Course Statement: ENGL 4709/5709: Digital Humanities

Fall 2012
T 4:00 - 6:40
M C Morgan | HomePage Morgan's Wiki

Required texts

Approximate prices from Amazon. Get them used or new. Some are available as Kindle e-books.

Other readings and links to reading provided by the professor and others in the class.


Q: What is this course?
A: Consider it a survey course, a flyover of new territory, with a GIS, digital camera, and smart phone.

Q: What are the Digital Humanities? Or is it, What is digital humanities? Or, maybe, What is digital humanity?
A: I'll turn to the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 for a provisional answer. For this course, DH are/is

an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which:
  1. print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and
  2. digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.

Q: What role do the digital humanities play in the world?
A: I'll let the Manifesto address that.

The Digital Humanities seeks to play an inaugural role with respect to a world in which [universities], no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture, … are called upon

Q: Enough hedging. What is this course?
A: Our project as a course is to explore a little piece of that world, where universities are no longer the sole producers of knowledge, where print is no longer the normative medium of knowledge, and to look at what shapes practices in humanities take on.

Q: What will we do here?
A: Read stuff, look at stuff on the web and elsewhere, talk about the ideas the stuff brings up, then see what happens when we apply those ideas to the world, using a mixture of digital and analogue tools and media. This is what I take to be the array of convergent practices that DH addresses.

Q: Some examples?
A: Sure. Compose a manifesto declaring your position on the digital humanities at the turn towards the 2020s, but Use Google Forms to create an interactive survey that readers take and are then allowed to review the results. Or, Create a Dewey Decimal system for cataloging YouTube videos. Or, Create a concept map of a cluster of our readings. Or, Use PPT to argue that the use of PPT is inadequate for argument. Or, Collect tweets over 24 hours that use an emotional term (love, hate, bored…), print them, then array them (on a board, a wall, the floor) to illustrate something you consider vital about the term as used in tweeting. Or let others array them in categories, using a card sorting method, and labeling the categories.

Q: Sounds a little like conceptual art, doesn't it? Kinda post-modern.
A: That's not a question, but, yes, it does. Each of these little analytical and interpretive projects is designed to reveal something about the ideas and media it entails - to both the creators of the artifact and the users. Using Google forms to frame a manifesto, or exploring what it means to categorize knowledge by trying it with tweets. These are the kinds of convergent practices that the humanities take on, bent slightly so we can see how they work. It looks a little like analysis gone mad, but that's the nature of the DH beast.

Q: So we make stuff? Like art?
A: We'll be making stuff, but it isn't art, really. That is, the focus is not on creating an aesthetic artifact. In studying traditional humanities, you might be asked to write a paper or give a presentation. But DH makes possible - probably demands - alternative practices of articulation. Engaging a project is our alternative. One week, we'll read stuff and look at stuff, and then meet to discuss it. For the next week, we'll come up with a project that will let us explore or illustrate or interrogate the ideas. It might include writing, or other means of articulation. That project will be due the following week, and we'll look at what we've done. Then on to the next set of readings. Rinse and repeat.

Q: Why did you choose these books and readings?
A: Some survey the field. Others enact digital humanities projects - they are examples of those convergent practices I keep banging on about. The books I selected focus on print - digital writing and poetics - rather than art, history, social science, philosophy, library science, et al. Print is my field. I'm not an expert in et al. But print includes visual argument and visual rhetoric - that's one of the changes that DH has already brought into the university. So many of the readings move into the visual.

Q: Exams? Quizzes? Papers?
A: I refer my patient reader to the Manifesto. In a conceptual world in which print is not the normative medium, these measures and artifacts become problematic. You will be asked to produce artifacts, yes, because more than ever DH depends on producing artifacts that tell us something about the digital humanities we're investigating. See those examples above, if you're still reading linearly.

Q: So how will I be evaluated and graded?
A: I will evaluate what you are coming to understand by your work in those artifacts, along with your participation in discussions. There seems to be no normative understanding set for DH yet, so I can't give you a scale. I'll use the instruction manual section from the Manifesto:

‐‐instruction manual:
  1. don’t whine

  2. comment, engage, retort, spread the word
  3. throw an idea

  4. join up
move on

Or, Attend, participate, engage the materials and ideas, create the artifacts, and stay on time and you'll do fine.

Q: Anything else I need to know?
A: Bring a laptop, tablet, or smartphone to class. Or all of them. We will be moving online as we work.

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