Interpretation Theory syllabus

Assignments and requirements for the course:

1. Weekly weblog

2. Small Projects (see individual weeks)

3. Culminating project (12-15 pg. paper, hypertext work or other similarly substantial project)

4. Regular attendance

5. Class participation


New Texts, Old Tools: Digital Variations

Week 1

Cyberculture, Cybertext, Cyberspace

Tuesday January 21st

Introductions (Professor Burke will be out of town until the 23rd).

Thursday January 23rd

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, all (but don't worry so much about the second half)
Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, pp. 1-94

Discussion of weblog: how to do it, what to put in it

Week 2


Tuesday January 28

Brenda Danet, "‘Feeling Spiffy:’ The Changing Language of Public Email”, in Cyberpl@y

Thursday January 30

The Pre-History of Emoticons
More on the history of emoticons
Definition of a listserv
H-Net Listservs
Definition of spam
Death by Spam
Wounded in Action in the Junk Email Wars


By January 23rd, find a listserv devoted to an interest of yours (academic or otherwise) to subscribe to. Read it for a week. Unsubscribe after that if you like. (Be sure to keep the initial email that gives you instructions on subscribing and unsubscribing.)

Save a piece of spam email you receive in your box this week and copy it over to our Discussion board in the appropriate topic.

Week 3


Tuesday February 4

Phillip Codognet, "Ancient Images and New Technologies: The Semiotics of the Web", Leonardo, v35, no1.

Michael Joyce, Afternoon

Thursday February 6

J. David Bolter, Degrees of Freedom

The Afternoon Project

Hypertext Kitchen

Ted Nelson and Xanadu

Sampler of Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden


Download the demo version of Personal Brain. Find two paragraphs of a work of fiction that you like and use the interface for Personal Brain to reconstruct those paragraphs within the graphical-user interface that Personal Brain uses. (This will be demonstrated in class on January 30).

Week 4

Digital Art

Tuesday February 11

There are a lot of readings for this week, but most of them are very short. The intent is to provide some background on the history of digital art as well as provide some examples of digital art that you can access on the web. You can find works by a number of the artists described in the readings; it's fun to check them out.

Thursday February 13

For this meeting you should bring the digital art you created based on a digital picture of yourself (which we'll take on Tuesday). We'll spend some time letting each person talk about both their resulting work and the effort involved in creation. Then we'll talk about how digital technology is changing the creative process, whether it puts any new demands--or eases constraints--on artists, and some of the issues of putting a computer in the loop of artistic creation. Finally, I hope we can tied it all together by discussing how what we have discovered influences our methods for interpretation and critique.

Tim's Photoshop piece:1

Tim's Photoshop piece:2

New Texts or Old Texts? On the Threshold of an Interpretative Revolution

Week 5

Web Pages

Tuesday February 18

*Nancy Kaplan, “Literacy Beyond Books: Reading When All the World’s A Web”, in The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory
*Stuart Moulthrop, “Error 404”, in The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory

Weblogs: A History and Perspective

Get a good start on the web pages for Thursday's discussion. You should be at least halfway down the list by Tuesday's class. Spend at least 5 minutes or so looking at each site; spend longer for the sites that interest you most. Be sure to keep notes about your thoughts or reactions to each site--possibly even on your weblog.

Thursday February 20

The order here is somewhat random, but not entirely: you'll see some patterns.

Boing Boing


Drive Me Insane

Scott McCloud's Online Comics

Slow Wave

Lileks (The Bleat)


Justin Hall





Internet Scout





The Annotated Rapunzel

JC Penney Catalog, Fall-Winter 1980


PagebyPage Books



Are You a Geek?


American Museum of Natural History Congo Expedition

The Infamous Exploding Whale

Art Crime

Hollywood Stock Exchange

Disturbing Search Requests (warning, not for the easily offended)

TouchGraph GoogleBrowser

Google Set Vista


Stumble Upon If you are working on a PC, install the StumbleUpon tool in your browser and use it for 15 minutes after you have defined your interests. Bookmark the pages it takes you to and bring a print-out of your bookmark to class or put it on your weblog. Take brief notes on your reactions to the pages you get taken to. Make sure you understand how StumbleUpon's reputation system works.

Week 6

Chat, Bulletin Boards and Virtual Communities

Tuesday February 25

Panet, Cyberplay, Chapter 3 and 6

Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, pp. 214-250




Meet on the following IRC channels, TBA
Use Eliza, Ally

Thursday February 27

*Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community, selection
*Julian Dibble, My Tiny Life, selection
*Susan Clerc, “Estrogen Brigades and ‘Big Tits’ Threads: Media Fandom Online and Off”, in David Bell, ed., Cybercultures

Slashdot (Pay special attention to the way the 'reputation system' works.)


The Daily Jolt (Swarthmore) (Be sure to read a page or so of the forum.)

Cafe Utne


Media Domain (soap opera)


Using Google or Yahoo or another search engine, find a bulletin board that is devoted to a particular interest, hobby or fascination of yours and read a selection of the threads which seem most interesting to you.

Week 7

Computer Games

Tuesday March 4th

Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, pp. 97-213
Raph Koster, Essays (read at least "A Story About a Tree", "Video Games and Online Worlds As Art", "Two Models For Narrative Worlds", "Storytelling in the Online Medium")

Thursday March 6th

*Gaming session, time TBA (3rd-5th): Grim Fandango, Counterstrike, Alpha Centauri, Dune 2000, other games possibly TBA

Download the 3-day trial version of Toontown and play for 30 minutes or so.

Orisinal (Macromedia Flash games) Play a few of these.


Richard Bartle, "Players Who Suit MUDs"




Week 8


Tuesday March 18

*Stelarc, "From Psycho-Body to Cyber-Systems: Images as Post-Human Entities"
*Gareth Branwyn, "Compu-Sex: Erotica for Cybernauts"
*Mark Dery, "Ritual Mechanics: Cybernetic Body Art"
all in Bell, ed., Cybercultures Reader

Computer Music

Thursday March 20

Week 9-10

Intellectual Property

March 25, 27

April 1, 3

Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas

On Beyond Text?

Week 11

Virtual Reality

April 8, 10

Week 12

Autonomous Agents, A-Life, Emergence and the Self-Authored Text

Tuesday April 15

*Steven Johnson, Emergence

*Joshua Epstein and Robert Axtell, Growing Artificial Societies, selection

Download the trial version of AgentSheets and tinker with it. (Instructions on use will be given on April 10th.)






Thursday April 17

Phoebe Sengers, "Practices for Machine Culture"

Phoebe Sengers, Ph.d Thesis abstract

*Steven Grand, Creation

Demonstration session of "Creatures 3", "Monster Rancher", "Sim City 4", "The Sims"

Week 13

The Whole Wired World

Tuesday April 22

*Neal Gershenfeld,, When Things Start to Think
*Tim Jordan, Cyberpower
*Manuel Castells, Rise of the Network Society

Thursday April 24

Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs