Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture: Spring Term 2018

It’s already Week 4 of my second time offering a DH@CC course: “Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture.” It took 2 years to get the name changed in the catalog from “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” which no one on my campus understood!

The very first things students do in my class is to create a course-dedicated blog (or at least a course-dedicated page on an extant blog) and to introduce themselves on it, and so I did the same thing here. I walk everyone through the weeks as I see them unfolding, hoping I can stick somewhat to the plan. Although I couldn’t fit it in last year, I am working really hard to put together a modified/right-sized instructional demo for students to create a digital edition using smart phones and cheap apps. This idea and some of the scaffolding is totally indebted to Shawna Ross at Texas A&M, who provided a comprehensive introduction to this work in a webinar on programming for humanists. Her book with Claire Battershill, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom, is out this year from Bloomsbury Academic.

If I do manage to teach my online students how to create a digital edition–of a menu, or a letter, of a book chapter–then it will be as part of their larger Omeka archive project, which makes up the heart of the second half of the term. Last year’s students struggled for the first couple weeks trying to figure it all out, but the feedback I got by the end of the term was that it was incredibly meaningful for students to be able to curate their own digital collection.

Next week, I’m working with Annemarie Hamlin at Central Oregon CC in a collaborative assignment with her students. Both classes will share their work in a Google doc and use the comments feature to talk to one another about their discoveries. Tune in in a couple weeks and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Recent Scholarship in DH at the CC

2017 was a busy year for me and for DH at community colleges.

In January, I presented at the MLA on intersections between “minimal computing” practices in open access learning environments like community colleges. The chair, Jentery Sayers, shared the panel presentations here and here

Meanwhile, “community college” made it to the list of 60 digital humanities keywords in the MLA volume, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, edited by Rebecca Frost Davis, Matthew K. Gold, Katherine D. Harris, and Jentery Sayers. Working with Dominique Zino Jaime Cardenas, and Bethany Holmstrom, I curated the collection of assignments and artifacts that represent the history of digital pedagogy projects at community colleges since 1999. The hybrid publication project will be published in print  by MLA in 2018. 

Currently, I am working with Angel Nieves and Siobhan Senier on a collection of essays concerned with institutional infrastructure for digital humanities for the Debates in the Digital Humanities series entitled Institutions, Infrastructures at the Interstices. Since  access and infrastructure for supporting digital humanities at community colleges were issues that first got me into this field more than five years ago, I am honored to be part of this project. The open peer-review process will begin in February so stay tuned!



Follow-up Survey Results for Digital Humanities in Community Colleges

Survey results from a follow-up to the 2013 National Survey of Digital Humanities in Community Colleges are in.

This week’s featured question: Which of the following do you use regularly in your humanities courses? (“Regularly”= at least once a week in all your classes)


An institutionally provided course management page or site (such as Blackboard, Web CT, Moodle)
A course website that you developed independently.
Web resources in the classroom or to support curriculum
Blogs or social media in or out of the classroom
Web-based software other than word processing for student production of humanities research projects (e.g., Prezi, Pinterest, Storify, Moviemaker, Omeka, Voyant Tools, etc.)
Use of web-based video or podcasts for lectures
Production of your own audio or video for lectures or student support
Use of digital archives for courses (e.g., Library of Congress Digital Archives, Emily Dickinson Archives, Internet Archive, etc.)
I may occasionally use one or more of the above, but not regularly.
None of the above.

You can view them here.

Weeks 9 & 10: Collaborating with COCC and NYPL “What’s on the Menu?”

DH at CC Course Poster

Spring 2017 DH at CC Course goes Live!

It’s hard to believe that it’s Week 10 of an 11-week term! I’m sure my online students are as breathless as I am.  Just as I had expected, there was no way we could fit everything into this term, and so as I wrote to my students with the final sandbox assignment of the term last night, I had to erase the sentence, “This assignment has two parts.” I had so wanted to ask my students to create digital editions of restaurant menus for this last week. Shawna Ross at Texas A & M had given a wonderful workshop on how to create “minimal computing” digital editions, and I was intending to assign this to my students. But I realized that it was too much mental load to expect students could research and curate menus in our area, then scan and OCR them, and then post them in Omeka.

So instead, I stuck with the original New York Public Library “What’s on the Menu?” crowdsourced proofing/reviewing project. While they won’t experience a “whole game” experience of creating digital editions and posting them in their archives as I had intended, they will experience the “whole game” of participating in the development of a world-class digital archive. 

