Google Maps and Censorship History

During the fall 2010 semester at the University of Texas at Austin and in affiliation with the Digital Writing and Research Lab, I designed and taught an English course on the theme of girlhood in twentieth-century banned novels.  I challenged students in the class to examine the censorship history of the novels under discussion, including such novels as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina (1992).  How and why did these coming-of-age stories become sites of contention and controversy?  My presentation at the MLA Panel on Digital Pedagogy will demonstrate the central role that Google maps played in my class.  At the beginning of the semester, I posed the question of what a geographical exploration of the critical reception of a given novel might reveal about “the text in the world”—how the novel circulates culturally.  Over the course of the semester, students created Google maps of each novel’s reception and censorship history.  Exploring the cultural work that writers and novels do in terms of geography was not only visually interesting (the students found it a fun and novel way to approach the task of contextualizing literature), but often yielded surprising insights, as well.  In a Google map presentation on Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, for example, one student found that although the novel addresses U.S. southern culture, it was most famously banned in the northeast, and its most prominent honors came out of LGBTQ circles in New York City and San Francisco.  The student was surprised that the novel, which he interpreted as first and foremost a portrait of domestic abuse, has been so widely recognized for its contribution to the LGBTQ canon.  As a Digital Pedagogy roundtable participant, I would discuss the challenges and rewards of incorporating Google maps as a pedagogical tool; I would showcase the Google mapping orientation exercises and assignments that I created, and display a few exciting examples of student-created Google maps. 

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