HUM2DH3: Creative, Collaborative, Critical: Introduction to Digital Scholarship

Winter 2023 | Dr. Veronica Litt

In the Winter 2023 session of HUM2DH3 “Creative, Collaborative, Critical: Introduction to Digital Scholarship”, Dr. Veronica Litt introduced undergraduate students to the multi-faceted and energetic field of Digital Scholarship through two paired questions. How does technology change the way we see classic works of literature? How does scholarly analysis change the way we see technology?

Course Description

The interdisciplinary course saw students consider these questions through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), a classic novel about humanity and technology. Over 14 weeks, students read and discussed the novel, contrasting close readings with insights gleaned from digital tools including the text analysis platform Voyant Tools and the GoogleMaps digital mapping tool. The class’s two major projects saw students creatively engage with Frankenstein and its descendants: films about technology that escapes our control.

Memes, Text Analysis, Mapping

After reading Frankenstein and discussing themes of technology, isolation, and gender, the class’ first digital assignment was a low stakes activity: making memes! After a keynote and discussion where the class mulled over what memes mean and how they function in digital discourse, the class worked in groups to create memes that encapsulate their thoughts on Frankenstein. A slideshow of samples is below, with several memes integrating the theme of Frankenstein and the Creature as doubles of one another and the overarching argument that Victor Frankenstein may be the novel’s true villain.

  • text reads "List of Victor's smart decisions" with image of blank page
  • Meme. Text reads Frankenstein: You're so gross and hideous, I wish I never created you. with an image of Dwight from the Office as the Creature replying Are you trying to hurt my feelings? Because if so you are succeeding. Fortunately my feelings regenerate at twice the speed of a normal man.
  • Meme of Sue Sylvester saying I am going to create a Creature that is so toxic
  • Meme with person standing alone at party thinking "They don't know that I created a monter that killed my entire family"
  • Meme of Eric Andre. Panel 1 sees Andre labelled Victor shoot a person labelled "His entire family" then panel two sees Victor ask Why would the monster do this?"
  • Image of Pam from the office saying "They're the same picture" while looking at images of Victor and the Creature
  • Meme of Jordan Peele sweating with text that reads Victor when the monster says he'll be there on his wedding day
  • Image of man sitting at table with sign that reads "I caused the death of multiple ppl but I shouldn't be in a dirty jail cell. Change my mind."
  • Meme of shiba inu sitting with cartoon tear. Text reads I am the assassin of these most innocent victims, they died by my own machinations. Next to this is an image of a muscly shiba inu with text reading "During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct, nor do I find it blameable."
  • Spiderman meme where two identical spidermen point at each other and say "You're the monster!" One spiderman is labeled Victor, the other is labeled the Creature.
  • Shocked Pikachu meme that reads Victor when the creature isn't conventionally good looking
  • Meme of Mr Incredible with colour photo text reading "the creature when he was created" and then in black and white with text reading "the creature 12 mins later: "No one loves me :("
  • Meme of Drake rejecting one option and embracing another with text reading Making friends when you're lonely (rejected option) and Creating a monster (approved option)
  • Meme of melancholy chihuahua with text reading When you beg your creator for mercy and now you gotta tap into the beast
  • Meme of car swerving onto highway exit with text reading "Victor taking accountability."
  • Meme of dog sitting in burning room thinking "When you're debating between making a monster race or letting your soulmate cousin wife die" then the second panel reading "this is fine."
  • Meme of person explaining something to another person sitting on a couch. Text reads "Monster: Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us."
  • Meme of faux skeleton with text that reads Victor's Family
  • Meme of Gru from Minions holding whiteboard that reads I plan to create a creature. The creature comes to life. The creature has feelings and kills all my loved ones.
  • meme of Stanley from the office holding ice cream and wearing sunglasses with text reading Victor Frankenstein while his monster is killing his entire family
  • Meme of boy holding crucifix with text that reads When the monster you created starts acting like a monster

The group’s next foray into DS occurred when Data Analysis and Visualization Librarian Subhanya Sivajothy visited the classroom and provided an overview and demonstration of textual analysis software Voyant Tools. By working with prepared documents that divided the novel’s text according to speaker, as well as datasets divided by gender and class, the group analyzed how language changes depending on the socioeconomic background of the speaker.

