Local Digital Humanities, MLA 2017

696: Local Digital Humanities

Sunday, 8 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m.
405 Philadelphia Marriott

@rikersbot: Local-based, social-justice driven praxis in digital humanities

Alex Gil (Columbia University), Dennis Tenen (Columbia University)

@rikersbot is a coding workshop and an algorithmic storytelling project set in and about Rikers Island correctional facility, New York city’s main jail complex. In the spring of 2015, the Center for Justice approached the Experimental Methods Group with an idea of running an “Intro to Python” workshop for the young people incarcerated at Rikers and for Columbia University students interested in digital literacy. It was important for us to set up the encounter in a way that moves past one way conversation with effects that persist beyond the one time event. In teaching programming through digital storytelling, it was our hope to encourage a dialog between the youth at Rikers, Columbia faculty and students, and the community at large. In this presentation we will report on our experiences conducting the program, and argue for a local-based, social-justice driven praxis on issues facing us now that can complement and learn from our contributions to the history-based scholarly record.

Mapping The Insurrectionary States Testimony of South Carolina

Kimberly Hall (Wofford College)

In “The Condition of Affairs,” the recorded testimony of the citizens of Spartanburg, SC documents insurrectionary movements by the Ku Klux Klan in the former Confederate states during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. This historical text captures the verbatim recollections of both black and white citizens during this chaotic and violent historical episode. Because the thirteen-volume text covers five different southern states, each volume is organized by state and region. Although these volumes have been digitized and are currently available online, this persistent connection to place suggests that interactive modes of engaging the text’s spatial specificity would offer new insights into the text’s significance in history and today.

This paper describes the process of building a local DH mapping project in a literature course at Wofford College with these testimonies, which are housed in the campus library archives in Spartanburg, SC. The project aims to engage the embodied experience of racial oppression by having students reimagine this archive through their own personal lens. The resulting project reorients the text by organizing the testimonies spatially on a current map of Spartanburg, SC. Each resulting point on that map then opens up to a specific testimony accompanied by supplementary multimodal material created by the students.

The resulting project raises important theoretical questions about the concept of “locality” that highlight the relationship between knowledge production and current discourses of social justice. Within computer science, the Principle of Locality refers to the memory hierarchies of data access, and within Henri Lefebvre’s materialist theory of space, localization is the product of the natural world inscribed within specific markers of time. A local mapping project thus engages both the informatic and social dimensions of the local, and raises important ethical questions about the theoretical and pedagogical effects of such projects.

Digital Holland and Community-Based DH

Laura B. McGrath (Hope College)

Digital humanities has been celebrated for its emphasis on collaborative research. Yet DH’s transformative collaborative ethos is restricted to institutional spaces—within the university, between universities, or in formal academic communities—and at large research universities. This paper is interested in collaboration of a different sort and in different places, considering the role of the local community in the digital research program of the small liberal arts college, arguing for a model of Community-Based DH. Literature in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has emphasized Community-Based learning as a hallmark of “high-impact” education, encouraging classrooms to expand beyond their institutional havens (Kuh, 2008). Digital humanities research lends itself, especially, to these pedagogical practices, expanding the reach of collaboration into the local community—work that small liberal arts colleges are especially equipped to undertake. To make this case, I rely on my own community, university, and students. As the Mellon Fellow for Digital Liberal Arts at Hope College (Holland, MI), I oversee a robust partnership between local partners (archives, historical associations, churches) and diligent undergraduate researchers. Our flagship research project, Digital Holland, has been running for four years; students have been partnering with local organizations and independent researchers to make Holland’s cultural heritage freely available and accessible to the public in the form of digital archives and exhibits. In addition, students have also developed a series of “turnkey” projects to make digital research methods accessible to the public, inviting community members to participate in the making of Digital Holland, partnering in the act of knowledge creation alongside student project managers. In placing the discourse of Community-Based learning in conversation with DH Pedagogy, I hope to transform both: reframing the local community as more than simply a site, object of study, or recipient of service, but as a partner in research, and by expanding the traditional models of the DH Lab or Center to consider the applications of digital research and scholarship for the public good.

