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Digital Humanities

Table of Contents

Course description

Digital humanities is an emerging field for which there is still no commonly accepted definition. For the purpose of this course, we’ll tentatively define it as an area of study and practice that encompasses the following: humanistic perspectives on digital technology’s social and cultural impact (particularly its impact on creativity); application of digital tools to research and teaching in the humanities; and critical examination of “born digital” aesthetic objects.

But whether we’re happy with that definition is one thing we’ll have to discuss.

The practical dimension of digital humanities ("practical" as in "practice," not "utility") involves the use of certain tools. We'll not only study but use some of these. Of our two class meetings each week, usually one will be devoted to discussion of ideas and the other devoted to learning about and testing tools. However, this course provides no more than a passing introduction to two of the tools that are proving to be of paramount importance to digital humanities: XML-TEI (a markup language for texts that meets the standards of the Text Encoding Initiative) and data visualization software.

One of the most widely hailed advantages of digital technology is its power to facilitate collaboration and community. Appropriately, many of the assignments in this course will involve collaboration. Together, we'll blog, share bookmarks, and engage in collaborative writing in the Geneseo wiki. For some projects, students will subdivide into working groups. We'll also aim, as a small community, to create a resource for the larger Geneseo community of faculty and students, so that the tools and ideas under our scrutiny can be more widely accessible and better understood.

Finally, the course will affirm the importance of community by remaining, in limited ways, communally hackable. A "hack" in the good sense, of course, is a creative modification. As an individual, you might use Sugru to, say, hack your penknife. But communities, too, can hack. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one kind of communal hack. Communally adopted changes to the order, emphasis, direction, and content of some activities in this course would be another.

Learning outcomes

Individual learning outcomes

Students who have completed Honors 206 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 Honr 206-02 (Spring 2011) 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 10:00 - 11:15, Milne 109

Office hours

  • T 1-2, R 2-3, Welles 226
  • Find me online via Google chat ( or AIM (pepys84).

Tools you should have

Texts you'll read

Blogs you should follow

Activities and projects you'll undertake

Note: You must complete all assignments to receive a passing grade in this course.


Portion of your final grade

Blogging on your individual blog or the community blog


Contributing to discussion online and in class


A project with your working group


An essay (about 1250 words)


A final presentation


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.





Week 1



Introduction: The course as uncourse


Tools, techniques, models: Confluence wiki

Week 2
Defining Digital Humanities



Susan Schreibman, et al., 1-6; 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")


Schreibman, et al., 7-12; 3 articles from Science on culturomics (access through Milne Library website or find them here); Bloomsburg University Undergraduate "Manifesto" on Digital Humanities

Weeks 3-4
Solitude and the Social: Digital Thoreau



Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Chapters 1-8


Tools, techniques, models: Thoreau online, NINES, DHi




Thoreau, Chapters 9-23


Tools, techniques, models: data visualization, TextStat, TagCrowd, Wordle, Google Ngram Viewer, FlowingData, Understanding Shakespeare: Towards a Visual Form for Dramatic Texts and Language

Week 5
Technology on the Brain, The Brain on Technology



Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation (free sample from Amazon); Ian Barns, "The Renewal of Civic Virtue and the Difference Technology Makes"; Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"; William Deresiewicz, "Faux Friendship"; Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks


Tools, techniques, models: Wikipedia, Zotero, Delicious; Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Introduction

Weeks 6-7
Digital Nation



Cass Sunstein, 2.0 (free from Amazon); PBS, Frontline: Digital Nation; Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, chapters 2 - 4


Tools, techniques, models: Blogger, Twitter, Voicethread; Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, chapters 1-6




Benkler, Wealth of Networks, chapters 5, 7, 8


Tools, techniques, models: Google docs, Tumblr; Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, chapters 7-11

Weeks 8-10
Free Culture, Open Source, Fair Use



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"


Tools, techniques, models: Creative Commons, Flickr, YouTube; ESSAY DUE




Spring Break






Lessig, Free Culture, chaps. 6-10


Tools, techniques, models: Stanford University Fair Use Project; Chilling Effects; Electronic Frontier Foundation, Intellectual Property: The Term, Teaching Copyright




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


Tools, techniques, models: The Free Software Definition; Stallman, "Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software"; Google books, Google scholar, Project Gutenberg, Hathi Trust

Weeks 11-12
Radiant Textuality: Literature and Pedagogy Online



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


Tools, techniques, models: markup languages, IVANHOE, Hackety-Hack; McGann, from Radiant Textuality: "Rethinking Textuality"






Paul Schacht, "Rowing Alone", "The Collaborative Writing Project"; CWP webiste; M. Wesch, "The Machine is Us/ing Us", "A Vision of Students Today"; Richard Lanham interview and excerpts from The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts and The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information

Weeks 13-15
Electronic Literature



Tools, techniques, models: Sophie; The GoodPlay Project; UC Irvine, DMLcentral; Creative Commons, Open Educational Resources


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




Jim Andrews, On Lionel Kearns


Howe and Karpinska, open.ended; Waber and Pimble, i, you, we; Pullinger and others, Inanimate Alice




Flight Paths: A Networked Novel

Final meeting


Tuesday, 5/10, 12 pm - 3 pm

Final Presentations