Course Information


  • Number: ENGL 604
  • Title: Digital Research Methods: Software Studies
  • Term: Spring 2021
  • Meeting: 5:35PM-6:50PM, ONLINE


  • Name: Andrew Pilsch
  • Contact:
  • Office Hours & Locations:
    • MW 1-2:30, ONLINE

Course Description

This seminar will introduce students to the emerging field of software studies. Software studies explores software systems from the perspective of their social and cultural effects. To this end, the seminar has three goals: 1) to specify software studies as a part of the larger digital humanities while also articulating it as a unique field of study; 2) to explore software development practices as models for cultural studies work; and 3) to consider the degree to which programming skills are necessary to pursue these topics. Students can expect to read work by Neal Stephenson, McKenzie Wark, Douglas Hofstadter, Ellen Ullman, Safiya Noble, Matthew Kirschenbaum, and others. In addition to traditional research papers, the seminar will also feature a gentle introduction to computer science concepts that shape the material being read.

Course Prerequisites


Special Course Designation

Counts toward the DH Certificate



Any edition is fine for either text.


The following books are available through the library or free online as eBooks. If you prefer paper copies, you are welcome to acquire them:


Assignment Due Date Value
Participation Continuous 10%
Software Presentation Continuous 15%
Position Papers See Schedule 30%
Final Paper 2020.05.07 45%


In addition to attendance, I expect participation from each of you. This participation can take the form of raising your hand in Zoom and asking a question of the text or of our discussion, answering or responding to someone else in class or to something I said, and of asking questions or responding in the chat via Zoom.

Software Presentation

Once during the semester, you will be asked to deliver a ten minute talk on a piece of software important to your work or your discipline. Any piece of software (including video games) is available for discussion.

The talk should cover the history, use, purpose, and any other relevant information. Background on the program’s creation, current user culture, or other information about broader context is also welcome.

If the software is open source, discuss the users or groups that created it. If the software is closed source, discuss the company that developed it.

Given our distributed nature this semester, if you would prefer to record your talk as a screen cast and distribute it before class (thereby tempting neither the vagaries of Zoom nor Brazos Valley Internet reliability), that is strongly encouraged, though not required.

The talk needs to be accompanied by slides with screenshots or pre-recorded video of the program in action. Do not attempt to demo the program in front of the class.

Position Papers

Twice (in weeks 6 and 12), you will produce a short paper (2-3 pages, double-spaced) that takes a position on a particular selection from one of the texts we have read so far in class.

These papers will cover material that has already been discussed in class but has not been covered by a position paper. The first paper, due at the start of week 6, will cover material from the first five weeks of class. The second paper will cover texts from week 6 through week 11.

These position papers ask you to show insights and raise questions in response to the reading and course discussions. Papers that merely summarize an argument or restate the selected passage will receive a failing grade. You need to explain why the passage in question is thought-provoking, or unsettling, or unclear and suggest how you respond to this challenge.

Final Paper

For the final paper, you will produce an argumentative or historical paper about some aspect of the course subject. The topic can respond to course readings and course discussion, or it can deal with some other aspect of software culture in your field of study or within your discipline.

Seminar papers should be 20 pages (give or take 5 pages), include sources documented in MLA format, and should constitute a polished, focused, and sustained argument on a particular topic.

Digital projects that respond to course themes are also welcome, please consult me via email or in office hours, should you wish to pursue such a project.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – SolarWinds


Wed 01/20

Unit 1 – Background

Week 2 – What is Software?

Wed 01/27

Week 3 – Some Methods For Approaching Software

Wed 02/03

Unit 2 – Utopia

Week 4 – Software Liberation

Wed 02/10

Week 5 – Snow and Ice

Mon 02/15

  • Cancelled Due to Weather

Wed 02/17

  • Cancelled Due to Weather
  • Nicholas Negroponte, “The DNA of Information” and “The Post-Information Age” from Being Digital

Week 6 – Software and the Body

Mon 02/22

Week 7 – Cyberfeminism

Unit 3 – Gritty Realism

Week 8 – Software Affects

Mon 03/08

Week 9 – Software and Ideology

Mon 03/15

  • Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine

Wed 03/17

  • Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine

Week 10 – Software as Monster

Mon 03/22

  • Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Week 11 – Software as Politics

Mon 03/29

Wed 03/31

Unit 4 – Infrastructure

Week 12 – Software as Material History

Mon 04/05

Wed 04/07

  • Paul Dourish, “Introduction” and “Internets and Othernets” from The Stuff of Bits
  • Kate Crawford & Vladen Joler, “Anatomy of an AI System”

Week 13 – Software and Literacy

Mon 04/12

  • Andrew Pilsch, “What the Computer Said: Poetic Machines, Rhetorical Adjuncts, and the Circuits of Eloquence”
  • R.J. Collens, “Computer Generated Poetry as a Pedagogical Tool”
  • Richard W. Bailey, “Automating Poetry”

Wed 04/14

  • Annette Vee, “Computer Programming as Literacy” from Coding Literacy
  • Position Paper 2 Due Before Class

Week 14 – Software as Racism

Mon 04/19

Wed 04/21

Week 15 – Academic Software

Mon 04/26

Course Policies

Student Visiting Hours

At the times listed in the sidebar throughout this site, I am in my office and it is your time to come talk to me about anything related (or unrelated) to class. This time is yours, I am not (supposed to be) doing anything else; you will not be interrupting me. If you have questions about class or have other questions I might be able to answer, please drop by.

