Syllabus: Introduction to Digital Humanities

This course was taught at Stony Brook University in Spring 2020 as EGL 130: Literature, Science, and Technology.

Course Description

This course will introduce students to present and potential directions of literature and literary studies which follow from or lead developments in computer and network technology. Our reading will cover a range of forms, from illustrated poems in the late 18th century and an early 19thcentury novel to film, interactive texts, games, generative poetry, social media, and more. As we go through this material, students will be introduced to a variety of methods of reading and analyzing works. We will also consider how literary production responds to our reading and writing practices, as well as how both are emerging from our wider digital environments. Accordingly, we will be learning about computer-based methods of reading alongside literary experiments in computer-based forms of writing.

Required Texts

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (Penguin; ISBN: 9780141439792)

Her StorySam Barlow (Windows, OS X, iOS, or Android.)

Emily is Away – Kyle Seeley (Windows, OS X, or Linux)

Additionally, there will be shorter readings linked throughout. Some of these will be links to browser-based interactive works.

Learning Outcomes

Learning objectives for CER (“Practice and Respect Critical and Ethical Reasoning”):

  • Understand some of the ethical principles guiding human behavior as concerns computer technology and computer networks.
  • Apply ethical reasoning to a variety of situations, including as constructed through literary composition or as performed in humanistic inquiry.
  • Understand and differentiate ethical, legal, social, and political issues which concern contemporary computer-based experiences.
  • Understand how literary studies and literary texts can and have engaged with such issues.

Learning objectives for STAS (“Explore Interconnectedness”):

  • Apply concepts and tools drawn from literary studies in order to understand the links between computer technology and humanities thinking.
  • Synthesize technical information and qualitative information to make informed judgments about the reciprocal relationship between digital and network technology and literary arts.

Learning Outcomes for B.A. in English:

  • Read texts closely with attention to nuances of language, content and form.
  • Write focused, organized and convincing analytical essays in clear, standardized English prose, making use of feedback from teachers and peers
  • Participate in discussions by listening to others’ perspectives, asking productive questions, and articulating ideas with nuance and clarity.


Unit I: Visualizing Writing as Process

Week One
1.1: Introduction
1.2: William Blake – Songs of Innocence ("The Little Black Boy," "The Chimney Sweeper," "Holy Thursday") & Songs of Experience ("Holy Thursday," "The Chimney Sweeper," "The Sick Rose," "London," "A Divine Image") via text annotation website Genius

Week Two
2.1: William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell via text digitization website Bartleby
2.2: First Draft of the Revolution & Emily is Away

Assignment: Close Reading, Part 1

Unit II: Reading Jane Austen, Distant and Close

Week Three
3.1: Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (page 15 – 67)
3.2: Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (68 – 119)

Week Four
4.1: Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (123 – 178)
4.2: Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (179 – 235)

Week Five
5.1: Austen Said (read "Home" and "Background" then play around with "Word Frequencies" and "Novel Visualizations")

Assignment: Close Reading, Part 2

Unit III: Confession and Surveillance

5.2: Poetry Packet 1: Confessional Poetry & Context ("The Fish," "The Fish," "Mother to Son," "America," "Terminal Days at Beverley Farms," "The Bells," "Tulips," "Dream Song 1," "Dream Song 29")

Week Six
6.1: Poetry Packet 2: Postconfessional Poetry ("Twenty-One Love Poems" (sections II, V, VII, XIX), "The Embrace," "Study of my Sister," "Song," "When Your Small Form Tumbled Into Me," "flarfing ginsberg," "Year of the Amateur," "No Resolution")
6.2: Her Story (you might not get quite to 100%, but you should get close)

Week Seven
7.1: Searching (watch)
7.2: Searching (discussion)

Assignment: Character Study

Unit IV: Mapping Literature

Week Eight
8.1: Mapping the Lakes
8.2: "The New Place of Reading"

Week Nine
9.1: Taroko Gorge & J. R. Carpenter (This is a Picture of Wind & ...and by islands I mean paragraphs)
9.2: Ben Lerner – "The Polish Rider"

