Developing Dartmouth’s First “Intro. to Digital Humanities” Course: Syllabi and Resources


This winter, I was selected to develop and teach Dartmouth College’s first undergraduate “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course, to be called “The Humanist in the Computer: Literature, Art, and Technology” (the course name was pre-selected). It will be offered by the Comparative Literature Department in 2016-17. I have been teaching English literature courses steeped in DH methodologies and practices since 2009, but this is my first opportunity to build and teach a DH course as such, and it will also be a milestone course for the college.

I polled a number of DH colleagues on social media (Facebook and Twitter) who I know have taught their own introduction to DH courses or who have, like me, taught DH-inflected courses in an English department or similar program. I also met with a few DH colleagues on campus, including our DH librarian, Laura Braunstein, as well as my favorite DH critics. My goal was to collect a range of ideas and sample syllabi with different organizations, concentrations, and assignments in order to figure out what will work best to propose for Dartmouth’s students and for me.

A number of people that I tagged in my queries responded that they, too, would benefit from having a list of resources for teaching an Intro to DH course. So, I am sharing most of the response stream here.

This is not an exhaustive list, as it primarily comes from those who make up my professional DH community who study or support the study of of Romanticism, digital archives, text encoding, and women writers. I also received more recommendations than are in this post. I will happily edit/expand on this list in the future. For each syllabus I provide a course description excerpt as well as the features of the course that, for my particular course design purposes, look the most interesting or useful. The aspects lists are like tag sets that will help me sort through this information later, and maybe they will be useful for others, too. Finally, syllabi/links/resources are listed in no particular order. I may return to this post and group the syllabi and resources in a thematic index.

The list: 

Katherine D. Harris, Introduction to Digital Humanities (LIBR 220); focus on DH and libraries

  • Course description excerpt: “Digital Humanities has been living in libraries and academic departments for fifty years under the name of Humanities Computing. In the last five years, though, Digital Humanities has become a hotbed of debate on issues around open access, scholarly communication, digital literacy, educational technology, preservation, archives – all issues that libraries have dealt with for decades. By collaborating on these questions Digital Humanities and libraries are beginning to grapple with some of the major issues surrounding the future of libraries and the curation of our cultural heritage. This semester, we will listen in on some of those debates and further contribute to this collaboration between libraries and Digital Humanities.”
  • Aspects I find useful: week on how do students fit into DH; managing a public personae; many ideas for teaching preservation; archives debate in DH; assignments to review 5 tools and 5 DH projects

Katherine D. Harris: “Digital Literature: The Death of Print Culture?” (Honors Colloquium)

  • Course description excerpt: “With the evolution of print technology in the early nineteenth century, authors, reviewers and publishers began descrying the ease with which someone could call himself or herself an “author.” However, the evolution of language, the dissemination of print materials, the creation of a larger community has always been part of the human condition. Now, we call it social networking, an atmosphere in which readers become users as well as authors and a time when we can respond to each other virtually but in real time. So, what does this mean for Literature and the literary? In this course, we will explore the impact of Web 2.0 on our literary culture by tapping into our own existing digital literacy. We will explore, intellectualize and critically examine the content creation in these social spaces – even the creation of fiction and poetry as digitally-enhanced, multiple authored texts. After all, didn’t Dickens do this when he altered the conclusion of Great Expectations three times to suit his fans?”
  • Aspects I find useful: thinking about typography and visual objects, social networking, materiality of the text, born-digital literature module; video games as literature

Katherine D. Harris: “The Beardstair Project: A Graduate-Student Driven Digital Project

