NLP for Literary Critics: An Introduction and Tutorial

Preface: Knowledge and Information

Shall I compare thee, human, to a machine? Thou art more critical and more intemperate (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18).

But seriously: how do human readers compare to machines? I ask because I want to define how literary critics can use machines to augment and extend our readings. Figuring that out depends on an understanding of how our readings compare to the machine’s abilities. Sure, they’re faster: but faster at what, exactly?

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The Roald Not Taken: Teaching the Short Stories

I’ve just finished teaching 58 first-year students the adult short stories of Roald Dahl, the 20th-century English writer better known for children’s books. (Here’s the course outline in PDF.)

From 1944 to 1988 Dahl, who died in 1990, wrote and published stories for adults: beginning with memoirs of his RAF service during the second world war, and covering a range of topics and settings: suburban English and American life; dysfunctional marriages; country pastimes in his rural Buckinghamshire (dog races, pheasant poaching); pick-pocketing, rat-catching, and human taxidermy.

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Teaching with YouTube

Apparently I’m in the 20% of YouTube’s 1.3 billion users who don’t watch it regularly. But I am among the 50 million who upload content to it. Since 2010 I’ve produced just five videos, whose collective 84 minutes is a drop in the ocean compared to the 300 hours of video uploaded each minute. It would take you 60,000 years to watch YouTube’s entire back catalogue.

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Text Accordians

I write, with my keyboard, all day. Every day. E-mails, lecture notes, grant applications, status updates, first drafts, second drafts, slideshow bullets, blog posts. To paraphrase the great Johnny Cash, I type everywhere, man.

And along the way, I find I quite often need to write the same words and numbers. I close every e-mail the same jaunty way (“yours, Michael”); I give students the same directions to my office; I repeat the same writing advice in my grading; my phone number hasn’t changed in a decade.

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Roald Dahl’s Stories for Adults

“I’ll bet you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.” Roald Dahl wrote this about the tale of Cinderella in Revolting Rhymes, but it also applies to the stories he wrote for adults from 1944 to 1988. “Nobody in their right mind would want to be a character in a Roald Dahl short story,” writes Anthony Horowitz (2.x). This author of beloved children’s books was known as ‘the master of the macabre’ for the twisted imagination he reveals in stories abounding with cruelty, lust, madness, and murder.

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TEI for Close-Readings

This is the paper that I delivered on 13 November 2017 at the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) annual meeting at the University of Victoria (British Columbia). Here’s the PDF of my slideshow, whose images intersect my script below.
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Varieties of Chiasmus in 68 Plays

This is an expanded version of the paper that I delivered at the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society meeting in Portland, Oregon on 21 October 2017. You can download the slideshow in PDF. Two earlier posts in this series address the problem, and the programming methods I used to address it.
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Get with the Programming

(This continues my previous post on this research project, about my questions and initial steps.)

This week I’m away to the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Conference to deliver a paper on rhetorical figures in early modern drama. (Wait! Don’t stop reading, it gets better.) I feel like a legit digital humanist for the first time in my life, because I’ve written my own computer program to analyze texts – a bash script in Unix that you can try for yourself on Github.

Okay, so my program just prepares my text files to run a far more complex program by Marie Dubremetz at Uppsala University (chiasmusDetector), but getting it to run on my files took some work.

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Find all the Figures


“Ask not what your country can do for you.” Instead, ask what the next line is from President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address. Most will remember the second part of that familiar sentence: “but what you can do for your country.” It’s memorable because it repeats three words and phrases from the first half, just in inverse order: “you,” “can do,” and “your country.”

The term for this kind of linguistic structure is a rhetorical figure, and the term for this kind of rhetorical figure is antimetabole: a symmetrical (ABC|CBA) arrangement of words and phrases.

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What (Might Have) Happened

“It’s important that we understand what really happened. Because that’s the only way we can stop it from happening again.”

Last year’s election of Donald Trump prompted me to write an open breakup letter to American political coverage. My resolve has eroded steadily over the past 10 months, but it shattered today. This morning I started reading What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s 464-page memoir of the 2016 election, and I finished it in the afternoon. I couldn’t put it down – not because it’s another insider account of public events, but because it’s so much more than a private memoir. (Also, it was my birthday. And I’m on sabbatical. So my inbox could wait.)

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The Locavore’s Dilemma

Typically on this blog I write about research and teaching subjects. But it’s time now to rotate the proverbial crops and see what else will take root. What better way than to be un-metaphorical about it, and write about growing my own food?

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What can Machine Learning do for Literary Critics?

First in a series of posts about artificial intelligence sparked by “The Great AI Awakening,” an article from December 2016 by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in the New York Times Magazine. Cross-posted to The Augmented Criticism Lab‘s blog.

Can you trust machines to make decisions on your behalf? You’re doing it already, when you trust the results of a search engine or follow directions on your phone or read news on social media that confirms your worldview. It’s so natural that you forget it’s artificial; someone programmed a machine to make it happen. If Arthur C. Clarke is right (“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”), we’re living in the age of magical thinking.

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The History and Future of Reading

This is a provisional description of a graduate course I’ll offer in the Department of English in Spring 2018. For details and updates, contact me.

The history of reading begins with the invention of written language and culminates, like all histories, in the present — in the seminar room of this course, among other places. Here we will study that history and the theorizations of reading practices, and consider how cultural and material circumstances have influenced historical readers. And we will see the present and future of reading as equally subject to our own intellectual habits and technologies. But we will also examine our practices of reading two novels in 18 — novels from the 1760s and the 1990s. Both are “thick with the presence of other books” (in A.S. Byatt’s words), and with an awareness of their own status as books, of both the limits and potential of written language.

We read today in an age of abundance, when Google Books offers searchable access to 12 million books in 300 languages (so far). Digital tools help us navigate and analyze these texts quickly, but human expertise must apply qualitative judgement to all of this quantitative data. This course will explore the possibilities and limitations of what Stephen Ramsay calls “algorithmic criticism,” or the use of computers to ask empirical questions of texts, and to visualize their linguistic features using word trees, heat maps, and other deformations. Ramsay has addressed the limitations of this criticism, which aims “not to constrain meaning, but to guarantee its multiplicity.” To this end, the course aims primarily to teach and to theorize a critical toolkit, and to understand how it originates in or differs from past reading and interpretive practices.

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Talk: Unnatural Language and Natural Thinking

I’m giving a talk on the University of Calgary campus (in SS 1015) on Friday December 2, 2016 at 3:15pm.


Unnatural Language and Natural Thinking: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries


Critics of computational text-analysis tend to perceive its focus on language patterns as a flattening of qualitative texts into quantifiable patterns. They’re right. But a text’s linguistic operating-system deserves close scrutiny when it reveals features of the text that a human reader can’t perceive, or when it flags evidence beyond our capacity to gather. The Augmented Criticism Lab has developed algorithms to detect features of repetition and variation in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries (starting with drama, namely the Folger’s Digital Anthology). We’ve begun with features like rhetorical figures that repeat lemmas (heed, heedful, heeding) or morphemes (heeding, wringing, vexing). We use natural-language processing to gather evidence of these unnatural formulations, to ask whether they signal natural habits of thought. The interpretive payoff is our ability to make more definitive arguments not just about these figures, but also about underlying cognitive habits.

This paper describes our process and our corpus, and presents a range of our results with this initial corpus before we expand to the billion words in the EEBO-TCP corpus (1473-1700).

For more information about the Augmented Criticism Lab, visit < >.

Ten Ways to Teach without Lecture Notes

(Prefatory note: I’m writing this as a university professor of literature, but most of my observations should apply to other subjects at other levels.)

In a hypothetical alternate universe, imagine that you have to teach a class in ten minutes and just finished reading the book. You favour “just-in-time” teaching methods – out of habit, if not principle – so you tend to lecture from a list of ideas, quotations, questions, and classroom exercises, accompanied by a good slideshow. But today, as I said, you just finished the reading and teach in ten (now seven) minutes. What do you do?

First, let’s drop the alternate-universe fiction. Over the years my lecture notes have thinned considerably. I used to go in with every word scripted, in mortal fear that I would run out of material. But I’ve come to realize two things: students retain far more from interative knowledge-creation than from knowledge-delivery; and each class gives you an opportunity to make knowledge together, in ways you can only do together. In your limited time, in this room, with these minds, what knowledge will you produce?

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An Open Breakup Letter to American Politics

This week made me nostalgic for the 2000 Presidential election: for a recount in Florida shut down by the Supreme Court, and for the victory of George W. Bush. At least W. won under circumstances that called his legitimacy into question.

Whereas this week’s victory for Donald Trump was decisive, in state after state after state. Despite his claims, it seems the system isn’t so rigged.

So I’m out, America. You and I need some time apart.

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The Cure for Death by Powerpoint

This is an edited version of the talk I gave in the Faculty of Arts Teaching and Leaning Workshop series at the University of Calgary on 20 October 2016.

I delivered it for university faculty, but I think it could apply equally to all classrooms — maybe even beyond.

UPDATE (28 November 2016): I’ll give another version of this talk to the wider university community on 20 January 2017. Click here for details

Here’s the abstract:

Most of us use slideshows like Powerpoint or Keynote to accompany our lectures and illuminate our points. But what principles and habits are we following when we write our slideshows? Are we showing students the right information, in the right way, at the right time?

In this workshop, you’ll design slideshows to match your teaching goals to students’ learning needs. You’ll critique some slideshows that just don’t work. You’ll learn about some features of these two programs, like text animations and embedded media. And you’ll learn how slides can tell stories and provoke conversations, not just deliver information.

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Digital Humanities at the University of Calgary

Are you interested in doing graduate work in the digital humanities at the University of Calgary? Or just want to learn more about what we’re doing in this field?

Drop me a line. I’m accepting graduate students (MA and PhD) for Fall 2017.

Faculty here at the University of Calgary are topic-modelling sci-fi archives and using computers to analyze Shakespeare’s language patterns. In the Department of English we digitize, deform, and interpret texts, to develop new methods of digital philology; and we work with computer scientists to quantify, process, and visualize texts to uncover social, cultural, political, and historical trends.

If shaping the future of the humanities appeals to you, consider applying to the Department of English to do your graduate work in this field. The application deadline is December 10, 2016 for admission in Fall 2016.

