Course Overview

This special course on “Black Digital Studies” will examine digital technology and culture through the frameworks of Black Studies. The course will include readings, class discussions, hands-on workshops, and visiting speakers. Students will gain valuable skills with archives and datasets (no experience is required). 

We will delve into algorithms that enhance inequality and the miseducation of data science on race and gender. We will also learn about the challenges to those systems posed by the traditions of Black diasporic storytelling and memory-keeping, especially as they have driven the innovation of new technologies for centuries. The class will develop a new dataset about early Black activism, in connection with the award-winning Colored Conventions Project, to explore the relationship between technology, communities, and social justice. 

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students will be able to: 

  • Define key questions and terms at the intersection of Black studies and digital studies, and use those terms to discuss significant current debates and issues across the landscape of digital technology and data cultures. 
  • Critically analyze data and datasets through questions raised by course materials. 
  • Apply data analysis and visualization practices to digital and/or material domains.


All of the materials for this course will be posted to Canvas. There are no required print books or other materials to purchase for this course.

Course Policies

Please read these policies carefully. All information on this syllabus is subject to change. Any changes will be announced in advance and in writing.


Mandatory and crucial. Attendance and active participation are essential components of the learning process. My class is structured to encourage your success through in-class discussions, exercises, and conversations with your peers. If you have difficulty speaking up in class, please talk to me outside of class and we can work together to make improvements or create opportunities. 


Because absences are sometimes unavoidable, you will exchange email addresses with classmates. Keep these in case you need to communicate about missed work in class. I consider it your responsibility to find out from classmates (not me) what took place. Due to the importance of our in-class conversations and exercises, you may miss three classes during the semester, after which one percentage point will be deducted from the participation grade for each missed meeting, unless otherwise excused. If you plan to miss class, you do not need to contact me in advance. The three absences are yours to use as you see fit. 

Class Contacts

Name:_______________________ E-mail: _____________________________

Name:_______________________ E-mail: _____________________________

Academic Integrity Policy

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, the University’s Code of Conduct states that all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts.

Academic integrity includes a commitment by all members of the University community not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.

Course Examination Policy

There is no final exam for this course. 

Late and Missing Assignments (4 delay days)

The due dates for each assignment are provided in the syllabus. Unless otherwise stated, the assignments need to be submitted before the start of class on that date. That said, I know that we are living in difficult times. Life interrupts us, all the time. During this semester, you are allowed four “delay days.” You may use these four days as a credit to delay the deadline for any assignment (excepting any work that involved participating in a specific class session). You do not need to provide me with the reason: simply email me and tell me how many of your delay days you would like to use.

Once you’ve exhausted your flex days, then point deductions will occur for any assignment submitted after the deadline. An assignment submitted 24 hours after the due date will only be eligible for 95% of the maximum number of points, and will incur a penalty of 5% per day. If you experience extenuating circumstances (e.g., you are hospitalized) that prohibit you from submitting your assignments on time, please let me know upon your return to good health and class. We will work through these situations together. 

Major Assessment Areas

Participation & Class Readings (25%)

Your participation is a main part of this class. This class is a seminar. A seminar is a small class that revolves around our conversations. We will all learn from each other and from the course materials, so it is vital that everyone engages to the best of their abilities. We all know and recognize that the pandemic has taken a toll on many of us, so we will try to keep an open line of communication in class about our collective capacities. I will check in regularly. 

All course readings are available online and should be completed before the start of class. You should arrive to class having completed the reading and/or assignments and ready to participate in the day’s conversations and activities. Strong reading practices can help prepare you to participate fully and productively. During class, if the class would be interested, we can review some of the proven strategies for keeping up with college-level reading loads in efficient and effective ways. 

Discussion forums (25%)

Each Thursday after class, I will post a set of questions for you and an assigned partner to discuss on a channel in our class Slack. These conversations don’t need to be formal, but you should engage with each of the questions. Make sure to look at specific passages and  keywords in the readings or class materials. At times, you may also wish to bring in outside materials, current events, music, art, movies, social media, etc etc. These conversations are your chance to talk through the readings and to think about how those readings connect with our world today. 

Discussions should be completed by Monday at 6pm. Discussions will be graded on a basis of done/not done. If you do the work, you earn the points. After 6pm, I will peruse the Slack channels to make sure you had a chance to discuss with each other and to get a sense of our collective conversations. Our Slack discussions will form the basis for our week’s in-class conversations. 

Mid-term & Final Projects (50%)

This course will revolve around two major projects: a class project that will culminate in a mid-semester product and a final project that will lead into your future studies and work. More details will be provided in class. 

Resources for Penn State Students

Disability Accommodation

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus

( For further information, please visit Student Disability Resources website (

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: See documentation guidelines

( If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.

  • Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
  • Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Educational Equity/Report Bias

Penn State University has adopted a “Protocol for Responding to Bias Motivated Incidents” that is grounded in the policy that the “University is committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others.” That policy is embedded within an institution traditionally committed to academic freedom

Bias motivated incidents include conduct that is defined in University Policy AD 91: Discrimination and Harassment, and Related Inappropriate Conduct. Students, faculty, or staff who experience or witness a possible bias motivated incident are urged to report the incident immediately by doing one of the following:

* Submit a report via the Report Bias webpage (

* Contact one of the following offices:

  • University Police Services, University Park: 814-863-1111
  • Multicultural Resource Center, Diversity Advocate for Students: 814-865-1773
  • Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity: 814-865-5906
  • Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs: 814-865-0909
  • Affirmative Action Office: 814-863-0471

* Dialing 911 in cases where physical injury has occurred or is imminent

Academic Integrity

All Penn State policies regarding ethics and honorable behavior apply to this course (see links below for policy statements). Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. All University policies regarding academic integrity apply to this course. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating of information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. For any material or ideas obtained from other sources, such as the text or things you see on the web, in the library, etc., a source reference must be given. Direct quotes from any source must be identified as such. All exam answers must be your own, and you must not provide any assistance to other students during exams. Any instances of academic dishonesty WILL be pursued under the University and College regulations concerning academic integrity.

