Data Visualization in Studies in English–a New Approach

As part of our new four credit curriculum at Plymouth State University, our intro to the major course, Studies in English, took on a new learning goal: data visualization. Our general education program requires all majors to have a “Quantitative Reasoning” connection within the discipline, so we thought we’d introduce students to new ways of thinking about reading, research, and technology right from the beginning of their program. We asked students to research particular aspects of literary history, draw data driven conclusions from their research, and then have them represent that data in a visual format–specifically, infographics.

Using open pedagogy practices, students brainstormed which literary periods they were most fascinated by and what kinds of information they wanted to know. Their job was (a) to see what constitutes the ‘literary canon’ in any particular era, and (b) to see how that canonical tradition has (or hasn’t) changed over time.

The students’ top picks included the Medieval period, the Renaissance (Shakespeare lives!), and the Victorian period.

They then worked in groups at the library with a slew of old Norton Anthology of English Literature editions, ranging from 1962 (the first edition ever published) to the 7th edition from 2000. Students created Google spreadsheets with fields reporting author names, titles, and their gender identification, sexuality, class, religious affiliation, geographic region, and more. After compiling their data, students then created data visualization infographics illustrating their findings. The results were really exciting, especially for our first time with a new project!

With their permission, I’ll share some of their results below.

Renaissance Data Visualizations


Victorian Data Visualizations


The students also submitted group reports reflecting on what they learned about their period from the project.

I’m excited to see where we go next with these new technology skills and projects! Technology and digital literacy are becoming ever more important in today’s job market, so hopefully these kinds of projects help prepare students for an ever changing future.


Renaissance Project Credits To: Molly Andrews, Regina Merullo, Kristina Mehegan, Peter Leach, Kyle Bostock, Dymitri Barton, Joelle Del Signore, Gabe Rendek, and Jennifer Stellato

Victorian Project Credits To: Jamie Springett, Dylan Silcox, Mason Masotta, Caitlyn Walsh, Asia Merrill, Delaney MacDonald, Isaiah Knowlton, Bobby Newton, Emily Ketchum, and Lillian Savage






Ann McClellan

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