The first thing we will do in this class is set up a blog. I initially imagined that each of us might be free to work with an already established infrastructure, but that makes our ability to “follow” each other too limited, difficult, or uneven – some platforms do a better job of “following” than other platforms. (I have written about platforms in various ways:here’s one post.There are many free offerings currently available but the key is to find one that will also allow us to export our data for other uses. One of our first seminars will be dedicated to establishing a parallel “digital” infrastructure for us as a group.

The Larger Context I: The University

The readings for our next unit stretch across three seminars and focus on the larger context for the digital humanities themselves: that is, in approximate order, the university, its faculty, and their productions in transition. For many of you, these documents will not be the kind of thing you are used to reading in a graduate course. These are reports by and for institutions, and they are written and structured with a particular rhetoric and logic that you may find difficult and/or tedious. Keep reading. Find a way to skim the document or a section and then come back and read with more care particular passages or points that you think are important either to the document itself or to you. (And it’s important that you be able to distinguish between the two.)

Nota bene: All the links below take you to the originating sites for these documents. There are a couple of reasons for linking to these sites. First, this is proper “netiquette”: link to the content creator to be sure your audience credits them for the work. (You are always free to keep a copy for yourself somewhere in case the URL decays – more on this in class some time.) Second, I want to give you the chance to explore these sites for themselves. The links to download the PDFs may not be readily apparent on each page, but they are there, I assure you. Also, when in doubt, download the full report. Even if I indicate that you will be focusing your energy on the executive summary, you will want the full report for any references it may contain – and the full report always contains the executive summary.

For our first meeting in this sequence, you will want to read the following:

The Larger Context II: The Humanities

In our second examination of the larger context for the digital humanities, we narrow our focus from “the university”, or “the academy,” to the humanities themselves. This time we are reading documents from the American Council of Learned Societies, to which both the American Folklore Society and the Modern Language Association belong, as well as from MLA itself. In moving from large institutions to disciplines, and their practitioners, the discussion also shifts to how those practitioners might navigate the emergent landscape being maintained/created by universities as the universities themselves try to adapt to new realities.

Of course, one of the ways that universities do this is through the practitioners that people them. Don’t worry if the complexity of all this begin doesn’t make sense to you right away. Most graduate students think of themselves as apprentices to a discipline and/or a field. (We will explore domain/discpline versus field later.) There is, however, an increasing push to make graduate students more aware of themselves as novices to a practice. As such, one of the things of which you need to be aware is the reward structures for things like tenure and promotion.

In order to understand the changing nature of scholarly communication, we are reading both a report from the producer’s side (MLA) as well as a report from the distributor’s side, (ARL, the Association for Research Libraries).

Here are the links:

As before, the links above do not take you directly to the downloads, so spend at least a few minutes looking around. The ARL page alone has a dozen publications listed before you get to the one we will be reading; at least scan the titles and take a peek at one or two.

The Larger Context III: The Digital Humanities

Our third and final seminar on “the larger context” brings us, at long last, to the digital humanities themselves. The first two of our readings for this seminar are from the Companion to the Digital Humanities (also listed in the Syllabus and on the Resources pages and hereafter acronymized to CDH).

To be sure, there is more to read. There was an a fairly long thread on The Humanist mailing list recently about defining the digital humanities, but I want us to take up that discussion later in the seminar, when we have had more hands-on experience with various ideas, tools, and methodologies.

How the Web Works

Now that we have begun to live our digital lives in “the cloud”; it’s time to begin to understand how “the cloud,” which used to be called “the web” (and sometimes “the net”) works. Google has provided a decent introduction in its 20 Things I Learned.


For the assignment, seminar participants must self-identify as either technological or not-technological, which may be best revealed by reading the first few “chapters” of the book. If the acronyms and technologies being discussed are already familiar to you, then you should probably consider yourself technological. If the various capitalized letters strike you as so much alphabet soup and the description of the processes involved come across as a weird exercise in abstract expressionism, then you should probably consider yourself not-technological.

