Intro. to DH Syllabus Draft

A few weeks ago I posted a summary of a conversation that I started on Facebook and Twitter regarding 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 found useful from the syllabi or suggestions in that post, so thank you to all contributors. You’ll notice that we’re on the quarter system at Dartmouth, so our terms are very short and only allow for 9-10 weeks of material. There are modules I would like to add (e.g., a media archaeology day or three) that would require swapping out modules/days I don’t want to lose, and I may wind up making those changes. The good news is that this syllabus a draft, and I’m looking forward to your comments. (Oh, and to those listed under “desired guest speakers,” I’ll be in touch in a few months after the syllabus/course is [hopefully] approved … if you’re not interested just let me know and I’ll list another potential desired speaker.)


“The Humanist in the Computer?: Making Digital (Con)Texts”

75-word description for online catalog:

This course introduces the emerging field of the Digital Humanities, a discipline and a set of practices that ask how computers reshape the way we study literature and art to better understand what it means to be human. For example, we will learn how to computationally “read” a very large collection of novels, publish electronic texts encoded in XML, write interactive essays in Twine or Inkle, and analyze electronic literature like e-poems and video games.

Introduction and Course Rationale
Since 1949, humanists have been studying what it means to be human with the advantages and constraints of computing technologies. Roberto Busa, the very first person to undertake this kind of study, writes, “humanities computing is precisely the automation of every possible analysis of human expression (therefore, it is exquisitely a ‘humanistic’ activity), in the widest sense of the word, from music to the theater, from design and painting to phonetics, but whose nucleus remains the discourse of written texts.”[1] Through our computing humanistic activities, Wendy Chun argues, we have grown to become part of our digital technologies; they comprise (some of? all of?) our subjectivities and identities. And so, we encounter our worlds through computers, through ourselves. How do our computational “goggles” alter, enhance, or warp, our view of the humanities, of literature and art? We have dubbed this new field of inquiry the Digital Humanities (DH), and it also comprises the growing and changing set of theories and practices for doing humanities work with digital tools and resources. This course will provide an introduction to what computers enable us to do differently, and sometimes better, with text when we read, write, analyze, visualize, edit, archive, annotate, publish, perform, and share our machine-readable work. We will discover what new kinds of questions we can answer when a computer can help us make sense of a corpus of millions of texts, one that is too large for a person to actually sit down and read through. We will learn how to create and publish our own texts and podcasts online according to best practices for digital publishing and archiving. We will also analyze the literary properties of new kinds of texts and stories that computing has given rise to, such as video games and interactive fiction.

This is a course in which making and playing assist our thinking, reading, and writing. For every new tool or program we encounter, we will learn how to use it together and share these skills with our classmates. We will discover together how to troubleshoot a programming language, make a relational database, and analyze Twitter data. We will also practice community learning, or collaboration, as a fundamental premise of DH. In fact, we will have a digital humanist guest speaker deliver a lightening talk, either in person or via Skype, for each topic we cover in order to model the practice of gathering knowledge from our wider community of experts rather than embracing the model of having one teacher/expert. While some of our assignments, such as our blog posts, midterm essay, and practicums, will be completed individually for a grade, others, like our final project, will be collaborative. Since this is a course that values collaborative learning, it follows that participation online and in the classroom constitutes 30% of your final course grade.

Required Texts: All readings will be provided electronically on our course website or Canvas.

Required Skills: No programming knowledge/experience required. Willingness to experiment, laugh, learn how to troubleshoot, and work together to solve problems highly desired.

Blogs: 15%
Practicums: 20%
Midterm Reflection/Projection Essay: 15%
Final Project & Presentation: 20%
Participation – in class: 15%
Participation – on-line: 15%

Major Assignments
The majority of your work for this course will be published on our public website so that we can contribute the knowledge we make to others, and, vice versa, others outside of our classroom can respond to us. If you are uncomfortable with using your identity to publish your coursework, you may use a pseudonym for the duration of the course. I will be happy to help you if you if you need assistance with this.

