On the Record
Mar 31, 2009 | 3033 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If the great American poet Walt Whitman were alive today, would he be on Facebook? Imagine Whitman's Twitter account.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) assistant professor Matthew K. Gold will do just that - more, or less - by using modern technology to enhance students' understanding and shared experience of the poetry many scholars believe to be the best ever written by an American.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded Gold a grant for his innovative digital humanities project titled "Looking for Whitman: The Poetry of Place in the Life and Work of Walt Whitman."

The class will be centered on an open source website where City Tech students share insights with students from three other colleges, all of which are situated in places like Brooklyn that played a key role in Whitman's life and development as a poet. Together the students from the four schools will exchange information on Whitman using online tools such as Twitter, YouTube and Google Maps, in the process creating an unmistakable 21st century perspective on the 19th century poet.

"Humanities research and teaching need to shift in response to technological innovations that have made new kinds of collaboration possible," Gold said in a statement after learning of his NEH grant. "Writing and reading have changed, and the academy has to respond. We have a tremendous opportunity before us if we're willing to take advantage of it."

Building a community of learners from a variety of institutions and with very different life experiences is very much in keeping with Whitman's democratic spirit, Gold adds.

"Whitman believed that America's strength came from the diversity of its citizens," the City Tech educator says. "When he wrote the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the political and economic strains leading to the Civil War were pulling the country apart. He desperately wanted the country to cohere and hoped to enable his fellow citizens to think beyond divisions that separated them so that they might embrace the ties that bound them together."

The project takes advantage of City Tech's proximity to the Brooklyn waterfront, where Whitman worked early in his career. The school is"two blocks from the site where the first copy of Leaves of Grass was printed, a short walk from the Brooklyn Bridge and close to the many Brooklyn locations in which Whitman lived.

"There is so much history here, but our students often don't know about it," said Gold. "I want to connect our learning to these places, to get our students out of the classroom and into the streets, into the archives. I want our students to see the streets themselves as archives."
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