Digital Humanities at the Local University: A Case Study of Digital Salem

Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

In my Digital Scholarship in the Humanities article “Other Worlds, Other DHs,” I make the case for local forms of digital humanities and the need for the digital humanities community to recognize that its practices are accented by a myriad of geographical, political, social, and economic factors that shape them. This talk builds on that work to discuss a particular, U.S. institutional context for digital humanities work that often goes undiscussed: the regional comprehensive university. In discourses on digital humanities and in the world of foundation funding, regional comprehensives trying to build digital humanities programs are caught between two worlds. Often classified as master’s institutions in the Carnegie rankings, they are neither small liberal arts colleges nor research institutions. They are teaching-intensive, short on funding, and filled with job-driven students. Yet, regional comprehensives are often deeply tied to a sense of place and their unique qualities can be leveraged for new directions in digital humanities. In this talk, I discuss my work building a digital humanities community at Salem State University around the place-based project Digital Salem. I examine how the project’s design – an umbrella project comprised of small, modular digital humanities projects created using our archives – responds to the particular needs of digital humanities at the regional comprehensive. The talk further considers how Digital Salem has served as a locus for developing institutional support for digital humanities; has begun to change the nature of faculty research at Salem State, offering faculty a new way of engaging their undergraduate students in their own research; and has helped develop university-community partnerships. In doing so, I argue that emphasis on the local is essential to expanding communities of practice within digital humanities and, in turn, sheds light on digital humanities practices beyond research institutions and small liberal arts colleges


Dene Grigar (Washington State University Vancouver)

New Disciplinary Histories at MLA 2016

807. New Disciplinary Histories
Sunday, January 10
1:45-3:00 p.m.
Location: 19A, Austin Convention Center

In recent years it has come to seem both possible and necessary for the discipline of English to rewrite its history. From the recent Modern Language Quarterly special issue “The Uses of the Past?” to influential new genealogies of formalist close reading offered by surface readers to data-generated visualizations tracing the fortunes of literary fields and methodological keywords in print across the twentieth century, literary scholars are productively defamiliarizing our inherited sense of our discipline’s past by turning over new documents, lineages, and organizing rubrics. Such pragmatic and interested self-regard marks a decided turn away from the disciplinary histories of the late 1980s and early 1990s — works such as Gerald Graff’s Professing Literature (1987) and John Guillory’s Cultural Capital (1993) — which seemed to borrow the methods of other disciplines (institutional history, Bourdieuvian sociology) in order to take authoritative critical distance on our own.

This panel seeks to retell our discipline’s history using terms, tools, and even untheorized practices that appear native to literary study. Each paper alights on an overlooked or understudied moment from the past of English studies to generate a more capacious account of the methods that English has housed.

Chair: Ted Underwood
Ted Underwood is Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the author most recently of Why Literary Periods Mattered (Stanford, 2013). He co-authored (with Andrew Goldstone) “The Quiet Transformations of Literary Studies,” an experiment in digital disciplinary history that recently appeared in New Literary History.

Paper 1: Joan Lubin’s “Mechanical Collator, Machine Reader: Stereoscopic Criticism” refocalizes recent discussions of literary critical method (in particular, surface/depth/close/machine reading) in terms of the “stereoscope,” as both mechanical apparatus and rhetorical figure for the analysis of literature across the twentieth century. Her paper considers what Franco Moretti’s pursuit of a “literary history without a single direct textual reading” might look like if the “models” devised to do so were not imported from other disciplines, as they are in Graphs, Maps Trees, but rather conceived of “in-house” in conversation with a disciplinary history that has too often proceeded in seemingly total ignorance of the rich discourse regarding the relationship between interpretation, evidence, method, and object within textual criticism and bibliography.

Joan Lubin is a doctoral candidate in the department of English at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, “Social Science Fictions: Novels to Scale in Cold War America” examines literary experiments in empiricism across a set of genre fictions in the postwar period. She was the co-organizer of the “Queer Method” conference at Penn in 2013. Her research and teaching interests include sociology of literature, theory of the novel, history of the disciplines, science and literature, queer studies, and film studies.

Paper 2: Devin Griffith’s “‘Long periods of boredom, short periods of terror’: Crisis and Disciplinarity in On the Origin of Species” considers the role of English studies in the formations of other disciplines: here, Darwin’s use of philology to build his theory of descent through natural selection. Griffiths imagines how we might write disciplinary histories not as dutiful students invested in the reproduction of our field’s received values, but as envious, longing, emulators of other disciplines whose early practitioners borrowed from our own.

