Adopting Digital-Driven Approaches to Literary Studies

Chris Anyokwu


In recent times, research and scholarship in response to the seismic tides of change taking place in our contemporary world is now been conducted via online virtual space necessitating the gradual abandoning of the print culture. Although in Nigeria, this new way of doing academic and intellectual business has not really caught on in comparison with the so-called “African Average”, due in large part to infrastructural backwardness and lack of motivation and incentives, it is strongly believed that literary studies in Nigerian universities must embrace digitalization. To this end, therefore, this paper reviews the state of affairs in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions with regards to e-learning and e-pedagogy and proffers salient solutions to the identified challenges facing literary education under the new digital regime.

Key Words: Digital, Humanities, Literary, Education, e-pedagogy


Homo Sapiens as a species is eternally caught between a lingering wistfulness about a vanishing way of life and a wary tentativeness about the thrilling and exciting prospects of the present and the future. But being an inhabitant within time, s/he has got to, willy nilly, respond to the pressing exigencies of the moment. Despite the Manichaean rift created in the quester’s soul, s/he has to achieve relevance by rising to the challenges of his/her time. Thus, to be more specific, the literacy scholar, be he or she a student or lecturer, has to, in keeping with the relentless logic of history and time, jettison out-moded and retrograde ways of research and scholarship and actively propagate, cultivate and disseminate the innovative fruits of digital learning and pedagogy. Research, thus, furnishes us with humanity’s development from primary orality through chirographic and typographic cultures to the electronic and, now, digital modernity. Crucially, many aspects of human endeavor have gone digital, making the virtual space, i.e., the world of the internet and digimodernity (New Media), the veritable global marketplace of ideas, exchange of goods and services, among others.

Africa, scholars contend, is the world’s youngest and sixty percent of all Africans are under the age of 25 (see Also, according to this online source, Africa is the continent with the greatest educational needs, with sub-Saharan Africa listed by UNESCO as the region with the highest rates of education exclusion in the world. Thus, it is believed that the continent is handicapped by a host of issues including culture, religion, gender, and language. In order to transcend these problems, therefore, online courses must be developed based on sound pedagogical principles that are suitable to the online medium (static.

Adopting Digital-Driven Approaches to Literary Studies

We begin this section by asking: What is Digital Humanities? We may elect logically to take the phrase on item-by-item basis. Humanities is the academic field of study which covers such disciplines as philosophy, history, religious studies, linguistics and literature. These subjects are Art-oriented rather than Science-oriented, and, as such, rely largely on logical patterns of ideas, human-interest activities, cultural production, anthropological and sociological events and issues of ethics and aesthetics. Digital, on the other hand, designates computer-generated data – graphics, audio-visual items, icons, pictures, written material, among others. Taken together, digital humanities refers to the newfangled computer-based academic activities that centre around academic disciplines traditionally imbricated under the broad hold-all, Humanities. However, Matthew G. Kirshenbaum in his paper entitled “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Department?” calls our attention to the definition of DH furnished by Google:

The digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching, and invention, concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. It is methodological by nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It involves investigation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of information in which they are used, and what these disciplines have to contribute to our knowledge of computer. (56).

Kirshenbaum goes on to add that, “At the core, then, digital humanities is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” (56). He is able to identify at least three main functions of DH, namely: (1) “for example, we might use a text-analysis tool named Voyeur developed by Stephen Sinclair to make the proceedings from the annual Digital Humanities conferences and developed lists of topic frequencies or collocate key terms or visualize the papers’ citation networks” (56). Secondly, “we could also choose to explore the question quantitatively, by examining sets of projects from self-identified digital humanities centers” (56). And thirdly, he argues that Digital Humanities is also a social undertaking; “it harbours networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years” (56). Kirshenbaum specifies Twitter and Facebook as social networking platforms upon which communities of scholars and researchers can get together to share ideas, bounce off concepts and disseminate relevant information among themselves. Thus, in a word, Digital Humanities (DH) is the relationship between the fields of study under the umbrella terms, Humanities and Computing.

