ENGL 379M:

Cybertexts and Cybermedia


Professor Matthew G. Kirschenbaum



Department of English

4109 Susquehanna Hall


Office Hours: MW 2:15-3:30, and by





An exploration of the changing face of textuality in an online era, with the emphasis on the interplay between electronic writing (“cybertext”) and other forms of digital media (visual, video, audio, kinetic, immersive). We will examine electronic texts and the future of writing in relation to both the history of the oral and the written word and the shift from page to screen that culminates in the emergence of what one critic terms "information space." Our point of departure will be a reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of the greatest fables of artifice and technology we have. This text will become the vehicle by which we traverse a wide array of experimental digital landscapes, to include Shelley Jackson’s refashioning of the original tale as her hypertext fiction Patchwork Girl and the interactive imaginative milieu that is the FrankenMOO. Students will also “visualize” a portion of the narrative for presentation on the World Wide Web. Our objective in constantly positioning and re-positioning Frankenstein within these transformative textual and narrative spaces will be to explore (hands-on) a variety of new technologies while gaining an appreciation of the rich and diverse forms of textuality made manifest in existing and emerging electronic environments. In the process, all students will learn practical Web publishing skills and techniques for expressing themselves in electronic settings--essential tools for literacy in the 21st century.


No prior technical knowledge is expected or assumed. However, I do assume a genuine interest in computers and new media, as well as patience, good humor, and a willingness to learn some new skills.




All of the following are available for purchase at the University Book Center. If you get the texts elsewhere please ensure that they are the correct edition.






Requirements and Grading








Attendance is mandatory—if you’re not here, you’re not contributing to the group. I reserve the right to demote the final course grade by up to a full letter for any student with a conspicuous pattern of non-attendance (more than two unexcused absences). Missing more than 25% of the semester’s classes will result in a failing grade for the course. All work is due on the date given on the course calendar, unless you have made a specific prior arrangement with me. Late work without prior arrangement will be demoted up to one full letter grade (or not accepted at all if more than a week overdue).


Students who require special accommodation for attendance or assignments due to religious or other obligations should inform me of the fact as far ahead of time as possible.


You are responsible for the material you miss if you are absent. Note that I will not respond to “what did I miss” queries via email (ask a friend in the class, or come see me during office hours).


Computer Accounts


Subscription to the class’s electronic coursemail list is mandatory. All students who have a valid email address in Testudo should be automatically subscribed. I will use the list to post announcements, updates to the calendar, and other administrative items. You should get into the habit of checking your email at least once a day. You will be held responsible for the content of all email announcements 24 hours after they have been posted. We will also all use the list to continue and further our in class discussions. Your contributions to the list will be taken into account when I assess the level of your class participation.


All of you must also open a WAM account, which you will learn to use during the course of the semester. All online work must be done on WAM, and not on a private ISP. (This policy will help me to help you troubleshoot if and when problems arise.)


Academic Integrity


All students are expected to abide by the University’s code of academic integrity: <http://www.inform.umd.edu/CampusInfo/Departments/JPO/code_acinteg.html>. Students are also requested to sign the Honor Pledge to all written work: “I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment/examination.” Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will be referred to the University Honor Council.


Course Calendar


Generally, Mondays will be lecture/discussion sessions and Fridays will be hands-on lab sessions. Wednesdays will vary between the two. Note, however, that you may still have reading assigned for a Wednesday or even a Friday. Please bring your books to class at all times.


(Abbreviations used: SF, Scrolling Forward; OL, Orality and Literacy.)


Week One


W 9.4: Introduction.


F 9.6: Sterling, “A Short History of the Internet” <http://w3.aces.uiuc.edu/AIM/scale/nethistory.html>.


Week Two


M 9.9: Levy, SF 7-20; Shelley, Frankenstein 1-12.


W 9.11: Frankenstein 13-61.

F 9.13: Frankenstein 62-98; “Introduction to FrankenMOO” <http://www.lcc.gatech.edu/~broglio/rc/frankenstein/started.html>

Week Three


M 9.16: Frankenstein 99-144.


W 9.18: Frankenstein 145-178.


F 9.20: Frankenstein 179-215.


Week Four


M 9.23: Levy, SF 21-39; Ong, OL 5-15.


W 9.25:  Nowviskie, “Giddy_Fruit in the MUD” <http://www.people.virginia.edu/~bpn2f/giddy.html>.


F 9.27: FrankenMOO.


Week Five


M 9.30: Levy, SF 39-58; Ong, OL 31-36, 49-57, 69-74, 75-77.


W. 10.2: Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace” <http://www.levity.com/julian/bungle_vv.html>.


F. 10.4: FrankenMOO.


Week Six


M 10.7: Ong, OL 78-101. Paper Due.


W 10.9: Ong, OL 102-116.


F 10.11: “MITH’s Introductory Guide to HTML” <http://www.mith.umd.edu/teaching/tutorials/html/index.html>.


Week Seven


M 10.14: Levy, SF 59-77.


W 10.16: Ong, OL 117-138.


F 10.18: HTML.


Week Eight


M 10.21: Mid-term.


W 10.23: Levy, SF 78-100.


F 10.25: HTML.


Week Nine


M 10.28: Levy, SF 101-117.


W 10.30: Ong, OL 139-155.


F 11.1: HTML.


Week Ten


M 11.4: Levy, SF 118-136; Jackson, Patchwork Girl.


W 11.6: Patchwork Girl; Jackson, “Stitch Bitch”



F 11.8: Patchwork Girl.


Week Eleven


M 11.11: Levy, SF 137-157; Paper Due.


W. 11.13: Patchwork Girl.


F. 11.15: Patchwork Girl.



Week Twelve


M 11.18: Levy, SF 158-179.


W 11.20: Electronic Literature (TBA).


F 11.22: Electronic Literature (TBA).


Week Thirteen


M 11.25: Levy, SF 180-194.


W 11.27: Electronic Literature (TBA).




Week Fourteen


M 12.2: TBA.


W 12.4: TBA.


F 12.6: TBA.


Week Fifteen


M 12.9: Electronic Projects Due; Presentations.


W 12.11: Presentations.


F 12.13: Logging Off.


Final Exam: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 1:30-3:30 PM.