Introduction to Digital Humanities

ENGL 76-429/829

Spring 2020

Carnegie Mellon University


Scott B. Weingart / / @scott_bot


Location: Wean 4418 (Sorrells Library)

Time: WF 9am-10:20am

Office Hours: Sorrells Library Den, Wednesdays 1:00-3:30


This course introduces students to core methods and readings in Digital Humanities. Students will read and engage with a wide array of sources, from foundational texts to fictional accounts to patents to legal briefings. In an effort to facilitate non-traditional collaborations, the course is open to (a.) humanities students curious about computational approaches to humanistic questions and (b.) students with technical, data-driven, or design backgrounds interested in contributing to humanistic knowledge. Please note: Freshmen are prohibited from registering for this course. Sophomores must obtain instructor permission.

What Students Can Expect From The Course

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify major currents of thought and scholarship in digital humanities.
  • Assess digital humanities research projects.
  • Develop and complete research projects informed by readings and current methods in digital humanities.

Guiding Concept

“Digital Humanities” (DH) is a twenty-year-old term describing an academic community that sits between technology and the humanities. It’s neither the first nor only such community, and to a newcomer it can look imbalanced and occasionally ridiculous.

Producing sophisticated documentaries, a pursuit clearly at the intersection of technology and the humanities, is rarely considered DH. On the other hand, quantitative methods that can easily be done with pen and paper, when applied to the humanities, often falls within the DH realm. “Digital Humanities” is a discipline, and to learn it is to learn its curious history.

Although this course is called an “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” it’s not that. The term has too much baggage. Instead, you’ll learn what you can accomplish when you forget about disciplinary boundaries in the pursuit of a single problem: understanding the below chart.

United States Is vs. Are Ngram Chart

In reaching this understanding, you’ll learn (1) how to present your work to modern audiences, (2) how to see humanity through a computational lens, and (3) how to be an informed citizen of an increasingly digital world.

These three goals could each fill a semester, or even a four-year degree. Though narrow in subject, this course will be disciplinarily broad and swift. You won’t come out the other side an expert, but you will end up thinking more flexibly about how the humanities and technology can contribute to one another.

The most interesting problems can lead us down winding paths. Following them wherever they go requires courage, curiosity, a willingness to fail, and a passion that defies disciplinary boundaries. By taking this course, you commit yourself not to draw outside the lines, but to make up the lines. You will not leave this course understanding the breadth of digital humanities, but you will end up having experience being a digital humanist.

Course Procedures

  • Although expectations are high for students in this course, the course goals are achievable with consistent focus and work.
  • Students must complete the assigned reading for each class period.
  • Attendance is vitally important in a small seminar such as this. More than 3 missed classes will negatively affect your participation grade.
  • Lateness disrupts the entire class, especially in a small discussion course like ours. If you are more than 10 minutes late, it will be marked as half an absence.
  • Your default participation grade is a C. Only by participating actively in class and attending regularly (see above) will you be able to raise it.
  • Laptops and tablets are permitted in class for class purposes only. Mobile phones are not permitted in class, unless explicitly permitted by the instructor beforehand.
  • Readings distributed electronically must be printed out and brought to class in hard copy.
  • You must receive prior permission in order to turn in an assignment late.
  • Students who receive permission to turn in late papers will nevertheless not receive instructor comments.
  • Failure to complete one of the graded assignments (blog post reports or final project) will result in an automatic F for the course.


Reading Notes

You will be responsible for preparing a brief note for every source or reading, with one sentence describing its thesis, another describing its objective or intent, and a third describing its audience. Simply quoting a thesis, objective, or audience statement is sufficient. These will not be turned in or graded, but not having them prepared when called on in class will result in the loss of participation points. Reading notes are not intended to prove you have read the text, but to focus how you read them. Notes may be shared with your classmates before the class session.

Leading Class

You will be responsible for leading a number of class sessions throughout the semester (likely five or six). You will help choose the session’s readings and focus, prepare discussion prompts, help guide class conversation, and report on the results of the session in the class blog. Blog post reports should be thoughtful, carefully researched, and contain appropriate references, combining insights from the readings and the discussion. They can be any length, but need not be any longer than a page. These reports will undergo a single revision before receiving their grade.

The first draft of a blog post report is due a week after the session being reported. Revisions are due a week after feedback is received.

Blog Report Feedback

You will be responsible for offering constructive feedback on all of your fellow students’ blog post reports. These assignments are low-stakes and are intended to improve your classmates’ reports. They will be graded pass/fail. A failing grade will be given for a missing response, an overly critical or negative response, or a response that offers nothing constructive and of value. Feedback can be as short as a sentence or two, and is due a week after each report is posted.

Project Proposal

About a third of the way through the semester, you will be responsible for a project proposal with two components, (a.) an in-class presentation to the class “pitching” classmates on your idea; (b.) a 4-5 page written description of the project detailing the rationale, proposed outcomes, data sources (if applicable), known challenges, and proposed workarounds. Projects may fall into these two categories, or (with prior permission) be about something else entirely:

  • Create a cultural analytics- / culturomics-style chart, using any dataset or interface. Describe its context and its implications, as we are doing in this course with the “is/are” chart.
  • Find a novel and interesting way to convey the lessons learned about the “is/are” chart.
  • Something else entirely!

Final Projects

Following the project proposals, class members will choose one of the proposed projects to develop collaboratively over the remainder of the semester. Final projects may be in the form of a website, a dataset, a film, a podcast, an essay, any combination of the above, or (with prior permission) something else entirely. Projects may reuse all content from the blog reports. Projects will require an “authorship statement” appendix, describing the contributions of each student.


Assignment Percent of Grade
Leading Class / Blog Reports 25%
Blog Report Feedback 20% (pass / fail)
Attendance and Participation 20%
Project Proposal Presentation 10%
Final Project (Individual) 10%
Final Project (Group) 15%

Academic Integrity

You are required to adhere to CMU’s Standards of Academic Integrity. In short: don’t cheat. If you need help, see the instructor.

Disability Accommodations

If you have a disability, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, I encourage you to contact them at

Be Kind To Yourself

Don’t work too hard. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and taking time to relax when necessary.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is almost always helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, I strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If for any reason the workload in this course is too great a burden, talk to me. I may or may not be able to decrease the amount of work depending on the circumstances, but I am sensitive to the difficulties of balancing school with whatever you may have going on in your life. You will find me amenable to helping in any way I can.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

CaPS: 412-268-2922 Re:solve Crisis Network: 888-796-8226


It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of all genders, sexualities, abilities, ages, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, races, and cultures. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for others in the course. If any of our class meetings conflict with your religious events, let me know so that we can make arrangements for you.


This course draws from classes taught by Lauren Klein, Ryan Cordell, Shawn Graham, Kristen Mapes, Quinn Dombrowski, Cameron Blevins, Jason Heppler, Abby Mullen, Jessica Otis, Kalani Craig, Lincoln Mullen, Alison Langmead, David Mimno, David Bamman, Miriam Posner, Johanna Drucker, Ben Schmidt, Robert Hatch, Chris Warren, Ted Underwood, Dennis Tenen, and many others.