Weekly Readings

Originally posted in the course learning management system.

Week 1: January 17

Read: “Digital Humanities is not Ones and Zeros” by Melanie Hubbard; “Digital Humanities as ‘Corporatist Restructuring’” by Carl Straumsheim; “The Digital-Humanities Bust,” Chronicle of Higher Education by Timothy Brennan* and read comments below the article; Ted Underwood’s Twitter response to the Chronicle article

*Access the Chronicle article through the Library by searching Chronicle of Higher Education in the Library catalog search box. Search “The Digital-Humanities Bust” in the Chronicle search box. (You will have to scroll past a few articles to find it.)

Watch: Digital Humanities with Jeffrey Schnapp; The Digital Humanities in Oxford University

Week 2: January 24

Read: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton (e-book available); “The Hour of the Fireflies,” Three Messages and a Warning, by Karen Chacek (find in Google Books); “Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene” by Bethany Nowviskie

Watch (optional): Anthropocene

Response Questions:

Post responses to these questions, taking up two in more depth:

1.) What definition or aspect of the Anthropocene do you find most compelling? Why so? Given that the term is human-centered, what feeling about humans does Anthropocene evoke after finishing the readings?

2.) The Anthropocene involves thinking on different timescales, as human history and geologic history become entangled. How do the readings attempt to balance immediate and long-term thinking or problems, or what strategies do they suggest for navigating the Anthropocene? Discuss two examples.

3.) What role might the DH play in the Anthropocene, or what kinds of DH projects might you imagine as a response to the context of the Anthropocene?

4.) How would you interpret “The Hour of the Fireflies” in relation to either of the other two readings (or both)?

Week 3: January 31

Read: “Imagining the Architectures of the Book: Textual Scholarship and the Digital Book Arts,” Textual Cultures, by Alan Galey et al.; “The Social in the Machine: How Historians of Technology Look Beyond the Object,” American Historical Society blog by Barbara Hahn

Explore: ArchBook, the resource mentioned in the “Imagining” article; Stanford University’s “Visual Hierarchy”

Response Questions:

Post responses to these questions, taking up two in more depth:

1.) Discuss Barbara Hahn’s brief article, “The Social in the Machine: How Historians of Technology Look Beyond the Object.” In particular, discuss what she means when she says, “technology becomes a process, rather than the artifact that process employs,” and “the interactions between technology and its context are complex and multidirectional.” How do these two ideas complicate the basic definition of technology she provides: “technology is the systematic, purposeful, human manipulation of the physical world by means of some machine or tool”?

2.) Using one of the entries from ArchBook, explain how the book element (e.g., decorated letters) is a form of technological development or change.

3.) In the article “Imagining the Architecture of the Book,” the authors argue against using literal book metaphors such as page-turning in the design of e-books (see page-turning example). Explain their argument against using literal metaphors. What does their argument tell us about the kind of thinking that needs to be done and the kind of questions that need to be asked when designing digital texts? Put another way, how do we take past textual technologies and effectively use them as models for digital texts?

Week 4: February 7

Read: Data readings; Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, pp. 1-30

Watch: “Big Data for Literary Studies”

Response Questions:

1.) Post your response to the form and style of Calvino’s text. What specific characteristics of the text stand out in reading the first 30 pages? What was your experience of reading the text, and how does it differ from other fiction?

2.) Can you imagine any ways in which the text might be read through a DH lens? Can you make connections to coding, book design, or data discussions we have had?

Week 5: February 14

Read: Invisible Cities; “Exactitude” Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Calvino; “Tooling Up for Digital Humanities: Text Analysis” by Stanford, sections 1-7

Response Questions:

1.) Choose one passage from the essay that sparked specific insights or ideas. Cite the passage and explain its impact and implications.

2.) In the essay, Calvino expresses his belief that “the proper use of language…is one that enables us to approach things…with discretion, attention, and caution, with respect for what things…communicate without words” (77). In another passage from Six Memos, he writes, “Think what it would be like … to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic…”

Try an experiment in response to Calvino’s idea that things communicate without words, or that one could imagine the speech of things. Choose a thing—it can be any natural or human-made thing, something mundane, something exotic, any thing!—and attempt to complete the exercise Calvino implies: approached in the way Calvino specifies, what does the thing “communicate without words”? What would the thing say if it could speak? You can complete this experiment in any way you want–it can be a short and direct statement of what the thing communicates, or it can be a poem, or a prose poem, or anything that comes to mind. You may also provide a visual response instead of or in addition to a verbal response—express what the thing communicates through a visual image, original or found.

3.) In the essay, Calvino calls Invisible Cities “a many-faceted structure in which each brief text is close to the others in a series that does not imply a logical sequence or a hierarchy, but a network in which one can follow multiple routes, and draw multiple, ramified conclusions” (71). This formal aspect of the novel lends itself to DH visualization neatly, as we already discussed, and Melanie demonstrated at the end of class last time. We will explore this work further in the coming weeks.

