A common misconception about Digital Humanities is that it prioritizes visual culture and technology over the text and critical reading. The tools and assignments you will find in this section provide evidence of the opposite. When used carefully, an array of open source and free tools can actually enhance the work of teaching students to read critically by asking them to annotate an existing text, to digitize a poem or short text they have read in print, or to research a text practicing keyword searches, creating graphs, and other forms of data visualization.
Why do this?
Using digital tools to practice critical reading is complement for–not a substitute for–traditional forms of teaching critical reading. The tools we highlight below provide students with opportunities to further understand why and how the details of a text matter, how to make connections across a single text or across an array of texts, why and how research enhances our understanding of a text.
Whether you are teaching close reading in a literature context or are interested in conveying the significance of and labor behind annotations in a history, sociology, or religion course, these digital tools can be helpful in demystifying the work of critical reading for students across different levels.
Below we provide examples for three different kinds of digital practices that focus on reading as well as on research:
- Annotating a text
- Digitizing and annotating
- Text mining
These can be used for varying purposes and in different classroom contexts, from a first-year course to an upper-level seminar or Capstone. They each have different ways of centering the text, but they all require that students focus on the text’s details and composition, from specific words and phrases to entire narrative structures or poetic genres, from word definitions to historical context. The assignments we present below are usually used in conjunction with analog critical reading not in place of, and they have the added benefit of organically integrating research to the practice of reading.
The reasons to ask students to annotate a text digitally might vary from allowing them to understand how to write an annotation and how much work is required to write a good one to asking them to develop an argument or a discussion about a given text through their annotations. A very easy way to assign annotation in the classroom is by using hypothes.is
hypothes.is is an open source and free digital annotation platform that allows students, scholars, and the general public to annotate any digital text. It is incredibly easy to use and supports as well as relies on academic work. All you have to do to start using it is create an account. Their website offers tips and a guide specially tailored for teachers, and their staff is famous for responding to teacher and student questions and issues very quickly.
hypothes.is annotations can:
- Take a traditional form and provide historical, contextual, scholarly, or other information that enhances the reader’s understanding of a text.
- Be a carefully crafted response to a specific claim by an author.
- Be a reply to an annotation by another reader.
Assignments designed using hypothes.is can take an array of forms. Here are a few examples:
- Use an existing digital version of a text your students are reading and craft an assignment asking them to annotate specific kinds of passages, words, or other aspects of the work. What their annotations must do is entirely up to you! This class was asked to annotate a series of digital poems housed in Project Gutenberg or Bartleby.com
- Use an existing digital version of a legal or historical text and ask students to comment on it as they read it. You and/or their classmates can respond to annotations as a way of elucidating the text’s meaning. For better results, the assignment should explicitly require that students apply the concepts they are learning in the course. This history class annotated an early nineteenth-century Supreme Court resolution in order to elucidate the text, while this neuroscience class annotated journal articles available in PDF form online to raise questions and apply course concepts.
- Annotate the news: ask students to choose a newspaper article related to course content. Before class, they must annotate the article responding to the reporter’s or writer’s claims by applying the concepts they have been learning in class. Their peers are required to reply to these annotations. On an assigned day, the student who annotated the article can present on the article and her annotations, while students continue to respond to her annotations and the article itself in a brief class discussion held after the presentation.
- Digitize an array of texts that are not subject to copyright law and can be hosted on a website you create with the DH Lab’s help or on your own. Students must then annotate them and create a collection of annotated texts related to an author’s work, a theme, a political or historical moment, and so on.
- Following the same model, this class was asked to annotate a poem of the teacher’s choosing and to annotate it in order to connect it to other writers they were reading in their course. Students had to identify passages, imagery, keywords, and more, that they were familiar with based on their reading of other authors and texts.
Dillinger: Digitize and Annotate a Text
Voyant: Text Mining
Create a Scholarly Digital Edition