DGST 301B: Digital Journal

Tuesdays, 6:00-8:45, HCC 427

Martha Burtis | | HCC 410 | Office Hours: 5PM-6PM Tuesday
Jesse Stommel | | HCC 411 | Office Hours: 5PM-6PM Tuesday

Course Description

What influence does the container for a text have on its content? To what degree is immersion in a text influenced by its interface? How are evolving technologies helping to enliven (or disengage us from) digital texts?

The internet offers us new ways to think about the tradition of publishing, and UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project has pushed these boundaries for college students. This class will explore what happens when we bring these into conversation as part of an online undergraduate journal of born-digital work.

We will investigate the history and future of publishing, considering how print technology evolved and asking questions about the methods and capacities of digital publishing. Together we will imagine the kind of space necessary to collect, curate, remix, and comment upon the digital works we are creating. We will solicit digital works from students across UMW, determine how best to showcase them, and publicize this new space to the campus community and beyond. We hope to begin a project in this class that can continue as a student-run journal at UMW for years to come.

Required Texts

There is not a traditional textbook for this course. We will do some reading that gives us points of entry for our work, but the course will center around the stuff we are building together.

Idea Generation (a starting point for the kind of collaboration we’ll be doing)

The Internet (most of our texts will be linked directly from the course schedule)

Course Objectives

Nothing in this syllabus will be set in stone or taken for granted. The instructions and outcomes laid out here are a beginning, something we’ll treat roughly as the course proceeds. This is not a map, but rather a direction in which we’ll point ourselves at the outset with the goal of vigorously rewriting the syllabus as we go, discovering what we’ll learn together as we learn it, questioning what we’ll do even as we begin to do it.

In this course we will:

  • Talk about the Web, how it’s shaped, what lives there, who lives there, how we are co-builders of it.
  • Imagine, curate, design, co-build a journal of born-digital creative and analytical works.
  • Make something about the Web for the Web with the Web.
  • Experiment with how meaning gets made online. Wonder at the many possible digital shapes for joy, trauma, community, solidarity, security, identity.
  • Have epiphanies.

The Work of the Course

This course will be as much about breaking stuff as it is about building stuff. There will be discussions online and face-to-face. The final assignment for the course will be to collectively construct and launch a UMW journal of born-digital works.

  • Inhabit the Web. As we consider the what, where, how, and why of our digital journal, we’ll investigate and work together across different parts of the Web. We will start with no specific digital home for the course, but we will build one together as we go. Our journal will be a gathering of digital objects but also a gathering of people asking after, being inspired by, and talking about those objects.
  • A Pitch. You will work with a small group to pitch a concept for a digital journal — and for the work we will do together all semester. We’ll pick a specific direction together, but what we do and build will ultimately be an amalgam of all of our pitches.
  • A Journal. What this is, where it lives, and how we build it will be decided together as we go.
  • Midterm self-evaluation, final self-evaluation, and process letter. The course will be focused as much around the thing we’re building as it is focused on our discussions about our process. We can’t know exactly what we’ll learn until we begin our work, so you will each be asked to reflect on and evaluate your own work (and the dynamics of the various cross-functional teams you are working with).


Slack: You should create a Slack account at our class’s domain as early as possible. The mobile app is particularly handy.

Hashtag: In this class, we’ll be working and dabbling across the Web. Whenever you blog, tweet, tumblr, facebook or instagram anything related to class, use the course hashtag (which we’ll decide together) to contribute to our distributed conversation.

Class Participation: This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. In order for us to work together as a community, we all have to come prepared to participate. If you can’t finish work for any reason, chat in advance with Jesse, Martha, and your other collaborators.


You will collaborate with your peers on many of the assignments you complete for this course. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with us at any point.


This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we study. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, we will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see us at any point to confer about your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and contribute to the work of the class (both individually and with your various collaborators). You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

UMW Honor System

The UMW Honor System will act as a ballast for the community we build together. Your commitment in this class is not to a a set of “instructions” or “requirements,” but to your peers and our audience (the campus community and beyond). You can find extensive details about the UMW Honor System online here.

Disability Accommodations

In short, if you need us to help you adapt the work of this course for whatever reason, we will. The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you already receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and know you need specific accommodations, meet with us as early as possible. Trust is crucial to the kind of work we are doing together in this class, so we will hold any information you share in the strictest confidence unless you give us permission to do otherwise. If you have not contacted the Office of Disability Resources and need accommodations for this or any of your courses, click here or call 540–654–1266.

Public Work

The majority of your work for this course will live publicly on the web within open platforms like WordPress, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you would like to remain anonymous, we encourage you to use a pseudonym. If you don’t want to include a photograph of yourself, you can upload an avatar to represent you. Think carefully about these choices. Privacy, intellectual property, copyright, and digital identity will all be topics that intersect directly with the kind of work we will do, so there will be many opportunities to talk about these choices.


Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? In literature and digital media, creative influence, collaboration, and borrowing are usually acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let us go out on a limb and say: in this class, we encourage you to borrow ideas (from us, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). But, even more, we encourage you to truly make them your own — by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself — a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you’re influenced by your sources — by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.