Contact me for details, or to ask questions:

Talk: Computational Media Design + DH

This is a talk I gave on October 27th at the University of Calgary, “The Interface between CMD and Digital Humanities” about relationships between the Computational Media Design program and the digital humanities on campus. 
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Film Diary: Branagh’s *Hamlet* (1996)

For my English 311 course this term, I’ve been watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text of Hamlet while I read the play in Robert Miola’s Norton edition.


That edition includes an excerpt (176-82) from Kenneth Branagh’s introduction to the play, in which he describes the full text as offering more contextual richness than typically abridged performance versions: the background story of Polonius and his agent Reynaldo, and the plotting scene between Claudius and Laertes that sets the stage for his climactic duel with the prince.

The latter is an intense, whispered, conspiratorial conversation in which the grief-stricken Laertes (Michael Maloney) delivers the line “Thus didst thou” (4.7.55) as “Thus diest thou” — through gritted teeth, and with steely resolve. And when Claudius (Derek Jacobi) ruminates on their backup plan to kill Hamlet, it’s his upraised glass that makes him think of the poisoned chalice (4.7.155-61).

In short, this scene in the film made me appreciate how choices of text, of setting, of props, and of performance can influence my interpretation of a line like this one.


Teaching Shakespeare in the Screen Age

Shakespeare is hard

Reading Shakespeare is hard, especially if it’s your first time. It’s hard because Shakespeare writes plays and poems in unfamiliar language, making unfamiliar cultural references – and because his meanings are buried beneath two layers, of historical distance and of poetic style. So readers in 2016 need to excavate Shakespeare’s meaning from beneath his idiom and his syntax.

But reading Shakespeare in 2016 is hard for a third reason: because reading anything in print in 2016 is hard. It’s hard even for seasoned academics, but it’s particularly hard for each new generation of our students. I mean the difficulty of focusing on one thing in the era of distraction, of concentrating our mental resources to read books in the era of screens.

This is the paper I delivered on Monday June 30th at Congress 2016, so there are references to the particularities of that conference. It describes some of the design principles behind “Shakespeare and the Screen,” a course that I’m teaching.
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Close Reading

These guidelines on Close Reading are a subset of my broader guidelines on Effective Critical Writing. They are strongly indebted to similar guides by Robert Matz and John Lye.

I offer them as a general introduction to the subject, and a specific set of principles for students in my courses. You are free to share these materials, and to adapt them to your own needs — so long as you then share your materials under the same creative-commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) that I’m adopting here.

Here are some useful (I hope) resources:

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Model Close-Reading Essay

This is a Model Close-Reading Essay (~500-600 words) for students in my English 311: Shakespeare. For details, see the course homepage. 

Henry V, 1.2.260-98: A Close Reading

This passage consists of thirty-eight pentameter lines, unrhymed except for two couplets (ll.288-89 and 296-97). King Henry addresses an ambassador from the Dauphin, who has sent a gift of tennis-balls and a rebuke of Henry’s claim to the French crown.

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Student Projects in the Digital Humanities

This is a brief post, to highlight the work of my students this past term in a directed-study course in the digital humanities. Aaron Ellsworth and Will Best have each undertaken research projects, and have published a series of blog posts on their processes and their results. (Click on each name for each series.)

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20 Minutes Smarter: Using Stations for Critical Thinking

Like others, I use a template to put together my course outline. It saves time, and it has a nice design (or so I think). It also has standard language about submission policies and academic integrity and laptops and mobile phones in the classroom.

The technology policy usually says something stern about how you don’t need an internet-connected computer for any purpose, and shouldn’t use one for anything in class beyond note-taking. Stay focused, be mindful, eat your proverbial vegetables.

But this time it’s different:

You will make frequent and extensive use of your laptop computer and mobile phone in this class, to annotate texts and pose questions and make preliminary research inquiries — particularly when we are watching films and clips together. But you must at all times be willing to share your screen with others in your groups, and often with the whole class. Please keep your Facebook trolling and Buzzfeed fixes to designated stations and/or break times. You owe it to yourself, and your colleagues, to stay focused on the material at hand.

(I had to add the last part, which says, “Look, I know there are a thousand temptations out there – but let’s agree to concentrate on the task at hand.”)

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Empathy and the Novel

[This is my provisional course description for English 201 L13 in Fall 2016.]

What are novels good for? Conventional wisdom says that when we read novels, we allocate scarce resources of time to a leisure activity. But economic calculations of productivity or escapism are too reductive. Novels expand our narrow views of the world by making us empathize with characters who are overtly unlike us. The novels we read in this course will unsettle our conventional thinking. Negotiating between human desires and social mores, their characters transport us from our circumstances into rapturous loves, geopolitical crises, sun-dappled landscapes, and sterile sanitoriums.

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Digital Humanities at Congress 2016

A list of events for digital humanists at Congress 2016 (May 28-June 3, 2016), compiled by Michael Ullyot. To add an event, send details to ullyot{at}

Events are listed in the order they were received (i.e. not in chronological order).  

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Digital Humanities Summer Institute @ Congress 2016

Do you get the feeling that your computer could be doing more work for you, instead of making you do more work? Are you curious about how the Digital Humanities can support your research, teaching, and dissemination?

The Digital Humanities (DH) Summer Insitute @ Congress 2016 is a series of 2.5-hour workshops for scholars, staff, and students interested in a hands-on introduction to DH tools, techniques and methods:

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Text-Analysis Interest Group

In April 2016, Stephen Childs (OIA) and Michael Ullyot (Faculty of Arts) are launching an interest group for anyone at the University of Calgary interested in computational text-analysis. These include natural language processing, corpus linguistics, topic modelling, qualitative analysis, or any other statistical or quantitative approach to qualitative texts. We envision a group meeting once or twice per term to discuss individual projects/methods and to collaborate on projects of joint interest.

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Elizabethan Drama | English 412, Winter 2017

This is a course I will teach in Winter 2017. For more information, contact me.

Its prerequisites are English 302 and one of 240 or 340. To see if you are eligible, contact the Department of English and/or the Arts Students’ Centre.

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Approaches to Literature | English 201, Fall 2016

This is the landing page for a course I will teach in Fall 2016.

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Shakespeare | English 311, Fall 2016

This is the landing page for English 311, a course at the University of Calgary in Fall 2016.

  1. The course blog is accessible here, and there’s also a dedicated blog post category for this course, charting its development and its principles.
  2. Here is the course outline, or you can view it on Scribd (below).
  3. Here are the readings on Dropbox.

Engaging Large Classes: Notes from a Workshop

These are my notes from a recent Teaching + Learning Workshop on engaging large classes, with Patrick Finn (R, Drama) and David Dick (L, Philosophy).

I’m posting these notes here because far too often, events of this kind aren’t documented for those who had the misfortune to miss them.

This isn’t a transcript of everything that happened in the workshop; merely a cluster of impressions and ideas that David and Patrick raised today. (For the most part, I’m paraphrasing their words. My interjections are in italics.)

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Lectures: not dead, just resting

A recent article, “Why lectures are dead (or soon will be),” makes a reasonable argument despite its alarming title.

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Call for Papers, CSDH/SCHN 2016

Calgary (Canada), May 29-June 1, 2016

[Cross-posted from the CSDH/SCHN website.]

The Canadian Society for Digital Humanities invites scholars, practitioners, and graduate students to submit proposals for papers and digital demonstrations for its annual meeting, which will be held at the 2016 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Calgary, from May 30th to June 1. 

We encourage submissions on all topics relating to both theory and practice in the evolving field of the digital humanities.

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Teaching + Learning News 3.02


Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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Shakespeare and the Screen

For many readers, Shakespeare is the ultimate TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). His texts are full of detailed and archaic language, in contrast to the more immediate gratifications of onscreen media.

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Toward an Augmented Criticism

All literary criticism is exemplary, but some literary criticism is more exemplary than others.

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The Secret of Good Humanities Teaching

The Secret of Good Humanities Teaching will be of interest to anyone who teaches difficult texts, particularly in the humanities. The hardest part for many students is getting some purchase on these texts, orienting themselves to what the texts are about. So our first step is to simplify them just enough to orient students to their main ideas, themes, or narrative arc, and then to “show the subtleties and depths,” the reasons “why the text was really worth reading — and reading carefully, and rereading.” The authors (Dettmar and Taranto) use a memorable image to underscore why hard texts are worth the labour: “the juice is worth the squeeze.” To sum up their argument in a sentence:

The best humanities professors leave students with the ability and the desire to first make a complicated text simple and understandable, and then to reread and find the complexity again.

Job Opportunity: Learning Technologies Coach


Job Description

As a Learning Technologies Coach you will provide desk-side support for instructors in the Faculty of Arts. Learning technologies include D2L Brightspace, Adobe Connect Meetings, Top Hat, and others that enable student learning. The Learning Technology Coaches’ job will be to identify methods and practices that meet instructors’ pedagogical goals. Coaches will work as a collaborative team to provide both in-person support and online or remote support when necessary.

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Teaching and Learning Workshops, 2015-16


Topical and timely conversations about practical ideas for better teaching, designed for faculty, sessional instructors, and graduate students in the Faculty of Arts.

All workshops located in SS1339 — EXCEPT for Tues December 1st (in SS729). No registration required.

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Teaching + Learning News 3.01

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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Mentoring New Faculty

Mentoring New Faculty

I’ve been reading about different systems and advice for mentoring new faculty members, and here are some of the highlights and must-reads on my list.

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What’s a university education for?

Second in a series of posts on graduate attributes; here’s the first


As educators, we probably could articulate a few answers to that question. It promotes knowledge about the world, as reflected by our disciplines. It induces curiosity about things, and to make positive change. It gives you the values, dispositions, and skills to be both principled and influential.

It’s much easier to define a university education by what it’s not. It’s not job training, though it gives you the necessary skills for a range of vocations. It’s not about filling you with information, but empowering you with the knowledge that leads to wisdom. It won’t make you rich quick, though it will boost your earning potential. I could wax lyrical about these outcomes all day.

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Algorithmic Criticism: The Poster

English 607 :: Fall 2015 :: Wednesdays, 10:00-12:15 :: SS1015

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Samuel Pepys and the Sonnet

A few months ago in this space, I wrote about choosing novels to teach in a graduate course I’m offering this fall. I was convinced that novels were necessary because it’s a course on digital text-analysis, among other topics in the digital humanities. And because my exemplary critics Stephen Ramsay and Matthew Jockers (required reading for the course) focus on 19th- and 20th-century novels in their work.

