In the 1970s, Roland Barthes famously promoted a “writerly” mode of reading, in which readers no longer consume texts by simply reading them, but “play” texts like (in Barthes’s metaphor) amateurs gathered around a piano performing a score. Using the Ivanhoe concept developed by textual scholars at the University of Virginia in 2000, Jeff Allred (English, Hunter College) recently had students materialize Barthes’s abstraction, transforming Herman Melville’s Billy Budd into a role-playing game. Students chose roles in and around Melville’s text (e.g., characters, like Billy Budd or Captain Vere, Melville himself, editors, critics) and performed a version of the text collaboratively. The experiment generated increased engagement and fun, to be sure, but it also encouraged students to develop more sophisticated skills in the discipline, as they collaborated with librarians to incorporate significant literary research into the play, examining literary critical, biographical, and cultural historical sources to enhance their play.
Allred’s work on this project will be featured as part of a “digital panel” (along with DHI alumna Erin Rose Glass) at the American Studies Association conference in early November. Check out the panel
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