English 238 (2021 F) – Assignments

Assignments for English 238 (Fall 2021)

Digital Humanities: Introduction to the Field

There are three assignments in this course in addition to the reading assignments:
 1. Practicums   2. Research blog posts, essay, or bibliography   3. Project proposal .

1. Practicum Assignments

Course “practicums” are hands-on, small-scale exercises that ask students to experiment at a beginner’s level or conceptually with the methods and tools of the digital humanities.

Rationale for Assignment: The goal is not technical mastery but learning enough about the technologies to think about, and through, their concepts and also to discover which methods and tools might be used in a student’s future research. In many cases, experience gained in the practicums will contribute directly to the discussion of issues in class.

Outputs from practicum assignments (such as a file, screenshot, etc. should be uploaded to a student’s folder in the course’s Sandbox for Student Work (a private Google Drive folder for course members). The assignments are due by the time of class on various days so that they may be shown to start discussion of the issues involved.

2. Research Blog Posts, Essay, or Bibliography

Students have the choice of completing this assignment for the course in one of three ways. Choose one of the options below.

Option A: Research Blog Posts

Write and post online two research blog posts (1,000-1,500 words each) or, alternatively one longer research blog post (about 2,000-3,000 words). The focus of the post(s) should be on a student’s specific professional field in its relation to the digital humanities—i.e., posts that (varying by field) address the kind of question asked in the panel at the American Studies Association convention in 2012 on “What Can Digital Humanities Bring to American Studies? And Vice Versa?” (see transcript notes of the session). For example, if a student works on the Early Modern period or postcolonialism, then posts might be about such topics as “how DH has made a difference in Early Modern studies”; “what the history of early books contributes to understanding text analysis today”; “limitations of DH in studying non-Western societies and cultures”; or “critical review of two major DH projects in India.” (The posts can also be directly about the digital humanities field if that is a student’s intended professional field.)

Rationale for assignment: Digital humanities scholars often augment established formats of publication by writing blogs and web pages, posting in-progress works, creating websites, participating in collaborative projects or writings, and contributing other alternative research products. The effect is both to expand the ecosystem of research dissemination and to make visible the full curve of normal research activity (not just a “final” print article, for example, but the online blog posts, conversations, projects, talks, etc. that incubate an article). This expanded ecosystem of research dissemination offers opportunities for graduate students and other early-career scholars that did not exist in a prior age of scholarship. For example, some graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty in the digital humanities field have created online sites or published blog posts that make them highly visible in their field.

Timeline: One blog post by Class 4; second blog post (or single longer post) by Class 8. Posts will be linked from the Student Work page for this course.

Advice on research blog posts

Students who already keep a blog can, if appropriate, publish the required blog posts on their own blog or create a category on their blog titled something like “[Name of My Field] and Critical Infrastructure Studies.” Students new to blogging will need to start a blog. A widely-used and free blogging platform (which can also be used as a full-fledged “content management system” to build other kinds of sites) is WordPress.com. (You may want to consider establishing at low cost a personal domain and site for yourself at an educator-oriented provider like Reclaim Hosting. For example, alanyliu.org is a WordPress site hosted at Reclaim Hosting. This will allow you to evolve a full-fledged professional and research/teaching site identified with you that you will not need to migrate from institution to institution as you progress in your career.)

Good academic research blog posts commonly present or report on research in the field; discuss the context, method, implications, and problems of that research; relate the issues to other academic or world issues (where relevant and useful); and include some links or references (plus, as appropriate, images). By contrast with publications in journals and other venues of final record, research blog posts are more free to present partial or in-progress reports, to use personal voice, to supply only the necessary links without a complete bibliography, and at times to be avowedly exploratory, speculative, or controversial. For posts, advice, and resources on academic blogging, see for example: Tim Hitchcock, “Doing It In Public: Impact, Blogging, Social Media and the Academy”(2014); Rohan Maitzen, “Blogging: Accept No Substitutes!” (2013); and Alice Fleerackers, “Blogging Your Research: Tips for Getting Started”(2020). See also Jenny Davis on pros and cons of citing blogs in academic research (2013).

Below are a few good models of influential academic blogs. (These are selected just from the digital humanities field. Suggestions for examples from other fields are welcome.)

Option B: Research or Critical Essay

Write a short research or critical essay (2,500-3,000 words) that covers the same kinds of topic as described under the blog post option above.

Timeline: The essay is due by Class 8.  Please submit as a digital document (in word processor format). You do not have to post your essay online, but optionally you can do so and have it linked on the course Student Works page.

Option C: Research Bibliography with Commentary

Create in Zotero a public bibliography of publications, websites,  projects, conferences, or other materials representing a sampler or snapshot of DH in your research field, or in some area in that field (e.g., a bibliography of “DH and Postcolonial Studies” or “DH in American Studies” or “DH and Science Technology Studies”). While the bibliography can in part include resources focused on a specific topic—and thus contribute to the “environmental scan” for the project proposal due at the end of the course or for a dissertation prospectus—its coverage should be field-oriented in a way that is wider than a tightly focused topic.

Depending on what is available in a field, aim for a bibliography of at least 70-100 works (or consult with Alan if this seems an impractical number). Citations should include abstracts and use “tags” to provide some logical structure. In Zotero, the bibliography should be kept as a “group library” that can be shared online with “public, closed membership” permissions, meaning that others may view the bibliography but not join it as editing members.  (However, membership may be opened more widely after the course for shared editing if desired.)