Devin Griffiths is an assistant professor in the English Department at the University of Southern California. His research examines the intersection of intellectual history, scientific literature, and the digital humanities, with emphasis on nineteenth-century British literature and science. Central to his work is the question of how literary form shapes our experience of time and natural systems. Essays on this subject have appeared in ELH, Studies in English Literature, and Book History. His first book is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press in 2016 and is titled, “The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins.” That study examines how historical novels established a new relational understanding of history and furnished a new comparative method that helped to shape the disciplinary formations of both the life sciences and the humanities. His second book project, “The Radical Catalogue,” explores the science of order that organized nineteenth-century print and natural history collections to test the relation between empire and modern information technologies.

Paper 3: Jordan Stein’s “Is Activist History also Disciplinary History?: The Case of Affect Theory” notes that queer theory’s engagement with affect theory is usually considered a theoretical development. He offers instead an account of the cross-pollination of activist and academic work in the early 1990s and considers how formations like this – not part of official interdisciplinary but formative of the discipline – might be preserved in our teaching of queer theory today.

Jordan Alexander Stein is the author of journal articles in American Literary History, American Literature, and ESQ. With Justine S. Murison he co-edited a special issue of Early American Literature on “Methods for the Study of Religion” in 2010, and with Lara Langer Cohen he co-edited Early African American Print Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). His research has been supported by fellowships from the Library Company of Philadelphia and the New-York Historical Society, and in 2012, he co-directed the American Antiquarian Society’s summer seminar in the history of the book, on “African American Cultures of Print.” He is completing “The People Are Clarissa,” a monograph on Protestant literacy and transatlantic print, and developing a new project, “Sex in the Archives.”

Paper 4: Laura Heffernan and Rachel Sagner Buurma’s “Classroom Practice and Critical Disciplinary History” offers a new archive for disciplinary history: the heterogeneous documents produced in the English literature classroom over the course of the long twentieth century. As a test case, we look at syllabi, administrative documents, personal letters, and teaching notes related to the Modern English Literature tutorial course that T. S. Eliot conducted at Southall between 1916 and 1919 under the auspices of the University of London university extension program. Scholars have long seen Eliot’s 1920 volume, The Sacred Wood, as having a determining influence on what and how English professors taught in the 20th century, but we show instead how the students of Modern English Literature undeniably helped shape Eliot’s visions of literary history and literary value in The Sacred Wood. In closing, we suggest the wider ways in which valuing and researching teaching materials from non-elite institutions upend the assumptions and broad outlines of current disciplinary histories.

Rachel Sagner Buurma is Associate Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College, where she teaches classes on Victorian literature, the history of the novel, and digital humanities. She is finishing a book on the social, literary-critical origins of narrative omniscience, and starting one on how Victorian novelists did research. Her essays have appeared in journals including Victorian Studies, Representations, New Literary History, and Studies in English Literature, and The Journal of Big Data and Society. With Jon Shaw (University of Pennsylvania Libraries) she co-directs the Early Novels Database.

Laura Heffernan is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Florida, where she teaches courses on twentieth-century literature and culture. She is co-editor, with Jane Malcolm, of Laura Riding’s Contemporaries and Snobs (University of Alabama Press, 2014). She is currently writing a history of modernist literary criticism, titled “Unliterary Critics,” portions of which have appeared in Modernism/Modernity and Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. She is also co-writing, with Rachel Sagner Buurma, a new disciplinary history of English, titled “The Teaching Archive,” portions of which have appeared in New Literary History and Victorian Studies.

Critical Making: Telegraph + Twitter

Swarthmore College, Spring 2015
Faculty of record: Rachel Sagner Buurma (English Literature)
Consulting faculty and staff: Andrew Ruether (ITS), Kevin Webb (Computer Science)

This half-credit group independent study in media archeology offers a practice-based inquiry into short forms of communication in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. We will think about the materialities of communication technology and message encoding – past and present – through a combination of collective building exercises and discussions of critical readings. We will draw on the work of John McVey, Richard Menke, and Beth Seltzer on the practices and cultures of telegraphic communication, Johanna Drucker and Lisa Gitelman on interface and media archeology, Lara Cohen and Laura Heffernan on amateur and professional print cultures, and Mark Sample and Matt Ratto on critical making and breaking  as we build a simple telegraph set and use Tworsekey to connect our telegraph key to Twitter.

