CanLit Guides: Open online resources

By Heather McCabe posted on May 2nd, 2013


From left to right: Jamie Paris, Donna Chin, Christy Fong, Laura Moss, Margery Fee,
Alissa McArthur, Matthew Gruman, Jennifer Lin, and Mike Borkent

When the journal Canadian Literature put the majority of its back issues online a few years ago, the journal’s team led by editor Margery Fee decided to use the newly accessible content to create an online learning resource for students who are studying Canadian authors and literary topics.

“We had this huge open access resource available,” said Fee, who came to UBC in 1993 and is also a professor of English.

The resource, CanLit Guides, is aimed at first and second-year students and advanced level high school students, though anyone who is interested in Canadian literature can use the guides.

The guides are broken up into modules and organized by major topics. The modules contain readings, questions, activities and assignments on authors and their works, the cultural and historical contexts that they wrote in, and literary criticism. Canadian Literature staff and graduate students have written and curated the content so that it represents some of the key works and figures in Canadian literature and helps students approach texts and write about them at a university level.

“We’re really concerned with student ease of use,” Fee said. “The site is written in a very friendly, student-connected way.”

The site contains a number of questions, including many open-ended questions, which are a huge part of its value, Fee said. “It’s trying to encourage students to think for themselves.”

The CanLit Guides also contain in-depth surveys of three major topics, Gender and Performativity: Texts and Contexts, Poetic Visuality and Experimentation: A Brief Guide to English-Canadian Poetry, and Reading and Writing Canada: A Classroom Guide to Nationalism. And the guides feature more than 200 poems that were originally published in the journal.

The guides have captured interest in more than 100 countries, and after Canada, most readers come from the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Poland, and Germany.

The journal, Canadian Literature, from which the guides draw the bulk of its content, has been published at UBC for 54 years and ranks first in the field of Canadian literary studies. It was the first journal of its kind to focus solely on the study of Canadian writers and writing. Interestingly enough, when the journal was started, some members of the literary community doubted the notion of a Canadian national literature and placed dismal hopes on the journal’s success.

Now Canadian literature is well known throughout the world, and Canadian authors have collected some of the world’s top literary prizes, especially since the early 1990s. Canadian Literature has editorial board members from Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and contributors from around the world. In this vein, the next phase of CanLit Guides’ development will be to issue an international call for contributions and eventually build an international board of contributors and curators who can continue to add material to the site.

According to Fee, this will help keep the project sustainable, and, she added, “We’d like to tap into that expertise, and possibly discover new expertise that way, too.”