Reading Aloud: Performance, Interpretation, and Podcasting

English 331 Project Suite

Project #4: Podcasting and the Lost Art of Reading Aloud


During the course of this semester, we will engage deeply with literature as conceived by our traditional humanities and English curriculum. This involves developing an awareness and appreciation for our literary heritage, contextualizing and analyzing works of literature within their unique historical moments, and expanding these historical contexts in order to gain insight into our own experiences. Furthermore, when engaging these texts we will work to develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, recognize nuance and complexity of meaning, and express our ideas in a clear, organized, and well-reasoned manner.

It is in the expression of our ideas, the form these documents take, that we will shift our emphasis to the digital humanities and the pedagogy of “making” things that are usable by a wider audience. In short, we are replacing the traditional essay with a new-media approach to knowledge representation. This project, “Podcasting and the Lost Art of Reading Aloud,” asks you to combine the essential thinking and interpretive skills of the humanities with the design of what would a usable, performative digital artifact that conveys your thinking to a wider audience. By posting your final projects on the UWGB Commons for the Digital and Public Humanities, you will be making your work available to an audience that extends far beyond a single professor.

Assignment Background

In preparation for this assignment, the first thing I’d like you to do is read Mark Sample’s blog post, “On Reading Aloud in the Classroom.”

Tonya Howe, whose work is the basis for this assignment, wonderfully describes the political and social implications of public vs. silent reading:

Reading aloud is an important skill for a number of reasons–primarily, it aids and develops comprehension, but it is also the mode of reading most characteristic of the early modern period. Silent reading is a relatively recent phenomenon, becoming more available as a mode of consciousness during the eighteenth century.  As Patricia Meyers Spacks writes in Privacy: Concealing the Eighteenth-Century Self,

Before the great spread of literacy in the eighteenth century, communal reading aloud was a widespread activity. Reading aloud continued [even as] increasing numbers of people found it possible to read to themselves, to read alone. (9)

The act of reading silently, reading in private–especially by women and young people–was especially worrisome, because it signaled a realm that needed a different form of surveillance, an imaginative, uncontrolled realm that could potentially cause bad behavior, poor morals, lack of social discipline. Spacks goes on to note:

[T]he possibility of feeling and thinking without witnesses readily evoked danger. Especially when commentators imagined young people or women reading alone, reading in privacy, they often imagined dark contingencies: uncontrolled, uncontrollable fantasies leading inevitably to disaster. (Privacy: Concealing the Eighteenth-Century Self 10).

While silent reading has become the norm, it was very much under contestation during the period we’re studying. We can forget that reading is not only an activity with a history, but that it is also a physical activity and an activity that depends upon full awareness of meaning. It can be difficult to understand the rhythms, the humor, the voice, and the nuance of early prose fiction–just like early poetry, or Shakespeare–and this assignment is geared toward helping you develop the skills needed to appreciate the literature we’ll be encountering in the upcoming months. By learning first to hear the literature of the period, we will, hopefully, become more adept at the silent reading that will characterize the remainder of the term.


  • Your group will select a chapter, longer section from the current reading that you find to be particularly experimental.
  • Once you have your selection, you will record you reading into an audio file.
  • Edit your recording into an official podcast using Audacity or another program offered by campus IT. Here are some of their recommendations.

Your group’s podcast should include:

  • An extended reading of a selection from a text; this selection must be “experimental” in some way. This could take many forms depending on the book: an entire chapter, a section, or a number of different sections that you see as doing the same thing. Have fun with this and don’t worry about the sound of your voice.
  • Your reading, when applied to the experimental nature of the text, should result in what I’d call an “interpretive reading.” You are, in a sense, providing us a version of a text, and you will be justifying your performance of that version.
  • Follow the reading with a “roundtable” discussion where you discuss the passage, why you selected it, and how what exactly your reading is interpreting/performing for the listening audience. Conclude the roundtable potion by discussing the points listed under “Reflection” below.
  • Groups will post their final projects to the assigned group space in the UWGB Commons for the Digital and Public Humanities.

Evaluation and Support

Podcasts will be evaluated on how well they meet the objectives outlined above, as well as clarity, clarifying intonation that demonstrates understanding, creativity, organization, attention to detail. The roundtable will be assessed by how persuasive the argument is for the dramatic reading acting as an interpretation. Our Campus IT Helpdesk can offer support with podcasting technology.


  • In a document created in The Commons, I would like your group to collaboratively reflect on the following issues:
  • How did completing this assignment affect how you read the novel? How so?
  • Is there a level of knowledge that was provided uniquely by this assignment, beyond the initial reading itself?
  • What would I change about this assignment to make it more relevant, informative, enjoyable, challenging, or interesting?
  • Do you see a podcasting project like this being helpful for literary study? Why and how?

This assignment is a remix of the work of Tonya Howe, Roger Whitson, and Mark Sample.