I’m currently teaching a graduate special topics course, Introduction to Digital Humanities. The first version of the syllabus is here as a PDF. Since this is the first time I’m teaching the course, I’m fairly confident that there will be a few modifications and updates to the course outline along the way. (Update: in the week since I wrote this post, we had a weather-related campus closure, so our schedule already needs to be adjusted.)
Audience and Course Goals
This is a graduate seminar for students in the English department, who are from our MA and PhD programs in Literature, Composition and Rhetoric, and Creative Writing. As this is the first time a DH course has been offered on my campus (not just in the English department), students have few preconceptions about what such a course entails.
There is a small but active DH Initiative on my campus, and I hope this course will help contribute to developing an intellectual community here.
The course is truly introductory, and is arranged to help students get acquainted with major concepts, theories, and methods in digital humanities. It is also oriented towards literary / textual studies rather than broader conceptions of DH.
I required no specific technical expertise for enrolling in the course. My intent is to combine consideration of major critical works in the field with hands-on experimentation.
The critical readings are focused on five major works: Macroanalysis, Reading Machines, Radiant Textuality, My Mother Was a Computer, and Graphs, Maps, Trees. A few additional readings drawn from Debates in the Digital Humanities and other sources round out the required reading list. I’ll be offering suggestions of additional readings that might be of interest throughout the course, and students will do additional reading for their final projects.
About half of each three-hour course meeting is spent in discussing the readings and half the time is spent in hands-on lab exercises that introduce students to a variety of tools and methods. Students write up weekly lab notebooks following this format (PDF).
I’ve asked students to identify keywords of interest in the critical readings and contribute notes on them in the class forum. A Keywords-style essay in which they trace how a particular term is used in DH discourse is one of the two major assignments of the course.
Final projects will combine critical writing with some form of digital building, play, or experimentation.
Privacy and Failure
Many DH courses require students to contribute to a public course blog, or to keep their own blogs. I initially considered a few different versions of this, including a course keywords Tumblr, but eventually decided against it for this semester. I have two main reasons for this. First, as a feminist teacher, I have strong concerns about respecting student autonomy and privacy that pseudonyms do not necessarily allay. If my students choose to write publicly about their experiences during the semester, that’s great; but to require it is to remove their choice.
Secondly, the focus in our labs is on creative experimentation and failure as a pathway of learning. This is not a familiar experience for most students. Failing in public may be increasingly valued in the DH community as an exemplary practice — but it’s a practice that, like any other, needs to be learned. The smaller public of a closed course environment seems to me like a good starting place for that learning.
So Far, So Good
We’ve only met twice, since the campus was closed due to winter weather the day of our third scheduled meeting. But I’m encouraged by my students’ willingness to explore new ideas and the diverse backgrounds they bring to the conversation. Should be an interesting semester!