Introduction to Digital Humanities 2016

Julia Flanders
Office: Snell Library 213
Office hours: Monday 3:30-5:00 or by appointment

About the Course

Tuesday 3:30-5:45, Snell Library 121

This course offers an intensive introduction to the tools, methods, and intellectual history of the domain now known broadly as digital humanities. We’ll begin with a critical orientation to the field that considers its various myths of origin and definition exercises and what they have at stake, and we’ll ask what we seek from the field and its distinctive competencies. The remaining units of the course will be structured around three core concepts: data, tools, and work. In each unit we’ll investigate how digital humanities distinctively re-imagines and repositions these concepts with respect to the humanities, through a combination of readings, discussion, and practical exploration.

Some logistical details:

  • Readings are listed below and when publicly available are linked from the syllabus. I’ve also made some suggestions for further reading.
  • Assignments include hands-on practical work, an individual project, and some critical writing. Read more…
  • A shared Google doc in case we need to take notes

September 13: Background

This week we’ll get to know each other by failing to define “digital humanities.” In preparation for class:

  • Please find a definition of “digital humanities” and bring it to class. What appeals to you about it (and what doesn’t)? What kinds of power or opportunity does it seem to offer you? What questions does it raise? Be prepared to share these thoughts.

Optional readings:

September 20: Practical Data

This week we’ll explore some basic concepts and terminology for thinking about data. We’ll be exploring Zotero, so if you’ve never heard of Zotero please visit the Zotero site and familiarize yourself with its basic concepts. In preparation for class please read:

Other relevant readings:

Homework: by September 26, please send me email letting me know what project you’ve chosen for your crowd-sourcing work in Assignment 1

Slides for week 2

September 27: Data and Research

This week we’re going to spend some time in further exploration of data, and also start thinking about its connection to research goals and the way we frame our understanding of the field. In preparation for class please read:

  • Stefan Sinclair, “Computer-Assisted Reading: Reconceiving Text Analysis”, LLC 18.2 (2003), 175-184 (available online via NEU library)
  • Stephen Ramsay, “Toward an Algorithmic Criticism”, LLC 18.2, (2003), 167-174 (available online via NEU library)
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum, “The .txtual Condition”, DHQ 7.1 (2007),

Be alert to what these authors are arguing for concerning the definition and shape of “research”: what new paradigm is being proposed? What are its key properties? What assumptions are being made about the model of research that’s being replaced?

Other relevant readings:

  • Rita Raley, “TXTual Practice” in Comparative Textual Media, ed. N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman, 2013 (available online via NEU library)
  • Julia Flanders and Fotis Jannidis, “Data Modeling in a Digital Humanities Context” (draft).

October 4: Wrangling our data

Assignment 1 due

This week we have Steven Braun (DSG’s data visualization specialist) and Bahare Sanaie-Movahed (DSG’s GIS specialist) visiting class to help us explore a variety of tools and processes for data wrangling, visualization, and mapping. In preparation for class, please read:

Other relevant readings:

Homework for next week: please prepare your short in-class presentation on your crowd-sourcing work for Assignment 2.

October 11: Reporting on our experiments

This week I will be traveling and will be joining the class via Skype. The class session will be devoted to presentations on the results of Assignment 2.

October 18: Politics of the digital: hypertext, post-human hybridity, gender politics

Assignment 3 due

This week we shift gears a bit to start thinking about how the field of “digital humanities” imagines its own origins, and what intellectual lineages and research problems go into forming it. We’ll start by looking at various takes on the politics of the digital. In preparation for class, please read:

October 25: Digital Collections, editions, archives, corpora

This week we continue our exploration of the contributing lineages of digital humanities to look at the emergence and usage of large-scale digital collections, digital editions, and digital archives. In preparation for class, please read (don’t worry, they’re short!):

  • Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, Lou Burnard, John Unsworth: Editors’ Introduction to Electronic Textual Editing (
  • Ed Folsom, “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archive,” and responses:  Peter Stallybrass (“Against Thinking”), Jerome McGann (“Database, Interface, and Archival Fever”), Meredith McGill (“Remediating Whitman”), Jonathan Freedman (“Whitman, Database, Information Culture”), N. Katherine Hayles (“Narrative and Database: Natural Symbionts”), Ed Folsom (“Reply”). All materials from PMLA 122:5, Special Topic: Remapping Genre (Oct. 2007), 1571-1612 (available online via NEU library)
  • Ken Price, “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” DHQ 3.3 (2009),
  • “Introductory Notes on the TEI Guidelines 1: Basic Characteristics and Design Goals”, Text Encoding Initiative, 1990,

Other relevant readings:

November 1: Big data, text analysis, visualization

This week we’ll look at a third contributing strand to digital humanities, namely the tradition of text analysis, visualization, and “big data”. In preparation for class, please read:

November 8: What’s a tool?

Thus far we’ve thought about the informational forms that research materials take, and the kinds of disciplinary narratives  that form around them. This week we turn our attention to the ways in which the “tool” is imagined and situated within these disciplinary scenarios. We’ll start by considering what we mean by the term “tool”. In preparation for class, please read:

Other relevant readings and resources:

November 15: The politics of the tool stack

Slides for this week

This week we’ll deepen our exploration of the tool domain by looking at the larger “stack” of technologies we use in digital humanities research, and considering where the edges of the “tool” category lie. In preparation for class, please read:

  • Tara McPherson, “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?”, Debates in Digital Humanities, 2012,
  • Alan Galey and Stan Ruecker, “How a Prototype Argues”, LLC 25.4 (2010), 407-424 (available online via NEU library)
  • Hope Olson, “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs”, Signs 26.3 (Spring 2001), 639-668 (available online via NEU library)

Other relevant readings:

Homework for next time: pay an ethnographic visit to one of the digital humanities “working spaces” on the NEU campus. I will divide the class into groups and we’ll schedule times for your adventure so we don’t disrupt or startle any of the occupants. For this experiment I’m going to ask you to do the following:

  • Clearing your mind of preconceptions about what these working spaces are for, observe the work taking place for about 15-30 minutes
  • Feel free to ask questions of the people in the space
  • Consider the following questions:
    • what are people physically doing and where are they doing it?
    • what kinds of tools are they using? (use the term “tool” as broadly as you think useful here)
    • what are the characteristics of the working space? how are people grouped and separated? how are public and private space organized and demarcated if at all? how do these groupings affect people’s interactions?
    • what kinds of things are in the working space and what is their apparent function? what can you learn about the space and its working culture from the presence of these things?

November 22: Working roles and professional identity

Assignment 4 due

This week we shift gear one last time towards a final unit on professional roles, work, and identity in digital humanities. We’ll spend some time in class discussing the results of your observations of digital humanities working spaces, and I’ll ask each group for a brief informal report on what you observed. In preparation for class, please read:

Other relevant readings:

November 29: Projects, publications, and evaluation

This week we’ll be looking at digital humanities work as framed through its outputs: “projects,” publications, and other forms of visible products. In particular we’ll consider how those outputs are encountered and evaluated, and how that evaluation process contributes to the formation of disciplinary boundaries and identity. In preparation for class, please read (don’t worry, they’re short!):

Other relevant readings:

December 6: The future of the field, and final discussion

You made it! This week we will conclude the course with discussion of the future of the field and what is driving it, and also with any questions or topics you’d like to talk about. In preparation for class, please read: