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Assignments for English 236,
"Digital Humanities: Introduction to the Field"

(Fall 2013)

The assignments in this course have four interwoven goals:

  1. Expose students at a beginner's level to digital-humanities methods, practices, and technologies [Practicums Assignment];
  2. Introduce students to the research community and public discourse of the digital humanities [Follow DH Community on Twitter Assignment];
  3. Ask students to initiate an online professional presence in their field as related to the digital humanities [Blog Posts Assignment];
  4. Ask students, as individuals or teams, to develop a detailed prospectus for a project that involves using at least one important digital-humanities method or tool (and that demonstrates familiarity with that method/tool through trial exercises).  Due to the time constraints of our quarter system, students are not required to execute the project, though they may well wish to do so in the future as part of their research or dissertation project [Mock Project Prospectus Assignment].


1. Practicums


Course "practicums" are hands-on, small-scale exercises that ask students to experiment at a beginner's level with the tools of the digital humanities. The goal is not technical mastery but learning enough about the technologies to think about, and through, their concepts and also to discover which tools might be used in a student's future research.  In many cases, experience gained in the practicums will feed directly into discussion of conceptual issues in class.


Class 2 Practicum Assignment - Getting Started in DH 

Go to Class 2 on Schedule


Class 3 Practicum Assignment - Encoding

Go to Class 3 on Schedule

The purpose of this encoding exercise is to engage in just enough elementary encoding of text or other media in HTML (with CSS) and TEI to allow all students to engage in discussion during Class 3 about the underlying premises, concepts, and structure of text encoding.  In addition, students are asked to examine the file architecture of modern "content management systems" such as Wordpress, which dynamically assemble and format Web pages based on material stored in a database. (Our class will include some discussion, but no hands-on exercise, in the principles of relational databases.)


(i.) Setting Up for the Encoding Exercise

To set up for this practicum, create up an test page for yourself on the Student Work site for this course and put it in the folder for this exercise.  (If you have your own web site, you can perform the exercise there if you wish, but link it from the folder for this exercise.)  Instructions:


  1. Create a new page on the Student Work site through the PBWorks editing menu bar: "Pages & Files" > "New" > "Create a Page":

  2.  Name the page "Your Name - Encoding Test Page", and place it in the "Practicum - Encoding Exercises" folder (so that we can easily find all the test pages together).

  3. When your new page is open, select the "Edit" tab in the top menu.  Then click the "Source" button in the editing interface menu to toggle from the GUI (graphical user interface) editing view to the source-code view that allows you to do plain-text encoding. (You can always toggle back to the GUI view for a quick check on your work or as a cheat-sheet for basic encoding of HTML features.) Be sure to "save" your work as you go.


(ii.) Perform the Following Specific Encoding Exercises:

For tutorials and beginner guides to HTML and CSS, go to the course DH Resources > Tutorials > HTML & CSSImportant: students who are beginners should not be intimidated by this assignment. Use the tutorials to learn the most basic concepts and try the most elementary encoding.  Your experiment doesn't even have to work; it can "fail" in instructive or interesting ways.


Encoding Exercise A: HTML

  1. Using the source-code view as much as possible, create a simple web page with any content, images, and links you wish (subject, of course, to good taste and copyright laws).  The page should include at least the following features:
    1. Text formatted in basic ways (as headers, bold, italics, etc.)
    2. Text in paragraph structures
    3. Text in lists
    4. Links
    5. A table
    6. An image


Encoding Exercise B: CSS

  1. Experiment with simple CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to adjust the format/style of various elements on your test page. (Due to the way this PBWorks web site for Student Work is established for our course, you cannot create a separate css stylesheet file or adjust the one that controls the site.  But you can use "inline" CSS--i.e., CSS contained in tags on your page itself--for simple experiments. For example,
    1. Adjust the alignment, size, location, color, or background-color, etc. of a paragraph by putting CSS in a paragraph tag.
    2. Create a box around a paragraph using the border attribute. Example:

      <p style="margin-left: 3em; padding: 1em; font-size: 115%; background-color: #cccccc; border: 1px solid #eb5500;">[your content]</p>

    3. Use a <span> tag around individual words or phrases to change their color, size, etc.


Encoding Exercise C: TEI

(See also additional learning resources on TEI)

  1. While we will not have time in this course to do hands-on exercises with TEI, students should take a quick look at the introductory material and examples in TEI by Example.  You can try your hand at TEI for a simple, short work of literature or other material if you wish.