In the process, we will study telegraphic languages and codes, engage with telegraph hobbyist communities, consider the cultural and social meanings of the telegraph and Twitter in their respective historical moments, and unearth connections between telegraphy, Twitter, and literature in the nineteenth- and twenty-first centuries. Drawing on the Spring 2015 TricoDH faculty-staff Critical Making seminar, we will also offer a brief conceptual overview of “critical making,” the idea that the hands-on creation of an object of study offers one path towards thinking about and theorizing it. We will be especially interested in constructing and thinking across the analog-digital divide. No experience required.


Dates (tentative): Friday 1-3 pm, Jan 23, Feb 6, 20, March 6, 20, April 3, 17
Available as a .5 credit or non-credit group independent study
contact rbuurma 1 at swarthmore dot edu to express interest

This group independent study has no requirements and is open to all interested students. An afterstudy of the Fall 2014 ENGL040: Victorian Literature and Victorian Informatics, it may be particularly useful for students who have recently taken or will be enrolled in classes related to media studies, digital culture, materiality, communication, literacy, history of technology, natural language processing, digital humanities, and nineteenth-century literature, culture, and history. For 2014-15 such courses may include but are not limited to ENGL050: Nineteenth-Century American Novels, ENGL111: Victorian Literature and Culture, HIST082: Networks, Simulations, Information: Cultural Histories of Digital Media, GMST111: German Media Culture, HIST005A: The United States to 1877, HIST007B: African American History, 1865 to Present, MUSI 022: 19th-Century European Music, PHIL 114: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, RUSS 021: Dostoevsky (in Translation), CS21: Introduction to Computer Science, CS065: Natural Language Processing, EDUC 151: Literacy Research.

Victorian Literature + Victorian Informatics syllabus

instructor: Rachel Sagner Buurma
semester: Fall 2014
time: W 1:15-4, plus occasional labs tba
location: McCabe Library Video Classroom (third floor)

This mid-level core course offers a survey of canonical Victorian literature through the lens of Victorian information theories and knowledge organization practices. Reading texts like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H., Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, John Henry Newman’s The Idea of the University, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we will investigate the relation between information, knowledge, and literature: how did Victorians imagine literature as information? And how do new literary-critical methods of interpretation draw on the idea of literature as information to test old readings and invent new ones? Calibrating the distance between various Victorians’ ideas about information and our own, we will read Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H. alongside Lewis Carroll’s index for that famous poem before creating our own indexes to it, study John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” by comparing it to his complete works using topic models, and interpret Darwin’s The Origin of Species alongside three different visualizations of that work’s seven major revised editions and our own experience with textual version control. Throughout, we will focus on developing techniques for close, middle-distance, and distant reading, with an emphasis on exploring digital tools for finding, organizing, counting, curating, decomposing, rereading, and remaking literary texts.



some topics: overview of Victorian literature + culture; major events and genres; major Victorian literature themes; histories of the relationship between literature and information; the idea of literature as information; brief overview of literature as information in 20th c literary criticism; ideas of information overload and knowledge organization from the nineteenth century though the present day

September 3

  • Jane Eyre, first pages
  • definitions: data, information, knowledge
  • workshop: close reading the novel (with chapter 1 of JE)
  • short assignment 1: JE close reading (due September 8)

Jane Eyre and Communication Networks

some topics: Victorian geographies; the domestic novel; religion; knowledge organization and empire; narration and totality; reading and publishing; disciplinary developments; urbanization; communication technologies; census and heath data

September 10

  • Jane Eyre (1847), ch 5-25
  • excerpt from Menke, “Victorian Informatics”
  • short excerpts from Day, “The Modern Invention of Information” and Gleick, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”
  • examine Edwin Chadwick’s Sanitary Map of the Town of Leeds (1842)
  • in-class demo: mapping JE (Stanford Named Entity Recognizer, Mapbox)
  • workshop preparation: install Zotero, examine a few models of citation management and workflow
  • workshop: citation management and note-taking: reflecting on your own practices of knowledge collection and organization

September 17

  • Jane Eyre, ch 26-end
  • examine some indexes to Victorian novels [HathiTrust collection link here]
  • examine this historical timeline of computable knowledge
  • workshop: plain-text authoring + the separation of form and content, 1850-present
  • workshop: close reading poetry (using the first stanzas of In Memoriam)(handout)
  • short assignment 2: In Memoriam close reading (due September 24)
  • short paper assigned

