Addendum (2/11/13): Huzzah! The Department will offer the Dickens course in Fall 2013 under a different number (the series/topic on 19th-century novels, Engl. 153B). So, we might see this a-go after all.

Addendum (1/8/13): Due to low enrollment, this Dickens course was cancelled for Spring 2013. It’s not clear if the Department will be able to offer it again. One of the issues is that the course descriptions were distributed after English majors had already registered; in addition, the course number is unfamiliar to most students and was mistaken for a graduate course by our undergraduates.


Last Spring, I went on sabbatical to re-work a traditional scholarly project. In the background, and with lots of traveling, I also talked a lot about Digital Pedagogy and Digital Humanities. I was determined to return to my Department having completed my scholarly project (I did) and  furthered my ideas about Digital Pedagogy (also done) and maybe even embark on a new digital project (uh, er, hmm…too much?). And, I’m really stretching it by asking my students to “screw around” (Ramsay!) in 2 of my current courses. One student even quipped that I’m having them do problem-based learning similar to their Engineering courses. He went so far as to say that that’s why he became an English major (d’oh!).  

It’s what’s happening upon my return that has caught me off guard today, and the generosity of my colleagues. Not only will I teach Digital Dickens in the Spring, an undergraduate course that will create a digital archive of Dickens’ serials in our Special Collections, but also a graduate course in Digital Humanities that’s based on the Beardstair Project! The decision came down last week. I’m, of course, ecstatic. Now the original, intrepid Beardstair-ers can pass along the project or officially join the course for credit.  Most of them have graduated, sadly, but I’ll lure them back somehow.

Below are the two Digital Humanities offerings in the Spring. I’m excited!!

Digital Dickens (undergraduate course)

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Charles Dickens (1812-1870) became one of the most prolific novelists of the nineteenth-century by marketing his writing through new forms of print. His serialized fiction appealed to the popular masses from England to America, a popularity that was strengthened by Dickens’ willingness to perform to live audiences. Along with his serials, magazine essays, editorial duties, political essays, Dickens also appealed for international copyright – surely inspired by the piracy of his novels but also in recognition that authorship was a commercial endeavor and a form of intellectual property.

In this course, we will explore Charles Dickens’ writings in the context of nineteenth-century print culture, a rising industrialized nation, and that nation’s imperialist ethos. In addition to reading physical facsimiles of a few of Dickens’ serialized novels, participants will research Dickens’ enduring impact on the nineteenth-century and beyond; participants will also engage in lively discussions with Dickens experts from the UC Santa Cruz Dickens Universe and our own local Dickens scholars. Our concluding project will involve creating a digital scholarly edition of the original Hard Times serials currently held in the SJSU Special Collections. With the help of the Special Collections Director, Dr. Danelle Moon, and with the support of the Dean of King Library, Dr. Ruth Kifer, the resulting project will become a part of public scholarship about this internationally-renowned author. (Technical ability requirements: know how to email!)

COURSE RATIONALE & ADDITIONAL STUDENT LEARNING GOALS: This course will provide an interdisciplinary experience with History, Film, Communication, and Library Science students in addition to exposing students to cutting edge digital tools. Students will establish digital literacy and technical proficiency with a number of (freely available) computer programs (Google Docs, screencasting, video production, dynamic timelines, concordance creators, linguistic analytics) as well as learn to collaborate productively. We will focus on establishing visual and information literacy by considering the relationship between visual culture and literary texts. With the overwhelming amount of information about Dickens (e.g., three movie adaptations of Great Expectations in the last 15 years!), students will learn to become discriminating researchers and will articulate the value of multi-media resources through a series of writing assignments. The final collaborative project will also imbue students with the ability to practice and comment upon the preservation of cultural materials. In the end, the goal of this project-centered course is to encourage students to create open access materials that will become public scholarship.

INSTRUCTOR EXPERIENCE: I have employed this type of scaffolded final project in the TechnoRomanticism course where students created a digital version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Each student created a website about an individual chapter; the final projects were allowed to move between scholarly and experimental. The most interesting was a project about current Frankenstein-style creatures/monsters in today’s media (with Lady Gaga as the prime example). From this project, I learned that I needed to scaffold the assignments more clearly and to insert a few exercises about analyzing visual materials (such as engravings, movies, photographs) from a scholarly point of view.

I have also used the timeline assignment successfully in another version of the TechnoRomantics course. For this course on Dickens, we will populate the timeline and then incorporate it into the final digital project.

All of the digital projects and skills intended for this course inherently alter the learning strategies; however, the literature is still the primary focus of this course: the tools help students gain experience in researching, writing, analyzing materials. By encouraging students to build in a digital environment, we teach the skills that enhance their critical thinking and provide them with an opportunity to learn collaboration that will demonstrate their collective learning to a larger audience.

Modernists and the Beardstair Project: Building a Digital Project (Graduate course)

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  For this semester, we will explore the changing field of Digital Humanities by adding to an ongoing digital project, Project Beardstair. This project, piloted with four students in Fall 2011, will focus on the Modernist literary movement and will culminate in producing a digital scholarly edition that will be archived and displayed in King Library. The topic of this course and the focus of study will be three artists’ books, slim volumes lavishly illustrated in color and produced in limited runs (1910-1935), a genre of early twentieth-century book that was inspired during the Modernist literary period. By decadently illustrating two writings by British Victorian authors (The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde and Sebastian Van Storck by Walter Pater), eccentric artist Alastair was instrumental in re-defining the idea of Victorian Classicism and fin de siècle Decadence, both movements that capped the British Nineteenth-Century. The third book for this digital project, “The Ballad of a Barber” by Aubrey Beardsley, introduces the Modernist penchant for revising nineteenth-century Aestheticism, a movement that focused on “art for art’s sake.” The project title, a combination of Beardsley and Alastair, became Project Beardstair to privilege the illustrators rather than the authors.

During this graduate course, we will continue to research the history of Modernist literature and print culture and even delve into bookbinding and paper-making. We will immerse ourselves in the newly instantiated genre of artist’s books and learn how best to represent the history, culture, value of these mixed media books in a digital environment. By building on the pilot course from Fall 2011, we will pick up where those students left off with the research, writing, construction, building, and disseminating of the digital project.

A WORD ABOUT DIGITAL HUMANITIES: Digital Humanities has been living in libraries and academic departments for fifty years under the name of Humanities Computing. In the last five years, though, Digital Humanities has become a hotbed of debate on issues around open access, scholarly communication, digital literacy, educational technology, preservation, archives. By collaborating with multiple disciplines on these questions, Digital Humanists are beginning to grapple with some of the major issues surrounding the future of libraries and the curation of our cultural heritage.

The assignments will approximate real-world scenarios such as collaborating in a group, managing a digital project, and learning basic mark-up languages. Many of our readings will come from blog discussions about Digital Humanities (e.g., the hotly-debated blog posts and comments on Archives Next). In addition to using open access journals, we will rely on an anthology that is freely available online as well as available for purchase in print; please choose whichever format best suits your learning style. By the conclusion of the course, we will have added to Project Beardstair and will (ideally) submit it for review by NINES, a peer-review entity for nineteenth-century digital projects. In essence, students will immerse themselves in the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities in order to contribute to a real-world scholarly publication.