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Assignments for English 236,
"Digital Humanities: Introduction to the Field"

(Winter 2017)

The assignments in this course have four interwoven goals:

  1. Expose students at a beginner's level to digital-humanities methods, practices, and technologies [Practicum Assignments];
  2. Introduce students to the research community and public discourse of the digital humanities [Follow DH Community on Twitter Assignment];
  3. Ask students to initiate an online professional presence in their field as related to the digital humanities [Blog Posts Assignment];
  4. Ask students, as individuals or teams, to develop a detailed prospectus for a project that involves using at least one important digital-humanities method or tool (and that demonstrates familiarity with that method/tool through trial exercises).  Due to the time constraints of our quarter system, students are not required to execute the project, though they may well wish to do so in the future as part of their research or dissertation project [Mock Project Prospectus Assignment].


A. Practicums


Course "practicums" are hands-on, small-scale exercises that ask students to experiment at a beginner's level with the tools of the digital humanities. The goal is not technical mastery but learning enough about the technologies to think about, and through, their concepts and also to discover which tools might be used in a student's future research.  In many cases, experience gained in the practicums will feed directly into discussion of conceptual issues in class.


Class 2 Practicum Assignment - Getting Started in DH 

Go to Class 2 on Schedule


Class 3 Practicum Assignment - Encoding

Go to Class 3 on Schedule

The purpose of this encoding exercise is to engage in just enough elementary encoding of text in HTML (with some CSS, or "cascading style sheets" for more control of formatting) to allow all students to engage in discussion during Class 3 about the underlying premises, concepts, and structure of text encoding.  In addition, students are asked to examine the file architecture of modern "content management systems" such as WordPress, which dynamically assemble and format Web pages based on material stored in a database. (Our class will include some discussion, but no hands-on exercise, in the principles of relational databases.)


(i.) Setting Up for the Encoding Exercise

To set up for this practicum, create up an test page for yourself on the Student Work site for this course and put it in the folder for this exercise.  (If you have your own web site, you can perform the exercise there if you wish, but link it from the folder for this exercise.)  Instructions:


  1. Go to the Student Work site and login to access the PBWorks editing functions.  Create a new page using the editing menu bar: "Pages & Files" > "New" > "Create a Page":
    Create a Page

  2.  Name the page "Your Name - Encoding Exercise", and place it in the "Practicum for Class 3 - Text Encoding Exercises" folder (so that we can easily find all the test pages together).
    Name Your Page

  3. When your new page is open, select the "Edit" tab in the top menu.  Then click the "Source" button in the editing interface menu to toggle from the GUI (graphical user interface) editing view to the source-code view that allows you to do plain-text encoding. (You can always toggle back to the GUI view for a quick check on your work or as a cheat-sheet for basic encoding of HTML features.) Be sure to "save" your work as you go.

    Edit in Source Code View


(ii.) Perform the Following Specific Encoding Exercises:

Note: For tutorials and beginner guides to HTML and CSS, go to our DH Toychest> Tutorials > HTML & CSSImportant: students who are beginners should not be intimidated by this assignment. Use the tutorials to learn the most basic concepts and try the most elementary encoding.  Your experiment doesn't even have to work; it can "fail" in instructive or interesting ways.


Encoding Exercise A: HTML

  1. Using the source-code view as much as possible, create a simple web page with any content, images, and links you wish (subject, of course, to good taste and copyright laws).  The page should include at least the following features:
    1. Text formatted in basic ways (as headers, bold, italics, etc.)
    2. Text in paragraph structures
    3. Text in lists
    4. Links
    5. A table
    6. An image


Encoding Exercise B: CSS

  1. Experiment with simple CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to adjust the format/style of various elements on your test page. (Due to the way this PBWorks web site for Student Work is established for our course, you cannot create a separate css stylesheet file or adjust the one that controls the overall site.  But you can use "inline" CSS--i.e., CSS contained in tags on your page itself--for simple experiments. For example:
    1. Adjust the alignment, size, location, color, or background-color, etc. of a paragraph by putting CSS in a paragraph tag.
    2. Create a box around a paragraph using the border attribute. Example:

      <p style="margin-left: 3em; padding: 1em; font-size: 115%; background-color: #cccccc; border: 1px solid #eb5500;">[your content]</p>

    3. Use a <span> tag around individual words or phrases to change their color, size, etc.


Encoding Exercise C [optional]: TEI (Text-Encoding Initiative encoding)

(See also additional learning resources on TEI)

  1. While we will not have time in this course to do hands-on exercises with TEI, students should take a quick look at the introductory material and examples in TEI by Example.  You can try your hand at TEI for a simple, short work of literature or other material if you wish.


