The digital is an inescapable part of everyday life. Nearly every activity that a generation ago required face-to-face contact or interaction with another person can now be accomplished digitally, mediated by phone trees, automated systems, and the web. And countless activities that were unheard of even a few years ago are now possible, thanks to digital technology. Unlike the grand technologies of the 20th century—improbably tall skyscrapers, massive hydroelectric dams, rocket ships to the moon and beyond—the digital technologies that capture our attention today are mostly small and personal. Cell phones, videogame consoles, HDTVs, iPads and ebooks.

While there are countless questions to ask about the social, psychological, and economic implications of ubiquitous digital technology, ENGH 376/508 will focus upon the expressive power of new media. By expressive power, we will mean the way digital media enables and shapes different modes of creative and cultural expression.

We will approach the expressive power of new media through four lenses in ENGH 376/508:

  1. Platforms. This introductory section lays the groundwork for the semester, exploring the history and materiality of new media. We will consider new media not as a vague concept or as something that happens only on screens, but as very specific and historically-situated forms of technology—as what we will call “platforms.”
  2. Literature. This second section considers how artists and writers use new media to create aesthetic and literary works that challenge accepted notions of art, narrative, and poetry.
  3. Data. The third section of the semester focuses on database culture, particularly the aesthetic and narrative potential of seemingly objective infographics, data visualizations, and mapping.
  4. Games. The final section of the course explores the expressive and rhetorical power of videogames. Often dismissed as adolescent entertainment, videogames are in fact complicated and compelling, and can both evoke and provoke.

ENGH 376/508 is a hybrid course in many ways. Unlike most English Department classes, words will frequently be of less interest to us than other multimodal expressions: images, numbers, sound, movement, rules, and so on. We will also adapt an inclusive approach to digital culture, studying works that range from the digital equivalent of high modernism to low and even vulgar popular culture. We ourselves are a mixed body, comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students, a unique learning opportunity for all of us. And finally, our weekly class will follow a studio model of instruction more than a classroom model. That is, we will learn how to analyze existing new media works, but we will also spend our class time building and designing our own digital pieces.