Cracking a New Code

English Class Explores Literature Through Technology
By Liam Farrell | Illustration by Valerie Morgan

From machine-generated love letters to digitized author databases, literature and computer programming aren’t complete strangers, with writers solely scribbling their thoughts on paper while engineers code in the glow of the latest technology.

Kari Kraus, an associate professor in the Department of English and the College of Information Studies, hopes to keep bridging the two through a new class this fall called “Storytelling With Code.”

“I want English majors in particular to feel that computer programming is fully compatible with a more traditional literary study,” Kraus says. “I don’t want it to be a fearful process.”

The class is part of the university’s new “Arts for All” initiative, which President Darryll J. Pines announced earlier this year and will broaden arts programming and education across campus by integrating with STEM disciplines.

Kraus will have students learn the basics of programming in beginner-friendly Python while applying it to literature. Tasks will include using “sentiment analysis” to see how and why algorithms score sentences as either emotionally positive or negative; comparing word choice and syntax between works published under an author’s real name versus those under a pseudonym (or erroneously claimed as such); and exploring computer-generated poetry and the interactive fiction of text-based computer games.

While scholars are still learning what is creatively possible by combining technology and literature, Kraus says computing is already a central skill.

“(It’s) a core competency of literary studies,” she says. “The field has changed so much.”


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