Encoding Exercise D (in-class exercise with instructor): Examining the structure of "content management system" (CMS) sites
(See also additional learning resources on Content Management Systems).

  1. If you keep a content-management-system or dynamic database-to-Web site (like a blog on WordPress) in a form or at a paid level that allows you to view/edit its "theme" PHP files, take a look at the component PHP or other files that are assembled by the CMS to create your web pages (in Wordpress, for instance, the index, header, sidebar, archive, footer, and other php files).  See if you can figure out the basic logic of a document in a CMS.
  2. The instructor will lead a look-and-see session in class 3 to show students the above.


Learning Resources for This Encoding Excercise

  1. For tutorials and beginner guides to learning HTML and CSS, go to our DH Toychest> Tutorials > HTML & CSS. (See also additional learning resources on TEI and Content Management Systems).


Class 4 Practicum Assignment - Trying Some Text Analysis Tools

Go to Class 4 on Schedule

  1. Play with two or more of the tools listed in the course DH Toychest > Tools section > Text Analysis section.  Especially recommended tools for this assignment: AntConc, Voyant Tools, Lexos, Overview, WordHoard.  (A few of these like Overview require you to set up a free account before they can be used.) You might also see what you can do with Google Ngram Viewer that goes beyond elementary searches (by using the advanced operators on the "About Ngram Viewer" page). 
  2. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Text Analysis Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum for Class 4 - Text Analysis Exercises").  The souvenir can be as simple as a link, screenshot, or image of your results.  Try to leave an interesting souvenir.


Class 5 Practicum Assignment - Trying Topic Modeling

 Go to Class 5 on Schedule

  1. Read through (and, if you wish, try) the lesson plan in Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart, "Topic Modeling By Hand" (from The Historian's Macroscope).
  2. Experiment with David Mimno's online In-Browser Topic Modeling and/or the downloadable Topic Modeling Tool (instructions for latter from The Historian's Macroscope). (Both of these tools are GUI front-ends for the underlying MALLET topic modeling tool).
  3. More ambitious: download, install, and experiment with the actual MALLET topic-modeling tool, which runs from the command line. (See The Programming Historian Tutorial "Getting Started with Topic Modeling and MALLET" for instructions on installing and running MALLET).  Copies of MALLET are also installed on most of the workstations in South Hall 2509 (see software inventory for machines in SH 2509).  An ideal experiment is to topic model a small collection of multiple texts (e.g., several articles that you have extracted as plain text and put in a folder) or a "chunked" plain-text version of a long text (e.g., a novel with separate files for each chapter).  If you wish, you can use any of the ready-to-go text collections in the "Demo Corpora" section of the course's DH Toychest.
  4. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Topic Modeling Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Topic Modeling Exercises").


Class 6 Practicum Assignment - Trying Social Network Analysis

Go to Class 6 on Schedule

  1. Choose one of the following options: 
    1. Google Fusion Tables
      1. Create a Google Fusion Table from a spreadsheet or csv file holding social network data, and select a chart type to visualize it as a network graph: instructions.
      2. Tutorials: Timothy A. Lepczyk, "How to Create Network Graphs with Google Fusion Tables"; Iman Salehian (UCLA) & David Kim (UCLA), "Tutorial for Google Fusion Tables Network Graph" [PDF]
    2. Gephi (install on your own machine or use workstations in SH 2509)
      1. Tutorial: Adapted version of Par Martin Grandjean's Gephi Tutorial of 2013 (adapted by A. Liu for Gephi 0.9.1).
      2. Cheatsheets & other tutorials for Gephi:
        1. Gephi Cheatsheet [PDF] (by Clement Levallois)
        2. Gephi Basics [PDF]
        3. Other Gephi tutorials (see in DH Toychest)
          1. (You may also be interested in an article explaining the frequently used "ForceAtlas2" layout option for Gephi visualizations.  The article is technical, but gives a sense of what would be involved in unlocking the "black box" of concepts behind such algorithms: Mathieu Jacomy, et al. , "ForceAtlas2, a Continuous Graph Layout Algorithm for Handy Network Visualization Designed for the Gephi Software" [2014])
          2. Try to understand the logic/format of the two .csv files used in Grandjean's Gephi tutorial (one that identifies the "nodes" and the other the "edges," or relations between nodes).  Then choose a very limited work or works that would be of interest to humanities scholars (e.g., a chapter in a novel, a scene in a play or film, an hour of a Twitter timeline from a conference) and create your own nodes and edges .csv files (which can be created in a plain-text editor or exported from a spreadsheet or even work processor).  Use your.csv files in Gephi to create a visualization.  (If you wish, you can create just a hypothetical set of nodes and edges "as if" you were analyzing something even though you don't have time to do that for real at present.)
          3. You may also be interested in downloading, unzipping, and opening or importing in Gephi some of the other Gephi datasets available from Wiki.Gephi.org in a variety of formats (.gexf and .gml)
  2. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course  Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Social Network Analysis Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Social Network Analysis Exercises"). 



