Leith Davis

I am a professor in the Department of English and also the Director of the Research Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. I teach and do research in the literature and culture of the long eighteenth century, with a particular focus on Scotland and Ireland. My books include Acts of Union: Scotland and the Negotiation of the British Nation (Stanford, 1998); Music, Postcolonialism and Gender: The Construction of Irish National Identity (Notre Dame, 2005); and, most recently, Mediating Cultural Memory in Britain and Ireland From the 1688 Revolution to the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (Cambridge, 2022). I have also co-edited collections of essays on Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2004); Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture (Ashgate 2012); and The International Companion to Scottish Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (ASLS 2021). 

My interest in teaching Embodied Humanities started a long time ago when I began to realize that the anthologies and books that I was assigning in my classes were missing a vital component of eighteenth-century life: music, singing and sound in general. I began to introduce ballads and singing into my classes, including inviting two fabulous ballad scholars, Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, to come and share their knowledge and practice with my students. I realized that, not only did this fill a gap in my students’ understanding of the eighteenth century, but it was also engaging for them, and also created more of a sense of community in the classroom. Then, around 2014, my research shifted to focus on works of manuscript culture (manuscript newsletters and letters, for example), and I began to seek ways of introducing handwritten documents and techniques of writing into my classes as well. 

In 2019, I I received a grant from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines at SFU to further explore an “embodied humanities" approach to teaching eighteenth-century culture. The big question I sought to test was whether providing students with learning opportunities involving hands-on experiences with three media platforms utilized in the eighteenth century (oral listening and performance; scribal culture; and letterpress printing) would enhance their engagement with and understanding of eighteenth-century literature and culture. I was interested in particular in how the process of “putting . . . bodies through the labors that other long-dead bodies have previously performed” (in Andrew Griffin’s words) might serve to boost four aspects of their engagement: “emotional engagement, physical engagement, cognitive engagement in class, and cognitive engagement out of class” (Burch, et. al., “Student Engagement: Developing a Conceptual Framework and Survey Instrument,” Journal of Education for Business 90, no. 4 [May 19, 2015]: 224–29). You can read the final report HERE. 

Teaching that class using this format was a eureka moment for me. I had never seen such engagement from students—and such creativity! I was eager to teach the course again to see if that was just a fluke or whether I was onto something important. But, of course, the world was upended in March, 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, it occurred to me that it still might be possible to introduce some of the embodied activities remotely, so, in Fall, 2020, used a "New Ways of Teaching and Learning" grant from ISTLD to pivot some of the activities that I had used to a remote environment. In fact, teaching this course taught me that embodied humanities activities were more important than ever as they could actually be used to engage students and bring them together to share experiences during a time when all were suffering from an overexposure to screens. I implemented the pivoted techniques in two courses that I taught in Fall, 2020: English 420 (an upper division undergraduate course) and English 820 (a graduate course). 

In 2021, I was awarded an Amundsen Fellowship to expand my researches into Embodied Humanities, including creating a network of individuals at SFU and other institutions who use different embodied techniques in their teaching. “Enhancing Student Engagement Through An Embodied Humanities Approach to Teaching” will explore theories, methodologies and best practices. I am hoping to discover more ways in which Embodied Humanities approaches can be used to boost student engagement in humanities subjects and also to work against the divide between humanities and science/technology courses. Stay tuned . . . 

Andrea Korda

I am a researcher, an educator, and a crafter, and I work at the University of Alberta as an Associate Professor of Art History. My research focuses on 19th-century visual and material culture, with an emphasis on the influence of the emerging media of modern life. My first book, Printing and Painting the News in Victorian London: The Graphic and Social Realism, 1869-1891 (Ashgate, 2015), looked at the relationship between illustrated news and painting, while subsequent articles have considered 19th-century artistic advertising, picture books for children, photography, and painted replicas. 

My current research project looks at the relationship between histories of art and histories of education in Britain and North America. As part of this project, I examine specific moments in 19th- and early 20th-century classrooms when teaching tools resembled art or when art was used to teach. A book-in-progress on this topic, titled Artful Instruction: Teaching, Learning, and Modern Art in Britain and North America, considers a wide variety of materials, from Victorian decorative objects to modernist photography and collage.