  1. Daily Blogs: Each student in this course will have author privileges on our course website/blog, and we will write blog posts that respond to the texts, projects, or videos assigned to prepare for each class. Each blog post will have a prompt to help you get started writing. Posts should be at least 300 words long, include one link, and include one embedded image, video, and sound byte. Some of these assignments will be more structured than others. For example, you will write one blog post that evaluates 5 DH projects, another post that evaluates 5 DH tools, and a post that reports on an interview you conduct with someone who is a working digital humanist.
  2. Practicums: I borrowed this idea from Alan Liu’s assignments in his course “Hacking Literary Interpretation.” “Practicums are hands-on, small-scale exercises that ask students to learn at a beginner’s level about the concepts, methods, and tools of the digital humanities. The practicum must be completed before class. Typcially, a practicum asks students to try out a digital tool and method, then to leave an interesting ‘souvenir’ on a page they create on the Student Work site for this course. The ‘souvenir’ can be as simple as a screenshot of or link to something created (or found) during the exploration.”
  3. Midterm Reflection/Projection Essay (5 pages, can be multimedia): This essay is intended to help you look both backward at what you learned in prior weeks as well as look ahead on the syllabus to what’s to come that piques your interest. It is a thought piece that will invite and receive responses from your classmates. Using what you’ve already learned and what you’re curious about: posit a question, a group of questions, or an issue that you would like to respond to in a final project that works on or with, or creates, a text of some kind (or a group of texts). How can DH tools and methodologies (those we’ve learned and those you see ahead on the syllabus) help you address those questions and perhaps even answer them? What more do you need to know, or know how to do, that you don’t yet know? How can you obtain the resources and assistance (collaboration) you need to proceed? What other projects can you find that are similar and that inspire you to think more? What questions do you have for your classmates?
  4. Final Project and Presentation: You will design and complete a final project that is in some way collaborative. Your midterm essay will help you plan for this, and we will build toward completing this project over the course of the term. You can take one of the modules or skills learned in our practicums and turn that into a larger-scale project, or you can propose a different project. However, it must meet the criteria of being a “digital humanities” project. At the end of the term, we will present our projects to the class and to a larger group of invited attendees, comprised of our many invited guest speakers and other members of the greater DH community here at Dartmouth.


  • Read this schedule as a list of due dates of readings and assignments.
  • Each reading will either be a text you are required to purchase or I will provide a link to a free electronic edition.
  • Assignments will always have more detailed instructions presented in class and on our course website.
  • This schedule will change and grow as the term progresses, and I will announce these changes clearly in class and online.

Week 1 – Introduction: What is Digital Humanities and What Does It Have to Do with Literature?

Class 1: Introduction; What are the “digital humanities”?

Class 2: Introduction, part 2 – What is a text, on the page? And on the screen?

  • Assignments: Practicum, Make/begin your WordPress blog and publish your first post. You have a blog post due for every class from here forward.
  • Desired Guest Speaker: Michelle Warren, Remix the Manuscript, on page as interface

Week 2 – Writing and Displaying Text Electronically

Class 3: How is text encoded for the web, part I (HTML, CSS)

  • Reading:
    • Susan Hockey, “The History of Humanities Computing” in A Companion to Digital Humanities, eds. Susan Schriebman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. (Henceforth called “Companion”.)
    • Read pages 49-63 of Alan Liu, “Transcendental Data: Toward a Cultural History and Aesthetics of the New Encoded Discourse.” Critical Inquiry 31 (2004): 49-84.
    • Mozilla Developer Network “Introduction to HTML
    • Mozilla Developer Network “Introduction to CSS.”
  • Assignments due: Practicum on learning to troubleshoot
  • Desired guest speakers: Theo Obbard and Amy Zhang (’17), web designers, DALI Lab

Class 4: How is text encoded for the web, part II (XML, TEI)

  • Assignments due: HTML & CSS Practicum
  • Desired guest speaker: Shannon Rose Smith (via Skype), TEI encoding literature

Class 5: Text Analysis 1 (Wordle, TAPoR, Ant-Conc, Voyant)

  • Reading:
    • Franco Moretti, “The Slaughterhouse of Literature,” in Distant Reading, London: Verso, 2013: 63-90.
    • Ted Underwood, “Where to Start with Text Mining,” The Stone and the Shell: Using Large Digital Libraries to Advance Digital History (14 Aug 2012). Web. (Underwood’s blog)
    • John Laudun, “Text Analytics 101” (21 Feb 2013). (Laudun’s blog)
    • Wikipedia, “Text Mining
  • Assignments due: TEI encoding practicum
  • Desired guest speaker: I will lead a tutorial on visualizing texts with ready-made tools, like Wordle, TAPoR, Ant-Conc, and Voyant

