Keuka College Professor of English Dr. Jennie Joiner is a longtime collaborator on a digital database that graphically displays the work of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. What she is not, she maintains, is a very good user of that tool in the classroom.
“I help create the data and it’s a fun process,” Dr. Joiner said of Digital Yoknapatawpha, the online resource that plots locations, characters, and other elements from the novels and short stories that Faulkner set in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. “But now, what do we do with it? How do you pull information out of the site and what can it do for students?”
Dr. Joiner, who chairs the College’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, is about to help answer those questions. She’s one of 10 national scholars taking part in a digital humanities project funded by a $147,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
The project, “Teaching and Learning William Faulkner in the Digital Age,” aims to help high school, community college, and university instructors create learning modules using the online database Dr. Joiner has been contributing to for the past nine years.
“Dr. Joiner's participation brings heightened national attention to the College through her work as a Faulkner scholar on this prestigious NEH-funded project,” said Keuka College Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Brad Fuster. "As the Division Chair of Humanities and Fine Arts, Dr. Joiner serves as an excellent model of an active teacher-scholar and leader.”
Digital Yoknapatawpha features interactive maps, visualizations, archival documents, historical photographs, and audio recordings that provide visual representations of Faulkner’s novels and short stories. The new, NEH-funded project will build on these tools to develop and pilot classroom learning modules over a two-year period beginning this summer.
Those guidelines will help instructors put the robust content on the Digital Yoknapatawpha site to the best use – something even those familiar with it, including Dr. Joiner herself, now have difficulty doing successfully.
“Students will benefit in interesting ways. I’d love for it to be a gateway for students to think differently about the text – not just for Faulkner but for literature.”
“I used it a few semesters ago in an introductory literary course,” Dr. Joined recalled. “And my students, in their student evaluations, called it my Faulkner fan page.”
Still, Dr. Joiner said, the works of the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, though challenging, lend themselves to visual representation.
“Faulkner is so abstract in his use of stream of consciousness and time – time is so important in his text,” she said. “Part of the challenge is taking that complicated writing and turning that into digital humanities instruction.”
That’s the challenge the NEH grant will help Dr. Joiner and her colleagues overcome when they begin creating new pedagogy this summer, said project co-director Dr. Christopher Rieger, director of the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University.
“The aim of ‘Teaching and Learning William Faulkner in the Digital Age’ is to make these materials more accessible to teachers and students through learning modules that cater to different educational institutions and contexts,” said Dr. Reiger, who will collaborate with project co-director Dr. Johannes Burgers of Ashoka University in India and Dr. Worthy Martin, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, will serve as the director of technology.
Once developed, the modules will be made available for free to teachers and students through the Digital Yoknapatawpha site. By sharing best practices on the site, educators will continue to sharpen the learning tools that come out of the NEH project.
“Students will benefit in interesting ways,” said Dr. Joiner, who plans to incorporate the new pedagogy into her courses in the 2022-23 academic year. “I’d love for it to be a gateway for students to think differently about the text – not just for Faulkner but for literature.”