Technical Help Resources

If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk at

Acknowledgement of Land

The Pennsylvania State University campuses are located on the original homelands of the Erie, Haudenosaunee (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora), Lenape (Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe, Stockbridge-Munsee), Shawnee (Absentee, Eastern, and Oklahoma), Susquehannock, and Wahzhazhe (Osage) Nations.  As a land grant institution, we acknowledge and honor the traditional caretakers of these lands and strive to understand and model their responsible stewardship. We also acknowledge the longer history of these lands and our place in that history.

Additional Resources for Our Difficult Times

Below is a short list of some of the resources available to you. If you need help, please contact any of these offices right away. They’re ready and waiting to be useful! In addition, you should feel free to contact me outside of class to see what I can do to help connect you with the right people and resources around campus. We know it has been a couple of difficult years, so we need to look out for each other in the ways we can. I ask that you keep an eye out for your classmates and fellow Penn State community during this time as well. 

Student Care and Advocacy: Student Emergency Fund

Provides short-term financial assistance for students experiencing a crisis situation. 

Adjusting Your Study Habits during COVID-19

Things may feel out-of-control right now. You may be facing a lot of unknowns and disruptions. Try to be patient with yourself, your classmates, and your instructors during this time. Take care of your well-being first. Making a plan and adjusting your studying may even help you feel a little sense of control.

Food Resources

All campuses have food pantries on campus or in the community. Most campuses offer either food pantries, food distribution services and/or campus community gardens. They offer emergency funds and grants to students when unexpected challenges arise. While the services may vary, staff (edit: and your instructor!) are committed to your well-being and to connecting you to the resources you need.

Suggested Software

Citation & Reference Management Software – using something like Zotero or Mendeley can be a huge help. These programs can save citations during your research and then automatically generate your works cited, bibliographies, and footnotes in any preferred citation style. Highly recommended! 

Reading Schedule

All readings will be posted on Canvas.

Week 1

Tuesday, January 10, 2023 

Course Introductions

Thursday, January 12, 2023

  • Marable, “Black Studies and the Racial Mountain”
  • Please fill out this survey by Thursday at the start of class: First-Day Survey (link removed) 

Week 2

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

  • Gallon, “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities”
  • Johnson, “4DH + 1 Black Code / Black Femme Forms of Knowledge and Practice”

Thursday, January 19, 2023

  • Eglash, excerpts from African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design
  • Somé, “Indigenous Technology,” from The Healing Wisdom of Africa

Week 3

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Thursday, January 26, 2023

  • Cont’d Colored Conventions materials from 1/24

Week 4

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

  • Cont’d Colored Conventions materials from Week 3

Thursday, February 2, 2023

  • Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts”
  • Bonus: Trouillot, excerpts from Silencing the Past
  • Lab: Exploratory Data Analysis

Week 5

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

  • Bowker and Starr, excerpts from Sorting Things Out
    • Introduction and chapter 1, optional chapter 6

Thursday, February 9, 2023

  • Mimi Onuoha, “Library of Missing Datasets”
  • Collier, review of “Library of Missing Datasets”

Week 6

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Thursday, February 16, 2023

  • Rawson and Muńoz, “Against Cleaning”
  • Lab: Data Parsing

Week 7

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

  • Berry, “Digitizing and Enhancing Description Across Collections to Make African American Materials More Discoverable on Umbra Search African American History”
  • Arroyo-Ramirez, “Invisible Defaults and Perceived Limitations: Processing the Juan Gelman Files”

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Week 8

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

  • Knight, excerpts from Digital Black Feminism 
  • Klein and D’Ignazio, excerpts from Data Feminism 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

  • Selections from African American Foodways, ed. Bower
  • Lab: Data Cuisine

Week 9

Spring Break – No Classes March 5-11

Week 10

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

  • Noble, excerpts from Algorithms of Oppression
  • Benjamin, excerpts from Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code

Thursday, March 16, 2023

  • Lab: Network Analysis

Week 11

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

  • Bender, Gebru, et al “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?”
  • Lee, “Compounded Mediation: A Data Archaeology of the Newspaper Navigator Dataset”

Thursday, March 23, 2023

  • Gaskins, “Midjourney: An Image/Text-to-Image Primer”
  • Lab: Experimenting with Image & Text AI Generators

Week 12

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

  • “Report to the City,” from Monument Lab

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Week 13

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

  • Rabinowitz, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition”
  • Whitelaw, “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections”

Thursday, April 6, 2023

  • Lab: Peer Workshop

Week 14

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

  • Wired, “A People’s History of Black Twitter”

Thursday, April 13, 2023

  • Lab: Social Media Dataset Explorations

Week 15

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Lab: Peer Workshop

Week 16

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

  • Presentations

Thursday, April 27, 2023

  • Course Reflections