Students in my 300 level senior seminar began the process of building a Designing Empire website through a series of scaffolded assignments that introduced them to various Digital Humanities tools. Beginning with an exercise in the interpretation of texts, students used NVivo to compare and contrast word usage and thematic content in two colonial texts. Next, using TimeMapper.js, students plotted texts and artifacts pertinent to a chosen Spanish American colonial community and shared their presentations with the class. For the final project students chose a colonial city as a subject for in-depth research, focusing on early modern visual and textual representations of the city. They curated these images and texts to create an Omeka exhibit that displayed both the texts produced by the colonizers, including but not limited to images, written texts, and spatial representations of the imperial cities, as well as indigenous products that present alternative conceptions of time and space. By the end of the semester, the class presented their Omeka website revealing original and competing analyses of representations of early modern Spanish Atlantic cities.
Designing Empire allows us the possibility of visualizing and mapping the early modern world. It invites scholars to understand the complexities of this moment in time, promoting an awareness of how this is not a world that is gathering dust in the archive, but continues to be very much alive and a part of our world. Mapping and visualizing the early modern Spanish Empire beyond the printed page uncovers important resonances in the social, cultural, economic, and political experiences of the people and nations of its former colonies.
While there has been a great deal of interest in recreating and visualizing empire in English-language studies, it has witnessed comparative neglect in early modern Spanish studies. I believe it was and will continue to be important for my students to understand that Spanish is not only about language proficiency and canonical reading lists, but also about and contributing to a vibrant research community. Planting this seed among my students contributes to this field, and to their own intellectual development. A project such as this require students do sophisticated literary analysis in a second or possibly third language, not just learn to conjugate verbs. In an advanced literature seminar comprised of majors, most of whom will go to professional schools or graduate programs, it is necessary that they become familiar with the future direction of the field. Students have gained the knowledge of how these digital humanities tools work and how to articulate their arguments using them and the New Media Literacies they promote.
I expect this website will not not only serve as an on-going project in upper level Spanish classes to introduce students to the use of DH tools in the study of early modern texts and places, but will also serve as a resource for other researchers and scholars beyond Grinnell College.
Mirzam C. Pérez
Associate Professor of Spanish