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Debates in the Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities is by most accounts the hot new trend in literary studies. Critics are actively speculating on how this seeming trend is either the beginning or the end of the discipline of English.

You can decide for yourself what you think by reading the collection of essays titled Debates in the Digital Humanities.  Originally released as a print book (insert irony here), the text is now available online for free at

Literary Studies in the Digital Age

The Modern Language Association, which is the main scholarly organization that represents faculty and students in English and modern languages, launched its new MLA Commons earlier this year.  If you are a member of the MLA, full access to this site is free.  You can find out more about the Commons site at

Without membership, you still have access to a number of resources on the MLA Commons site, including a new interactive anthology–Literary Studies in the Digital Age.

Many of these essays address the evolving field of text-centered scholarship in the era of digital born as well as digitally scanned or transcribed works of literature.  They offer an interesting glimpse into how literary scholarship might be seen as evolving rather than entering a period of rupture.  Could the ancient study of textual emendation and variorum become commonplace again?

Also included among these essays is a study of literary terms that apply to digital texts and scholarship.  You can read some of these terms at

Matthew Arnold and the Quest for Culture

During the so-called “Canon Wars” of the 1990’s, literary scholars began debating not only how to interpret literary texts but also what texts to use in the teaching of English Majors.

These debates over the nature of “literature” led to a resurgence of interest in the works of Matthew Arnold, a Victorian era British poet and critic who argued for the importance of “Great Books” to the cultural health of a civilized nation.

Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” (1867) is included here along with a link to his best-known work of criticism Culture and Anarchy.  These works are meant to start a conversation on the act of “close reading” and the ever elusive quality of “literariness” that has driven the profession of literary scholarship for generations.

Also included here is a link to an audio clip of poet Anthony Hecht reading the poem “Dover Bitch” (1967), which was written as a parody of Arnold’s much earlier text.  His work provides insights into the process of literary influence and the adaptation (or “remixing” as it is referred to today) of existing literary tropes.

You can discover more about Hecht’s life and literary works here.

Dictionary of Literary Biography

If you are writing a paper on a particular author or simply want to learn more about the writer whose works you are reading, a good place to start is the Dictionary of Literary Biography that is included as part of the UIC library’s online resources page.  Entries vary in length depending on the author, but on this site you’ll find a useful overview of the author’s life and publications.


Oxford English Dictionary

A student of literary studies needs a good dictionary, and although there are many online dictionaries available, there are none that compare to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is over 20 volumes long and every entry includes a full etymological overview of the word. Luckily you don’t need to find space in your study area for another 20 books as the full dictionary is available online and can be accessed through most university library websites. For those of us at UIC, just go to:  Click on the link for the Oxford English Dictionary.  If you are on campus, you’ll be directed right to the OED online.  If you’re accessing the dictionary from an off campus computer, you’ll be asked to enter your Net ID and password (the same log on information you use for your UIC email).  Once logged in, you can get the lowdown on any word used in the English language; you can learn when and where that word was first used, understand how and from where the word has evolved, review a list of places the word has been quoted, and access a timeline related to use of the word. What could an English major love more?

Learning the Terms for Literary Study

A crucial aspect of learning to be a critical reader of fiction is knowledge of the terminology used to analyze and evaluate literature.  Our English Department’s Glossary of Literary Terms provides one resource to assist in the process of learning to sound like an English Major.  Another helpful online glossary can be found at the Cengage Learning website.

Print copies of literary term glossaries are also readily available at the library.  One of the standard texts is that originally created by M.H. Abrams nearly 50 years ago A Glossary of Literary Terms.

The book Critical Terms for Literary Study is a great way to move beyond a list of literary terms to a more in-depth discussion of the context surrounding some of the more common terms used in the study of fiction.

What is the Electronic Book Review (EBR) and how is it connected to critical writing?

The Electronic Book Reivew (EBR) is a peer-reviewed journal of critical writing produced and published by the emergent digital literary network. It is an example of critical writing today, as writers bring literary concepts into the collaborative networks that are forming now in new media.

In continuous publication since 1994, it is among the longest running open-access, literary-critical journals on the Internet. To take advantage of the Web’s medium-specific constraints, EBR essays do not appear in individual volumes or issues with preset publication dates, a paradigm inherited from print media, but in “threads” according to the topic and semantics of the work. A current project is the publication of a new thread based on materials generated by the 2012 conference of the Electronic Literature Organization (

What is the Electronic Literature Directory and how is it connected to critical writing?

Electronic literature is born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital. It is, according to the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.” (Amanda Starling-Gould, ‘feature essay’ presented at

Identifying a literary work in a new media environment means, in the first place, tagging the work as literary, and that means defining the critical concepts that we use when talking about a literary work (as opposed to, or rather in tension with, the proliferation of ‘texts’ in today’s new media ecology). By reading, and occasionally ourselves drafting entries for publication in The Electronic Literature Directory (ELD), students in English 240 will have a chance to apply our critical vocabulary and glossaries to the description of new works of literature in new media.