Literature in the Digital Age

From Close Reading to Digital Reading

Updated June 2024

As we make sense of what we read, we construe meaning using the cultural technique of interpretation. Only rarely do we actually reflect this process: what are the means that help us understand literary texts? How does interpretation work? And how has our increasing use of electronic devices changed the way we read and interpret literature?

This online course is for people from all walks of life who enjoy reading literature and would like to know how literary scholars interpret texts in the digital age. The only requirement is that you like to read and love to reflect your experience and discuss it with others. If you are a student looking for an introduction to literary analysis, ‘Literature in the Digital Age’ will help you find it.

The course addresses the questions above as it introduces you to a variety of ways of interpreting literary texts. You will look into time-tested methods such as close reading and will also address more recent practices such as computer-based distant reading.

Throughout the learning journey you will reflect on the different lay and professional reading strategies that are available for reading literature today and describe the various media in which you read literature in the digital age. By doing so, you will investigate the various strategies you use on a daily basis as you read online texts and identify the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies.

As you dig deeper, you will apply the core method of literary studies: close reading, engage in a cooperative form of online reading called social reading and compare two forms of historical readings of literary texts: historical and literary-historical contextualization.

Last but not least, you will explore the uses and limitations of distant reading, a recent scholarly approach to literary texts that relies on big data and computer analysis and explore approaches to literary texts that do not seek to interpret them but focus on their surface and materiality.

We suggest that you keep a notebook in which you can write down all the important findings and solutions to the various tasks that you might want to solve during the course. Of course, this is voluntary and your notebook will not be corrected by anyone, but this can certainly help you to get the most out of this course.

“Weeks”, “Chapters” and invitation to comment

Please note that this course was originally published by the University of Basel on FutureLearn. FutureLearn is a global platform offering online courses that encourage social learning, including discussions between learners. On FutureLearn, we added comment sections to certain steps and measured course durations in weeks rather than in chapters.

Here on Tales, we measure courses in chapters. These chapters are equivalent to the “weeks” on FutureLearn. So when you watch a video here and hear an educator talking about “weeks”, you’ll know that this was because the videos were geared towards FutureLearn’s set-up.

Another difference to FutureLearn is the comment option. The educators in the videos will sometimes invite you to discuss something in the comments section. If you don’t see a comment option here on Tales, then the course is not open to comments at this moment in time. But for certain periods of time announced in advance, this course will be open to comments.

The good news is that either way, you can freely access the course and all of its contents at any time. If the comment section is not open, why not write down your comments as you go through the course? That way you can keep track of how your knowledge changes. And should you be able to participate in one of the authors’ face-to-face courses, you can then refer back to your comments and discuss them with your peers.


University of Basel


Prof. Dr. Philipp Schweighauser, Professor of North American and General Literature at the University of Basel.