Monday, April 2, 2018

Greetings English 217 Students!


Happy Spring, Everyone!

My name is Doc McGrail. Welcome to Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture. This course will introduce you to some of the methods and discoveries in the field of Digital Humanities. What is "digital" humanities? Well, this is a subject of a lot of discussion, but for our purposes let's just say it's a way to use the latest technologies to examine cultural and artistic works, and it's also a way to create cultural and artistic works. "Digital Humanities" is also a way to use our non-digital methods of critical thinking to analyze and better understand the effects of the "information society" and technology on us as human beings.

So what does this look like?

We'll begin by using Google to go online and annotate Virginia Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. You'll offer each other glosses on unfamiliar terms and historical backgrounds, or make connections across chapters as you find them. This is the first step to learning how digital editions of books are made and the kinds of work that editors do with books. For those of you who are visual thinkers, I have posted the link to a BBC production of the novel, where you can glimpse what London may have looked like in the 1920s.


Next? We'll be looking at Dead Media--this is a trip down memory lane for those of you who have been around a while. For the youngest of you, this assignment is a chance to investigate things like phones with circular dials on them, VHS tapes, transistor radios and Royal manual typewriters. You'll find out more in Week 2.



Next, we will return to Mrs. Dalloway, this time looking at the novel as an occasion for creating digital maps. In Week 3 you'll dig into the newspaper archives of the 20th century and investigate how a single emotion was covered in the news across the U.S. Then you'll map these news clips onto a Google map and share with your peers.

In Week 4, we are going to contemplate the ethics of posting digital content--your own and other people's. Since we now know that nothing on the Internet ever truly disappears, it's important to reflect on the ethical implications of posting things online. You'll develop a collaborative policy statement for the ethical representation of yourself and others online.


In Week 5, you are going to learn about "distant reading." You may have tried to do "close readings" in an English or Philosophy class before--looking for clues to meaning by paying attention up-close to the texts you read. We're going to zoom way out and use digital tools for finding patterns of meaning by looking from a distance. We'll follow one scholar's steps for how to "not" read--or how to read at a distance--a novel from the 1900s.

Week 6 and 7 are devoted to building your own digital archive of texts, artifacts, photos, artwork and any other collectibles whose theme and content you develop on your own. This project will use Omeka.net, which is a free archiving hosting service. You will also learn about "metadata"--the search tags and categories that are useful to your audience when they go looking through your archive.


Week 8 is devoted to what I call "Synthetic Selfies." We will use the work of poet Jena Osman to imagine the gaze looking at us from behind the monuments and statues that we create in our public spaces. This is a fun activity and thought experiment. In an age of cybernetics and digital enhancements, seeing the world from non-human eyes can be a trip worth taking.

Week 9 we will create our own DIY digital editions of old books from St. Vincent's or Goodwill or your grandparents' attic (ask them first!). Since anything published before 1923 is in the public domain, I will ask you to get a book that interests you and use your devices to scan and convert the pages to a digital format that you can then share. Such digital formats will then be able to be read "at a distance" (see Week 5). And so we'll try out some tools for distant reading our own digital editions.

Week 10 will take us to the New York Public Library's What's on the Menu digital archive, where you will see how crowdsourcing primary source documents has worked for menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps you can find a menu in your own home town and turn it digital!


For Finals Week, we will host an online Showcase, where you can choose your best work and share it with each other in online discussion forums that will help you to synthesize what you have learned about Digital Humanities through Reading, Writing, and Making Digital Culture.

See you online!
Doc McGrail



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