Assessment is weighted as follows:

Class participation
Lab project 1 (text markup)
Lab project 2 (reading interfaces)
Paper proposal
Final paper

All assignments must be submitted in either English or French. The MHRA Style Guide is an open-access guide to academic writing conventions. The citation format of the Chicago Manual of Style is widely used in the humanities and social sciences (including this syllabus). Any citation style may be used in this course as long as it is consistent.

Your written work will be graded based on the analytical writing rubric available on the course website. The Faculty of Information Grade Interpretation Guidelines provides criteria for the letter grades assigned.

Lab projects

These assignments, completed in groups of two to three people, provide the opportunity to demonstrate the skills acquired during the instructed lab portions of our classes. The subgroups for this assignment should identify themselves to me by 30 January, after which I will assign group members arbitrarily.

For both assignments, one member should submit all materials on behalf of the group. Please ensure that all group members’ names are included on the report.

Lab project 1: Text markup (due 16 February)

This group assignment introduces the complexities of digitally modelling print and manuscript materials, as well as other types of texts that pose a challenge to represent digitally. Select a text from the examples below (or choose your own), and mark it up using HTML tags. This involves making choices about which aspects of the original to encode, and how to contend with the structural constraints of tags.

The submitted assignment will include:

  1. An HTML file containing your text. This should validate, but it is not necessary to introduce styling at this stage.
  2. A rationale, around 800 words long, explaining the choices you made and the problems you encountered. You might structure this as a tour through the structural features of the book, arguing for whether or not they have relevance in being translated into semantic, electronic terms, and if so the tags you have chosen as equivalents (perhaps even discussing alternatives that you did not choose). If there are unusual characters in the text, it may also be appropriate to discuss problems with encoding them through Unicode.

You will be graded on your use of semantic tagging; whether or not your HTML file validates; and the arguments put forward for your approach to representing the text’s structure in HTML and Unicode – including notes on where you have exhausted its capabilities.

You will not be graded on textual accuracy; there is no need to worry about eliminating OCR errors from the Internet Archive full text files. Feel free to use placeholder characters if there is a word in a handwritten document that you cannot read.

Lab project 2: Reading interfaces (due 28 March)

Building on the last assignment, turn your text into a digital book with a reading interface, starting with the templates provided, and produce versions in both HTML and EPUB, using your knowledge of CSS to format the pages correctly.

The submitted assignment will include the following files:

  1. An HTML version of your book designed for viewing in a web browser.
  2. An EPUB file designed for use with e-readers.
  3. A report of around 1,500–1,800 words.

The design of your submission does not necessarily need to replicate the design of the original.

The report can integrate the text you previously submitted for the first lab assignment, and might include discussion of the following:

  • a rationale for your encoding and presentation (perhaps a walkthrough of the original book’s design choices, and how you have decided to adapt these elements to a digital context);
  • how the process of digitization can lead to new ways of understanding the material;
  • what is gained or lost in the digitizaton process;
  • how the work could be made more accessible with further work;
  • the shortcomings you found in tools for creating and reading digital books, and how they might be improved to enhance communication.

Not all of these considerations will be applicable to every book. In some cases, you may wish to consult the original collection item to compare reading experiences.

This assignment will be graded on the appropriateness of the selected material, the clarity and critical strength of the written rationale, the quality of the writing, and how well the submitted documents reflect concepts discussed in class and readings up to this point.

Sample sources

These suggested projects are from the digitized collections of the Thomas Fisher Library in printed books and manuscripts. You may select any other book or document, in any language, that poses some interesting challenge. For printed books that already have a full text available for download from the Internet Archive, copy a selection of at least two chapters (or the equivalent). If you use a document that you need to type yourself, transcribe an interesting selection of around two thousand words (using placeholder text if desired, as we are interested in structure rather than textual accuracy).

  1. Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, MS 6808: Petition to Queen Anne reviewing the Hudson’s Bay Company’s claims against the French, 1710 (catalogue record).
  2. Daniel Defoe, The history of the devil (London: Warner, 1727).
  3. Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, MS 4006: Fred Neve, The narrative of a voyage from London to Montreal, 1839 (catalogue record).
  4. Oliver Byrne, The first six books of the Elements of Euclid, in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners (London: Pickering, 1847).
  5. Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, MS 1230: Cookbook of British recipes, 19th century (catalogue record).
  6. William James, Is life worth living? (Philadelphia: Weston, 1896).
  7. Erik Bergvall, The fifth Olympiad: the official report of the Olympic Games of Stockholm 1912 (Stockholm: Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1913).

Final paper

Your final project should draw upon primary and secondary sources to advance an original argument related to any of the themes of the course. It can take any one of a number of approaches, such as:

  • a review of a particular digital resource (or group of them), similar to those published by the RIDE journal;
  • an exploration of a theoretical question;
  • an analysis of a key historical moment in the development of the book;
  • a critical reading of a particular tool or born-digital artefact;
  • an analysis of a social phenomenon related to the history of books and reading;
  • or another approach that builds on the readings, concepts, and focus of the course.

Proposal (due 6 February)

Submit a summary and outline of your intended argument, no more than 700 words long (point-form is acceptable). I am open to unconventional approaches to this assignment, such as papers that combine traditional academic writing with a design experiment or mock-up.

For further guidance, see Writing Advice: The Academic Proposal.

Final submission (due 5 April)

The final product should be in the range of 3,000–3,500 words, excluding notes and bibliography.

Analytical writing rubric

This table shows the criteria used for marking both the final project and the written portion of the lab assignments (taking into account the different requirements). Papers are given a grade out of 100 points.

Characteristic Exceptional (A, 80–100) Well-Done (B, 70–79) Needs Work (FZ, 0–69)
Argumentation (20 marks) Robust and clear arguments that go beyond description, offering nuanced and sophisticated insights; all sections directly support a precise and coherent thesis (16–20) Discernible arguments, offering sound insights; most sections directly support an explicit and plausible thesis (14–15) Unclear or weak arguments, often falling into description or summary; thesis may be too vague or broad a claim to support or logically inconsistent (0–13)
Analytical Originality (20) Demonstrates exceptional analytical originality, both in creating new arguments and in relating facts in new ways (beyond what is covered in course material) (16–20) Demonstrates analytical originality, either in creating new arguments or in relating facts in new ways (14–15) Demonstrates limited analytical originality, often relying on arguments and evidence already covered in class (0–13)
Research and Evidence (20) Detailed and comprehensive evidence demonstrates wide reading of relevant literature; quotations are pertinent and fully integrated with argument (16–20) Thorough evidence from appropriate sources supports arguments; quotations carefully selected (14–15) Evidence generally supports arguments, but may need more depth or rely too heavily on quotations (0–13)
Content Knowledge (20) Demonstrates superlative mastery of material (16–20) Demonstrates excellent understanding of content and is comfortable with nuances in material (14–15) Conveys content adequately but fails to elaborate (0–13)
Structure and Organization (10) Logical structure with clear organization that walks the reader through arguments and evidence (8–10) Logical structure with clear organization (7) Veers significantly from logical structure or is not well organized (0–6)
Grammar, Syntax, Punctuation (10) No errors; properly and consistently uses an appropriate citation style (8–10) No major errors, a few minor errors that do not distract; no significant faults in citation style (7) Major errors or several minor errors that do not distract; a few faults in citation style (0–6)

Adapted from Maria Rost Rublee, ‘Rubrics in the Political Science Classroom: Packing a Serious Analytical Punch’, PS: Political Science & Politics 47, no. 1 (January 2014): 201,