  • Course description excerpt: “For Spring 2013, we will explore the changing field of Digital Humanities by adding to an ongoing digital project, Project Beardstair. This project, piloted with four students in Fall 2011, will focus on the Modernist literary movement and will culminate in producing a digital scholarly edition that will be archived and displayed in King Library. The topic of this course and the focus of study will be three artists’ books, slim volumes lavishly illustrated in color and produced in limited runs (1910-1935), a genre of early twentieth-century book that was inspired during the Modernist literary period. By decadently illustrating two writings by British Victorian authors (The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde and Sebastian Van Storck by Walter Pater), eccentric artist Alastair was instrumental in re-defining the idea of Victorian Classicism and fin de siècle Decadence, both movements that capped the British Nineteenth-Century. The third book for this digital project, “The Ballad of a Barber” by Aubrey Beardsley, introduces the Modernist penchant for revising nineteenth-century Aestheticism, a movement that focused on “art for art’s sake.” The project title, a combination of Beardsley and Alastair, became Project Beardstair to privilege the illustrators rather than the authors.”
  • Aspects I find useful: the project-oriented model of the course; learning by doing; building on a project already underway (most DH projects are not short-term and scholars regularly join and/or leave them in medias res); book list; collegial and collaborative code of conduct; collaborating with another ongoing DH course either on campus or remotely (maybe remotely would be optimal)

Alan Liu, “Hacking Literary Interpretation: Using Digital Methods to Read Literature

  • Description excerpt: “On one track, students are introduced to methods and tools of the digital humanities–text encoding, data-mining and text analysis (including the cutting-edge approach known as “topic modeling”), social network analysis, mapping, and visualization. These provide extra leverage when reading individual texts or small collections of texts, and really come into their own when reading materials that literary interpretation previously had no way to handle–e.g., “big data” collections of texts or hybrid collections of texts (e.g., novels and newspapers of the nineteenth century). Each class in the early weeks of the course will introduce students to concepts, methods, and tools in the digital humanities, and require “practicums” in which students experiment with the tools in exploratory ways. . . . On a second track, the course is an experiment in collaborative project-making. With the help and supervision of the instructor, we’re going to use the new digital methods to make a class project demonstrating the digital reading of literature.  Parts of several classes in the first weeks of the course will be devoted to class discussion about what we would like to do.  A tentative working plan is as follows, with more detailed working plans and tasks to follow:
    • The class will collect or create a digital “corpus” (a collection of texts in digitized form) for a particular kind or period of literary works.
    • Several teams will then be formed in the class, each charged with particular tasks and using specific digital methods to study the corpus.
    • The teams will then integrate the results of their approaches in a single project site showcasing the class project and its interpretive conclusions.”
  • Aspects I find useful: 2 tracks enables course to do both a modular/survey approach with small assignments as well as more collaborative, longer-term project-oriented approach; practicum solo assignments; the portfolio requirement as outlined on the website; required reading, Moretti; page on course website that make plain how to study online materials i.e. options for annotation both on the page and online; order of modules – what is text, how is text encoded for computers, distant reading, text analysis 1 and text mining, text analysis 2 and concordances, text analysis 3 and topic modeling, then social network analysis (mapping, too)

Jentery Sayers “Digital Humanities 150: Digital Culture in the Particulars” (Fall 2015)

  • Excerpt from course description: “Intended as an introduction to “digital humanities” (i.e., the intersection of humanities inquiry with digital technologies), this course surveys an array of tools, techniques, and cultures related to the field. Throughout the semester, you will translate your everyday interactions with things digital—the Internet, new media, social networks, and mobile devices—into research practices anchored in the humanities. You will also unpack how popular depictions of digital culture influence our everyday uses and perceptions of technologies. Along the way, you will study the concepts and material particulars of digital culture by authoring digital content. This means you’ll have opportunities to experiment with software and languages as you examine their relevance.”
  • Aspects I find useful: “Technical competencies required: you should know how to send an email”; the Log steps of the prompts page that work like documentation; the incremental skill building modeled in the syllabus such that each class builds on the one prior. *Looked for a more detailed course calendar online and did not find one.