Now I’m refocusing on two text types that are (arguably) extra-novelistic, at least in form: Samuel Pepys’s Diary, a daily record of his life between 1660 and 1669; and an anthology of sonnets, those 14-line poems made famous by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and company. 

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Podcast Prescriptions

I’d be in radio if I wasn’t an academic. Not the WKRP disc-jockey kind of radio, but the tweedy public-radio kind. The kind that produces a 5-hour intellectual biography of Northrop Frye, or Eleanor Wachtel’s long, thoughtful interviews with writers like A.S. Byatt or Kazuo Ishiguro. I mean radio that exposes you to ideas and people and books you haven’t read yet, but should. (Or better yet, the kind that gives you just enough knowledge to get away without reading them.)

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Five things I’ve learned about the Digital Humanities

Melissa Terras wrote recently on the fifth anniversary of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. She closed with this call for responses:

what are the things you’ve learnt about the Digital Humanities in the last five years, from where you stand?

This blog post is my attempt at an answer.

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Augmented Criticism and Rhetorical Figures


This paper is the latest in a series about the Rhetorical Schematics Project, housed in the Augmented Criticism Lab: a digital collaboration between the Universities of Waterloo and Calgary, where Adam James Bradley and I are based.

I presented it first at the Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies (CSRS) conference at Congress 2015, and a revised version a few weeks later at the 2015 Shakespearean Theatre Conference in Stratford, Ontario. 


2015-05-30 CSRS slideshow.002

My subject is “Augmented Criticism and Rhetorical Figures.” If that sounds highly technical, let me assure you that Adam and I are literary critics first and digital humanists second. That is, we use computers only to augment traditional research inquities, that are rooted in philology.

Here, for instance, our inquiry is into rhetorical figures, or the patterns of repetition and variation that make poetic language memorable, compelling, and beautiful.

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‘Earn your Shakespeare badge’ video

The Design for Learning 2015 conference has posted the video of our workshop, along with others.

Here’s the complete series of posts on this project.

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Reading Poetry Aloud

“The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realize that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning, and that part only comes alive when you speak it.”

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Novels for Algorithms

I’m designing the graduate seminar I’ll teach in the Department of English this fall (2015) on the subject of ‘Algorithmic Criticism,’ a title I took from the subtitle of Stephen Ramsay’s 2011 book, Reading Machines. It’s an introduction to computational text-analysis for students of literature, from word frequency to topic modelling.

By the end of the course, students will be comfortable moving between close reading and distant reading, or what Matthew Jockers calls micro-, meso-, and macro-analysis. (Along with Ramsay’s book, Jockers’ 2013 study Macroanalysis and his 2014 guide to Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature will be required readings.)

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Digital Badges for Professional Development

A continuing series from the University of Calgary’s “Design for Learning” conference on university learning and teaching this week (#ticonf2015 on Twitter). I’m live-blogging my notes, so forgive my typos and omissions.

This morning I’m in a session on Micro-Credentialing and Badges, offered by the Educational Development Unit team: Lin Yu, Patti Dyjur, Kevin Saito (who designed the amazing conference app), and Joni Miltenburg. It has clear links to the project my team and I presented yesterday, on our digital badge system in English 205 (Foundations: Shakespeare).

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Teaching for Learning

I’m at the University of Calgary’s “Design for Learning” conference on university learning and teaching this week (#ticonf2015 on Twitter). Later this morning, my RAs and I will deliver a workshop on digital badges in an introductory Shakespeare class.

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Netting Participation (Part II)

A guest post by Theresa Kenney on gamification in #engl205. This post is one of three from Theresa’s mini-series about designing and delivering badges


As previously posted, our award-system of #engl205 had four main gears that allowed for our award-system to work:

  1. The Course Outline and its Learning Outcomes
  2. The creation of the Badges and recommended activities
  3. Creating and maintaining nets for capturing activity
  4. Record keeping

This post will cover the latter gears to describe the nitty-gritty of fishing for student participation, checking what was in the netting, and awarding students.

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Gearing Gamificiation (Part I)

A guest post by Theresa Kenney on gamification in #engl205. This post is one of three from Theresa’s mini-series about designing and delivering badges


To award 88 students approximately 5 Badges each takes a functioning system – with easily accessible online platforms to award and display participation and awards. In practice, there were four main gears that allowed for our award-system to work:

  1. The Course Outline and its Learning Outcomes
  2. The creation of the Badges
  3. Creating and maintaining nets for capturing activity
  4. Record keeping

These four gears (which had a few stalling moments) worked together to offer a system to gamify #engl205, while creating a community of scholars that produced lively criticism. This post will cover the first two gears and its follow up of the latter gears in Part II can be found here.

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Content Providers and Consumers

“Oh Lord!” laments a party host amid her bored guests, in a 1995 New Yorker cartoon, “We forgot to invite any content providers.”

The punchline is dated, twenty years later, if only by her choice of words. In those early days of the internet, ‘content providers’ referred to those who wrote the texts that others read online, which was then still a novel way to distribute texts.

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Ideas in Practice

A guest post by Theresa Kenney on gamification in #engl205. This post is an introduction to Theresa’s mini-series about designing and delivering badges


It’s one thing to brainstorm ideas and another to put them to work. After scribbling down inconclusive ideas based on research reports about gamification in Higher Ed, Michael and I were compelled to join the ‘Gamification in Higher Ed’ club. We wanted to present a ‘tangible’ award system to students for #engl205. But how?

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The play’s the thing

“Playing in the digital age” was the subject of a recent podcast on Australian public radio’s “Future Tense” program (which I highly recommend). This wasn’t another story about video games and their cognitive effects, but about ‘play’ in more broad terms: the freedom to innovate and take unpredictable actions within a rule-bound system, whether it’s snooker or sonneteering. You can do novel and unexpected things with others within the alternate space of a game, outside of ordinary life.

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Teaching + Learning News 2.07

2015-04-23: The End-of-Term Edition
Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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DEVONthinking with MPU

One of my favorite podcasts, Mac Power Users, has just released a stand-alone show on DEVONthink, the information-management system for Mac that I’ve used for the past five years or so. If you’ve heard of Evernote, which is the system that MPU’s hosts Katie and David frequently talk about, then you know what DEVONthink is.

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Language Use and Cognition: Shakespeare’s Gradatio in Context

This is the text of my paper for a seminar at the Shakespeare Association of America conference (April 2015), called Form, Complexity, and Computation


This paper explores literary complexity as it manifests in rhetorical figures, or the patterns of repetition and variation that make language beautiful and memorable, and thus make it powerful. Figures have the advantage of being computationally tractable. My research team has a Python script that uses regular expressions to detect them — first in Shakespeare’s works, and then in a 400-play corpus (supplied by Martin Mueller) from 1576 to 1642. Below, I compare Shakespeare’s use of one figure to these broader habits of usage. I conclude that while Shakespeare’s use appears to be more nuanced, it is also more narrow in its ambitions.

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Shakespeare Lipsum

Lorem ipsum, the placeholder text for printers and designers for centuries, has a thousand online variations. You can fill your documents with dummy texts in artisinal Hipster Ipsum (“Ethical hoodie tofu letterpress”); you can channel President Obama or corporate drones. And yes, Padawan, there’s a Star Wars one for you. (And here are a lot of other variants.)

But soft, mongrel vouchsafe alacrity i’faith,” quoth I: nary a Shakespeare Lipsum generator among them.

I set out to fix this problem, which only requires a plain-text file of Shakespeare’s words (minus speech prefixes, stage directions, and other editorial add-ons). But I’m stuck. Help me, Obi Wan; you’re my only hope.

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TTYL, Professor

I get a fair amount of e-mail (as I’ve lamented), but there’s a special category that I get during teaching terms like this one: e-mails from students. Most are perfectly courteous inquiries about my assignments or questions about the readings, but occasionally I get messages from students that are … well, in need of a lesson in letter-writing conventions. A salutation (“Dear Prof. Ullyot”) and some effort at self-identification, for starters.

Sometimes I can’t figure out who the writer is, what s/he wants or needs, and why it should concern me.

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Teaching + Learning News 2.06

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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Video Podcast on the Elizabethan Stage

Here’s my video podcast (slideshow with my voice-over) on the Elizabethan Stage, for my intro-to-Shakespeare students in Week 5 of the course.

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ATB Financial CEO visits the Faculty of Arts

Dave Mowatt, the President and CEO of ATB Financial, is coming to the University of Calgary campus on Monday Feb 2, 2015. From 2:30-3:30 in the Arts Students Lounge (SS103), he’ll speak to Faculty of Arts students on the topic of “Leading at the Entry Level and Beyond.”

Come learn how your Arts degree can be applied in the finance sector. Networking to follow.

Registration is through CareerLink > Career Services > Event Calendar

Why take popular culture seriously?

A Speakeasy sponsored by the Faculty of Arts


When + Where: Monday 9 February 2015, 5pm, Faculty of Arts Lounge (SS104)


Is popular culture mere entertainment, or should we take it seriously? Scholars like Simon Frith argue that popular music is an imprint of the social forces that create it. It helps us understand our society, and even Shakespeare was popular in his day. But does Suzanne Collins belong on our bookshelves next to William Blake? Should our playlists shuffle between Mozart and Macklemore? Do Hollywood movies help us understand the world, or just escape from it?

Join us for a talk with faculty, food, and intoxicating conversation.

Confirmed Speakers

Dawn Johnston: Department of Communication, Media, and Film

Peter Dawson: Department of Anthropology and Archaeology

Darin Flynn: Department of Linguistics, Languages, and Cultures

Angie Chiang: Department of Communication, Media, and Film


Teaching + Learning News 2.05

2015-01-07: The NSSE Edition

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. 

This is a special edition of the newsletter, centred around the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) results for the Faculty of Arts. That’s followed by the regular sections of this newsletter: News and Announcements, Workshops, Speakeasies, and Consult your Colleagues.

Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.


Welcome to Winter 2015! If you’re like me, the start of term next week is coming too quickly. I’m in Vancouver for the MLA Convention, but still need to wrap up a few things from last semester before restarting next week. (It’s never too late.) And I’ve been ruminating and writing about the purpose of an academic blog and the intellectual virtues we teach our students; about the audiobooks I’ve heard and the books I’ve left unread; and (in preparation for next week) the ideas I’m teaching about Shakespeare and the badge system I’m using for student participation.

