Jürgen Habermas famously described the culture of the early 1700s London coffeehouses as the spark that kindled the advent of modern democracy. Indeed, the last licensing act in England expired in 1695 and with it also the censorship of press. Within the next decade, London was flooded with newspapers and pamphlets that openly scrutinized practically all aspects of public, but also private life. They were read and discussed in coffeehouses that soon became social institutions of their own right. Yet, such an idealized world of London coffeehouses also had another, much darker side. Daniel Defoe, who patronized them frequently, described them as places of scandal and depravity, infested with deception and the manipulation of information for commercial gain. Relying mainly on original newspaper articles, essays and pamphlets published in the 1705-1725 period by Addison, Steele and Defoe, the proposed course’s main goal is to help students mentally recreate the atmosphere of London at the dawn of what we call the Enlightenment era.
The digital humanities aspect of this course will build upon and extend the course’s topical focus on early modern London and the public sphere. Each week, students will gather in a collaborative lab setting to explore a digital humanities approach, toll or topic related to that week’s subject matter. Examples of these pairings include constructions of digital timelines; digital mapping strategies; the applications of open-source network analysis software; computational analysis that compares various styles and enables authorship attribution (stylometry). Students will gain technical skills and competencies unique to quantitative study of humanities subjects and materials, learn to understand and evaluate digital media, explore the limits of quantification, and address the social, ethical, legal, and philosophical implications of computing and technology.