Fall Teaching: "Decolonizing (Digital) Humanities"

I'm teaching a grad seminar on Digital Humanities this fall. It's the first time I've taught this material formally since Fall 2015, when I co-taught an Intro to DH class with my colleague Ed Whitley. It's a whole new group of students, of course, but also almost an entire turnover in terms of scholarship. 

I'm structuring most of the hands-on work around two Text Corpora I've been developing, one on African American Literature, and the other on Colonial South Asian Literature

If the Canon has been the defining structure of traditional literary studies, in the DH framework the starting point is the Corpus. You can do a lot with a group of texts structured this way -- from Text Analysis, to Natural Language Processing, to thinking about Archives and Editions. As with the Canon, the questions you can ask and the knowledge you can produce are strongly determined by what's included or excluded from the Corpus. 

Course Description: 

This course introduces students to the emerging field of digital humanities scholarship with an emphasis on social justice-oriented projects and practices. The course will begin with a pair of foundational units that aim to define digital humanities as a field, and also to frame what’s at stake. What are the Humanities and why do they matter in the 21st century? How might the advent of digital humanities methods impact how we read and interpret literary texts? Some topics we’ll consider include: Quantifying the Canon, Race, Empire & Gender in Digital Archives, and an introduction to Corpus Text Analysis. Along the way, we’ll explore specific Digital Humanities projects that exemplify those areas, and play and learn with digital tools and do some basic coding. The final weeks of the course will be devoted to collaborative, student-driven projects. No programming or web development experience is necessary, but a willingness to experiment and ‘break things’ is essential to the learning process envisioned in this course.

More after the break...


August 25

Intro.: Discuss in person/Zoom

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”

Roopika Risam, “Introduction: the Postcolonial Digital Record” (from New Digital Worlds)

Keywords: Digital Humanities, Postcolonial Studies, Postcolonial Digital Humanities (Risam), “Digital Canonical Humanities” (Risam)

Example in class (in support of Risam’s point about Digital Canonical Humanities). Compare the Charles Chesnutt Archive (http://chesnuttarchive.org) with the Walt Whitman Archive (http://whitmanarchive.org).

Getting our feet wet at home (20-30 minutes): Google Ngram viewer. Set for “English Fiction.” Recommend “Smoothing” set to 0.


August 27


Risam, “Chapter One: The Stakes of Postcolonial Digital Humanities”

Ted Underwood, “Preface: the Curve of the Literary Horizon” from Distant Horizons

Keywords: Quantitative vs. Digital; Distant Reading vs. Close Reading; “Slaughterhouse of Literature”/”Great Unread” 

Getting our feet wet with a Corpus of African American literature:


September 1

Politics & Terminology in Literary Studies 

M.H. Abrams, “Canon of Literature” from A Glossary of Literary Terms 

Other Keywords Entries (read a selection according to interest): “Black Arts Movement,” “Feminist Criticism,” “Harlem Renaissance,” “New Criticism,” “New Historicism,” “Periods of American Lierature,” “Periods of English Literature,” “Postcolonial Studies,” “Queer Theory” 


September 3

Digital Humanities and Literary History

Underwood, Chapter 1, “Do We Understand the Outlines of Literary History?” (From Distant Horizons)

 Franco Moretti, “Graphs,” from Graphs, Maps, Trees (2007. On CourseSite)

Homework: Play with Voyant-Tools. For this exercise, let’s look at a second Text Corpus: Colonial South Asian Literature. 

September 8

Digital Humanities--Canonicity

Amy Earhart, “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon”


Stephanie P. Browner, “Digital Humanities and the Study of Race and Ethnicity”


Underwood, Chapter 2 “The Life Spans of Genres” (from Distant Horizons)

On your own: New tool to explore: AntConc (downloadable software)


September 10

Quantifying the Expanding Canon

Studying Anthologies: Lehigh grad student Adam Heidebrink-Bruno’s work on American modernism. Zoom visit from Adam himself.

Open Syllabus Project: Who is being taught?

Homework: Do test queries on http://opensyllabus.org

African-American authors? Latinx authors? LGBTQ+ authors? Postcolonial authors? How would we quantify the results? How might we visualize them?

September 15

Hands-on project workshop: Playing with data -- either from the Corpora I posted on CourseSite or from other corpora you can find online. 

(If there’s a particular topical corpus -- say, Detective Fiction or Science Fiction -- you’re looking for, you could start by Googling it. But also feel free to ask me.)

I also recommend you read this primer for working with plain text files & getting started with processing those texts to make them useful:


September 17

Workshop continued.

Short analysis with data due: September 20 

September 22

Race and the Digital Humanities 1

Kim Gallon, “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities” (2016)

Safiya Umoja Noble, “Towards a Critical Black Digital Humanities” (2019)


September 24

Race and the Digital Humanities 2: Algorithms of Oppression

Noble, Safiya Umoja. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press, 2018, doi: 10.2307/j.ctt1pwt9w5.

Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: Introduction
Noble, Algorithms of Oppression Chapter 1 

Risam, “What Passes for Human?” (2019) (Bringing the kinds of questions Noble asks to AI, Facial recognition, robotics)



September 29

Slavery and the Archive 1

Jessica Marie Johnson, “Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads” (2017) (CourseSite)

Gabrielle Foreman, “Writing About ‘Slavery’? This Might Help” (brief document with tips and dos & don’ts)


Colored Conventions Project


Hands-on work on creating custom maps: Possibly: using Named Entity Recognition to get Names and Maps from our African American Literature Corpus. 

October 1

Slavery and the Archive 2: Jamaica

Vincent Brown, “A Slave Revolt in Jamaica”


Readings from Vincent Brown, Tacky’s Revolt (2020): “Prologue,” “Chapter 2: The Jamaica Garrison,” “Chapter 4: Tacky’s Revolt” 

October 6

Slavery and the Archive 3:

Getting our feet with a newspaper archive. African American Newspapers Series 1: 1827-1998. Need to log in through Lehigh’s library website using your Lehigh account credentials.



Try some sample queries, perhaps related to abolition, emancipation, reconstruction. 

Could also return to the African American authors from our African American Text Corpus. Passing? Liberia? Lynching? Interracial romance/mixed-race experiences? African American genre fiction (i.e., detective fiction, science fiction, Gothic, etc.)? Other topics of interest?

October 8

Digital Archives, Editions, Collections

Earhart, “The Era of the Archive” (Traces of the Old, Uses of the New, Chapter 2). Keywords: New Historicism; Digital Archive vs. Digital Edition

Kenneth M. Price, “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What's in a Name?”

Risam, Chapter 2 of New Digital Worlds. “Colonial Violence and the Postcolonial Digital Archive” 


October 13

Analog Archives: What Are Archives For?

Terry Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms” (2013) 

Kate Thiemer, “Archives in Context and As Context” (2013)


(An analog archivist questions the way Digital Humanities scholars use the word “archive”; she posits “collection” might be more appropriate)


October 15

Digital Editions: Hands-on/Collaborative/Student-driven

Workshop for Second Project: Constructing a Basic Digital Edition in Scalar. Hands-on Introduction to the Scalar platform & Lehigh's Instance of Scalar.


Possible sources for producing Digital Editions/Collections in Scalar: African American Text Corpus, Colonial South Asian Literature

October 20

Students work collaboratively on building a Digital Edition of a text in Scalar, with introductory essay, notes, other relevant materials. More info. TBA.

Project Due Sunday October 25.

October 22

Digital Media Studies 1: Twitter -- Hashtag Activism

Jackson, Sarah J, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles. #Hashtag Activism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice, 2020. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/hashtagactivism.

#Hashtag Activism, Introduction, “Making Race and Gender Politics on Twitter”

#Hashtag Activism, Chapter 5: “From Ferguson to #FalconHeights: The Networked Case for Black Lives”

October 27

Digital Media Studies 2: Twitter; Scraping

Marcia Chatelain, “Is Twitter Any Place for a [Black Academic] Lady?” [focus on “#FergusonSyllabus and academic expectations/culture] (2019)


Hands-on work: Scraping hashtags on Twitter. Possibly using Python (will demonstrate how to do this)

October 29

Digital Media Studies 3: Instagram

Hands-on work: Scraping hashtags, keywords, authors on Instagram:


November 3

Digital Media Studies 4: Instagram -- InstaPoetry.

 Lili Paquet, “Selfie Help: The Multimodal Appeal of Instagram Poetry” (2019) (CourseSite)

Instapoets: Rupi Kaur, others

Possibly: Analyzing our scraped data using Sentiment Analysis:



November 5

Intersectional Data Feminism 1

Lauren Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio, Data Feminism:
Introduction: “Why Data Science Needs Feminism”
Chapter 1: “The Power Chapter”

November 10

Intersectional Data Feminism 2

Klein and D’Ignazio, Data Feminism:
Chapter 3: “On Rational, Scientific, Objective Viewpoints from Mythical, Imaginary, Impossible Standpoints”
Chapter 4: “What Gets Counted Counts”
Hands-on work: To be announced

November 12

Intersectional Data Feminism 3

Ted Underwood, Chapter 4 of Distant Horizons: “Metamorphoses of Gender” 

Hands-on work: Can we replicate some of Underwood’s analyses? Also, can we apply some of this to the African American Literature Text Corpus or the Colonial South Asian Literature Corpus? Do texts by black and brown writers engage with gender the same way? Are there variations in the pattern? 

November 17

Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Roopika Risam, New Digital Worlds. Chapter 4.

Explore some of the tools Risam mentions. 

November 19

Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Teaching Computer-Assisted Text Analysis: Approaches to Learning New Methodologies” (from Digital Humanities Pedagogy)

Olin Bjork, “Digital Humanities and the First-Year Writing Course” (from Digital Humanities Pedagogy)

November 24-26

Thanksgiving Week (nothing scheduled)

December 1

(Fully Remote) Workshop: Final projects

December 3

(Fully Remote) Workshop: Final projects + Semester Wrap-up


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