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
director of the Center for Electronic Projects in American Culture Studies
(CEPACS). He is the author of Border Texts: Cultural Readings for Contemporary
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
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'
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
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
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,
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
RB: That's right. The Syllabus Builder for the second edition of The Heath
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
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
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.