English 238 (F 2019) – Assignments

Assignments for English 238 (F 2019)

Assignment A — Prospectus for a Research Topic and Project

By Class 4 in the course, write a 1-2 page prospectus for a research topic and project (for which you will later write a full-scale research proposal but need not actually implement during the course). The prospectus should include the following components and can be given to the instructor as hard-copy or by email:

  • Statement of a research question

    The research question should be aimed at end goals of research, whether exploratory or highly focused. For example, a question might be: “What do we learn about fiction circa 1850 that is new if we read it together with newspaper articles of the time?” or  “Are there different conventions for describing women versus men in the trials recorded in the Old Bailey Project?”  The research question should not be about intermediary methods or instruments (for example: “how can we use the dataset of the Old Bailey Project for text analysis?”)

  • Statement of context and significance

    Situate your research question in one or more relevant contexts (historical, social, intellectual, etc.) and give a sense of the significance of your question in that context. (For example, if you are a historian you might say that historical research over the past century has alternated between longue durée and micro-history approaches, and your research question is about using data-driven methods to negotiate between the two.)

  • Initial guess at data and methods

    Suggest what data sources and methods/tools you would want to explore in pursuing your research question. (Further work during the course in preparation for your full-scale research proposal will allow you to sharpen this guess at sources and methods.)

Assignment B — Research Blog Post 1

By Class 5, write a research blog post that narrates, expands on, or reflects on your research question above. You may choose whether to write your blog post just as a document, as an actual post that you keep private, or as a post that you publish online (e.g., on your own blog or home page). The post should be no more than about 1,000 words.

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 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).  See also Jenny Davis on citing blogs in academic research (2013).

Below are a few good models of influential academic blogs (selected just from the digital humanities field):

Assignment C — Research Proposal (in the form of a mock grant proposal)

Ideally, this course would ask students to implement an actual data-science project as the capstone of their readings and discussions of the humanities and data science. But in a ten-week quarter system, this is impractical. The culminating assignment for this course, therefore, is not a completed data-science project but the next best thing. Students are asked to create a full-scale research proposal for a data-science project that they will hypothetically implement in future (and may well implement as part of their dissertation research or later work). Class 10 (the final class) of the course will be devoted to presentations of these research proposals

  • Format of research proposal

    The format of the project prospectus is a mock “grant proposal” containing the essential narrative elements of a typical grant application (minus such other components as a budget, timeline, personnel bios, letters of support, etc.).

    Unless students have a reason to choose a different grant-proposal model (for example, one closer to their field), we will use as a common model in this course the guidelines for the NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants (Level 1). The grants are described here (with examples of successful grant proposals linked at the bottom of the page).  The guidelines for writing the grant are in this PDF document (with the component parts listed on pp. 12-17). Students need only include a stripped-down set of these elements limited to the following:

    • A narrative, including:
      • an environmental scan (discussion of related work)
      • a detailed work plan (including how data will be collected, how datasets and metadata will be structured, and methods and tools for using the data)
      • a description of final product
    • A data management plan (describing how data will be manage, stored, and documented during development work; and final data sustainability plans [e.g., deposition in an institutional repository]).
    • Unless included among the parts of the proposal above, please also add to the elements of your proposal:
      • A bibliography
      • An appendix including or showing samples from:
        • A “miniature big-dataset” (a sample of the envisioned dataset for your proposed project)
        • Early experiments in researching and analyzing the dataset

Assignment D — Research Blog Post 2

By Tuesday of the week following the last class of the course, write a research blog post that reflects on the general topic of the course: the humanities and data science. As in the case of the first blog post in the course, you may choose whether to write your post just as a document, as an actual post that you keep private, or as a post that you publish online (e.g., on your own blog or home page). The post should be no more than about 1,000 words.