COURSE DESCRIPTIONDigital Humanities is a field of study with a long history. The name "digital humanities" might be relatively new, but the field of humanities computing goes back to the 1940s. In a recent article on Inside Higher Ed., Steve Kolowich defines “digital humanities” as “a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it to the study of history, language, art and culture.” To this (and other definitions of digital humanities), I would add that the digital humanities must also consider the interface between digital and analog culture, between the pixels of our computer screens and the printed text of bound books. What we do online has little meaning if it isn’t linked (literally or figuratively) to embodied practice.

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.  

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.


REQUIRED TEXTS:
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. ISBN: 978-0-375-70376-8.
Gold, Matthew K.
Debates in the Digital Humanities. ISBN: 978-0-816-67795-5.
(
This book is also available free online.)

COLLABORATION: You will collaborate with your peers on many of the assignments you complete for this course. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.

ASSIGNMENTS: The work of the course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff. We’ll be writing regular entries on our blogs, engaging in discussion and doing activities via the course blog, and commenting on each others blogs. There will be weekly synchronous discussions, as well as several collaborative work sessions throughout the term. The final assignment for the course will be a major digital project that investigates the intersections between digital culture and literary studies.

PUBLIC WORK: The majority of your work for this course will live publicly on the web within open platforms like Wordpress and Twitter. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym. If you don’t want to include a photograph of yourself, you can upload an avatar to represent you. Think carefully about these choices. We will discuss issues related to privacy and the open web extensively during this class. 

THE WORK OF THE COURSE: Specific details for major assignments forthcoming as the semester proceeds.

Participation. This includes your attendance, including involvement in both synchronous and asynchronous class discussion. We will have 1 hour synchronous meetings each week via Twitter or Google Hangouts. The rest of our discussions will happen asynchronously via the comments on the class blog and your individual blogs. This is (by far) the most important component of the course.

Blog. This is essentially an offshoot of class participation. Throughout the term you will be writing weekly posts to your personal blog. Some of these responses will be more structured (i.e. a response to specific questions), while most of them will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of the texts we're studying and tools we're experimenting with. This is a space for you to stretch your legs and play with the various topics raised by the course. Posts, though, should be as collaborative as possible. In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions and use the work of your peers as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. As much as possible, in this and all other assignments, play with form. For example, consider video blogging, podcasting, sharing images, linking, etc.

Short Assignments. There will be regular short assignments posted to the class schedule. You are welcome to use these as inspiration for your weekly blog post. Most of them will have you doing, building, or sharing something on the web. One of our goals with this course will be to explore different digital tools, so think of these short assignments as experiments. This course will be less about mastering any one digital tool and more about tinkering, surveying, and assessing the various tools we can put to use in the study of literary texts.

Midterm and Final Self-evaluations. You will be writing short narrative evaluations of your work and experience of the class, which I will respond to. At the midterm, I will also schedule optional one-on-one conferences via Google Hangouts or Phone.

Final Project. As the term proceeds, you will begin to imagine and design a collaborative digital project that engages overarching questions raised by our discussions. For now, let your imagination run wild about what you might like to write, build, code, hack, etc. We will talk about the parameters for this assignment more within the first few weeks of the term.

ASSESSMENT: This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be putting grades on individual assignments, but rather questions and comments that truly engage with your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and engaging thoughtfully with the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete all assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

PLAGIARISM: Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). But, even more, I encourage you to truly make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.  

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: Close-analysis is like eating, something lively and voracious, something that drips and reels. It isn’t (and can’t be) virtual. And yet, somewhat paradoxically, in the digital classroom, we must find a way for this kind of analysis to happen online. We must bring our subjects to life for both ourselves and our digital counterparts. Learning must fire every neuron--must touch us at the highest levels of consciousness and at the cellular level. No matter where it happens, this is what learning must do. It must evolve--and revolt. Find out more here and here.

CROWDSOURCED TEACHING: We’ll be joined by Sean Michael Morris and Kathi Inman Berens, scholars in digital pedagogy, networked narratives, and electronic literature. We'll be with you as guides, but the teaching of the course will be truly crowdsourced, inviting you to be authorities and experts right alongside the three of us.

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