Assignment: Mapping

Unit V: From Platform to Expression

Week Ten
10.1: William Gibson – "The Winter Market" (in Burning Chrome)
10.2: Twitterbots & Instapoetry ("Why are we so worried about 'Instapoetry'?" & "No Filter")

Week Eleven
11.1: Jennifer Egan – "Black Box"
11.2: StoryFace & Façade

Assignment: Search Exploration

Unit VI: Database and the Idiosyncratic

Week Twelve
12.1: Thomas De Quincey – Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
12.2: Shelley Jackson – my body — a Wunderkammer

Week Thirteen
13.1: Poetry Packet 3: Digital-Era Poetry (Game, game, game and again game, "To the Drone Vaguely Realizing Eastward," "Front Door," "Sexy Beautiful Women – /s/," "The bird's eye view," "Mouthfeel," "First, My Motorola")
13.2: Conclusion: Reflection on the course

Assignment: Text Encoding


Assignment 1: Close Reading, Part 1

One of the most fundamental skills in writing about a work of art is what is called “close reading,” a process of observing and explaining parts of a text in terms of what is readily available there on the page. You will almost certainly have done this at various points in your schooling, but we will start the semester working on this skill. In the coming weeks, we will look at some other approaches to texts, but you will always need to be able to step in and closely read some passages.

I want you to do this for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in particular because it is a difficult text. You will struggle with reading it, and I will struggle with re-reading it. The exercises below are designed to give you a way into thinking about the text. You should make a habit of employing this process regularly, beyond this one graded assignment, and might particularly keep it in mind for some of the more challenging material we will at times encounter.

Complete the below sections. Do not cram this all together in an essay format. These short assignments are designed to atomize individual tasks. Do each numbered section on it own, and use these numbered labels in your work. These are worth a total of 5 points:

  1. Denotation (3 points): One of the most fundamental elements of any written text is the denotation (literal, dictionary meaning) of the words. Words can mean other things (through connotation and figurative language), but for now focus on denotation. Take three words which either seem to be of particular significance or which perplex you in their usage, and look up exactly what they mean. Simply list the word and the definition. Because this work is from the early 1790s, however, do not use a standard, modern dictionary to try to find this precise meaning of these words as used in the poem. You have access through the university to the online Oxford English Dictionary. The OED records the history of the language. Choose a definition which appears to correlate with roughly this time period.
  2. Paraphrase (2 points): A paraphrase is a means by which complicated, elaborate material – or something which is simply in specialized language – is made accessible in language more immediately suitable for a different audience. This is typically done for added clarity. For the purpose of analyzing literature, the original phrasing remains crucial (which is part of why you just looked up denotation, instead of just grabbing a few synonyms from a thesaurus), but being able to paraphrase well is an important skill. In general reading, you can use this to make an accessible note for yourself on a passage you struggled to understand. Once you feel you have some handle on it, you can paraphrase it for your own future reference. As you advance toward formal writing, you can also use paraphrase in place of a lengthy quotation. If you can accurately and succinctly refer to a long passage in a short sentence or two, you can situate a claim more effectively under certain circumstances. We will discuss this more in-depth. It would be a large task to paraphrase the whole work, but by taking just a couple parts, you can work your way to not just understanding what is happening, piece-by-piece, but understanding how the text works.
  • For now, I simply ask that you choose two passages (this might look like one paragraph in most of this particular text, but roughly less than 200 words each). Paraphrase these in 50-100 words each. Mark them as 2a and 2b.

Assignment 2: Close Reading, Part 2

In your papers, you will be expected to form an argument, and to defend that argument using evidence from a text or texts. Selecting that evidence is an important and careful task, but even the best-picked, most clearly relevant passage is not self-explanatory. Your writing is a process of presenting your thoughts about the material for assessment. As you write about material, you must cite, but also contextualize, interpret, and analyze.

In interpreting a text, you are giving an opinion of sorts, but for formal purposes this should be kept as close to what you can support through evidence as possible. As a general rule with assessing literary writing: There are no right answers, but there are infinite number of wrong answers. A wrong answer need not be wholly made up ("Catherine is part dragon"), but can arise out of misreading. Be careful in your reading and offer an explanation for what is being said that applies your active work in contemplating the denotations and connotations of what is being said, as well as other possible factors such as figurative language. If, hypothetically, Catherine went into a rage and another character commented that she was being "like" a dragon, that character is using a simile to describe her manners; it is not a reasonable interpretation to say that Catherine has scaly skin. Interpreting a passage is determining what is happening, but where paraphrasing is simply describing the surface level, interpretation requires more careful assessment of the many ways in which literature can play with textual meaning. You are interpreting the words, but also their construction within the novel as part of a creative act.