Email Hours

I am available to answer email from 9:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Emails arriving outside of that time will be answered at my earliest convenience, but do not count on a quick answer to emails sent late at night or on the weekends.

Office Door

If my door is closed and it is not during office hours, please do not knock. I open my door when I’m available to chat outside of office hours, but close my door if I am working and cannot be disturbed.


Attendance in class is mandatory and is necessary for you to get what you need out of this course. You may have 2 unexcused absences. Every absence after 2 will result in a 5 point deduction from your attendance grade. I must have documentation (doctor’s notes, schedule for sports, etc) for excused absences. Please talk to me in advance if you have any extenuating circumstances.

Regardless of kind (excused or unexcused), missing more than 10 classes in the semester will result in your failing the course.

Late Work

Under Student Rule 7.4, I am under “under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence.” However, I do accept late work and will take off 5 points for every day late. A paper that would have received an 85% that was 3 days late will receive a 70%.

Extension Policy

Additionally, if you are falling behind on a project and feel that you are not going to finish on time, email me 24 hours before the assignment is due to request an extension. In this email, propose how many additional days you will need to finish the assignment. Requests for extension that do not contain this information will not be honored.


In the 21st century, it is unreasonable to accept “my computer died” as an excuse for late work. If you are working on assignments on a computer, please back up your work offsite. Sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive provide space for storing copies of your work; even a USB drive can be enough. I have recently started using BackBlaze and found it to be a great and inexpensive online, automated backup. Save multiple times throughout each work session to both your backup and your computer’s copy. In this class, I hold you accountable for making sure your technology is working correctly.

University Policies

Attendance Policy

The university views class attendance and participation as an individual student responsibility. Students are expected to attend class and to complete all assignments.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about excused absences, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Makeup Work Policy

Students will be excused from attending class on the day of a graded activity or when attendance contributes to a student’s grade, for the reasons stated in Student Rule 7, or other reason deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Please refer to Student Rule 7 in its entirety for information about makeup work, including definitions, and related documentation and timelines.

Absences related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 may necessitate a period of more than 30 days for make-up work, and the timeframe for make-up work should be agreed upon by the student and instructor” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.1).

“The instructor is under no obligation to provide an opportunity for the student to make up work missed because of an unexcused absence” (Student Rule 7, Section 7.4.2).

Students who request an excused absence are expected to uphold the Aggie Honor Code and Student Conduct Code. (See Student Rule 24.)

Academic Integrity Statement and Policy

“An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”

“Texas A&M University students are responsible for authenticating all work submitted to an instructor. If asked, students must be able to produce proof that the item submitted is indeed the work of that student. Students must keep appropriate records at all times. The inability to authenticate one’s work, should the instructor request it, may be sufficient grounds to initiate an academic misconduct case” (Section, Student Rule 20).

You can learn more about the Aggie Honor System Office Rules and Procedures, academic integrity, and your rights and responsibilities at

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Policy

Texas A&M University is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. If you experience barriers to your education due to a disability or think you may have a disability, please contact Disability Resources in the Student Services Building or at (979) 845-1637 or visit Disabilities may include, but are not limited to attentional, learning, mental health, sensory, physical, or chronic health conditions. All students are encouraged to discuss their disability related needs with Disability Resources and their instructors as soon as possible.

Title IX and Statement on Limits to Confidentiality

Texas A&M University is committed to fostering a learning environment that is safe and productive for all. University policies and federal and state laws prohibit gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

With the exception of some medical and mental health providers, all university employees (including full and part-time faculty, staff, paid graduate assistants, student workers, etc.) are Mandatory Reporters and must report to the Title IX Office if the employee experiences, observes, or becomes aware of an incident that meets the following conditions (see University Rule 08.01.01.M1):

  • The incident is reasonably believed to be discrimination or harassment.
  • The incident is alleged to have been committed by or against a person who, at the time of the incident, was (1) a student enrolled at the University or (2) an employee of the University.

Mandatory Reporters must file a report regardless of how the information comes to their attention – including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Although Mandatory Reporters must file a report, in most instances, you will be able to control how the report is handled, including whether or not to pursue a formal investigation. The University’s goal is to make sure you are aware of the range of options available to you and to ensure access to the resources you need.

