ENG 287: The Digital Text (Fall 2020)

Course Information

Course Code: ENG287H1-F LEC0101
Lecture time: Asynchronous video lectures
Lecture location: Posted on Quercus

Instructor: Prof. Adam Hammond
Office Hours: Mondays, noon-2pm (via Zoom, scheduled on Quercus; see “Office Hours” announcement on course Quercus page)
Email: adam.hammond@utoronto.ca


In this course, you will watch weekly asynchronous video lectures and then attend one one-hour tutorial session per week. Tutorials will take place on Zoom.

Tutorial sectionTimeLocationTA
0101Wed, 2-3pmOnlineA. Atiya
0102Wed, 2-3pmOnlineC. Chang
0103Wed, 2-3pmOnlineM. Harris
0104Wed, 2-3pmOnlineG. Hassell
0105Wed, 2-3pmOnlineR. Stafford
0201Wed, 3-4pmOnlineA. Atiya
0202Wed, 3-4pmOnlineC. Chang
0203Wed, 3-4pmOnlineM. Harris
0204Wed, 3-4pmOnlineG. Hassell
0205Wed, 3-4pmOnlineR. Stafford

Course Overview

This course offers a practical and theoretical introduction to the new creative and interpretive possibilities opened up by digital forms of literature. Reading novels, graphic novels, short stories, videogames, and media theory by writers such as Jennifer Egan, Dash Shaw, Jorge Luis Borges, Porpentine, and Marshall McLuhan, we will ask what is at stake in the shift from print to digital forms. Engaging with digital libraries and computational techniques in literary analysis, we will ask what new insights we can gain into literature once it is digitized. Is the digital age making literature more accessible, more inclusive, and more interactive? Or will the digital age, with its many multimedia distractions, make literature obsolete?

Students will gain hands-on experience with tools and techniques for analyzing and producing digital literary texts. Students will submit their second assignment and final essays in “interactive” digital form using the Twine platform.

In this course you will:

  • Become familiar with the major contemporary debates (social, political, aesthetic) concerning the fate of literature in the digital age
  • Investigate the new research questions that we can ask of digitized texts using computational textual analysis
  • Explore digital theory and several genres of born-digital fiction
  • Learn how the advent of the digital is affecting more traditional print-based literary genres
  • Learn the rudiments of Twine, HTML, and CSS
  • Write a final essay in which the digital medium is a crucial element of your argument

Course Materials

The following required texts can be purchased from any source, in physical or electronic format. Recommended editions are listed by ISBN number below, but any edition is fine.

  • The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (Gingko, ISBN 1584230703)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, ISBN 0307477479)
  • The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya (ECW, ISBN 1770415254)

The following books are recommended:

  • BodyWorld by Dash Shaw (Pantheon, ISBN 030737842X)
  • Literature in the Digital Age: An Introduction by Adam Hammond (Cambridge, ISBN 1107615070, available via U of T Libraries here)

The following required videogames can be purchased from Steam (for multiple platforms, including Windows and Mac desktops/laptops) and/or the Apple App Store (for iPhones), and/or, through the links below, for other platforms (Android devices, various gaming consoles), too.

Those who are unable to purchase the above or to play them on their devices can rely on “Let’s Play” videos. Search for “let’s play stanley parable” and “let’s play sworcery” on YouTube.

Additional readings will be posted in Quercus.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Is Literature Dying in the Digital Age? (No tutorial)

Week 2: The Medium and the M[e]ssage (Tut: Sep 23)

  • Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (content warning: racism)
  • LitDA chapter 2 (recommended)

Week 3: The Universal Library (Tut: Sep 30)

  • H. G. Wells, “World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia” (article)
  • Virginia Woolf, excerpt from A Room of One’s Own (on Quercus)
  • Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” (short story; on Quercus)
  • LitDA chapter 3 (recommended)
  • Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature (optional; on Quercus)
  • Robert Darnton, “Google and the Future of Books (optional; on Quercus)

Week 4: Computational Literary Analysis and TTRs (Tut: Oct 7)

You don’t need to consult any of these links before lecture. There is no prep reading for this week. I’ll explain everything in the video(s) 🙂

Week 5: Rescuing Texts that Weren’t Happy as Books (Tut: Oct 14)

Week 6: Digital Texts in the Communications Circuit (Tut: Oct 21)