Since 2014, when I began teaching at the University of Alberta’s undergraduate-focused Augustana Campus, I have been integrating hands-on learning into my courses as a way of increasing student engagement. Students in my classes have taken on creative tasks like curating exhibitions, creating their own landscapes, remaking historical artworks (in an adapted version of the “Getty Museum Challenge”), and building camera obscuras. 

Most recently, I have been integrating crafting into my courses as part of a concerted effort to bring “critical crafting” into humanities classrooms. In my modern art course, for example, I have shifted away from an emphasis on artists and styles. Instead, I emphasize material practices and hands-on work that is accompanied by critical reflection. Students begin the term by making and playing with optical toys. We then explore digital databases of 19th- and 20th-century newspapers and magazines, using our findings to create collages—an activity that enables students to explore both modern media and modernist art practices. In a final project, students learn about the history of textile manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries while engaging with discarded textiles and making rag rugs. 

My efforts to bring critical crafting into the classroom grew out of my work on Crafting Communities, a project on which I collaborate with Dr. Mary Elizabeth Leighton (U of Victoria) and Dr. Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba). Since the summer of 2020, we have been working with teams of students and a wide community of scholars and makers to create open educational resources that support educators and students learning with and from crafting. Our award-winning website www.CraftingCommunities.net houses a series of hands-on tutorials, resources to support teaching and learning with craft, student reflections on critical crafting, an online exhibit (Victorian Things), and a 3-season podcast (Victorian Samplings). Visit us at www.CraftingCommunities.net and follow us on Instagram @crafty_victorians to learn more about Crafting Communities. 

Mary Elizabeth Leighton

I joined the English Department at the University of Victoria in 2001, and for years my primary engagement with hands-on learning in the classroom occurred in our library’s wonderful Special Collections. At UVic, we are lucky to have access to a wide range of 19th-century material, from ample runs of magazines and newspapers to first editions, cheap reprints, scrapbooks, paper peep shows, letters, and ephemera. As a researcher, instructor, and collaborator with our amazing librarians, I’ve been fortunate to experience and offer hands-on learning opportunities in our Special Collections’ recently renovated teaching classrooms.

Conferences—and conference organizing—have also taught me much about the possibilities of hands-on learning. In 2007, a joint NAVSA-VSAWC conference on Victorian Materialities that I co-organized with Dr. Lisa Surridge (U of Victoria) expanded my sense of hands-on possibilities in research and teaching. In addition to traditional papers, we included on the program several hands-on workshops on pedagogy and print culture: as examples, in a lively pedagogy workshop, Dr. Gail Turley Houston (U of New Mexico) shared (and we enacted) students’ stage-blocking of key scenes from Victorian fiction; in a marvellous print identification workshop, Dr. Brian Maidment (Liverpool John Moores U) equipped participants with his own 19th-century prints and magnifying glasses, teaching us how to distinguish among wood engravings, etchings, and lithographs. Brian’s workshop transformed Lisa’s and my research on text-image relations in Victorian fiction: we went on to publish The Plot Thickens: Illustrated Victorian Serial Fiction from Dickens to Du Maurier (2019), but we also took inspiration from his workshop to design a shorter version of it for undergraduate and graduate classrooms.    

In 2011, on a bit of a lark with students in a graduate seminar on illustrated 19th-century fiction, Lisa and I participated in an afternoon of linocut print-making. The session was so successful in exemplifying the techniques of 19th-century wood engraving that we formalized it as a workshop for the Digital Humanities Summer Institute course on “The Pre-Digital Book” that we taught at UVic from 2013 to 2019. We would run a hands-on workshop on print identification in Special Collections all morning, then a hands-on linocut print-making workshop in the afternoon. By the end of the day, participants had a firm grasp of the affordances of relief printing and the distinctions among wood engraving, etching, and lithography. 

