Classical Literature within the Lebanese Context

My group and I’s main topic was to focus on the recurring genres or literary works within a specific generation , a group of 5 years based on the year of graduation. I chose to focus from 2010-2015. The following post will be divided into the following sections: Trying my luck with Palladio, Main Finding, Conclusion, Limitations, Improvements, and Reflection.

 Trying my luck with Palladio

Palladio allows the user to choose multiple fields using the same data and can display information in different ways. My two most used modes where the table and the graph. The graph constructs networks out of dot and lines, similar to constellations, except you can see them clearly anytime of the day.

Playing around with the Palladio revealed to me the following findings:

-The novel genre is quite popular and stirred up various emotions.

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-Looking at fiction, the emotion “paranoid”caught my eye, bringing to my attention that  I weakly associate the feeling of paranoia with fiction.Paranoid 2016-12-04 at 2.56.51 PM.png

So I went back to the excel sheet and discovered it was 1984 by George Orwell that was the culprit. Makes sense.

-Speaking of 1984, on it’s own, the novel derived a wide range of emotions and is one of the most popular books according to the data.

-Boredom was one of the most prevalent emotions according to the data-

Wait a minute

Not all books will move you or have you reading until dawn but I couldn’t help but see what books were causing those who belonged to this generation bored. Referring to the networks, various titles (Anna Karenina, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc) are linked to the emotion boredom and these books all have a particular genre in common: they are all classics.

Main Finding

Prior this project, I knew reading Western classical literature was not far-fetched within high schools and the network strengthens this claim since the genre “Classic” appears  linked to ST (school time), meaning classics were mostly read when it was assigned to students(there are two exceptions).

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Narrowing it down, it was found that boredom was a common emotion linking the classics.

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I think one of the contributing factors of why boredom is highly affiliated with classical literature is the type of language. The language used tends to be bulky and written in an “older English”. Also, slang is minimal or perhaps very different from our modern day colloquy. In other words, the English language continuously changes and so it becomes more difficult to read older text. I recall struggling with 1984 at the beginning because I wasn’t accustomed to George Orwell’s writing style. I also think some classics fall under the risk of dragging on and if the reader isn’t engaged, the person is likely to drop the novel before the climax.

For further understanding I called up two people I had interviewed in the beginning. LS confirmed that western classical literature was taught throughout her senior year and supported my finding by claiming boredom. She elaborated by saying that although different books were covered, the teacher would use a similar method of analyzing each text. Moreover, the repetition or similarity of themes and morals of the books contributed to her boredom.

MY: What would you do to make it more interesting?

LS: Change the teaching method

Turns out LS’s sister, NS, is currently a senior at the same high school and new books have been added to the literature curriculum. However, after describing the teaching method and the class dynamic, LS confirmed that there wasn’t much of a difference .

Furthermore, in regards to the analysis, NS commented that they, the students, weren’t expected to contribute to  the discussion. She might have been joking but it is probably one of the contributing factors to the lecture style of teaching these works.

I called another person I had interviewed but couldn’t input his data because Google Maps couldn’t give me his high school’s coordinates. Although he was taught Armenian Literature, the same issue occurred. His boredom stemmed from the lack of diversity in authors despite taking different works. Also, There wasn’t much room for students to deliver their inputs since it was lecture based.

MY: What would you do to make it more interesting?

VM: Contextualize a lot more. Talk about the moment in time these people were writing and why specifically they became canon in Armenian Literature. Not simply say theye are and stop there.

I also asked in their opinion, why they think these books stay within academia, and both gave me different answers. One said that its linked to the school’s prestige. I didn’t refute this because prestige is considered important in Lebanese society.

The other said it was because these works are canon and that for one to be well-versed in literature, these works still need to be studied, especially works written by those who contributed to elevating the importance of this field.

Which reasoning do you agree with? Both maybe?

Conclusion

Based on the data and the networks, classical literature is usually read when it is assigned to students. Though this ensures that these works remain in canon, those who graduated from the year 2010-2015 seem to leave high school remembering how bored they were in class more than the morals these books supposedly teach. Based on the two phone interviews, it seems the repetitive method of teaching and lack of encouraged involvement may be contributing to the prevalent feeling of boredom when reading the classics.

