Digital Humanities / Studies: U.Pitt.Greenberg

Digital Humanities / Studies: U.Pitt.Greenberg maintained by Elisa E. Beshero-Bondar.

I discovered this syllabus and course materials by accident when one of its modules on XQuery turned up in a search. Backing out of that module I discovered this gem of a digital humanities course.

The course description:

Our course in “digital humanities” and “digital studies” is designed to be interdisciplinary and practical, with an emphasis on learning through “hands-on” experience. It is a computer course, but not a course in which you learn programming for the sake of learning a programming language. It’s a course that will involve programming, and working with coding languages, and “putting things online,” but it’s not a course designed to make you, in fifteen weeks, a professional website designer. Instead, this is a course in which we prioritize what we can investigate in the Humanities and related Social Sciences fields about cultural, historical, and literary research questions through applications in computer coding and programming, which you will be learning and applying as you go in order to make new discoveries and transform cultural objects—what we call “texts” in their complex and multiple dimensions. We think of “texts” as the transmittable, sharable forms of human creativity (mainly through language), and we interface with a particular text in multiple ways through print and electronic “documents.” When we refer to a “document,” we mean a specific instance of a text, and much of our work will be in experimenting with the structures of texts in digital document formats, accessing them through scripts we write in computer code—scripts that in themselves are a kind of text, readable both by humans and machines.

Your professors are scholars and teachers of humanities, not computer programmers by trade, and we teach this course from our backgrounds (in literature and anthropology, respectively). We teach this course to share coding methods that are highly useful to us in our fields, with an emphasis on working with texts as artifacts of human culture shaped primarily with words and letters—the forms of “written” language transferable to many media (including image and sound) that we can study with computer modelling tools that we design for ourselves based on the questions we ask. We work with computers in this course as precision instruments that help us to read and process great quantities of information, and that lead us to make significant connections, ask new kinds of questions, and build models and interfaces to change our reading and thinking experience as people curious about human history, culture, and creativity.

Our focus in this course is primarily analytical: to apply computer technologies to represent and investigate cultural materials. As we design projects together, you will gain practical experience in editing and you will certainly fine-tune your precision in writing and thinking. We will be working primarily with eXtensible Markup Language (XML) because it is a powerful tool for modelling texts that we can adapt creatively to our interests and questions. XML represents a standard in adaptability and human-readability in digital code, and it works together with related technologies with which you will gain working experience: You’ll learn how to write XPath expressions: a formal language for searching and extracting information from XML code which serves as the basis for transforming XML into many publishable forms, using XSLT and XQuery. You’ll learn to write XSLT: a programming “stylesheet” transforming language designed to convert XML to publishable formats, as well as XQuery, a query (or search) language for extracting information from XML files bundled collectively. You will learn how to design your own systematic coding methods to work on projects, and how to write your own rules in schema languages (like Schematron and Relax-NG) to keep your projects organized and prevent errors. You’ll gain experience with an international XML language called TEI (after the Text Encoding Initiative) which serves as the international standard for coding digital archives of cultural materials. Since one of the best and most widely accessible ways to publish XML is on the worldwide web, you’ll gain working experience with HTML code (a markup language that is a kind of XML) and styling HTML with Cascading Stylesheets (CSS). We will do all of this with an eye to your understanding how coding works—and no longer relying without question on expensive commercial software as the “only” available solution, because such software is usually not designed with our research questions in mind.

We think you’ll gain enough experience at least to become a little dangerous, and at the very least more independent as investigators and makers who wield computers as fit instruments for your own tasks. Your success will require patience, dedication, and regular communication and interaction with us, working through assignments on a daily basis. Your success will NOT require perfection, but rather your regular efforts throughout the course, your documenting of problems when your coding doesn’t yield the results you want. Homework exercises are a back-and-forth, intensive dialogue between you and your instructors, and we plan to spend a great deal of time with you individually over these as we work together. Our guiding principle in developing assignments and working with you is that the best way for you to learn and succeed is through regular practice as you hone your skills. Our goal is not to make you expert programmers (as we are far from that ourselves)! Rather, we want you to learn how to manipulate coding technologies for your own purposes, how to track down answers to questions, how to think your way algorithmically through problems and find good solutions.

Skimming the syllabus rekindles an awareness of the distinction between the “hard” sciences and the “difficult” ones.



After yesterday’s post, Elisa Beshero-Bondar tweeted this one course is now two:

At a new homepage: newtFire {dh|ds}!


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