Students wishing to discuss concerns in a confidential setting are encouraged to make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Students can learn more about filing a report, accessing supportive resources, and navigating the Title IX investigation and resolution process on the University’s Title IX webpage.

Statement on Mental Health and Wellness

Texas A&M University recognizes that mental health and wellness are critical factors that influence a student’s academic success and overall wellbeing. Students are encouraged to engage in proper self-care by utilizing the resources and services available from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). Students who need someone to talk to can call the TAMU Helpline (979-845-2700) from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. weekdays and 24 hours on weekends. 24-hour emergency help is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) or at

Department Policies

University Writing Center

The mission of the University Writing Center (UWC) is to help you develop and refine the communication skills vital to success in college and beyond. You can choose to work with a trained UWC peer consultant in person or via web conference or email. Consultants can help with everything from lab reports to application essays and at any stage of your process, from brainstorming to reviewing the final draft. You can also get help with public speaking, presentations, and group projects. The UWC’s main location is on the second floor of Evans Library; there’s also a walk-in location on the second floor of the Business Library & Collaboration Commons. To schedule an appointment or view our helpful handouts and videos, visit Or call 979-458-1455.

Statement on Generative AI

We in the Department of English believe that writing is central to the production of knowledge. The written word is how ideas circulate but, more importantly, the act of crafting words, sentences, paragraphs, and essays refines thoughts into ideas that matter. As such, we strongly stand against the usage of generative artificial intelligence—applications such as ChatGPT or Bard—as a replacement for the act of writing that has been the bedrock of human knowledge for thousands of years.

Writing has always incorporated tools as well as the voices and ideas of other people. GenAI can be a powerful tool in any writer’s arsenal, but its use is not without risk. While GenAI’s ability to convincingly string words together has a place in the writing process, it also risks introducing factual inaccuracies and, more importantly, risks making invisible the important connections between writing and thinking we are cultivating in this class.

If you use GenAI tools to assist your writing process, I ask you to provide a short (1-2 page) GenAI Statement that includes the following:

  1. What GenAI Tools Did You Use?
  2. What Prompts Did You Provide to the Tool?
  3. How Did You Incorporate AI-generated Material Into Your Writing?
  4. How Did Your Use of GenAI Shape Your Thinking About the Assignment?

Without this documentation, usage of AI will be considered plagiarism and subject to the university’s academic integrity policy. Also, you are responsible for fact-checking any GenAI; errors in citation or other basic facts will also be considered a violation of academic integrity

Spring 2021 Policy Addendum

Campus Safety Measures

To promote public safety and protect students, faculty, and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, Texas A&M University has adopted policies and practices for the Spring 2021 academic term to limit virus transmission. Students must observe the following practices while participating in face-to-face courses and course-related activities (office hours, help sessions, transitioning to and between classes, study spaces, academic services, etc.):

  • Self-monitoring—Students should follow CDC recommendations for self-monitoring. Students who have a fever or exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should participate in class remotely if that option is available, and should not participate in face-to-face instruction.
  • Face Coverings—Face coverings (cloth face covering, surgical mask, etc.) must be properly worn in all non-private spaces including classrooms, teaching laboratories, common spaces such as lobbies and hallways, public study spaces, libraries, academic resource and support offices, and outdoor spaces where 6 feet of physical distancing is difficult to reliably maintain. Description of face coverings and additional guidance are provided in the Face Covering policy and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) available on the Provost website.
  • Physical Distancing—Physical distancing must be maintained between students, instructors, and others in course and course-related activities.
  • Classroom Ingress/Egress—Students must follow marked pathways for entering and exiting classrooms and other teaching spaces. Leave classrooms promptly after course activities have concluded. Do not congregate in hallways and maintain 6-foot physical distancing when waiting to enter classrooms and other instructional spaces.
  • To attend a face-to-face class, students must properly wear an approved face covering If a student refuses to wear a face covering, the instructor should ask the student to leave and join the class remotely. If the student does not leave the class, the faculty member should report that student to the Student Conduct office for sanctions. Additionally, the faculty member may choose to teach that day’s class remotely for all students, or dismiss the class in the case of a traditional face to face lecture.

Personal Illness and Quarantine

Students required to quarantine must participate in courses and course-related activities remotely, if that option is available, and must not attend face-to-face course activities. Students should notify their instructors of the quarantine requirement. Students under quarantine are expected to participate in courses and complete graded work unless they have symptoms that are too severe to participate in course activities. Students experiencing personal injury or Illness that is too severe for the student to attend class qualify for an excused absence (See Student Rule 7, Section 7.2.2.) To receive an excused absence, students must comply with the documentation and notification guidelines outlined in Student Rule 7.