground up.”


For them, humanists have always been “knowledge designers … committed to remixing and sharing their new offerings.” It follows, then, that the digital turn in higher education is bringing about new modalities of teaching, scholarship, and publishing that allow—even require—us to rethink how we “remix” and share our ideas. Within a context where computational algorithms enable new methods of textual analysis, data mining, and collaborative scholarship, Rowe and Visconsi have focused on developing an application for a new type of electronic book that is at once scholarly and versatile.

Working with fellow Shakespeare scholars, secondary teachers, actors, and software developers, the pair has created downloadable tablet versions of several of the Bard’s most enduring dramas. Their first app, for The Tempest, not only includes the text and glosses one expects in a scholarly edition, but also provides “easy access to complex ideas,” with connections to academic articles, audio readings by actors, and versatile text manipulation and note-taking tools that facilitate collaborative creativity among a group of students.

This “polyvocal” approach fits with what Visconsi considers a trend towards the “ubiquitous classroom,” marked by more collaborative, team-style knowledge production rather than solitary scholarship. Digital applications like these allow for more personalization of learning through mentorship and coaching instead of “broadcasting from the podium.”

For Rowe and Visconsi, their aim, and that of the Digital Humanities in general, is to provide new tools that foster creativity in students, that generate knowledge in an environment where the rules of scholarship are being redefined. For more information about their project, Luminary Digital Media, follow this link.