Introduction to Digital Humanities

I was thrilled to learn this summer that I would be teaching again in the fall. Both the English department (where I’ve taught previously) and the Library (where I’m a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow) had supported the idea during the previous year, but this is the first that we’ve been able to make it work out. I was even happier that the English department was willing to support my teaching “Introduction to Digital Humanities” as a junior-level course. Not only do I continue to work on digital scholarship in the classroom as well as during the rest of my fellowship duties, but I got a chance to design a new course.

It’s always struck me as dishonest that my syllabi don’t have “Acknowledgments” sections like books or some journal articles. These courses tend to have obvious lines of evolution. I had some clear inspirations as I was working, including courses by Meagan Timney, Jeff McClurken, John TheibaultMichelle Dalmau, and many more. Both Ryan Cordell and Paul Fyfe were designing similar syllabi at the same time as me, and I corresponded with each of them individually about his ideas and mine. Others wanting to go about designing a digital humanities class need to be aware of the two tremendous resources that are Lisa Spiro‘s “Digital Humanities Education” Zotero group and the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative’s collection of syllabi. Lisa’s presentation at Digital Humanities 2011 was especially useful for me to hear as a preliminary to most of this work. In beginning to design one of the assignments, I realized that I needed to know more about textual studies than I already did, and I asked for assistance in a previous post and at DH Answers, where several friends weighed in. Finally, Erin Sells shared with me her assignment for mapping novels.

There appear to be as many ways to teach DH as there are definitions of the subject. Along with reading some of those definitions—print and blogged—I’ve decided to organize the class around a few different projects. We’ll begin with geospatial work, building an interactive map of Mrs. Dalloway. The next big project is a cross-campus collaboration between my class and four others that are reading House of Leaves this semester: Paul Benzon (Temple U), Mark Sample (George Mason U), Erin Templeton (Converse College), and Zach Whalestoe Whalen (U of Mary Washington). Our students will be reading the book at the same time; we will have some joint Skype sessions between the classrooms; and we’ll be attempting to build something as convoluted as the House itself, which Mark has already blogged about. My initial inspiration for asking for people to participate in this project was just to see if it could be done. And then Mark’s post on sharing in the digital humanities solidified the idea. What this project will investigate is the degree to which digital networks can change our experience of reading a print text, albeit one that resists being comprehensible by a single reader.

The last assignment for the semester will tackle Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry. We’re fortunate to have her papers in our Library. In these papers is a letter about her 1999 volume, The World’s Wife. She is writing to her publisher to explain why she taking the volume from one press to another. In explaining her reasons, she mentions her belief that the volume is very different from the previous ones that she’s written. We’ll spend the last month of the semester testing this assertion—first with close reading and then with text analysis. For a final project, the students and I will write a joint paper about our findings, an assignment inspired by Gideon Burton’s recent ebook project.

As the number of links here should make quite plain, the creation of the syllabus was very much a joint effort. That’s just setting the stage for what I anticipate will very much be a collaborative experience with my students. It’s going to be a semester-long experiment, which is the best thing I can imagine doing at the moment.

The syllabus itself is available after the jump, and you’re welcome to watch the course website for developments.

Syllabus in PDF

Introduction to Digital Humanities
English 389
Fall 2011
TTh 1:00-2:15 pm
Math & Science N302

* I reserve the right to modify this syllabus.

Course Description

In many ways, humanities scholarship is already digital: whether you’re working on Chaucer or Chabon, most of us do our research, writing, and sometimes reading at a computer. In these situations, the computer replaces the index, the pen, and the printed book. In a sense, then, the computer has simply sped up processes with which humanists were already familiar.

But what might we gain if we begin to use the computer to do something that only it can do? What could we discover if we read every book published in the nineteenth century? What would we learn if we could visually break down and compare the language in two volumes of poetry? How would it change our understanding of a novel if we laid it out in geographical space? What would it mean to read a book as a distributed crowd? Does reading change if you can only do it on a computer?

In this course we will consider these questions as we explore the nascent field of digital humanities (DH). Through readings and various projects, we will familiarize ourselves with the concepts, tools, and debates of and within DH.

