Course Description

This collaboratively taught seminar exposes students to interdisciplinary and evolving methods for discovery and knowledge construction in the humanities and social sciences. In particular, it focuses on how information flows in and out of socio-technical systems, the ways that researchers access, arrange, organize and describe information for use in their disciplinary context and how that shapes critical inquiry. Students will do hands-on work with data and methods and interrogate their affordances and limitations. Mini units in this course will be led by faculty from History, English, Law, Sociology, and History and Philosophy of Science, and History of Art and Architecture, all of whom are involved in the Mellon grant-funded Sawyer Seminar, “Information Ecosystems: Creating Data (and Absence) From the Quantitative to the Digital Age.”

This course represents a distributed expertise. In each unit, we’ll work with scholars in their central areas of research; no one is an expert across all of these areas. Prof. Alison Langmead is the instructor of record for the course, which means she (I) will be there every week to provide continuity for conversation between units. And since these areas of research aren’t my expertise, I will be learning alongside you. Together, we’ll think through what methods mean, what they can (and can’t) tell us,  and how digital and non-digital methods (if there are any) create knowledge.

Instructor of Record

Alison Langmead
116 Frick Fine Arts (Visual Media Workshop)
Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 4:15-5:00pm and by appointment

Sawyer Seminar Faculty Collaborators

Michael Dietrich, History and Philosophy of Science: Network analysis of scholarly work and citations

Melanie Hughes, Sociology: Global Indicators of Gender Inequality and the Politics of Data Production

Mario Khreiche, Sawyer Seminar Post-Doctoral Fellow/History: Online Labor Systems

Alison Langmead, History of Art and Architecture, School of Computing and Information, Visual Media Workshop: Lead Instructor/Instructor of Record

Michael J. Madison, School of Law: Big Data university initiatives

Ruth Mostern, History: World-Historical Gazetteer data

Lara Putnam, History: Digital archives and databases and effects on knowledge creation

Course Time and Location

Tuesdays, 2:00-4:50 pm, 5404 Posvar Hall


  • 10% for each of the short projects assigned by the guest instructors (Hughes, Dietrich, Mostern, Khreiche, and Putnam), totaling 50%
  • 10% course blog writings
  • 10% participation (Vee, in consultation with other instructors)
  • 20% final project (Vee)

Books to Buy: None

All instructors will be providing excerpts of books and articles for the course through Pitt Box, ULS, and public links. Pitt Box readings can be found in folders organized by the unit instructors’ last names.


Each week, I expect that you will come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings, and that you will have completed your blog post or unit project. Unit instructors will lead discussion and activities for their scheduled weeks, and so discussion styles will likely vary. There will be times for us to connect and synthesize units in class discussion.

Course Policies


Your success in this class is important to us. This course, like all graduate courses, is designed to be challenging. Annette and the other instructors are here to help you meet those challenges. If there are aspects of this course that prevent you from learning or exclude you, please let us know as soon as possible. Together we’ll develop strategies to meet both your needs and the requirements of the course. I encourage you to visit us in office hours (see above for Annette’s hours) or by appointment. Please note that Pitt also has other supports for you in this course: the Office of Disability Resources and Services, the Writing Center and the Counseling Center, and the online mental health resource, ULifeline. For campus financial and food and health assistance, please see this list of resources from Pitt Libraries and note that you can apply for emergency loans as well. If you need official accommodations, you have a right to have these met. If you would like less formal means of support in this course, please get in touch with Annette and the other instructors. 

Names and Pronouns

I (Professor Alison Langmead) use she/her pronouns and go by “Alison” with my grad students, so please feel free to call me by my first name. Please let me know your preferred name and pronouns for the course, and please use the preferred names and pronouns of your classmates in this course.

Our Classroom Community

Everyone in this course has a unique disciplinary and personal background and has important ideas to contribute to our course. We will all strive to respect everyone’s contributions. If you feel that your contributions are not being valued by anyone in our classroom community, please either let that person know directly, or let me know so that we can rectify the situation.

Academic Integrity Policy

Please note that Pitt has an Academic Integrity policy that addresses issues of plagiarism and misrepresentation of research and work: This policy applies to this course. Please see Annette if you are unclear about this policy, or check out Pitt English’s resource on Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism. I am always happy to talk about research ethics.

Communication Policy

Your Pitt email will be the primary way that Annette and the other instructors will get in touch with you, and we will assume you check it regularly. Any significant changes to the syllabus or readings or schedule will be reflected on this website, and also communicated via email or in class.

Unit projects

Each unit will have a hands-on component and an associated project to be assessed by the unit instructor. These projects will vary and each unit instructor will convey their expectations for them. Projects will generally be due to the unit instructor by the Monday before the next unit begins.

Final Project

Final Projects will be due on the last day of class, April 21. On this day, all unit instructors will be invited to hear about your final projects and celebrate the work of the seminar.

The format and content of the final project will be flexible. Since individual units will each involve a project to be assessed, final projects for this course will be lighter than usual for graduate courses. They should be, roughly, the equivalent of a 7-10 page paper connecting to themes of the course. The format could be a 7-10 page paper, but could also be: a website, a video, a data visualization, a small database. We will begin discussing potential final projects in March, and in early April, I will ask you to submit a short proposal for us to discuss together.  

Final projects might be the application of a single method in your area of research, or they might synthesize several methods, addressing limitations and affordances for your field. Or, they might be a critical engagement with methods from the perspective of a field outside your own, with the aim towards future collaboration or interdisciplinarity. Basically, once you’ve had a tour through a handful of methods, I’m asking you to put them in conversation with each other, and with your work.