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ENGL 87400: Text Transformations

Spring 2015
Mondays 4:15pm-6:15pm
Room 5383
Ph.D. Program in English
The Graduate Center, CUNY

Dr. Matthew K. Gold
Office Hours: 4108.01, W 4:30pm-6pm and by appointment (contact Kristin Leitterman for appointments)

Private Course Group:
Public Course Blog:
Course Hashtag: #texttransform
Zotero Group:


Course Description:

As an increasing number of texts are digitized and made available for quantitative analysis of various kinds, algorithmic computation can be used to reveal patterns of affiliation and difference across them. Franco Moretti has argued that such opportunities have resulted in “a drastic loss of ‘measure’ . . . books are so human-sized; now that right size is gone.” What is the proper unit of the text in the digital age, if not the book? How do we understand texts that are “massively addressable at different levels of scale,” as Michael Witmore has suggested? And how do new levels of scale and “addressability” alter our understanding of literary history, not to mention our everyday practices of reading?

In this course, we will consider how “macroscopic” approaches to text analysis change our existing notions of textuality, particularly as they revise 1990s discussions of hypertext within the field of textual studies. The course will include a mix of theoretical investigation and hands-on experimentation; as we explore quantitative approaches to literary analysis, we will seek to oscillate between close and distant reading practices. We will also look at how digital textuality is being expressed through various media forms and consider how recent interactive scholarly texts are changing publishing workflows in and outside of the academy. Readings will include works and projects by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Jerome McGann, Matthew Jockers, Amy Earhart, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Jerome McGann, Franco Moretti, Steve Ramsay, Lisa Rhody, Mark Sample, Dennis Tenen, Ted Underwood, Michael Witmore, among others. Text analysis and visualization tools to be used will include DH Box, D3, Gephi, MALLET, NLTK, Python, R, Voyant, among others. Workshop attendance will be required.

Voyant Tools
R Studio
DH Box

The Programming Historian


--> Please see an updated list of resources, edited by students in the class, here:


Course Schedule

Mon Feb 2


Mon Feb 9

Understanding Regular Expressions -

Wed Feb 18
Approaches to Textual Studies

Lab: Dennis Tenen and Grant Wythoff, "Sustainable Authorship in Plain Text using Pandoc and Markdown"

Mon Feb 23

Lab: Mark up, by hand, a 500-word text using HTML and CSS HTML tutorial: ; CSS tutorial: ; Also check out, available through the library

Mon Mar 2
Distant Reading 1

Lab: Topic Modeling exercises with MALLET

Mon Mar 9
Distant Reading 2

  • Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis (selections)
  • Matthew Jockers, Text Analysis With R for Students of Literature (selections)
  • Matthew Jockers/Annie Swafford blog post exchange about Syuzhet

Lab: Exercises from Jockers

Mon Mar 16

Lab: Make a twitter bot or markov chain generator

Mon Mar 23
Editions (Guest: Dennis Tenen)

Lab: TEI Markup: mark up a short text

Mon Mar 30
Book History

Lab: Visit to a local archive

  • Final Project Abstract/Proposal Due (one page or less)

Mon Apr 6 - Spring Break

Mon Apr 13
Visualizing Textual Data

Lab: Create a data visualization using Gephi, D3, or another tool

Mon Apr 20
Electronic Literature, Media Archaeology, and the Textual Apparatus (Guest: Steve Jones )

Lab: Show and tell: bring in, and be ready to describe, an old piece of equipment or storage media containing information relevant to your work

Mon Apr 27
12 - No Class

Mon May 4
13 - Perspective and Dimensionality

Lab: Play the recently revamped Ivanhoe game

Mon May 11
14 - Social Texts, Social Writing, Social Reading

Explore Projects:

Lab: TBA

Mon May 18
15 - student presentations


Syllabus Acknowledgements:
I consulted the following syllabi while creating this one; thank you to their authors for making them public:

I appreciated feedback from the following scholars on a draft version of this syllabus:

  • Matthew Kirschenbaum
  • Steven E. Jones
  • Lisa Rhody
  • Brian Croxall


Twitter List
He re is a twitter list of some of the scholars we will be studying this semester.