Course Outline

This course is designed so that all assignments and exercises are scaffolded and generative, meaning that each course module and its associated digital and research project work will lead you to the next module and its associated project work. Your culminating experience at the end of the course will be a project that you develop posing a research question about the subject matter relying upon one of the digital tools or methods that you have mastered during the semester.

Assignment specifics will be presented on the dates marked in the Course Calendar as “assignment introduced.” This page is included to give you an overview of each of how the assignments connect with the larger course goals.


We will be working directly with excerpts from “Tarlton’s Jests” – a facsimile of the 1600 black-letter printed text, which means that in order to rely on the text for assignments in distant and close reading we will need to transcribe it into electronic text files. This transcription work will be done in two phases:

  • Individually you will transcribe several of the “Jests” maintaining original spelling where possible.
  • Individually you will then edit your jests to update and standardize spelling (we will work together to ensure that words are standardized to reflect the work being done by the class as a whole.)
  • You will compile the edited jest transcriptions into a single file, which will then be used as the source text for our Distant Reading module.
  • Your individual transcriptions will be used for our Close Reading module.

Distant Reading (text analysis)

Distant reading allows us to look at a macro level for patterns and themes in large texts so that we can begin to tease out questions about perspective and relationship. Digital humanists have for years created their own customized algorithms that help them do these kind of analysis on a massive scale with particular types of text corpora. Because our text (the “Jests”) is smaller and more manageable, we can make use of  what are called “out-of-the-box” text analysis tools. For this course we will choose from the Voyant tool suite to help us think differently about our texts.

  • You will upload the compiled text to Voyant
  • In your initial observation, you will form questions about elements of the text (why are certain words important, at what points in the text does Tarlton interact with particular people, places, and actions, what are the relationships between particular words, etc.)
  • With your question in mind, you will choose two of the Voyant tools and do a comparative analysis of the text.
  • As we move on in the module, we will take up more complex analysis related to sentiment through Tarlton’s relationships with particular people.

Close Reading (text encoding)

Close reading allows us to consider at a micro level how an author expresses her/himself using specific terms, descriptions of people and places, and observations about his/her experiences. There is nothing new about close reading – humanities scholars have always engaged in some form of close reading. What digital text encoding allows us to do is “mark up” or annotate a text using machine-readable code that helps us to edit or interpret that text. In this class we will use TEI-compliant XML markup (TEI is the Text Encoding Initiative, an international organization that has worked with scholars to create a standard form of machine-readable “tags” for XML files – XML is the building block for most of our digitally published materials.

Contextual Research

Our understanding of a subject – whether it be a person, an event, a time period – relies upon our ability to contextualize that subject within a larger framework. Richard Tarlton was as much a product of his time as he was a taste maker for theatre goers. In order to create a context for Tarlton’s experience and our work with the “Jests”, we need to look past him and consider what was happening in society and culture more broadly. To that end, you will each choose a research subject from the 1580’s and write short observational pieces about that subject. The class will then, in collaboration, add those observational pieces to a software platform that provides an opportunity to consider time and place in context, allowing for the integration of text, media, and geographical coordinates.


One of the earliest digital approaches used by humanists to analyze subject matter is mapping – specifically Geospatial Information Systems (GIS). GIS can help us to make a different kind of sense about Tarlton’s experiences in London and as a traveling actor. Looking at data (and metadata) from what we know about the Queen’s Men and comparing that with datasets from other contemporary documents as well as the work of Early Modern scholars, we can begin to ask questions about how Tarlton’s activities meshed (or not) with our understanding of this time. Using first the Map of Early Modern London and then ArcGIS Online, we will consider the landscape of the 1580s in terms of how Tarlton and his fellow actors would have traversed it, how it would have been envisioned by his contemporaries, and how we can reveal a visual narrative through maps.

Final Project

At the end of it all, humanities research is reliant upon well thought out research questions. The modules in this course will have introduced you to approaches that will help you to address those research questions, but they cannot ask the questions for you. In the final project, therefore, you will ask a question that has intrigued you as you have learned more about Richard Tarlton, the Civil War, the 1580s, English culture and society, theatre … you will then identify one of the digital tools or methods that you have mastered and use it to help you consider your research question. Your project will be evaluated on the sophistication of your research question, your reason for choosing one digital tool or approach rather than another, and your demonstration of how the use of that tool or approach has enabled you to consider your research in a unique and nuanced manner.

Reflection Posts

At regular intervals over the course of the semester you will write reflection essays in the form of blog posts on the WordPress course site. For each essay I will give you a prompt associated with the module which we’re currently focused on (e.g., Reflection #1 is entitled “On Material and Digital Archives.” These essays should include the following components:

  • Properly considered arguments and evidence
  • Personal experience working in the module
  • Multimodal and interlinked content (since WordPress is an online writing environment, your writing should reflect its form, which features embedded images and videos, links to pertinent sites, and text that is written for a broader audience than just your instructor.