Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age

a cat sitting in a card catalog drawer
Image based on “Insert Catalog Joke Here”, by user Klara on Flickr. License: CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Welcome to ENGL 340, Spring 2024, Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age at SUNY Geneseo. There’s so much to tell you about it! Use the links below to navigate the content on this page.

What the course is about

In this course, we’ll work together to understand how computers have changed the field of possibilities for studying books—in particular, books of the kind usually classified as “literature.”

To do this, we’ll need some base level of understanding for the two parts of our equation: computers on the one hand, books on the other. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans, will help us establish a base-level understanding of computers that’s not just technical but historical, with an emphasis on the frequently neglected role of women in the history of computing. The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk, will introduce us to the material and conceptual history of the book.

We’ll also need a particular book that we can keep coming back to in order to test what computers can help us do with literature. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, will be that book. Because Walden is a book that’s partly about technology, in which the author has some provocative things to say about literature, it will also help us think more broadly about the relationship between books and computers.

Finally, everyone will need to have a working computer running the software required to do the things we want our computers to do with literature. Specifically, you’ll need a laptop running a reasonably up-to-date version of Windows, macOS, or Linux. Chromebooks, tablets, and phones won’t suffice. You’ll need to bring your laptop to every class. If your laptop breaks down or is lost or stolen, you’ll need to find a substitute.

Who’s teaching the course

I’m Paul Schacht, Professor of English and Director of the Center for Digital Learning at SUNY Geneseo. I’ve taught here since 1985. I use he/him pronouns. I somehow can’t quit X, where I’m @WhatTheDickens and @DigitalThoreau, but I rarely post there as either any longer. I can also be found on Mastodon (WhatTheDickens@mastodon.online, DigitalThoreau@hcommons.social) but am still settling in there.

Who the course is for

It’s for you. But, you say, “I’m not very good with computers.” Right. That’s why this course is for you! You don’t need any special computer skills to succeed in this course. The course will teach you everything you need to know. Some of the things we’ll do together in the course may feel intimidating at first. Don’t be afraid! It’s really not as complicated as it looks. Approach this course with a growth mindset, come to class, do the work (which isn’t that hard—really!), ask questions when you have them and seek help when you get stuck (remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question, and everyone gets stuck), and by the end of the semester you probably won’t feel “not very good with computers” any more. (Interested in the neuroscience behind growth mindset? See this article on the website of the National Institutes of Health.) Of course, if you already feel confident with computers, this course is for you, too. If you follow the advice just offered, you’re sure to learn all kinds of things you don’t already know.

When we’ll meet

  • Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:30 pm – 1:45 pm; Fridays, 1:30 pm – 1:20 pm
  • Final meeting (attendance mandatory) Tuesday, May 14, 12 pm – 3:20 pm

How and when to find me

Learning outcomes

Individual learning outcomes

What will you know and be able to do as a result of taking this course? First, because this is a 300-level English course, you’ll improve your

  • ability to read texts in relation to history
  • understanding of how texts are related to social and cultural categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, ability), enterprises (e.g. philosophy, science, politics), and institutions (e.g., of religion, of education)
  • understanding of how language as a system or linguistic change over time inform literature as an aesthetic object, expressive medium, or social document

In addition, as a result of taking ENGL 340, you should

  • understand, at a basic level, the computational dimension of language and literature
  • understand, at a basic level, some common uses of computation and computational tools in the study of literature
  • feel prepared to use computational methods and tools for literary analysis and interpretation in another literature course
  • know more about how your computer works than you did before

Community learning outcomes

What will we accomplish in this course as a community?

  • Produce new knowledge (new for this community) about literature and literary study in the digital age
  • Share knowledge about literature and literary study in the digital age in accordance with scholarly conventions
  • Discuss and debate ideas about individual literary works and about the nature of literature and literary criticism in ways that respect the diversity of the community
  • Help one another when we’re stuck

Module-specific outcomes

On the “Outcomes/Activities” page for each module, you’ll find learning outcomes specific to that module.

Assessment

How will you know if you’ve met the individual outcomes? How will we know if we’ve met the community outcomes?

