ENG 287, University of Toronto (Fall 2013)

Course Description

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 and creative possibilities opened up by the shift from print to digital forms, as well as the social consequences of this transition. 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, we will learn how the encoding of literary texts affects the questions we can ask of them. By analyzing digital-born forms such as webcomics, hypertext, interactive fiction, flash poetry, and video games, we will question how such texts alter the role of the reader, change the nature of narrative, and affect the task of interpretation.

Students will gain hands-on experience with and develop skills in quantitative textual analysis and text encoding. Students will participate in the production of a TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) edition of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” which will be developed into a website entitled The (Living) Dead. No programming experience is required.

Required Books

Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (Gingko) is available from the University of Toronto Bookstore. Sword and Sworcery is available in an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad version from the iTunes Store; in a Windows & Mac version via Steam (the Mac version is also available from the Mac App Store); and in an Android version from  Google Play.

Any edition of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” is acceptable, including the free edition linked from the syllabus below.

There is a very nice print version of Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld. You are not required to read BodyWorld in this form, but you may wish to. (Many past students have complained about the online version and praised the print version. Since this course is partly about the differences between digital and print, you may wish to try both.) The Beguiling on Markham and Bloor generally have BodyWorld in stock.

All other texts available for free online. (Links from syllabus below.)


  • Items in green are to be read/explored/tinkered with before attending lecture.
  • Items in black will be demonstrated during lecture; you are not required to visit them beforehand.
  • Tutorials during the period indicated by the diagonal striped () pattern will take place according to the Computer Lab Tutorial Schedule described below.
Sep. 10 (None) Introduction: Is Literature Dying in the Digital Age?

Sep. 17 (None) Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage
Sep. 24 Carr/Shirky/Birkerts, The Medium is the Massage Computer-Assisted Textual Analysis

Articles mentioned in lecture: James M. Hughes et al.’, “Quantitative patterns of stylistic influence in the evolution of literature”; Laura Miller’s response on Salon.com“Are Literary Classics Obsolete?”; Stephen Marche’s response, “Literature is Not Data,” in the LA Review of Books; and  the series of responses to Marche’s response, also in the LA Review of Books.

Oct. 1 Computer-Assisted Textual Analysis Rescuing Texts That Weren’t Happy As Printed Books

Oct. 8 Rescuing Texts The Universal Library

Oct. 15 Assignment #1 Due. The Universal Library Introduction to Our Class Project, The (Living) Dead

Oct. 22 Our Class Project The Technical Side of Our Class Project: TEI

Oct. 29 TEI Born-Digital Fiction: The Practical Side

Nov. 5 TEI / BodyWorld Born-Digital Fiction: Interactivity

Nov. 12

Fall Break — No class.

Nov. 19 Assignment #2 Due. Lucy Hardin and Galatea. Born-Digital Fiction: Multimedia

Nov. 26 Inanimate Alice and YHCHI. Born-Digital Fiction: the (Indie) Video Game

Dec. 3 Essay Due. Exam strategies and S:S&S EP. Digital Texts and the Literary Marketplace

  • Guest: Jared Bland, Books Editor, The Globe and Mail

Exam Review and Preview of “Class-Sourced Edition”


Assignment #1: Quantitative Analysis (3 pages): 15%
Assignment #2: Text Encoding (2 pages plus electronic tagging submission): 15%
Essay (6 pages): 25%
Participation in tutorial: 10%
Final examination: 35%

Late Policy

All assignments and papers are due in tutorial. They will be accepted up until one week after the due date, with an automatic deduction of three percentage points per day, up to a maximum of 21%. Work will not be accepted beyond a week after the due date except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Any paper submitted over the weekend will be counted as submitted the following Monday and deductions will be calculated accordingly. For information on where and how to submit late papers, please see this page.