InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Access Author Profile Pages by:
 Resource Centers
Textbook Site for:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor
The Heath Anthology Newsletter
Fall 1998

Interview with Randall Bass

Randall Bass, of Georgetown University's English Department, is the editor of electronic resources for The Heath Anthology of American Literature and the director of the Center for Electronic Projects in American Culture Studies (CEPACS). He is the author of Border Texts: Cultural Readings for Contemporary Writers, available from Houghton Mifflin Company in November 1998. In this interview he discusses the new Web site for The Heath Anthology of American Literature and provides some context for this and other electronic projects in which he is involved.  

HANL: Randy, in the Fall 1994 issue of The Heath Anthology of American Literature Newsletter you announced that a recent addition to the threads developed in T-AMLIT was the Internet Resources thread where information about Internet resources pertaining to American literary studies is requested and shared. Now The Heath Anthology's electronic resources have grown, thanks to you, to include not only T-AMLIT but also an extensive web site. If you had only one chance to describe the web site to instructors and students, what would you say? What will people find there?

RB: First of all, we tried to create a site that speaks both to teachers and to students. We wanted The Heath web site to serve as an effective "bridge" between the print book and the growing range of resources on American literature and culture that is developing on the Web. It was really important to us to make it a bridge that serves the needs of "readers" (from novice to expert) as well as teachers. Consequently, we divided the site into three main sections: News and Overviews, Instructor Resources, and Reader Resources. Overall, we hope this site provides expanded contexts not only for The Heath Anthology's readings and texts, but also for the concepts, issues, and approaches that are implied by The Heath's transformative multicultural project.

HANL: What can people who go to the web site find in the News and Overviews section?

RB: We wanted the News and Overviews section of the site to provide the kind of discipline-based reflection on The Heath Anthology, on the canon, and on curriculum and pedagogy that has been the case over the years with The Heath Newsletter. In fact, all of The Heath Newsletters, dating back to Fall 1989, are online. There have been a lot of great essays, syllabi, and other resources printed in the newsletter over the years. I'm really pleased that we now have just about the entire run online, with multiple links across articles, and several different ways to sort and search the materials.

The material that is completely new to the online resources includes a growing set of essays on the use of the web and electronic resources to support the teaching of a multicultural American literature. We started last January with an overview essay by me on "New Canons and New Media: American Literature in the Electronic Age," and since then have added Will Howarth's "Teaching with Web Sites" and Peter B. Harris's "Some Teachable Ironies about the Stieglitz Photo [The Steerage (1907)] on the Cover of the Heath Anthology, 3/e, Volume 2."

HANL: What other resources do you envision in the News and Overviews section in the next few months or years even?

RB: The expansion of this section we're most looking forward to is Dialogue and Exchange. In this section we plan to sponsor discussions on different aspects of teaching American literature (in conjunction with the T-AMLIT discussion list), and broader issues of the canon and curriculum.

Another role that this section might play is to provide a forum for teachers in different regions to connect their classes for constructive dialogue on common texts and themes. This kind of cross-course exchange has been facilitated informally and sporadically over the years by T-AMLIT. With T-AMLIT, a teacher will put out a call for another teacher whose class is reading a particular text and who would like to have the two courses' students engage in dialogue.

We would really like to see this kind of cross-talk happen more often with the help of The Heath web site as a clearinghouse or facilitator. After all, this dialogic function is one of the things that new media technologies do very well. Surely there are important intersections between the capabilities and potential of dialogic technologies and the challenges of teaching multicultural American literatures in ways that seem relevant and compelling for students in the contemporary world.

We plan to open the Dialogue and Exchange section this fall.

HANL: What will instructors who go to the Instructor Resources section find?

RB: There are two primary sets of materials in the Instructor Resources section. Both of these resources are quite large. First, there is the Syllabus Builder, a hypertext resource of syllabi annotated by faculty around the country who teach with The Heath Anthology. The Syllabus Builder contains about 30 syllabi. With the annotated materials (complete with writing assignments, reading questions, in-class prompts, and many other curricular materials), this is a very deep resource.

The other resource teachers will find in the Instructor Resources section is a hypertext version of the 1,000-page Instructor's Guide for The Heath, wonderfully edited by John Alberti. The online version of the Guide includes hypertext links from any mention of any of the 350 Heath authors' names to their respective sections, as well as paragraph-level links from indexes of pedagogical approaches to places in the Instructor's Guide where the contributing editors have addressed them.