  • You’ll keep a journal in which you write regularly about what you’re learning in the course
  • You’ll post to a blog and reflect on your learning in this course
  • You’ll contribute to a group project in which you make use of particular computing skills that you acquire in the course

What we’ll read

  • The content of these modules
  • Amaranth Borsuk, The Book
  • Claire L. Evans, Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
  • Henry D. Thoreau, Walden
  • Assorted other readings

Requirements and evaluation

Your final grade in this course will be based on the number of points you earn out of a maximum of 100 points. You’ll earn points for the activities listed below. You must complete all assigned work to pass the course.

  • Blog: You’ll earn up to 30 points for two blog posts (15 points each) in which you reflect on your learning in this course. (Due 2/19 3/1 and 4/26.)
  • Class work: You’ll earn up to 40 points for in-class work submitted by the end of each class meeting. (Typically, 1 point per timely submission.)
  • Project work: You’ll earn up to 30 points for a group project to which you contribute, with 10 of those points coming from your personal contribution to the project and a final blog post you’ll write about your work on it.

Tools and accounts

In addition to a working laptop computer running an up-to-date version of macOS, Windows, or Linux, you’ll need some additional tools and accounts. The modules explain how to obtain the last two of these, so don’t rush out in search of them until we’ve discussed them in class.

  • An account at English @ SUNY Geneseo
  • An account at The Readers’ Thoreau
  • The Microsoft Teams app (available to all Geneseo users; the web version of Teams won’t suffice)
  • Visual Studio Code, BBEdit, or another plain-text editor with syntax-highlighting (explained in module)
  • Git Bash or WSL for Windows (Windows users only; explained in module)

Take care of yourself

It’s hard work being a student! You can improve your chances of success by eating well, getting enough sleep, and making wise choices. If you need help, ask for it. Student Health and Counseling can help you if you’re sick or need psychological or emotional support. A variety of Campus Learning Centers, including the Writing Learning Center, offer academic support services. And then there’s me. Schedule an appointment to see me in my office or meet online for help with assignments, to tell me if you’re facing basic obstacles to success such as food insecurity, or to continue the conversation about readings and topics in the course. If reading or discussing certain kinds of content in this course might prove traumatic for you, let me know and we’ll work together to figure out a reasonable solution. You should be prepared for the fact that some works on the syllabus contain depictions of or allusions to violence and sexuality.

Think about others

  • Express yourself honestly but respectfully
  • Practice forbearance when offended by others, even as you exercise your right to explain your reasons for taking offense
  • Consider how the world looks to someone who is not you
  • Do your best to address others as they prefer to be addressed

Accessibility services

SUNY Geneseo is dedicated to providing students equal and comprehensive access to college-wide programs, services, and campus facilities. The Office of Accessibility Services (OAS) coordinates reasonable accommodations and auxiliary aids and services designed to ensure full participation and equal access for students with disabilities. It’s the goal of the OAS to facilitate an accessible and inclusive campus environment. The office is located in Erwin 22. Phone: (585) 245-5112. Email: access-at-geneseo.edu.

Additional resources

The SUNY Geneseo Office of the Provost has compiled a very helpful one-page catalog of student resources covering a wide range of topics, including personal health and well-being, food security, and how to report bias-related incidents.

Schedule at a glance

Monday, January 22

  • 👋

Wednesday, January 24

Before class

  • Read Broad Band, pp. 1-53
  • Read all the pages in this module and do your best to carry out the instructions. Take notes on anything you weren’t able to accomplish.

In class

  • We’ll discuss Broad Band and make sure everyone’s GUI is set up per the instructions in the module.

Friday, January 26

  • Group 1 small-group meeting.

Monday, January 29

Before class

In class

  • We’ll discuss Broad Band.
  • We’ll get ourselves accustomed to the terminal

Wednesday, January 31

Before class

  • Practice your command line skills. Try out some of the activities in the rest of this module if you’re feeling bold.
  • Take notes on any roadblocks you run into and questions that come up for you.

In class

  • We’ll have fun at the command line.

Friday, February 2

  • Group 2 small-group meeting.

Monday, February 5

Before class

  • Read through the pages of this module. Be sure to install Visual Studio Code according to the instructions linked in Text Editors.
  • You may want to hold off on carrying out the instructions in Keep a Daily Journal in Markdown until we meet in class.

