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C LIT 551 A: Textual Theory

Reading and Scale

Meeting Time: 
W 3:30pm - 6:20pm
PAR 313
Joint Sections: 
FRENCH 551 B, ENGL 501 A
Jeffrey T Knight

Syllabus Description:


Reading is at once the most basic and the most contested practice in the humanities today. This course offers a theory-driven introduction to textual and digital studies through the current crisis in reading, best understood as a crisis of scale. Should we read closely or “distantly”? One text or ten thousand? Surfaces or depth? Literary periods or the longue durée? Works or networks? Discrete bodies or worlds? Together we will seek answers to these questions in a chronology stretching from the advent of silent reading in the Middle Ages to the screen cultures of our digital present, and students will be encouraged to bring primary texts or objects from their own field(s) to the discussion. Topics/theorists covered will include: the history of reading (Roger Chartier, Jerome McGann), close reading, (Cleanth Brooks, William Wimsatt), reader response theory (Stanley Fish, Janice Radway), surface reading and description (Stephen Best, Heather Love, Sharon Marcus), “distant reading” and the quantitative humanities (Franco Moretti, Ted Underwood), and machine reading or “algorithmic criticism” (Stephen Ramsay). Students will also have the opportunity to interact with one of the leading theorists of the digital humanities, Matthew Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland), when he visits UW on Feb. 22.

Catalog Description: 
Provides an introduction to the intellectual foundations of textual studies; historical background in disciplines of philology and textual criticism, theories of textuality from formalism and New Criticism to poststructuralism, and media-specific analysis; current and emerging concerns in the history of the book, media studies, globally comparative philologies, and digital humanities. Offered: jointly with ENGL 501.
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:15pm