Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module DATA40230: Digital Humanities: Practice and Theory

Department: Natural Sciences

DATA40230: Digital Humanities: Practice and Theory

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.
Tied to G5K823
Tied to G5K923


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to contemporary debates on the future of the humanities in an increasingly digital world.
  • To introduce students to the most important technical tools for representing and manipulating cultural artefacts in digital form.
  • To introduce students to theoretically informed contemporary practice within various domains of Digital Humanities.
  • To enable students to apply cutting-edge theoretical frameworks and technical tools to practical problems in Digital Humanities.
  • To enable students to critique the claims made by advocates of digital approaches to the Humanities.
  • To enable students to critique the ideological basis of digital culture.
  • To provide students with the knowledge and skills required to create a digital resource and reflect and write about it critically under the guidance of members of staff.


  • A sample of the topics covered in the practical part of the module may include:
  • How computers represent information; licensing of data and code.
  • Representing text, images, audio, video; codecs and compression; Unicode.
  • Manipulating unstructured text: basic regular expressions.
  • Advanced regular expressions in Python.
  • Markup and schemata: HTML, XML, TEI.
  • XML- and HTML-related technologies: CSS, XPATH, DOM.
  • Manipulating structured text: parsing XML with Python.
  • Semantic web; digital ontology; JSON.
  • Natural Language Processing and literary stylometry with R and Python
  • Deep Learning and vector space representations of language.
  • LSTMs, Transformers and AI-generated text; neural machine translation.
  • Analysing artistic style with RNNs and neural style transfer.
  • A sample of the topics covered in the theoretical part of the module may include:
  • The uses of distant reading.
  • Quantitative critiques of the canon.
  • The future of the book and user-centred design for DH projects.
  • The principles of digital editing of texts.
  • The curation of cultural artefacts in digital form.
  • Research data management and project management for DH.
  • The threats posed by the obsession with STEM to the contemporary humanities.
  • The reinvention of cultural studies for a digital age of consilience.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Understand the main positions of those advocating for and critiquing a greater use of technology in the humanities.
  • Understand a range of current applications of digital technology to the humanities, their affordances and limitations.
  • Understand how computers represent cultural artefacts as media.
  • Understand how to formulate and address key questions in the humanities by manipulating digital texts and media.
  • Know how to design and create a new DH resource and reflect critically upon its capabilities and limitations.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Actively critique digital culture in general and DH projects in particular.
  • Use standard digital tools and libraries to manipulate and query texts, images and other media.
  • Identify a problem in the humanities, formulate a research question and create a digital tool to answer it.
  • Identify and make use of relevant theoretical literature and technical tools, libraries and APIs.
  • Document the creation of that tool and reflect critically upon it in a clear and well-structured essay.
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify an interdisciplinary research problem in DH.
  • Locate the necessary theoretical and technical resources required to address the problem.
  • Create and document a useful digital tool.
  • Think clearly and independently about the intersection of humanistic questions and digital solutions.
  • Write in a clear and rigorous style.
  • Manage time efficiently.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The teaching will take the form of two-hour seminars, where the first part of the session will be a presentation by the lecturer and the second part will be either a class discussion of that topic (for the theory part of the module), or a group technical exercise (for the practice part of the module).
  • There will be two individual tutorials to help guide each student in the choice and development of their project.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 16 Once per week (Term 1, weeks 1-4 and 6-9; Term 2, weeks 11-14 and 16-19) 2 hours 32
Tutorials 2 As needed 30 minutes 1
Preparation, Exercises and Reading 117
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Project with Essay 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Students may present a preliminary version of their project and/or accompanying essay for feedback in the second tutorial.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University