This coming year, I’m planning to structure the module in 4 sections. The direction of the module will, however, respond to the general interests of the students taking part:
- Book, text, and file. We’ll start with Robin Sloan’s novel, Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, a modern tale of a computer geek who encounters a strange world of book geeks. It’s a great start to think about the relationship between digital technology and that older technology, the printed book. Then we’ll spend some weeks examining the nature of digital texts, online databases and archives (perhaps even building our very own paper database in the classroom). Then we’ll choose some texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – possibly as cheap out-of-copyright editions – pull the covers off, put them through a scanner and begin the process of turning them into electronic versions. I’ll end this section of the course by teaching you some basic ways of encoding or electronic markup of texts. Along the way we’ll discover the wider purpose of digitisation, a lot about editing, and a lot about the material form of the early printed book.
- Be creators of knowledge. The next short section will involve us learning about the way Wikipedia works – its systems for ensuring quality and encouraging crowd-sourced contributions. We’ll then try editing some Wikipedia entries on literary topics from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and research possible topics of new entries.
- Distance Reading. The section will introduce you to some databases and computer tools that help us analyse literature and books. We’ll begin with Google’s N-Gram viewer (Google it!) and then move on to more sophisticated tools that enable us to ‘read’ a novel or a poem or play in a new way – and even analyse dozens texts at a time – by visualizing things like word frequencies or occurrences. We’ll then move on to examining literary history and/or book history: using the English Short Title Catalogue (and other databases) we will analyse things like the titles, authors, or printers of hundreds or thousands of books across decades or even centuries. Such readings as these have also been described as ‘macroanalysis’ and potentially enables us to ask questions about literary history or the history of the book that are otherwise difficult to pose.
- The project. This is the section of the module devoted to project work. Inspired by something from the previous sections you choose a topic to work on: the aim to is create something more than just a written essay but to build a piece of work that works digitally (if you want some examples, see the posts by previous students on this blogsite). I’ll guide you on any technical matters and, if need be, introduce any other appropriate tools we haven’t yet used. We’ll also revisit some of the theoretical and contextual reading from the earlier sections to refresh and deepen your critical reflection.
Finally, feel to free to explore this blogsite!