Course Introduction

Welcome to the website for Hacking the Humanities, a course taught at Carleton College in Winter 2017.

The internet and digital technologies have come to permeate all aspects of our lives in the twenty-first century, and yet the primary modes of University education and scholarly communication remain those developed in an analog age (like lectures, essays, and print monographs). But that is rapidly changing. The digital world is infiltrating the academy and profoundly disrupting the humanities. It is changing the way scholars search for source materials, the archives—ever more of them digital or born digital—they consult, and the way they collect and store their research. It is changing the way humanists analyze their sources, prompting new and exciting research questions, and encouraging greater collaboration in historically single-authored fields. New media are also changing the way humanities research is reported and greatly enhancing the range of audiences it can reach. And perhaps most importantly, digital technologies are changing classrooms from places of listening and of individual writing to places of collaborative doing and knowledge production.

Students in this class will learn to hack the humanities by making a collaborative, publishable Digital Humanities project, while acquiring the skills and confidence necessary to actively participate in the digital world, both at the university and beyond.

Tech Support Cheat Sheet via XKCD
Source: XKCD

DISCLAIMER: this course will not make you an expert in all things digital. It is designed, instead, to change your attitude towards digital technologies (including the coding that goes into them behind the scenes) and give you the confidence to become “the local computer expert.” With the basic skills you will learn here, some healthy curiosity, and enough trial-and-error you will become an active producer of digital knowledge, not just a passive consumer.

Course Details

Yes We Digital!

Professor: Austin Mason

Schedule: T, TH 01:15PM – 03:00PM

Classroom: Idea Lab (Weitz Center for Creativity, Room 026)

Office Hours: Thursday, 10am–12pm and by appointment, Weitz 239B


As this is a digital course, the required texts are all available publicly online, with only one or two exceptions which will be distributed as pdfs.  In addition to the individual assignments listed on the weekly syllabus, we will occasionally dip into various online “companions” to digital humanities. Feel free to check them out and explore topics that interest you in more depth at your leisure.


A Domain of One’s Own

Since the readings are free, the only requirement that will costs you money in this class is 25$ to purchase server space and register a domain to host your online projects.

Digital Humanities makes extensive use of the internet; indeed, the field arguably would not exist without web technologies.  While you are all no doubt seasoned consumers of information on the internet, many of you may not have produced much information online beyond social media profiles or photo feeds.  There are many excellent free blogging platforms and even more robust content management systems that can be used to host some data for you for free, but such services rarely give you access to — or even the slightest understanding of — the inner workings of the database backend.  We want more control.  To that end, you will each create a space where you can try out new technologies, gather data, experiment with different forms of analysis, and publish your own work and ideas to the world.

You will each purchase server space and register a domain through Reclaim Hosting, which costs 25$ for one year.  After the class, you can take it down, let it lapse, or continue to build and experiment as you see fit.  One member of each group will host the group project, but everyone will try out building a personal site, blog, or project on their own server space during the course.


Course Requirements and Grading Breakdown

Group Final Project (40%)

The majority of your work in this class will be building a collaborative digital humanities project hosted online.  The final projects for the course will most likely revolve around the history of Carleton and its campus as the college passes its sesquicentennial anniversary (that’s the 150). It is much easier, not to mention more satisfying, to learn new skills by applying them to concrete projects rather than arbitrary examples, and the local setting of our college—its physical environment, its buildings, and its historical and literary archives—will constitute our data set. Collectively, we will use new digital technologies to tell stories (well-researched, carefully documented, scholarly sophisticated stories) of how Carleton’s past inhabitants built, inhabited and experienced the spaces that we encounter (or no longer encounter) today.

You and your group will therefore design and execute a web-based, scholarly DH project using the tools and platforms of your choosing and keyed to your discipline of choice. All projects will make use of local resources, including the holdings of the Carleton College archives, local newspapers from the Northfield historical society, literary works set in the local environment, and environmental data. Part of your research will therefore involve getting out from behind the desk and into the community to gather real world data, a process which we will begin together but you will continue on your own.

That said, I am open to projects working with different datasets, if they are cleared with me and secured in consultation with campus librarians well in advance.

Blogs and Participation (30%)

Blog posts (15%)

Each week you will be given a blog prompt and asked to post a thoughtful response of 300-400 words to the course blog before class meets each Tuesday. These assignments might ask you to review a digital humanities project website using these guidelines, try out and evaluate a digital tool for research, or engage in an area of debate on the usefulness or potential troubles surrounding particular digital initiatives.

Comments (5%)

In addition to the blog posts, you are required to read and comment on your classmates’ posts.  DH is a collaborative enterprise, and the conversation is half the fun.  You will begin this conversation online by commenting on at least two of your classmates’ posts, which we will then pick up in class. Comments can be encouraging or challenging, but should remain polite and directly engage with the content of the post.  Comments must be posted by classtime each Thursday.

Class participation (10%)

I do not take attendance, but I will take note of your active and engaged participation in class each day.  Much of our work will involve discussion of the readings and collaboration on digital assignments.  If you are not in the room, you cannot join in either of these activities, and if you have not done the reading you cannot contribute much to discussion.

Technical Assignments (20%):

These assignments represent the lab portion of the course.  They cover basic web skills and key applications that are intended to give you the technical knowledge you need to design and build your final project. Some weeks they will begin with basic instruction in class that you will complete online.  Others will involve working through an online exercise on your own before delving deeper into the topic in class.  Either way, the work must be completed before the next class meeting.

Midterm (10%)

Technical progress and proficiency will be assessed with a practical midterm given in week six that will ensure you have acquired the skills necessary to complete your group projects.

Tutorial Assignment (10%):

On one week near the end of the course, in lieu of the regular blog post, you will be asked to pick a DH tool that we haven’t discussed yet and figure out an interesting use case for it (or, vice versa, think of a use case and figure out a potentially viable DH tool) and create an online tutorial for the rest of us. Tutorials involving screencasts, screen captures, and “1-2-3” step-by-step instructions are not terribly hard to create, and we will go over the basics in class. You will thus begin the (hopefully lifelong!) process of paying forward what you’ve learned in the course and becoming the “local computer expert.”



This course will use WordPress as the primary website platform. Our Moodle site will consist mainly of a list of links to other platforms and will serve primarily as a repository for any PDFs we read.


This course and its accompanying website are indebted to many excellent DH courses that have come before it, from which I have shamelessly borrowed ideas for topics, readings, and assignments.  In particular, credit is due to the following:

Intro to Digital Humanities, Johanna Drucker et al., UCLA Center for Digital Humanities

Intro to Digital Humanities, Miriam Posner, UCLA

Hacking History, Matt Price, University of Toronto

Digital History, Kyle B. Roberts, Loyola University Chicago

Digital Humanities: Development and Design, Stephen Ramsay, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


This course is also indebted to the Carleton students who were guinea pigs during its first iteration, and whose energy, hard work and constructive critique profoundly shaped its contours.

Hacking the Humanities, Winter 2015, Carleton College

Hacking the Humanities, Fall 2015, Carleton College

With apologies to Patrick Murray-John for unintentionally stealing the title of his excellent blog.