Limitations

  • Although it provides a direction, my data is not very representative. I only interviewed one person from an older generation and I didn’t interview anyone from public schools.
  • Anomalies: Palladio and Carto are quite sensitive. For Example, Palladio differentiates Anomalie 2016-12-04 at 2.51.20 PM.pngthe same word if it’s entered beginning with a small letter or with a capital letter.
  • I didn’t attend high school here and so I have to rely on other people’s high school experience, which subjects my results to bias or to constructed memory.
  • More phone interviews in regards to classical literature should have been carried out.
  • I was unable to gain the perspective of an English high school teacher.

Improvements

Since this project will likely continue next semester for a new group of students, I suggest the following improvements:

  • Just as how ensuring one group member is familiar with WordPress to help others who aren’t, perhaps one person in each group should be appointed to enter the data. That will minimize the variations of text from 20 different possible people to a maximum of six (if you were to keep the size of the groups the same.) It doesn’t sound like an attractive position, so maybe you could have the student’s name randomly generated.
  • Considering the criteria we had to fill, I think asking the interviewees the name of the general area of their high school would be helpful because Google maps doesn’t provide the coordinates for some schools in Lebanon. At least, a general location would be provided and it could help validate the coordinates provided or help us realize that the coordinates on Google/Carto maps are way off.
  • Make space for a re-interviewing stage. Based on my experience, this helped provide more insight.

Reflection

This project demonstrates the canonicity of Western classical literature within Lebanese high school academia. It is understandable since authors like Shakespeare contributed to the growth of literature but I’m left wondering which writers or poets pushed forward Lebanese literature or literature within Lebanon.

It’s beneficial to teach Western Literature but based on the data not much space is provided for works written by Lebanese writers within private schools, making it harder to deduce what work of literature written by a Lebanese or culture-specific to Lebanon would be considered canon. However, based on the data, Khalil Gibran’s work is mentioned and so if I where to vouch for any author it would be him.

My main finding illustrates that canonicity doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is well liked or guaranteed proper integration when passed onto the next generation. It seems how these works are taught needs to be improved to ensure the coming generations actually understand the value of these works. Additionally, I think finding ways to make the content relatable to high school students could help with them engage with the classics. For example, use 1984 as a way to talk about constant surveillance as a similarity between the book and their lives. Of course, finding a link is not a guaranteed possibility for all works of Classical literature but it doesn’t hurt to try. Minimum, students should be encouraged to participate rather than spoon fed the teachings of these works.

Frankly, students shouldn’t have to wait to be in a university classroom to be able to engage with literature.

-MS-


Questions:

  1. Based on your personal experience, if you found yourself dozing off midway a classic, why so?
  2. Other than the reasons mentioned, can you think of another reason why western classical literature remains in high school academia?
  3. If you were to add a non-classic literary work to a literature curriculum what would it be? Why?

(you can answer as many as you like below in the comments)

 

 

 

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We have a Topic

Mariam, Dana, Maria, and I arranged to meet in Room 102, in the Fisk building, for our first group meeting. Mariam said she needs a few more minutes and so in the meantime Maria and Dana showed me their blogs and asked for tips on customizing and organizing it. I have been working on this blog for 2 years and a couple of months and this was one of those rare moments my blogging skills came in handy. It was a very motivating.

Actually…

 To add to that, I remember a particular day I was dreading and Dr. Najla, our professor for this course, decided to dedicate the class to showcasing everyone’s blogs. It eventually lead to me standing in front of the class explaining several elements of my blog, even the meaning behind “The Tea Mile”. I was so awkward and shy, lord have mercy, but the experience made me feel that all that time dedicated to my blog, up until that moment, was worth it. Recalling that puts a smile to my face.

Anyways…

Mariam arrived after the rest of us finished assessing each others blogs and so we jumped right into work. Looking at the data and after some time dedicated to brainstorming a couple of ideas, two main ideas where agreed upon. One idea focused on what people read during the Lebanese war in 2006 and the other expanded to focus on multiple generations and the recurring genres or literary works. The time period between our first meeting and the next, we took a while to decide but the more flexible nature of the latter was the deciding factor.

And so during our second meeting, that happened earlier today, we finalized our topic:

The years of graduation will be grouped into ranges of 5 years, known as generations, and observed to see if there are any recurring genres or literary works. From there, research will be conducted to place the work in a kind of context, whether it be historical, cultural, etc. Essentially, see what genre or literary work is canon among generations and place it within a kind of context.

