American Studies 418B — Digital Diversity


Tuesday and Thursday 11:00-12:15pm

Dr. Jason Farman


Office: Holzapfel Hall 2107B

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30-3:30 or by appointment

Office Phone: 301.405.9524


In this course, we will explore the cultural impact of digital media on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. We will begin by looking at the problem of the “digital divide.” As digital technologies — especially the Internet — become more and more essential to our everyday lives, how are communities and nations without access to these technologies impacted? What are some solutions to this growing problem? We will then move on to look at how our individual and collective identities are built and sustained through our interaction with technologies. We will look at how we present ourselves and interact with one another on social networking sites. How do race and gender translate to these online environments? How are race and gender represented in digital media such as videogames? We will also look at how those with various disabilities must contend with media designed with able-bodies in mind. Finally, we will look at how communities utilize technology to remain connected, culminating in a student-created documentary of a particular community in the DC-Baltimore areas. The final project for this course will be a paper that applies the theories studied in this course to your experience interacting with your chosen community.

Required Texts (available in the campus bookstore):

Cybercultures Reader, Ed. David Bell and Barbara Kennedy. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2007. ISBN: 978-0415410670.

Technology and Social Inclusion, by Mark Warschauer.  MIT Press: ISBN-10: 0262731738

Digital Disability, by Gerard Goggin and Christophr Newell.  Rowman & Littlefield: ISBN-10: 0742518442

Assignments: Reading assignments are listed on the day they will be discussed in class.  You are expected to arrive to class having read the works listed.  All written assignments are to be turned in at the beginning of class. No papers will be accepted via e-mail and computer problems are not an excuse for late work.  NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED.


Identity Tourism essay: 15%

Midterm: 15%

Documentary: 25%

Final Paper synthesizing documentary and course research: 25%

Participation: 10%

Reading Questions: 10%

Written Assignments:

There will be one essay and a final paper.  The first essay must be 4-6 pages in length and the final paper for the course will be an 8-10 page research paper. These papers must be written in 12 point Times New Roman font, double spaced, and cite sources accurately in MLA or APA style.  A hard copy of your essay is due at the beginning of class AND you must also upload an electronic version to the course’s digital dropbox on BlackBoard. This electronic version of your essay will be scanned to make sure you have accurately cited your sources.  Essay 1 on “Identity Tourism” is worth 15% of your grade. Your final paper for the course is worth 25% of your grade

Note on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism: Any source that you draw ideas and quotes from must be cited accurately in your paper in APA or MLA style.  If you use any source in your work without correctly citing the work, this constitutes plagiarism.  Any intentional plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the assignment and may result in a failing grade for the course.


Category A: Sloppiness. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”

Category B: Ignorance. Automatic “0” on paper, with option to rewrite for no better than a “C”

Category C: Obvious Conscious Cheating. Automatic “0” on paper, with no option for rewriting

Students caught plagiarizing a second time will be asked to leave the class and will receive an automatic “0” in the course.

For those of you who are not aware of what constitutes plagiarism, here is a breakdown of the various types:

1. Buying papers, borrowing papers, or recycling former papers unrevised and claiming these types of papers as your own for your assignment in this course. (This constitutes a Category C offense)

2. Cutting and pasting parts of a webpage or borrowing passages from a book for your paper without properly citing these parts and claiming the material as your own for the expressed intent of cheating. (This constitutes a Category C offense)

3. Failing to use proper citation style for material you borrow, accidentally. (This constitutes either a Category A or B offense)


Your participation is crucial to the learning you will experience in this class and absences are weighed accordingly. Because this is a discussion-driven and hands-on class, the quality of the class for everyone is in large part dependent on the quality of preparation and visible engagement of each participant. Please realize that although you may have prepared the readings and assignments and may be listening to others, if you do not actively demonstrate your preparation and ideas in discussion, there is no way to observe and, hence, evaluate the quality of your preparation and participation. You may miss up to three classes, however, anything beyond this amount will lower the grade significantly and six missed classes may constitute a failing grade. Attendance is taken only during the first 10 minutes of class. If you are 10 minutes late, this will constitute a tardy. Multiple tardies equate an absence and can affect your grade just as missing a class can. Class participation constitutes 10% of the grade.

Reading Questions:

Students must come to class with a printout of one well-developed question that interrogates one of the readings for that day. These questions should not be simply factual questions, but should instead ask something that is in conversation with the readings. For example, a student should not submit a question such as, “Why does Nakamura believe that the default race online is white?” but should instead ask something like, “By stating that the default race online is white, does Nakamura believe that the same racist structures that organize the offline world also apply to the online world? In what ways does her argument falter in digital environments that move beyond text toward images and videos (such as Facebook and YouTube)?” These will be graded according to quality. Reading responses cannot be made up if you are late or absent (and cannot be e-mailed – you must turn in a hardcopy in class). Reading questions are worth 10% of your grade.

Documentary: As a group, you will create a 10-15 minute documentary about a community and its uses of digital media. You may explore communities that exist solely in the virtual realm (such as online gamers) or an “offline” community that uses digital technology as a way to maintain societal bonds (such as teens use of text messaging). Though the community you choose should exist in some form regionally (anywhere from DC to Baltimore) other members might be spread out geographically — perhaps never seeing each other face to face — or might be gathered together in one neighborhood. Your documentary must contain a broad range of perspectives, gained through interviews, voice-over, and great footage that is well edited. Your group will post the video to YouTube. Though you will work as a group, you will receive individual grades for this assignment. This documentary is worth 25% of your grade.

