Following my previous post on humanities and satellites, I had an experimental day in one of my NYU Introduction to Theatre Studies classes where we explored Shakespeare from and overview perspective.  The course is intended to be an introduction to theatre as an academic discipline, and what better way to conclude a section on dramatic literature than doing some experimental work with a little-known and little-respected (but very stage-worthy!) play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

I wanted an assignment that would look at a text that traveled, and that could be said to be about moving through time and space.  Pericles fit the bill perfectly, and since I’ve always loved his messy plays best, this was a good one.

The assignment (below) uses Google Earth, with X main objectives:

  1. To serve as an introduction to using Google Earth, and ultimately, build digital mapping literacy skills.
  2. To focus on a text’s structure, largely by how its plot moves through locations.
  3. Think about the role of the fictional landscape and its relationship to a text.
  4. To see what would happen when you look at plays from space!

Basically, they were asked to pin a characters locations through the text, draw a path connecting them, zoom out the viewer until they are looking largely at landscape, and answer a series of questions about the topography of their character’s journey and the play.  Here’s the detailed assignment

The results ended up a bit more compelling than I expected and reinforces my belief that many digital tools are great resources to identify new, crucial questions, rather than to provide answers.

Although we only spent part of a class session on the assignment, students noticed a complex relationship between mountainous landscapes and the ocean.  While the play could be read as an opposition between the two, there is cursory evidence that language, plot, and characterization shift depending on the type of terrain of the text.  Certainly worth a closer look!

If there was more time, I would have loved to expand to other texts, tracing characters’ journeys over the earth.  I wonder: can one give a quiz with just paths over landscape and ask students to identify what character and play the path refers to?

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4 thoughts on “Pericles…in…Space…

  1. This really is an awesome assignment: I would be interested to see what is revealed by other Shakespeare works, or other Renaissance (and perhaps Spanish Golden Age?) plays. Plays that deal with imperialism/military conquests would yield a lot, I imagine…

    • I asked students to think of what Shakespeare plays this approach would make sense using. Unsurprisingly, we decided that the plays where they travel a lot would work the best, but I also think that it is useful to look at the landscape of the forest, castles, etc. in Macbeth from a distance. Granted, this is nothing new, but my ideal is to secure funding to build a “HumanitiesSat” which would allow students to program it themselves…

  2. Thanks for the link, Scott! I’m just starting to think about this stuff and what I REALLY want to do is probably 3-years away, so that kind of connection is great. In my very limited experience, geographers are really good with satellites

    As for the DHCS site, I am completely intrigued by this year’s paper doing a social network analysis of Socrates. Swoon.

    And since another side project of mine is to use Minecraft is classes, the Taxonomy of 3D virtual environments paper looks intriguing!

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