English 630TT: The Technology of Textuality

This course examines medieval literary traditions from the perspective of the growing field of Digital Humanities. It begins with the premise that literary form and function can be understood in terms of the technologies used to produce it. For the Middle Ages, this consists of the spoken and written word, in contrast to modern print, and, increasingly, digital technologies. We will in fact use the latter to understand medieval literature, and, in comparison, study some of the ways that digital technologies make literary and cultural meanings today. This will be a demanding course, as we will be looking at medieval texts in their original forms, and we will also be learning computational techniques for studying literature. No prior experience or technical knowledge is presumed, but you should be prepared to put some effort into learning material that is unfamiliar and may be outside of your comfort zone.

Course Objectives:

  1. To learn about the literature of the Middle Ages with special attention to the physical forms in which it is preserved.
  2. To gain some proficiency reading some forms of medieval English.
  3. To learn about an important period in book history.
  4. To explore how digital technologies influence literary form and meaning.
  5. To learn some Digital Humanities technologies and methods for studying literature.
  6. To gain “transferable skill” proficiency in some text and web-based digital technologies.

Course Information

  • Course Number: 19861
  • Days: Wednesday
  • Time: 4:00-6:45 PM
  • Location: Jerome Richfield 245
  • Office Hours: Sierra Tower 803, Monday 1:00-1:30, Wednesday 1:00-1:30


Our only textbook is Christopher de Hamel, Scribes and Illuminators. Other readings are listed in the course schedule.

Coursework and Grading

Forum Posts

We will run a forum in Canvas to which you will regularly post responses of about 500-1000 words to readings. Forum posting has the following requirements:

  1. You must post to the forum every two weeks at minimum by the end of the Monday before class.
  2. You must respond to a classmate’s post every two weeks.

These are the minimum requirements; you will enhance your own learning and that of your classmates if you post more frequently. The section in bold above is intended to ensure that you don’t wait until the last minute to do the reading and to give others a chance to respond. Keep in mind, the forum can be used for asking questions, as well as providing more extended interpretations.

Final Project

We will spend roughly the second half of the semester coming up with a topic for and creating a final group project (or possibly two-three projects). This may take a variety of forms suggested by questions we will explore in the first half of the semester. However, you should begin developing ideas from day 1, and these ideas are an excellent topics for forum posts. The precise format and scope of the project will be negotiated by the members of the group. The main requirements are that it focus on texts that fall within the medieval period and that it make use of or reflect upon some of the methods we examine in class. The project will be due on 17 May.


Grades are A, B, C, D, or F and can receive a plus or minus. To receive a grade other than a WU, you must have completed more than half the coursework (no exceptions). Since students in English courses are expected by society at large to be acquiring writing skills, I privilege grammar, spelling, and editing in my grading. Work containing distracting numbers of typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors will be graded primarily on these criteria on a sliding scale which may supersede all other criteria. That is, the more distracting these factors are, the more they are worth (up to 100% of your grade). A rough guide to what is distracting is any sign that might give an employer pause when evaluating a job application. Although I may award extra credit for some non-required activities (such as attendance at guest lectures), I regret that I am unable to grade assignments beyond those required for class in order to award extra credit.

Final grades will be based on your forum posts, your individual contribution to the group project, and your group project as a whole, as well as your preparation and participation (see below). Forum posts and comments will receive a grade at the end of the semester based on my estimation of your cumulative effort and insight into the material.

Preparation and Participation

Enrolling in this class requires a commitment to participate in a community of learners in which you agree to contribute to and not to detract from the learning environment. In order to receive full credit in the class, you must do the readings in advance, bring any assigned texts to each class where we are discussing them, be prepared to discuss the materials, and complete all assignments. You must also arrive to class on time and remain in the class room until class has been dismissed. For disruptive behaviour, I reserve the right to lower your final grade as I feel appropriate. There is no automatic credit for attendance, and frequent absences will be noted and may be reflected in your final grade.

Inappropriate Use of Technology in Class

Ringing and/or vibrating cell phones in class disrupt my concentration and that of your fellow students, inevitably lowering the quality of the learning environment. If your cell phone goes off in class, I reserve the right to impose penalties to your grade or to ask you to leave the classroom, as I deem appropriate. If you have a computer or smart phone in the classroom, it will be very tempting to check your e-mail, read Facebook, or generally surf the web for purposes unrelated to the class. Resist. If I catch you engaged in these activities, I reserve the right to impose penalties to your grade or ask you to leave the classroom, as I deem appropriate.

Academic Honesty

It is extremely important that all aspects of your work are come by honourably. Efforts to gain an advantage not given to all students are dishonest and regarded as an extremely serious matter by the academic community. Consequences range from probation to expulsion. University policy stipulates that plagiarism, the submission of another person’s work as your own, is a violation of academic honesty, even if it arises out of ignorance or oversight, rather than deliberate cheating. Enrolling in this class means that you agree to abide by my decision regarding the appropriate action to take in cases of academic dishonesty. If you have any questions about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting, or collaboration, please consult me.

Add/Drop Policy

Students should make sure that they follow the university’s add/drop deadlines, outlined in the Schedule of Classes. According to university policy, drops are only allowed after the set date when “a) there is a serious and compelling reason–specifically the student’s emotional or physical health or financial condition is clearly in jeopardy, and b) there is no viable alternative–including repeating the class”. Students will need to provide documentation on official letterhead–a letter, on official stationery, from a doctor or an employer–to support their reasons. No adds will be allowed unless a student can provide documented proof–e.g., a clerical error–for the reason for the tardiness. Please make sure to meet the deadline!

Withdrawals and Incompletes

The standard grade if a student fails to complete the work for a class is a “WU”. This is the equivalent of an “F”, but the grade may be changed if you re-take the course at a future time. This grade is also assigned to students who have not attended after the first few classes of the semester but have not officially “withdrawn” from the course. I may assign an Incomplete (“I”) if and only if you meet all of the following conditions:

  • You have completed the vast bulk of the assigned work;
  • You are passing the class;
  • You fill out and bring to me a “Request for an Incomplete” form (also available from the English Department office), on which I detail exactly what is still needed for completion of the course.
  • I can make no exceptions to this policy, even if it affects your financial aid.

Once you take an incomplete, you have a year from the date recorded on the form to complete the requirements of the course and have your grade changed; therefore, you should submit work early enough to allow me to grade your work and fill out the necessary forms to assign you a new grade. Keep in mind that, after you take an Incomplete, any grading of your work becomes an added burden on my busy timetable during the following year. Therefore you should not expect the normal amount of comments on your work or any extra teaching beyond my normal office hours.

Please login to Canvas for the reading schedule.

The following readings are not at this time assigned for the course but may be of interest:

  1. Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 55–61.
  2. Renear, Allen H. “Text Encoding”. In A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
  3. Wittern, Christian. “Character Encoding”. In A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.
  4. A Companion to the History of the Book. Edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose. Blackwell, 2007. Available online through Oviatt Library.

Links to online digital tools will be added here. This area is still under development.

Coding Aids

  1. W3C Tutorials for HTML and CSS
  2. Regex Pal
  3. Regex Play