Problem Library

“A Poem has a Life before it Gets into my Anthology?”: Manuscript Editing and Problem-Based Learning

Length: 1-3 Hours

Discipline: English

Level: Intermediate (majors)

Author: McKenna, Bernard

Where does the poem you read in an anthology originate? Is the copy in your anthology a good copy of that original? You may not consider such questions. However, thinking about these things can help you make an intellectual and emotional connection with writers and with the poetry you read, particularly those writers and works in the age before computers or typewriters. The answers to such questions can help you better connect with the writer’s world. Technology can actually help in this process. Specifically, when you work in groups to transcribe versions of a high-quality photographic image of a manuscript “fair copy” of a poem, you get a sense of the technology of the age in which 19th century poets worked and the tools they used. Rather than a computer or a text messenger system, writers worked with pen and ink and on paper; both of which are very different from their 21st century counterparts. Moreover, comparing the transcriptions from the various groups can give you a sense of some of the problems printers encountered when typesetting author’s drafts, even a “fair copy.” Transcribing a poem from a high-resolution image will allow you to enter the 19th century, at least for a few hours. Conducting research into the writer, the writer’s life, and the essays written about the writer will enable you to practice research skills.

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