Introduction to Digital Humanities

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DH is a broad classification. Our focus is digital literary practice, history, and theory.

DH is a broad classification. Our focus is digital literary practice, history, and theory.

What is Digital Humanities?

Digital humanities is a broad designation that describes literature, history and library/information science subfields that share the common trait of using computers as tools to rejigger the traditional work of the humanities, that is, information organization and human interpretation. (It is actually a much “bigger tent” than that, encompassing cultural anthropology, archeology, art history, linguistics, history of science, and other fields, even as it is also spreading from top-tier research universities to small liberal arts colleges, teaching universities, and community colleges For an overview of Big Tent DH, see this Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of the 2011 Digital Humanities Conference, on the theme of the “Big Tent” here and here, and Amy Earhart’s more recent keynote on “small data” at the 2015 Joint ACH/Canadian DH conference).

For our purposes in the English department at PSU, I present an overview that bridges the traditional study of print-based literature to the new possibilities offered by computers and networked communication. You’ll see in the course description below emphasis on concepts like adaptation and “remix,” close reading and “distant” and “surface” reading, critical race theory and “archival silences.”

In this class, you’ll learn how computers give humanists a much bigger sandbox in which to play with and test ideas. You’ll do this yourself in both creative and traditional scholarly assignments where you experiment firsthand with new interpretational possibilities offered by computational thinking.

Learn more about the class by watching this 2-minute video overview.


Our main textbooks will be Jessica Pressman’s Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media, and Amy Earhart’s Traces of the Old, Uses of the New. Additionally we will read several essays and blog posts by digital humanists accessible via the web, some of which are listed below.

Unit 1: Digital Editions, Adaptation, Remix

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land app: text editing.
John Beer, The Waste Land and Other Poems; Theory of Adaptation (Linda Hutcheon); “Deformance” (McGann and Spiro))
Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days; Inkle Studios, 80 Days; Astrid Ensslin, Literary Gaming; Kathi Inman Berens, “Novel Games: Playable Books on iPads.”

Unit 2: How We Read

Electronic Literature and close reading (Jessica Pressman; N. Katherine Hayles)
“How Not to Read a Victorian Novel” (distant reading exercise by Paul Fyfe)
Surface Reading “The Upside Down Chandelier” (Kathi Inman Berens; Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best)

Unit 3: Cultural Studies and Access to Knowledge

Archival Silences (Lauren Klein, Miriam Posner)
Traces of the Old, Uses of the New (Amy Earhart on “The Era of the Archive” and “Digital Canon Cautions”)
James Baldwin, Alan Liu, Tara McPherson: Critical Race Studies and DH

Unit 4: Challenges to Building and Maintaining a Database: ELMCIP

What is ELMCIP? (Scott Rettberg, Sandy Baldwin)
Visualizing Data
Challenges to Digital Preservation

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