1) Context (2 point): Identify one short line (something like 20-40 words). Explain (in a minimum of 80 words of your own writing) how another passage from an earlier, separate chapter contextualizes this. This should be a matter of substantive addition, not just something like, "In this line, Catherine mentions going to the abbey. The abbey was introduced on page..." Try to identify an important line which is enhanced by the accumulations of the novel format. This is not a simple task of flipping cards to find the literal, explicit match. Remember that a novel is a particularly elongated literary form, and a multi-volume novel even more so. You are not just identifying a connection, but attempting an explanation of what Austen is doing by including both these passages in the novel at these points.

2) Interpretation (3 points): Considering the explanation above, interpret the passage in Volume II, Chapter VII (page 164) starting "How could she have so imposed on herself?" through to the end of the following paragraph "...and cost her another blush." You do not need to interpret every single detail in these paragraphs, but your writing (minimum 200 words) should be strongly focused on just interpreting the material written, how it is written, and why it is presented here and written in this manner.

Assignment 3: Character Study

Most of the poems in Poetry Packet 2 are lyric poems, a style in which a poet writes the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker. In this mode, I can write a poem about my personal experiences, in which the “speaker” is functionally me, or I can write a poem in first person in which “I” am a young chimney-sweeper in 18th century London. The latter is a clear example of what is known as a persona. The distance between the poet and the “I” need not always be so apparent to enable the forms of adjustment and fabrication allowed for by the use of a persona. (The Burton and Breeze poems have lyric elements but will realistically be too difficult for this purpose.)

In keeping with our previously practiced close-reading skills, and the idea of “persona” above, work to ascertain the information you need entirely from the text here. Do not search the poet’s personal biography and interject that as an explanation of who the “speaker” is. Besides the fact that this might be blatantly wrong (these are individual poems ripped from larger contexts), such outside information is also largely irrelevant. The point is to explore what information these poems reveal, how they do so, and why.

1a) Speaker: Cite two specific pieces of textual evidence which reveal information about the speaker. Keep in mind the speaker is the “I” of the poem. “Study of my Sister” on page 6, for example, is arguably about the speaker’s sister, but this is still asking about the speaker. (1 point)

1b) Give an overall description of who the speaker is. Comment specifically on the two pieces of evidence you provided above, but placed into a larger context. Tell me as much about the speaker as you can. (150-200 words; 2 points)

2) Tone/Style: Above, you explored who the speaker is, but now you will consider how the speaker speaks. For your own purposes, you might need to first spend time working through the basics of what the poem is about (paraphrase), but this need not be included here, and does not count toward the below word count. Analyze the speaker’s attitude toward the poem’s subject and this revealing process, as revealed through elements of tone or style in the writing (more textual evidence). (150-200 words; 2 points)

Assignment 4: Mapping

For this, you do not have to make a map resource, but you do need to consider some of the work which goes into doing so. Read "The Polish Rider" and then go back over the text to complete the following steps:
1) Locations (1 point): List out all places referenced in the text. (This isn't meant to be a trick where there's some one line somewhere mentioning something and you'll lose the point if you miss it, but try to be thorough and specific -- e.g., don't just list "Manhattan" to cover multiple locations.)

2) Context & Categorization (2 points): From your above list, how might you organize different entries in terms of different categories or categorizations? Are there any distinctions you might want to make between places, or would your map just present every referenced location equally? (150-200 words)

3) Map as Resource (2 points): Consider the purpose of this sort of map as a scholarly resource, to potentially aid in the sort of study of literature in which you engaged for your first paper. What might your finished resource here look like? How might you visualize different information? What sorts of tools might you want available for the user interface? Are there any other considerations you might have for the scholarly user-end of this? (150-200 words)

Assignment 5: Search Exploration

Below are three passages from William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” (1982), one of which has an accompanying passage from Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer (1984). As we get into Thursday, April 16, we will explore in part the idea of reading how others taught us. The assigned Gibson story “The Winter Market” is thematically appropriate – to the course and within the unit especially – but a key reason to include Gibson at all is his influence on 1) the vocabulary with which we discuss computers, and 2) providing imagery which inspired actual work of people developing computer systems over the coming decade. Your assignment is to use search engines to search the highlighted terms from Gibson’s early writing.