Week 3 – Analyzing Text with Your Computer

Class 6: Text Analysis 2 (Using RStudio), Gender Analyses

  • Reading
    • Selections from Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History, U of Illinois P (2013).
  • Assignments due: Voyant Text Analysis Practicum
  • Desired guest speaker: Allen Riddell, using RStudio to analyze Garside, Raven, and Schöwerling’s database of British fiction, gender analyses

Class 7: Text Analysis 3 – Topic Modelling

Class 8: Intro to Mapping

Week 4 – Mapping and Visualizing / Digital Archives

Class 9: Mapping and Visualizing 2

Class 10: Databases

Class 11: Digital Archives

Week 5 – Electronic Editions

Class 12: What is a digital edition?

Class 13: Editing, Collaboration, Crowdsourcing

  • Reading:
  • Assignments due: Respond to classmates’ midterm essays, posted on our course blog
  • Desired guest speakers: Amanda Visconti (via Skype), Infinite Ulysses project

Class 14: Digital Editions/Archives and Preservation (or Not)

Week 6 – Electronic Representations of Sound

Class 15: Sound 1 – Listening

Class 16: Sound 2 – Visualizing Sound

Class 17: Sound 3 – The Politics of Podcasting

  • Reading:
  • Assignments due: Sound Practicum using Audacity
  • Desired guest speakers: TBD, possibly from NHPR or VPR on podcasting

Week 7 – Digital Storytelling

Class 18: Digital Game Studies 1: Games and Narrative

  • Reading:
  • Assignments due: Podcasting Practicum (using Audacity again)
  • Desired guest speaker: Matt Schneider (via Skype), on games and/as digital literature

Class 19: Digital Game Studies 2: Games and Social Change

  • Reading:
    • Liz Losh, “#GamerGate 101,” Virtualpolitik (blog) (17 Oct 2014).
    • Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge: MIT P, 2013. (Read Introduction, Ch. 2. “Playing House” (17-62) and Ch. 7 “Critical Computer Games” (222-249))
    • Play Zentag
    • Play Smorball
  • Assignments due: Review 5 DH tools we have not yet discussed in class. Tip: use Bamboo DiRT and/or ProfHacker blog to discover new tools. If there is already a review of this tool, your review must cite that review and discuss your opinion of it.
  • Desired guest speaker: Suki Punjasthitkul, Tiltfactor

Class 20: Digital Game Studies 3: Games and Crafting Digital Identities and Subjectivities

  • Reading:
    • Taylor, T.L. “Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds.”  In The Social Life of Avatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments, ed. Ralph Schroeder (London: Springer, 2002): 40-63.
    • Waggoner, Zach. “Videogames, Avatars, and Identity: A Brief History.” In My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009): 3-21.
    • Jennifer Ouellette, “My So-Called Second Life: Are You Your Avatar?Scientific American (6 Sept. 2012).
    • Explore: Second Life
  • Assignments due: Complete your Second Life exploration activity. Final Project Draft 2 Due
  • Desired guest speaker: Seth Frey, on gaming and identity

Week 8 – Digital Storytelling 2, Electronic Literature

Class 21: Interactive Fiction

  • Reading:
  • Assignments due: Twine or Inkle Practicum (pick just one of the two apps)
  • Desired guest speaker: TBD (from Electronic Literature Organization)

Class 22: Interactive Fiction (cont.) and E-Poetry

Class 23: E-Literature and Critical Code Studies

Week 9

Class 24: In-Class, Debate and Critique: For and Against the Digital Humanities

  • Guest moderator: Aden Evens
  • Final Project Collaborative Workshop

Class 25: Final Project Collaborative Workshop

Class 26: Final Project Collaborative Workshop

Week 10: Final Project Completion and Presentations

Final Projects Due, Presentations, and Responses

(No Final Exam)

[1] Roberto A. Busa, “Foreword: Perspectives on the Digital Humanities.A Companion to Digital Humanities. Eds. Susan Schriebman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Web.


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