Indexing In Memoriam A.H.H.

some topics: meter; lyric; elegy; Victorian taxonomies, subject classifications, and other knowledge organization technologies; histories of management and business; finance, credit, and debt; science and medicine

September 24

  • read: Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott” (1832), In Memoriam (1850) (first reading)
  • short selection from Wheatley, What is an Index?
  • short selection from Day, “Indexing It All”
  • examine Lewis Carroll’s index to In Memoriam
  • preview: close reading non-fiction
  • short assignment 3: create your own index to a section of In Memoriam (see handout)

October 1

  • read: In Memoriam (second reading)
  • come ready to present your own index to In Memoriam

Visualizing Variations on The Origin of Species

October 8

Filling in the Blanks: Empty Forms in Lady Audley’s Secret

some topics: railways and other transportation forms; tabular data; clocks, timetables; personal ads; journals; blank books (add link to HathiTrust collection of blank books)

October 15

FALL BREAK (read Lady Audley’s Secret)

October 22

Cataloging “Goblin Market”

October 29

  • Rossetti, “Goblin Market” (1862)
  • Burton, “Archive Stories: Gender in the Making of Imperial and Colonial Histories”
  • brief excerpts from Samuel Butler’s Notebooks
  • examine some 19th c library catalogs: The British Museum and London Library
  • conceptual networks and linked data: take a look at John Ockerbloom’s Online Books Page, the NYPL’s Networked Catalog and projects in OCLC ResearchWorks
  • short assignment 4: conceptual networks of “Goblin Market” (due November 5)

John Stuart Mill’s Topicality

November 5

  • On Liberty (1859), all
  • complete topic modeling stop words exercise using Stanford Topic Modeling Tool and Mill’s complete works (see handout)
  • readings on stop words by Freedgood and Rosenberg
  • short assignment 5: stop words for Aurora Leigh

Searching for Aurora Leigh(1857) (keywords and stop words)

November 19

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, first, second, and fifth books
  • handout based on Hebert Tucker, “Aurora Leigh: Epic Solutions to Novel Ends”
  • Blackwood’s Magazine review of Aurora Leigh
  • Gibbs and Cohen, “A Conversation with Data” (skim)

[Here the syllabus continues moving forward temporally, continuing the survey, but recurs conceptually, taking up the topics discussed earlier in the semester and reframing them inside later-19th c debates about public culture, expertise, educational institutions, etc]

Public Culture, the University, and Information Overload

some topics: public culture; secularization, religion and literature; the history and present of higher education; Orientalism; archeology of Palestine; data and empire; information, knowledge, and totality;

November 12

  • Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” and selections from Culture and Anarchy
  • John Henry Newman, selections from The Idea of the University
  • Said, selections from Orientalism
  • short excerpts from Robinson, “Biblical Researches in Palestine” and Borrow, “The Bible in Spain”
  • H.G. Wells, “The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia” (1937, but tilts earlier)

Code and Code-breaking at the Fin de siècle

November 26

  • Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” or “Study in Scarlet”
  • Sherlock episode
  • optional: Bram Stoker, Dracula in whole or in part
  • Galison and Daston, “The Image of Objectivity” from Objectivity
  • Edith Rickert, brief selections from New Methods for Literary Study
  • short assignment 6: “New Methods for Literary Study” reading

December 3

  • Jules Verne, “The Cryptogram”
  • Henry James, “In the Cage”
  • Victorian personal data: examine Francis Galton’s Life History Album
  • Paul Otlet, “Something about Bibliography” (1892) + something about the Mundanaeum (loop back to Wells, compare)


The main books you will need to buy are:
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre. Penguin.  ISBN 978-0141441146
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Broadview. 1551111993
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species Broadview Press. 1551113376
Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam Broadview Press 978-1554811434
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret. Oxford World’s Classics. 978-0199577033
optional: Bram Stoker, Dracula. Broadview. 978-1551111360

These books are available at the bookstore. You are also welcome to buy the books online or at a different store. Be aware that you need to have your own copy of the specific edition of each of the books listed above. Make sure you have the correct edition by matching the ISBN number you see listed at the end of each title. All other texts will be available. Please print out, read, mark up, and bring to class ALL of the texts assigned for each week unless advised otherwise.

