This course provides an introduction to the questions and methods used in the field of Digital Humanities (DH) with a special emphasis on the study of literary and other textual materials. The course embraces the project-based approach prevalent in the Digital Humanities, in which students are active participants in high-level scholarly research. As part of your participation in the course, you will contribute to one of two ongoing multi-institutional research projects, the Lexomics project for literary text analysis, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, or the 4Humanities WhatEvery1Says project, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which studies public discourse about the Humanities. If you make a lasting contribution to these projects, you will receive authorial credit, and you will have opportunities to continue working on the projects, if you wish, after the end of the course. This seminar is thus designed to foster your ability to learn by doing, to experience scholarship at an advanced level, to give you a stake in your work, and to provide an opportunity for you to make a lasting contribution to knowledge in the field.
In this course you will be assigned 9 blog posts, which will be available to the entire class in order to stimulate class discussion. Blog posts may be less formal than academic essay (and they may contain visual media). However, they must be edited to professional standards in order to receive credit. This means that there should be no spelling or grammatical errors. Titles, quotations, and citations must conform to the standards of an academic journal. You are expected to show attention to detail.
This course uses a system of contract grading. You will decide by the end of Week 2 whether you will receive an A, B, or C in the class (lower grades at my discretion). To receive this grade, you will have to meet the requirements specified for each grade below. If you are unable to meet the requirements for the grade for which you signed up, you must contact me to renegotiate your contract.
To receive an A grade, you MUST
To receive a B grade, you MUST
To receive a C grade, you MUST
I do not award extra credit in this class. If you decide that you want to work for a higher grade than the one you chose at the beginning of the semester, email me to re-negotiate your contract.
What is contract grading?
Believe it or not, there is a Wikipedia article, or you can read Jane Danielewicz and Peter Elbow, “A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching,” College Composition and Communication, 2009, 244–68. This is my version, tailored slightly for a course with fewer writing assignments and more difficult reading. I've also taken a great deal of inspiration from Miriam Posner's Selfies, Snapchat, & Cyberbullies course, and I want to give her due credit. My choice to use the contract grading system is designed to give you greater responsibility for your learning whilst taking the pressure of you to obtain individual grades that average out to some mathematical proxy for your learning. Instead, you set out with certain learning goals in mind, and I tailor my assessment of whether you have achieved them in part with your feedback during the midterm examination.
What if I sign up for a contract and then cannot fulfill one provision?
You’ll get a temporary exemption if you fail to fulfill one part of the contract. However, you cannot repeat the infraction or fail to fulfill any of the other terms of the contract. If you do, you will have to re-negotiate your contract with me.
What if I change my mind about the grade I want at the end of the semester?
You can just email me to renegotiate your contract.
What if I disagree with you about whether I have fulfilled the terms of my contract?
If the disagreement concerns an assessment of your learning on assignment, you have a week-long extension to revise and resubmit the assignment. If I still think that you have not fulfilled the provision, we must re-negotiate your contract. The extension does not apply to the final research paper. For this and provisions such as those concerning your impact on the learning environment of the classroom, my assessment takes precedence, as it would for a non-contract grade.
What are the professor’s roles in contract grading?
As your professor, I will continue to provide commentaries on your written work, as well as oral guidance. The only difference is that you don’t get letter grades on individual assignments. I will continue to provide you guidance and help you stay on track with your contract as best as I can. At the end of the semester, I am charged with assessing your learning about the subject matter. Although you are choosing your grade you wish to aim for, it is my job to provide a letter grade at the end of the semester that represents the extent to which you have earned this grade through mastery of the subject matter and contribution to the learning community of the class. I am trusting that you will put in a sincere effort, and the element of choice is designed to give you a say and a stake in your learning.
By enrolling in this course you agree to be bound for the purposes of this class by all policies listed on this syllabus and the contract grading system. You may reject these policies by dropping the class within the time allotted by the University.
Most grades will be A, B, or C, according to the contract you sign up for. Grades of D or F, or with a plus or minus will be rare and entirely at my discretion. To receive a grade other than a WU, you must have completed more than half the coursework (no exceptions).
Since students in English courses are expected by society at large to be acquiring writing skills, I privilege grammar, spelling, and editing in my grading, and this is reflected in the contract language. Work containing distracting numbers of typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors is highly likely to violate provisions of your contract, and you should make sure that you pay sufficient attention to these details.
