Find Something and Bring It Back

With the “Find Something & Bring it Back” assignment, students in literature survey courses familiarize themselves with online databases of primary sources (and relevant finding aids) related to the literary work we read that week. This is an assignment I use in introductory courses for American Literature, British Literature and World Literature to help students sense how the creation and publication of texts shapes their meaning.

It’s a marriage of the scavenger hunt with show and tell, where students can exercise skills in discovery learning by finding new threads of inquiry through exploring primary source databases—and then presenting concise summaries of interesting information and research points. They take on the role of researcher and frame their findings for a readership outside of just the classroom by posting their “finds” to a course blog on WordPress.

In their self-guided exploration of these online resources, students develop new ways to understand the texts we read—the objects and information they find give them a broader understanding of the time period of the texts, the materiality of book production and dissemination, or even the author themselves.

The careful selection of which resources to use is the most important part of crafting the assignment. I give students a choice of at least two relevant repositories to look through—some may be collections of author’s papers, such as the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress, or they may be objects for understanding book history generally, such as the collection of cuneiform tablets at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Raven Johnston, Collin College

The assignment can be viewed below or downloaded here.