Class format

Though this will vary as needed, in general our first hour will be dedicated to some overview of major questions and issues along with contextualization and background, often partially in the form of lecture but including discussion. During the second hour we will tend towards closer readings of the week’s main literary work, delving into particular passages in more depth as we link back to broader developing interests and themes. The third hour will sometimes be occupied by a related workshop.

Open workshops

Occasionally we will open our class’s third workshop hour to interested outside parties. Feel free to invite friends, family, teammates, lab mates, housecats, that guy who is always hanging out in the periodicals reading room. More on this in class.

Short assignments

Short writing assignments of varying length and specificity are scattered throughout the syllabus and will be assigned individually in class. They require you to respond in clear, organized, edited prose and to think about your audience in determining your guiding tone and feeling.

Instead of posting this work on a single WordPress or Blackboard site, this class will experiment with using dispersed publishing platforms for hosting and sharing your own work and links to other interesting writing and projects, along with tools for collecting, aggregating, and curating the course’s different elements. Use use something familiar (a public Facebook thread? a text message? an illuminated manuscript? a Tweet linking to a Gist?) or try something new. Do it the same way each time, or try some different approaches. Like this course, this exercise asks you to think about communication and information organization across the digital/non-digital opposition; it asks you to think about what reading and writing tools and media are most integrated into your everyday life already – and also to think about whether you like to see your coursework bump up alongside your existing practices, prefer to keep it separate, or something in-between.

However you choose to write and publish, think about audience and access: will your reader need to create a new account or find a new tool to access your work? Will it be easy for you to notify her that your writing has appeared? Will she be able to comment easily? What tools and publishing platforms are appropriate for the kind of reading, writing and collecting you are doing? You might write on paper and Instagram; you might record a voice note and provide a transcript in a program that allows commenting; you might type on your Remington, take a high-quality photo, upload it to your Evernote, share the link, and provide a link to a comment thread. You might make the appropriate number of letterpress copies and slip them under our doors. (Note: some of these ideas are better than others; some of these ideas are more time-consuming than others.)

The other piece of this project will be finding a way to aggregate, organize, and curate your classmates’ writing and comments. Again, a number of lightweight analog and digital tools for this purpose exist; we will discuss at greater length in class.

I hope that this aspect of our short writing assignments will raise a few large questions for us to check in on over the course of the semester:
+ How do we track and organize information across analog and digital media? How do you organize across paper and screen?
+ How do we think about the difference between “pushing” and “pulling” in social media and online writing platforms?
+ What are the assumptions, affordances, limitations built into the various analog and digital tools we use to create, share, and comment on writing in all spheres of our lives?

Short paper

This is a simple, close-reading-based 5-6 page paper, extending work you have done in your more informal writing assignments. It does NOT need to make an argument; it need only offer a series of related close readings. It is due to Dropbox by midnight Friday October 24th. We will discuss specifics further in class.

In Memoriam project

The goal of this project is to think about different ways to reading In Memoriam 1) by examining some existing printed indexes to the poem, 2) tracking one formation – an idea, form, reading – via that index and finally 3) by creating your own new index to the poem along with a short rationale of what your index offers its reader.

Final project or paper

Your final paper or project should take up some problem or question that has come up in the course and consider it in relation to one of our major literary texts, developing an argument and expressing it in an appropriate form. This could be 10-15 page piece of writing, or a project in some other form with a related shorter piece or pieces of writing. The final project/paper plan should include:
+ a workflow
+ a citation management plan
+ a few paragraphs detailing the project’s argument and key readings
The final project/paper is due on December 15.


25% class participation (includes note-taking, quizzes, etc)
15% short assignments
25% percent 5-6 page close reading paper
10% final exam
25% final project/paper


Plagiarism is a very serious offense. It includes both the direct copying of the words of another person without crediting him or her and paraphrasing the ideas of another person without giving credit. If you have any questions about how to properly cite another person’s work, please do not hesitate to ask me.

Your Own Devices Policy

Because our class is intensively collaborative, I will expect that you will be focused on the texts and on your classmates. If it is your experience that having a screen in front of you can distract you from the work of being in class, please take measures to prevent such self-distraction. (I like StayFocused; you may like other programs or strategies.) Also because the intensively collaborative work of this class will sometimes be screen-based work, you should know that you may be requested, at very short notice, to project your device’s screen for the class to view. Please plan accordingly.

