DCI 102: Data in the Humanities

Fall 2018 // TR 2:45-4:45pm // CGL 212

The course website is a living document. It will change regularly to reflect the needs of the course.


Mackenzie Brooks, Assistant Professor & Digital Humanities Librarian

[email protected] // 540-458-8659 // Leyburn 218

Office hours: Wednesdays, 10-12pm; Thursday 1-2pm.

Course description

This course introduces students to the creation and visualization of data in humanities research. The course is predicated on the fact that the digital turn of the last several decades has drastically changed the nature of knowledge production and distribution. The community and set of practices that is Digital Humanities (DH) encourages fluency in media beyond the printed word such as text mining, digital curation, data visualization, and spatial analysis. Readings and discussions of theory will complement hands-on application of digital methods and computational thinking. While the objects of our study will primarily come from the humanities, the methods of analysis are widely applicable to the social and natural sciences. Three unit-long collaborative projects will explore the creation, structure, and visualization of “humanities data.” This course meets in two-hour blocks to accommodate a lab component.

Course objectives

  • Ability to understand, analyze, and use data.
  • Ability to integrate digitally driven research goals, methods, and media with discipline-specific inquiry.
  • Develop critical savvy for assessing sources and data.
  • Ability to use design critically.
  • Ability to assess information and information technologies critically.
  • Ability to work collaboratively.

Course protocols

  • If you have ever labeled yourself as “bad at technology,” you are welcome in this course. There is no assumed technical skill.
  • "Technology" is a lot of things. Chances are you will know something about it that your classmates do not. Be generous about teaching and learning from each other. See also: https://xkcd.com/1053/
  • Your laptop will be a major player in this course. Please make sure it is good working order by updating software (operating system, browers, etc) and visiting the IT help desk as necessary.
  • That being said, using your laptop in class is not an invitation to distraction. Learn how to disable notifications since you will have to share your screen in class.
  • This course will mix theory and hands-on work. Be prepared to think critically about technology AND to get your hands dirty in a little bit of code.
  • The DH community values experimentation and productive failure, often in public. We will learn from how and why things don’t work. We are not just going to talk about what we’re learning but how we’re learning it. Give yourself a break from perfectionism!

Required texts

All readings are available freely online or through Leyburn Library’s subscriptions.

We will rely heavily on the following texts:

You will be provided with a domain from Reclaim Hosting in the format http://username.wludci.info. You can purchase a custom domain, such as http://www.myname.com for $15 a year. If you are interested in keeping your domain after graduation, the W&L library can transfer ownership to you.

Course structure

We will meet in two-hour blocks to accommodate the lecture and lab components of the course. An extended class period ensures that we have sufficient time to explore and master the technical aspects of the course.

This course will be conducted in three units. We will complete the first unit together as a class. In the second and third units, students will work on different sets of data. Each unit will follow a similar project development cycle. By the third unit, lab time will be less structured and students will be expected to work relatively independently.

Unit 1: Text

In this unit, we will explore the relationship between text and technology. How is reading different on the web? What happens when you have more text than you could ever read in a lifetime?

As a class, we will interrogate the Ring-tum Phi archives. Leyburn Library has print and digital copies of W&L’s student newspaper from 1897 to the present. The full text exists in various forms, but how can it be manipulated to be useful to researchers of all levels?

Unit 2: Network

In this unit, we will explore the network of social connections between people and how to render those connections digitally. How do you construct a network of 30,000 people from British history? How do you define the relationships between individual members of the American jazz community? How do you gather the biographical data necessary to construct these networks? How do the fields of history and literature understand networks differently?

In groups, we will take advantage of local archival material to develop network visualizations. You'll have a few options for datasets:

  • the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery inhabitants
  • President Wilson correspondence on the coeducation decision
  • Shenandoah literary magazine index

Unit 3: Space

In this unit, we will explore how spatial visualizations affect our understanding of a cultural object or process, be it a novel like Mrs. Dalloway or an historical event like Emancipation. How do you visualize movement in space using good design principles? How do you map fictional places?

Students will select data from a previous unit or have the option to create or find an existing data set. Now that we have worked through the project cycle twice, students will be expected to assemble their projects independently. They will research mapping methodology and tools, design the project, create a clean data set, and assemble the project.



Washington and Lee University makes reasonable academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. All undergraduate accommodations must be approved through the Title IX Coordinator and Director of Disability Resources, Elrod Commons 212 (540) 458-4055. Students requesting accommodations for this course should present an official accommodation letter within the first two weeks of the term and schedule a meeting outside of class time to discuss accommodations. It is the student’s responsibility to present this paperwork in a timely fashion and to follow up about accommodation arrangements. Accommodations for test-taking must be arranged with the professor at least a week before the date of the test or exam, including finals.


All writing should be your own or should be cited properly. The writing assignments in this course are different than what is required in other courses, so we will discuss proper citation procedures for writing for the Web, writing in a group, and writing technical documentation. For more info: http://libguides.wlu.edu/plagiarism


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

results matching ""

    No results matching ""