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Teaching Edgar Allan Poe

The new Common Core State Standards have brought about major changes in the high school English classroom. They are required to now spend more time on non-fiction literature and primary source documents than ever before. One way to accomplish this task it to include primary source documents that correlate with the required fiction literature. This can especially be done in teaching the literature of Edgar Allan Poe, who has an interesting and well documented personal life that made a large impact on his writing. Because these primary source documents are not typically included with the literature, teachers can utilize digital databases that display and showcase important artifacts from an author’s life. To aid in this process, I reviewed and detailed the uses of three large digital databases for use in the English classroom: “The Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection,” “The Poe Log,” and “Edgar Allan Poe Digital Database.”

The first digital database that may help high school English teachers is from the Harry Ransom Center called “The Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection.” This collection was to accompany their 2009 Bicentennial Exhibit called, From Out of That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. The purpose of the exhibit was to display documents, books, artwork, and manuscripts that showed Poe’s life as a writer and as a person including his romantic relationships and mysterious death. This digital database can be helpful to teachers as they can use these primary source documents to aid instruction. The features of this database include a variety of categories on the right-hand side of the homepage that allow one to search through the digital database such as manuscripts, letters, artwork, books, music pairings, and newspapers. Once you click on the small initial title for the source you are interested in and then you are taken to another page where the text is enlarged and easy to read. One limitation is that you cannot read a summary of each piece until you click on a title first, slowing down the research process.

In terms of using this database as an educational tool, teachers and students can look through this exhibit at primary source documents and analyze how these items may have impacted the work of Poe. There are twenty-seven manuscript works from Poe all from the 1840s. For example, one available manuscript is a book with Poe’s poems, in which he revised and corrected them with his own handwriting called “The Raven and other Poems and Tales.” This specific manuscript would aid in helping students see the process that even famous authors go through in creating a text as Poe has many words crossed out and revisions to his work. Other notable features include seventy-six letters written by Poe through the 1840s, which give insight as to what Poe was occupied with and information about his life that wouldn’t typically be in a textbook.

One unique aspect of this collect is the sheet music for songs based on Poe’s poetry. With this artifact is a cover page and actual sheet music that corresponds to the words of Poe’s poem.  In the classroom today, students can find a modern day piece of music that correlates in some way to a Poe poem and explain the connections they have found. The artwork included in this collection includes portraits of Poe and Virginia in various capacities and by different creators.  There are also ninety-seven records in the newspaper section of the database, but many of the newspaper articles only mention Poe’s name once or have very little significance to Poe’s work or life at all. For the high school classroom, examination of these documents could be useful in terms of understanding the importance of newspaper during this time period, but the teacher would have to selectively choose which artifacts to use ahead of time.

Another online tool for teachers to possibly use is “The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe,” an electronic book complete with different chapters on the life of Poe. Each chapter has a narration on a specific time period in Poe’s life with illustrations. Also, under each narrative is a dated log of all activity written down about Poe’s life. Activity in the log includes newspapers, letters, and manuscripts. At the top of the digital book there is also a navigation system that includes articles on Poe, Poe topics, and Poe works. These options would best be suited for teachers to use in their own research or to selectively use in the classroom, as most of them are scholarly in nature.

For teachers, I think that this database would be of interest to utilize technology in the classroom. Students will enjoy the interactive quality of the different chapters, years, and pictures. I also think that this digital collection would be a great place to conduct a scavenger hunt for students to find information and items on Poe’s life. In that sense, this may be a better tool to use with students because of the organization and ease with use, compared to the Harry Ransom Center Collection, which is a more vast and diverse collection of primary sources that can be used in the classroom, but would be better suited for teachers to pick and choose from.

The last database reviewed is the small database from the Enoch Pratt Free Library called the “Edgar Allan Poe Digital Database.” This digital database was created to make a living memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. On the front page, there is large banner stating “Browse the Collection” which takes one to all of the artifacts. On this page, there is a large amount of artifacts with small pictures of each and a small summary next to them including date, source type, and creator. At first glance, this information can be overwhelming as it is not put in any specific order or in any categories. To the left of the page, though, you can narrow your search and find something more specific if necessary. Once one is to click on the item it enlarges the picture and gives a detailed description of all information necessary like type, format, source, etc. Also helpful is that with every item there is a “text” button that allows one to see the typed information from an image such as a letter.

This database is very similar to the Harry Ransom Collection in that it is a digital base of primary source documents on the life of Poe. This will aid teachers in helping them in finding primary source documents on the life of Poe to supplement Poe’s literature found in most high school textbooks. This digital collection may be best utilized by the teacher in finding the best primary source documents to aid with instruction, as opposed to having students use the website themselves. Advanced students may be able to successfully navigate and utilize the database, but with the large amount of artifacts there would need to be a strong focus in their task. This database has the least amount of sources from the three databases.

Works Cited

“Edgar Allan Poe Collection.” Enoch Pratt Free Library. Web. 22 July 2013.

“The Edgar Allan Poe Digital Database.”  Harry Ransom Center. Web. 22 July 2013.

The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849 . Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987. Web. 22 July 2013. Thomas, Dwight Rembert, and David K. Jackson.

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