Miriam Posner, “DH101” (Fall 2014)

  • Excerpt from course description: “Our focus is on understanding thoroughly the basic components of a digital project — from data to interface — and on how the decisions we make at any point in a project affect the outcome. We will examine the difference between the world as we experience it and the world as the computer can capture it, and discuss how digital humanists think about and work through this disjunction.The course will explore these conceptual issues as they relate to emerging forms of humanities scholarly production and digital methodologies, such as digital exhibits, digital mapping, text analysis, information visualization, and network analysis. Students will become familiar with various digital tools to explore these approaches to knowledge production in the weekly lab/studio.”
  • Aspects I find useful: weekly comments and 400-word blog post with required image, link to primary source, explanation of the source and how it pertains to reading (several other courses have this as well); key terms provided for each week of class; email policy; project management lab; “from data to database”; links to slides and notes in the online course calendar for each class; network analysis week; working through space week; interfaces week; 3D modeling (this does not appear on most intro DH syllabi);

Lori Emerson, “Theory & Practice of ‘Doing’ // From Digital Humanities to Posthumanities” (graduate seminar)

  • Excerpt from course description – well, it’s almost all here: “Our course begins with a classic text, C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures from 1959, to make clear the longstanding, perceived gulf between the sciences and the humanities and the resulting anxiety the humanities have had about how to advocate for their worth. Jump ahead fifty years and suddenly we’re in the midst of he digital humanities as well as various other media studies practices that have made their home in the humanities. Now, the anxieties are perhaps more about the displacement of traditional humanities work, not by the sciences but by a new humanities that’s inflected by scientific practice and, at times, a “spirit” of entrepreneurialism that’s particularly associated with the tech/startup world. As such, we then move from Snow’s text to an overview of the state of the profession in the 21st century, focusing specifically on the ramifications of doing collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based, hands-on work that engages with or relies on digital media in the humanities. This first part of the course then gives way to the second part, in which we explore more deeply a series of interconnected questions. What does it mean when humanists start placing “doing” at the center of their research agendas? What does it mean to do hands-on work in a digital humanities lab versus a media archaeology lab or a makerspace or a hackerspace? Are these scholars or practitioners appropriating the trappings of scientific labs for the sake of cultural capital or are they in a unique position to critique not only the way labs are often hierarchical, closed structures built around single individuals but also the way the data generated by these labs is too often seen as neutral or necessarily, timelessly true? Can 21st century hands-on work actually work not only to finally close the divide betwee “the two cultures”, science and humanities, but can it also work to displace the longstanding anthropocentrism at the heart of the humanities?”
  • Aspects I find useful: Emphasis on understanding the role of the laboratory in DH, something that undergraduates coming to my course from the sciences will appreciate; media archaeology reading list; readings relating to doing as critical making; history of digital humanities and humanities computing

Lillian Manzor and Paige Morgan, “Introduction to Digital Humanities” (Spring 2016)

  • Course description: “This seminar introduces students to current debates in the digital humanities as well as to digital
    humanities projects and tools for approaching humanities research in new ways. During the
    course, we will read articles that discuss DH, explore and analyze other projects, and experiment with basic tools that you might use in the future. Throughout the course, we will be taking notes on a collaborative google doc. You will be encouraged to reflect upon your reading and work in the class blog. This course will introduce several DH skills and platforms through hands-on workshops, as well as develop your abilities to explore and evaluate existing DH projects.

    • To develop familiarity with the principles, motivations, and methods that drive the
      creation of digital humanities scholarship, as illustrated both by existing projects and
    • To gain experience with the practical work associated with the digital humanities,
      including software and technology use, project management, and articulating the stakes
      behind projects.
    • To develop skills for critically assessing digital humanities projects and resources in
      terms of their engagement with existing scholarship, accessibility, and sustainability.”
  • Aspects I find useful: environmental scan that shows how a project fits within the context of other projects and resources – given as pecha kucha; attention to sustainability; proof-of-concept micro project; section on copyright and failure in DH; building digital collections with Omeka; readings for building digital collections section; beyond monocultural DH section

Jesse Stommel, “Digital Humanities: The Intersection between Computers, Digital Technology, and the Humanities

  • Excerpt from course description: “This course looks back even as it looks forward, considering how printed texts and reading practices are transformed by the digital, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media. Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions:  How is literature and our reading of it being changed by computers? What influence does the container for a text have on its content? To what degree does immersion in a text depend upon the physicality of its interface? How are evolving technologies (like the iPad) helping to enliven (or disengage us from) the materiality of literary texts? We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in building digital artifacts. We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.”
  • Aspects I find useful: the value of breaking things and reflecting on that; postprint fiction and networked reading; electronic literature module; the assignment to write the assignment for your own final project, which is creative

