eng630—"Digital Humanities": Emerging Debates in Literary Study

Chris Forster

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Course Description and Objectives

How does the becoming digital of textuality (of the very medium of most literary study) alter the character of what we do with texts? To judge from some accounts, digital technology promises to radically change the study of literature and culture. At one extreme, some critics have suggested that such technologies can enable new modes of "distant reading": literary criticism as data mining. In this class we will explore these claims by reading some of the key works in the field/discipline/methodology which currently parades under the banner digital humanities.While digital humanities has received an increased attention starting around 2009; it can be traced back through "humanities computing" to a first wave of interest in the 1990s, and even further to the earliest uses of computers for humanistic scholarship—an origin frequently identified with Father Roberto Busa, who used computers to generate his lemmatized index to the work of Thomas Aquinas. You can find that index online at http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/.

This class will invite students to consider and to explore (though not uncritically) the promises of these new methodologies. Our focus will be chiefly on using new tools to understand (old) texts. Rather than theorize new media or read digital poetry, we will be considering the nature of literary study in a digital age. Readings will include work by Jerome McGann, Franco Moretti, Stephen Ramsay, and others. We will also be trying out hands at a few of these tools to try to explore the sorts of questions such methodologies allow us to ask (and, perhaps, answer); we will also try to remain to sensitive to whether the questions we now explore are, in fact, questions worth exploring.


Additional texts and links will be available in PDF or online through BlackBoard.

Course Assignments


Texts on Blackboard are indicated by BB; in Debates in the Digital Humanities by DitDH.

Digitization and Consequences

January 17: Introduction to the Class


Also Relevant:

January 24: What does digitization change? Anything?


Please find and look at Three Digital Editions of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.

January 31: How to Encode Texts? (And why?)



February 7: McGann, Radiant Textuality

Read: McGann

February 14: Algorithmic Criticism and Speculative Computing


At Scale: Reading Distantly and Reading Distance

February 21: Franco Moretti (and Critics)


Februrary 28: "Mining"


Use and Compare the Following Resources Before Class:

March 7: Maps


Examine These Archives and Tools:

March 21: Other Distances


March 28: "Where is the theory?" and other (uncomfortable?) Questions


April 4: "Reading in the Digital Age"


April 11: Student Selected Readings

April 18: Optional Workshop Class

April 25: Final Meeting, Presentation of Projects in Progress