Taken together, the Syllabus Builder and the hypertext Instructor's Guide represent about 2,000 pages of printed material with thousands of hyperlinks and cross-references. I don't know of any other faculty development resource on the Web for a commercial book with comparable richness.

HANL: These Instructor Resources grew out of earlier electronic support materials for The Heath, didn't they?

RB: That's right. The Syllabus Builder for the second edition of The Heath Anthology was a complete, four-diskette package that we had created in a pre-Web hypertext program called DynaText. DynaText was very robust software for creating electronic books; we were able to capture and replicate most of the really interesting features of the earlier Syllabus Builder into this web version, and at the same time improve it with new resources, and links from the syllabi and Instructor's Guide out to the even richer resources on the Web.

HANL: What will students who go to the Reader Resources find?

RB: The most important resource that students will find on the site now is called American Literature Resources, an annotated list of links to American literature and culture sites on the Web. What is critical here is that the links are organized according to The Heath's table of contents. As you might imagine, this list of links is incomplete and obsolete within days of each update, so it is a never ending task to keep current. We are planning to add a Student Contribution and Review section so that students doing web research in American literature classes can comment on new sites they have found (or on sites already there) and their usefulness as support for readings and themes in The Heath.

HANL: Are you planning anything new for either the Instructor or Reader Resources in the near future?

RB: We're currently working on a section called Texts and Contexts that will emphasize what we call "inquiry" activities: analytic exercises that get novice readers engaged with primary cultural or historical materials on questions growing out of the American literature curriculum (for example, using the WPA Oral Histories online at the Library of Congress to contextualize literature of the 1930s). I think there is great potential for inquiry assignments (especially with the capacity of online materials to enable what I call "the novice in the archive") to further transform what it means to study American literature beyond the canonical revision of the last 30 years. We hope to open this conversation up with some initial ideas and resources this fall as well.

HANL: How does someone go about contributing an article for News and Overviews or a syllabus for Syllabus Builder?

RB: We are happy to receive contributions of essays about teaching (especially with new media resources), or annotated syllabi using The Heath. Faculty can send contributions to us electronically on email, through surface mail on disk, or by posting to their own web space. We are also looking to expand the listings of online syllabi and courses using The Heath Anthology. So, we encourage teachers with online materials to send us their URL and a brief 1-2 sentence description of the materials on their site. I can be reached at

HANL: What's the URL for The Heath Anthology web site?

RB: You can reach the site through Houghton Mifflin's English site at

HANL: What is the Center for Electronic Projects in American Culture Studies (CEPACS)?

RB: I started CEPACS in 1993 as a focal point for several electronic projects I was involved with, such as T-AMLIT and the earlier pre-Web version of Syllabus Builder. The most significant and extensive project of the past three years has been the American Studies Crossroads Project, an international project on technology and education sponsored by the American Studies Association. The Crossroads Project has been engaged not only in creating an "information infrastructure" for American Studies, but in creating faculty development resources for the appropriate use of new technologies in teaching culture and history. CEPACS has been supported both by external funding and by generous support from the Georgetown American Studies program. CEPACS will continue to engage in a number of electronic projects, including ongoing work with The Heath site, as well as the creation of Border Texts Online, the companion web site for my own book, Border Texts: Cultural Readings for Contemporary Writers.

HANL: How did you get swept up in the world of understanding and creating electronic resources to enhance the study of American literature?

RB: My first electronic project came in 1987, when I was a graduate student at Brown University. At that time, Brown had something called the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship (IRIS), a software development venture that supported, among other things, the pioneering work of George Landow in applying hypertext resources to college literature course environments. I became involved with IRIS when I was signed on to help with a multimedia hypertext program on Mark Twain and the Trans-Mississippi West for seventh- and eighth-graders. I worked on the project for two years and found it to be by far the most exhilarating work I had done since I entered graduate school.

I think what excited me most about doing content-rich technology projects was not the technology itself, but the nature of the work. Creating discipline-based pedagogical materials in electronic spaces was my first encounter with what I would call now "applied scholarship." Work with new media was a kind of hybrid professional activity, straddling the line between scholarship and teaching. Although the atmosphere has changed dramatically from those early days of experimentation, I am still excited (but have a few more reservations) about the capacity of new media to help make even more effective the multicultural, revisionist, contextualist approaches to teaching American literature and culture that most of us who use The Heath share. My personal goal in editing the electronic resources for The Heath Anthology is rooted in that hope.