Digital Humanities
SLIS S657 Spring 2013
“Animated Kirby Machinery!” by Kerry Callen.
Animated Kirby Machinery!” by Kerry Callen.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to the use of digital information and communication technologies in literary and humanistic study. We will survey the field of digital humanities, from electronic scholarly editing; to the computational analysis of style, theme, and structure; to considerations of the cultural impact of information technology on scholarly discourse, publishing, and the academy; to the study of virtuality and materiality of digital objects and their non-digital counterparts.

We will also study several specific technologies in detail, including eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and the Text Encoding Initiative. Students will be expected to generate critical work on subjects related to digital humanities and to perform some hands-on exercises using technologies common in digital humanities research.


Assignment Points (out of 1000) Due
Data Set 100 Jan. 29, 5pm
Social Media Reporting 100 Jan. 17, 1pm: List of those you are following.
Mar. 28, 1pm: Report.
Blogging 300 N/A
Mid-Term 100 TBA
Final Project 400 Apr. 25 (proposal due Feb. 21)

Data Set

For your own edification, for lab tasks we will do in class, and for raw material for your final project, you will assemble a dataset that is focused on a particular topic. The dataset should consist of at least the following.

  • A digital text corpus of at least one million words. This may be a collection of novels, poems, historical documents, social media feeds, movie or television scripts, song lyrics, etc. Some sources for these texts include:
  • An image collection of at least 100 digital images.
  • A spreadsheet with 250 rows with columns for “event,” “date,” and geographic coordinates.

You may supplement these minimum requirements with other data: audio, video, etc.

For instance, a dataset might consist of the works (novels, short stories, and poems) of Thomas Hardy. One may be particularly interested in Hardy's long poem The Dynasts, an epic poem/drama about the Napoleonic wars. The images in the dataset might include paintings, illustrations, and maps related to the Napoleonic wars. The spreadsheet of dates/places/events might focus on a chronology of the wars.

During the fourth week of class (by Tuesday, January 29th at 5pm), you will write up a blog post that:

  • Provides an overview of the topic of your dataset
  • Explains your rationale for assembling the materials
  • Discusses things you may have learned about the data through the process of finding and gathering the materials
  • Discusses the sources of your materials
  • Includes a link to a zip or tar archive of the data (which should be organized in some reasonable way and include a README file with an overview of the contents). Your data should be distributed in non-proprietary formats, e.g., (plain text, XML, TIFF, PNG, CSV, TSV, etc.).

The above blog post is in addition to the 10 required for the semester-long blogging assignment.

Should should keep track of the sources of your data (every text and image) so that you can credit these sources appropriately in your writing.

Social Media Reporting

Much of the scholarly discourse in the digital humanities occurs in social media fora such as blogs and Twitter. As part of our course, you are asked to follow and report on some of these conversations. Over the course of the semester you must follow at least three active blogs (one or more posts per month) and four active Twitter feeds (multiple tweets per day).

By the start of class on January 17th, you should have posted a list (with names and links) of the 3 blogs and 4 Twitter feeds you are following this semester, along with any remarks about how/why you chose this group. Post this list in the Oncourse forum “Social Media: Who's Following Whom

Later in the semester you will submit an 750-1000 word paper discussing what you've learned from following these social media fora and how they have influenced your thinking about the topics of our course.


During the course of the semester you must write 10 blog posts of at least 500 words. You must also also write at least 20 substantive comments on other students’ blog posts. You may write as many blog posts and comments as you wish each week, but you may only receive credit for 1 blog post and 2 comments per week. This means you cannot wait until the end of the semester and cram all 10 posts and 20 comments into one or two weeks. Your blog writing must be spread out over the course of the semester. Blog posts are due by Tuesday at 5pm to give us all time to read and comment on posts before class on Thursday.

Your blog posts should reflect on our readings, on our lab assignments, on the social media you are following, and on the development of your final project.

Students may already be active bloggers. Others are encouraged to start up their own personal blog. Or you may use the blog tool in Oncourse. If you use a non-Oncourse blog. Post links to your "real" blog in the Oncourse tool, so we can all access everything from a central place.

Of the 300 points assigned to blogging. To reach the 300 points, I assign 24 points to each blog post and 3 points to each blog comment, so 80% of the blogging grade is devoted to your posts and 20% to your comments.

Mid-Term Exam

Around the middle of the semester, we will have an open-book mid-term exam consisting of a few short questions and one longer essay question.

DH Project

As part of this course you will develop a digital humanities project. Throughout the semester we will see many examples of the different types of projects done in digital humanities. Some possibilities include:

  • A digital edition of a shorter text or collection of short texts.
  • An visualization of humanities texts or data.
  • A computational analysis of humanities texts or data.
  • A software tool.
  • An interpretive and analytical temporal and/or spatial exhibit.
  • A well-documented data model for a particular type of humanities object, e.g., a new markup language or TEI extension for modeling and representing a class of documents that cannot easily be expressed with existing markup languages.
  • An online thematic research collection, which might combine many of the above elements.

The project will be a collaborative group project, with students working in groups of three or four. The project will be hosted on the web and will include roughly 2000 words of text that provides an overview of the project, the motivations behind the project, and a discussion of the development process. By February 21st, you will submit a project proposal and plan. I've provided an example template for the proposal.


10 January (week 1): Introductions

17 January (week 2): Perspectives on DH

24 January (week 3): Disciplines: Literary Studies

31 January (week 4): Text Encoding (meets in 002)

7 February (week 5): Text Analysis

  • Church, Kenneth Ward. “Unix for Poets.
    Ward's “Unix for Poets” is a fun tutorial with exercises that teach one how to do some interesting text processing with simple Unix tools. You don't need to "read" this for class, but I encourage you to test it out and try some of the exercises with your own data.


14 February (week 6): Materialities

  • Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “Introduction: An Awareness of the Mechanism.” Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. 1–23.
  • Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “‘Every Contact Leaves a Trace’: Storage, Inscription, and Computer Forensics.” Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. 25–71.
  • Galey, Alan. “The Human Presence in Digital Artefacts.” Text and Genre Reconstruction: Effects of Digitization on Ideas, Behaviours, Products, and Institutions. Ed. Willard McCarty. Cambridge: OpenBook, 2010. 93–117.

21 February (week 7): Topic Modeling

Also check out the the topic modeling tool Mallet.

28 February (week 8): Spatial Humanities

Spatial/Temporal Tools

Some example projects and resources

7 March (week 9): Digital Humanities and Libraries

14 March (spring break)

21 March (week 10): Critical Code Studies

28 March (week 11): Digital Medievalism

4 April (week 12): Design and Interface

11 April (week 13): Gaming and DH

18 April (week 14): Scholarly Communication & Peer Review

Read the Introduction and at least two other articles from the cluster below:

25 April (week 15): Final Project Presentations

Contact Information