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New Media and Cross-Disciplinary Models of Literary Interpretation


Undergraduate Course

Winter 2009

Instructors: Alan Liu and James Donelan

UC Santa Barbara

TR 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM, SH 1415 (5 units)


Because of the recent, shared emphasis in many fields on digital methods, scholars in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences increasingly collaborate across disciplines. Taught by Alan Liu and James Donelan, Literature+ is a course that reflects theoretically and practically on the concept of literary study by asking students to choose a literary work and use digital methods to treat it according to one or more of the research paradigms (including data-oriented paradigms) prevalent in other fields. Students, for example, can choose a story or poem to model, simulate, map, visualize, encode, text-analyze , blog, or redesign as a database, hypertext, multimedia construct, virtual world, or social network. What are the strengths and weaknesses of literary reading by comparison with other methods of knowledge? For instance, what is the relation between close reading, interpreting, or imagining and modeling, simulating, and adapting?English 149 class members


The course begins with discussion of selected readings and demos of digital tools to set the stage. Readings include: Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees, Willard McCarty's Humanities Computing, Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann's "Deformance and Interpretation," and Stephen Ramsay's "Toward an Algorithmic Criticism." Demos include the following online or downloadable tools from a "Toy Chest" made available to the class: the NetLogo agent-modeling environment, the Scratch visual programming environment, digital mapping tools, text-analysis programs, "mashup"-creation tools, the Ivanhoe literary interpretation game, visualization/ pattern-discovery tools, machinima tools, Second Life, and other resources usable by non-programmers to create interesting projects.


After the initial unit of the course, students break into teams, choose a literary work, and collaborate in workshop/lab mode to produce a "proof-of-concept" final project. Collaboration will occur both face-to-face and virtually in the class wiki (possibly supplemented by virtual meetings in the UCSB English Department's Second Life instructional space). Individual students also create an annotated bibliography, research reports, and a final essay reflecting on the project.


This course counts for the English Department's Literature and Culture specialization and also welcomes students from the College of Creative Studies and other majors. It is a 5-unit course whose class hours are longer than usual to allow for collaborative team work and lab time. 


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