Attendance and due dates

Because this is a discussion-oriented class, attendance is essential. Missing more than three class sessions will result in a lowered grade (1/3 of a grade per additional unexcused absence) unless you have a valid excuse confirmed by your advisor or class dean. (Remember to reserve some of your absences for the possibility of missing class due to routine illness like the flu or a bad cold.) Late papers will incur a penalty (1/3 of a grade per class day late) unless you have a similarly valid excuse. So if a paper is due on Friday and you don’t turn it in until Wednesday, that’s 2/3 of a grade late, making an actual B+ paper, for example, into a recorded B-.

Accommodations for disability

I want to work to make sure that everyone in this class has the access to the materials, resources, and support they need in order to learn most effectively. You are always free to talk to me about your own situation. A key Swarthmore resource in this area is the Office of Student Disability Services. Their accommodations policy is here: If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact Leslie Hempling in the Office of Student Disability Services (Parrish 113) or email lhempli1@swarthmore.edu to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, she will issue students with documented disabilities a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact her as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Service Website at http://www.swarthmore.edu/academic-advising-support/welcome-to-student-disability-service. You are also welcome to contact me [the faculty member] privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged through the Office of Student Disability Services.


Here is a partial, in-progress list of writing I drew on to create this syllabus. A stack of info studies syllabi, including Jasmine McNealy’s Information Literacy and Critical Thinking (UKC 101-003, University of Kentucky), Nathan Hensley’s Victorian Literature and Globalization, Georgetown Spring 2013; Brian Croxall’s Intro to DH, (Eng 389, Emory University, Spring 2014); Laura Heffernan’s Victorian Literature and Objectivity (English 4251, University of North Florida, Spring 2012) [in progress – more to be added here]

This syllabus is necessarily an incomplete document; we will revise and save versions of it as the class progresses. The most up-to-date copy will be available on github: https://github.com/rbuurma/vic_info

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

The Novel of Research and the Turn to Reference

hypothetical Honors seminar (in progress)1
Rachel Sagner Buurma

If the twentieth century seemed like a century of representation, it may be that the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries are eras of reference. In this class, we will explore the possibilities for supplementing canonical twentieth-century theories representational theories of novelistic realism, following a recent flourishing in Victorianist criticism on referentiality in order to ask how Victorian novels may be said to refer to the real worlds their authors and readers inhabited. In order to study this theoretical question, we will turn to the set of practices and processes through which Victorian novelists gathered the things of the world into their novels: research. Reading several major and minor Victorian novels, we will trace different forms of evidence of the ways their authors searched sets of documents, took notes, and organized information to perform research of all kinds in the library and on the streets. We will examine the published and unpublished commonplace books, notecards, papers, files, and marginalia of Victorian novelists both canonical and forgotten along with published descriptions of these novelists’ research practices and their representations of research in the novels they wrote. And we will look more briefly at some forms of knowledge production – investigative journalism, ethnographic research, medical research – that shaped and were shaped by the research imaginations of Victorian novelists. In order to work our way towards a definition of what “research” meant to Victorian novels (and perhaps towards what it means to us as literary critics), we will engage with criticism and theory from a number of fields, including book history, theories of materiality, historicisms old and new, theories of narrative and realism, genetic and textual criticisms, bibliometrics, and media history and digital humanities.

This class will help you develop our skills in research in print, digital, and manuscript or typescript sources; how to use and evaluate a range of databases and digital tools; how to think about citation practices as substantive and central to our work as scholars of literature; and how to think about the different kinds of writing we do on the way to a finished essay or published article. It will as you to examine your own implicit and explicit research practices and habits, and (in some cases) to experiment with modifying them or developing new ones.


Week I: Scott’s footnotes, Austen’s details

Read or reread Persuasion and Waverley
Scott, “The Surgeon’s Daughter” from Chronicles of the Canongate
Georg Lukács, from The Historical Novel
Erich Auerbach, from Mimesis
Janine Barchas, from Matters of Fact in Jane Austen
William Galperin, from The Historical Austen

Exercise: set up Zotero & Paper Machines, examine selection of collaborative annotation programs

Week II: the realisms of research

Trollope, Barchester Towers
Realism overview: Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect”; Fredric Jameson, “The Realist
Floor-plan”; George Levine, from “The Realistic Imagination”; Joe Cleary, preface
to MLQ “Peripheral Realisms” special issue
Michel Foucault, from Discipline and Punish (background to Miller)
D.A. Miller, Intro and Barchester Towers chapters from Novel and the Police
reviews of Barchester Towers (E.S. Dallas, etc)