Part 1 (1 point, 100 words): Read the passage below from Gibson’s 1982 story, then search just the term “matrix” with no quotes or other markings in the following search engines: Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo. What do your results look like across these different websites? How readily do you find anything other than the 1999 film The Matrix in each of these different search engines?

· “The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems. Legitimate programmers jack into their employers’ sector of the matrix and find themselves surrounded by bright geometries representing the corporate data. Towers and fields of it ranged in the colorless nonspace of the simulation matrix, the electronic consensus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive quantities of data.”

Part 2 (2 points each, 150 words each): Read the passages below, then search the highlighted terms (“cyberspace” & “computer cowboy”). You can use any search engine you like, or multiple. You can add markings but don’t add other words to your search. You might, for instance, search “computer cowboy” first without quotation marks, then with, but don’t search “computer cowboy Gibson.” The goal is to track just the terms by themselves through these search engines. Describe your process and your results. How does this information compare to the literary passages?

· “I knew every chip in Bobby’s simulator by heart; it looked like your workaday Ono-Sendai VII, the “Cyberspace Seven,” but I’d rebuilt it so many times that you’d have had a hard time finding a square millimeter of factory circuitry in all that silicon.”

· [From Neuromancer: “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”]

· “Bobby was a cowboy. Bobby was a cracksman, a burglar, casing mankind’s extended electronic nervous system, rustling data and credit in the crowded matrix, monochrome nonspace where the only stars are dense concentrations of information, and high above it all burn corporate galaxies and the cold spiral arms of military systems. Bobby was another one of those young-old faces you see drinking in the Gentleman Loser, the chic bar for computer cowboys, rustlers, cybernetic second-story men. … But they also might’ve told you that Bobby was losing his edge, slowing down. He was twenty-eight, Bobby, and that’s old for a console cowboy.”

Assignment 6: Text Encoding

Like with our mapping assignment, we will be focusing on the intellectual background work, rather than actually working in mark-up languages directly. When we looked at distant reading, such as the Austen Said project, those methods for navigating large quantities of text were achieved through textual encoding. Look again to the search function of the site. The sections on the left – novel, sex, character_type, marriage status, class status, age, occupation, mode of speech, and speaker name are categories called tag sets, and the lists beneath each are the set of tags.

In describing text encoding, Johanna Drucker writes, "For customized mark-up, the first phase of working with mark-up is to decide on a scheme or content model for the texts. The content model is not inherent in the text, but instead embodies the intellectual tasks to which the work is being put. Is a novel being analyzed for its gender politics? Its ecological themes? Its depictions of place? All of these? The tag set that is devised for analysis should fit the theme and/or content of the text but also of the work that you want to do with it. Creating a 'content model' for a project is an intellectual exercise as critical as creating a classification scheme. It shapes the interpretative framework within which the work will proceed."

De Quincey's writing is complicated. It benefits heavily from close reading, and we will do some of that, but it could also benefit from being reviewed at a glance. Be sure to read both parts below in full before beginning on Part 1.

Part 1 (2 points): For the excerpts given, create a few (at least three) tag sets, including an accompanying list of tags. We are just reading the one work, so there shouldn't be an equivalent of the "novel" tag. Otherwise, you might use the Austen example as a point of reference, but your work should not be limited to just copying over what is already done there. Per Drucker's explanation, the interpretive framework of their classification scheme is wanting to track the use of free-indirect discourse. We are not doing that here, so what might your classification scheme look like?

Part 2 (3 points): Describe (300 words) your process in creating the above collection of tag sets. What sort of interpretive framework did you have in mind? What elements of the work were you trying to include? To what ends might your classification scheme be used? What are perhaps some shortcomings of your encoding of this text? What else might you note about your work here?