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ENGL 4*** Critical Computing in the Humanities

Spring 2016
Prof. Dennis Tenen | dt2406 at columbia

Our engagement with technology entails political, not just instrumental choices. Email clients, social networks, and word processors have a profound effect on the way we relate to each other: work, organize, relax, or make art. Yet, we rarely have a chance to reflect on the civic, cultural virtues implicit in numerous everyday acts of computation: connecting to a wi-fi access point, sending a text message, or sharing a photograph online.

This course will introduce students to foundational concepts in computer literacy. We will pry open many “black boxes”---personal computers, routers, mobile phones---to learn not just how they work, but to interrogate them critically. Readings in ethics, philosophy, media history, and critical theory will ground our practical explorations.

This course advances research in computational culture studies understood both as the study of computational culture and as computational approaches to the study of culture and society. In addition to traditional reading, discussion, and writing components of the class, participants are expected to work on a semester-long data-driven lab-based research project. Students and scholars from any field, at any stage of their academic or professional career, and at all levels of technical and critical proficiency are welcome to attend.

Course Requirements and Grading

  • 25% Class participation
  • 25% Online participation
  • 25% Midterm annotated biblio
  • 25% Final project proposal

Academic Integrity

Columbia University Undergraduate Guide to Academic Integrity contains the following statement:

Academic integrity is the cornerstone of our intellectual community. All scholarship – teaching, research, and student learning – is the product of intellectual exchange. Whether this exchange takes place in books and journal articles, in laboratories, in the design of experiments and the analysis of data, in the classroom, or in students’ written work, it is these joint undertakings that create Columbia’s intellectual community.

The value of our collective inquiry relies upon trust and honesty – for our individual discoveries are dependent upon the discoveries of our peers and predecessors, here at Columbia and elsewhere. And all intellectual work must be evaluated – the work of students is evaluated by faculty; the work of faculty is evaluated through peer-review. We must, therefore, be able to trust that others are honest in their work and others must be able to trust that we are honest in ours.

Academic writing can be very challenging, for it requires us to create original work from our synthesis of the work done by others. In these pages you will learn strategies for developing original work, ways to ensure that your work is trustworthy, the consequences for submitting work that is dishonest, and the resources available to assist you in achieving your best work.

When in doubt, consult the Columbia University Undergraduate Guide to Academic Integrity or check with me directly!

Provisional Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

  • The spirit of the class. Ethics charter. Structure. Assignments, participation, grading, schedule.

Week 2: Copyright Regimes

  • Winner, Langdon. Selections from Autonomous Technology.

Week 3: Copyright Regimes

  • Hughes, Justin. “Philosophy of Intellectual Property,” Georgetown Law Journal 77 (1989- 1988): 287-367.

  • “Copyright And `The Exclusive Right' Of Authors” by Lyman Ray Patterson.

  • "Against Intellectual Property" by Brian Martin.

Explore: Cohen, Julie. “Creativity and Culture in Copyright Theory” U.C. Davis Law Review 40 (2007 2006): 1151; “Economic Analysis of Property Rights in Information” by Steve Calanrillo.

Lab: Zotero

Week 4: Public and Common Knowledge

  • "Of Property" John Locke.
  • "Public Libraries," Thomas Greenwood pp. 1-49.
  • "Faith in Reading," Thomas August.
  • "The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin.
  • "The Commons," by David Barry.

Explore: http://publicknowledge.org/

Lab: Ethics charter. Zotero signup. 6pm-Computational Thinking w/ Jeannette Wang of Microsoft Research (Lecture Hall, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism)

Week 5: Open Access and Open Source

  • "Information wants to be valuable" by Tim O'Reilly.
  • Ch. 1-3 "Open Access" by Peter Suber.
  • Richard Stallman, “Why ‘Free Software’ is better than ‘Open Source.’”
  • "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto," Aaron Swartz
  • Selections from "Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm” by Yochai Benkler.

Explore: Timeline of the Open Access Movement

Lab: Command line basics

Week 6: Peer Production and Remix Culture

  • “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics” by Lewis Mumford (1964).
  • “Commons-Based Peer Production and Virtue” by Yochai Benkler and Helen Nissenbaum.
  • “Cooperation and Attribution in an Online Community of Young Creators” by Andres Monroy-Hernandez and Benjamin Mako Hill.
  • “The Evolution of Authorship in a Remix Society” by Nicholas Diakopoulos, et.al..

Explore: Wikipedia, Policies and guidelines.

Lab: Version control with Git.

Week 7: Creative Commons, Copyleft, Free Culture

  • Richard Stallman, "Copyleft: Pragmatic Idealism," "Why Software should not Have Owners," and "What is Free Software."
  • Niva Elkin-Koren, "Creative Commons: A Skeptical View of a Worthy Project."
  • Eric Von Hippel, "Open source software and the 'private-collective' innovation model."
  • Eben Moglen, "Anarchism Triumphant."

Lab: Markdown + Pandoc.

Week 8: Piracy and Shadow Libraries

  • Robert Darnton, “The Science of Piracy.”
  • “A Short History of Book Piracy” by Bodó Balázs.
  • “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution” by Peter Biddle, et.al.
  • "The Darknet: A Digital Copyright Revolution" by Jessica Wood.
  • “The Pirate Kingdom” in Ravi Sundaram’s Pirate Modernity.

Explore: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) documents

Lab: Shell scripting.

Week 9: Crypto-anarchism, Cypherpunks

  • Timothy C. May, "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto" and “Crypto Anarchy and Virtual Communities.”
  • “A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" by Eric Hughes.
  • Steven Levy "Crypto Rebels."
  • Nick Szabo, "The idea of smart Contracts."
  • "Assassination Politics" by Jim Bell.

Explore: http://www.i2p2.de/; Cyphernomicon; New Directions in Cryptography; Circumventing Encryption Frees NSA’s Hands Online

Lab: Tor/Onion, Encrypting Email.

Week 10: Hacker Culture

  • "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" by Langdon Winner.
  • McKenzie Wark, “A Hacker Manifesto.”
  • Andrew Ross, "Hacking Away at the Counterculture."
  • Hackers and the contested ontology of cyberspace, Helen Nissenbaum.

Explore: A Brief History of Hackerdom, by Eric Steven Raymond

Lab: Scripting w/ Python.

Week 11: Leaks and Whistleblowers

  • Statement of Thomas Blanton, Director, National Security Archive.
  • The Wikileaks Manifesto, by Julian Assange.
  • Disclosure's Effects: WikiLeaks and Transparency, by Mark Fenster

Lab: Scripting w/ Python.

Week 12: Secrecy and Transparency

  • Pozen on “Deep Secrecy.”
  • “A Free Irresponsible Press” by Yochai Benkler
  • Freedom of Information Act
  • U.S. Code Chapter 37 - Espionage and Censorship.

Lab: Scripting w/ Python.

Week 13: Privacy and Surveillance

  • Thomas Nagel, “Concealment and Exposure.”
  • Philip E. Agre, “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy.”
  • Roger Dingledine, et. al., “Tor: The Second-Generation Onion Router.”

Explore: HIPAA, Google TOS, Facebook TOS, USA Patriot Act.

Lab: Scripting w/ Python.

Week 14: Open Session

  • Schedule a make up lab on encryption. Brainstorm final projects. Python lecture.

Lab: Scripting w/ Python.