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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of English Language and Literature


English Department Professor wins "Innovative Course Design Competition"!

Michael Gavin, Assistant Professor of English, has won a prestigious"Innovative Course Design Competition"for his Spring course 620, "Modeling Literary History: Quantitative Approaches to the Enlightenment."

The award is given out by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. It carries a $500 prize and will be awarded next March at the ASECS annual meeting.

Comments from the judges include the following:

Gavin’s ambitious interdisciplinary course is simultaneously a survey of key issues and texts in eighteenth-century literature, an introduction to humanities computing and a meta-reflection on the possibilities of the digital humanities. The syllabus and assignments are admirably clear, keeping students sharply focused on the particulars of eighteenth-century texts, even as they are invited to embrace new technological possibilities and think through the wider implications of their methods. We found this submission especially strong in articulating the theoretical underpinnings and practical skills involved in the innovative linking of eighteenth-century studies and digital humanities.

Here's the course description itself:

ENGL 620 Modeling Literary History: The Enlightenment T 3:00 – 5:30 Gavin (Special Topics in Digital Humanities)

Where did our concepts of human rights, property, and consent come from? This course will teach quantitative methods of literary history, using texts from the British Enlightenment as its primary case study. Beginning with Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, each student will choose a pair of related keywords (e.g. property/possession, consent/submission, power/force, society/mankind, right/good) and study how those words were used by eighteenth-century writers, how their meaning changed over time, and how they moved through the Enlightenment’s communication networks.

Working through these examples, students will receive a comprehensive introduction to humanities computing using R, with an emphasis on lexical mapping and social network analysis. They will complete a final research paper that incorporates close readings of philosophical texts with statistical analyses of eighteenth-century discourse and print culture. Our readings will include some polemic and scholarship involving “digital humanities,” but the emphasis of the course will be on developing research and writing skills applicable across many fields, as well as the programming experience needed for employment on grant-funded digital projects and centers.

ENGL620 will cover the basic techniques of natural language processing and social-network analysis. Ideally, every student will complete most the computational work for their papers within the class itself, under my supervision and with the support of their peers. No technical experience is required or expected: all necessary computer skills will be taught in class.