Final Paper: You must take your experience working on the documentary of a digital community and tie it into an analysis of how new media are altering the ways we understand identity and community. You must draw on the readings from this class as well as bring in two outside scholarly journal articles and one scholarly book related to your thesis. Your thesis should develop a strong theory of culture in the digital age, such as, “As seen in the example of the pervasive gaming group, NERO, I argue that cultural experiences of space no longer distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘virtual,’ but instead have become an experience of hybrid reality.” As stated above, your paper should be 8-10 pages long, typed in 12-point Times New Roman font, double spaced, and must cite all outside sources accurately in MLA or APA style. This final paper is worth 25% of your grade.

Please Note: This syllabus is subject to change at any time according to the professor’s discretion.  The assignments below may also include readings handed out in class, which each student is responsible for completing.


Week 1:

Aug. 31: Course Introduction

● Watch Digital Nation

Sept. 1: What’s “New” About New Media?

● Watch RSA Video, “The Secret Powers of Time”

● Read, “Virtual Togetherness” by Maria Bakardjieva in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 14.

● Finish Digital Nation

DUE: Bring in advertisement showing cultural imaginaries/ideologies of technology with one paragraph analyzing its message (if using a YouTube video or Internet link, please email me the link as well as include it on a hard copy printout of your paragraph, turned in at the beginning of class).

Week 2

Sept. 7: Contextualizing the Digital Divide

● Read, “Cyberspace: First Steps” by Michael Benedikt in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 1

● Andy Carvin, “Mind the Gap: The Digital Divide as the Civil Rights Issue of the New Millennium” online at:

Sept. 9: Contextualizing the Digital Divide

● Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Introduction and Ch. 1-2

Week 3:

Sept. 14: The Digital Divide

● Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Ch. 3-4

Sept. 16: The Digital Divide

● Read Technology and Social Inclusion, Ch. 5-7

Week 4:

Sept. 21: Identity in Online Environments

● Read, “Identity Construction and Self-Presentation on Personal Homepages” by Charles Cheung in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 16.

● Read, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites” by danah boyd (online:

● Read, “White Flight in Networked Publics?” by danah boyd (online:

Sept. 23: Identity in Online Environments

● Read, “Race in/for Cyberspace” by Lisa Nakamura in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 18.

Class will meet in chat room

Week 5:

Sept. 28: Gender and Digital Media

● Read, “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations” in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 21

● Read “A Rape in Cyberspace” online at

Sept. 30: Gender and Digital Media

● Read, “Mapping the Bit Girl: Lara Croft and New Media Fandom” by Bob Rehak in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 9.

● Read, “Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons?: Gender and Gender Role Subversion in Computer Games” by Anne-Marie Schleiner online at

Essay 1 Due

Week 6:

Oct. 5: Embodiment

● Read, “Introduction” to Cyberbodies Section (pg. 413-421) and “The Embodied Computer/User” by Deborah Lupton in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 25.

● Read, “From Psycho-Body to Cyber-Systems” by STELARC in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 27.

Oct. 7: Embodiment

● Read, “Will the Real Body Please Stand Up” by Allucquere Rosanne Stone in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 26.

Week 7:

Oct. 12: Disability in the Digital Age

● Read Digital Disability Ch. 1-3

Oct. 14: Disability in the Digital Age

● Read Digital Disability Ch. 6-7

Week 8:

Oct. 19: Forming Communities using Digital Media

● Read, “Community in the Abstract” by Michele Willson in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 12.

Oct. 21: MIDTERM

Week 9:

Oct. 26: Forming Communities using Digital Media

● Read, “Against Virtual Community: For a Politics of Distance” by Kevin Robins in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 13.

● Listen to “First Contact” by This American Life (online)

Group work on documentary

Oct. 28: Forming Communities using Digital Media

● Read, “Webs as Pegs” by David Bell in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 15.

Group work on documentary

Week 10:

Nov. 2: Case Study of Online communities: Massively Multiplayer Gamers

● Read, Communities of Play Part I by Celia Pearce (online)

● In-class screening of Second Skin

Nov. 4: Case Study of Offline communities: gaming beyond the personal computer

● Read, “From Cyber to Hybrid” by Adriana de Souza e Silva in Cybercultures Reader Ch. 43.

● Read, “Games and Pervasive Games” in Pervasive Games (online)

● In-class screening of Monster Camp

Week 11:

Note: (Nov. 8 is last day to drop without a “W” on your transcript)

Nov. 9: Documentary Workshop

Nov. 11: Documentary Workshop

Week 12:

Nov. 16: No Class

Nov. 18: Group Work on documentary

Week 13:

Nov. 23: Group Work on documentary


Week 14:

Nov. 30: Screenings of documentaries

Dec. 2: Screenings of documentaries

Week 15:

Dec. 7: Wrap-up and discussions of research papers

Dec. 9: Wrap-up and discussions of research papers

Week 16: Final’s Week – Papers due Monday, Dec. 13 between 9-10am in EGR 0108