Computing, in this regard, includes: the New Media such as Twitter, Facebook, ebay, wechat, online newspapers, blogs, CD-ROMs, chatrooms, DVDs, instagram, Whatsapp and videogames. These online media constitute what we have identified as digital technology or digimodernity, a signal feature of the postmodern condition as theorized by Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. In his very informative paper, Kirshenbaum also tells us how scholars have revolutionized literary studies as we know it, hammering out digital humanities manifestoes, organizing colloquia, symposia and workshops and special sections. Apart from annual international conferences held on DH, several journals specifically based on DH have been mounted to publish research findings in the field. These journals include ADE Bulletin, Companion to DH, Digital Humanities Quarterly, Digital Studies/Le Champ numerique, among others. Furthermore, Kirshenbaum identifies the benefits and advantages of digital-driven approaches to literary studies and these bear quoting in great detail:

First, after numeric input, text has been by far the most tractable data type for computers to manipulate. Unlike images, audio, video, and so on, there is a long tradition of text-based data processing that was within the capabilities of even some of the earliest computer systems and that has for decades fed research in fields like stylistics, linguistics, and author attribution studies, all heavily associated with English department. Second, of course, there is the long association between computer and composition, almost as long and just as rich in its lineage. Third is the pitch-perfect convergence between the intense conversations around editorial theory and method in the 1970s and the widespread means to implement electronic archives and editions very soon after… Fourth, and at roughly the same time, is a modest but much-promoted belle-letteristic project around hypertext and other forms of electronic literature that continues to this day and is increasingly vibrant and diverse. Fifth is the openness of English department to cultural studies, where computers and other objects of digital material culture becomes the centerpiece of analysis… Finally, today, we see the simultaneous explosion of interest in e-reading and e-book devices like the kindle, ipad, and Nook and the advent of large-scale text digitalization projects, the most significant of course being Google Books. (60)

Kirshenbaum clinches his argument thus:

Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on artworks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. (60)

Digital Humanities is the innovative response of far-sighted scholars to the far-reaching political and economic changes brought about by new technologies, notably digital technologies and the internet. These path-breaking changes obviously have ramifications on teaching, research, dissemination of research findings, authorship and reading publics, copyrights, the critical enterprise, theory and praxis. The sea-change in how we traditionally conduct academic business is upon us. As Kirshenbaum posits, with the advent of DH, we must jettison “outgrowths of dysfunctional and outmoded practices” (62) and, in the spirit of adventure and intellectual curiosity, enthusiastically embrace the inhabitual contingencies of digimodernity. It is important to equally note some of the structural challenges facing some African countries, including Nigeria. For instance, it is fairly commonplace knowledge that access to high bandwidth and affordable data is a real problem. Besides, a vast skills shortage exists in most departments and, if care is not taken in regard to the infusion of local content in our curricular, we may be unwittingly laying the groundwork for the “intellectual recolonisation of Africa” ( In the online book captioned “Digitalizing South African universities: Exploring Benefits, Barriers and Risks”, Bethuel Sibongiseni Nigcamu examines and assesses how the authorities have gone out of their way to try to revolutionize both digital literacy and pedagogy by providing the much-needed infrastructure, funding and monitoring/supervision.

Domesticating DH: The Nigerian Environment

At present, the Nigerian academy is still way, way behind the rest of the world as far as DH goes. In our institutions of higher learning such as Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities, pedagogy is still conducted in the old-fashioned way: teachers and lecturers still go to class with chalk and therefore still use the blackboard as teaching aid; in more “modern” learning  environments such as urban schools and institutions, whiteboards are used with temple markers. Fewer schools boast of regular use of power-point projectors. According to a survey undertaken by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and posted on Acada, the ASUU Whatsapp platform, (1) Less than 10% of the universities have Video Conferencing facility, (2) less than 20% of the universities use Interactive Boards, (3) Internet services are non-existent and slow in 99% of Nigerian Universities, (4) Nigerian Universities Library resources are outdated and manually operated, (5) No university library in Nigeria is fully automated. Less than 35% are partially automated, (6) Lecturer-Student Ratio: (National Open University of Nigeria: 1:35 University of Abuja; 1:122; Lagos State University: 1:111 Compare this to Harvard: 1:4; MIT: 19; Yale 1:4; Cambridge 1:3; NUS 1:12; KFUPM 1:9; Technion 1:15. (7) 80% of published journals by Nigerian University lecturers have no visibility in the international knowledge community; (8) there is no relationship between enrolment and the tangible manpower needs of Nigerians etc, etc,. Sadder still, the endemic climate of power outages, lack of pipe-borne water, teachers’ miserable paychecks and overall poor motivation underscore the general condition of disenchantment and infrastructural backwardness in Nigeria. In contradistinction to this a small country like Botswana aspires to having a knowledge-based economy, a major cornerstone of its national vision coupled with a mission for an optimal development of its human capital. To be sure, the Southern and East African postcolonies perform far better in the provision of digital infrastructure and allied modern conveniences than Nigeria does. The Nigerian education system can only digitalize to a point that is allowed by the level and quality of its general infrastructure.

