Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Place and Space

So who exactly is Virginia Woolf? For years, Woolf has enchanted readers and critics with her innovative prose and witty social commentary. Many of her works serve as standard readings for college literature classes. But how did Virginia Woolf become arguably the greatest woman writer in British modernism? Five Clemson students, led by faculty mentor Dr. Elisa Sparks, set out on a multi-course journey to find out. The four-semester sequence included a course on the modern novel, a two-week trip to England in May 2012 to visit and photograph sites important to Woolf, a literary criticism class focusing on Woolf, and a senior seminar.

History student, Mary Warner Mack, spoke of her interest in studying Virginia Woolf's life, "I fell in love with Virginia Woolf after reading Mrs. Dalloway a second time. The first time I read Virginia"s work, I was still trying to figure everything out, but my second time around, I think I may have had a romance with her writing. You have to understand, Mrs. Dalloway is not just a story. Mrs. Dalloway is a piece of art." And through closely examining Woolf's novels as art forms, this driven group of students has been studying Woolf's life and work through the special topic of place. Through their discoveries, and collaboration with the Enhancing Campus Activity with Mobile Devices Creative Inquiry project, the group is developing an iPad/ iPhone-accessible app with information on the history and significance of locations important to Virginia Woolf's life and featured in her novels. The app design contains onsite video lectures, photographs taken by students, information on important Woolf criticism, and links to web sources. The aim for this app is to provide students, literary scholars, and common readers with an easily accessible roadmap to Virginia Woolf's life and career. Everything we learned was what we wanted to study. I felt like I got to design my own class. I've never had that opportunity before.

Beginning in the spring semester of 2012, students working with Sparks took an introductory course on the modern novel, studying Woolf's life through exploring multimedia biographical research, participating in discussion based lectures on Woolf's novels, and analyzing the modern novel"Everything we learned was what we wanted to study. I felt like I got to design my own class. I"ve never had that opportunity before." as influenced by Woolf. This introduction provided students with a much-needed foundation on Woolf's life. As student Meghan Brown explained, "This class was a chance for us to really get excited about our Creative Inquiry. Everything we learned was what we wanted to study. I felt like I got to design my own class. I"ve never had that opportunity before." Through the semester, Sparks encouraged students to approach the class with a creative outlook. Students built altered books, old texts physically reworked to incorporate imaginative interpretations of Woolf's work, and found particular areas of interest to focus their studies. As the Creative Inquiry continues to progress, these areas of concentration have become the students" academic specialties. Concentrations range from Woolf's relationship with the educational system in England to the variety of homes Woolf occupied in and around London, and the wide range allows students to learn from each other and thus develop very broad academic groundwork.

The groups" strong framework on Virginia Woolf came into full play as the Creative Inquiry left the United States, London-bound. Following student-made daily itineraries, the team traveled to places with strong historical significances in Virginia Woolf's life-her London homes, her country home in Sussex, Monk"s House, and her childhood summer home in St. Ives Cornwall. The group also visited locations central to Woolf's work such as Kew Gardens, the shopping streets of London, Hampton court, and various galleries and libraries. All the while, students continued photographing, taking notes on their experiences, and posting daily blogs in preparation for creating the Woolf app.

During the trip, students even had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with one of Woolf's surviving family members, her nephew Cecil Woolf, and his wife Jean. Student Lindsey Johnson remembers, "If you thought the Dos Equis man was the most interesting man in the world you are mistaken-it's Cecil Woolf." As Cecil Woolf shared stories about Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, with whom he lived after Virginia"s death, the team"s research took on more personal dimension as they realized their research was part of a living legacy.

Upon returning to the United States, the students enrolled in a class on literary criticism focused on Woolf, studying how critical perceptions of Woolf's work have changed and developed the last century. During meetings outside the classroom, students also began developing the framework for the Woolf app, creating the program"s basic storyboard while also compiling photos, videos, and maps and producing write-ups on Woolf's life in relation to a selection of particular places. This was completed as part of a senior seminar during the spring of 2013 and launched at the annual international conference on Virginia Woolf in Vancouver in June and will be available for free in the App Store.

By: Katie Ott (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)