Class 7 Practicum Assignment - Mapping

Go to Class 7 on Schedule

  1. Choose one of the following options:
    1. Using the StoryMap JS online tool from the Northwestern U. Knight Lab, show how you could tell a good story (or argument) based on a life, literary work, historical event, contemporary event, social phenomenon, or abstract/theoretical concept. StoryMap creates flow maps (interactive maps that zoom from location to location with associated images/text called up at with each point: example).  (When asked by StoryMap "What type of story do you want to create?", choose the "map" option, which allows you to use a ready-made zoomable map of the world.)  Your goal is to demonstrate how mapping can add value or a different perspective to textual narrative/argument.  Your map-story need only contain a few points with associated images and text--enough to mock up what you would do with more time.  Try to do something interesting that allows us to think about how mapping interacts with or differs from textual narrative, what it adds and what it takes away, etc. (Note: the StoryMap JS tool is free, but it requires that you have a Google account because it uses Google Drive.)
      1. Variant task: Using StoryMap JS, upload your own map, image, or photo to use as an interactive, zoomable visualization on which to tell a story or argument.  (When asked by StoryMap "What type of story do you want to create?", choose the "Gigapixel" option."  This is an option that requires a few more technical steps; but it opens up many more imaginative possibilities--e.g., the ability to tell a story/argument by moving around a fictional map, a historical map, a photograph of a landscape, a group portrait, a painting, etc.: example).
        1. First, you need a map or image.  See the DH Toychest  > Data Collections and Datasets for sources of permission-free maps and images that you can use.  For example, you can get many thousands of resources from the David Rumsey Map Collection (historical maps) or the Folger Library Digital Image Collection (both use a platform called the Lava browser that has an "export" function producing a downloadable zip file of each image).
        2. Then you need to process the map or image into a "tiled" form by using Zoomify through Photoshop (how-to), the Zoomify program, or another means (instructions).  (See also a video tutorial.)  If you do not have access to Zoomify (the standalone program costs a small amount of money), then you can ask the instructor to Zoomify your map or image for you.  The Zoomify process creates a folder (with subfolders) of tiled or sectioned parts of your image.
        3. Then you need to move the folder containing the Zoomified, tiled version of your image to your Google Drive, share the folder publicly, and note the "hosting" base URL by which Google Drive can serve up the folder on the Web (instructions).
        4. Finally, in StoryMap create a new storymap by choosing the "Gigapixel" option and inputting the hosting base URL and also the size in pixels of your original image. (See video tutorial.)
        5. Once the storymap is created, you can add locations with images/text on a slide-by-slide basis.
    2. Google Fusion Tables: create a fusion table and use the map chart type to map data with geographical information: instructions.

    3. Make a map with WorldMap on which you add data layers (e.g., from the provided datasets).

  2. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Mapping Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Visualizing and Mapping Exercises").



Class 8 Practicum Assignment - Temporality

Go to Class 8 on Schedule

  1. Victorian portrait collageChoose one of the following options:
    1. Here is a media-archaeological image (more precisely, four images) that exposes to view the way that human time and machine time uncannily converge yet also diverge in a media form (click on image at right for full size photo). It might be hypothesized that such convergence/divergence in temporal logic is constitutive of the ability of media technologies to evoke a sense of "the past" or of "the new."  (Source of photo: @HistoryInPix).  For this practicum, use any media form or technology to represent a historical or contemporary phenomenon (artifact, event, work of literature or art, etc.) in a way that exploits that media form/technology to show a defamiliarized view of the temporality of that phenomenon.  Or, do the same in the opposite conceptual direction: use a media form/technology in a way that brings to view the difference of the temporality embedded in it (e.g., the difference that a Tweet or Facebook post makes in our experience of time).  Add a brief textual explanation of what you are trying to show.

    2. Using the Knight Lab's Timeline JS tool, create a timeline for some partial set of chronological information related to your research interests. (Timeline JS pulls its information from a Google spreadsheet in a particular format. You populate the spreadsheet with your data, and editing/revision is done by changing the data in the spreadsheet.)

  2. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Temporality Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Temporality Exercises"). 


