Teaching the Online Archive
Making ‘Splendid Things’: The Potter’s Wheel Online Archive is a valuable resource for teachers and students across the disciplines and at a range of levels. This section identifies a set of critical aims relevant to a range of disciplines, projects, and pedagogical settings. Digital facsimiles of a document, object, or artwork can’t replace the original entirely, but they can do the following:
-Increase access to works not usually available to teachers, students, and researchers because of physical location (usually in a special collections library), use restrictions, or preservation issues.
-Bring together collections housed physically in disparate collections—a kind of virtual collection.
-Allow students to compare manuscript drafts, noting variants in word order, line spacing, diction, etc. using high quality images.
-Familiarize students with primary sources and original scholarship.
-Introduce the challenges (and delights) of transcription.
-Encourage critical thinking about computational analysis, including the benefits of wider access and circulation and the pitfalls of selection, design, and virtual reality.
With these aims in mind, here are some course module samples for using the Making ‘Splendid Things’: The Potter’s Wheel Online Archive:
1) Evaluating Context. In an important issue of Visual Resources dedicated to digital art history, Johanna Drucker suggests that digital resources offer the potential to “situate a work within the many networks from which it gains meaning and value, and then present the results within complex visual arguments.” Teachers might consider the various networks, communities, and historical narratives presented in the pages of The Potter’s Wheel. Students could compare research on women’s liberation, St. Louis history, or feminist art to the essays, poetry, and art preserved in the magazine. The Potters were an extremely tight-knit coterie of female friends; the magazine, handmade and circulated as a single copy, suggests a small audience and limited circulation. Students might research the social, cultural, and historical contexts that contribute to its history.
2) Aesthetic Traditions. As art and cultural historians know, creative objects rarely fit into tidy categories, and the greatest works actively evade easy categorization. The visual artworks in the pages of The Potter’s Wheel constitute a diverse collection of aesthetic traditions, ranging from Egyptian art to Impressionism, and users of the site will note strong currents of Pre-Raphaelite themes, images, and postures. Teachers can use the online archive to facilitate comparative studies across artistic, national, and temporal boundaries.
3) Textual Variants. Teachers of American poetry will doubtless find ways to integrate The Potter’s Wheel’s many poems into course presentations and activities. Perhaps one of the most valuable activities would focus on textual variants. Students will be excited to find differences between editions of poems, and the process of close reading will organically enter into their comparative analyses. Take, for example, the following erotic poem by Sara Teasdale from The Potter's Wheel Vol. II No. VI April 1906:
A song for Eleonora with the Roses, in Francesca da Rimini.
O would I were the roses that lie within her
The heavy, burning roses she touches as she stands.
Dear hands that hold the roses, where mine would
love to be,
Oh leave, oh leave the roses, and take the hands
She draws the heart from out them, she draws
away their breath,
Oh would that I might perish and find so sweet
The Poet Lore Company published this version of the poem in 1907 in a volume entitled, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems. Readers will note variants in title, enjambment, punctuation, and word choice (take vs. hold in the second stanza):
A Song to Eleonora Duse in "Francesca da Rimini"
Oh would I were the roses, that lie against her hands,
The heavy burning roses she touches as she stands!
Dear hands that hold the roses, where mine would love to be,
Oh leave, oh leave the roses, and hold the hands of me!
She draws the heart from out them, she draws away their breath,—
Oh would that I might perish and find so sweet a death!