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Reading Group: Defining Digital Humanities

Over the coming academic year many of McGill's Digital Humanists will gather to discuss the nature of Digital Humanities in a reading group sponsored by the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI: www.mcgill.ca/iplai).

This reading group is McGill's first involvement in the growing humanities advocacy network, 4Humanities (http://humanistica.ualberta.ca/).  For more on McGill's involvement in this network, see the 4Humanities page.

Sessions will be held in IPLAI's seminar room at 3610 McTavish.  

The list of sessions and reading is available here.


Term 2

Session 5

3pm: Optional Pre-Session Experiment:
Zimmerman, Eric. ‘Figment: The Switching Codes Game’ in Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover, Switching Codes, University of Chicago Press, 2011, 191. For those able and interested, we will meet 1 hour prior before our normal session begins to play Zimmerman’s experimental card game.

Building on sessions #2 and #3, the first meeting of the winter term will explore the creation of digital objects and environments as acts of interpretation and mediation. More often than not digital humanists have focused on the presentation and analysis of digital content. However, designing both hardware and software are acts of interpretation that influence what the content will be, how it will be experienced, and the ways in which it will be understood. Code mediates between the architecture, infrastructure, and digital content; it is usually invisible, but its writing sees the creation of virtual objects. From the encoding of a text in TEI, to the creation of a class of objects in PHP or Python, to a Youtube video, the digital world is reducible to text that is interpreted and read: content by users; code by cyberinfrastructure. Unlike the binding of a book, the digital humanist is faced with the real task of creating the virtual paper and glue that presents their content. This process of artifice is only just beginning to be appreciated for its hermeneutic implications.


  • Manovich, Lev. ‘Cultural Software’, draft introduction to Software Takes Command, unpublished (July 2011)
  • Berry, David M. The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age, Palgrave MacMillan 2011, ‘The Idea of Code: Understanding Computation’ & ‘What is Code?: Code’ & ‘What is Code?: Understanding Code’, 1-18, 29-51. [39pp]
  • Crutzen, Cecile and Erna Kotkamp, 'Object Orientation', in Software Studies: A Lexicon, Fuller, Matthew (ed). MIT Press, 2008, 200-206. [5pp]


Chun, Wendy. Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. MIT Press, 2008. ‘Why Cyberspace’, 37-77.
Goffey, Andrew. ‘Algorithm’ in Software Studies: A Lexicon, Fuller, Matthew (ed). MIT Press, 2008.,15-20.

Session 6

In this session, we will be discussing the politics coded into digital architectures in terms of authorship, publication, and dissemination. Questions that we will address may include: Who is the author? How does citation operate? How does “ownership” work? How is work disseminated? Collected? What does it mean to be a public intellectual? What new ways of being a public intellectual are made possible by technology? What does publishing look like, and what will it look like in the future? And how do changes in communication structures effect / affect knowledge structures and practices
In the background of this discussion, we must keep in mind that the digital architectures we build today are laden with ideology and that “technical” decisions are often also value judgments. As the academy establishes its presence in the digital world, the ways in which it codes its cyberspaces, policy and design decisions involved in establishing digital book collections, building virtual tools, publishing and distributing works, interfacing with the non-academic public(s), and dealing with corporate entities will be battlegrounds for competing interests and ideologies.

1. Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, “The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality”, Culture Machine 12 (2011). Web. [26pp]
Digital Architectures:
2. Lessig, Lawrence. “Ch 3: Is-Ism”. Code 2.0. New York: Basic Books, 2006. 31-37. Print and Web. [7pp]
Google and the Future of Libraries:
3. Lynch, Clifford. "The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World." First Monday 6.6: (June 4, 2001). Web. ("Defining Digital Books and E-book Readers" and "A Brave New World for Readers"). Web. [3pp]
4. Darnton, Robert. "Google and the Future of Books." The New York Review of Books. 56(2): February 12, 2009. Web. [8pp]
5. Kolowich, Steve. "Please Refine Your Search Terms." Inside Higher Ed. March 23, 2011. Web. [2pp]
Open Source and the Commons (or The Legal Relation Between Coding and Other Acts of Writing):
6. Doctorow, Cory. “Commoner Letter #2. October 29, 2007. Web. [1p] creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7774
7. Creative Commons Licenses. Web.: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ [1p]
8. GNU General Public License. “Preamble”. June 29, 2007. Web. [1p] http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

Session 7

One of the central dilemmas facing Digital Humanities is its place within the broader processes of the Digitization of Humanity. Certain definitions of Digital Humanities see it as an element of Media Studies, while others disagree. Regardless, there is undoubtedly a close affinity between the two areas of scholarship. What happens to notions of Digital Humanities when digital media and techniques are used artistically and creatively, or when the digital becomes ubiquitous?
What is the difference between building a digital tool or writing a digital text? Is the utilitarianism of tool creation distinct in terms of artifice from artistic works which employ digital media? Can the two be reconciled in construction of creative tools like a haptic interface for Google earth?