For us to be able to tackle this we will be using our analyzing skills, online sources, and websites Dr. Najla introduced to us to help with connecting the dots visually. The two websites are Palladio and Carto. Both are user friendly, and so far they work with our data. However, since we decided to use the data collected by the whole class, a few variations are expected.

Regarding dividing the work, each person will take on a generation and do the necessary analysis and research. Additionally, I’ll be providing the map from carto and Maria and Mariam will teach Dana and I how to use Palladio.

Below is the map I did on carto:

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The map is able to provide on overview of the high schools the interviewees mentioned and as you can see, most of the school sample is located in Beirut. While playing around with the map, I discovered that by clicking on the yellow circle, all the other attributes pop up. And so perhaps picking an area with a high concentration of yellow markers could develop our topic further. Or not.

Onward, with connecting the dots

-MS-

 

 

A New Pattern, I Just Need to Find It

I’m currently taking an Introductory English Literature course and a project is part of the coursework. This is the first blogpost.

I remember the first week of this semester. September. I hadn’t even settled down yet and life kinda slapped me in the face when I realize I wasn’t graduating on time (considering my financial situation). Fabulous. Running around trying to get my courses only added to the strain I felt. And so when I went to my first English 205 class  (I missed the first one because I wasn’t registered for it yet), the announcement of having to do a project didn’t seem as daunting until my professor delivered the gist. You see the comfort of mixing my Nutrition courses with humanities is exercising my analytical and writing skills and maximum doing a presentation and so i didn’t expect a digital humanity project for an introductory English literature class. Overwhelmed, frustrated,and emotions not in check, it felt the project had been dumped on me.

Sentiments aside, what is digital humanities?

It is essentially an intersection between computer sciences and the humanities in the field of public humanities.Which is interesting because both fields seemed so distant to me before knowing this. Specific to the project, students were instructed to collect data from random people about the books they had read in high school, the condition being that they graduated from a Lebanese high school. The purpose and with the help of visualizing tools is to observe and derive a topic related to canonicity within the Lebanese context. We had the freedom of constructing our own interview questions as long as it followed the criteria specified on the excel sheet (i.e. genre, book title).

This seems like a project I would prefer doing on my own but it’s group-work and I’m always hesitant in participating in group work because of the risk of working with a group of people who would leave most of the work for me to do. I can’t be the only one who feels this way and I know I’m not the only one.With that hanging at the back of my head, the act of picking a group was nerve-wracking. Not to mention, I’m a socially awkward jellybean – but it worked out. I ended up with 3 girls who were on the same page as me – confused and curious. I knew Mariam way before taking this class and so I was already comfortable with her and with the fact that we would be working together. I’d never met Maria or Dana before but they turned out to be friendly and supportive. Presently, I’m comfortable with working with my group. We’ve even help each other out on matters outside the project, which is comforting.

Data collecting doesn’t sound exciting but I find interviewing fun but my limitation of only being fluent in English makes me nervous but so far, so good. Considering all the answers I’ve gotten, I believe the most interesting answer I got was that one of the interviewees didn’t actually finish reading any books while in high school. She was interested in math and biology more, which is cool, but her school didn’t have a strong English literature program either. Also, she essentially didn’t read during her free time as well. She joked that she didn’t finish a book during her high school years but it unfortunately links back to the stigmatizing perception that the arts are still considered inferior to the sciences. Sigh.

It’s normal to wonder how a project like this could be relevant to the course. I was too until the following occurred to me: This class is an introductory course to British literature, where we cover works that are still considered important despite their age. And so this hunt for literary works within the Lebanese context may show which literary works are important in Lebanon, widening the scope of canon literature that isn’t British.

Working with this group reminds of another project I did. In my gender and sexuality course, Women in African Literature, my group and I had to pick a book and update its Wikipedia page. We each divided the work and then updated the old content on a Google doc and then submitted it. In comparison, the project from my gender and sexuality class was relatively simpler and shorter unlike this project that started since week 1 of the semester and requires me to be way more analytical and observant.

Reflecting on the work done so far, I do believe each of us in the group has the knowledge and the skills to contribute to this project but with each of our hectic schedules, progress has been slow but we are getting there. My group and I will most likely be focusing on generations and what books were reoccurring. At our next meeting, we will work on a further analysis of our data and the work will properly be divided.


It’s that time of the month where all the work I’ve procrastinated on is piling up. I’m gonna need something stronger than tea. French Press Maybe?

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After my occasional brew, taken by myself

-MS-