Approaching the Digital Humanities

Spring 2018
The Graduate Center, CUNY
ENGL 89500
4:15pm - 6:15pm Tuesdays
Room 3309

Dr. Matthew K. Gold
(212) 817-7256
Office hours: M 4pm-5pm and by appointment
Room 7301.14

Course Description

This course provides an encounter with the epistemological ground underlying the digital humanities (DH), asking how the use of technology in humanities contexts can offer new ways of knowing. The argument of the class is that technology is not simply an additive element to humanities inquiry, but rather that it can unsettle existing ways of thinking in ways that are both helpful and potentially troubling. Our emphasis will be on the various models of knowledge used in the digital humanities, and on the larger ramifications of those approaches for the field of literary studies in particular and the academy in general. Among the questions we will consider are: to what extent can hypothesis-driven computational inquiries help us make arguments about literary history? In what ways can quantitative text experiments avoid positivist forms of argumentation through the use of Dadaist or Oulipean models? To what extent can various DH approaches and methods be grounded in issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality? How can publication venues and review processes in the humanities account for and represent non-textual knowledge?

Among the thematics we will explore are evidence, scale, representation, genre, quantification, and data. Though no previous technical skills are required, students will be asked to experiment in introductory ways with DH tools and methods as a way of concretizing some of our readings and discussions. Readings will include work by Johanna Drucker, Lauren Klein, Alan Liu, Ted Underwood, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Todd Presner, Stephen Ramsay, Kim Gallon, Andrew Piper, Andrew Goldstone, Tara McPherson, and others.

DH skeptics are welcome. In lieu of the final paper, first-year students may write a review essay in preparation for the program's first exam.


Requirements (All Students)

  • Regular Attendance
  • Completion of all course readings
  • Active classroom participation
  • Choose 1 of 2 praxis assignments
  • 3 page short paper
  • Blog Posts (at least 2 over the course of the semester)

2 Credit and Auditor Additional Requirements (ENGL 89500)

  • Annotated Bibliography & Presentation (5 texts minimum)

4 Credit Additional Requirements (ENGL 89500)

  • Annotated Bibliography & Presentation (10 texts minimum)
  • 1 page final project proposal
  • Final Presentation
  • Final paper or project (20-25 pages)

Notes: First-year students in the doctoral English program may use the Annotated Bibliography assignment as part of the portfolio they submit for the program’s First Exam. They may also choose to write a review essay for the first exam in lieu of the final seminar paper.


  • Class Participation: 15%
  • Annotated Bibliography and Presentation: 10%
  • Blog posts and Weekly Assignments: 15%
  • Final Paper or Project: 60%


1/30 -- Introduction to the class and to each other

2/6 -- How we read and argue today.

  • Best, Stephen and Marcus, Sharon. "Surface Reading: An Introduction." Representations 108. Fall 2009.
  • Love, Heather. "Close but not Deep: Literary Ethics and the Descriptive Turn." New Literary History, Volume 41, Number 2, Spring 2010, pp. 371-391.
  • Rooney, Ellen. "Live Free or Describe: The Reading Effect and the Persistence of Form." differences (2010) 21 (3): 112-139.
  • Hayles, N K. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2012. (selections)
  • Felski, Rita. The Limits of Critique, 2015. (selections)
  • Marcus, Sharon; Love, Heather; and Best, Stephen. "Building a Better Description." Representations, Vol. 135 No. 1, Summer 2016, pp. 1-21.
  • Christopher Castiglia. "Hope for Critique?" In Critique and Postcritique, Eds. Anker, Elizabeth S, and Rita Felski. Durham : Duke University Press, 2017.


  • North, Joseph. Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History, 2017. (selections)
  • Buurma, Rachel Sagner and Matthew K. Gold. "Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age." Blackwell Companion to Literary Theory, Ed. David Richter. Forthcoming.

2/13 -- REPRESENTATION and ENRICHMENT -- digital editions

  • McGann, Jerome J. A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction. Harvard University Press, 2014. (selections)
  • Bryant, John. The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. (selections)
  • Amanda Gailey, "A Case for Heavy Editing: The Example of Race and Children’s Literature in the Gilded Age." The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, Eds. Earhart, Amy E, and Andrew Jewell. University of Michigan Press, 2011.;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1#4.1
  • Julia Flanders, "Curation." Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, Eds. Davis, Rebecca; Gold, Matthew K., Harris, Katherine; and Sayers, Jentery. Modern Language Association. Forthcoming.
  • "Considering The Scholarly Edition In The Digital Age: A White Paper Of The Modern Language Association’s Committee On Scholarly Editions." MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions. 2 September 2015.
  • Siemens, Ray; Timney, Meagan; Leitch, Cara; Koolen, Corina; Garnett, Alex; et al. "Toward modeling the social edition: An approach to understanding the electronic scholarly edition in the context of new and emerging social media." Literary and Linguistic Computing, Volume 27, Issue 4, 1 December 2012, Pages 445–461.
  • Gil, Alex. "The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make." Minimal Computing. 21 May 2015.


  • Earhart, Amy. "Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon." In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.