New Media

  • Carmody, T. 'Response: What's the difference between Digital Humanities and New Media?‟, Digital Humanities Questions and Answers, January 2011. [1p]
  • Coover, Roderick. „Digital Panorama and Cinemascapes‟, in Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover, Switching Codes, University of Chicago Press, 2011, 199-217 [17pp]
  • Sorensen, Vibeke, 'Rewiring Culture, the Brain, and Digital Media' in Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover, Switching Codes, University of Chicago Press, 2011, 239-246 [6pp]


Fabrication and Building

  • Fabretti, Federica, 'Rethinking the Digital Humanities in the Context of Originary Technicity', Culture Machine 12 (2011), [17pp]
  • Ramsay , Stephen. „On Building‟, Stephen Ramsay, January 11, 2011 [3pp]
  • Turkel, William. „A Few Arguments for Humanistic Fabrication‟, Digital History Hacks, November 21, 2008 [2pp]
  • Galey, Alan and Stan Ruecker, 'How a prototype argues', Literary and Linguistic Computing 25:4 (2010). [12pp]


Ramsay, Stephen and Geoffrey Rockwell, 'Writing as Programming as Writing' (parts 1 &2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQUZipgevC0 [7min] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0lK9TNeAWw [7min]
3D Printing Video: RepRapWiki. [8mins]

Hacking as a Way of Knowing (http://niche-canada.org/hackknow)
Portela, Manuel. 'The Machine in the Text, and the Text in the Machine' Digital Humanities Quarterly, 4:1 (2010). [9pp]
Mcpherson, Tara 'Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities', Cinema Journal 48:2 (2009), 119-123. [4pp]
Greenfield, Adam. Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. New Riders Publishing 2006. Print. [Theses 1-3, 7 & 8, 18pp]

Session 8

Term 1


Hockey, Susan, 'The History of Humanities Computing', in A Companion to Digital Humanities. Ed. Schreibman, S., Siemens, R., Unsworth, J. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture, 2007. Web. [http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/view?docId=blackwell/9781405103213/9781405103213.xml&chunk.id=ss1-2-1&toc.depth=1&toc.id=ss1-2-1&brand=default]

Session 1

1. Unsworth, John. 'The State of Digital Humanities, 2010. (ripped from the blogosphere and twitterverse)', Digital Humanities Summer Institute, June 2010 [http://www3.isrl.illinois.edu/~unsworth/state.of.dh.DHSI.pdf]
2. How do you define Humanities Computing / Digital Humanities?, TAPOR
(This is a long list; browse at your leisure. Please note two or three.) [http://tapor.ualberta.ca/taporwiki/index.php/How_do_you_define_Humanities_Computing_/_Digital_Humanities%3F]
3. Forster, Chris. 'Where am I wrong?', HASTAC, Sep 08, 2010. [post + commentary, 15pp; http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cforster/im-chris-where-am-i-wrong]
4. Svensson, Patrik. 'The Landscape of Digital Humanities', Digital Humanities Quarterly, 4:1 (2010). Web. [25pp; http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/4/1/000080/000080.html]

Digital Humanities in 2008 (Three parts), DigitalScholarship, (2009)

[1. http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/digital-humanities-in-2008-part-i/
2. http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/digital-humanities-in-2008-ii-scholarly-communication-open-access/
3. http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/digital-humanities-in-2008-iii-research]

Session 2


Session 3

New Horizons: Connectivities, Analysis, Simulation and Semantics

Nov. 8, 4pm

Lead: Andrew Piper

Web 2.0’s primary dynamic has been to push the networking principles of the web beyond the connection between machines. At first this meant connecting data between disparate digital silos and sources, but with the advent of social networking it has also come to mean connecting users and their online experiences. We’re seeing the fruition of this work in the creation of mashups – collisions of disparate data and users, yet presented in a seamless experience. But there are also more avenues being explored - connecting machines in High Performance Computing is allowing different types of analyses, simulations and gaming are taking advantage of this. Connecting data sources also presents the question of the scale of possible analyses. Perhaps most pervasive for humanities scholarship is the switch from the Syntactic Web to the Semantic Web, and how meaning is becoming something computed.

Our aim in this session is not to focus on one specific aspect of new digital horizons, but to illustrate their immense potential. Given the range of possible examples, we will share a group core reading, but leave participants to choose cases as their interests dictate.