A cirrus visualizing frequently used words in text spoken or written by men in Frankenstein.
A cirrus visualizing frequently used words in text spoken or written by women in Frankenstein.

The class continued to entwine critical thinking skills and digital literacy through a visit from Saman Goudarzi (Cartographic Resources Librarian) and Christine Homuth (Spatial Information Specialist).

A GoogleMap visualizing how each character travels through the world of Frankenstein.

After learning about maps as technologies of power, the class completed a basic workflow and created a “Character Journey” (a map of how one character moves through the novel) with GoogleMaps. This led into discussion posts where students examined how social marginalization impacts mobility in Frankenstein.

Twine Games

During the next phase of the class, students formed groups and used Twine to create Choose-Your-Own-Adventure video games that imagined alternative possibilities for the Frankenstein story, engaging with themes including privilege, power, romance, and gender.

Students used custom tutorial videos created by Dr. Litt, which now form an open-access module on Twine in the Sherman Centre’s Online Learning Catalogue.

To get a sense of how students engaged with the story, play Halo x Horn. Created by Jenny Chau and Skade Fernando, this game examines how privilege (especially class and appearance) radically change the way we move through the world.

The title image from “Halo x Horn.”

The game has two rounds that contrast the experiences of advantaged and disadvantaged people. First, players occupy the role of Victor Frankenstein, our wealthy, educated, and conventionally attractive young protagonist. Then, players become the Creature, an abandoned reanimated corpse without the ability to speak. Through Halo x Horn, Jenny and Skade show players how much harder it is to succeed with the deck stacked against you, urging their player to have sympathy for the novel’s supposed villain.

A group of Hiru Batepola, Camille Kinsella, Risha Khosla, and Maya Ventresca created a polished game titled “POV: You Are Felix DeLacey.”

A screenshot from “POV: You Are Felix DeLacey.”

In this game, the group zooms into the sequence where the Creature watches the DeLacey family at their hovel in the forest. By taking the son Felix’s role, players are forced to balance fear and prejudice against open-mindedness, with several small and seemingly insignificant choices adding up to create wildly different outcomes. This subtle game allows players to make a certain amount of errors and still achieve a happy ending, with the overall message being that perfection is not required–rather, a willingness to learn is the most important trait.

A screenshot from “Victor’s Pursuit.”

Finally, a group of Julia Araujo, Khushi Gawri, Inaara Ladha, and Paige Tepsa created a light-hearted dating game version of Frankenstein. “Victor’s Pursuit” sees players act as Victor Frankenstein as he attempts to find love. By augmenting the story, this game features Victor being rejected by all six suitors and receiving the cold treatment he originally bestowed on the Creature. In the end, Victor’s true match is the Creature–a Bachelor-esque twist on the theme of the two characters as entwined doubles.

The Cyber Cinema Podcast

The final assignment saw the class work in pairs to create The Cyber Cinema Podcast, a public scholarship project where students analyzed films and television about technology. The series challenges students to balance clarity, engagement, and entertainment with rigorous, critical analysis of media.

Listen to three episodes of the podcast. Two explore “Be Right Back”–a 2013 episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror that updates the Frankenstein story to concern a grieving widow and her reanimated husband. One examines the 2009 drama film Moon, which concerns hierarchy, labour, and disposability. 

Cyber Cinema podcast logo. Lime green font and headphone icon against orange background

Deliverables and Feedback

By the end of the course, students had gained valuable hands-on experience with a variety of digital tools including mapping software, a computational text analysis platform, and audio editing software. The assignments also honed students’ collaborative skills and project management capabilities. In course evaluations, students highlighted the warm classroom environment and interesting, creative assignments, with students giving their learning experience in 2DH3 an average rating of 9/10.