Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies ed. by Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier, and Vander Viana (review)
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Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies, edited by Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier, and Vander Viana. Hershey, New York: IGI Global, 2010, 254 pp., $180.00 hardcover.

The times of restricting reading to just sitting with a book in a cozy armchair are gone. If you ask a modern teenager or university student how they would prefer to do it, the chances are fairly high that the answer you’ll get is a computer screen or an iPad. Digital technologies have become an ordinary tool for everybody dealing with literature, including common readers, students in the field, and professional scholars who have dedicated their lives to literary research. This means the time has come to simultaneously revise the way literature is taught and explored, and this is where the volume Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies, edited by Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier, and Vander Viana, becomes a helpful eye-opener.

In the twenty-first century, digital technologies penetrate all spheres of aesthetic and humanities education, cultural and literary studies in particular: we read e-books; poetry can be perceived as an audiovisual performance; and in literary projects, cross-references and searches are done with the help of Internet browsers, whereas decades ago, finding the right quote or a date could take weeks, if not months. On the whole, much has been done by way of technical access to information, literature in particular, but not enough has been achieved in the field of digitizing literary education, where computers are an indispensable asset. The time is ripe for looking at how modern technologies can be used in teaching and researching literature, and this is where Literary Education and Digital Learning is especially welcome.

The volume is transparent in its structure: four chapters of section 1 are dedicated to the use of modern technological tools in conducting literary research, and three chapters in section 2 show how digital techniques can be applied to the sphere of literary education—both at secondary school and university.

Addressing a variety of topics—from computer analysis of stance in fiction and teaching Shakespeare to elementary school students by way of play production to devising an imaginary “reading machine”—the contributors of the volume offer case studies and real-life examples to provide a comprehensive picture of possible application of high-tech tools in today’s literary academic world. The foreword and afterword bring out topics that are somewhat provocative in nature, but overall the challenge of the book is to make readers reach independent judgments about the benefits and drawbacks of digitizing literary education and research in the area.

As Michael Toolan claims in his foreword, certain limitations exist with regard to popularizing computers as a facilitating tool: “Critique . . . sometimes underwrites proponents’ enthusiasm for a technology-dependent literary reading: the latter is argued to be an enriched version of the simulation that all literary reading is assumed to be” (xi). Showing the indisputable merits of computer revolution in the humanities, the volume nevertheless offers a well-balanced and wise viewpoint: digital technology is certainly a benefit, although it can never be a straightforward substitution for the traditional ways of dealing with literature. A cozy armchair and a traditional book will likely always be with us even if inevitable changes and supporting accompaniments are on the way. [End Page 120]

The editors hope that the readers can now “evaluate the experiences collected” in the volume and “make a cost/benefit analysis of the current situation in literary studies with regard to information technology and decide for themselves the path to be taken” (xxvi). The choice of this or that approach or tool will always be yours, but what Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies clearly does is demonstrate the options and future potentials. [End Page 121]

Anna Chesnokova
Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University
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