Graduate Course Proposal: Materiality in the Digital Humanities


Steven Jones argues in The Emergence of the Digital Humanities, that DH after 2008 is quite different from humanities computing due to a cultural phenomenon that William Gibson calls “the eversion:” a term meaning “turning inside out.” For Jones and Gibson, the development of mobile media platforms, the rise of social media applications, and the spread of maker culture question the once stable separation between everyday life and what was once called “cyberspace.” This course will examine how the eversion impacts the examination of materiality, with particular emphasis to textual or literary studies. Materiality has many definitions, both within the digital humanities and in other fields. We will explore versions of new materialism in twentieth-century philosophy before questioning what materiality means in typography, the materiality of seemingly immaterial digital archives, the geological materials that make up our most common electronic devices, the forensic “guts” of our computational systems, the impact of mobile media on our sense of material embodiment, and the rise of digitally-mediated forms of material extrusion and manipulation in physical computing. Requirements include two presentations and a final paper, but students will also be given the opportunity to replace the paper for a final digital project or artifact using the Makey-Makey or Arduino platforms.

Course Objectives. After taking this course, students will be able to

  • Compare approaches to understanding materiality in traditional textual and bibliographical scholarship with those found in the digital humanities and physical computing.
  • Examine tools becoming common among digital humanists to explore materiality including the Arduino, the Makey-Makey, and 3D-Printers.
  • Explore the impact of digitized modes of manufacturing on issues like electronic waste, repurposing, and the labor practices of programmers.
  • Question how physical computing and digital archiving might question but also extend traditional forms of scholarly communication.
  • Explore how digital humanists appropriate theoretical concepts from new materialism and object-oriented ontology to complicate traditional approaches to manufacturing objects and commercial products.

Week 1: Eversion

  • Steven Jones, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities.
    • “Eversion.”
    • “Dimensions.”
    • “Things.”

Week 2: Vital Matter

  • Jane Bennett, “Neither Vitalism nor Mechanism,” Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.
  • Steven Shaviro, “The Universe of Things.” The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism.

Week 3: Texts and Typography

Project Proposals or Paper Proposals Due.

  • Johanna Drucker, The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art.
    • “Semiotics, Materiality, and Typographic Practice”
    • “Experimental Typography as a Modern Art Practice.”

Week 4: Markup, Typography and Documents

  • Jerome McGann, A New Republic of Letters
    • “Why Textual Scholarship Matters”
    • “The Documented World”
    • “Marking Texts in Many Dimensions”

Week 5: Documents, Digital and Otherwise

  • Lisa Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents.
    • “A Short History of _____.”
    • “Xerographers of the Mind.”
    • “Near Print and Beyond Paper: Knowing by .pdf”

Week 6: The Materiality of Media

  • Jussi Parikka, “An Alternative Deep Time of the Media.” A Geology of Media.
  • Lori Emerson, “From the Philosophy of the Open to the Ideology of the User-Friendly.” Reading Writing Interfaces.

Week 7: Critical Making

  • Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka, “Zombie Media: Circuit-Bending Media Archaeology into a Research Method.”
  • Carl DiSalvo, Adversarial Design.
    • “Devices of Articulation: Ubiquitous Computing and Agonistic Collectives.”
    • “Adversarial Design as Inquiry and Practice.”

Week 8: Computational Materiality

  • Matt Kirschenbaum, “Grammatology of the Hard Drive.” Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.
  • Jean-Francois Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits.”

Week 9: Software

  • Wendy Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory.
    • “Software: A Supersensible Sensible Thing.”
    • “Computers That Roar.”
    • “The Undead of Information.”

Week 10: Technology and Non-Human Agency

First Prototypes and/or Rough Draft

  • N. Katherine Hayles, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis.
    • “How We Thing: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis.”
    • “Tech-TOC: Complex Temporalities and Contemporary Technogenesis.”
    • “Technogenesis in Action: Telegraph Code books and the Place of the Human.”

Week 11: Mobile Media

  • Jason Farman, Mobile Interface Theory.
    • “Embodiment and the Mobile Interface.”
    • “Mapping and Representations of Space.”
    • “Site-Specific Storytelling and Reading Interfaces.”

Week 12: Physical Computing

  • Jentery Sayers, Devon Elliott, Kari Kraus, Bethany Nowviskie, and William J. Turkel. “Between Bits and Atoms: Physical Computing and Desktop Fabrication in the Humanities.”
  •  Devon Elliot, Robert MacDougall, and William J. Turkel. “New Old Things: Fabrication, Physical Computing, and Experiment in Historical Practice.”

Week 13: Complete Final Projects

Week 14: Final Project Presentation

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