Encoding Exercise D (in-class exercise with instructor): Examining the structure of "content management system" sites
(See also additional learning resources on Content Management Systems).

  1. If you keep a content-management-system site (like a blog on WordPress) in a form or at a paid level that allows you to view or edit the "theme" PHP files, take a look at the component PHP or other files that are assembled by the CMS to create your web pages (in Wordpress, for instance, the index, header, sidebar, archive, footer, and other files).  See if you can figure out the basic logic of a document in a CMS.
  2. Otherwise, the instructor will lead a look-and-see session in class 3 to show students the above.


Learning Resources for This Encoding Excercise

  1. For tutorials and beginner guides to learning HTML and CSS, go to the course DH Resources > Tutorials > HTML & CSS. (See also additional learning resources on TEI and Content Management Systems).


Class 4 Practicum Assignment - Trying Some Text Analysis Tools

Go to Class 4 on Schedule

  1. Play with one or more of the checked tools (red check mark or blue check mark) listed in the course DH Resources > Tools section > Text Analysis section -- e.g., Google Ngram Viewer, Voyant Tools, TAPoR, Poem Viewer, WordHoard.
  2. Consult Ted Underwood, "Where to Start with Text Mining?" (2012)
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Text Analysis Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Text Analysis Exercises").  The souvenir can be as simple as a link, screenshot, or image of your results.  Try to leave an interesting souvenir.


Class 5 Practicum Assignment - Trying Topic Modeling

 Go to Class 5 on Schedule

  1. Read through (and try if you wish) the lesson plan in Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart, "Topic Modeling By Hand" (from The Historian's Macroscope - working title. Under contract with Imperial College Press. Open Draft Version, Autumn 2013).
  2. Experiment with David Mimno's In-Browser Topic Modeling
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Topic Modeling Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Topic Modeling Exercises").


Class 6 Practicum Assignment - Trying Social Network Analysis

Go to Class 6 on Schedule

  1. Following up on the concepts in the readings for this class, choose a very limited work or works (e.g., a chapter in a novel, a scene in a play or film, an hour of a Twitter timeline from a conference) and analyze it manually in terms of any phenomena than can be described as a structure of "nodes" and "links" (vertices and edges).  "Manually" means creating a tabulation of the data in something as simple as a word processor or spreadsheet and then using manual (or simple digital) means to draw a network graph.  (If you wish, you can also use your dataset as the basis for experimentation with a more advanced digital visualization tool like Gephi.)
  2. Use the instructions and materials in the following resource to experiment with the Gephi tool: Jill Walker Rettberg, "Tutorial: How to Explore a Network Graph of Electronic Literature in Gephi" (2013) (for other Gephi help resources, see DH Resources > Tutorials> Network Visualization)
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Social Network Analysis Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Social Network Analysis Exercises"). 


Class 7 Practicum Assignment - Mapping An Idea

Go to Class 7 on Schedule

  1. Choose any abstract idea that is significant in the humanities--past or present, traditional or experimental--and conceive of a way to visualize it in spatial terms or on a map that adds value by comparison with purely textual representations of the idea.
  2. Use any diagramming, visualization, or mapping tool to realize at least a sample portion of your idea.  If that is not possible in the time you have to learn the tool, then just draw by hand and create a digital image from that.  (See the tools listed in DH Resources > Tools > Visualization and DH Resources > Tools > Mapping
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Social Network Analysis Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Mapping an Idea Exercises"). 


Class 8 Practicum Assignment - Something Old, Something New

Go to Class 8 on Schedule

  1. Take something old and something new, and think about their temporal relationship as well as the context in which that relationship is meaningful.
  2. Using any of the methods and tools you have encountered in the course, mock up a "sketch" (conceptual, visual, digital, or otherwise) representing--at least in part--that relationship.
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Temporality Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Temporality Exercises"). 