Projects to Explore

2/20 -- No class (Monday schedule)

2/27 -- EXPERIMENT -- text-mining


3/6 -- EXPLORATION -- speculative/deformative reading

3/13 -- MODELING (Andrew Dunn visit)

  • Witmore, Michael. "Text: A Massively Addressable Object." In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.
  • Gavin, Michael. "Agent-Based Modeling and Historical Simulation." Digital Humanities Quarterly. Volume 8 Number 4 (2014).
  • Gavin, Michael; Jennings, Collin; Kersey, Lauren; and Pasanek, Brad. "Spaces of Meaning: Conceptual History, Vector Semantics, and Close Reading." Debates in the Digital Humanities 2018. (forthcoming)
  • Piper, Andrew "Think Small: On Literary Modeling." PMLA 132.3 (2017): 651-658.
  • So, Richard Jean. "All Models are Wrong." PMLA Volume 132, Number 3, May 2017, pp. 668–673.
  • Armstrong, Nancy and Montag, Warren. “The Figure in the Carpet.” PMLA, Volume 132, Number 3, May 2017, pp. 613–619.
  • Rhody, Lisa Marie. "Beyond Darwinian Distance: Situating Distant Reading in a Feminist Ut Pictura Poesis Tradition." PMLA, Volume 132, Number 3, May 2017, pp. 659–667.

3/20 -- NETWORKS of Scholarly Communications

3/27 -- Stepping Back: Knowledge Models; Debates; Questions

  • Todd Presner, "Critical Theory and The Mangle of Digital Humanities." In Svensson, Patrik, and David T. Goldberg. Between Humanities and the Digital. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2015: 55-68.
  • Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. (introduction)
  • Alan Liu, "The Meaning of the Digital Humanities." PMLA, 128(2).
  • Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell, "Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities." In Debates in the Digital Humanities, Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Kim Gallon, "Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities." In Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, Eds. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
  • Tom Scheinfeldt, "Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?" In Debates in the Digital Humanities, Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Assignment: 3 page reflection paper due

4/3 -- No class (Spring break)

4/10 -- MAPPING (Heather Zuber visit)

  • Heather Zuber, Introduction, How and Where to Make a Fortune: Mapping the Fictions of Economic Mobility through Work in British Literature, 1719-1809. Dissertation. The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2018.
  • Murrieta-Flores, Patricia; Donaldson, Christopher; Gregory, Ian, "GIS and Literary History: Advancing Digital Humanities research through the Spatial Analysis of historical travel writing and topographical literature." Digital Humanities Quarterly. Volume 11 Number 1 (2017).
  • Presner, Todd S, David Shepard, and Yoh Kawano. Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014. (selections)
  • Piatti, Barbara; Bär, Hans Rudolf; Reuschel, Anne-Kathrin; Hurni, Lorenz; and Cartwright, William. "Mapping Literature: Towards a Geography of Fiction." Cartography and Art, Eds. Cartwright, William; Gartner, Georg F; and Lehn, Antje.
  • Monmonier, Mark S. How to Lie with Maps. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1996. (selections)
  • PRAXIS ASSIGNMENT #2 (Choose 1 of 2) create a map of a novel, an author's works, or some other data using Google Maps, CartoDB, ARCGIS StoryMaps, or another mapping platform. Blog about your project

4/17 -- PEDAGOGY



5/8 -- Student presentations

5/15 -- closing ceremonies

  • ASSIGNMENT: Final Paper due May 18.


Annotated Bibliography & Presentation
(Sign up coming soon)
Choose a research topic related to the course and find texts (at least 5 for students in the 2-credit version of the course and at least 10 for students in the 4-credit version) related to it (articles or books count equally as a text). For each text, provide a bibliographical citation in MLA format and a 1-2 paragraph description of the text. Your description should gloss the argument/contribution of the text in question and should also explain its relevance to your research topic. Be sure to explore academic databases from the GC Library such as the MLA International Bibliography as you are doing research. For more on writing an annotated bibliography, please see this resource:

Your annotated bibliography is due on the date of your presentation. It should be posted to our course blog in the “Annotated Bibliographies” category, tagged with terms related to your topic. In your presentation, you should introduce us to your research topic and walk us through the sources you’ve explored.

Praxis Assignments
Once during the semester, I will ask you to experiment with a hands-on activity that involves either mapping or text analysis. These exercises are meant to be beginner-level; my interest in having you complete them lies in getting you to do some early-stage computational/mapping work. Your results do not have to be necessarily significant or meaningful; the important thing is to engage the activity and gain a better understanding of the kinds of choices one must make when undertaking such a project. Please limit the amount of time you spend on this, and as you work through the assignment, keep in mind the kinds of epistemological and interpretative questions these methods help you ask, and how those questions differ from other modes of literary analysis.

Blog Posts
Create a post on our course blog related to our readings. You might provide a reaction to something we’ve read; share resources related to the course; or work through ideas related to our class discussions. For more on academic blogging, please consult this guide:

3 Page Reflection Paper
Write a short three-page paper on a topic related to our course readings. My interest here is seeing you engage our readings in a critical way. Try to pick out key terms, phrases, and concepts from our readings and position your own thoughts within a wider set of arguments.

Final Presentation
On May 8, you will be asked to give a 5-7 minute presentation on your final paper project. You should introduce the class to the subject of your research and begin to describe the argument you are making in your paper. Not required of auditors.

Final Paper or Project
Your final paper (20-25 pages; not required of auditors or 2-credit students) should explore a topic of research related to the course materials. You should submit a short (no more than one page) proposal about your topic on April 24. In your paper, focus particularly on your argument; discuss sources insofar as they help you advance your argument, but make sure that throughout the paper (and particularly in your transition sentences at the beginning of every paragraph), you are putting the focus on the argument you are trying to make.

Should you wish to create a digital project of some kind for this class rather than a final paper, please meet with Prof. Gold to discuss. First-year students in English may write a review essay in accordance with the guidelines for the First Exam in lieu of the final paper.

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