In 2018, for a joint RSVP-VSAWC conference on The Body and the Page that Lisa and I co-organized, we again emphasized hands-on learning in workshops beyond regular panels: Dr. Amy Coté (Samford U) taught a hand-press print-making workshop (participants did their own typesetting, inking, and printing of small commemorative bookmarks); Joan Byers (Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild) taught book binding (participants sewed gatherings, glued cloth covers, and made their own small books); and local historical sewing group Victorian Vogue offered narrated fashion shows of reproduction 19th-century women’s clothing (participants learned about mourning wear, petticoats, hoop skirts, bustles, and corsets).

Our collaboration with Victorian Vogue has since then extended to Lisa’s and my current research project (Great Expectations: Pregnancy in Victorian Fiction), which includes researching and making reproduction 19th-century garments worn by pregnant and breastfeeding women. Alongside expert sewers Martha Burd and Judy Bishop (Victorian Vogue), as well as undergraduate UVic student Elizabeth Duchesne, and with expert advice from dress historian Dr. Alanna McKnight (U of Toronto), we’re using 19th-century patterns and museum exemplars to re-create maternity dresses and tea gowns. Research to prepare for such hands-on making has already transformed our knowledge of 19th-century women’s experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, contributing to our scholarly analyses of various novels.

Although I had dipped my toe into hands-on making in the classroom through linocut print-making workshops, my leap from hands-on learning in Special Collections to hands-on making in the classroom really owes to my collaboration with Drs. Andrea Korda (U of Alberta, Athabasca) and Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba) on Crafting Communities since 2020. Our work together with a terrific team of student research assistants, librarian collaborators, and international research colleagues has been joyful and inspiring—and has taught me so much about 19th-century material culture and the possibilities for hands-on making in the classroom. From letter writing (and folding and sealing), collage, and scrapbooking to embroidery and hair work, my students and I have enriched our study of 19th-century fiction through classroom crafting, which has been facilitated by Crafting Communities’ tutorials and its other Open Access resources. Since 2020, students in my classes have produced fabulous “Unessay” projects (research project alternatives to traditional essays), demonstrating their knowledge through reflections on knitting, embroidering, collaging, scrapbooking, painting, and gardening projects that illuminate the fiction we’re reading.

Collaborating with Andrea and Vanessa has also made me brave about trying other forms of creativity in and for the classroom: during the pandemic, we adapted the Getty Museum Challenge for our courses, inviting students to recreate digital versions of 19th-century artworks in their homes with the materials (and bodies) available to them—and modeling such recreations ourselves as part of an assignment rubric. I didn’t love the look of my Getty Challenge, but I did love the process of doing it. The experience reminded me that trying something new, valuing process over product, taking risks, and being vulnerable are crucial aspects of both creativity and learning. I’m excited to be a part of and learn from this network of scholars, whose commitment to “Embodied Humanities” encompasses such rich examples of hands-on learning and making but also promises to expand our ideas of creativity in the classroom and in research.            

Marissa Nicosia

Marissa Nicosia is Associate Professor of Renaissance Literature at The Pennsylvania State University-Abington College. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Marissa’s first monograph, Imagining Time in the English Chronicle Play: Historical Futures, 1590-1660will be published by Oxford University Press in 2023. She co-edited the collection, Making Milton: Print, Authorship, Afterlives (Oxford University Press, 2021), with Emma Depledge and John S. Garrison. In 2019, she co-edited a special issue of Explorations in Renaissance Culture on Renaissance Futures with John S. Garrison. She has published articles on Renaissance literature, temporality, food culture, and book history and manuscript studiesMarissa runs the public food history website Cooking in the Archives (www.rarecooking.com) which centers embodied humanities research in its approach. Marissa has published articles about her methods of research and recreation (including this one) and also discussed them in a range of interviews (like this one). Her embodied humanities pedagogy includes efforts such as the "What's in a Recipe?" undergraduate research project. Marissa has co-written articles about this project (here) and also about abolitionist pedagogy (here). 