If 2015 is going to be a productive year, let’s start with a look back at what we can learn from 2014.

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Lend me your earbuds

A word, if you will, in praise of the audiobook.

I’m listening now, for the second time with my second child, to the 7-book 20+hour Harry Potter series, read by the incomparable Stephen Fry. Fry’s voice is like treacle pudding, warm and inviting. (He’s particularly good at bears, from Pooh to Paddington.)

But you don’t need a treacly voice to charm listeners; a good story will do it just as well. Roald Dahl’s pinched and prickly voice reading of his Fantastic Mr Fox was my childhood favourite – and though it’s hard to find today (even his official web site disavows it), it’s in regular rotation in my house.

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Intellectual Virtues and Graduate Attributes

What intellectual habits do universities promote? We train students to become experts in various subjects, to earn the intellectual autonomy we earned in our time.

Is it an over-reach to say that we train students in intellectual virtues?

Virtue’s a loaded term, loaded with blustery moral overtones. I use it in the sense that David Brooks gives it. He takes it (from a 2007 book) to mean an impassioned curiosity and openness to new knowledge, tempered by the intellectual courage of your convictions: a steadiness of principle, unswayed by the whims of fashion, tempered by a humility that recognizes the value of new information. (I’m paraphrasing.) He also describes the virtues of autonomy and generosity.

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Books I Own but have not Read: 2

Second in a series on the unread books on my teeming shelves.

The Cambridge Book of Lesser Poets (1927) is probably the least auspicious title on my small shelf of clothbound anthologies.
2015-01-04 09.47.56

And deliberately so. Its editor J. C. Squire deliberately contrasts it with Quiller-Couch’s Oxford Book of English Verse or Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. Those were the Norton Anthologies of their day: the canon of recognized poetic genius and all that, the most widely admired and recited poems.

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Shakespeare’s big ideas

Fourth post in a series on designing and delivering my intro-Shakespeare course for 160 undergraduates, starting this month. 

Does Shakespeare studies have a few cardinal ideas that everyone should know? Let’s see: there are his three main genres (comedy, tragedy, history); and his reputation as a natural, unschooled genius. There’s the tension between his plays and his non-dramatic poetry, and the historical temptation to read them for biographical details.

You get the idea. The point is, it’s hard to imagine teaching Shakespeare without touching on a set of common ideas. Ask a hundred scholars to free-associate and we’ll come up with a pretty comprehensive list of knowledge we want our students to possess by the end of a course – at least, an introductory course.

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Shakespeare Badges: How and Why?

Third post in a series on the design & delivery of my intro-Shakespeare course this term. 

I’ve written speculatively about implementing a badge system into my intro-Shakespeare course, English 205 this coming term. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

With the start of term right around the corner, Team 205 (my research assistants Theresa and Braydon and I) are working hard to answer two questions:

  1. how will the system work, and
  2. what incentive will students have to use it?
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On Thinking in Public

What’s a blog for? Thinking about this question on this first day of 2015, I’m also thinking about what purposes my own blog will serve in the year ahead. I mean not just the topics I plan to write about, but the purpose it serves for my public thinking.

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Shakespeare’s Restless World

I’m compiling audio podcasts for my intro-Shakespeare course, whose home page at the moment is full of Latin placeholder text. Here’s one in particular that’s at the top of any list:

There’ll be assignments that incorporate material from these podcasts, and other ways to integrate them with our readings.

Annual Report

As a follow-up to my earlier post on visitor surveillance, Jetpack has produced my 2014 Annual Report on this blog’s posting and reading statistics. Read it for yourself, if you like.
It’s interesting reading about how most readers find these posts (Twitter), which were most popular (my first Teaching + Learning newsletter), and how many of my 55 posts this year were published on Mondays.

Foundations: Shakespeare | English 205, Winter 2015

  • The home page for an introductory Shakespeare course at the University of Calgary, taught by Michael Ullyot.
  • See here for the series of blog posts on the digital badges we used in this course.

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You’ve got mail: 172 messages, 48 unread

This screen is from the Pine e-mail client, a simple text-based email interface that I used in the mid-1990s, also known as the Internet’s ye olden days.

Travel with me now to an era of scarcity, when email was special. When I went to a special computer lab (no laptop) to use special text-language (no mouse) to log into a screen like this, where I’d linger over my two messages from that week, and tap out a reply with two fingers.

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Earning your Shakespeare badge

Second post in a series on the design & delivery of my intro-Shakespeare course next term. 

When you complete a degree, you earn a diploma. When you complete a course, you earn a grade on your transcript. Should this system of credentials translate to a more granular level, to particular goals within a course?

Imagine you meet a goal in my intro-to-Shakespeare course, say by publishing a couple of blog posts on the historical context or source-texts of Twelfth Night. Call it the “Context” badge. You’ve shown that you can read texts in relation to other texts – a skill that you can then transport to your next class, whether it be in History or English or Sociology or another discipline altogether.

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Begin with the End in Mind

The first in a series of posts on designing and delivering an introduction-to-Shakespeare course for 160 undergraduates, starting in January 2015. 

Course design is a rare pleasure and prerogative: the chance to set learning outcomes, align them with an assessment blueprint, and plan for various pathways to engage students. Know what I’m saying?

Okay, maybe that makes it sound pretty abstruse. That’s because I’ve utterly changed my course-design habits since becoming an Associate Dean. I take — even lead — workshops on how to align your goals with your grades, so I’ve reversed my process. Instead of browsing my shelves for texts I’d like to teach, I start by writing learning outcomes (which means this, or this). Then I work backwards to decide which texts will meet those outcomes.

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Teaching + Learning News 2.04

 End-of-Term Edition, 2014-12-12
Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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Visitor surveillance, 365 days a year

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I know things about my site’s readers. Okay, let’s drop the passive voice: I know things about you, dear readers.

Like what? The Jetpack plugin — which I activated a year ago on this WordPress blog — tells me that I’ve had 9,923 page-visits in 12 months, and about 29 per day since the beginning of 2014. The numbers fluctuate wildly, peaking when I send out irregular Teaching + Learning newsletters to the Faculty of Arts list here at the University of Calgary.

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Starting a Co-op in the Faculty of Arts

Is your department or program in the Faculty of Arts thinking about starting a co-op program, practicum or internship? Here’s a handy step-by-step guide. (With thanks to Carllie Necker, Co-op Coordinator.)

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CFP: New Tech + Renaissance Studies @ RSA2016

A CFP for RSA 2016, 31 March – 2 April, Boston MA

Since 2001, the Renaissance Society of America annual meetings have featured panels on the applications of new technology in scholarly research, publishing, and teaching sponsored by Iter. Panels at the 2016 meeting (31 March – 2 April, Boston) will continue to explore new and emerging projects and methodologies — this year also featuring virtual presentations and interactions at and in advance of the conference in Boston, in partnership with Iter Community.

We welcome proposals for papers, panels, and or poster / demonstration / workshop presentations on new technologies and their impact on research, teaching, publishing, and beyond, in the context of Renaissance Studies.  Examples of the many areas considered by members of our community can be found in the list of papers presented at the RSA since 2001 and in those papers published thus far under the heading of New Technologies and Renaissance Studies.

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Books I Own, But Have not Read: 1

First in a series

This will come as a shock, no doubt: as an academic, I own some books that I have not read.

There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem, they say, is the first step to fixing it. But what if you have no intention or desire to fix it? What if it’s more a chronic condition than a problem?

My condition is that mix of bibliophilia and ambition that leads me to buy books to complete a set, fill out a series, extend an aesthetic line, and keep each other company. Sure, it’s object fetishism – but that’s justified easily enough. I tell myself that many of these books contain knowledge I might someday read, consult, cite, or peruse. Might is the operative, delusional word there – as if I have to own something to read it.

Let’s put aside the books that are part of my working library, the ones I use for teaching and research. Consider instead this specimen:

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Why Teaching Dossiers?

Why assemble a teaching dossier? The first time I ever heard of this document was when I was looking for an academic job right out of my Ph.D., nearly a decade ago – when the sum of my teaching experience was a series of Teaching Assistantships (Technical Writing, Survey of Major British Writers) and sessional-teaching appointments right. Job applications then, as now, asked for a teaching dossier to testify to your readiness to teach courses on day one of a new job, so I gathered up my syllabi and assignments, wrote a teaching philosophy statement, and sent it off.

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Here are some more details about the Speakeasy series of informal student-faculty conversations and debates (as I mentioned in my last newsletter) in the Faculty of Arts, beginning next week. These are co-organized by me (Michael Ullyot) and Kalista Sherbaniuk, one of the four Students’ Union Arts Representatives.

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Second Annual RSA-TCP Article Prize

Cross-posted from the RSA site, where you can find more information. 

The Renaissance Society of America and the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) jointly offer a $600 article prize for scholarly uses of the range and depth of digitized Renaissance materials. The purpose of the prize is to encourage and reward scholarship that expressly emerges from the scholar’s use of databases or digitized research objects.

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Byword: Writing in Isolation

Like many people, I need simplicity and focus to do things well. Despite the crowded appearance of this blog, I write most of my posts in isolation, in both senses of the term: without interruptions (usually behind a closed door, and often with earplugs) and without too much thinking about the other posts I’ve written. Most of them are responding to ideas I’m encountering elsewhere (readings, conversations), but to get into that mental space I need an isolated work environment.

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Not an Advertorial

I read a lot of higher-education blogs, as Associate Dean for my faculty — and frankly, just as a curious and voracious reader. Sometimes I read a blog post that really resonates with me, because it provokes me to think differently about teaching and learning, about course materials and lectures and the things you can only do when you’re face-to-face in a classroom. (I’ve already written about face-to-face time here.)

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Teaching + Learning News 2.03

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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The Book is maker of the Reader

“The Child is father of the Man,” William Wordsworth once wrote, counter-intuitively. What you experience in youth shapes your grown-up sensibility. My first post in this series on bookshelves was in that vein.

In the same way, the Book is maker of the Reader. Books change our minds, shift our perceptions, enlarge our imaginations. They enable readers to experience unfamiliar things, to see the world as if they had different circumstances. They enable us to empathize with other people more readily. Martha Nussbaum has said as much about the humanities in general.

