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

Email: ullyot[at]ucalgary[dot]ca

Twitter: @ullyot or twitter.com/ullyot

Office hours: By appointment (e-mail)

Course Description & Goals

“The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.”

New York Times (November 16, 2010)

We read today in an age of abundance, when digital archives urge twenty-first-century humanists to consider a much larger collection of data than was previously possible. Digital tools allow us to analyze those archives quickly. But what qualitative nuances do we lose when we use these new quantitative tools? And what insight can these new capabilities yield?

English 203 is a seminar devoted to critical reading and writing — and to experimenting with digital tools to posit, test, and refine hypotheses about a text (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) with a long tradition of scholarship. This seminar reads a familiar, canonical text using five digital tools and methodologies (see “Five Tools,” below), to merge traditional reading with data analysis and knowledge creation.

Development of this course has been funded by a SEED Grant from the Teaching & Learning Centre (University of Calgary).


The format of the course is a humanities lab. This design is significant because it re-conceives traditional methods of literary criticism. We will use digital, quantitative tools in a traditionally analog, qualitative discipline, and read the data thoughtfully enough to recognize its implications and limitations. We will make arguments about Shakespeare’s culture not by qualitative conjecture or particular example, but by more quantifiable evidence — for instance, by searching the complete published corpus of his culture.

Approximately half of our meetings will be devoted to hands-on learning about digital tools, and study of existing projects. Students will work collaboratively, and post interim writing (preliminary results) to their blogs. The class size (25 students) will allow a constant flow of writing, peer feedback, and formative assessment. Students will operate in an online world of scholarly exchange, building on expert experience across disciplines and sharing their own insights. You will develop a project on Hamlet using one or more digital tools; the final result will be an extended write-up of your research process and results.


  1. Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Thompson & Taylor (Arden Shakespeare, 3rd edition)
  2. The Little Seagull Handbook, ed. Bullock & Weinberg (Norton)
  3. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition (MLA)

Five Tools

Students in English 203 will use the following five tools in their Team Projects to analyze assigned acts and scenes of Hamlet. I have also noted supporting tutorials or guides to using each tool, and will discuss each in class.


Encoding Exercise: 15%

Twitter Assignment: 5%

Team Project 1: 20%

Team Project 2: 30% (see section below for details)

Final Paper: 30%

You must complete both the Encoding Exercise and the Final Paper to earn a passing grade in this course.

Here are the percentage equivalents in the university’s official grading system.

0 + % A+ 4.0
85 ““ 89 % A 4.0
80 ““ 84 % A”“ 3.7
77 ““ 79 % B+ 3.3
74 ““ 76 % B 3.0
70 ““ 73 % B”“ 2.7
67 ““ 69 % C+ 2.3
64 ““ 66 % C 2.0
60 ““ 63 % C”“ 1.7
55 ““ 59 % D+ 1.3
50 ““ 54 % D 1.0
0 ““ 49 % F 0

Encoding Exercise (15%)

See here for details.

Twitter Assignment (5%)

See here for details.

Team Projects (50%)

See here for details.

Final Paper (30%)

Course Schedule

See here.