Digital Humanities

The intersection between computers, digital technology, and the humanities.

A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.

Thomas P. Kasulis
LIT 306: Digital Humanities
PROFESSOR: Jesse Stommel
TWITTER: @Jessifer
Sean Michael Morris and Kathi Inman Berens
Digital Humanities is a field of study with a long history. The name "digital humanities" might be relatively new, but the field of humanities computing goes back to the 1940s. In a recent article on Inside Higher Ed., Steve Kolowich defines “digital humanities” as “a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it to the study of history, language, art and culture.” To this (and other definitions of digital humanities), I would add that the digital humanities must also consider the interface between digital and analog culture, between the pixels of our computer screens and the printed text of bound books. What we do online has little meaning if it isn’t linked (literally or figuratively) to embodied practice.

A printed book has weight, odor, a certain texture in our hands. Roland Barthes writes in The Pleasure of the Text, “Text means Tissue” (64), a nod to the literal substances from which books are made (pulp, rag, and animal hide), while also alluding to the materiality of language. When we read, we engage the physical object of the book in an intimate way, and the words themselves have physical character through the typographical choices that govern how they appear on the page.  Further, each word has shape as we say it, a part of our mouths, lungs, throat, or gut it tickles into action. Digital texts command even more deliberate physical attention by being increasingly interactive. They invite us to (or even demand that we) do multiple things with our eyes, brains, and bodies as we (and in order to) experience them.  

This course looks back even as it looks forward, considering how printed texts and reading practices are transformed by the digital, in addition to examining more revolutionary digital media. Throughout the course, we will ask the following sorts of questions:  How is literature and our reading of it being changed by computers? What influence does the container for a text have on its content? To what degree does immersion in a text depend upon the physicality of its interface? How are evolving technologies (like the iPad) helping to enliven (or disengage us from) the materiality of literary texts? We will engage our subjects through discussion of primary and secondary texts but also through our own experiments in building digital artifacts. We will work in unfamiliar media, coming to an understanding of varied interfaces by creating with and for them.

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