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Digital Distractions in the Classroom

On Wednesday 29 October, from 11-12 p.m. in SS1339, the Faculty of Arts Teaching + Learning Committee will host a workshop on Digital Distractions in the Classroom, presented by Julie Sedivy from LLC (Linguistics, Languages and Cultures), who was recently the focus of a story in Swerve magazine on this subject. She’s published a book on the psychology of advertisements and she blogs for Psychology Today.

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Of Arranging Books there is no End

[First in a series of posts about books, shelves, and — wait for it — bookshelves. Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking my Library” is a model of the form, and Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is more recent.]

I got a stack of books for my ninth birthday. They were the types of books that kids read in the 1980s: Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall series; Roald Dahl’s Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar; Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw. Three decades later, I remember that stack being about four feet high, but it was probably shorter. I took them to my room and arranged them, three separate times, on shelves: first by author, then by size, then by the order I would read them. I experimented with different shelving regimens everywhere in my room: alphabetically by author; by genre (science books here, Archie digests there); by size; and by series.

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Using Swivl for Lecture Capture

This is the first in a planned series of posts about planning + teaching my Intro-to-Shakespeare course next term, English 205 here at the University of Calgary.

A few weeks ago, I mused on Twitter about looking for a lecture-capture system — that is, a way to film my classes and post them online for students to review, or even (let’s be honest) to watch instead of coming to an 8 a.m. class.

Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Paul Schacht, I’ve settled on Swivl, a little robotic stand that swivels and turns to follow you, recording audio and video to your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

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Research in 21st Century Libraries

I’m spending the day at this conference, chairing a panel on collaborative networks, video games for police training, and visualizations of a science fiction collection here at the University of Calgary. Earlier today, I captured this gallery of notes on considerations and themes when prototyping or launching digital research centres and visualization studios.

Teaching + Learning News 2.02

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning, as seen from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing.
Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.
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Call for ASHA Instructors

Call for Instructors, 2015-2016 & 2016-2017, Arts & Science Honours Academy (AHSA)

Updated 2015-01-28: Now looking for a Fall 2015 ASHA 321 instructor. If you are interested in trading one of your Fall 2015 courses for ASHA 321 (“Representation”), and can convince your Head of the same, please send me a note with a highly provisional reading list and 2-sentence course description. As before, I have to balance the disciplines so may have inscrutable constraints — but am grateful for all signs of interest. 

The Arts & Science Honours Academy (ASHA) is an interdisciplinary program for high-achieving undergraduates (30 per year) in both the Faculties of Arts and Science. In 1959, C.P. Snow lamented that too few intellectuals could describe both the plot of a Shakespeare play and the second law of thermodynamics; ASHA aims to produce more of them.

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New Slate of D2L Workshops for Arts Faculty

Eight new Arts-faculty-only workshops on D2L are now available, this week and next. [UPDATE on 2014-09-11: Workshops are now open to Teaching Assistants, too.] The first is rather short notice, but if you’re new to the system this week then some help can’t come too soon. All are in MB 203B (MacKimmie Block).

Click on a date to register. Each workshop has 20 spaces, so some may already be full.

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#FAOW: Arts Orientation 2014-15

This week the Faculty of Arts held orientation events for its class of 2014-15 incoming students, including a Wednesday-morning presentation and Q-and-A session. Here’s a gallery of images from that morning.

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#FAOW: Arts Orientation Photo Gallery

An Ode to Profhacker

Next week’s the start of a new academic term here at the University of Calgary, when students start to fill the campus’s empty halls and study spaces. The air has a mix of excitement and anxiety — common when people transition into a new environment, whether those people are first-year Arts students or their faculty grappling with our new learning management system.

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Teaching + Learning News 2.01

  • 2014-08-25
  • Quasi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning, as seen from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing.
  • Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.

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D2L Resources for Teaching Assistants

[A message for teaching assistants in the Faculty of Arts. If you’re a faculty member, click here.]

As we approach the Fall term, the Faculty of Arts wants to help you use Desire2Learn: the system that recently replaced Blackboard. It gives instructors the ability to manage courses, email students, collect and grade assignments, run online discussions, track student grades, and more. It’s likely that some component of your TAships will require you to work in this system.

So here are some details on two resources that will help: training, and online resources.

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D2L in the Faculty of Arts: 4 Supports

[A message for teaching faculty in the Faculty of Arts. If you’re a Teaching Assistant, click here.]

As we approach the Fall term, the Faculty of Arts wants to help you use Desire2Learn: the system that has — as you know — replaced Blackboard. It gives you the ability to manage courses, email students, collect and grade assignments, run online discussions, track student grades, and more.

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D2L Coaches’ Corner

2014-09-24 D2L poster

D2L Coaches are one of the four supports available to faculty members in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts.

Because sometimes, amid all the helplines and job aids, you just need to work with a real live person.

So how and when are the coaches available?

  • From September 2014 to April 2015
  • Make an appointment by calling (403) 220 2000, or e-mailing
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Workshop on Computational Rhetoric

Here’s the program that Randy Harris of the University of Waterloo has assembled for a workshop later this month on computational rhetoric, where I’ll be presenting on my Zeugmatic project and learning a lot about how great minds at Waterloo are defining rhetorical figures computationally.

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Birds of a Feather @ DHSI2014

41311696_16ef86e2a7_mIf you’re coming to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute June 2-6, we’d like to remind you of the Birds of a Feather sessions happening Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday after classes from 4:15 to 5:15 (see schedule).

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CFP: Renaissance Studies + New Technologies

digitalRSA 2015 | 26-28 March, Berlin | #rsa15

Monique O’Connell, Wake Forest University: Digital Humanities Chair, RSA
Michael Ullyot, University of Calgary: Electronic Media Chair, RSA

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Teaching + Learning News 1.03

  • 2014-05-09
  • Semi-occasional reports on the world of higher-education teaching and learning, as seen from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing.
  • Submissions of news stories are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or e-mail me: artsadtl{at}ucalgary{dot}ca.

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Winners of Student Union Teaching Awards

Congratulations to the Faculty of Arts’ seven recipients of Students Union Teaching Excellence Awards and Honourable Mentions. Our faculty got more awards than any other (who’s counting?) — for course instructors in the departments of English, Art, Political Science, Anthropology, Philosophy and Religious Studies.

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D2L Training for the Faculty of Arts

The following is a reminder from Heather Weiland (from University of Calgary I.T.) of the final week of Desire2Learn training sessions designed specifically for the Faculty of Arts.

Remember, Blackboard will be unavailable at the end of this month (May 2014).

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Down with Essays!

This term I gave my students in English 410 (Elizabethan Poetry + Prose) an unconventional assignment. For their final critical papers, they had to make a compelling and effective argument about poetry’s function and purpose, and cite primary evidence from the poets and critics we read this term (Spenser, Sidney, Whitney, et al.)

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Teaching + Learning News 1.02

  • 2014-04-01
  • Semi-occasional reports on the world of higher-education teaching and learning, as seen from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014.

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Winners of the University of Calgary Teaching Awards

Congratulatons to two members of the Faculty of Arts, who have won the first annual University of Calgary Teaching Awards:

  • Dr. Ken MacMillan, Teaching Award for Full-Time Faculty (full professor)
  • Carmen Braden (Music), Teaching Award Award for Graduate Assistants (Teaching)

Faculty of Arts Teaching Awards

The Faculty of Arts Teaching Awards acknowledge teaching excellence as critically important to our faculty; they recognize undergraduate and graduate teaching in the areas of classroom instruction, course design, curriculum development, and innovation in teaching methods. Excellent teachers are individuals who exhibit zest for teaching and instill a love of learning, stimulate critical thinking in their students, create an engaging learning experience, and are innovative and creative in their teaching methods, course design, and curriculum development.

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The D2L Panopticon

In my Elizabethan Poetry and Prose course I’m using Desire2Learn as our learning management system. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 07.21.17

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Teaching + Learning News 1.01



The first in a series of occasional reports from the world of higher-education teaching and learning, as viewed from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts: faculty development, student engagement, and a vague sense of things to come.

By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving you from unnecessary e-mails since 2014.

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Desire2Learn and the Faculty of Arts


On May 31st, Blackboard will be no more, and Desire2Learn (D2L) will take its place.

Desire2Learn is the new platform for online and blended learning at the University of Calgary. It’s a leading-edge and robust learning management system from a Canadian software company, designed to work well on any modern web browser, on any computer or mobile operating system. It’s used by both K-12 school boards in Calgary, by most private schools in the city, and nearly every all post-secondary institution (except MRU).

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The Learning Technologies Task Force (LTTF), a committee of the Provost and Vice-President Academic at the University of Calgary, is nearing completion and will issue its report in a couple of months. Our focus is on learning experiences that are enhanced and enabled by technology.

One of our final steps has been to think creatively about Learning Spaces: real and virtual, on and off campus. How do spaces — classrooms, labs, onscreen interfaces, libraries, studios, study spaces, or wherever else you learn — enable or disable your learning? What are the University of Calgary’s best and worst learning spaces? What kinds of space enhance your learning, and why? If you ran the university, what would they look and feel like?

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Forward Thinking: Interdisciplinary Programs and the Adjacent Possible

[Cross-posted to the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences blog.]

When I was an undergraduate, the recruiting poster for an interdisciplinary program in the humanities asked, “What do Leonardo da Vinci and Martha Stewart have in common?” The answer: “They’re both generalists.”

Whatever you think of its chosen exemplars, that program is no more. All interdisciplinary programs ebb and flow with intellectual currents, as they should — but their common aim is to imagine future fields of study, emerging from the fields between the disciplinary borders of our imagined present.

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Rethinking Industrial-Era Education in the Information Age

[Cross-posted on the LSE’s Impact of Social Sciences blog, 2014-02-21]

I’m now a third of the way through my first MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course. Received wisdom says that the fact that I’m still enrolled in a MOOC makes me vanishingly rare. But it seems that wisdom is wrong; the completion rates for some MOOCs are near 48%.

And this MOOC’s modus operandi is to reject received wisdom. The History and Future of Higher Education encourages participants (to quote its subtitle) to unlearn the traditional model of higher education, with its roots in the middle ages and its growth in the industrial 19th century. And then to relearn a new model for the information age. In short, it asks if you were designing a university in 2014, what would it look like? How would it work? Would it have labs and lecture theatres, faculties and four-year degrees? Or would it use different systems to reach the same intellectual and economic outcomes?