In class

  • We’ll make sure everyone has Visual Studio Code installed and working.
  • We’ll work on creating a journal script and making sure everyone has a journal workflow.
  • We’ll discuss the importance of interoperability as a principle in computing.

Class work: In the folder for 2-5, share a plain text file with the .md extension in the file name containing notes on today’s work in class.

Wednesday, February 7

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Economy,” paragraphs 1-70.

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and discuss connections between Thoreau’s book and our work with computers.

Class work: In the folder for 2-7, share your journal script in a file ending with the .sh extension and a journal file for the day, with the .md extension, containing notes.

Friday, February 9

  • Group 3 meeting.

Class work: In the folder for 2-9, share a journal file for the day with notes on your developing command-line skills. In addition, choose a sentence anywhere in paragraphs 1-70 of “Economy” in Walden that you find interesting—either for what it says or how it’s written. Select that sentence with your mouse and add a comment about it in the margin.

Monday, February 12

Before class

In class

  • We’ll discuss books and editing.
  • We’ll prepare for Douglass Day.

Class work: In the folder for 2-12, share a journal file for the day (.md extension) containing some notes about the reading in The Book. These can be personal reflections or notes on discussion in your group.

Wednesday, February 14

Before class

  • Register an account with the Library of Congress’ By the People project.

In class

  • We’ll meet in the College Union Ballroom to participate in Douglass Day.

Class work: In the folder for 2-14, share the letter from the Library of Congress that details your contributions for the day, along with your journal file for the day containing some notes on your experience working with the Douglass correspondence.

Friday, February 16

  • Group 4 meeting.

Class work: In the folder for 2-16, share your journal file for the day with notes about anything you’ve learned today; it can be something you learned in this class or another one or in some context unrelated to your classes.

Monday, February 19

Before class

In class

  • We’ll discuss Thoreau, metareading, and markup languages.

Class work: In the folder for 2-19, share your journal file with notes and reflections about metareading and markup languages. In addition, leave a comment on a paragraph or some part of a paragraph in “Economy” that makes you want to know more about Thoreau’s thinking (“Why does he say that?”) or Thoreau’s writing (“Why does he put it that way?”)

***Due:*** *First blog post.*

Wednesday, February 21

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”
  • Read the pages in this module.

In class

Class work: In the folder for 2-21, share your journal file for the day with notes on our visit from Dr. Witherell. In addition, leave a comment on a paragraph or part of a paragraph in “Where I Lived” responding to anything Thoreau has to say about time or place.

Friday, February 23

  • Group 5 meeting.

Class work: In the folder for 2-23, share your journal file for the day with notes on anything you did or learned this week that has a connection with anything you did or learned in another class. Explain the connection.

Monday, February 26

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Reading,” “Sounds,” “Solitude”
  • Read the pages in this module.

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and explore TEI.

Class work: In your folder for 2-26, share your journal file for the day with notes about things you learned and questions you have about TEI. In addition, leave a comment on a passage in Walden from one of the chapters assigned for today.

Wednesday, February 28

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Visitors,” “The Bean-Field,” “The Village”

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and continue exploring TEI.

Class work: In your folder for 2-28, share your journal file for the day with notes about TEI. In addition, leave a comment in the margin of a passage from Walden that’s in one of the chapters assigned for today.

Friday, March 1

  • Group 1 meeting.
  • Due: First blog post.

Monday, March 4

Before class

In class

  • We’ll discuss Broad Band and 🏄 the web.

Class work: In your folder for 3-4, share your journal file for the day with notes about how the internet and web evolved. What did you already know about this evolution? What did you learn for the first time? Was there anything you thought you knew that turned out to be wrong? Did you have to modify any knowledge or beliefs in light of what you learned?

Wednesday, March 6

Before class

In class

  • We’ll discuss Broad Band and play with HTML and CSS.

Class work: In your folder for 3-6, share your journal file for the day with notes on HTML and CSS.

Friday, March 8

  • Group 2 meeting

Class work: In your folder for 3-8, share your journal file for the day with notes on HTMl and CSS.


🌱🌱 Spring Break 🌱🌱


Monday, March 18

Before class

  • Read the rest of the pages in this module.

