Preliminary Syllabus: Intro to Digital Humanities

I’m working on my class for next semester, an introduction to digital humanities. It’s shaping up to be about a third media studies and the rest true DH, on the theory that one needs to know something about why the medium of a work matters if you’re going to understand the changes wrought by digital texts.

But I don’t entirely like this split personality, which I think reflects a certain ambivalence in the field itself. Is what’s interesting about digital texts the fact that they take advantage of their “digitalness”? Or is it that we as scholars can do things with digital texts that are hard to do with dead-tree books? The former suggests we should lean on media studies, and that the most interesting objects will be born-digital works that may not have much to do with text in the conventional sense at all. The latter pushes us toward computation and text mining, suggests that what we want as objects of study are properly encoded/marked-up versions of more-or-less regular books, and lets us continue to ask more traditional literary-critical-historical questions.

I skew strongly toward the latter conception of the field, which better matches my own priorities and interests. But as a practical matter it’s far less developed than media studies, in part due to technical and professional limitations. So one way to teach a course like this would be to adopt Steve Ramsay’s approach: Stage a DH boot camp that teaches basic programming/scripting, database manipulation, text encoding, etc. I think that’s a fantastic thing to do, but it’s not something I wanted to work up from scratch at the moment. And my great hope is that someday soon it won’t be necessary; that tools like the MONK project will eliminate much of the low-level technical work that’s presently required to do meaningful corpus analysis. I fear, of course, that “soon” != soon enough, but I can hope, right? In the meantime, my students will be learning more about the theory and types of digital humanities projects than they will about Perl. Maybe I can send them to Steve for phase two.

DH Syllabus Draft.pdf

[Update: For reasons too bureaucratic to enumerate, the course title is now “Media Studies: Digital Humanities” (English 388).]

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