Clifford Anderson is Director for Scholarly Communications in the Vanderbilt University Library. He holds a M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Th.M. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the project director of the NEH funded XQuery Summer Institute.
David Michelson is Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and an affiliate Assistant Professor of Classics. He holds a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University and is currently the director of an NEH funded digital humanities project for the study of Syriac: www.syriaca.org.
Time & Location
The course provides an introduction to the theory and methods of the digital humanities with particular attention to the disciplinary perspectives of history and religious studies. This course is designed for graduate students of history, religion, literature, historical theology or classics who would like to acquire research skills in the techniques of digital text editing and analysis. Students will learn the fundamentals of digital text editing and the computational analysis of digital corpora. Students will engage with theoretical questions concerning the nature of texts and the challenges of representing the past through new media. By the conclusion of the course, students will have crafted a future research plan specific to their for digital editing and/or analysis needs.
The application of new media and information technology to interpretive questions in the humanities holds significant promise for future research in the historical study of religion. Although the field of “digital humanities” is perhaps not well known within the discipline of religious studies, historians of religion can boast of a prominent role in its development. For example, Fr. Roberto Busa (1913-2011) is widely considered to be a founder of “humanities computing” in the United States through his pioneering work to encode the Index Thomisticus using IBM punch cards over a period of two decades (from the 1940-60s). Since Busa’s time, a large variety of digital corpora have been created which are of interest for the historical study of religion. These collections range from vast electronic corpus of ancient literature and comparative editions of medieval and early modern manuscripts to the collected works of twentieth-century authors.
The creation of these digital collections of texts bring with them a variety of accompanying questions worthy of scholarly reflection. How does access to such digital corpora alter existing patterns of scholarly research? What impact will “distant reading” (Franco Moretti) of electronic corpora have on the study of history and religion? What assumptions are implicit in the encoding of texts? How can scholars effectively pursue lines of interest computationally across hundred, thousands or potentially millions of documents?
This course offers students an opportunity to directly reflect on these questions as they explore potential applications of digital technology to their research in history, religion, theology or classics. Specifically, this course will cover three broad themes. First, we will seek to introduce “digital humanities” and investigate the theoretical and methodological issues in applying technology to humanistic research, including identifying the limits and epistemological constraints of technology. Second, we will survey current digital humanities research with an aim to identifying emerging trends, successful models, design values, and potential pitfalls. Lastly, over the course, students will develop a specific plan for implementing a digital element into their own research. In preparation, students will have the opportunity to learn new technical skills and tools.
The above Student Learning Outcomes are in support of one or more of the following program goals relevant to multiple degrees at Vanderbilt University:
No previous technical literacy is required; this course is open to all PhD students and to other advanced graduate students by permission of the instructors.
Students are required to bring a copy (digital or otherwise) of the readings listed in the "Readings" section of the relevant class sessions.
If they are able, students are encouraged to purchase individual copies of the following core texts:
Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2013
Franco Moretti, Distant Reading. London: Verso, 2013.
Priscilla Walmsely, XQuery. Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly, 2007.
All students will be also be required to have access to oXygen XML Editor, cross-platform software which can be purchased with an academic license. Students should NOT purchase this software until after a consultation with the instructors.
Students will be assisted in assessing their learning through completion of the following assignments:
Technical Exercises (ungraded, optional, due date varies)
Students will have the opportunity to periodically complete coding exercises and tutorials to practice the techniques discussed in class.
Response Papers (each 10% of final grade, due date varies)
Students will be asked to write five response papers (or approximately 750-1000 words each) over the course of the semester on topics of their choosing. These papers may take a variety of formats (with instructors' approval) including reviews of digital humanities projects, reviews of relevant literature, and methodological responses to topics of interest.
At the end of the semester, each student will compose a 1500-word statement detailing how they will integrate what they have learned in this course into their future academic or vocational development. This implementation plan should include a discussion of both short term steps and longer-term goals. It may take the form of an evaluative reflection on the student's final project (see below).
Final Project (30% of final grade, due 4/21)
Each student will create a final project of their own design with supervision from the instructors. This final project should be relevant to the student's future academic or vocational plans. It may take the form of a computational analysis of existing datasets, the encoding of data (or composition of guidelines for authoring data), a critical essay reflecting on the digital humanities, or an other format approved by the instructors. In all cases, the final project must be accompanied by an interpretive write-up of approximately 4,000-8,000 words.
Public Presentation and Participation (10% of final grade, due 4/21)
Each student will give a short public presentation at the end of the semester on their final project. (These will be held on April 21st during our regular meeting time.) This presentation will be assessed by the instructors together with the student's seminar participation from across the semester. Students who have made a discernible contribution to fostering intellectual community and dialogue will receive full credit for participation.
The Vanderbilt Honor Code applies to all work in this course.
Final grades will be calculated along the following percentage scale:
Assignments will be graded using letter designations (described below) and then converted to the top range of the scale above (A=100 B+=89, etc.).
For the evaluation of your work, we will use our own remix of standards originally formulated by Princeton University:
"A"-level writing or research is good enough to be read aloud or presented in a seminar. It is clearly written or presented and well-organized. It demonstrates that the student has acquired the intellectual skills taught in the course, conducted a close and critical reading of texts, grappled with the issues raised in the course, synthesized the readings, discussions, and lectures, and/or formulated a perceptive, compelling, independent argument. The assignment shows intellectual originality and creativity, is sensitive to historical context, and, in the case of a research paper, is built on a critical reading of primary material.
"B or B+"-level writing or research demonstrates many aspects of A-level work but falls short of it in either the organization and clarity, the formulation and presentation of its argument, or the quality of research. Some papers or projects in this category are solid works containing flashes of insight into many of the issues raised in the course. Others give evidence of independent thought, but they are not presented clearly or convincingly.
"C"-level writing or research offers little more than an inadequate reiteration of ideas and information covered in the course, is insensitive to historical context, does not respond to the assignment adequately, suffers from frequent factual errors, unclear writing, poor organization, or inadequate primary research, or presents some combination of these problems.
"D"-level writing or research demonstrates serious deficiencies or severe flaws in the student's command of course or research material.
"F"-level writing or research demonstrates no competence in the course or research materials. It indicates a student's neglect or lack of effort in the course.
Attendance and active participation are essential parts of the course. Students who miss more than 4 class sessions without the instructors' permission will automatically fail the course.
All students are encouraged to meet with the instructors to discuss any needs related to the course! Students needing accommodation through the Disability Services Program (DSP) are encouraged to register with the EAD office (615-322-4705) first and then meet with the professors to arrange for accommodations.
We hope that you will join us in finding one of the joys of this course to be the fact that we will consider a diverse array of approaches to understanding human culture. Both students and instructors will be encouraged to adopt a stance of intellectual humility and mutual respect as we engage with each other and the voices of those we study.