The Best Introduction to Digital Humanities
Architectures of Knowledge
SPAN 845 | SPAN 291 | CPLT 606 | FREN 945 | HUMS 387
Humanities Quadrangle 317
Prof. Alex Gil
Office: Humanities Quadrangle, Room 439
In Person Office Hours: Wednesdays, 10am–11am.
This course will take two distinct forms: Mondays will consist of a seminar preceded by a brief lecture; and, Wednesdays we will have a digital studio where you will receive tutorials and work in teams to build and learn. In addition, students will be asked to participate in asynchronous community combined with online annotation exercises using hypothes.is. Our choice of communication app will depend on the majority’s preferences and/or special needs.
An interest in questions of art, history, law, culture, philology and philosophy—in short, all that we shape, which shapes us in return… and a computer.
All readings in this course will be provided free to you. Many articles and book chapters will be available for participants in the class on our shared drive following fair use guidelines. Other articles, and even books listed on the schedule will be available on the web open access. You fill find the appropriate links for all course materials in the course schedule.
To learn more, please visit the assignments page [In construction].
This course shares much with peer courses at other institutions. You will study several genres of Digital Humanities, and get a sense of the wide range of practical possibilities available to you now, or in the future. One important difference, though, between this course and that of our peers is that ours does not spend too much time on the field of Digital Humanities itself qua field. Our course hovers instead between two gravitational centers: the architectures behind the scholarly and cultural record (the Humanities, sort of), and what we could call fundamentals of computing (the Digital, sort of).
Even though there are no technical requirements prior to you joining the class, you will be expected to play with new tools and learn new concrete technical skills throughout the semester. Even though you will be exposed to several “user friendly” tools and genres of Digital Humanities, the accent will be placed on symbolic computation. This will involve a completely different way of understanding and using your computer for many of you. The course is designed to guide you through these beginner steps in a way that hopefully minimizes the sense of alienation you may feel. These “fundamentals” serve as the basis for most artisanal practices in the Digital Humanities and beyond. In this sense, the course also serves as a friendly introduction to computation for Humanities majors or graduate students. You will not be expected to be a full-time programmer at the end of the course, or even “learn how to code,” but you will be expected to understand many related concepts, and even do a thing or two using symbols instead of clicks. In Part II in the Spring, we will build on these fundamentals to improve our computational skills in order to begin to use algorithms and other computational techniques to study and manipulate cultural corpora at various scales.
In addition to computing, you will also be introduced to some basics of Design and Project Management throughout the course. Design, because it shows we care about our audiences and our imagination grows in unexpected byways therein, and Project Management because projects need to be properly scoped and organized in order to become a reality in time without breaking our backs or bruising our bonds to one another.
I learned the ropes of Digital Humanities with a cohort of graduate students, as part of the Praxis Program at the University of Virginia. Over the course of an academic year, our cohort worked to build a tool that allowed users to annotate a shared text, and compare their annotations after—team and project were central to my own learning. In order to be able to build Prism, the Praxis Program taught us the fundamentals of computing, design, project management, and collaboration. Since then, collaboration has been a mainstay of my professional practice. I do not expect any of you to be a natural at it. My own cohort surely had growing pains. True collaboration, presence and engagement with each other will be our overriding aspiration in this course. Below are some considerations in the form of a code of conduct to get us started thinking about our work together.
Our institution values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. Our goal is to create learning environments that are usable, equitable, inclusive and welcoming. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or accurate assessment or achievement, please notify me, your instructor, as soon as possible. Disabled students are also welcome to contact Student Accessibility Services to discuss a range of options to removing barriers in the course, including accommodations.
In developing this course, I learned from many people, but I particularly thank Roopika Risam, Ryan Cordell, Miriam Posner, Jentery Sayers, Lauren Klein, Marisa Parham and Whitney Trettien for graduate syllabi and ideas from which I drew particular inspiration. In general, I would not be introducing you to Digital Humanities today if it wasn’t for Bethany Nowviskie, Jeremy Boggs, Wayne Graham, David McClure, and the rest of the Scholars Lab crew at the University of Virginia, circa 2010. They taught me many of the fundamentals I hope to pass on to you this academic year.