However, Calvino refers to two aspects of exactitude in the novel, structure being the first: “the reduction of secondary events to abstract patterns.” The real challenge for a DH reading of the novel lies in the second aspect, which we began to explore by imagining attributes one might use to sort the content of Invisible Cities. Calvino describes the second aspect as “the effort made by words to present the tangible aspect of things as precisely as possible,” and as “a space crammed with objects and attempts to create a verbal equivalent of that space by filling the page with words, involving a careful, painstaking effort to adapt what is written to what is not written, to the sum of what is sayable and not sayable” (74).

A.) In reading Invisible Cities, attend to his diction, the precision of his vocabulary, and compile a list of words that stand out for you.

B.) See if this list helps you to imagine or create any attributes and terms that could be used in a spreadsheet. Remember, attributes are categories, and, in the case of Invisible Cities, we are seeking to use categories to trace patterns in the text. If it helps, think of categories as being summaries or characterizations of aspects of the text. Terms will be what we put below the attribute. For example, an attribute might be “architecture,” and the associated terms could be “dome,” “tower,” and “wall.”

Week 6: February 21

Read: “Calvino Cybernetics and Ghosts” by Calvino; “Close Reading” and “Distant Reading” by Brandon Walsh; “Scale as Deformance” by Ryan Cordell

Response Questions:

Written in 1967, Calvino’s “Cybernetics and Ghosts” seems quite prescient and timely when we read it now, in the context of contemporary DH debates and work. As you read the essay, consider how Calvino’s views on language, the author, literature, the reader compare to a DH perspective. Post responses to these prompts:

1.) Choose one or two passages in Calvino’s lecture and reflect on how they speak to a topic or question we have discussed with respect to DH (e.g., the role of quantitative analysis in ‘reading’ texts; the impact DH practices have on the function of the author)

2.) Make a connection between “Cybernetics and Ghosts” and a passage from one of the other readings (“Close/Distant Reading” and “Scale as Deformance”) and analyze what emerges from the comparison.

Week 7: February 28th

Read: “Italo Calvino: The Code, The Clinamen and Cities” by Paul Harris; “The Algorithms Aren’t Biased, We Are” by Rahul Bhargava

Watch: What is an algorithm (BBC); What is an algorithm (Tech Policy Lab); How I’m fighting Bias in Algorithms by Joy Buolamwini

Response Questions:

1.) Choose one or two passages in the essay and reflect on how they speak to a topic or question we have discussed with respect to DH (e.g., the role of quantitative analysis in ‘reading’ texts; the impact DH practices have on the function of the author). If you wish, consider the clinamen as a concept and imagine its relevance to DH methods and textual readings.

2.) Consider the crucial question of algorithmic bias in relation to the literary readings (Calvino’s novel and essays, this week’s essay). Does the problem of algorithmic bias exceed the scope of the literary materials? Or, can you see a connection between them? Use particular passages to draw a comparison between the essay and the materials on algorithms.

Week 8: March 7th

Read: A Tale For the Time Being (part I)

Final projects will critically examine the novel through the lens of the Anthropocene. Keeping this in mind:

1.) As you read Part I of the novel (through p. 108), note any images, elements, or events that stand out or resonate in the context of the Anthropocene. You can compile a list with page numbers or any other way that is efficient. Try to screen for especially potent images, ones that you could imagine building a project around.

2.) One challenge of the Anthropocene involves time: how do we learn to live, experience, and think about human time in relation to inhuman timescales–the scales of natural beings and cycles, the times of creatures and trees and stones, of geologic eras? After reading Part I, write a response that analyzes ways in which Ozeki’s novel integrates inhuman timescales and processes alongside human timescales and processes.

Week 9: March 21

Read: A Tale For the Time Being (part II)

1.) Continue work from your first post: note images, passages, elements that hold promise for projects.

2.) Note any unusual ways in which human and non-human/natural and super-natural elements interact in Part II and your response to these aspects of the text. Consider the image or idea of time that emerges from these interactions, or how time is functioning in the novel.

Week 10: March 28th

Read: A Tale For the Time Being (part III & IV)

Take notes on the last sections of the novel as you read. When finished, write a post of around 250 words expressing your response to these last parts. You can give a general assessment or focus on particular elements, episodes, etc. Formulate 3-4 questions you have about the text or that the text makes you consider.

Also Read: “Hypertext and the Limits of Interactivity,” Ursula K. Heise, Columbia University (This article is a little dated but gives a nice overview.); “Hypertext,” Wikipedia; “Information Architecture,” usability.gov*; “Usability Evaluation Basics,” usability.gov Explore: One of the following DH projects and answer the questions below:

Response Questions:

1.) Discuss how the project you chose aligns with Heise’s descriptions of hypertexts, in particular, the “advantages” and the “problems.”

2.) Looking at the project through the lens of information architecture and usability, how usable, well organized, well structured, etc. is the project? How could the project’s usability be improved?