Interacting With Literature: Professor Russell’s Italian Visions Students Present Storymaps

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Professor Shannon Russell’s EN 282  Italian Visions: Perceptions of Italy in Literature class focuses on the creative importance of Italy for non-Italian writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The course looks at the ways cultural stereotypes are both constructed and persist. Through the literature studied, students consider the challenges of reading another cultural identity through one’s own.

One of the requirements of the course is a personal reading journal. In it, students are asked to comment on aspects of the readings assigned and to reflect on their own experiences of what it is to encounter another culture.  In Spring 2019, students were asked to curate each other’s reading journals and to use their selections to create a group Storymap project. Storymapping is a digital humanities tool and an interactive form of storytelling that allows students to combine maps, images, videos, and text.

Giorgio, Hannah and Giulia

From left: Giorgio, Hannah, and Giulia

“After years of reading these journals and the personal transformations they often chart, I thought that it would be interesting to have students share them with each other, in an attempt to break down some of the barriers I see exist between the experiences of study abroad students and degree-seekers,” said Prof. Russell.  “These groups don’t always connect, so I thought this Storymap project might be a creative way to open up some lines of communication between them.  Students were absolutely free to do whatever they wanted with their Storymaps and the results were both surprising and moving.”

Some groups themed their Storymaps around gender or the concept of the sublime.  Study abroad student Hannah Siebenberg, and degree-seeking students Giorgio Millesimi and Giulia Maggiori decided to follow in the footsteps of Goethe and called their Storymap project, Our Italian Journey. In it, they reflected on stereotypes about Italians, Americans, and their mutual perceptions about foreigners. “I think that this project is a great way for study abroad students to meet degree-seekers,” said Hannah. Giorgio said that the project helped to challenge the stereotypes that he and other Italian degree-seeking students have about America.  What emerged from their work together went beyond the assignment to include the creation of some very special friendships.

Check out the other Storymap projects:

Our Sublime Experience by Chryssi Soteriades, Lea Simonini, Luis Castro, and Andrea Attinello.

Mapping Italian Visions: Female Identity Past and Present by Adriana DeNoble, Selma Coleman, Elora Hartway, Karol France.

Watch the video by Hannah, Giorgio, and Giulia about their experience with the Storymap projects and the Italian Visions course.

The authors considered in the course included Tobias Smollett, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Ann Radcliffe, Madame De Staël, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Henry James, E.M. Forster, and Edith Wharton.