Humanities 2.0? Digital Humanities and Humanist Critique

Dr. Paul Barrett

Email:, Twitter:@paul_barrett

Office: Chester New Hall, 310.

Office Hours: Thr 1 – 3 or by appointment


Course Description

This course introduces students to contemporary debates in the digital humanities and situates those debates within the apparent broader crisis of the humanities. We will investigate the methods and theories of the digital humanities while also interrogating the modes of humanism, and perhaps humanity, to which they are indebted. We will look at a number of texts, theoretical frameworks, and digital tools to consider how digital humanities is changing not only traditional notions of reading and humanities work but also how DH itself is changed through critical engagement with categories of race, gender, class, and nation.

This course will invite students to put theory into practice (while also using theory to critique our practices) by using digital tools to intervene in these debates in the digital humanities. We will look at novels, games, digital texts, and software through the lens of digital humanities as well as theories of race, embodiment, sexuality and citizenship. Students will be asked to reflect on their own interpretive practices when looking at new forms of textuality and use those reflections as the bases for addressing some of the following questions:

In what ways are digital humanities indebted to archaic notions of humanism? Who counts as human within these texts? How are race, sexuality, and gender organized, within these texts, to construct a particular notion of the human? How are our conceptions of the human transformed by national and global contexts? In what ways do the signs of nation, citizenship, and the market, operate in seemingly post-national, global narratives? How are the positions of reader and author and the interpretive act of reading itself transformed when reading and writing go digital? These are just a few of the questions that will keep you awake at night as this course progresses!

Note Concerning Digital Work

Digital Humanities can be envisioned as a process of exploration wherein we try something new, experiment with something unfamiliar, or venture to design something ambitious or crazy. As such, this course will provide an opportunity to create a digital prototype as part of your final project. This can be as modest as an analysis of the use of nouns in Donald Trump’s speeches or as ambitious as a 3D printing of Trump himself (not recommended). The point is that experimentation will be rewarded over completion and success. I will model the use of digital tools in seminars and provide support outside of class to students who need it. It is neither presumed nor expected that you are an expert with any of these tools so don’t let the feeling of being an amateur dissuade you! The whole point is that we’re all amateurs trying to learn something new. This prototype is merely the first step in your encounter with the digital humanities so marks will not be deducted for final digital prototypes that don’t work or that have bugs. The mantra of the course is experimentation over completion!


2x Response Papers – 20%

Project Proposal – 10%

Colleague Project Response – 10%

Class Participation – 10%

Final Paper / Project – 50%

Response Papers

Each student will present 2x 300 – 500 word response papers on one or more readings for the week. The purpose of these papers is to engage closely with any number of argumentative threads in the readings and to provoke class discussion. Each respondent should come to class armed with a few compelling questions that get the class engaged with the readings. In addition to engaging with the reading, you must also research and identify one DH project or initiative that reflects the concerns of the week’s readings. You will be expected to describe the project (for a few minutes), if relevant demonstrate it on a laptop, and indicate some of the broader questions that it raises about DH. Response papers will be graded holistically based the insightfulness of the response, the degree to which the respondent stimulated class discussion, and the relevance of the DH project.

Project Proposal

The final project for this course can be a traditional humanities paper (like you’ve likely had in other seminars) or some combination of a technical project & written paper. If you’d like to do the latter I encourage you to talk to me as early as possible so we can think together about the technical details and theoretical implications of your idea. Before writing your final project, however, you must present a Project Proposal. This is a 300 – 500 word document outlining some of the key concerns and questions of your project. The key is not to pretend that you have everything figured out or have unraveled the mysteries of humanities, digital or otherwise. Rather, the key is to frame your intervention in a clear and coherent way, identify a few key questions that your project will address, and demonstrate some cursory understanding of the current state of the debate. This will be (randomly) given to another colleague in the class and that person will provide extremely useful feedback. Due March 16.

