Kit Marlowe Project

The Kit Marlowe Project is a digital space designed to introduce undergraduates with diverse majors to project-driven, research-based learning, and digital humanities practices in the context of studying one of Elizabethan England’s most intriguing literary figures. The site has been designed so that students may curate an open-source collection of Marlowe’s works, contribute exhibits, encyclopedia entries, and TEI-encoded (Text Encoding Initiative) archival works to a real-world digital project that will be maintained by future classes. Excepting the “Teaching Resources,” all content has been student-generated.

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The Kit Marlowe Project was brought to life by undergraduates enrolled in Stonehill College’s Fall 2017 team-taught Learning Community entitled “A Rogue’s Progress: Mapping Kit Marlowe’s Social Networks.” But our team extended well beyond instructors Kristen Abbott Bennett and Scott Hamlin. We had much help from Scott Cohen and his students at Stonehill’s Collaboratory for Innovative Design, plus our TAs Jenny Carion (’19) and Casey Lyons (’19).

The class was inspired by its eponymous forerunner, as well as “Pop Culture and ‘Bibliodigigogy” in Early Modern England,” that Janelle Jenstad and I initially developed to run in tandem with her Spring 2016, ENG 362, “Popular Literature in the Renaissance” course. Janelle and I developed pedagogies that support rigorous research-based learning practice as a way to introduce students to unfamiliar material – then the history of early English book trades. The MoEML team, especially Kim McLean-Fiander and Martin Holmes, later helped my class use Text Encoding Initiative methods (TEI) to transcribe, encode, and edit Thomas Dekker’s The Gull’s Hornbook. My experiences designing pedagogy to support the MoEML project, and later, workshops designed around the Folger Shakespeare Library’s digital anthology of Early Modern English Drama (EMED), showed me how effectively “student-scholar” teaching models can help pupils with little to no prior knowledge of a subject engage their critical imaginations and create meaningful contributions to scholarship.

One goal of my initial collaborations with MoEML was to help students generate publishable scholarship that would stand up to peer-review. But the strictures of a semester-long course did not give us enough time for rigorous review and revision. My early-semester students had generated terrific material, yet it wasn’t ready for publication. Initially, I thought I could edit students’ contributions myself, but with 25 students in each class, each semester, that idea quickly became unrealistic.

My solution was to force-multiply the concept of “Learning Community” and extend the student collaborations across semesters. For example, students in the Spring 2017 course wrote encyclopedia entries about Marlowe’s known associates and, when possible, mapped their locations to MoEML’s Agas Map. These entries were good, but many were too lengthy for publication, required minor fact-checking, or needed to be revised for clarity. By assigning students in the subsequent Fall 2017 section editorial responsibilities, they not only learned about writing for new media and the rigors of fact-checking, but this activity also introduced them to Marlowe’s life and times. As editors, students discovered a new-found sense of responsibility for not only their work, but their peers’. They took pains to do well, if not for themselves, then for others and the greater project at hand. In sum, the initial challenge posed by student-generated research in need of revision has been transformed into an extraordinary opportunity for students to learn from one another, collaborating over time.

The Kit Marlowe Project is an admittedly ambitious title for a class project, but also one that inspires students to rise to the occasion. The student-generated web-exhibits reflect the class’s enthusiastic exploration of “Marlowe” on the internet. I designed two online scavenger hunts, one that was open to whatever they found, and one that introduced them to Marlowe scholarship. Almost every student was drawn to the conspiracy theories surrounding Marlowe’s death and the outlandish suggestions that Marlowe was “really” Shakespeare. After settling down into small groups, they expanded their horizons and dedicated themselves to learning about one element of Marlowe’s life that they were interested in. Their projects, notably those requiring comprehensive knowledge about Marlowe, may only have scratched his story’s surface, but faithfully represent students’ interests. My goal is to continue to refine and build these exhibits with future classes.

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