ENG 287: "The Digital Text"

This website grew out of the inaugural offering of ENG287, "The Digital Text," at the University of Toronto in the Fall of 2011. Below is the Course Description for that section of "The Digital Text":

Ours is the first generation to study literature in the digital age. E-books are outselling paperbacks; online scholarly databases are superseding library stacks; new works are being composed, distributed, and consumed electronically. How fundamental is this shift toward digitization? How does it affect the nature of the literary text, and how does it impact our work as readers and critics?

This course explores the interpretive possibilities opened up by the proliferation of digital literary texts. We will use computer-assisted analysis and visualization to ask new questions about literature and to provide statistical grounds for answers to older questions—and we will learn how to integrate our findings meaningfully into our writing. By studying the technical foundations for the production of digital texts, and by collaborating in the production of a “class-sourced” electronic edition, we will learn how the encoding of literary texts affects the questions we can ask of them. By analyzing digital-born fiction—works that involve the reader directly through elements of gaming and interactivity—we will question how such texts alter the role of the interpreter and affect the task of interpretation.

Students will gain hands-on experience with and develop skills in quantitative textual analysis and text encoding with TEI. No programming experience is required.

The Waste Land was integrated into the syllabus in several ways. Its publication date (1922, the last year in which works are in the public domain in the United States) provided material for a discussion of the effect of copyright laws on the proliferation of digital texts. The Waste Land iPad App was presented as an example of an electronic text that solves a problem related to print-based form—in this case, the problem of footnotes. The Waste Land was also used as an example for demonstrations of computer-assisted analysis and visualization.

The poem's most significant presence in the class, however, was the edition of The Waste Land that students produced during the unit on TEI text encoding. For more on this, see the "Introduction and Background" page for the "What the Class Said" section of this website.