Class 9 Practicum Assignment - Critical Infrastructure

Go to Class 9 on Schedule

  1. Choose a very small sample of humanistic material (part of a text, an artwork, a film, etc.).
  2. Using any of the methods and tools you have encountered in the course, mock up a "sketch" (conceptual, visual, digital, or otherwise) representing--at least in part--how it can be "deformed" or "transformed" in a way that has value.
    1. For deformance or glitch, you may be interested in the Deformance tools collected in the instructor's DH Toychest, but many other tools can be used in a "deformative" way.
  3. Leave at least one souvenir of your experimentation on the course Student Work site (create a page called "Your Name - Make It Different Exercise" and put it in the folder "Practicum - Make It Different Exercises"). 


B. Follow DH Community on Twitter


One of the distinctive features of the digital humanities field is that its members--graduate students, postdocs, "alt-ac" (alternative-academic career researchers and staff), library researchers, members of cultural or heritage institutions, grant agency officers, and faculty (especially early to mid-career faculty)--tend to be highly active on Twitter.  They use Twitter to share news of projects, publications, etc. (mixed with comments on general society or their lives in the usual way of Twitter); and they also "live tweet" talks and conferences.


Assignment: Students are asked to start a Twitter account (alternatively, if you already have an account: use your existing account, set up a separate Twitter "list," or create a separate account) to follow the digital humanities community during the course.  Please email your Twitter name (e.g., @alanyliu) to the instructor.  We will use the hashtag #ucsb238dh in tweets intended for or about our class. (Note: Students are not required to post actively on Twitter unless they wish.  Students who for any reason object to being on Twitter can speak to the instructor to work out an alternative.)
If you are new to Twitter, here are some beginner intros for academics:


To begin following the digital humanities community, you can start by "following" any member of the DH field who is active on Twitter or the #hashtag of any DH event or topic and then branch out by adding mentioned people and hashtags. For a starter set of digital humanities scholars active on Twitter, go to the instructor's Twitter list called "Seed List of DH Scholars" (a partial list in no particular order). (For a fuller sample, see the list maintained by Dan Cohen.)  The instructor's own Twitter name is @alanyliu.  Just choose a few DH scholars to follow and start from there.  (Alternatively, you can "subscribe" to a list by clicking on "Lists" when looking at a Twitter member's profile and subscribing to a list she or he has created; see Using Twitter Lists.)


In addition, you may want to follow a few organizations/projects and hashtags (more to be added):

  •  Organizations, programs, projects:
  • @DefiningDH
  • @dhnow
  • @scholarslab


  • Hashtags:
  • #ucsb238dh [this is the hastag for our course]
  • #dh
  • #digitalhumanities
  • #dhpoco
  • #transformDH
  • [Watch this space for hashtags of upcoming conferences and other events during the course]


C. Blog Posts on Your Field in its Relation to Digital Humanities


Digital humanities scholars often augment established modes and formats of publication by writing blogs, posting in-progress works, and contributing to open access publications, collaborative projects or writings, "multigraph" books, mutable or evolving anthologies ("disanthologies"), white papers and reports, web resources, and other alternative research products.  The general effect is both to expand the ecosystem of research dissemination and also to make visible the full curve of normal research activity (not just a "final" print article, for example, but the online blog posts, conversations, projects, talks, etc. that incubate an article).  This expanded ecosystem of research dissemination offers opportunities for graduate students and other early-career scholars that did not exist in a prior age of scholarship.  For example, some graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty in the digital humanities field have created online sites or published blog posts that make them highly visible in their field.  (Indeed, it may be argued that an appropriate, effective research product for humanities graduate students taking courses is only sometimes the standard research paper or critical essay; the output of some of their courses could instead be professional blog posts that contribute immediately and visibly to their field.)


Assignment: This course does not require a standard humanities research paper or critical/interpretive essay.  Instead, students are required by the end of the quarter to post online the equivalent of such thoughtful research in a set of blog posts (at least three blog posts of moderate, 1,000-word length; or two longer blog posts of at least 1,500 words each). The focus of the blog posts should be on the student's specific professional field in its relation to the digital humanities--i.e., posts that (varying by field) address the kind of question asked in the panel at the American Studies Association convention in 2012 titled "What Can Digital Humanities Bring to American Studies? And Vice Versa?" (see transcript notes). For example, if a student works on the Early Modern period, then the blog posts can be about such topics as (just for instance) "how DH has made a difference in Early Modern studies?" "lessons from Early Modern studies that could change how we understand contemporary media," "major DH projects in Early Modern studies and their critical reception," "social network analyses of Shakespeare's plays: what do we learn?" "how Milton visualized," etc.  (The blog posts can also be directly about the digital humanities field if that is the student's intended professional field.)