Bringing our discussion closer to our learning environments and giving flesh to the bare bones of this discourse, it is instructive to stress that books available to both lecturers and students are often decades-old, thus of archival value, mainly. For instance, while university students in the departments of English are still fed on the mouldy diet of archaic ideas such as the old-fashioned and discarded concepts of the elements of fiction, drama and poetry, in the more advanced parts of the continent and the larger world, such superannuated notions and concepts have been replaced with new, up-to-date and current literary-critical  terminology. Whoever indulges in plot summarizations of texts or the crude and simplistic analysis of characterization, setting, diction, subject matter, etc, much in the same manner in which an art connoisseur appreciates primary colours rather than the delicate and intricate spectrum of the well-executed piece?

What’s worse, even in teaching literary theory, early basic approaches like Russian Formalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, New Criticism and Feminism are taught in their most basic classical forms. The fact is that, these theories of literature have been explored for so long and so thoroughly that conceptual spin-offs and endless inter-mixtures have been generated from their parent stock. Radical pedagogical overhaul is required in this regard.

At present, Nigerians as the rest of the world are facing the grave and mortal danger of contracting the novel coronavirus aka (COVID-19) pandemic. This global emergency has necessitated the lockdown of the entire country, thus bringing social and academic activities to a halt. Given the high mortality rate of the scourge as well as its high degree of transmissibility, people are strongly advised to stay at home, observe social/physical distancing, wash their hands regularly, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, orifices through which the deadly virus can gain entry into the body and kill the patient in a matter of days. Thus at the time of writing this article, Nigeria has not been able to “flatten the curve” as we continue to witness a frightening and horrendous spike in cases. As a matter of fact, the country like the rest of the world is undergoing the so-called second-wave of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as health-workers battle to contain the virus with the available vaccines newly developed in the advanced parts of the world, notably the USA and Europe. Consequent upon the foregoing scenario, the Nigerian authorities have closed ALL schools in the country, and instructed that pupils, students and university scholars and researchers conduct their academic business from home using mainly digital platforms.

David Mhlanga and Tankiso Moloi in their jointly-authored paper “COVID-19 and the Digital Transformation of Education: What Are We Learning on 4IR in South Africa?”, examine and evaluate the constitutive features of the Fourth Industrial Development and investigate the relevance and usefulness of these technological elements to e-learning and e-pedagogy under the novel coronavirus-induced stay-at-home regime. Quoting N. Davis, Mhlanga and Moloi describe 4IR as “the advent of cyber-physical systems involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines.” They tell us that these capabilities rely on the technologies and infrastructure of the Third Industrial Revolution. Thus, in their considered opinion, 4IR represents entirely new ways in which “technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies”. They itemize these technologies to include, among others, “artificial intelligence, and robotics, ubiquitous linked sensors, virtual and augmented realities, additive manufacturing, energy capture, blockchain and distributed ledger technology; advanced materials and nanomaterials, storage and transmission, and new computing technologies, biotechnologies, geoengineering technologies, neurotechnolgy and space technologies”. Besides this, the two researchers equally considered the moving of education to online platforms through the use of TV and the radio for revision purposes. They insist that E-t.v enhances digital literacy of those involved, staff and students alike. Accordingly, they also explore the use of YouTube, Microsoft teams, Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp and DSTV for e-learning.

The COVID-19-induced lockdowns seem to have provided an opportunity to test the virtual experience in our country, Nigeria as well. So far, school children in primary and secondary education as well as students in tertiary institutions of learning have been studying from home. Primary and secondary school students take their classes on TV and the radio as well as on Telegram and Zoom, among other online platforms. University students in particular receive their instruction from virtual classrooms and this stop-gap arrangement has helped mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19-induced hibernation. But we must not, by any means, think our pupils and students have enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace digital-driven approaches to learning and pedagogy. Far from it. The benefits ascribed to a virtual age appear, so far, exaggerated. This is so because students (the so-called digizens or “digital natives”) are showing dissatisfaction with e-books and e-learning modes and a preference for hardcopies and in-person, gregarious learning environments. For these denizens of the virtual world, the new is good but the old is by far better. 

For things to change and, change fundamentally, massive structural and attitudinal overhaul is required. In this regard funding is key. For instance, the UNESCO stipulates that 26% of the annual budget of every nation be allocated to the education sector. In the history of Nigeria, this has never been done. It is doubtful if Nigeria has ever allocated up to 10% of its annual budget to education. Further, laptop and desktop computers complete with internet facilities must be provided in schools, colleges and universities. And as is the practice elsewhere on the continent, schools must be provided with zero-rated applications and educational websites. That is to say, the user’s monthly data allotment must be free of charge, defrayed by government. Also, there should be free downloadable educational platforms for electronic readers, principally to boost access. It goes without saying, there must be constant supply of electricity to power these equipment and applications. With power in place, chatrooms, e-classrooms, e-conferencing, e-library, etc can be created both for faculty and students for teaching, research and criticism. By the same token, with everyone armed with mobile devices such as smartphones, ipad, tablets, people can engage in collaborative academic projects, share ideas, provide constructive criticisms and hone the talents of one another.

