Concepts in Humanities Data Analysis

ENG 682 | Spring 2019 | University of Miami

Mondays, 6:25 pm - 8:55 pm
Merrick 205

Lindsay Thomas,
Office hours: M 4-5:30 pm and by appointment
Ashe 307

This class will provide an introduction to the theory and practice of data analysis from a literary and cultural studies perspective. It will introduce central concepts in the field and some of its methods. We will focus throughout not only on how digital technologies and methods are changing research in literary and cultural studies, but also on what the value of such changes is (or isn’t). Major topics for discussion will include but are not limited to: the place of humanistic data analysis within what is more widely known as the digital humanities; what constitutes “data” in the humanities and how to go about collecting and analyzing it; the logic and practice of quantification; methods of data analysis themselves; and how to begin to design a computational research project. We will explore many different examples of computational research in the humanities over the course of the semester, but the main questions we will ask of every piece or project are, “How did they do that?” and, more importantly, “Why did they do that?”

This class is, first and foremost, a class in “contemporary criticism and theory.” This means the focus of the class is on the concepts underlying data analysis in the humanities. It is designed to introduce you to the methods researchers employ when using computers to analyze humanities data (for our purposes, this mainly means text, but not always), and to teach you some of the ways of thinking that support these methods. While this is a class in humanities data analysis, it is not designed to teach you programming (or the math that underlies it, for that matter). Learning the concepts involved in computational research in the humanities is related to but necessarily different from learning how to implement those concepts in code (which is also different from understanding the math behind the code), and this course privileges the former.

However, some basic familiarity with coding will be necessary in order to understand exactly what is involved when researchers use computers to analyze humanities data. To that end, during the first half of the course, over a period of three weeks, we will complete tutorials designed to introduce the basics of programming in R. Again, the goal will not be to teach you “how to code.” Rather, the goal will be to help you achieve a basic level of literacy in coding so that you can read scripts others have written and understand what they’ve done, or at least understand how you can go about figuring out what they’ve done. The emphasis of this class is on achieving an introductory level of literacy in computational criticism, not on teaching you to do computational criticism itself (but that’s the next step!).

The course is open to students across the humanities, although it will focus on literary and cultural studies. No experience in the digital humanities or with digital tools or methods is required. Students with experience in the digital humanities, including previous graduate-level course work or an existing project underway, are also welcome in the course.