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English Department to Offer ‘Storytelling with Code’ Course this Fall

May 25, 2021 English | College of Arts and Humanities

Code python

The course comes out of Associate Professor Kari Kraus’ 2020–21 Long Teaching Fellowship.

By Jessica Weiss ’05

A new course offered by the Department of English this fall will introduce undergraduate English majors to the ways that code—the “language” behind computer software, apps and websites—can be used both to analyze literature as well as to create it.

“Storytelling with Code,” taught by Associate Professor Kari Kraus, will introduce students to Python, a popular programming language. It will be the first dedicated literary and creative programming course for UMD undergraduate English majors. Students can now register for the course.

Kraus, who is also an associate professor in the College of Information Studies, says students will learn to write, modify and run code to do research on novels, poems, short stories and creative non-fiction. For example, they’ll learn how to conduct “sentiment analysis,” a research method that uses code to analyze the sentiment or tenor behind a given piece of text, such as a poem or novel. They’ll also harness code to produce interactive fiction, computer-generated poetry and digital narratives.

Kraus said the term “storytelling” in the title shouldn't be taken too literally; the course “emphasizes poetry as much as prose, and critical practice as much as creative practice,” she said.

“What I hope ‘storytelling’ communicates to our majors is that even though this is an introductory programming course, it's fully compatible with their other English courses.”

The course is part of a larger goal for the English department to support creative writing students interested in experimental writing with computers and English majors interested in large-scale literary computing. It is also part of a new campuswide initiative, called Arts for All, that aims to create new opportunities for students and faculty across disciplines to fuse the arts, technology and social justice.

“Storytelling with Code” comes out of Kraus’ 2020–21 Long Teaching Fellowship, an endowment from John and Anne Long. John Long created the fellowship after attending English classes at the University of Maryland. The fellowship allows English faculty to develop their pedagogy and enhance the learning experience of students. The fellowship, awarded to one professor each year, involves the creation of an innovative course that conceptualizes literature as an intervention beyond the classroom.

Kraus said the fellowship has allowed her to further develop her own Python programming skills and experiment with different Python packages that have a lot of potential for the literature classroom.

“I'm using the course release to reflect on the pedagogy of programming specifically for arts and humanities students,” she said. “I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity the fellowship has given me to pursue this work.”

The department recently announced that Assistant Professor Chad Infante will be the 2021–22 Long Teaching Fellow. Infante's proposed course, “Justice, Revenge, and the Literary Tradition,” will survey a range of literature—from classical and canonical texts to contemporary African American and Indigenous texts and films—about revenge as a way to explore the importance and complications of justice and the law in civil society.