Please note that these appellations are only for the purposes of this assignment and they make no grander distinctions about your technological knowledge and ability nor do they reflect upon your worth as a person.

Instead, the distinctions merely give you a starting place for how you are to respond to the text. Imagine that you are an editor at a press to whom this manuscript has been submitted. The editor in chief has handed the manuscript to you either because she knows of your technological expertise and wants you to comment on it from that perspective or because she knows that you are not, and what wants to hear from that point of view.

Whether you are technological or not, another part of your response to the book must, as a good editor, be about what the book does well. Who does it assume as its audience? What knowledge does it presume its audience possesses? Etc.

By the way, if you think this “think like an editor” is part of a larger program to think about your own writing from the point of view of journal editors and press editors and thus to begin to think about audiences and markets, then … you are exactly right.

Session Assignment

In class we will view the source of your own blog and identify the constituent parts. For the purposes of this exercise, we are going to do this by copying the contents of the source and pasting it into a Word document. You will then color the head of the document red. Leave the body of the document black, but then begin to break apart the various divs. You may choose to color these divs, or use Word’s border functionality, but you must divide the body of the HTML file into its constituent parts.

Digital Document Realities

Much of our data is contained in digital containers which are, largely, invisible to us except when we come across a file that we cannot open. Only then do we pay attention to the file type, often expressed as an extension, like DOC orJPG or MP3. What are these file types? What do they really look like under the surface? How do they work? Our focus in this sessions will be, quite literally, seeing for ourselves what makes up the documents on which we depend.



Your New Best Friend

Your new best friend this semester is usually known as a text editor. There are a number of options available to you, depending upon your preferred platform and upon your willingness to pay for others’ work. (I have said more about on my own blog.)

Choosing a Text Editor

My very best advice is that you find the editor that works best for you first, without regard to price. Most of these applications are modestly priced and finding the right one for you means not only you enjoying your work more – after all, an application is part of your environment – but also finding an application with which you will grow. E.g., many of my editor’s shortcuts are now part of my muscle memory.

Look around. Try a few. I can’t emphasize enough the power of syntax highlighting or color coding of elements within a document. (I’ll show you examples in class.) It’s especially important to anyone interested in really getting involved with TEI.

Living with/in a Text Editor

It may surprise you to learn that your new best friend is capable of a great deal more than simply peering inside files, the way we did last class, and editing HTML and CSS files the way we discussed last week. It is a quite capable platform for a wide variety of document production, as we will explore in the weeks to come, and it is, for some, a way of life.


One of the ways to demonstrate the power of text files is to see it in action. I am going to ask you to free write this afternoon in a text file. Somewhere along the way, I am also going to ask you to:


MoMA recently acquired 23 typefaces

It was actually a fascinating conversation with MoMA, as we each worked to imagine how this bequest could be useful to the museum for eternity. What might it mean when the last computer capable of recognizing OpenType is gone? What will it mean when computers as we know them are gone? How does one establish the insurance value of a typeface: not its price, but the cost of maintaining it in working order? Digital artworks are prone to different kinds of damage than physical ones, but obsolescence is no less damaging to a typeface than earthquakes and floods to a painting. On the business side there are presumably insurance underwriters who can bring complex actuarial tables to bear on the issue, but I think it’s an even more provocative issue for conservators. 472 years after its completion, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel underwent a restoration that scholars still find controversial. What might it mean for someone to freshen up our typefaces in AD 2483?


Now that you have learned what documents look like, it’s time for you to start making some. We will warm up with HTML, but proceed quickly to XML and the form of XML most popular among humanists, TEI.


XML by itself is not very interesting. The real power of XML comes in what you can do with it by transforming it into other forms using XSLT.


Visualisation in the Age of Computerization

The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) is organising a two-day conference on 25-26 March 2011 at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, with support from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Oxford e-Social Science project. (

Fun with Photoshop: The Invented Landscape

How Design Works (or at least how it is supposed to work):