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Report on Big Data and Digital Scholarship

Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada

I spent today in an Ottawa conference room talking about data management plans for Canada’s digital scholars. It was hosted by the main federal granting agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR, and the CFI), collectively known as the TC3+. The TC3+ recently reported on the future of research data, including data stewardship and funding guidelines. Today’s conversation was based on that report, and on its 58 responses from universities, organizations, and individual researchers.

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History and Future of Higher Education

Today is the first day of a six-week course I’m taking online, The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education. Its core question is how we can design educational institutions to be future-ready — that is, ready to think and solve problems in ways that are only possible in 2014 — rather than mindlessly traditionalist.

If you were designing a new university today, would it look like most universities of today?

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WordPress-ing 101

The following are my general instructions to students (mostly in my own courses) posting entries to the WordPress blogs designated for my various courses.

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ENGL410 in January 2014

If you’re a student in my English 410 (Elizabethan Poetry & Prose) class in Winter 2014, here’s what you need to know.

I’m away for the next two weeks, so the first three classes (January 9, 14, and 16) are replaced by these three podcasts of me reading Sir Philip Sidney’s The Defence of Poesy. Listen to them while you read along to the text in this anthology.

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Wintry vistas on University of Calgary campus

Here are some photos from my walk into work this morning.

Digital Arts & Humanities (DAH) Colloquium: Call for Speakers

Editor’s Note: This series was later renamed DASHTalks, for Digital Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities Talks. More information is here.

We invite faculty and graduate students engaged in well-defined or -developed research/creation projects in the digital arts and humanities to propose brief and trenchant 5-minute presentations on these projects, for a colloquium to be held in January 2014 (dates TBD). We will accept as many proposals as will feasibly promote the colloquium’s spirit of cross-fertilization among members of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts.

Accepted proposals will explain your research and creation methods in engaging and provocative language. In other words, why is your work important, not just to you but also to the faculty, the university, and the community at large? How might it foster collaborations with them? Presentations will be video-recorded, edited, and distributed widely.

Please submit a 100-word bio and 100-word proposal to the co-organizers, Murray McGillivray [ mmcgilli{at} ] and Michael Ullyot [ ullyot{at} ] by December 27th, 2013.

Facetime in the Flipped Classroom

What are classrooms for? One answer to that question harkens back to the invention of the university in the European middle ages: for lectures (or lectio), or reading texts aloud in an age of scarce manuscripts. The other component of a good medieval education was oral disputation (disputatio), which we’ve mixed with the Socratic method to design discussion forums and oral exams.

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To save higher education, click here

Last month (November 2013) the Faculty of Arts issued a report on “Post-Secondary Education in the Digital Age.” (I was a co-chair.) We gathered information on faculty members’ use of learning technologies, or more specifically, on their

“current e-learning practices, their needs and desires regarding e-learning, any impediments that limited their ability to utilize e-learning in their classes, the means by which the Faculty should support e-learning, and the priorities the Faculty should set for e-learning.”

Finally, we made seven recommendations to foster pedagogical innovations.

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MOOCs: Evolution or revolution?

Today I heard a podcast from Radio National (Australia)’s “Big Ideas” program on the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, “an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access.” It gave me the title for this post, and provoked a lot of questions. In sum, its main question was whether this new platform for teaching and learning is going to revolutionize education as we know it, or simply represent the next stage of its evolution. (Whether or not it will go the way of education-by-radio or other past ‘revolutions’ wasn’t one of the options.)

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Launching a conversation


Where are all the bloggers in higher-ed administration?

The question sounds strange, maybe because higher-ed administration is veiled in mystery and perceived as mundane. We don’t ask about the blogging actuaries. But maybe that’s why I couldn’t say what interesting questions come up in actuarial science, or just what actuaries do. (Something about pensions, I think.)

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The Sound of Virtue: A Recording of Sidney’s Defence of Poesy

For a few years now (since 2007), I’ve taught an advanced introductory course on Elizabethan poetry. I mean ‘poetry’ in the broadest possible sense, beyond even Sir Philip Sidney’s meaning — of any fictional narrative that teaches and delights, that creates “notable images of virtues, vices, or what else.” I mean ‘poetry’ as all specimens of non-dramatic writing, as my curriculum designers would have it.

Each year, my students have begun the course by reading all of Sidney’s treatise on the meaning and functions of poetry. It’s like Northrop Frye once said about classical mythology, or the Bible (I forget which): when you know these stories well, when they have sunk to the bottom of your consciousness, every story you read thereafter gets layered on top of their landscape of narratives and images.

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Zeugmatic Research Associate, 2014 – ?

The Zeugmatic Project
is recruiting a student to undertake a PhD in English at the University of Calgary, beginning in Fall 2014, with up to three years of financial support from the Project as a Research Associate. The ideal candidate will have an MA or MPhil in Early Modern/Renaissance English language and literature with a demonstrated interest in the digital humanities, but those with other kinds of formation will be also be considered, including very promising students with BA only.

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Call for Submissions: Digital Appropriations of Shakespeare

to a new “Digital Appropriations” section of Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation (or B&L)

B&L is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal publishing original scholarship on the afterlives of Shakespearean texts and their literary, filmic, multimedia, and critical histories. We publish two issues, online, per year: < >. In addition to articles and article clusters (groups of two or more related articles with a short introduction by the cluster editor), we regularly publish three dedicated sections: Appropriations in Performance, Notes, and Book Reviews.

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Social-Media Sabbatical

tumblr_m1rbuwwVgO1r028o8o1_500I’m taking a 3-month break from social media from September through November, to finish a book manuscript. That means a hiatus from my Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest accounts — and even from this blog. I’ll be back at the beginning of December.

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Whatever Happened to the Fifteenth Century?

This fall I’m offering a graduate seminar on the 15th century: a period of literary history that’s rarely taught, and only known (if at all) for its representations in later history plays. Shakespeare’s interest in the period is partly because of the foreign and civil wars that kings like Henry IV and Henry VI were embroiled in — wars that also explain, to some, why conditions were difficult for good prose and poetry. (Drama’s a very different story: this is the age of Mankind, the mystery plays, and the great biblical cycle of York.)

2013-07-08 10.42.06

What survives is rarely praised, when it’s read at all. Thomas Malory’s great prose romance of King Arthur, Le Morte Darthur (1469-70), is one of the only recognized works of this century. The rest — from ballads to beast fables — are said to be “of a consistent and quite extraordinary dullness.” Douglas Gray disagrees in his 1985 Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse & Prose, now (revealingly) out of print. He calls it “one of the great ages of English prose, as well as one of the most neglected.”

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Environments and Interfaces

I’m in Victoria, BC this week for two meetings, the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities (part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences) and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. This morning I attended a panel on the topic of “Digital Humanities Microclimates: Practice and the Politics/Pragmatics of Place.”

This stimulating conversation provoked me to think about the places where DH operates. It’s reinforced my sense that the best space for research oscillates between virtual and real, mediated and unmediated.

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CFP: Renaissance Studies and New Technologies

RSA 2014, 27-29 March; New York, NY
Since 2001, the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) annual meetings have featured panels on new technologies for scholarly research, publishing, and teaching. At the 2014 meeting in New York, we will offer panels on recent research (with 20-minute papers, followed by questions) and workshops on emerging ideas and methodologies (with 10-minute introductions, followed by hands-on demonstrations).

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RSA-TCP Article Prize in Digital Renaissance Research

Screen Shot 2012-03-02 at 9.39.19 AMThe Renaissance Society of America and the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) are jointly offering a prize that seeks to recognize and encourage the scholarly use of the vast range and depth of Renaissance materials made available by digitization.  The purpose of the prize is to recognize and reward original research that makes substantial and significant use of digitized archives of Renaissance print and manuscript source materials, and which engages thoughtfully with these resources.

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Launch of the Zeugmatic

My project for Summer 2013 is to design a text-analysis algorithm capable of recognizing Shakespeare’s rhetorical figures. For instance, this repetition of “farewell” in Othello is called an anaphora:

2013 03 28 12 39 39[1]

That’s a pretty straightforward anaphora, and is just the kind of linguistic feature that a pattern-recognizing algorithm could detect. I could show you more complicated examples, but first let’s imagine the higher-order interpretations that this algorithm would enable.

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Desert Island Reading List

My English 503 students and I are reading Susan Hill’s memoir Howard’s End is on the Landing, which culminates in a list of books she would take to a desert island. Her choices say as much about Hill’s life as her bookshelves — which are really one and the same, as for most lifelong readers.

It got me planning a similar exercise with my students, to ‘crystallize’ (Hill’s word) a lifetime of experience into a single shelf of books you have read, and would happily spend the rest of your life reading.

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English 340 Research Project

Here is the Research Project description for English 340:

340 Research Project by

Scaling Shakespeare

This is the revised text of my MLA 2013 paper. I’m revising & expanding it, in early 2013 — particularly in the ‘next steps’ section at the bottom. For more information on this project, see here.

The right markup on Shakespeare’s texts can help algorithms address other texts in the early modern English language.

The object of my research is early modern language:

  • specifically texts printed before 1700,
  • specifically Shakespeare,
  • specifically his rhetorical figures.

The rhetorical figure I just used is called an anaphora, where the same word is repeated at the beginning of a sequence of clauses or sentences.

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Advice on short-form essays

[I wrote this for students in my English 340 survey course, after their midterm in December 2012.]

Typewriter 01A short essay in an exam is different from other kinds of critical writing, in a few ways. Its main motive is to demonstrate your ability to interpret the text in a brief argument addressing the terms of the question.

I am more concerned with what you say than how you say it. An exam essay is a first draft, so it’s okay to do the things you’d clean up in revision, like using the passive voice or run-on sentences — so long as you follow the rules of grammar.