In class

  • We’ll discuss design justice and review what we’ve learned about HTML and CSS.

Class work: In your folder for 3-18, share your journal file for the day with notes about well-designed and poorly designed websites you’ve looked at. Include links to the sites properly formatted in Markdown. Which of the poorly designed websites, if any, raised issues of design justice?

Wednesday, March 20

Before class

  • Read The Book, 111-196.

In class

  • We’ll discuss The Book and catch up as needed.

Class work: In your folder for 3-20, share your journal file for the day with reflections on how reading The Book has changed how you look at books.

Friday, March 22

  • Group 3 meeting.

Class work: In your folder for 3-22, share your journal file for the day with notes and reflections on anything you like.

Monday, March 25

Before class

  • Read Walden, “The Ponds,” “Baker Farm,” “Higher Laws.”

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and explore images of the Walden manuscript.

Class work: In your folder for 3-25, share your journal file for the day with notes on any thoughts you have about the Walden manuscript images. In addition, leave a comment in the margin of any part of Walden assigned for today that makes you curious to know more about how that passage might have changed during Thoreau’s composition process.

Wednesday, March 27

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Brute Neighbors,” “House-Warming,” and “Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors.”
  • Review Attributes, Links, Images in the previous module.

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and play with incorporating images into web pages.

Class work: In your folder for 3-27, share your journal file for the day with notes on incorporating images into web pages. In addition, just as you did on 3-25, leave a comment in the margin of any part of Walden assigned for today that makes you curious to know more about how that passage might have changed during Thoreau’s composition process.

Friday, March 29

  • Group 4 meeting.

Class work: In your folder for 3-29, share your journal file for the day with reflections on your own composition process. How does it compare to what you’re seeing of Thoreau’s composition process? On a scale from “totally scattershot” to “highly organized and intentional,” where would you place your own composition process? If it’s anything other than “totally scattershot,” what are some of the things you do to make your own process at least somewhat organized and intentional? What role do you think technology has played in the difference between Thoreau’s process and your own? Comparing Thoreau’s process to your own, what aspects of revision seem to have been relatively untouched by technological change?

Monday, April 1

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Winter Animals,” “The Pond in Winter,” “Spring.”
  • Read IIIF images in this module.

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and play with IIIF images.

Class work: In your folder for 4-1, share your journal file for the day with notes on working with IIIF images. In addition, in the part of Walden assigned for today, leave a comment in the margin of any description of nature that resonates with your own experience of nature—for example, any description that makes you think, “I’ve heard that!” or “I’ve seen that!” or “I know what he’s talking about but I never thought about it that way!”

Wednesday, April 3

Before class

  • Read Walden, “Conclusion.”

In class

  • We’ll discuss Walden and talk about the workflow for your group projects.

Class work: In your folder for 4-3, share your journal file for the day with reflections on your experience reading Walden.

Friday, April 5

  • Group 5 meeting.

Class work: In your folder for 4-5, share your journal file for the day with notes on anything you’ve learned today from this class or any other, or from any experience outside of your classes.

Monday, April 8

  • No class meeting: 🌘

No class work due.

Wednesday, April 10

  • Group project work in class

Class work: In your folder for 4-10, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Friday, April 12

  • Group project work in class

Class work: In your folder for 4-12, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Monday, April 15

  • Group project work in class

Class work: In your folder for 4-15, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Wednesday, April 17

  • Group project work in class

Class work: In your folder for 4-17, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Friday, April 19

  • No class meeting: SUNY Digital Learning Conference.

No class work due.

Monday, April 22

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 4-22, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Wednesday, April 24

  • No class meeting: GREAT Day.

No class work due.

Friday, April 26

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 4-26, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Due: Second blog post.

Monday, April 29

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 4-29, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Wednesday, May 1

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 5-1, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Friday, May 3

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 5-3, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Monday, May 6

  • Group project work in class.

Class work: In your folder for 5-6, share your journal file for the day with notes on the progress of your group project.

Tuesday, May 14, 12 pm – 3:20 pm

Before class

  • Prepare your group presentation.

In class

  • We’ll listen to presentations and celebrate what we’ve learned together this semester. 🎉 🙌