Colleague Project Response

You will write a one-page response to the Project Proposal that you receive on March 16th. Your response is meant to be constructive, helpful and generous. It is not meant to poke holes in someone’s work or show off your arcane understanding of Heidegger’s early years. Rather, try and find ways to support your colleague and constructively help push their thinking in new directions. Due March 23

 Final Paper / Project

This is the final course assignment. It can be either a traditional essay-length paper (15 – 25 pages) or it can be a shorter paper combined with a digital project or intervention. Due Aprilish.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – Jan 19 – Framing the Digital Humanities

Excerpt: Digital__Humanities: “Humanities to Digital Humanities” (1 – 27)

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?”

David Berry, “The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities”

Chad Gaffield, “The Surprising Ascendance of the Digital Humanities”

David Golumbia, “Death of a Discipline”

Week 2 – Jan 26 – Framing the Debates

Alan Liu, “From Reading to Social Computing”

Franco Moretti, “Graphs, Maps, and Trees”

Stanley Fish, “The Digital Humanities and Interpretation” & “The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Morality”

Stephen Ramsay, “Stanley and Me”

Week 3 – Feb 2 – Reading 2.0

Tanya Clement, “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualization in Literary Scholarship”

Tanya Clement, “Where is Methodology in Digital Humanities”

Benjamin Schmidt Do Digital Humanists Need to Understand Algorithms?

The Guardian Newspaper: Reading the Riots

Technical Introduction: VOYANT Tools


Week 4 – Feb 9 – Words, Words, Words

Patterns of Sentimentality in Victorian Novels

Mark Algee-Hewitt & Mark McGurl, “Between Canon and Corpus: Six Perspectives on 20th-Century Novels”

David Hoover, “Textual Analysis”

Ted Underwood, “Seven Ways Humanists Are Using Computers to Understand Texts”

Scott Weingart, “Topic Modeling for Humanists: A Guided Tour”

Technical Introduction: Topic Modeling Using MALLET


Week 5 – Feb 16 – Gaming DH

Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash [First half]

Ian Bogost, “The Rhetoric of Video Games”

Eric Zimmerman, “Jerked Around by the Magic Circle”

Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution


Week 6 – Feb 23 – Reading Week

Week 7 – Mar 2 – Neoliberal Games!

Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash [Second half]

Excerpt: Cary Wolfe What Is Posthumanism, “Meaning and Event” (3 – 29)

Jason Read, “A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity”

Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Game: Papers, Please


Week 8 – Mar 9 – Games of History, Games of Empire

Game: Civilization IV

Game: Forth McMoney

Julian Stallabrass, “Just Gaming: Allegory and Economy in Computer Games”

Exerpt: McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (001 – 025, 051 – 075, 176 – 200)

Excerpt: Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, Games of Empire (3 – 33, 97 – 122)

Week 9 – Mar 16 – Digital Histories

Stephen Robertson, “The Differences Between Digital Humanities and Digital History”

Cameron Blevins, “Digital History’s Perpetual Future Tense”

Tressie McMillan Cottom, “More Scale, More Questions: Observations from Sociology”

Project Proposal Due

Technical Introduction: SCALAR


Week 10 – Mar 23 – Neoliberal Tools

Allington, Brouillete and Golumbia, “Neoliberal Tools and Archives: A Political History of the Digital Humanities”

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “Am I a Digital Humanist? Confessions of a Neoliberal Tool.”

Amy Earhart, “Digital Humanities Futures: Conflict, Power & Public Knowledge”

Roopika Risam: “Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities”

Colleague Project Response Due


Week 11 – Mar 30 – Remixing Race & Humanism

Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

Lev Manovich, “Remixing and Modularity”

Tara McPherson, “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?”

Excerpt: Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (8 – 15, 104 – 129)

Excerpt: Paul Gilroy, Against Race (177 – 206)


Week 12 – Apr 6 – The Continuing Project of DH

Alan Liu: “The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique”

Dean Irvine ModLabs

Mike Borkent and Jamie Paris, “Asymmetric digital collaboration and collective authorship: On digital genres and writing processes for CanLit Guides”