As this academic year warms up, some thoughts on the last one; last year I had the unexpected opportunity to teach a graduate seminar in the Spring.I was not as diligent as a blog coordinator, keeping up with summary posts, as I would have liked, but some summaries and links to student blogs are available here. I wavered between a theories of modernism course (think: Hugh Kenner, Peter Burger, Frederic Jameson, Susan Stanford Friedman) and an “Intro DH” class, settling on the latter simply because I thought it would be more valuable to graduate students (few of whom, in our department, have strong research interests in modernist studies).

The course benefited from a number of sources; one is Scott Weingart’s excellent list of DH syllabi.He says syllabi; I say syllabuses; it is a battle that has raged for centuries. I should also thank a number of people who were kind enough to offer thoughts (and sometimes texts) as I put together the syllabus: Stéfan Sinclair, David Golumbia, and Brian Lennon offered suggestions. They were all more than generous; though, of course, they bear no responsibility for whatsoever for the syllabus. I also was fortunate enough to end up corresponding with a number of other folks during the semester, thanks to all of them.

If you’re interested in seeing the syllabus, you can see it in [PDF], [HTML], or (heaven help you) on GitHub.In theory, the whole github syllabuses thing sounds promising; and for DH stuff, who knows? But really, just putting the stuff on the web is probably the best way to share teaching materials.

The syllabus includes, at least to some extent, basically all the texts that, a while back, Brian Croxall mentioned as the “usual” DH reading list:

I would have loved to use Jockers’s Macroanalysis, but it was not out in time; I would certainly use it were I to teach the class again. Indeed, I could very easily imagine a class taught around Macroanalysis as its central text.

I imagined the course as centered by a basically epistemological perspective: does the “becoming digital of textuality” “becoming digital of textuality” is clumsy; but I think it gets at the thing I’m interested in better than anything else. change the sorts of knowledge about literature and culture that scholars produce. Does it offer, to put it more polemically, a science of culture? (I avoided this polemical formulation in class; not least because of the definition of “science” that it assumes). This was the motivation for starting with C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures,” a text I would, in the future, however excerpt Snow; there are a lot more relics of the Cold War in that essay than I recalled, not all of which were directly relevant. which I sometimes see condescendingly referred to as if it were backward, outdated, or self-evidently wrong, when I find its core thesis remains provocative and at least partially compelling.

The course was then organized around questions of digitization and textual representationThe Latour and Lowe essay, from Switching Codes is a real gem, and one I don’t see mentioned very frequently., and then a whole slew of things I called distant reading.

I’m not sure that there’s anything in my life that I’d call an unmitigated success, and this class is surely no exception. I think though that it did the job of familiarizing folks with at least some of what “DH” is, particularly for folks in English departments.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever teach such a course again. But here are some things I think I learned—things I’d change and things I’d do the same way again:

When I planned the syllabus, I was concerned to try to integrate criticism of “DH” into this class, to make it both a class about “digital humanities” as well as a digital humanities class. I wanted to leaven ambient excitement or “buzz” with skepticism, to use the tools but to do so with care and reflection, to balance the hacking with yacking (to invoke a short-hand that has produced much hand-wringing). I will say, however, that during class meetings, I generally found myself working harder to overcome the skepticism, rather than to contain the excitement; wanting there to indeed be a little less yack and a little more…