Course Overview

Dr. Courtney Rivard

English 317: Networked Composition and Digital Rhetoric

Course Overview

What does it mean to ‘write’ in the age of digital data, screens, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and smart phones? How do we find information in this era of digital abundance? How does the construction and organization of digital data affect what and how we know? How do digital technologies and the Internet affect the way we read, write, and think? This course is designed to explore these complex questions by growing our knowledge base in digital literacy and rhetoric. We will come to understand digital literacy as a concept and a practice, a topic and a skill-set. Our goal is to gain the critical perspective and literacy tools needed to understand, critique, and actively participate in—rather than just blindly and passively use—our contemporary digital media.

To this end, we will begin by reading and writing about major theories in digital literacy and rhetoric in the first part of the course. In the second part of the course, we will use and perhaps challenge these theories to complete a major collaborative project with Yale University. In this project, we will bring a set of ‘life histories’ that are part of the Federal Writers’ Project housed in UNC’s Southern Historical Collection ( into Yale’s newly created Photogrammar project ( The Federal Writers’ Project was funded by the federal government under the New Deal during the Great Depression in order to support written work. As part of this project, ‘life histories’ were collected to document the lives of everyday people from all walks of life from across the country. These life histories detail the complexities of race, gender, class, and the general turmoil of the Great Depression. Yale’s Photogrammar visually maps out the tens of thousands of photographs taken by the Farm Security Administration also during this same time period. We will generate metadata from the life histories by using XML encoding that will be used to create another visualization layer to the existing Photogrammar map. While this language may seem new or even intimidating to us at the outset, by the end of the course we will have learned the necessary skills to complete and even challenge these practices. Moreover, we will have helped to merge and visualize two distinct archives relating to the Great Depression that will help scholars and public audiences to better understand what it was like to live through this desperate time in American history.

Learning Outcomes:

  • recognize and engage new modes of reading and writing in digital environments
  • be able to apply basic theoretical concepts of digital media, literacy, and rhetoric
  • practice basic XML, specifically TEI, and data analysis
  • understand the production and use of metadata for data visualization
  • recognize how to validate online sources
  • reflect critically on your ability to employ different modalities of composition
  • engage in the collaborative production of knowledge
  • learn about the significance and complexities of the Federal Writers’ Project