Class 9 Practicum Assignment - Making It Different

Go to Class 9 on Schedule

  1. Choose a very small sample of humanistic material (part of a text, an artwork, a film, etc.).
  2. Using any of the methods and tools you have encountered in the course, mock up a "sketch" (conceptual, visual, digital, or otherwise) representing--at least in part--how it can be "deformed" or "transformed" in a way that has value.
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Deform [or Transform] Test Page" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Making It Different Exercises"). 


2. Follow DH Community on Twitter


One of the distinctive features of the digital humanities field is that its members--graduate students, postdocs, "alt-ac" (alternative-academic career researchers and staff), library researchers, members of cultural or heritage institutions, grant agency officers, and faculty (especially early to mid-career faculty)--tend to be highly active on Twitter.  They use Twitter to share news of projects, publications, etc. (mixed with comments on general society or their lives in the usual way of Twitter); and they also use it in "real time" to report on talks and conferences.


Assignment: Students are required to start a Twitter account (alternatively, if you already have an account: use your existing account, set up a separate Twitter "list," or create a separate account) to follow the digital humanities community during the course.  (Students are not required to post actively on Twitter unless they wish.  Students who for any reason object to being on Twitter can speak to the instructor to work out an alternative.) If you are new to Twitter, here are some beginner intros for academics: Ryan Cordell, "How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To)" [paywalled; UCSB students have free access through UCSB Library Proxy server]; Dorothy Bishop, "A Gentle Introduction to Twitter for the Apprehensive Academic"; Christopher Long, "The Tweeting Graduate Student."


To begin following the digital humanities community, you can start by "following" any member of the DH field who is active on Twitter or the #hashtag of any DH event or topic and then branch out by adding mentioned people and hashtags.  For a starter set of digital humanities scholars active on Twitter, go to the instructor's Twitter list called "Seed List of DH Scholars" (a partial list in no particular order). (For a fuller sample, see the list maintained by Dan Cohen.)  Just choose a few and start from there.  (Alternatively, you can "subscribe" to one of a list by clicking on "Lists" when looking at a Twitter member's profile and subscribing to a list she or he has created; see Using Twitter Lists.)


In addition, you may want to follow a few organizations/projects and hashtags (more to be added):

  •  Organizations, programs, projects:
  • @DefiningDH
  • @dhnow
  • @scholarslab


  • Hashtags:
  • #dh
  • #digitalhumanities
  • #dhpoco
  • #transformDH
  • [Watch this space for hashtags of upcoming conferences and other events during the course]


3. Blog Posts on Your Field in its Relation to Digital Humanities


Digital humanities scholars often augment established modes and formats of publication by writing blogs, posting in-progress works, and contributing to open access publications, collaborative projects or writings, "multigraph" books, mutable or evolving anthologies ("disanthologies"), white papers and reports, web resources, and other alternative research products.  The general effect is both to expand the ecosystem of research dissemination and also to make visible the full curve of normal research activity (not just a "final" print article, for example, but the online blog posts, conversations, projects, talks, etc. that incubate an article).  This expanded ecosystem of research dissemination offers opportunities for graduate students and other early-career scholars that did not exist in a prior age of scholarship.  For example, some graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty in the digital humanities field have created online sites or published blog posts that make them highly visible in their field.  (Indeed, it may be argued that an appropriate, effective research product for humanities graduate students taking courses is only sometimes the standard research paper or critical essay; the output of some of their courses could instead be professional blog posts that contribute immediately and visibly to their field of research.)


Assignment: This course does not require a standard humanities research paper or critical/interpretive essay.  Instead, students are required by the end of the quarter to post online the equivalent of such thoughtful research in a set of blog posts (at least three blog posts of moderate, 1,000-word length; or two longer blog posts of at least 1,500 words each). The focus of the blog posts should be on the student's specific professional field in its relation to the digital humanities--i.e., posts that (varying by field) address the kind of question asked in the panel at the American Studies Association convention in 2012 titled "What Can Digital Humanities Bring to American Studies? And vice versa?" (see also transcript notes). For example, if a student works on the Early Modern period, then the blog posts can be about such topics as (just for instance) "how DH has made a difference in Early Modern studies," "lessons from Early Modern studies that could change how we understand contemporary media," "major DH projects in Early Modern studies and their critical reception," "social network analyses of Shakespeare's plays: what do we learn?", "how Milton visualized," etc.  (The blog posts can also be directly about the digital humanities field if that is the student's intended professional field.)


