Syllabus (short version)

Course number:  ENG 287H1F Fall 2014              Instructor: Siobhan O’Flynn, PhD

Course title: The Digital Text

Course Description:

Digital technologies are changing both the material form of the book in the popularization of eBooks and iBooks and expanding the methods whereby we can study texts. With the increasing availability of free and sometimes open source digital platforms, analytical, mark-up, and visualization tools, students can now interact directly with digital texts and online archives, and ask new and traditional questions through innovative means.  Digital tools, for example, can be used to identify word and phrase recurrences in large data sets or in individual texts, revealing recurrent themes and linguistic patterns. Results can give surprising insights into the concerns of specific cultural periods or of individual authors, and marked shifts over time.

As academics, our increasing reliance on digital archives and databases for research in primary and secondary sources raise further questions, such as:

  • What will the impact of digital technologies be on academic studies in the future?
  • How can new tools enhance our understanding of past works and inform present analytical practices?
  • What is gained and what is overlooked when research focuses on quantitative measures and what Franco Moretti has termed ‘distant reading’ as a method of analysis that “allows you to focus on units that are much smaller or much larger than the text: devices, themes, tropes – or genres and systems”?

While there are distinct advantages to creating and interacting with digital texts, we will also consider significant challenges and debates such as licensing vs. owning, platform and software obsolescence, and the phenomenon of digital decay.

Recognizing that the practice of Digital Literary Studies is rapidly evolving with the publication of new tools and the development of new methodological approaches, the course will focus on four main areas of inquiry: Debates, Tools, Disruptions, and Innovations. To this end, throughout the course, students will:

  • read key critical essays and online dialogues between experts currently shaping the field of Digital Humanities and Digital Literary Studies;
  • engage with innovative digital projects, new digital-born textual forms (hypertext, webcomics, i-books, and videogames), and platforms (social media, participatory storytelling, and others TBD);
  • explore new technologies as creative and analytical tools;
  • learn the basics of TEI [Text Encoding with TEI];
  • participate in the collaborative annotation of a set of online texts using an existing online platform;
  • participate in a collaborative class experiment in the creation & publication of an online interactive text(s).

Further questions we will explore will be:

  • What will constitute the digital text of the (near) future?
  • What changes for the reader when texts become “interactive” and participatory?
  • How does our understanding of narrative and storytelling change in a digital environment?
  • Can narratology address multimodal and interactive texts?
  • What disruptive technologies are driving these new forms?

In addition, guest speakers will contribute their perspectives as active practitioners working with digital technologies in the academic, creative, and industry spheres and they will share their insights on the challenges and benefits of working with digital technologies.

No technical background is required though students should expect to be active online on a variety of social media and/or web platforms. Of course, anonymity/privacy concerns will be respected and pseudonyms are a viable alternative.

Course expectations:

Preparation and Participation:

  • keep up with reading the required texts, and be ready to participate in class discussions through comments and/or questions.
    • if you have a laptop, feel free to bring & use in class. HOWEVER, make sure to read the report on ‘Laptop multitasking hinders…’ (Sana, Weston, Cepeda) in Class 3.
    • Regular attendance in tutorials will be key as many of the assignments will be generated in the tutorials with guidance from your TAs.


  • A willingness to step out of your comfort zone & explore new technologies & forms as we will be engaged in hands-on, experiential & inquiry-based learning, exploring, experimenting, and making.
    • Think of this as learning through trial and error and the best way to learn with digital technologies is to dive in and start doing.

Course Outcomes:

  • introduce students to some of the concerns, concepts, and methodologies currently at play in the digital humanities.
  • introduce students to a range of digital tools used to analyze, encode, and archive texts
  • increase understanding of the kinds of questions appropriate to specific tools, texts, and large data sets.
  • expand student awareness of current trends, disruptions, and innovations in digital research and creative practices

Required Readings:

All readings are listed by class on the weekly schedule and are available online, either open on the web and accessible via embedded link or through the UTor Library database. Should any link appear to be broken, first try another browser, then email me & I will check & update. Currently all links are live.

Texts we will be working with for coding exercises and assignments will be from the following:

See our Blackboard site for all standard UToronto info on office hours, TAs, & other course specifics.

The Weekly Schedule is detailed on the Weekly Schedule Page



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