HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature
HS 208: Designing Literature

HS 208: Designing Literature

Autumn 2009 (17 students)

Class-Composed "E-Book"

The Syllabus


Computer-Integrated, Project-Based Course (designed and taught as an adjunct faculty member in Humanities and Sciences at Cornish College of the Arts)

Full Course Title: “Introduction to Digital Humanities: Designing Literature”

Course Description

Amidst a so-called “digital revolution,” what happens to literature? How does it change shape? How is it read, interpreted, and circulated? What is its value and for whom? And how do terms common in the study of literature and language—for example, “literacy,” “author,” “writing,” “book,” “page,” and “text”—affect and become affected by the presence of the computer screen, social networking, emerging media, and markup languages like HTML? Questions such as these will be guides through this course, which blends print with digital texts, criticism with composition, collaboration with individual work, and practice with theory.

But I must admit something. This course relies heavily on two assumptions: the future of literature will not only demand that literary critics become increasingly aware of how literature is designed; it might also require that they either collaborate with designers or do some designing themselves. In short, the composition of digital texts is becoming an increasingly prevalent form of literary scholarship. This claim does not imply that print is no longer important or that it is obsolete.  It also does not imply that design has never (until now) been associated with literature or that, before 2009, it was not something that writers considered when composing fiction or poetry. Rather, it is to suggest that the design of literature and literary criticism is now all the more an argument, a metaphor on the move—a tangible means of affecting audiences, creating a narrative, shaping space and time, and mapping the territory of a persuading thing.

So this course will ask you to study the design of literature (primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries) and give a shot at designing something yourself. That is, the ultimate goal of the course is for us (as a class) to collaboratively compose a digital book, consisting of chapters created by each of you (individually or in small groups), with me functioning as an editor and facilitator. Books, of course, are generally bound in or by something. In this case, that binding is the following question, a constraint of sorts which each chapter must engage:

“Today, why should people care about how literature is designed?”

How you go about responding is up to you, and along the way your chapter will emerge in iterations, whereby you will continuously receive feedback from me and your peers and have numerous opportunities to “test” and experiment with your chapter.

No worries, though. If you are not technically inclined or friendly with computers, then the course will not require you to be, or become, a technophile. Your digital chapter can certainly be “low-tech.” In fact, it need not be “born-digital.” It can be a print thing that is digitized (e.g., photographed or scanned). On the other hand, for some of you, this course might also be a chance to learn new competences in digital technologies and new media or put into action what you already know. Along these lines, your chapter can also be a website, a blog, a digital video . . . whatever you think will be most appropriate to build upon your own investments in order to follow a certain line of inquiry throughout the semester. And whatever the medium you choose, sideways thinkers will be most appreciated.

Learning Outcomes for the Course

By the semester’s end, students should:

Become familiar with terms common in the study of electronic literature and new media and use those terms persuasively in: (1) the iterative development of their own digital humanities project, (2) critical responses to the work of their peers, and (3) blog entries.

As a class, collaboratively compose a digital book, which is framed around the theme of “designing literature,” polished for circulation online, consists of at least five chapters, and includes a title, list of contributors, and table of contents.

Individually or in a group of no more than three students, produce their own chapter for that digital book. Each chapter should be supported by humanities research and critically engage a concept or issue related to the intersections of design, new media, and literature. It should assume whatever medium (e.g., video, academic essay, geographical map, or a photo series) is most appropriate for its argument. As a reminder: the chapter must engage the following question: “Today, why should people care about how literature is designed?”

Write a concise abstract (of no more than 250 words) for their chapters, as well as a short introduction (of no more than 750 words) to another chapter.

Compile their own digital humanities portfolio, which aggregates all of their work over the course of the semester, revises it, assesses it, and gives audiences a holistic sense of what they learned from the course.

What I Learned

This course was my first experience teaching at Cornish College of the Arts. Over the course of the semester, I learned how to translate digital humanities competencies into an arts context, looking at content and approaches that would appeal to students in theater, music, dance, design, sculpture, painting, and photography. From this experience, I gained an awareness of how to communicate with students (whose investments fell largely outside of the humanities) about how the humanities (digital or not) is relevant to their everyday lives, artistic ventures, and educational trajectories. I also had the opportunity to design modules and workshops on the topics of electronic literature, e-book composition, collaborative authoring, digital literacy, visual argumentation, and non-sequential traditions in print.

In November 2009, The Daily at the University of Washington visited the class, documented some of our activities, and ultimately published an articled titled “Reading 2.0.”

Course Evaluations

Available upon request.

(The first, eighth, and ninth images on the left are screen shots of the course blog, which I designed. The second image (a photograph of a day in the classroom) is courtesy of Steven Byeon and Sara Grimes of The Daily at the University of Washington. All other images on the left are courtesy of the class e-book, published by students in the course.)