Gateway to the Digital Humanities

Crystal Hall (Spring 2015)

What's it about? This course combines theory, criticism, and hands on experiences to ask how different fields in the humanities are using digital and computational tools to answer their research questions. We examine the common material of the humanities: text, image, networks, and spatial representations such as maps. Two big questions shape our investigation: how can computation help the humanities with its current work and what new kinds of questions arise from using the tools?

What? The computational aspect of the course involves digital textual, image, network, and spatial analysis.  The specific applications might include Python and R programming languages, the Voyant text analysis site, the network graph application Gephi, and the mapping tool MapBox.

How? We will be "going under the hood" of different projects and tools that we evaluate during the course. With image analysis students will write basic code to highlight or remove certain hues in order to understand composition. Text analysis will compare a cut-and-paste application with customized code for literary studies. Spatial analysis will explore how a digital humanities project is designed, published, and evaluated from start to finish. We will talk with Bowdoin faculty who are designing projects and courses with these ideas in mind. Students will also be planning and prototyping their own projects, so they will be involved in the questions of digital and computational tools and methods from the ground up, so to speak.

Why? The course seeks the areas of mutual benefit in two intellectual realms that are often considered to be incompatible with or disinterested in one another. What sorts of humanities questions can be asked and answered using computational methods? What are the primary tools and methods currently being used in the digital humanities? How do these methods and tools complement and sometimes challenge traditional methodologies in the humanities?