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New Media and Cross-Disciplinary Models of Literary Interpretation


Graduate Course

Winter 2010

Instructor: Alan Liu

UC Santa Barbara

T 2:00-4:30 PM, SH 2509

Because of the recent, shared emphasis in many fields on digital methods, scholars in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences increasingly need to collaborate across disciplines.  This course reflects theoretically and practically on the new, digitally-facilitated interdisciplinarity 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, data-mine, visualize, encode, text-analyze, sample, mashup, blog, social-network or redesign as a game, machinima, database, hypertext, mobile or locative installation, or virtual world.


What are the strengths and weaknesses of one kind of research paradigm by comparison with others, including the new paradigms in the literary field that some scholars have recently called "distance reading" (as opposed to "close reading"), "modeling,” and experimental “deformation”?  For instance, what is the relation between "interpreting" and data-mining or graphing?


The course begins with discussion of selected theoretical readings and digital demos 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—e.g., the TAPoR text-analysis tools, the Many Eyes visualization tools, the NetLogo agent-modeling environment, the Scratch visual programming environment, digital mapping tools, "mashup"-creation  tools, social-networking and content-management-system platforms, the Ivanhoe literary interpretation game, 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(Alternatively, students may work individually on projects designed to support or complement their intended dissertation topics.)  Collaboration will occur both face-to-face and virtually in a class wiki.  Final projects can be digital, video, acoustic, material, social, or some combination, but some digital representation must be created that can be exhibited on the class wiki.  Individual students also undertake the following tasks: discover new online tools, prepare an annotated bibliography, write a brief research report, and write a final essay reflecting on the project. (Auditors participate in team projects and the minor assignments.) 


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