Digitally Diving Deep into “Dubliners”

LaRosa and Wawrzycka

Graduate student Katherine LaRosa (top) and English Professor Jolanta Wawrzycka.

Katherine LaRosa is in for many long work days and countless sleepless nights, says her professor Jolanta Wawrzycka.
 
Sleep, schmeep!
 
Who needs it when you’re on a mission to change and improve how English students – and anyone else who’s interested – study the works of Irish novelist James Joyce?
 
That’s exactly the mission chosen by LaRosa, a first-year English graduate student at Radford University, who along with fellow student and graphic design wiz Jesse Hylton, is working on an interactive website that allows eager learners to fully engage in the complex stories from Joyce’s “Dubliners.”
 
“We’re making a hypertext of Joyce’s works, an interactive learning tool that contains footnotes and archives in one source so that when students go to our website, they have all the information right there,” LaRosa explained. “We offer two sets of footnotes, one for someone who is not a literature student and a second set for more scholarly students.”
 
The option provides viewers of the website with a choice of “how they want to learn and how deep they want to get into the text,” LaRosa said.
 
A study abroad journey to Europe with Wawrzycka two years ago planted in LaRosa’s mind the seed for her odyssey into the digital humanities. Wawrzycka, a renowned Joyce scholar who annually directs a popular and academically rigorous study abroad program to Ireland and Italy, requires study abroad students to create a website built around their international study experience.
 
“Katherine’s travel website was very good and she has very ambitious plans to supplement it with the hypertexts,” the professor said.
 
Wawrzycka wasn’t the only person to take notice of the brilliance behind the project. The Department of Comparative Literatures at the Università di Roma Tre was also impressed with the website’s concept when LaRosa and Hylton sent a proposal – and were accepted – to present the prototype of their work at the Rome James Joyce Birthday Conference. Hylton was unable to attend, but LaRosa talked for the two of them in front of an inquisitive audience of Joyce scholars.

“She was great, just chugging along giving very solid answers,” recalled Wawrzycka, who was attending the conference to not only support her student, but also to serve on a translation panel. “Some of the questions were tough (issues of permissions, copyright, etc.), but she was gracefully sitting there answering all the questions that came her way.”
 
Only 20 presenters were selected for the prestigious conference – twice as many were rejected, Wawrzycka said – which was made up of mostly of graduate students who were close to defending doctorate-level theses.
 
“It was little daunting, but it was an amazing and incredible experience,” LaRosa said. “It was amazing to meet scholars and authors of books I have been reading for a long time, and it was incredible to have them talk to me.”
 
One of those scholars talks to LaRosa about every day. Wawrzycka is the author of numerous multi-language translation studies of Joyce's works and has established an international reputation as an expert on Joyce’s writings.
 
“It was incredible to hear the name of someone you have been working with so long being mentioned over and over again, said LaRosa, commenting on references to Wawrzycka’s works during the Rome conference. “The Joyce world is a very big community, and they all read each other’s works and work with each other. It was an eye-opening experience to see that firsthand.”
 
As they discuss the project, it’s easy to see the spirit and energy sparking in the professor-and-student, teaching-and-learning dynamic. It was one of Wawrzycka’s classes, after all, that turned LaRosa on to Joyce’s works. “I took the class by chance and loved it, fell in love with his work.”
 
Through her website project, LaRosa hopes she can spark the love of Joyce in other students by helping them learn as much as they desire about the characters and places in the collection of stories in “Dubliners.”
 
How will she accomplish her objective? It’s all about options.
 
“The website gives them a choice to pick out how they want to learn, and they can choose to learn at their own pace,” LaRosa explained.
 
Students will be immediately drawn into the storylines of “Dubliners” when viewing LaRosa’s and Hylton’s website, which will offer rich information through footnotes, photographs from Dublin in 1904 – when Joyce’s story takes place – and even hyperlinks to songs “so that students can immerse themselves fully into the story,” LaRosa said.
 
Through the footnotes, viewers will be able to read basic information, such as a definition or simple explanation, or they can delve deeper to learn about symbolism and learn what scholars are currently saying about “Dubliners” topics.
 
“The best metaphor I can come up with is, like in literature academics, there’s a great conversation going on, and our website allows students to enter that conversation at any point they wish to enter it,” LaRosa said of the all-encompassing learning experience. “They could just look up a definition, or they could really get into the scholarship, and that can give them insight, a peek into what the scholars are talking about.”
 
LaRosa said the stories portion of the project will take about a year to complete. However, the remainder will take much longer, Wawrzycka noted.
 
“Not until you start to really, really work on it will you realize the exponential time investment that it will take,” Wawrzycka said to LaRosa.
 
And then, halfway joking, the professor told her busy student, “It will be great for all those days and nights you have nothing to do or can’t sleep; you can just go and work on your website.”