Studies in Literature: Literature in the Digital Age

Course description

Digital technology is transforming the ways we produce, distribute, and study literature. Under the umbrella term "digital humanities," scholars are building electronic archives that put literary texts in historical, biographical, geographical, and other contexts; using computational tools to analyze and visualize the form and content of texts; creating new platforms for scholarly communication about texts; and trying to understand the larger cultural impact of the digital revolution. This course will undertake a close examination of all these developments while giving students hands-on experience with some basic tools for digital publication and textual analysis. Many of the activities in the course will revolve around SUNY Geneseo's recent efforts to create a digital edition of Henry David Thoreau's Walden. No programming knowledge necessary.

Learning outcomes

Individual learning outcomes

Students who have completed Engl 390 will:

  • understand the major opportunities and issues that technology has created for scholarship, creativity, and teaching in the humanities
  • be able to apply concepts from the humanities to the analysis of digital technology's social consequences
  • understand some basic legal issues raised by the cultural opportunities and changes wrought by digital technology
  • be able to apply some basic tools of the digital humanist to texts and teaching in the humanities

Community learning outcomes

The Engl 390-01 (Spring 2012) community will:

  • be able to collaborate effectively in discovering and sharing ideas about digital technology and the humanities
  • be able to collaborate effectively in acquiring and using digital tools useful in the humanities
  • be able to collaborate effectively in designing and executing projects that apply digital tools to scholarship, creativity, or teaching in the humanities

Class time and place

  • TR 1-2:15 p.m., Newton 205

Office hours

  • TR 3-4, Welles 226
  • Find me online via Google chat ( or AIM (pepys84).

Tools you should have

Texts you'll read (or read from)

Blogs you should follow

Students with disabilities

SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities. Contact Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, Director of Disability Services to discuss needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.







What is Digital Humanities?


How Do You Define Digital Humanites/Humanities Computing?; Patricia Cohen, 3 articles in NY Times "Humanities 2.0" series ("Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches", "Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers", "In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture") Tool: WordPress

Week Two



Thoreau, Walden, "Economy" through "Sounds"


Walden, Chapters "Solitude" through "The Village"; Susan Schreibman, et al., Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 8; 3 articles from Science on culturomics (access through Milne Library website or find them here); Bloomsburg University Undergraduate "Manifesto" on Digital Humanities

Week Three



Walden, "The Ponds" through "House-Warming"


Walden, "Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors" through "Conclusion"; Visit from Prof. Ed Gillin

Week Four



Readings from Harding, Sattelmeyer, Shanley, Earhart


Excerpt from Adams and Ross, Revising Mythologies; Videoconference with Elizabeth Witherell

Week Five



Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture, Introduction and chaps. 1-5; Free Culture flash presentation; Helprin,"A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn't its Copyright?"; Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson;"Nineteenth-Century British and American Copyright Law"


Clapper, The Development of Walden: A Genetic Text

Week Six



Lessig, Free Culture, chaps. 11-14; Robert Darnton et al.: "Google and the New Digital Future", "Google & the Future of Books: An Exchange"; "Can We Create a National Digital Library?", "Toward the 'Digital Public Library of America': An Exchange", "The Library: Three Jeremiads"; selections from The Public Index


Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, 1-34 Visit from Jeff Cramer (Milne 208)

Week Seven



Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, 1-34


Benkler, 35-90

Week Eight



Introduction to markup: HTML, XML, TEI


Practice encoding


Spring Break

Week Nine



In-class encoding


Martha Nell Smith, excerpts from Rowing in Eden, Introduction to Emily Dickinson's Correspondences: A Born-Digital Inquiry; Sample Dickinson texts from the Versioning Machine

Week Ten



In-class encoding


McGann, from Radiant Textuality: "Rethinking Textuality"; Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Week Eleven



Jerome McGann, excerpts from Radiant Textuality: Jerome McGann, from Radiant Textuality: "The Rationale of Hypertext", "Deformance and Interpretation" (warning) Use a browser other than Internet Explorer to download these files.


N. Katherine Hayles, "Electronic Literature: What is it?"; Scott Rettberg, "Communitizing Electronic Literature"

Week Twelve



Andrews, On Lionel Kearns, Howe and Karpinska, open.ended; Waber and Pimble, i, you, we


Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, chapters 1-6 Videoconference with Amy Earhart

Week Thirteen





Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, chapters 1-6

Week Fourteen



Shirky, chapters 7-11


Visit from Syd Bauman and Julia Flanders

Week Fifteen


Follow-up videoconference with Ron Clapper, Beth Witherell

Final Meeting

5/7, 12 p.m. - 3 p.m.

Share essays, take stock

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