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English 503: The History of Reading (W2013)

Faculty of Arts  ::  University of Calgary 

Instructor: Dr Michael Ullyot   Office: Social Sciences 1106   Office hours: Wednesdays, 12-1   Email: ullyot[at]ucalgary[dot]ca  Google+: my profile   Twitter: @ullyot (i.e.   ~ Course blog ~

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English 503: The Twitter Assignment

Using Twitter in English 503 will help me gauge your reactions to the course material, and make my teaching more responsive to your questions and interests. My goal is twofold:

  • To use a social-network platform to build the intellectual network of our class, based on our shared knowledge of the course texts; and to situate that network in the world-wide intellectual network of writers, artists, journalists, critics, and anyone else who reflects on the history and future of reading.
  • To encourage you each to ask questions about the course material, questions that identify “trending topics” (as Twitter calls them) in the class at large. I also want to help you move toward more complex questions by the end of the course: questions that show not merely how much you know, but how well you think as a critic. With time, are you moving from understanding to analyzing, and from analyzing to evaluating? Do you read between the lines, make connections between passages, convey more than one layer of information?
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The PechaKucha

3652703098_c59793479b_oPechaKucha (“puh-CHACH-ka”) is a presentation format that encourages brevity and focus. You make an argument linked to 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds — or for 6 minutes and 40 seconds altogether.

In my assignments, I require your slides to be only images: no written language of any kind is allowed. The only words that matter are the ones coming out of your mouth. That means no cartoons, no annotated charts or graphs. Your argument accompanies your images like a voice-over, but one you (typically) deliver live. 

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Job Advertisement: Assistant Professor, Digital Humanities




[View ad in PDF]

The Department of English at the University of Calgary invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor, effective July 1, 2013.

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Reading the History of Reading

In Winter 2013 I’m teaching an advanced undergraduate seminar in “The History of Reading” (English 503). That definite article — the — is misleading: this isn’t a definitive history of all reading, but rather A History of Reading, as Alberto Manguel called his book on the subject.

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The Writing Contract

tumblr_ltqkrb0wud1qb2b92o1_500[A post for students in my ASHA321 course in Fall 2012. I’m indebted to Ryan Cordell for this idea.]

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The Research Paper

Typewriter 01[A post for students in my ASHA321 course in Fall 2012.]

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The Unessay

propagandism_synergy-05[A post for students in my ASHA321 course in Fall 2012.]

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PechaKucha Classroom Presentations

3652703098_c59793479b_oThis fall (2012) I’m giving student in one of my classes the option to present on texts we’re reading using the PechaKucha format: 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds — or 6 minutes and 40 seconds of narration.

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ASHA 321 | Representation | Fall 2012

Arts & Science Honours Academy  ::  Faculty of Arts  ::  University of Calgary
Instructor: Dr Michael Ullyot
Office: Social Sciences 1106
Email: ullyot[at]ucalgary[dot]ca
Google+: my profile
Twitter: @ullyot (i.e.
Office hours: By appointment (e-mail)

~ Course blog ~

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Links, Visuals, and Audio


Links are an essential part of an effective post. You’re always working and thinking and writing in tandem with others, no matter what kind of research you’re engaged in. Links just make these connections explicit, and make your thinking more open-source. That means your readers can easily check the sources you’re citing — building on, agreeing or disagreeing with, or whatever. Link to anything and everything that’s influenced your thinking. Here are some categories to consider:

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Blog Posts

This document is an introduction to my guidelines and practical advice for writing blog posts and comments (if applicable) in my courses. I’ve assigned blog posts in past courses (like English 203English 340ASHA 321, and English 503). If you’re reading this, you’re probably in a new course with this requirement or option.

If the course has a grading system for these posts that is more fine-grained than a pass/fail system, I’ve also included some rubrics in this document.

See also separate posts on WordPressing 101 (i.e. on how to use this system); and on including links and visuals in your posts. You’ll probably find it useful to read the advice of my former students April SoMadelyn Brakke, and Hayley Dunmire
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Data Curation in the Networked Humanities

Between now and 2015, I’m working to improve the automated encoding of early modern English texts, to enable text analysis.

In October and November 2012 I delivered two papers to launch Encoding Shakespeare, a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The first was presented to Daniel Paul O’Donnell‘s Digital Humanities students at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta). The second was delivered to the London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. (For hosting/inviting me, thanks to Willard McCarty, Claire Warwick, and Andrew Prescott; and to Dan O’Donnell.)

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Introduction to Digital Humanities


On 22 September 2014 I’ll lead an Introduction to the Digital Humanities seminar to graduate students in English 696 at the University of Calgary.

We’ll cover issues of professionalization and DH research methods, including:

  • Defining DH. Is it really the future of literary studies?
  • The Problem of Big Data / The Solution (?) of Distant Reading
  • Tools for Thought. Are we testing what we know, or our boundaries of knowledge?
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CFP: Renaissance Studies and New Technologies

Since 2001, the Renaissance Society of America annual meetings have featured panels on new technologies for scholarly research, publishing, and teaching. At the 2013 meeting (San Diego, 4-6 April 2013), several panels will cover these new and emerging projects and methodologies. We seek proposals in and beyond the following areas:

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Teaching Hamlet in the Humanities Lab

[This is the revised text of a conference paper I gave in a panel on digital humanities teaching at the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) annual meeting in Washington DC on Friday 23 March 2012. Thanks to Diane Jakacki and William R. Bowen for the invitation to attend.]

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O’Donnell talk this Thursday (15 March)

Announcing the fourth of five talks in the MARCS (Medieval and Renaissance Cultural Studies) Speakers’ Series:

Daniel Paul O’Donnell

(Department of English, University of Lethbridge)

“Move Over: Learning to Read (and Write) with Novel Technology” 

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Goodbye, Cruel Word: The Superiority of Scrivener

[Full disclosure: I took this title from Steven Poole‘s blog post of 2007; in 2009 Nick Balaz used the same title.]

These are my notes for a talk in the Faculty of Arts Research Seminar (FARS) series at the University of Calgary on March 14th, 2012. The convenors of FARS are me (Michael Ullyot) and Noreen Humble.

Descriptive Blurb

Scrivener is software (for Mac and Windows) designed especially for long, complex writing projects. Unlike many word processors, it accommodates writing at every stage, from gathering sources to outlining arguments to composing drafts to rearranging segments in a final text. It encourages you to dismember large projects into their constituent parts, to take notes and write sections in isolation or in context. It can compile those sections into an outline or display them as cards on a corkboard for you to stack and rearrange. Put simply, it elevates your words and simplifies your workflow; it is to word processors what fontina is to Velveeta.

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EEBO Tutorial: Books by printer + publisher

I wrote this tutorial, and another, for my English 411 (Seventeenth Century Literature) students to complete their EEBO Assignment, but both may be useful to others. The  instructions assume that you are logging in to Early English Books Online through your institution; mine is the University of Calgary Library.

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English 411: The EEBO Assignment


Early English Books Online, or EEBO, “contains digital facsimile[s] … of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700.”  That’s a lot of books — something like 125,000 individual titles and editions.

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EEBO Tutorial: Searching

I wrote this tutorial, and another, for my English 411 (Seventeenth Century Literature) students to complete their EEBO Assignment, but both may be useful to others. The instructions assume that you are logging in to Early English Books Online through your institution; mine is the University of Calgary Library.

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On blogging in the Digital Humanities

[This is a companion post to “On blogging in English 203,” which I wrote for students in — wait for it — my English 203 (Hamlet in the Humanities Lab) seminar.]

Blogging in the social, pure, and applied sciences is a common enough practice that two members of the London School of Economics’ Public Policy Group said today that it is “one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now” — namely, circulating ideas-in-progress to readers in more immediate and (yes) more interesting forms than traditional academic publishing.

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On blogging in English 203

Students in my English 203 (Hamlet in the Humanities Lab) seminar this term will each publish five blog posts in March 2012 (see schedule) to the course blog. These posts, and the comments they will write on each other’s posts, count for 35% of their 50% Team Projects. Add that to the 30% Final Paper they’ll write as much longer posts, and clearly some guidelines and grading rubrics are in order, both for blog posts and for comments.

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Blog posts in English 203

I’ve written expanded guidelines and a detailed rubric both for blog posts and comments on your colleagues’ posts in English 203 (Hamlet in the Humanities Lab). Here they are.

Encoding Exercise Description for English 203

Course home page. }


Digital text-analysis relies on a layer of encoded information between the text and the algorithms that analyze it. Encoding is the necessary first step to making the elements of a text show us interesting things.

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Team Project Description for English 203

There are two phases to your Team Project in English 203 (Hamlet in the Humanities Lab), each worth different grades, for a total grade of 50%:
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English 203: The Twitter Assignment

Using twitter in English 203 will help me listen to your reactions to the course material, to make my teaching more responsive to your questions. (As some of you will know, I did this in a larger Shakespeare course last term.) My goal is to encourage you each to ask questions about the course material, questions that will identify “trending topics” (as twitter calls them) in the class at large. I want to help each of you move toward higher-level questions by the end of the course: questions that show not merely how much you know, but how well you think. With time, are you moving from understanding to analyzing, and from analyzing to evaluating? Do you read between the lines, make connections between passages, convey more than one layer of information?

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Resources for First-time Readers of Milton’s *Paradise Lost*

I prepared this list for my English 411 students in Winter 2012, and welcome comments on further suggestions.
  • Mary Fuller’s chronology of events in the poem is helpful for untangling narrative threads.
  • Darkness Visible was prepared by undergraduate students at Christ’s College, Cambridge for the 400th anniversary of the poet’s birthday, in 2008.
  • See here for more materials from that celebration, including podcast lectures by eminent Miltonians: Quentin Skinner, Colin Burrow, Sharon Achinstein,  Geoffrey Hill, and Christopher Ricks.

Representations: of Time

In Fall 2012, I’ll teach a course on “Representations” (ASHA 321) for the University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Arts and Science Honours Academy. The course description gives me the freedom to provoke thoughts about “issues, inconsistencies and flaws arising from the concept of representation.” Because the students are in both science and arts programs, I’m interested in texts that speak to a range of fields.

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205 Final Exam

Here is a PDF of the English 205 Final Exam as it will appear next week. Important differences between this document and the actual exam are in red type.

A3 Model Answers

In Fall 2010, A3 had the same instructions, but was about a different text (As You Like It). Its three essay questions are below, followed by links to answers by three students who got very good marks on the assignment, and agreed to let their work serve as models.

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English 205: Assignment 3 (10%)

Due date: Thursday, December 8th, 2011 (in tutorial)


Choose one of three essay questions, below, on Cymbeline.

Then write one complete paragraph as an introduction, which clearly describes your argument and your methods, and culminates in an underlined thesis statement. (This is the only paragraph you will write.)