Students who already keep a blog can, if appropriate, publish the required blog posts on their blog or create a subcategory on their blog titled something like "[Name of My Field] and Digital Humanities."  Students who are new to blogging will need to start a blog.  A recommended widely-used and free blogging platform is Wordpress.com.


Advice: Good academic research blog posts commonly present or report on research (or instruction) in the field; discuss the context, method, implications, and problems of that research (or instruction); relate the issues to other academic or world issues (where relevant and useful); and include some links or references (plus, as appropriate, images).  By contrast with publications in journals and other venues of final record, they are more free to present partial or in-progress reports, to use personal voice, to supply only the necessary links without a complete bibliography, and at times to be avowedly exploratory, speculative, or controversial.  Below are a few good models of influential academic blogs in the digital humanities field (in-progress list):


Blog Post Timeline: While there is no fixed timeline for the blog posts, students must by class 4 produce (and turn in to the instructor) a set of "possible topics for blog posts."  This set of possibilities does not commit the student; but it ensures that some planning for the posts has occurred and provides the instructor with the opportunity, if needed, to provide guidance.


Student blog posts will be linked from the Student Work site for this course.


4. Mock Project Prospectus


Ideally, a course in the digital humanities would ask students to build a digital project.  But due to the time constraints of a ten-week course in a quarter system, it is impractical for students both to accomplish the readings and ongoing assignments for this course and also to execute a full-scale digital humanities project (of the sort that another of the instructor's courses,  "Literature+", incubates by providing less coverage of the digital humanities field and emphasizing project-building).


The culminating assignment for this course, therefore, is not a completed digital project but the next best thing.   Students are required by the end of the quarter to create the detailed prospectus for a digital-humanities project that they will hypothetically implement in future (and may well implement as part of their dissertation research or later work).  Class 10 (the final class) of the course will be devoted to presentations of these prospectuses, which students may also wish to present at the UCSB English Department's annual end-of-year "Research Slam" (see description and video of recent Slams).  The idea is for graduate students to incubate projects that, if implemented, could position them as innovators in their field who use the digital humanities or as contributors to the digital humanities field itself (with its near relations in new media studies, media archaeology, etc.)


Mock Project Prospectus Requirements:


  1. The format of the project prospectus should be a "grant proposal" containing an abstract, narrative, "environmental scan" [discussion of related work], detailed work plan (including technologies, required personnel, and budget), and method of project evaluation.  An example of such a grant proposal--one close to home at UCSB--is the successful UCSB proposal for the RoSE Project for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) "Digital Humanities Start-up Grant."  The abstract and link to the full proposal should be posted on the Student Work site for this course under the title "Your Name - Project Title" in the folder Project Prospectuses.
  2. The work plan included in the proposal should include the in-depth use of at least one important, robust tool for the digital humanities of the sort identified by check marks (red check mark or blue check mark) on the DH Resources page for this course. (Or propose an alternate tool or tools.)  Students must self-train in the above tool to a level that is beyond beginner level.  They must include as part of their "grant proposal" some evidence of such exploration (e.g., a link to a trial run, screenshots, preparatory material, etc.).
  3. Students can work individually or in teams.  (A team-authored prospectus will be expected to be fuller--e.g., with more demonstration examples or supporting materials--than a solo prospectus. Teams need to accompany their prospectus with a summary of individual team-member contributions.)


Mock Project Prospectus Timeline

Periodically during the course, the instructor will check in with students in class about their progress on thinking about possible projects (and, by class 5, possible team mates). By class 6, students must identify a possible project (or set of possible projects) and sketch the gist of their idea in a paragraph submitted to the instructor.  This informal, brief sketch does not commit the student.



































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