My favorite session from the last two days of the conference spoke to a topic I’ve been thinking about for awhile. We teach students how to find information, but don’t really give them assistance in reading or processing the information they find. Academic reading, like academic writing, is a skill that many of our students probably haven’t developed (well) prior to coming to college.
The session “Teaching Analytic Reading Skills and Reading Strategies to Seminary Students” described a one-credit course created by Laura Harris from Iliff School of Theology in Denver. The course met over a Friday afternoon and all day Saturday (not her ideal!) and students started by working through the same article that they had all read prior to class, completing four assignments. For the first assignment, using a strict set of instructions, students marked up the article, focusing on thesis statements, supporting information, verb use and the article apparatus (headings, footnotes, etc….). Writing a descriptive outline of the article was the second assignment. The third assignment was to create an argument map of the article, which could be in the form of a flow chart or a mind map. This technique particularly helps visual or second language learners. The last assignment was to write a 300 word evaluation of the article, looking at clarity, consistency, logic, assumptions and biases of the author and their writing. After going through one article together, students then completed the same assignments using an (pre-approved) article that they brought in, hopefully one they needed to read already!
Harris found that this technique helped students not only with their reading, but with also with their writing. By seeing the techniques and styles of successful authors, they could use them as models, and use the less successful authors and examples of what to avoid. Harris also gave us a great bibliography (I’m happy to share) and I would like to incorporate this somehow with the Divinity students to start with, and also in my LIB250 course.
My other two favorite sessions were related to book history, one focusing on the history and structure of Christian reference bibles, and the other on the publication history of Luther’s collected works. “Information Structures in the Christian Reference Bible” was presented by John Walsh from Indiana University, and began with a discussion of paratexts, which are devices and conventions inside and outside the book that mediate the book to the reader: titles, subtitles, epigraphs, dedications, notes, afterwords, prefaces, etc… Christian reference bibles have a large number and a wide variety of these types of additions to the main text (which is another discussion itself…) and include things as basic as chapter and verse divisions, as helpful as maps as genealogy charts, and as problematic as section headings and cross-references. These problematic section headings and cross-references can also be helpful, but frequently they have been used to project a specific theological perspective, and they have been codified in such a way to make one interpretation seem to be the only legitimate interpretation (ie, marginal cross-references in the Gospels that refer to passages in the Hebrew Bible to make seem as if they are prophetic fulfillments). I found this session particularly interesting and it brought up some issues that I hadn’t considered before.
Armin Siedlecki from Pitts Theological Library at Emory University presented “From Wittenberg to Weimar: The History of Publication of Martin Luther’s Collected Works.” Collections of Luther’s works began to be published before he had died, as early as 1518 (he died in 1546) so it was quite some time before there would be a complete collection of his letters, speeches, pamphlets, and books. Siedlecki highlighted 12 major editions of Luther’s work, which had varying methods of organization (chronological, topical, format, etc…), were published in both German and Latin, and in varying sizes of different portability. The most recent of these editions, the Weimar Edition, was started in 1883, 400 years after Luther’s birth. It was supposed to take 10 years to finish, but because of several wars, including the Cold War, it was only completed in 2009, with 120 volumes. The American Edition was started in 1955, but was stopped incomplete in 1986. Work began on it again in 2011, and the edition is projected to be 75 volumes when complete.