Course Goals

  • To become familiar and conversant with various concepts and methods in the digital humanities
  • To develop the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate digital scholarship
  • To collaborate on research in a field that has traditionally priveleged individual scholarship
  • To become more skilled writers through an engagement with writing as a continuing process


The required texts for this course are

You are welcome to purchase these books from the Emory Bookstore, but you may very well find cheaper prices online at stores such as Amazon. You can get free shipping from Amazon if you join their Amazon Student program. Whatever you do, be sure that you have your copy of the text by the assigned dates.

Finally, there are a number of texts that are only available from Reserves Direct or online. You must bring a copy of these texts to class with you on the day that we will discuss them, whether that is a hard copy or on a portable device.


Participation: This is an experimental class based on collaborative discourse. Students should come prepared to discuss assigned readings. As such, you must be in regular attendance (see below). More importantly, you need to come to class prepared to engage vigorously with the day’s material and with your peers and me.

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

Mapping Mrs. Dalloway: Working in assigned groups, you will prepare an interactive map of one character’s movements in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You will present your map to the class and write a 3-4 page reflection on the assignment when it is completed.

Digital Humanities Project Evaluation: Working with a partner, you will study in detail a major digital humanities project. You will compose a 3-4 page evaluation of this project, analyzing both its virtues and its shortcomings. You will post your evaluations, and you will develop short presentations (more details to come) about your chosen project that you will deliver to the class.

House of Leaves: We will be reading the novel House of Leaves in conjunction with classes at four other universities. The classes will be contributing to a shared resource about the novel. You will write a 3-4 page reflection on this assignment when it is completed.

Paper: You will write one “traditional” essay assignment (6+ pages) during the semester about the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. I am happy to discuss drafts, outlines, or ideas during my office hours. I am unlikely to respond helpfully to an email message sent the day before the paper is due.

Class Project: The final weeks of the semester will be spent on a collaborative class project on Duffy’s poetry, drawing on your class papers and more.

Reading Calendar

Complete all assigned reading before coming to class. Please keep in mind that all reading assignments are subject to change. All page numbers refer to the editions/ISBNs that I have ordered. For some readings, you will find the text in the Reserves Direct system, indicated by (RD).

Aug. 25 Th

  • Introductions, Syllabus


Definitions / Histories / Practices

Aug. 30 T

Sep. 1 Th


Mapping Digital Humanities

Sep. 6 T

Sep. 8 Th

  • Moretti, Franco. “Maps.” In Graphs, Maps, Trees. 35-64.
  • Ramsay, Stephen. “Who’s In and Who’s Out.” Stephen Ramsay. 8 Jan. 2011.


Sep. 13 T

  • Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 3-64
  • Ramsay, Stephen. “On BuildingStephen Ramsay. 11 Jan. 2011.

Sep. 15 Th


Sep. 20 T

  • Mrs. Dalloway, 128-end

Reading on a Networked Device

Sep. 22 Th


Sep. 27 T

Sep. 29 Th

  • Joyce, Michael. afternoon (read for at least 90 minutes)


Oct. 4 T

Oct. 6 Th


Oct. 11 T

  • Fall break, classes canceled

Reading in a Network

Oct. 13 Th


Oct. 18 T

Oct. 20 Th


Oct. 25 T

  • House of Leaves, 80-245
  • Digital Humanities Project Evaluation Presentations

Oct. 27 Th


Nov. 1 T

  • House of Leaves, 347-422

Nov. 3 Th

  • House of Leaves, 423-528


Nov. 8 T

The Intentional Fallacy

Nov. 10 Th

  • Duffy, The World’s Wife, 1-41


Nov. 15 T

  • Duffy, The World’s Wife, 42-end
  • Moretti, Franco. “Graphs.” In Graphs, Maps, Trees. 3-30.

Nov. 17 Th

  • Duffy, Mean Time, 1-29


Nov. 22 T

  • Duffy, Mean Time, 30-end

Nov. 24 Th

  • Thanksgiving Break, classes canceled


Nov. 29 T

Dec. 1 Th

  • Duffy project


Dec. 6 T

  • Duffy project

Dec. 8 Th

  • FINAL EXAM: Duffy Project, 4:30 – 7:00 pm


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