Along with the bibliography, please provide in the form of a document (or an online post) a short overview or commentary—descriptive, theoretical, or critical—on what you found (about 300-600 words). Also include as part of this document or post a structured menu of tags for your bibliography designed to help an end-user gain a mental map of what you have assembled. The menu can be in the form of an outline such as follows:


  • Category 1: Topic label A (tag or tags) | Topic lable B (tag or tags) | Topic label C (tag or tags) [etc.]
    • Subcategory: Topic label A (tag or tags) | Topic lable B (tag or tags)
    • Subcategory: Topic label A (tag or tags) | Topic lable B (tag or tags)
  • Category 2: Topic label A (tag or tags) | Topic lable B (tag or tags) | Topic label C (tag or tags) [etc.]
    • Subcategory: Topic label A (tag or tags) | Topic lable B (tag or tags) [Etc.]
  • [Etc.]

Rationale for Assignment: Curating a public bibliography with “tags” (effectively a partial classification “ontology”) is an excellent way to develop a conceptual map of an area.  And publishing the bibliography online helps establish students publicly as early-career scholars in their field.

Timeline: The bibliography and overview or commentary is due by Class 8. The bibliography should be accessible in Zotero online. The commentary can be submitted either as a document or as an online post (for example, as a blog post that also includes a link to the online Zotero bibliography).

Zotero Instructions & Help: Create a free Zotero account for yourself if you do not already have one. Also, from the Zotero site download and install on your computer the Zotero desktop app and the Zotero “connector” (the plugin for browsers, Word, and Google Docs). Turn on syncing between your online Zotero account and your local-computer Zotero libraries by configuring the preferences in the desktop app (see help on Preferences and Sync).

3. DH Project Proposal (mock proposal)

The final assignment for the course is a mock “grant proposal” for a DH project containing the following:

  • Abstract
  • Narrative, including:
    • Rationale
    • “Environmental scan.” Discuss related or competing work, and situate your project relative to it.
    • Description of planned outputs. Include in your narrative, or in an appendix, samples of the materials or data you want to work with. Describe how you will use at least one digital method, platform, or tool on those materials to create planned outputs. And show examples of your early, exploratory work toward  the project—e.g., a small, partial dataset and a trial text analysis or visualization based on the dataset, etc.
  • Work plan. Include in your work plan the staffing you will need to complete the project—e.g., co-PIs, RAs. Also include a timeline of major project stages or steps.
  • Sustainability plan. Explain how your project can be maintained online functionally for at least 10 years; and also how you envision the long-term preservation or designed degradation of your project. As part of long-term planning, designate an institutional or disciplinary open-access repository in which you would deposit your data, results, or other project parts. (For a searchable registy of open access directories, see OpenDOAR.) Consider especially what combination of local resources would be avaiable to you at the levels of your department, the UCSB campus, or the University of California system, and then what off-campus  resources might be needed in addition to augment longterm preservation or discoverability. (For information on UC and UCSB institutional repositories, see “University of California Repositories.”)
    • An example sustainability plan for a DH project
    • For other examples, see the “data management plans” created at UCSB through the DMPTool portal. (To access the existing UCSB plans, create an account for yourself in DMPTool by signing in through “University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)” access to the tool. You can also use the tool to create a mock data management plan by initiating “Create plan” but with the box checked for “mock project for testing, practice, or educational purposes.”)

      DMPTool (Data Management Plan builder) screenshot
      DMPTool (Data Management Plan builder) screenshot
  • Budget (simplified). Using the below example budget as a model, create a simplified budget for your project, adding lines just for salaries, benefits, travel, and materials or technical resources, as you see fit. (For the benefits figures, just make it up without worrying about consulting official UCSB salary and benefits tables.) Also factor in “indirect costs” (the approximately 50% of a grant that the campus automatically takes to compensate the university for general support of research) and any “cost share” you optimistically plan on getting from department or other campus units to help offset indirect or other costs. (If you are interested in understanding the idea and significance of “indirect costs,” see the  relevant section on the UCSB Office of Research “Budget Preparation” page and the document “An Introduction to Indirect Costs at UC Santa Barbara.” The Office of Research “Budget Preparation” page also explains elements of “direct costs” such as salaries, benefits, equipment, travel, etc. if you wish to learn how research grant budget preparation actually works.) Note: Normally, grant budgets are prepared in collaboration between the lead researcher and campus staff, such as the Contracts and Grants Coordinator at UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center or the equivalent staff at UCSB’s ISBER for social-science grants. Also, budget components such as cost share are normally backed up by memoranda of understandng or other commitments from contributing parties. (Of course, none of this applies to mock grant proposals.)

For an example of a whole DH grant proposal similar to the one you are being asked to prepare, see the successful UCSB proposal in 2011 for the RoSE Project for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) “Digital Humanities Start-up Grant.” (Also see the “Sample Application Narratives” in the sidebar of the archived site for this past NEH grant.)

Students can work individually or in teams on mock project proposals. A team-authored proposal will be expected to be fuller—e.g., with more demonstration examples or supporting materials—than a solo proposal. Teams need to accompany their proposal with a summary of individual team-member contributions.

Class 10 (the final class) of the course will be devoted to lightning presentations of project proposals. Students do not have to post proposals online, but optionally students can elect to do so and have proposals linked on the course Student Work page.

Rationale for assignment: Ideally, a DH course would ask students to complete a digital project.  But due to the time constraints of a ten-week course in a quarter system, it is impractical for students both to accomplish the readings and ongoing assignments for an “introduction to the field” course and also to execute a full-scale DH project. The culminating assignment for this course, therefore, is not a completed digital project but a well conceived and designed proposal for one. Students are asked to create the detailed proposal for a digital-humanities project that they will hypothetically implement in the future (and may well implement as part of their dissertation research or other later work).

A supplementary goal of this assignment is to help train students to write grant proposals—one of the key genres of scholarly writing.

Please prepare (and send to Alan  by email) prior to class 6 on Oct. 28 a brief description of your idea for a project proposal. Project proposals must be completed by Class 10, when students will give presentations on them.