What Is A Book for the 21st Century?

This collaboration among historian Pamela Smith, computer scientist Steven Feiner, librarian and practitioner of the digital humanities Terence Catapano, and literary and media theorist Dennis Tenen resulted in two co-taught courses, open to graduates and advanced undergraduates, equipping students with the technical skills and conceptual methodologies to treat encoded text as data for analysis and visualization—thus acknowledging that words, texts, and documents continue to play a central role in modern society while presenting unique properties and challenges for manipulation as data.

Students from the computer sciences, humanities, and social sciences applied tools, approaches, and domain-specific expertise across two courses with a shared data set and research focus: the English translation of a 16th-century artisanal and technical manuscript, encoded by students in the Spring 2017 hybrid course HIST GR8975: What is a book for the 21st Century? supported by a 2016 Collaboratory seed grant. The first course (Spring 2018) overhauls an existing CS course taught by Feiner to focus its assignments on the 3D visualization of the manuscript and its various interrelated recipes, lists, and marginal notes through student-generated augmented reality tools. A selection of these will be refined and taught in the second course (Spring 2019), a new digital humanities offering to be cross-listed in History and English where students with no requisite prior digital experience will perform targeted skill-building exercises to acquire basic programming skills, allowing them to create meaningful, analytical projects in textual analysis, interface design, and advanced visualization. Both courses will be evaluated by adapting the flexible digital competencies evaluation template developed for HIST GR8975 in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Learning, that 1) allows students to evaluate their progress toward defined and measurable skills, and 2) helps articulate a sustainable model for data-focused, cross-departmental, and cross-disciplinary teaching at Columbia.

 About the Collaboratory and the Collaboratory Fellows Fund:
Technology and massive data are reshaping society in profound ways. To be effective, the leaders of tomorrow will need to understand how these transformations are impacting their professions, now and in the future. The Collaboratory Fellows Fund is developing the coursework to allow students to master the technical skills and cultivate the creative thinking to confront the unique challenges in their chosen careers.

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