Foster, Ian, 'How Computation Changes Research' in Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover, Switching Codes, University of Chicago Press, 2011, 15-37. [19pp]  (http://site.ebrary.com/lib/mcgill/docDetail.action?docID=10468508)



Virtual Research Environments

Dunn, Stuart. "Dealing with the Complexity Deluge: VREs in the Arts and Humanities," Library Hi Tech 27, no. 2 (2009): 205-216. [11pp] (http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=0737-8831&volume=27&issue=2&articleid=1795757&show=abstract)


Quantitative / Corpus Analysis

Hoover, Daniel L. “Quantitative Analysis and Literary Studies‟, in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. [10pp]  (http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/view?docId=blackwell/9781405148641/9781405148641.xml&chunk.id=ss1-6-9&toc.depth=1&toc.id=ss1-6-9&brand=9781405148641_brand)


Crowd-Sourcing / Social Scholarship

VandeCreek, Drew. "Webs of Significance": The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project, New Technology, and the Democratization of History‟, Digital Humanities Quarterly, 1:1 (2007) [8pp] (http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/1/1/000003/000003.html)

Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (HDMB) http://www.hurricanearchive.org/



Harris, Trevor M., Susan Bergerson, & L. Jesse Rouse, 'Humanities GIS: Place, Spatial Storytelling, and Immersive Visualization in the Humanities'  in Michael Dear et al. (eds), GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, Routledge 2011 (http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18161950/harris_etal_humanitiesGIS.pdf)


Dunn, Stuart. 'Space as Artefact: A Perspective on 'Neogeography' from the Digital Humanities', in Digital Research in the Study of Classical Antiquity, Ashgate, 2010, 53-69. (http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18161950/dunn_spaceasartefact.pdf)


Simulation, Gaming & GRID Computing

Craenen, Bart et al. “Medieval Military Logistics: A Case for Distributed Agentbased Simulation”, DISIO 2010 - DIstributed SImulation & Online gaming, Torremolinos, Spain, March 15, 2010 [7pp] (http://bcraenen.home.xs4all.nl/publications/disio2010.pdf)

Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnZK1qlX6UI


Semantic Web

Breslin, John G., et al. “Adding Semantics to the Web‟, in The Social Semantic Web, Springer, 2009, 45-59 [14pp]  (http://www.springerlink.com/content/v81u20/#section=387229&page=1&locus=0)


Time & Space

Gregory, Ian. 'Using Geographical Information Systems to Explore Space and Time in the Humanities', in The Virtual Representation of the Past, Mark Greengrass and Lorna M. Hughes, eds, Ashgate 2008, 135-146. (http://dl.dropbox.com/u/18161950/gregory_usingGIStoexplorespacetime.pdf)


New Forms of Publication

Vectors http://vectors.usc.edu/




Session 4

Who and How?: Institutional Responses

Nov. 29, 4pm

The potential offered by projects discussed in the preceding sessions has drawn the attention of both research agencies and institutions. Term 1 will close by examining how the academy is responding formally in institutional policies and discussions to the practical challenges presented digital pursuits. This topic (as the last in the series on the broad state of Digital Humanities) will also serve as the foundation for the second term’s engagement with the more conceptual and theoretical challenges posed by digital scholarship.



Brown, Susan, et al., 'Sustaining Digital Scholarship and Culture in Canada' report for Knowledge Synthesis: Sustaining Digital Scholarship for Sustainable Culture. Web, 17-25. [9pp]


    Friedlander, A. "Asking Questions and Building a Research Agenda for Digital Scholarship," CLIR Report on Digital Scholarship (Working Together or Apart: Promoting the Next Generation of Digital Scholarship). [13pp]


      Kirschenbaum, Matthew G., 'What Is Digital Humanities and What's It Doing in English Departments?', ADE Bulletin, 150 (2010), 55-61. [6pp] http://mkirschenbaum.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/ade-final.pdf

      On Accessibility and Diversity:

      James Neal, “An honest and open discussion regarding diversity in the digital humanities?‟, May 14, 2011, thatcamp http://chnm2011.thatcamp.org/05/14/444/ 

      “Lothian‟, “THATCamp and diversity in Digital Humanities” January 18, 2011, QueerGeekTheory http://www.queergeektheory.org/2011/01/thatcamp-and-diversity-in-digital-humanities/

      Gouglas, Sean, Stéfan Sinclair & Aimée Morrison. 2006. “Coding Theory: Balancing Technical and Theoretical Requirements in a Graduate-Level Humanities Computing Program.” In Mind Technologies: Humanities Computing and the Canadian Academic Community. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 245-256. [7pp]






        Gaffield, Chad. „Re-Imagining Scholarship in the Digital Age‟ Plenary at Congress 2011

        http://vimeo.com/21685670 [c.1hr]

        Zorich, Diane M. “Digital Humanities Centers: Loci for Digital Scholarship”, CLIR Report on Digital Scholarship (Working Together or Apart: Promoting the Next Generation of Digital Scholarship). [7pp]



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