Category Archives: DH and Dig Ped

Week 1 of ENG 217: Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

I feel very privileged that my ENG 217 course “Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture” (Intro to DH) not only “made” enrollment minimums but actually filled to capacity! If your department isn’t under enrollment pressures, then you wouldn’t understand. But, suffice it to say, I tried to offer this course twice before and it didn’t “make,” so I’m thrilled. 

It is now an online course. This means I have had to rethink it and really map out every single step for students, anticipating missteps and gaps in understanding. Many students take online courses because their lives are extremely busy, but their preparation for digital projects can be uneven and frustration can lead to disappearance–this disappearance is for me the biggest threat and worst result of bad online pedagogy.

So here’s Week 1. I’m posting my syllabus with this week’s “Sandbox exercises,” both of which have worked in the f2f classroom as versions of DH labs I’ve taught. Now that everything’s online, my hope is that these instructions are clear enough that everyone has fun, sticks around long enough to read and learn more.


In the spirit of open sharing, I am sharing here the blog I created to provide an example for students–so that they can see what I mean when I ask them to post this or that on their blog. In my Blogger I am not blogging to impress but rather to simply demo: “What would it look like to do this assignment?” 

So here’s the blog prototype. It may not be interesting to you except as an example of an example for students and it’s helpful for me as a record of this work.

DH for College Now



Anne McGrail’s Googlepoint presentation about DH for College Now
For College Now teachers interested in getting their feet wet with digital humanities:

Germinal article by Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities and What is it Doing in English Departments?” more recently published in Matthew K. Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities which I highly recommend but which is a tome that takes some time investment (well worth it, but I’m not through it yet!)

Alan Liu’s wonderful essay, “Where is the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”

Text Mining: Ted Underwood of UIllinois Urbana provides a very useful overview of text mining.

Pedagogy/Assignment Ideas

Process Checklist for Integrating Digital Humanities into Courses by Rebecca Frost Davis of National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE).

An assignment to try: “Collaborative Annotation Assignment” of primary texts from the Women Writers Project at Brown University.

One of my favorite DH bloggers, Mark Sample, whose assignment here on reading Frankenstein aloud and then voting on “the sentence or phrase most pivotal or rich with interpretive potential. Peter Elbow would call it “the center of gravity” of the paragraph.” Not really digital, but sets the stage for a new way of looking at texts.

A “voice from the gaps” project from University of Minnesota which will be one of the end-of-term digital project options for my Women Writers class this Fall.

An ambitious and untried resource that I am still tinkering with: I think it would be fantastic for history projects with primary or secondary sources, and especially family history projects.  However, given my students’ skills at this point and the goals of my Women Writers class, I’m not going to try it yet. But if you’re interested, especially if you have the same students for a year, I highly recommend reading ProfHacker’s series on “Teaching with Omeka.


Notes on First Digital Day in Women Writers

…In which the instructor’s careful planning is undermined by the brick and mortar realities of teaching in a classroom….

The best thing I did on this day: I wrote on the whiteboard:
Digital Humanities Rules of Engagement

Be courteous and generous at all times with each other. (I forgot to include “patient.”)

No texting, IMs, tweets, blogs, surfing except for ENG260


This text was accompanied by a mini-lecture to everyone that is indebted to what I’ve learned about DH in twitter and elsewhere: we are experimenting, we are doing something new, and we need generosity and courtesy in order to proceed fearlessly. It was lucky that I wrote this up on the board first thing, because the way things unfolded for the next 50 minutes, I ended up relying on these rules of engagement several times.


Our first class met in a really nice computer lab space. My goal was to get every student to establish a new blog for work just on our class, and to introduce them to our first digital assignment: The Poetry Map Blog Entry.

It was a comical start to my project, for all my careful preparations. After having loaded all of the instructions onto Moodle, I entered the classroom with my passkey, ready to open up the Moodle site in the sleek new computer classroom and carefully walk each student through the steps involved. However, I forgot the tiny key for access to the keyboard. A fatal error. By the time I came back to the classroom with the key, students were logged into Moodle and some of them were hopelessly lost. Some hadn’t used Firefox and so couldn’t access the page correctly. Some started to print out random pages, sending the printer into paroxysms of production in what should be a paperless session. Luckily, there were also some very generous and digitally fluent students who started helping others out, and I walked around the room trying to put out fires.

Then Moodle seized up entirely, kicking everyone off of the site and sending everyone in a panic. Sigh. I then scrambled to instruct 26 students, each at a different stage of creating their blog, in next steps

As the class descended briefly into chaos, I had to point to the white board a couple times….Some students were defiant: “I don’t do blogs. I hate blogging.” [To which I fearlessly had to reply, “You don’t have to like blogging, you just have to do it for this course.”] Why don’t we used Facebook instead?” Some were derailed by Google’s insistence on their adding friends to their G+ account (which gave me the opportunity to discuss online privacy).

Lessons learned:
Bring all keys
Ask students not to turn on their computers until everyone is on the same page.


New Category of DH Participation: Tinkering Lurker

So I have been following digital humanities scholars and scholarship since around summer 2011, with a goal of developing a sabbatical project that I call “Bringing Digital Humanities to the Community College and Vice Versa.”  Happily, I was awarded the sabbatical, and I plan to take it Fall 2013 after I finish work on a Title III grant.

My commitment to DH so far has been first to follow scholars who post on the internet, to find published materials of interest and to read them as much as possible. But since our work at the community college leaves very little room for sustained concentration, my main commitment has been to find a DH site every day and to write some kind of meaningful and if possible substantive tweet about it every day. I haven’t missed many days, and so at this point, I say with Mark Sample that “serial concentration is deep concentration.” In fact, this form of concentrated but interstitial work has been something of a revelation. Zotero has been essential in this regard, because while I tweet about a great site I see or read, I want to go back to them all someday, and I work from 3 computers every day.

I’m taking on this blog as a way to record my thinking over the next year before I actually take my sabbatical, and to try to synthesize ideas that have come to me serially. There are many threads that are floating through the DH scholarly world right now, but NONE of them are about DH at the CC, and I think that this blog can help me to reflect on the relevance of the conversations I read for DH work at Lane.

For example, just yesterday I found a fantastic little collection at the NY Public Library. The menus themselves are fascinating–just seeing what people were paying a lot of money for in New York hotel restaurants helps explain why people were thinner in the 30s! But how is this relevant for a community college? It just so happens that the library is looking for transcribers! That’s right, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can go into the collection and transcribe the words on the menu, verbatim, with prices, and participate in digital humanities archiving. This would be a great service learning project for our Culinary Arts students. And while they’re learning culinary and dietary history, students are also getting practice at digital literacy and transcription. To understand that the menus are photographs and therefore not searchable is a really important lesson in how technology and marking up works.

In the “real” DH world as I see it practiced, the coin of the scholarly and reputational realm is coding and markup. And I sure hope to learn that. But I also think there’s a lot of DH that can be done at the freshman and sophomore level that may involve coding but that may not.Doing a service learning project such as the one I describe takes a tiny dip into understanding DH. These are the kinds of insights I’d like to collect in the coming year. And I’ll collect them here.