Digital Humanities Grad Syllabus

I’m teaching a graduate seminar on digital humanities this semester, ENGL 90127 (yes, Notre Dame has insane course numbers). The class involves a small amount of media studies (McLuhan, Galloway) and a whole lot of computational and quantitative work (both lit reviews and extensive hands-on practice). I’m excited about this; I’ve taught some version of DH many times in the past, but never with this degree of technical expectation. My students have been great so far and I’m looking forward to the programming work.

A PDF of the initial syllabus is available for those who are interested. As you’ll see, I’ve left some of the details fuzzy toward the end in order to respond to student needs and interests. Will try to remember to post a final version at the end of the semester that reflects the specifics.

[Update: The final syllabus and some reflections on the course are now available.]

7 thoughts on “Digital Humanities Grad Syllabus

  1. Dear Matthew,

    I found this syllabus through Stéfan Sinclair’s Twitter feed. Just to introduce myself, I’m a religious-studies PhD with a cross-cultural philosophy blog, working as an educational technologist, so I’ve been excited to learn more about the digital humanities.

    I would like to respond to the early premise of your syllabus: “We long ago gave up the idea that our task was to appreciate and explain a handful of great texts, replacing that goal with a much more important and ambitious one: to understand cultural production as a whole by way of the aesthetic objects it creates.” To this I say: speak for yourself. What you are describing, in my view, is not humanities, it is social science, a point which the ensuing discussion of methods only serves to accent further. There are still a lot of us out there who believe in appreciating and explaining the great texts, and indeed believe that that is the very purpose of the humanities qua humanities. I don’t say this to denigrate social science, which I agree is an important field, nor do I think that I have made a sufficient argument here for my conception of the humanities. But I would ask: what would happen in your course to students whose interest is in appreciating and explaining great texts, when the course takes as a premise that their task has been given up? Are they told that there is no room for them in the brave new digital world, even if they are excited by the potential that digital technologies offer for the traditional humanistic task?

    Amod Lele.

    P.S. In case this comes across as making me look like a tech rube, I am aware that the formality of this post is not conventional in blog commenting. I’ve posted this way in an effort to be polite, which I find important in this situation given that so far I’m basically a random stranger busting in and criticizing your syllabus.

    • Hi Amod,

      I appreciate your thoughts and your courtesy alike. There certainly are others who, like you, continue to see literary studies as a matter of appreciating and interpreting a smallish number of great books, and there are quite a few digital projects devoted to that task (I’m thinking mostly of the various “archives” on Whitman, Rossetti, etc.). That’s not my own investment and I think the center of the field has moved pretty far away from it, too, but it does still exist and its partisans tend to see it, as you do, as the soul of the humanities. Time will settle the question, I suppose, even more firmly than it already has, but my read is that this is a debate we had a few decades back and that it was carried by the cultural studies folks. That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped reading books — close reading is still our dominant methodology by a wide margin — but the thing in service of which most of us read has changed. So this isn’t really a DH question at all; it’s a significantly older (and long settled, in my view) disagreement about the purpose of the discipline.

      • Thanks, Matthew. You’re clearly right both that this goes much wider than DH, or that cultural studies has been the dominant humanities methodology in the past few decades (as New Criticism was in the decades before that, and philological-historical criticism before that).

        But at least two points of disagreement remain. The bigger one is whether it’s really been settled – I would disagree with you in the strongest possible terms, but it’s not as if that’s an argument we’re going to resolve in this forum. The smaller and more directly relevant one is about DH. It seems indisputable to me that archives on Whitman, the Perseus Project, or even blogs about Great Books are a part of digital humanities as it currently exists; as far as I can tell, they are likely to play a significant role in DH into the future. And it seems to me that they deserve a role in any conversation about DH, including an introductory syllabus.

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