Pandemic-inspired website explores domesticity | Dartmouth

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people to work and learn from home, several faculty members in the Department of English and Creative Writing began to notice “strange resonances” with the 19th century, the era they are studying.

Stay-at-home orders, workforce restructuring – with the pressures of caregiving placed largely on women – and the way the pandemic has made visible, if not exacerbated, racial disparities and economics of home and housekeeping echoed the challenges faced by women two centuries earlier, says Colleen BoggsProfessor Emeritus of Parents Research in the Humanities.

These parallels inspired a collaboration between Boggs; caroline dever and Ivy Schweitzerteachers of English and creative writing; Christie Harner, lecturer in English and creative writing; and their students.

The project, a website called Homework—invites visitors to explore the ways in which 19th-century women writers in the United States and the United Kingdom approached the challenges and opportunities of domesticity as a feminine ideal, and what lessons their lives could teach us today today.

“The home was the center of women’s creativity in the 19th century, and our continued encounter with ‘the home’ during the pandemic has offered us new insights into how 19th century women writers used the tools available to give meaningful,” says Dever.

Focus on accessibility

A wealth of lesson plans and activities, HomeWorks offers many entry points for exploring the work of featured writers, including Michael Field, a pseudonym for two English women – aunt and niece – who published under that name; Lucy Larcom, who worked in textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, throughout her childhood but managed to become a teacher; and Sarah Winnemucca, a Native American interpreter and tribal spokesperson.

The site, designed primarily for homeschooled teachers and parents, also includes resources related to 19th-century architecture, history, natural history, and art. Carefully illustrated, its pages evoke the environments in which the authors lived.

The ever-evolving HomeWorks site is organized into four teaching modules, each exploring the concept of home from the perspective of different female writers.

“Art and the Beautiful Home” examines how women writers use the home as a place of political and artistic expression.

“Diverging Domesticities” engages poet Emily Dickinson, Winnemucca, and Larcom in conversation, and explores diverse experiences of home, based on class status, racial and ethnic identity, and region.

In “Victorian Mothers and Children at Home,” writers and photographers reimagine “home” as a creative space for imagination, play, childhood development, and business. The existing module will soon be expanded to include an essay by Emily Sun ’23 on Sui Sin Far, who is widely considered to be one of, if not the first, Asian American female writers.

Far was born Edith Maude Eaton to a Chinese mother and an English father, and lived variously in England, Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.

“She helps us understand different cultural ideas of motherhood and domestic life, reaching not just the UK and the US, but also immigrant communities in both countries,” says Harner. “Her children’s stories also give us insight into the cross-cultural imagination around childhood.”

“Writing Home,” about Civil War letters, includes a student-created video that offers advice on how to interpret archival material, Boggs says. “These letters can be difficult for modern audiences to understand.”

To help visitors navigate the site, each module is represented by a sketch of a house identified with the writers, says Harriette Yahr ’87, a visiting scholar who designed HomeWorks. “Some people are more visual learners.”

During the 2020-2021 academic year, more than three dozen students helped create the content, which includes videos, short films, and activities ranging from art projects and games to science experiments and quizzes. writing exercises.

Downloadable content encourages students to spark their imaginations and explore the richness of their immediate surroundings. It is designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of background or materials available at home.

“That feeling of freedom and adventure”

Lucy Turnipseed ’22, a student in Harner’s class “Victorian Children’s Literature: Fairy Tale and Fantasy,” wanted to remind kids that they can have big goals even while staying at home.

Longtime follower of Anne of Green Gablesby Lucy Maud Montgomery, Turnipseed has taken inspiration from the imaginative and free-spirited main character to create a drawing and writing activity (PDF) inviting children to imagine their own adventures in their home or neighborhood.

“Anne kind of pioneered a way for women and girls to have adventures that wouldn’t usually be considered exciting or out of the ordinary,” like starting a songwriting club. stories or the organization of elaborate tea parties, explains the art history major. “I wanted to replicate that feeling of freedom and adventure for other kids.”

Public Humanities: “We are all connected”

HomeWorks was funded by a humanities grant created during the pandemic from the President’s Officein collaboration with the Office of the Associate Dean of Humanities. As the world faces a challenging future and imagines alternatives, the grant called for projects that would engage campus or community partners and advocate for the need for the “analytical, ethical, transdisciplinary and creative capacities” of arts and humanities. community work.

HomeWorks was shaped by these partnerships even as it was being built.

Before creating material for the site, students in Harner’s class met with educators from several states to talk about writing and designing content for kids.

Public humanities is about the kind of partnerships and dialogues “that influence our scholarship and influence the work that our students do,” says Harner.

And last spring, the students presented their projects in a discussion with Amy Earhart, a professor of English and African studies at Texas A&M University, whose specialties include public humanities, the intersection of 19th century studies and critical race studies, and student engagement in scholarly work. .

The next step is to promote the site to educators; a student supervised by Schweitzer and Yahr is working on outreach this term.

Schweitzer, whose teaching and scholarship combine experiential learning with community collaborations, has long been a proponent of sharing his own scholarship on the web, where it is easily accessible to the public.

The pandemic “has shown us that we are all globally connected and dependent on each other,” she says. “As humanists, we have so much information, background, history and context that is not only rewarding, but necessary for our survival.”

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