As in conventional warfare, the battle of books has shifted from physical classroom and is now fought out on virtual battlefields. The future of scholarship and research is electronic/digital and, as such, our books must be transformed into e-books, our libraries into e-libraries, our classrooms into e-classrooms and our publications and research into e-publications and e-research. A novel, for instance, can be made into an audio or an audiovisual recording complete with the novelist him/herself doing the reading. According to Walter J. Ong, “Written texts all have to be related somehow, directly or indirectly, to the world of sound, the natural habitat of language, to yield their meanings” (8). Thus, when hitherto printed materials are reduced to audiovisual texts complete with animation and all, the impact will be positively refreshing and rewarding. If we can implement all of these things, our Departments of English in Nigeria have a lot to gain. The resultant digital revolution will empower the end-users in the value chain – our wards and charges in this regard. Also, we will be able to create, nurture and establish digitally-driven university cultures and our graduates, who are mostly derogatorily dismissed as “unemployable” at the moment, would become multi-skilled, entrepreneurial and employable.

Digital Humanities thus enhances interactivity, communality, immediacy, authenticity, affective bonding between author and audience, verisimilitude, social referentiality and ultimately, the truth of fiction. This is also true for drama and poetry. For instance, we can very readily cite the example of Nigerian poet-musician, Akeem Lasisi who started out in his career as poet just reciting his poetry to audiences, particularly the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) sessions in Lagos and elsewhere in Nigeria and overseas. With time, he decided to turn his verses, performable as they are, into songs and therefore waxed a number of music albums. He then went on to shoot music videos in which he and his back-up singers and instrumentalists are seen declaiming and performing his poetry. Lasisi has produced the following albums, namely: (1) Wonderland: Eleleture; (2) Ori-Agbe (for Wole Soyinka), containing such songs as Ori Agbe, Lisabi La n re and Laye Olugbon (3) Udeme containing songs like (Constituency Project) House of Memory, Mo n bo, Gongosu and Iremoje (for Ken Saro-Wiwa) and Even if the Road To The Country Is Closed (for Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh). Apart from these works being in print as works of literary art (poetry qua poetry), they now also exist in audio-visual form and people everywhere can access them on their mobile devices, listen to them, dance to them and sing-along with the poet-raconteur. The Akeem Lasisi style of performance poetry is blazing the trail for others to follow and there is no doubt the practice has already caught on, thus inaugurating an explosion of interest in hypertexts and electronic or digital literature.  


In the new digital environment, research and scholarship must shed the trammels of custom and passionately embrace change. It is only by our embrace of digital humanities that we can even hope to close the gap between the high-technology cultures of the West and the rest of us. DH can help us develop our home-based centres of knowledge production and dissemination, enhance our web visibility, improve the global ranking of our local universities, make us equal partners in the global emporium of ideas and information, re-write the unflattering anti-African narratives and properly tell our own stories to the world and foster competitiveness, innovation and enterprise.

Works Cited

Davis, N. “What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” World Economic Forum. Geneva, Switzerland, 2016. Print.

Kirshenbaum, G. Matthew. “What is Digital Humanities, and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”, ADE BULLETIN. Number 150, 2010. Print,

Lasisi, Akeem. Ekun Iyawo (The Bride’s Chant). Ikeja: Full Point Publications, 2001. Print.

Lasisi, Akeem. Wonderland (Eleleture. Audio-Visual .

Lasisi, Akeem, Udema. Audio-Visual.

Lasisi, Akeem. Ori-Agbe (for Wole Soyinka). Audio-Visual.

Lasisi, Akeem. Even If The Road To The Cemeter Is Closed. Audio-Visual.

Mhlango, David and Tankiso Moloi. “COVID-19 and the Digital Transformation of Education: What Are We Learning on 4IR in South Africa?” School of Accounting, Auckland Park, University of Johanesburg. ( 2020.web.

Ngcamu, Bethuel Sibongiseni. Digitalizing South African Universities.. Exploring Benefits, Barriers and Risks. Accessed on 11th January, 2021. (>books) web.

Ong, J. Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen, 1982. Print.

“The Impact of Digitaliziation on Higher Education in Africa” (