eNotations Provide Readers with Important Contextual Clues

October 9, 2012

Many classic works of literature are available for electronic readers today, but the overwhelming majority of those works are merely digitized versions of paper texts and don't make use of some of the opportunities of the electronic publishing and reading technologies provide, such as the ability to provide notes that are easily accessed and just as easily returned to the background. An eNotation, or electronic annotation, incorporates this kind of information into a text by providing a link to explanatory notes.

According to Jens Kruse, professor of German, eNotations help to provide the reader with important biographical, cultural, historical, or linguistic context. Kruse just completed his third eNotation of a work by Franz Kafka, an influential German-language novelist and writer of short stories.

"Traditional print texts with annotations often are only very sparsely annotated and, the act of going back and forth between endnotes and the text is clumsy. In eNotated editions the tap of the finger takes the reader from text to note and back, improving the reading experience," Kruse said. “The technology making these editions possible really has two aspects. One is as a tool for the editor (in this case me) to prepare an eNotated edition for use by the general reader [or] students in classrooms. The other is the use of that technology as a pedagogical tool.”

In 2011, Kruse used the first two eNotated editions of Kafka’s works he prepared in one of his classes. Students could read on whatever electronic reader was available to them or choose to read from the traditional paper book anthology. His goal, he said, was to see whether and how these eNotated editions would affect the students’ preparation for class and the discussion in the classroom.

In a case study describing the students’ experience, Kruse wrote that the students found the eNotated editions “extremely helpful.” The navigation was “easy and intuitive… [and] the introduction, essays, images and bibliography aided them in their preparation... the accessibility of the notes helped students to understand difficult or puzzling passages and enabled them to forge ahead enlightened by the material in the note."

Kruse wrote, “During class discussion, I was aware that students had benefited from the notes, topic essays, and other elements of the edition. They would explicitly or implicitly use material provided in the edition in order to make their class contributions or to respond to other students’ observations.... In my judgment, the discussions of these texts were often of higher quality than the discussions of texts read in the paper anthology.”

By having students (either individually or in groups) prepare their own editions of important texts, Kruse found that they develop reading and research skills in an applied practical way and they also deepen their understanding of the primary text in the process. The technology also allows the instructor to monitor the students' progress during their annotation work and thus gives the instructor valuable feedbacks regarding the kind of questions students have, what parts of the text they find particularly challenging, interesting, etc. This feedback, in turn, allows the instructor to tailor the class discussion to be most effective.

Kruse said, "the joy of enotating Kafka's work is closely related to the joys of teaching: to use my knowledge of Kafka, his works, and his cultural and historical context to provide readers with the kind of information that will enrich and deepen the reading experience." He may tackle more of Kafka's works in the future, including an edition of A Hunger Artist which is scheduled for publication in a couple of months. He is also planning to prepare an eNotated edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther

Kruse occasionally blogs about Kafka on the eNotated Classics website.