Before television, before film – even before we had the radio, we had the written word. It was used not only to communicate but also to entertain and educate. It’s unsurprising that our love for literature has endured over time and it looks like it will most certainly survive the digital era. (Physical paper copies of literature are struggling, but have still managed to maintain a presence.) This past spring Shealeen Meaney’s class at Russell Sage College worked on expanding Wikipedia’s coverage of American Literature Since 1865. They looked not only at written literature but also at what led to the creation of some written work, as in the case of Uncle Remus.
Uncle Remus is a folktale character and narrator of a 1881 collection of folktale stories collected by Joel Chandler Harris, an American journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist. After its release the book was well received and author Mark Twain himself read the book to his children. In current years, the collection and character of Uncle Remus have been seen as controversial due to the dialect Harris chose to represent plantation slave speech and because the Uncle Remus character is seen as an example of the racism and condescension that African-Americans faced during the time period. Harris himself hoped that the work would stand as a companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which he saw as a defense of slavery despite Stowe clearly writing it as an anti-slavery novel.
Students also expanded the article on Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat“, which deals with themes of domestic abuse, feminism, and survival. The work was published in 1926, while Hurston was an anthropology student at Barnard College of Columbia University, and centers on Delia, a washerwoman who is subjected to constant emotional and physical abuse from her husband, Sykes. During the course of the story Sykes tries to murder Delia via a poisonous snake he brings into the house, only for Sykes to die by snake bite instead. The class also expanded articles on two other short stories, “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. These two stories deal with very different environments, as the Fitzgerald story is set in Paris after the stock market crash of 1929, while Jewett’s story takes place in the Maine woods in the late 1800s.
Students and educators have a wealth of knowledge that’s surpassed only by their passion to learn and teach, two things that are incredibly well suited to the task of Wikipedia editing as an educational assignment. If you’re interested in taking part, please contact Wiki Education at contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can gain access to tools, online trainings, and printed materials.
Image: File:Old Plantation Play Song, 1881.jpg, by Frederick S. Church and James H. Moser, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.