It is extremely important that all aspects of your work are come by honourably. Efforts to gain an advantage not given to all students are dishonest and regarded as an extremely serious matter by the academic community. Consequences range from probation to expulsion. University policy stipulates that plagiarism, the submission of another person’s work as your own, is a violation of academic honesty, even if it arises out of ignorance or oversight, rather than deliberate cheating. Enrolling in this class means that you agree to abide by my decision regarding the appropriate action to take in cases of academic dishonesty. If you have any questions about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting, or collaboration, please consult me.
Students should make sure that they follow the university’s add/drop deadlines, outlined in the Schedule of Classes. According to university policy, drops are only allowed after the set date when “a) there is a serious and compelling reason–specifically the student’s emotional or physical health or financial condition is clearly in jeopardy, and b) there is no viable alternative–including repeating the class”. Students will need to provide documentation on official letterhead–a letter, on official stationery, from a doctor or an employer–to support their reasons. No adds will be allowed unless a student can provide documented proof–e.g., a clerical error–for the reason for the tardiness. Please make sure to meet the deadline!
The standard grade if a student fails to complete the work for a class is a “WU”. This is the equivalent of an “F”, but the grade may be changed if you re-take the course at a future time. This grade is also assigned to students who have not attended after the first few classes of the semester but have not officially “withdrawn” from the course.
I may assign an Incomplete (“I”) if and only if you meet all of the following conditions:
Once you take an incomplete, you have a year from the date recorded on the form to complete the requirements of the course and have your grade changed; therefore, you should submit work early enough to allow me to grade your work and fill out the necessary forms to assign you a new grade. For more information, see the university's Grade of Incomplete tutorial.
Keep in mind that, after you take an Incomplete, any grading of your work becomes an added burden on my busy timetable during the following year. Therefore you should not expect the normal amount of comments on your work or any extra teaching beyond my normal office hours.
This class will provide an overview of the course structure and key expectations. In the first half of the class, we will introduce the concept of Digital Humanities, leaving the main task of clarifying what DH is for Week 2, when you have had a chance to do some reading. We will look at the software and digital tools we will be employing, allowing those with computers to download and install the tools. We will address any concerns about the use of computers and the lab-based environment of the course, and we’ll try to get you up and running with some important DH tools.
In the second half of the class, we will begin to examine the text as a material object, and in particular how the materiality of the text manifests in digital form. We will look at important technical issues like character encoding before diving into the concept of markup by which information is encoded on top of strings of letters or other characters. Will begin learning Markdown, a simple markup language for structured writing (used for this syllabus) and introduce HTML, a markup language for displaying content in web pages.
In the first half of this class, we will focus the challenge of defining DH, its many genealogies, and its place in the discipline of English studies. We will then turn our attention to text encoding and understanding the major markup languages used in DH (HTML, CSS, and TEI) with some hands-on practice. Make sure to bring your computers!
Reading and viewing for this class:
Not required, but good if you have the time:
Week 3 is a hands-on workshop in learning how to make text do stuff. Another way to think about this is that we will look at text as code and learn the basic concepts of coding using the Python programming language, so that we can use code to study texts. We will also begin to look at the concept of algorithms, and what Stephen Ramsay has called “algorithmic criticism”. How can algorithms help us to understand texts? What kinds of questions can we ask with them? What are their limitations? What hermeneutic and epistemological issues arise when we collaborate with computers in reading texts?
Reading for this class:
In this class, we will look at Python libraries, particularly those used for large-scale natural language processing (NLP). This technical introduction will serve as a preface for a discussion of supervised and unsupervised learning in Digital Humanities studies and its potential for understanding texts at scale.
Reading and viewing for this class:
WorkingWithTexts.ipynbfrom Canvas instead)
For this class, we will continue the discussion of the previous week and introduce the notion of a text analysis workflow. This will be our first introduction to the Lexos tool used in the Lexomics project. Topics we will cover will include the compiling of text corpora, the pre-processing (or “scrubbing”) of texts, and iterative nature of analysis and visualisation. We will also begin to consider what questions we can ask (and answer) using computational text analysis.
Reading for this class:
In this class, we will introduce the concept of corpus modelling, using the methodology known as topic modelling. This will also be our first introduction to the work of the WhatEvery1Says project. We will also look at some other methods used for understanding large corpora, such as word embedding and sentiment analysis.
Reading for this class:
This week will begin with an examination of the grant proposals for the Lexomics and WhatEvery1Says projects, providing an overview of the projects’ methods and goals. Using these examples, one for a government grant and one for a grant from a private foundation, we will explore concepts of project design and begin to identify places where the class can contribute to or extend the work of the activities outlined in the proposals. We will also consider strategies for dissemination of DH research, using the Lexomics and WhatEvery1Says projects as test cases.
Reading for this class:
Resources will be added here as they are needed.