Jesse Stommel: “Hypertext and Electronic Literature

  • Excerpt from course description: “A printed book has weight, odor, a certain texture in our hands.  Roland Barthes writes in The Pleasure of the Text, “Text means Tissue” (64), a nod to the literal substances from which books are made (pulp, rag, and animal hide), while also alluding to the materiality of language.  When we read, we engage the physical object of the book in an intimate way, and the words themselves have physical character through the typographical choices that govern how they appear on the page.  Further, each word has shape as we say it, a part of our mouths, lungs, throat, or gut it tickles into action.  Digital texts command even more deliberate physical attention by being increasingly interactive.  They invite us to (or even demand that we) do multiple things with our eyes, brains, and bodies as we (and in order to) experience them.”
  • Aspects I find useful: format to have each class 1/2 discussion and 1/2 lab; media interface analysis assignment; literary interfaces section; sections on e-poetry versus IF versus hypertext fiction

Jacqueline Wernimont: “Digital Humanities” (graduate seminar)

  • Aspects I find useful: assignment to analyze a digital project’s front-end, back-end, and processes in the middle; sections on metadata; code cultures section; Github orientation; reading for databases and big data section;

Jacqueline Wernimont: “Feminist Digital Humanities: Theoretical, Social, and Material Engagements around Making and Breaking Computational Media” (a DHSI course, so somewhat removed from undergraduate curriculum)

  • Excerpt from course description: “Although there is a deep history of feminist engagement with technology, projects like FemTechNet argue that such history is often hidden and feminist thinkers are frequently siloed. In order to address this, the seminar will offer a set of background readings to help make visible the history of feminist engagement with technology, as well as facilitate small-scale exploratory collaboration during the seminar. . . . Our reading selections bring a variety of feminist technology critiques in Media Studies, Human-Computer Interaction, Science and Technology Studies, and related fields into conversation with work in Digital Humanities. . . . Pushing against instrumentalist assumptions regarding the value and efficacy of certain digital tools, we will be asking participants to think hard about the affordances and constraints of digital technologies.”
  • Aspects I find useful: entire reading/watch list; feminist game studies section

Jacqueline Wernimont, “Build a better DH syllabus” (blog post)

  • “A running bibl of bad-ass DH and critical digital culture scholars. I’ll also note that there are already some great resources via dhpoco and GO:DH.”

Johanna Drucker, “Intro to Digital Humanities” (DH101)

  • This is an online coursepack for those designing DH101 courses. It resembles a syllabus but extends beyond the perimeters of any one specific course.
  • Concepts & Readings section resembles a DH101 syllabus, each topic is presented as a lesson plan. Concepts are discussed broadly in order to make connections between critical ideas, hands-on activities, readings and relevant examples. These lesson plans contain lots of individual exercises to be done in class that allow the students to become familiar with the most basic aspects of digital production (html + css, design mockup, metadata schema, etc.). These in-class assignments are geared towards fostering the understanding of the concepts introduced in the lessons: seeing how ‘structured data’ works in digital environments; working with classification and descriptive standards; learning to “read” websites; thinking about the epistemological implications of data-driven analysis and spatio-temporal representations; and, most broadly, recognizing both the ‘hidden’ labor and the intellectual, subjective process of representing knowledge in digital forms. Assignments often only require text editors, commonly available (or free) software, writing and critical engagement and collaboration. . . .  The Tutorial section focuses on tools used in the course. These tutorials are meant to serve as basic introductions with commentaries that relate their usage to the concepts covered in the lectures. The exhibits, text analysis, data visualization, maps & timelines, wireframing and html are required individual components of the final project. Students become familiar with all of these digital approaches throughout the course in the weekly lab/studio sessions, but they are also asked to delve further into a few areas in consultation with the lab instructor to choose the right tools for the types of analysis and presentation they have in mind. The goal is not only the successful implementation of the tools, but also the recognition of their possibilities and limitations during the process. . . . Using the cumulative and collaborative final project model of DH101, the Student Projects section represents one approach of incorporating all of the above for a more substantial and ‘packaged’ undergraduate project. The process begins with a research topic chosen by the student(s), and the group develops subtopics and the required components, culminating as the “scholarly resource site” that provides useful introduction for the topic. This section also contains suggestions for evaluation and expected time/labor for completion.”
  • Aspects I find useful: too many to list efficiently. I will be using this website as a kind of “master” model that I can tune to the specificities I want to emphasize in my version of this course.