Nicky Didicher

I’m Nicky Didicher, and I use “she” pronouns. I’m a settler of British and German descent living and working on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem) lands. As a teaching-stream faculty member, research and publishing are not part of my job description, but as a learning-centred teacher, embodiment is an important part of my pedagogy. I teach everything from medieval literature to science fiction in the English dept at Simon Fraser University, but I specialize in eighteenth-century British literature and contemporary literatures for young readers. I also teach a course in the quantitative analysis of poetry (there’s more to meter than iambic pentameter!).

My students engage in a lot of experiential and authentic learning, whether that means learning to walk, bow, and curtsy C18-style, choosing books for our Curriculum Collection, or publishing their course assignments digitally. While I believe that my experiential and authentic pedagogies both embody Humanities, they tend to do so in different ways. When I’ve got an experiential hat on, I’m focused on in-class activities having to do with how people in different times and places have acted and the materials of their lives, with the intent of enriching student understanding. When I’m planning authentic learning, I’m more focused on course design and assessment design, thinking of various careers my students are likely to have and what larger projects will help them acquire and develop skills in hands-on ways.

I’ve been teaching since 1989, and I’ve now got a deep repository of in-class experiential activities I’ve used, including for example having period-appropriate pot luck meals; doing English country dancing; using nib and quill pens, sand, and sealing wax in writing and folding letters; having students sing ballads or act scenes from plays; and having sonnet-writing competitions. I’ve made a range of historical outfits that I can wear to class when it’s appropriate, and I have students not only ask questions but make hypotheses about a culture from its clothing. While I’ve been on study leave this year, I’ve been taking weaving classes, and I’m currently planning how to incorporate using my Beka loom in class. Students tend to remember these lessons longer than the texts we study—once when I was volunteering at convocation, a former student said the main thing he remembered from my class was that candle wax is not sealing wax! But I hope the enrichment attaches to memories of the texts, too.

Authentic learning is something I’ve been working with mainly for the past five years, although my Curriculum Collection project goes back to 2013. Undergrad English majors and minors don’t only become teachers or librarians, though those tend to be common career paths for those who take Children’s Literature courses. I now try to incorporate guests and assignments into upper-level courses that reflect skills our students are going to need or career options they may not have thought of. I’ve taught several courses in which students publish an anthology at the end of term, for example, and I’ve had an editor come in not only to give them tips about copyediting but also to share their experiences working in editing. For Fall 2023’s Children’s Literature class I’m trying to arrange for an elementary school teacher and a sensitivity reader as paid guest speakers. Students have very much appreciated that their large-scale projects have had a lasting effect on the university library, whether due to their adding of books to our collection or because their work is published through the Public Knowledge Project at SFU’s library. The latter love that they can look themselves up in the catalogue and show their families and potential employers that they have published works! Here's a link to an example, from a course in C18 British poetry.

Vanessa Warne

Since 2001, I have taught and researched Victorian literature and the history of disability at the University of Manitoba in the Department of English, Theatre, Film & Media. While the hands-on examination of artifacts such as coins, cartes de visite, and braille books has always been important to my teaching, I made my first experiment with hands-on making in the classroom in 2017. Thirty wonderfully willing upper-year students joined me in exploring Victorian-era hair work. Using synthetic hair, wire, wooden dowels, and clamps, we created flowers and leaves of the kind Victorians displayed in framed human hair wreaths. Arguably, it was an overly ambitious and somewhat messy first foray into hands-on making in the literature classroom!  Fortunately, our shared understanding of the history of women’s crafts, of bodily relics, and of the representation of familial relationships in Victorian literature was so deeply enriched by our hair work adventure that I’ve never looked back. 

A course on the representation and role of paper in Victorian literature has proved especially fertile ground for using hands-on making to deepen student learning and engagement. To better understand the material properties of paper and paper’s role in children’s play, we’ve made and launched paper kites. We have also experimented with zoetropes, thaumatropes, and silhouettes. Most memorably, we’ve made moving panoramas that adapted passages from our primary texts to this endlessly creative paper-based storytelling medium. I’m looking forward to introducing pinhole photography (using repurposed beverage cans) to my Victorian literature survey this Fall. By capturing a visual record of the movement of the sun across the sky over the eight months of our course, I hope we will learn about the early history of photography but also about both the proliferation of timekeeping practices and the nineteenth-century novel’s investment in depicting the passing of time.  

