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 conventional media like printed texts and film, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media. Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions: 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 or Kinect) helping to enliven (or disengage us from) the materiality of digital texts? We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in multimodal composition. We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.