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Matthew Bailey Named W&L's Digital Humanities Scholar of the Month

Matthew Bailey, professor of Spanish at Washington and Lee University, has been named W&L’s “Digital Humanities Scholar of the Month” for September for creating websites that serve as educational tools for students and professors in his field of medieval Spanish literature.

The Digital Humanities Scholar of the Month is named by the Digital Humanities Working Group, which consists of faculty and staff from various departments at Washington and Lee interested in exploring new ways to use technology in the University’s humanities disciplines to enhance both teaching and learning for liberal arts students.

Bailey explained that his motivation for creating the websites arose from his frustration at standing in front of his class reading from classic medieval Spanish texts, for example “El Cid,” and telling students that the real essence of the text was oral, not written. “It never really worked for me,” he said. “I wanted to give students a sense that for hundreds of years the original audiences probably didn’t read. Yet for two hundred years scholarship has treated it as a written text and since my students can read medieval Spanish fairly easily, there’s no way they can imagine this is an oral text.”

“Once I realized that digital media could give students access to an oral version of these texts, it was a green light for me,” he added. “So in a sense the technology inspired these websites.”

He has since created two websites on Spanish medieval texts and is working on a third website for an anthology of Spanish medieval literature.

Bailey created the first website, “El Cid,” in 2000 with the assistance of a colleague in the field who provided the oral rendition. He pointed out that the text is early 13th century Castilian, which of course is  no longer spoken, but has been recreated through the scholarship in Spanish historical linguistic. More than 60 pages of commentary guide students through the text.

“It’s a powerful tool to have the capability to click on the text or download the recording onto an MP3 file and listen to it without the written text at all, which is probably how most people in medieval times engaged with the text,” he said. “The oral medium is so much more authentic.”

The website is freely accessible to anyone and professors and students around the world have used it in classes. “People also use it simply to have access to the texts and to read expert commentaries about the texts,” said Bailey, “but most importantly, these oral renditions are not available anywhere else. Nobody teaches this text the same way they did before they had access to the website.”

While creating the website, “El Cid,” Bailey also gathered the content, including audio from a colleague in the field, for a second website on the lesser known medieval Spanish text “Mocedades de Rodrigo” or “The Youthful Deeds of Rodrigo” who would later earn the sobriquet El Cid.

Bailey created the second website with the assistance of Brandon Bucy, senior academic technologist in Information Technology Services (ITS) at W&L. “Working with people in ITS has been an eye opener for me because, even though they are not experts in the text or the field I teach, they are expert in presenting digital material,” he said.

“The presentation of the material is so much more professional than I would have been able to do on my own.  It is the appearance of the text that makes it much more appealing for students and, of course, they are also very in tune with this type of media and respond to it well.”

Bailey is currently working on the third website—an anthology of medieval Spanish literature—with the help of Alston Brake Cobourn, assistant professor and digital scholarship librarian at W&L. The site will include written texts and audio recordings of short stories and poems from Bailey’s colleagues at different universities, especially people who are well known in connection with a particular text and have published scholarship on that text. Since the anthology will include texts from all over Spain, not just 13th century Castile, Bailey plans to include a variety of voices, including people with different regional Spanish accents.

“To me, the exciting part is getting other people to collaborate,” said Bailey, “and I’m really excited that the library and Suzanne Keen, dean of the college at W&L, are supportive of this initiative.” The website will be ready for when Bailey teaches the relevant course during the 2014/15 academic year.

To learn about Digital Humanities initiatives at W&L, go to the website http://digitalhumanities.wlu.edu/.

The “El Cid” website is at http://www.laits.utexas.edu/cid/  and the “Youthful Deeds of Rodrigo” can be found at http://mocedades.academic.wlu.edu/.

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