Students who already keep a blog can, if appropriate, publish the required blog posts on their blog or create a subcategory on their blog titled something like "[Name of My Field] and Digital Humanities." Students who are new to blogging will need to start a blog. A recommended widely-used and free blogging platform (which can also be used as full-fledged "content management system" to build other kinds of sites) is Wordpress.com.


Advice: Good academic research blog posts commonly present or report on research (or instruction) in the field; discuss the context, method, implications, and problems of that research (or instruction); relate the issues to other academic or world issues (where relevant and useful); and include some links or references (plus, as appropriate, images). By contrast with publications in journals and other venues of final record, they are more free to present partial or in-progress reports, to use personal voice, to supply only the necessary links without a complete bibliography, and at times to be avowedly exploratory, speculative, or controversial. For posts, advice, and resources on academic blogging, see for example: Tim Hitchcock, "Doing It In Public: Impact, Blogging, Social Media and the Academy" (2014); Rohan Maitzen, "Blogging: Accept No Substitutes!" (2013).  See also Jenny Davis on citing blogs in academic research (2013).
Below are a few good models of influential academic blogs in the digital humanities field (in-progress list):


Blog Post Timeline: While there is no fixed timeline for the blog posts, students must by class 4 produce (and turn in to the instructor) a set of "possible topics for blog posts."  This set of possibilities does not commit the student; but it ensures that some planning for the posts has occurred and provides the instructor with the opportunity, if needed, to provide guidance.


Student blog posts will be linked from the Student Work site for this course here (list of student blogs).


D. Mock Project Prospectus


Ideally, a course in the digital humanities would ask students to build a digital project.  But due to the time constraints of a ten-week course in a quarter system, it is impractical for students both to accomplish the readings and ongoing assignments for this course and also to execute a full-scale digital humanities project (of the sort that another of the instructor's courses,  "Literature+", incubates by providing less coverage of the digital humanities field and emphasizing project-building).


The culminating assignment for this course, therefore, is not a completed digital project but the next best thing. Students are required by the end of the quarter to create the detailed prospectus for a digital-humanities project that they will hypothetically implement in future (and may well implement as part of their dissertation research or later work). Class 10 (the final class) of the course will be devoted to presentations of these prospectuses, which students may also wish to present at the UCSB English Department's annual end-of-year "SyncDH" research showcase.  The idea is for graduate students to incubate projects that, if implemented, could position them as innovators in their field who use the digital humanities or as contributors to the digital humanities field itself (with its near relations in new media studies, media archaeology, etc.)


Mock Project Prospectus Requirements:


  1. The format of the project prospectus is a "grant proposal" containing an abstract, narrative, "environmental scan" [discussion of related work], detailed work plan (including technologies, required personnel, and budget), and method of project evaluation.  An example of such a grant proposal--one close to home at UCSB--is the successful UCSB proposal for the RoSE Project for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) "Digital Humanities Start-up Grant."  (Also see the sample grant narratives in the sidebar of the NEH site.  To browse the completed white-paper final reports of the DH Start-up grant projects, go to 1.usa.gov/11dRNXx and fill in only "Digital Humanities" in the "Division" field of the search form.) The abstract and link to the full proposal should be posted on the Student Work site for this course under the title "Your Name - Project Title" in the folder Project Prospectuses.
    1. You can assume that your audience will be humanities scholars who also have familiarity with the digital humanities (or who are digital humanists).  You'll want to be persuasive about the broader humanistic research significance of the project, that is, but you can assume that your audience already understands that DH methods might be useful (and don't need to be sold on that).
    2. Example of a project budget (from the RoSE project)
  2. The work plan included in the proposal should include the in-depth use of at least one important, robust tool for the digital humanities of the sort identified by check marks (checkmark redor  checkmark blue) on the DH Toychest page for this course. (Or propose an alternate tool or tools.)  Students must self-train in the above tool to a level that is beyond beginner level. They must include as part of their "grant proposal" some evidence of such exploration (e.g., a link to a trial run, screenshots, preparatory material, etc.).
  3. Students can work individually or in teams. (A team-authored prospectus will be expected to be fuller--e.g., with more demonstration examples or supporting materials--than a solo prospectus. Teams need to accompany their prospectus with a summary of individual team-member contributions.)


Mock Project Prospectus Timeline

Periodically during the course, the instructor will check in with students in class about their progress on thinking about possible projects (and, by class 5, possible team mates). By class 6, students must identify a possible project (or set of possible projects) and sketch the gist of their idea in a paragraph submitted to the instructor.  This informal, brief sketch does not commit the student.


Advice and Resources for Digital Humanities Project Design





































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