New DH Course: Technologies of Text

So here’s a draft syllabus I’ve put together for a digital humanities course I hope to propose to our General Education Committee will teach in the Spring of 2012. It’s likely that many DHers looking at this will spot familiar elements. I owe much of this to the DH syllabi collected by Lisa Spiro and available through the Digital Humanities Education Zotero group. In other words, I cribbed heavily from ya’ll, and I thank ‘ya. Please leave comments and suggestions: I have awhile before I’ll actually teach this, and want to offer the best course I can!

IDIS 288: Technologies of Text Spring 2012

Prof. Ryan Cordell Mulva Library 302, The Writing Center

Course Description: When you hear the word “technology,” you may think of your computer or iPhone. You probably don’t think of the alphabet, the book, or the printing press: but each of these inventions was a technological innovation that changed dramatically how we communicate and perhaps even how we think. Texts are at the heart of most disciplines in the humanities—literature, philosophy, history, religious studies—but this course will argue that technology and humanistic study are deeply intertwined. Literature in English, for instance, has always developed in tandem—and usually in direct response to—the development of new technologies—e.g. printed texts, newspaper publication, radio, film, television, the internet. Our primary objective in this course will be to develop ideas about the ways that modern innovations, including computers and the internet, continue to shape our understanding of texts (both classic and contemporary) and the human beings that write, read, and interpret them. In order to help us understand these recent changes, we will compare our own historical moment with previous periods of textual and technological upheavals in Western Culture. We’ll learn that many of the debates that seem unique to the twenty-first century—over privacy, intellectual property, and textual authority—are but new iterations of familiar battles in the tumultuous history of technology and literature. We will see how modern scholars are illuminating these debates in our textual past using the rapidly changing tools of our textual present: e.g. geographic information systems, data mining, textual analysis. Finally, we will gain new skills for working with texts as we develop digital projects using texts from the Center for Norbertine Studies’ special collections library.

Required Texts:

  1. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, facsimile edition, ed. Valerie Eliot (New York: Harvest, 1974).
  2. Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History (Verso, 2005).
  3. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, ed., A Companion to Digital Humanities (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004). Available for free at
  4. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens, ed. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008). Available for free at
  5. Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash (New York: Bantam Books, 2003)
  6. Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings, ed. Brooks Atkinson (Modern Library: 2000)

Overview of Assignments:

Social Media Engagement: Scholars in the field known as the “digital humanities” are, not surprisingly, active online. Many share their scholarship through blogs or social networking sites such as Twitter. On the course Moodle, you will find lists of notable blogs and Twitter feeds. You must choose at least two blogs and at least four Twitter feeds to follow during our course. You should bring the insights you glean from these sources (insights into digital humanities theory and methodology, insights into a historical period, insights into the technologies of text) into our course discussions, and you should reference specific posts when composing your class blog entries. Midway through the semester you will compose a short (3-4 page), informal paper in which you describe how your chosen social media feeds have influenced your thinking about our course discussions.

Course blog: Throughout the term, we will engage with the ideas of the course through public writing on a course blog. Blogs only work when sustained by an energetic (and perhaps even chaotic) community. You should both post your own written responses to our class and comment on the posts of your colleagues.

1.) Your written responses should reflect on our course readings, in-class discussions, the scholarly feeds that you follow, and your own experiences working on your course project. Posts should be the rough equivalent of a 1-page, single-spaced paper, and should demonstrate your understanding of course topics. When you discuss a particular course text, you should quote and cite that text appropriately. You should also use your posts to develop questions you would like to address in class. As the blog develops, you may also want to refer back to previous posts: your own or your classmates’.

2.) Your blog comments should directly engage with the content of your colleagues’ posts. These can be short and informal, but shouldn’t be flippant. What points do you find compelling? What further questions does the post raise for you? How did our class discussion change the way you thought about the post?

We’ll talk in more detail about the blog in class. In short, however: you should consider the blog a platform to engage in course-related ideas; it should not be treated as a diary or journal.

Blog posts are due each evening by 6pm. There are 15 weeks in the semester. You are responsible for writing 10 posts and at least 20 comments during the term. You should not wait to start writing posts and commenting; I assign only 10 posts to give you some flexibility during the semester.

Collaborative Evaluation Paper: Working with a partner, you will study in detail a major digital humanities project. A list of potential projects is available on the course Moodle. You will compose a 3-4 page evaluation of this project, analyzing both its virtues and its shortcomings. I will provide a detailed assignment sheet outlining my expectations for these assessments. You will post your evaluations on the course Moodle for your colleagues’ use, and you will develop short presentations (more details on the assignment sheet) about your chosen project that you will deliver during week/day 9 of the course.

Digital Project: Central to this course will be a digital project that you will develop using materials (e.g. letters, photographs, books) from the Center for Norbertine Studies’ archives. You will choose one of three types of projects:

  1. A TEI-encoded edition of a short text or set of texts
  2. An Omeka exhibit of a set of archival-quality images
  3. An interpretive geospatial exhibit

Whichever project type you choose, you will also write the equivalent of a 8 page paper that explains your process and the scholarly value of your work to a broader audience. This writing may be presented in a non-traditional format, as accompanying text to your finished project. We will begin developing these projects by the end of the first week, and will work steadily on them throughout the term. You will regularly present your progress on your project to the class during our humanities lab sessions.

Course Schedule

Note to reviewers: I have divided this schedule into 15 segments. In a typical semester, each number would represent a week. In an abbreviated semester (May or J-term), each number would represent a day. An abbreviated schedule may require trimming the reading on some days.

Discussion 1: What is Digital Humanities? Read:


Lab 1: Introduction to course technologies

Discussion 2: Text is Technology Read:


Lab 2

Discussion 3: Hypertext(s) Read


Lab 3

Discussion 4: Electronic Editions

Lab 4

Discussion 5: The Past and Future of Reading Read:

Lab 5

Discussion 6: The Past and Future of Attention Read:


Lab 6

Discussion 7: Reprints and Copyright Read:


Lab 7

Discussion 8: Distant Reading Read:


Lab 8

Discussion 9: Graphs, Maps, and Trees? Read:


Lab 9

Discussion 10: Mapping Texts Read:


Lab 11

Discussion 11: Digital Projects Omnibus


Lab 11

Discussion 12: Modern Technologies; Modernist Texts Read:

Lab 12

Discussion 13: Words in Cyberspace Read:

Lab 13

Discussion 14: “Born Digital” Literature Read:


Lab 14

Discussion 15

Lab 15