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English 205: Assignment 2 (7.5%)

Due date: Thursday 17 November, in tutorial

Your response must begin with an underlined thesis statement (a sentence stating your argument in clear, direct, and precise language). Remember, a valid argument can have a counter-argument.

Listen to these three radio adaptations of Hamlet 2.2 (pages 38-55):

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Terms for Close Reading

Here is a list of terms for close reading Shakespeare’s texts, with examples — mostly from As You Like It. I developed it with my RA Sarah Hertz, specifically for Exercise 2 in English 205 (Fall 2011). But it may come in handy for anyone doing close readings of early modern drama.

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English 205 materials posted

I’ve now posted all of my Fall 2011 section of English 205 (Foundations: Shakespeare) course materials.

You can start with the course home page, the course schedule [PDF], or with the blog posts on different components like the Twitter assignment, the in-class, exercises, the final exam, and so on.

There’s also a PDF document of the nine big ideas that will inform the course.

English 205: Assignments (25%)

The course has three (3) assignments that you will write at home, to develop and demonstrate your skills more independently. Each will be discussed in lectures and tutorials, and each of their due dates is listed in the course schedule (A1, A2, A3). See my Submission Policy for the penalties for late submissions. If you miss any assignment, for any reason, there is no make-up exercise.

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English 205: Exercises (25%)

The course includes five (5) tutorial exercises to apply and practice the critical reading and writing skills you learn about in particular weeks. You will complete these exercises in five different tutorials, as noted in the course schedule (E1, E2, E3, E4, E5). In lectures, I will discuss each of these skills in detail. Your TA and I will teach you how to complete each exercise successfully. Only E4 and E5 are open-book. You must complete and submit each exercise in the time allowed. If you miss any exercise, for any reason, there is no make-up exercise.

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English 205: The Final Exam (25%)

The final exam will be two hours long; it will be scheduled by the Registrar. Students must be available for examinations up to the last day of the examination period.

The exam will test your ability to apply the techniques of writing and criticism that we have developed throughout the course to As You Like It, Hamlet, Cymbeline and the critical readings {C} we have done.

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Academic Integrity

Using any source whatsoever without clearly documenting it is a serious academic offence. If you submit an assignment that includes material (even a very small amount) that you did not write, but that is presented as your own work, you are guilty of plagiarism. The consequences include failure on the assignment or in the course, and suspension or expulsion from the university. For details, see here.

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My Course Policies

Submission Policy

Make every effort to submit your typed, printed assignments directly to me or (if applicable) to your TA, in class. If that is impossible, take your paper to the Department office (SS1152) and put it in the drop-box, where your paper will be date-stamped and placed in my mailbox. Always keep a copy in case of loss. Electronic submissions will not be accepted. Papers will not be returned by office staff.

Writing assignments must be submitted no later than one calendar week after the due date. Each student is permitted only one extension, on any one assignment, of one day without penalty. (Your first late submission is your one free extension: no exceptions.) Beyond that, I penalize late assignments””submitted after class ends on the due date””at a rate of 5% daily, excluding weekends and university holidays, to a maximum of 25%. After that, you will receive a zero grade on that assignment.

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Prof. Ullyot’s guide to Effective Critical Writing
My guide to effective critical writing includes advice on drafting and revising, managing your time, citing secondary sources, and avoiding plagiarism.

A Student’s Guide to the Presentation of Essays
The English Department’s guide to essay presentation.

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English 205: The Twitter Assignment

Using twitter in English 205 will help me listen to your reactions to the course material, to make my teaching more responsive to your questions. My goal is to encourage you each to ask questions about Shakespeare, questions that will identify “trending topics” (as twitter calls them) in the class at large. I want to help each of you move toward higher-level questions by the end of the course: questions that show not merely how much you know, but how well you think. With time, are you moving from understanding to analyzing, and from analyzing to evaluating? Do you read between the lines, make connections between passages, convey more than one layer of information?

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A Rubric for Close Reading

With my research assistant Sarah Hertz, I’m developing a rubric for close readings of Shakespeare’s texts, mostly verse, in my English 205 this fall (2011). Close reading is a core skill for English majors, and thus is one of the skills the course focuses on. (The others are slow reading; annotating texts; using evidence; paraphrasing and comparing passages; and the stages of critical writing–from citations to arguments to outlines to editing.)

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Foundations: Shakespeare | English 205, Fall 2011

Department of English  ::  Faculty of Arts  ::  University of Calgary

This is the home page of English 205 in Fall 2011. I have also written a series of blog posts on various aspects of the course design.

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Listening with Twitter

On Day 1 of a course, after I’ve given students essential information like my office hours and how to pronounce my name, I ask about their prior knowledge of the subject. In my introduction to Shakespeare, for instance, I ask which of his plays they read in high school, which they’ve seen in performance, and if they have a favourite (and why).  And I ask what students hope to get out of the course, beyond fulfilling a requirement.

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Data Visualization


How does the visualization of data enable digital humanists to understand texts, develop questions, and report the results of our research? Can we visualize only quantitative data (e.g. word clouds based on frequency or proximity)? How do we convert qualitative questions — like a given character’s preoccupation with death — into quantitative images?

These are a few preliminary questions as I develop a resource list for students in my English 203 in Winter 2012, Hamlet in the Humanities Lab.


Shakespeare Visualizations

Hamlet in the Humanities Lab | English 203, Winter 2012

Department of English  ::  Faculty of Arts  ::  University of Calgary

This is the home page of English 203 in Winter 2012. I have also written a series of blog posts on various aspects of the course design. The full course outline is also available in Google Docs.

Here is the English 203 blog, where students and I post materials and lab reports on using five different text-analysis tools.

Instructor: Dr Michael Ullyot

Office: Social Sciences 1106

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Teaching materials

Course syllabi, teaching resources, and other materials related to my teaching.

Gradually, the material on my University of Calgary site is migrating to this WordPress platform.

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Methodical methodologies

Doug Knox’s comment on my post about Encoding and Interpretation sent me to Stephen Ramsay’s paper “The Meandering through Textuality Challenge” (MLA, 2011).

Ramsay investigates the “digging into data” metaphor — widely used in the DH community because of its formalized support and recognition across multiple funding bodies. But this metaphor suffers (Ramsay writes) from what Neal Stephenson calls “metaphor shear“: essentially, we take it too literally.

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Encoding (and) Interpretation

Is encoding text an act of literary interpretation, or of pattern recognition? Either way, is it quantifiable? And if so, can a computer do it as readily as a human reader?

Those are just a few of my questions after a week-long course in text encoding at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2011, with the wonderful Julia Flanders from the Brown University Women Writers Project, Doug Knox from the Newberry Library, and Melanie Chernyk from the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria. We learned how to encode texts in TEI. That means taking texts that look like this —

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Groupthink, multitasking, & other issues

Having decided to teach Shakespeare with Twitter this fall, I’ve been thinking about a few issues. If others occur to you, gentle reader, I’d be grateful for your solutions in the comments below.

Groupthink. Jonah Lehrer recently wrote about groupthink overshadowing–skewing–the wisdom of crowds. In sum, when you consult a group of people as individual thinkers, their aggregate response is remarkably close to the truth. But when they can see each other’s responses, there’s a reversion to the mean: “um, what she said.” Particularly when the question is vexing, or seems to have a right-or-wrong answer.

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Teaching Shakespeare with Twitter

So it’s official, now: I’m teaching with Twitter in my English 205 (Shakespeare) course this fall.

How? By requiring all students to submit questions that the reading material provokes in them, after they’re finished reading a text. I’m explicitly not encouraging multi-tasking, or tweeting while reading; on the contrary, I underscore the benefits of solitude, of focus, of (as Milton put it) “the quiet and still air of delightful studies.”

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Digital Humanities @ RSA 2012

The results are in; RSA 2012 will have four papers in SHARP-sponsored panels on digital research in early modern books. This is from the original CFP:

What are digital humanists doing now with early modern books and manuscripts? Ann M Blair recently argued that medieval and early modern systems of “managing textual information in an era of exploding publications” are precedents for modern information management systems. Do early reference books, annotations and compilations inform, anticipate, or otherwise influence our computer-assisted thinking?

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Managing student questions

I’m going to try two online systems for managing student questions, on anything related to the course.

The first is Google Moderator, which I’d not heard of before I read a New York Times story today. In theory, this tool “lets a class type questions and vote for the ones they would most like answered.” I’m interested to see how it works in practice. Here’s the link.

The second is Quora, a sort of social network for questions and answers. Here’s the link to the Fall 2011 English 205 topic I started. Note that it uses the same code (F2011 ENGL205) as this blog, which I borrowed from Blackboard.

Hamlet in the Humanities Lab

This post has been converted to a permanent page, so that I can nest contents related to the course there.

My Teaching Philosophy

I. Critics and Curators

I think humanities professors embody two roles. As critics, we encourage students to delve beneath the surfaces of past and present cultures. As curators, we promote their receptivity to and judgement of cultural (intellectual and literary) history. By studying continuities between modern experience and Descartes’s “foreign country” of the past, the humanities teach us about similarities between human experiences that are superficially distinct. Their teachers need to be both critics and curators, choosing and arranging beautiful and important things for public view, while offering and engaging responses to those works.

A few years ago in London’s National Gallery, I was using an audio guide to listen to art historians discuss the pictures I liked–J. M. W. Turner’s play of light, or Henri Rousseau’s dark undertones–when I came across Caspar David Friedrich’s pallid-looking “Winter Landscape” (1811). I was about to pass it by, but I compulsively dialed up the audio commentary. What I heard gave me a strong understanding of its imagery and meaning: here was a glimmer of hope in a grey and Gothic world. I didn’t like the picture any better, but I liked what it meant. Similarly, I hope that students in my classes learn how works inspire legitimate reactions of delight or distaste, and how our initial senses change as our apprehension grows deeper.

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Plans for this site

In the next few months (Summer 2011) I’ll begin repurposing this site to post teaching and research materials. That means my Twitter feed is no longer posted to the blog; that was a fine way to supply posts for the past few months (since last fall), but it will just clutter things up in the future.

My immediate plan is to launch a new collection of posts for materials related to English 205 (Foundations: Shakespeare) in Fall 2011. The posts will replace all the elements of a traditional course syllabus.

Michael Who?

Ullyot. (“UH-lee-yit.”) I’m an Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

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