Last week, students from Central Oregon Community College, under the care of Professor Annemarie Hamlin, collaborated with my students on a digital maps project. We had intended for that project to be hosted by the DH@theCC Commons, but we had trouble with the invitations in Buddy Press, so we relied on Google Docs and I have to say it didn’t work badly at all!

Here are the assignment sheets:

Week 9: Cross-Institutional Collaboration

Collaboration with Central Oregon CC Students 

Week 10: “What’s on the Menu?” Crowdsourced Review Assignment

What’s on the Menu Assignment


Week 7 & 8: Synthetic Selfies and Jena Osman’s “Gaze-Capturing Apparatus”

In Week 7, I realized that less was more at this point and gave my students a second week to develop their Omeka sites. I often feel that I’m not doing my job if I don’t create new assignments and activities each week, but I have learned slowly that students miss the satisfaction of really developing something that they’ve learned. With Omeka especially this was true, and so I took my foot off of the activity pedal so students could build their archives to their satisfaction.

Now, in Week 8, students are headed in yet another new direction: taking “synthetic selfies.” I got this idea originally from Jena Osman, whose book and presentation, Public Figures, explore the non-human gaze of public monuments. 

Statue of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks Statue, Eugene. Source: Wikipedia

Since the weather is finally nice, I’m asking my students to watch Osman’s chapters and then go outside and find a public monument and explore the gaze and view of non-human subjects with a selfie-stick. Cyborgs, enhanced humans, and “beat box” singing all reveal an increasingly sophisticated popular familiarity with human/non-human relationships. Focusing on a pre-digital form, the statue, provides a literal brick-and-mortar experience of the non-human. I’m hoping that Osman’s anticipation of selfies and “photo bombs” through immobile statues will give students a defamiliarizing vantage point from which to examine their own experience of the non-human.

I got the idea for this assignment from Kaia Sand’s assignment here

Here are my assignment instructions, based on Sand’s: 
Take a Synthetic Selfie

Week 6! Over the Hump with Omeka Archives!

We are past the mid-term point, and anyone who has taught quarters understands what May 7th feels like. Running on fumes and very hard to continue to create!

But I’m so convinced my students will reap great rewards by creating their own archives. So, with the help of a blueprint by Amanda French  I provide step-by-step instructions with customized illustrations to my class this week.

Writing curriculum is like…writing. Less is always more. “If I had longer, it would be shorter.” So I asked my students just to create their archive, to upload 3 items, to post a reflection in our LMS. That’s enough for this week. It’s a lot.

Instructions for Your First Upload to Omeka Archive

Week 5: Voyant Tools for Distant Reading of Project Gutenberg Texts

The term is flying by. I just finished looking at students Emotion Maps from Week 3. They were amazing–I loved how diverse students’ choice of emotions were–from “anticipation” to “dominance” to “joy.” This assignment met my expectations for introducing students to the Library of Congress Chronicling America database collection while also introducing them to the steps for producing an annotated map as a collection that tells a story.

This week is mid-term, and I am introducing students to Franco Moretti and “distant reading.” It’s difficult to assume that all students will be able to wade through “The Slaughterhouse of Literature” and “Conjectures on World Literature.” Some of my students seem like they may be literature majors in the making, while others are unlikely to have read many novels at all in college. So I took it upon myself to create a  lecture with 25 slides to introduce students to Franco Moretti’s New Method of Reading ; it includes paraphrases and summaries of these two articles, walking students through Moretti’s concepts. If I were teaching f2f instead of online, this would be an extended lecture/discussion class session–perhaps the entire class session. For my online class, my goal is to give students the background for why we would want to use “distant reading tools,” and in the absence of a lecture setting, I simply told them what I thought Moretti was getting at  I love the term “methodologically bold” that Moretti uses to inspire students everywhere to come up with hypotheses. 

After students read both these two essays and my summaries of them, I ask them to follow Paul Fyfe and Ryan Cordell and “not read” a Victorian novel from Project Gutenberg. I had wanted to try multiple tools, but in the end I realized that Voyant alone is enough of a challenge, and so I created a step-by-step for students to work with Voyant and post their discoveries and “bold methodologies” to their blogs. 

Here are my instructions with screencaptures, rubric and grading criteria. I have divided into two files because they are large files.

Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 1Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 1

Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 2Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 2


Week 4: Representing Yourself and Others Online

Week 4 is already done and I’m just now able to post from my course. When I was developing my composition course, I read some great work by Ann Frances Wysocki about how students need to consider the ethics of representing themselves and others online. 

Since I’m asking my own students to create archives that may include photos of my students or their family and friends, I adjusted my calendar so that we could slow down and collaboratively create a statement for the ethical representation of themselves online. 

Here’s my screencast video introducing students to the assignment:


Week 3 Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

Spring term is buzzing by. We have one hummingbird outside our house who has been sitting on a branch all winter and now he’s almost obscured by the leaves that have filled in. 

Week 3 is about mapping. As I wrote in my thought piece on “minimal computing” in January, I use Google maps to help students develop several kinds of DH skills, from basic procedural knowledge for working with online primary source materials to content knowledge about the what, where, when, and how of literary and cultural histories.

Picking up on our Week 1 reading of Mrs. Dalloway, I sent my online students to the wonderful Georgia Tech students’ project, Mrs. Dalloway Mapping Project to get a feel for how plot points, settings, and other narrative features can be interpreted through maps. Originally I was going to ask my own students to map the novel, but the Georgia Tech example is so strong that I thought it would be better to try something else. So I asked students to then explore another site, Mapping Emotions in Victorian London , from the Stanford Literary Lab.


Covent Garden Flower Women, Mapping Emotions in Victorian London

 This site gave me an idea for my own students: to use the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database to explore an emotion in America from 1789-1924 (the range of the database’s complete collection of newspapers), and then map the appearance of emotions in print in America over time. 

First instructional video 

Second instructional video

Third instructional video

Instructions for Mapping Emotions in America Project

I’m looking forward to seeing what my students come up with and hearing about their process. It’s been a great experience for me to break the steps down as clearly as possible. Procedural knowledge is a key skill set for C21 students. It’s one thing to create the maps myself through tinkering and my own tacit knowledge. It’s another thing altogether to step back and provide the steps so that online students can perform a lengthy series of steps toward a single end. We’ll see next week how they did!

Week 2 of ENG 217 Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

What cool things my students did for last week’s Mrs. Dalloway Second Sandbox blog entry! Wonderful pictures of flowers and larks and Big Ben and village greens and green dresses and early 20th century hats and war images and even (my favorite) a sound file of a Buddhist chant. The First Sandbox assignment–annotations of Mrs. Dalloway on a Google doc–were somewhat less successful if you use an old-school rubric of rigor and systematic analysis. But I was pleased that most of the students in this class reapproached the novel as a digital document and found several things to comment on—even as small as a vocabulary word.

This week, my expectations are high for the “Dead Media Poster Project,” which I adopted from Professor Ryan Cordell’s “Texts and Technologies” class. I created my own poster as an example for students using the old 8-Track Tape. I used to listen to Barbara Streisand on 8-Track, so this was a dead medium near and dear. Dead Media Poster Session Assignment

I shared Marshall McLuhan and Alan Liu as these pieces are in the syllabus, and ambitious students will read them. Reading Liu’s “New Media Encounter” I was reminded of being in a doctor’s office as a child, watching cursive letters flow from a nurse’s pen. When I got home I tried to conjure meaning from loops and waves myself with a Flair pen–as does the chief in Liu’s quote of Levi-Strauss

To deepen the encounter with dominant, residual, and emergent media, I assigned Elizabeth Eisenstein’s chapter on “Some Features of Print Culture” from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge UP 2012).

This is a very sophisticated chapter and, thinking of my CC audience, I created a slideshow that walks students through the major points that Eisenstein makes. Of course, her argument is deeply complex and embedded in a conversation about print culture that historians are having, so my slides may be a bit oversimplistic. But I think that these slides convey the most important of Eisenstein’s major ideas about print media for students. So here are my notes on Eisenstein for students with no prerequisite knowledge. This was a really good intellectual exercise for me: to first boil down the features of Eisenstein’s argument most salient for community college students,  and then to try to make them accessible enough to novice, online learners. My measure of success will be that they have completed all of the slides!

I hope students will be able to see the most important discoveries about print culture: that print wasn’t only an aid to Enlightenment thinking but also infused mystical culture into texts; that printers were as important to knowledge production as scholars; and that printing multiple copies of the same text in multiple locations to be read by diverse readers was perhaps a more important development for the progress of science than was individual ownership of multiple texts.

Elizabeth Eisenstein Features of Print Culture, from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge 2012)