BASIRA in the Classroom

The following are some sample assignments that can be used in undergraduate and graduate teaching to explore various topics in BASIRA. Students can produce illustrated presentations for discussion in class, either individually or in groups, or work together in pairs during a “lab” session.

Please share any teaching feedback or further suggestions with us:

Avatars versus “real” books

In the database, under “Document type” select “Avatar”. BASIRA assigns the label “Avatar” to documents which display legible text associated with an individual, but not intended to represent a specific book layout. What do you think the purpose of such “unrealistic” representations might be?

Possible course areas: Art History / Book History / Languages and Literatures

Scroll versus codex versus banderole

Look at the facet “Document format,” which displays an even divide between legible written statements in codex versus banderole format. Do textual phrases presented on a banderole differ from those portrayed in a codex? Do you find similarities or differences in the use of text on banderoles compared to speech bubbles in a contemporary graphic novel? Are there diachronic changes you can identify & describe? What about phrases shown on scrolls? Do these differ from those on banderoles? How? Describe the artists’ use of written language in these images: why did they supplement figurative representations with literal letterforms?

Possible course areas: Art History / Book History / Languages and Literatures

Gender identities and book use

Under “Document actions” choose a verb and then explore any patterns of engagement with any selection of Entities. Do you notice any gendered distinctions about persons portrayed reading, handling, or holding a book? If so, discuss potential social contexts that might have supported such distinctions. Note that you can use Entity Descriptors to further refine your searches by selecting the gender of the agent interacting with the book.

Possible course areas: Book History / Gender Studies

Regional trends in book use

Use the facet “Creator place of origin” to visualize artists’ symbolic use of books or banderoles. Do you perceive cultural differences between regions in the artistic portrayals? Do they change across time? Are there motifs that might have bearing on trends in intellectual history? [The BASIRA team would appreciate hearing about insights from this question.]

Possible course areas: Art History / Book History / Languages and Literatures / History of Ideas

Ways of showing reverence towards the book

The BASIRA team devised a few unique terms. One of them, “holy hold,” is applied when the hands of the person holding a book are covered in cloth (so that the book is not touched by the human); an alternate term for this is “draped hands.” A related term, “encoped,” is used to describe books held under the edge of a cloak or cope. Choose several images tagged with these terms and discuss your observations about the role of the book in those images.

Possible course areas: Art History / Book History / History of Religion