Shannon Rose Smith: “Metadata, Mummies, and Making

  • Website is not a syllabus, but has a lot of useful resources, like interviews with project directors such as Julia Flanders; materials for a scholarly markup workshop taught at the British Library; interview with Caroline Isabelle Caron. The very best part of this website, in my opinion, is “An Undergraduate’s Love Letter to the Digital Humanities,” and I will be requiring this text to help students connect what might feel like a highly theoretical, research-driven field to undergraduate student life, both academic and social.

Ryan Cordell: “Texts, Maps, Networks: Digital Literary Studies

  • Course description: “Literary scholars have long studied the linguistic, bibliographic, and social codes of texts, but in recent years new technologies have greatly expanded how those texts can be explored, both in research and the classroom. One can discuss a book, a chapter, a line, or a single word: or one can model patterns across entire corpora. In “Texts, Maps, Networks,” we will investigate both the affordances and potential pitfalls of digital research methods and pedagogy, from encoding and text mining to mapping and network analysis. Our class sessions will balance theory and praxis, moving between discussion of readings and humanities labs. We will explore questions such as:
    • How does digital literary studies relate to fields such as bibliography, history of the book, and media studies?
    • What debates are (re)shaping digital humanities (DH) in its current moment of growth?
    • What are the central theories that have led literary scholars to experiment with computational, geospatial, and network methodologies?
    • How can mapping and other visualization tools illuminate literature, history, writing, and other humanities subjects? How might they obscure those same subjects?
    • How might these new modes of research and publication influence our teaching?”
  • Aspects I find useful: the “caveat emptor” orienting students that they will embark on a kind of work and scholarship that they may not be expecting in an English course; the “blessay” or medium-form essay assignment; practicums in class required to complete either in class or after class followed by a report in a blog post, and for evaluation “I will place a premium on willing experimentation, flexibility, and persistence”; the build-your-own-website assignment; the clarity of this course website on the whole

Leonardo Flores “Digital Humanities Internship: A Virtual Lab Space for DH Project Development

  • Course description: “This internship will provide hands-on work experience on several Digital Humanities projects I am currently developing, primarily I ♥ E-Poetry, its connection with the ELMCIP Knowledge Base and the Consortium of Electronic Literature (CELL), and the English Department Website. The work will involve developing and tagging files with metadata, working on link structures, describing born-digital materials, learning how to use open-source software like WordPress, Drupal, and DSpace to build collections, knowledge bases, and resources, preparing data sets for visualizations, and other related Digital Humanities work. Course objectives: After completing the course, the student should be able to:
    1. use software like WordPress, Drupal, Omeka, and Gephi
    2. encode files according to standardized metadata schema
    3. analyze the structure of collections and knowledge bases
    4. master a critical vocabulary and skill set to contribute to Digital Humanities projects”
  • Aspects I find useful: The “internship” model is a very interesting alternative to a course with discussions and labs. It announces “here you will learn by doing.” I plan to use the I ❤ E Poetry project to introduce e-poetry as well as a kind of DH project;

Additional resources for searching collections of DH syllabi:


Special thanks to all those who responded to my query, including (in no particular order): Katherine D. Harris, Lori Emerson, Ted Underwood, Jentery Sayers, Jesse Stommel, Shannon Rose Smith, Heather Froehlich, Paige Morgan, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Jacqueline Wernimont, Leonardo Flores, Ryan Cordell, and Andrew Burkett.

Image source: USDA


  1. […] favorite syllabi or resources for building an introduction to Digital Humanities syllabus. Here’s the post. Below is the syllabus draft that I just submitted for feedback that uses many of the elements I […]

  2. […] seems particularly acute in a freshman-level class. A quick  look at the helpful inventory of introductory DH courses that Kirstyn Leurner shared earlier this year shows how necessary Cordell’s intervention is […]

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