  • Dash Shaw, BodyWorld (web comic; content warning: violence, blood): PreludeChapter 123456789101112. (You may also want to purchase the printed book version.)
  • LitDA chapter 6 (recommended)
  • Assignment #1 due October 23rd

Week 7: Interactivity — and Introduction to Twine (Tut: Oct 28)

  • Emily Short, Galatea (interactive fiction; hit enter to start playing; then type “help” if you get stuck)
  • Davey Wreden, The Stanley Parable (videogame)
  • LitDA chapter 7, pp. 154-163. (recommended)

Week 8: Hypertext and Twine (Tut: Nov 4)

Reading Week

Week 9: Indie Games and Multimedia (Tut: Nov 18)

  • Superbrothers, Capy Games, Jim Guthrie, Sword and Sworcery (videogame)
  • Assignment #2 due November 20th

Week 10: Can Analogue Fiction Be Digital? (I) (Tut: Nov 25)

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. (Content warning: homophobia, sexism, addiction.)

Week 11: Can Analogue Fiction Be Digital? (II) (Tut: Dec 2)

Week 12: Can Analogue Fiction Be Digital? (III) (No tutorial)

  • Vivek Shraya, The Subtweet
  • Final Essay due Friday, December 11th

Marking Scheme

Your final grade will be based on the following:

  • Assignment #1: Computational Analysis (20%)
  • Assignment #2: Creative Intervention (20%)
  • Final Essay (35%)
  • Participation in Tutorial (25%)

Late policy

All late assignments will be reduced 3% per day, including weekends. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week after the due date. All assignments are due through the course’s Quercus page, which can be accessed at q.utoronto.ca.


Active participation in tutorial is necessary. Students are expected to contribute constructively to discussion in each tutorial session.

Participation will take the following forms. In advance of your weekly tutorial (by Monday at midnight each tutorial week), you will write a 150-250-word response to the weekly lecture. You will do so on your tutorial group’s discussion forum on Quercus. These responses will be visible to other members of your tutorial groups and will be the basis of discussion in the Zoom tutorials. You will be expected to make one contribution (verbal or written in the chat window) to each Zoom tutorial session; if you do not, your contribution can take the form of a written reply to another student’s comment on the Quercus discussion forum (no later than end of day, day of tutorial).


Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Accessibility Services at (416) 978 8060; accessibility.utoronto.ca.


The University of Toronto treats cases of academic misconduct very seriously. Academic integrity is a fundamental value of learning and scholarship at the UofT. Participating honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly in this academic community ensures that your UofT degree is valued and respected as a true signifier of your individual academic achievement.

The University of Toronto’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters outlines the behaviours that constitute academic misconduct, the processes for addressing academic offences, and the penalties that may be imposed. You are expected to be familiar with the contents of this document. Potential offences include, but are not limited to the following.

In papers and assignments:

  • Using someone else’s ideas or words without appropriate acknowledgement
  • Submitting your own work in more than one course without the permission of the instructor
  • Making up sources or facts.
  • Obtaining or providing unauthorized assistance on any assignment (this includes working in groups on assignments that are supposed to be individual work)

On tests and exams:

  • Using or possessing any unauthorized aid, including a cell phone
  • Looking at someone else’s answers
  • Letting someone else look at your answers
  • Misrepresenting your identity
  • Submitting an altered test for re-grading


  • Falsifying or altering any documentation required by the University, including (but not limited to) doctor’s notes
  • Falsifying institutional documents or grades

All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following the procedures outlined in the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. If you have any questions about what is or is not permitted in this course, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have questions about appropriate research and citation methods, you are expected to seek out additional information from me or other available campus resources like the College Writing Centres, the Academic Success Centre, or the U of T Writing Website.

Communication Policy

My preferred method of contact is via e-mail. I will respond to e-mails within 24 hours, though I generally will not respond to e-mails sent on weekends until the following Monday.

Additional Notes

This syllabus is subject to change. Because of this, you are encouraged to consult this web page throughout the year, rather than printing it off.
Your remaining in this class constitutes acceptance of the conditions outlined in this syllabus.
Please be aware that we will discuss sensitive issues in the course, related to topics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and politics. I have made my best offers to flag potentially sensitive content in the Content Warnings in the syllabus; please contact me if you have any particular concerns.