Don Quijote Digital: Two Experimental Seminars to Celebrate 400 Years of Innovation

This is a copy of remarks I’ll be making at the Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference at Furman University in Greenville, SC this Saturday, October 18th, 2014.

In this brief presentation I will share some ideas and plans that I have in place to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of the Quijote, 21st century style. This year is a personal celebration of Don Quijote for me. I’m not a Cervantista. I’m not even a specialist in Siglo de Oro. My specialty is eighteenth-century peninsular, with a focus on gender, and a recent interest in digital humanities.

My only claim to any sort of authority is that I read the Quijote for the first time 25 years ago with the great Javier Herrero Herrerowhile in graduate school at UVA. Since then, I’ve read the novel two more times—once in English and again in Spanish. For the past fifteen years or so I have led students every fall semester through their own readings of chapters 1 and 8 of the first volume as part of a Survey of Spanish literature course I teach. My program has a course on Cervantes, last taught 10 years ago when our Siglo de Oro specialist left and was replaced with a Colonial Latinamericanist, who has also since left. So after the 400th anniversary of the first volume came and went in 2005, I decided I couldn’t avoid teaching this class anymore. Generations of Spanish majors were leaving with very little idea about how wonderful this novel is, and I had to do something about it. So this is the year that this will happen, in various ways and with various groups of students. To me it was a crazy idea, but I’ve approached it in my best quixotic style, taking an adventure with my students that I hope they don’t forget, and I know I won’t. If you’re interested you can read more of my musings about the projects on this blog (see the category “Don Quijote“), on my professional website, and on a course domain that I and my students are developing around the year’s experiences:

This fall semester I am offering a first-year seminar (FSEM) “Digital Don Quixote.” All of our students must take an FSEM as part of their general education requirements, providing freshman the experience of a college level seminar early in their academic career with the aim of engaging them intellectually in ways that the typical introductory courses don’t. My FSEM uses Don Quixote as a gateway to various issues of digital studies and digital humanities, and also requires students to develop their own web domain through our UMW Domains program. All together students will be reading about 25% of the novel, together with about a dozen other articles or blogposts about either Don Quixote or issues in digital studies. Some of the topics we’ve been discussing so far have been digital identity; game studies; the future of the library; authors, authority, copyrights and Creative Commons; social media; digital humanities, MOOCs, and digital storytelling. Students reflect weekly through their own blog posts, are currently writing a critical review of a scholarly book or article on Don Quixote, will be developing their own digital identity on their own domain, and will create a group final project that brings together the issues we’ve explored in the class. In addition, students are working on some skills basic to all freshman seminars in writing, speaking, and research. Here are some of the observations from my students thus far on their blogposts:

Blog 1Blog 2Blog 3Blog 4

Recently students have broken into groups to plan a final project that, in addition to having written and oral components, needs to incorporate a digital component as well. Some of the suggestions I’ve given students to spark their own ideas include:

(“Creative” digital projects”)

  • A video of key episodes from DQ highlighting certain themes from our course
  • Another digital storytelling method, such as a game, using a web application like twine (
  • A parody website or a parody profile of DQ in social media
  • An animated GIF, or series of GIFs

(“Academic” or Digital Humanities projects)

  • a digital exhibition of illustrations associated with a particular episode in DQ
  • a comparison/contrast analysis of various translations of a particular episode in DQ, using Voyant (
  • a database and graph tracing the bibliography on DQ, perhaps analyzing by categories to see areas of scholarly emphasis. Could also compare by time–how has our interest in DQ changed over time?
  • a map of the translations of DQ

As I’m taking this journey with these freshman students, I’m planning the next with my advanced students, a senior level seminar that I’ll be calling “Cervantes y Don Quijote en el siglo 21”. Span 451

In some ways the two courses will be quite different: one is for freshman of varying majors and interests, the other for advanced Spanish majors only; in one we’ll be reading selections of the novel in translation, and the other we’ll be reading and discussing the entire two volumes in its original Spanish. But I hope to unify the two through an emphasis on digital studies and digital humanities. The senior-level seminar (to be taught Spring 2015) will focus on critical reception of Cervantes’ novel, and will explore how Don Quijote continues to be vibrant in our digital age. As part of the class we will work as a group to create our own class digital humanities project on the novel, perhaps even a larger version of one of the projects students begin in the FSEM. One of the main objectives of the course will be that students read all of the Quijote in Spanish. I know plenty of programs do this with undergraduates, but it really is a monumental task for our undergraduates. I hope to help it along by encouraging students to accept a challenge, and to log their reading in to our site as they progress.
Donquixote en biciThere’s one more component to our year-long celebration. I’m trying to organize a spring break bike tour of the Ruta del Quijote. This part may or may not happen, depending on enrollment. If it happens, we will connect to the other two projects by documenting our trip on the gohidalgo domain.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ll turn 50 this year just like our ingenioso hidalgo. To paraphrase one of my students, I too am just ” an elderly woman living humbly” hoping to have a great adventure this year!  But seriously, it is my hope that seeing Don Quijote through this modern digital lense might open up possibilities for new perspectives and new learning for me and my students, not only about an amazing novel, but also about some of the most current topics in our society today.

Here is a copy of the Prezi that I’m using at the MIFLC conference:

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