My experiments with, to adopt Leith Davis’ term, ‘embodied humanities’ have been supported by opportunities to collaborate with like-minded colleagues. In 2022, I co-taught an upper-year course on “Homemaking and Making Home” with Dr. Sarah Elvins (History, U of M). Focused on the period 1860 to 1920, the course, in which students could earn either English or History credits, was structured by experiments with basic needlework, knitting, butter making, and baking, among other domestic skills. Sarah’s knowledge of food history was invaluable to our course’s success. More recently, in collaboration with Dr. Sabrina Mark, I’ve begun to explore how hands-on making might support my volunteer work in the museum sector and also enrich the ways in which I explore museums and their resources with my classes. Sabrina and I, in partnership with Winnipeg’s Dalnavert Museum and Visitors’ Centre, created two detailed reproductions of a bodice in the Museum’s collection in order to better understand the time, skills, and materials needed to make a garment of this kind, as well as to identify different values, such as thrift, that shaped its creation and alteration. In this case, I benefitted at every step from Sabrina’s knowledge of sewing and patternmaking.

Most influentially of all, my teaching has been transformed (and, I believe, deeply enhanced) by my involvement with the Crafting Communities project. Since 2020, I’ve had the joy of collaborating with and learning from my partners on that project, Dr. Andrea Korda (Art History, U of Alberta) and Dr. Mary Elizabeth Leighton (English, U of Victoria). Together with a generous group of contributors, including very talented student research assistants, we’ve developed a set of Open Educational Resources that we hope fellow educators, as well as DIY crafters, will adopt and find useful. While my involvement with this project has taught me a great deal about teaching, crafting, and Victorian-era material culture, it also taught me how to make a podcast. My experience co-hosting our project’s podcast, Victorian Samplings, has me wondering how I might introduce the creation of a collaborative podcast into the design of one of my courses. I eagerly welcome any and all suggestions on that possibility!

Claire Battershill is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Wendy M. Cecil Professorship at Victoria College. She teaches and researches in the areas of book history and print culture; Modernist and 20th-Century Literature; and interdisciplinary creative practice. She’s the author of Circus (McClelland & Stewart 2014); Modernist Lives (Bloomsbury 2018); and, most recently, Women and Letterpress Printing 1920-2020: Gendered Impressions (Cambridge University Press 2022).

Diana Solomon

Since 2007 I’ve been a member of the Department of English at Simon Fraser University, where I’m currently Associate Professor and Undergraduate/Associate Chair of the department. I’m also an associate of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department. My books include Prologues and Epilogues of Restoration Theater: Gender and Comedy, Performance and Print (Delaware, 2013; rpt. 2015); the coedited volume, Women and Comedy: History, Theory, Practice (Fairleigh Dickinson, 2014); and the coauthored volume, Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation (Chicago, 2018). Currently I’m working on a monograph about comedy’s proximity to tragedy in Restoration and eighteenth-century English theatre, and I’m co-editing the second edition of the Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Drama.

Before starting graduate school I taught high school English, and became aware of how awake my students became when they were asked to stand up and perform, or work in groups, or complete creative projects. It has been a long-standing goal of mine to bring that aliveness into my university classrooms. As someone who teaches drama within an English department, I’m always aware of how most plays are intended first and foremost for performance, and tailor my assignments and in-class activities accordingly. An article of mine about an embodied approach to teaching the closet drama of Anne Finch is forthcoming in Aphra Behn Online.

Since 2017 I’ve been using the Reacting to the Past pedagogy in undergraduate literature courses. This pedagogy, pioneered by Mark Carnes of Barnard College, immerses students in the past by casting them as historical figures or composites and asks them to grapple with political and cultural issues. My students have conducted a flame war through fake Renaissance broadsides, staged a people’s revolt during the French Revolution, and held a “Votes for Women” bake sale, all in aid of diving deeper into the literature and philosophy of different ages.