Exercise: explore options (digital and paper) for keeping your public research notebook

Week III: search and research

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret or Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Edward Said, from Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism
Johanna Drucker, “Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory”
Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians” and responses 2007-14 you find
Darnton, “Literary Surveillance in the British Raj” (update with text of 2013 Panizzi

Exercise: finish your first round of populating your Zotero database with the critical literature surrounding your final project

Week IV: taking notes

Charles Reade, Hard Cash
Charles Reade’s notecards
Henry Wheatley, from What is an Index?
Ann Blair, “Note-taking as Information Management” from Too Much to Know
Michel Foucault, “Classifying,” from The Order of Things
Mary Poovey, “Forgotten Writers, Neglected Histories”

Exercise: The Social Life of Academic Publishing (Via Paper Machines, use metadata from
some set of scholarly articles you are working to discover commonalities and connections between scholars and their webs of citations.)

Week V: commonplace (or, representing note-taking)

Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel or The Egoist
Meredith’s notebooks
Pre-printed forms (examples of Lett’s Extract Book, Todd’s Index Rerum, etc)
Essays in “Denotative, Technically, Literally,” ed. Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt
(special issue), Representations 125 (Winter 2014)

Exercise: Explore the Paper Machines set of tools. Then create some visualizations of your project bibliographies and compare them with the entire set of our course bibliography and our merged set of in-progress project bibliographies.

Week VI: genetic criticism, canonical research notes
Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécuchet, The Dictionary of Received Ideas
Explore http://flaubert.univ-rouen.fr/bouvard_et_pecuchet/ and http://gallica.bnf.fr/to
nb: You will find you need surprisingly little (or no) French to learn something about Flaubert’s research practices from his digitized notes and manuscript pages, but give yourself time.
Selections from Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes on Roland Barthes
Selections from Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel

Exercise: draft of final project proposal prior to meetings with me

Week VII: slow research
Margaret Oliphant, Phoebe Junior and excerpts from Annals of a Publishing House
Isabel Hofmeyr, from Gandhi’s Printing Press
Peter Stallybrass, from Printing for Manuscript (manuscript of Rosenbach lectures?)
Exercise: footnote a chapter of Phoebe Junior

Exercise: locate or create digital version of your project’s main text (lab will offer help)

Week VIII: unliterary research
Edwin Chadwick, The Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of
Great Britain in 1842
Henry Mayhew, from London Labour and the London Poor
Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing
Livingstone, 1871 field diary http://livingstone.library.ucla.edu/ (see also http://www.livingstoneonline.ucl.ac.uk/project/about.html)

Exercise: OCR your text, determine cleanup needs, begin cleanup (lab will offer help)

Week IX: social totalities and literary values
Middlemarch or Romola (to be decided collectively)
Quarry for Middlemarch
Amy Levy, “The Recent Telepathic Occurrence at the British Museum” and “Readers
at the British Museum”
Leah Price, Middlemarch chapter of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel
Susan David Bernstein, “Researching Romola” from Roomscapes
David Kurnick, “An Erotics of Detachment: Middlemarch and Novel-Reading as
Critical Practice”

Exercise: install MALLET, chunk your text, run MALLET (lab will offer help); in order to do this, work through the Programming Historian’s “Getting started with topic modeling and MALLET” tutorial

Week X: the research effect?
Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native
Literary notebooks, ‘Facts’ notebooks
Elizabeth Miller, from Slow Print
Simon Reader on Hardy’s notebooks

Exercise: think about interpretations of your MALLET-generated topics; read Miriam Posner’s “Very basic strategies for interpreting results from the topic modeling tool” first.

Week XI: 1890s coda
Bram Stoker, Dracula or Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Ann Stoler on archival form from Along the Archival Grain
“Operation Legacy” work
Readings on New Historicism and contemporary critical debates (to be determined by class)

Week XII: in progress

Week XIII: in progress

Week XIV: final project presentations, seminar dinner

  1. Acknowledgements: This syllabus draws on syllabi including Sharon Marcus and Heather Love’s 2013 Reading Methods in Literary Study; Ann Stoler’s classes on theories of the archive; Laura Heffernan’s Contemporary Novel; and the 2013 Victorian Novel Research Seminar at Swarthmore, among others.