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This syllabus is subject to change. The latest version on this website is the binding syllabus.


E494 is an Integrative Experience course. As such, it has two major aims. The first is a practical introduction to codes and ciphers, from bald Spartans to secure sockets. We will focus on the transition from cyptanalysis to computers. In order to break codes, we will examine the structures of the English language, as well as the distributive characteristics of words and phonemes. We will consider English as a closed system with a fixed rule set. Next, we turn to literary texts. We will treat them as ciphers within a closed system. We will use the python scripting language to look at characteristics of literary texts. Putting our trust in the Law of Large Numbers, we will see what we can learn about a particular text by looking at the system of literature.
Our second aim is theoretical: to examine the relationship between a system and its component elements. Starting with the relationship between letters and cipher types, we will move to the relationship between data and structure, users and networks, hackers (and crackers) and The System, literature and book markets. How do systems organize themselves? How do we understand our place in a system? Your major assignment is to research one of the systems that you are part of—education, food distribution, legal, and so on. We will abstract from our research in order to discuss the characteristics of systems and their components. No knowledge of codes, ciphers, or computers is necessary, although welcome.

What is Integrated Experience?

Please read this warning about the course.

We meet TTh, 11:30 am - 12:45 pm, in Dickinson 212.
(Campus Map.)


We are using:

  • Helen Fouché Gaines, Elementary Cryptanalysis. ISBN 0486200973.
  • Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. ISBN 0385495323.
  • Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. ISBN 1449388396.
  • Nick Montfort, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities. ISBN 0262034204.

All books are available at Amherst Books, 8 Main Street, in Amherst. Of course, you can always order through Amazon, which ships to the Amazon depot in our campus center. Any edition will do—so new, used, Kindle, whatever.


In the first half of the semester, we look at the history of codes and ciphers. Next, we learn some. Our aim is to learn the systematic regularities of English spelling and syntax, and how those are exploited for deciphering. We will pose our theoretical questions in the context of codes. In the second half of the course, we start with hacking and the exploitation of systems on behalf of knowledge. We look at black hats and white hats. Our aim is to trace the outlines of the larger argument: system and individual. We will then pose our theoretical questions in the context of networks. We end with python and search. What do we do when we read literature? Can we program a computer to do that, too? This is not a lecture class, so you will be expected to have an opinion, perspective, or interesting thing to say about our readings.


There are four assignments.

Assignment 1: Substitution cipher. Submit a substitution cipher; revise and submit a second one. The second substitution cipher must mask high-recurring letters and complicate expected syntax. Solve three of the submitted ciphers and two of the revised ones.

Assignment 2: Systems 1. Join one of seven teams assigned to examine systems. Present a rough plan for doing the assignment. Make a map of the system. Note especially: direct lines of communication (how does A get to B?), indirect lines of communication (how does A influence B?), variable lines of communication (other ways that A can get to B), binary state lines (yes/no options in the movement of material), and conditions of access (who gets in at what point?).

Assignment 3: Systems 2. Based on assignment 2 and our discussions in class, 1) produce a 3-page paper describing your system; and 2) participate in a general presentation of your system to the class.

Assignment 4 (Final): Summations. Write a final, 5-page paper reflecting on your experience of a UMass education through the lens of our readings and discussions in this class. Please be organized and clear. For clarification, see the schedule page.

Grading Scale: A (92–100); A- (90, 91); B+ (87–89); B (82–86); B- (80, 81); C+ (77–79); C (72–76); C- (70, 71); D+ (67–69); D (62–66); D- (60, 61); F (0–59).

Hack. Somewhere on this site is a FREE PASS. If you can find it, you get a free pass on all asignments. Your only responsibility will be participation in the final teams. It goes to the FIRST person to find it only.


Attendance is required. Why bother enrolling in college otherwise? My complete Attendance policy here. Although written for another course, it applies equally to this one.

Late Assignments are not accepted. Make provisions beforehand and speak with me if you anticipate obstacles to punctuality. I will accept officially excused absences.

Electronic devices are unwelcome, but may be used for reference. Please don't browse the internet, use Facebook, play games, or email during class. It is extremely distracting to me and to other students, who are paying real money to be in the class.

No recording devices. No selling my copyrighted lectures, even if you took the notes. You can use your notes from class only for your own personal use, and cannot share them with or sell them to an outside vendor or entity without my written permission.  This pertains to in-class recordings as well.  Distributing notes or in-class recordings without my permission is a violation of faculty copyright protection. This policy pertains to notes taken by students with accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—you are welcome to take and use recordings, but you cannot sell them or distribute them without my written permission.

Conferences. I encourage you to meet with me at least once during the semester, if only to verify that the grades that you have correspond to the ones in my gradebook.

Office Hours. In 20 years of teaching, only about eight students have ever shown up to office hours. Finally realizing my folly, I don't keep office hours. But, I am usually to be found in my office. (Please let me know beforehand if you want to meet—I may be busy when you pop by, or teaching, or at a meeting.) Otherwise, please make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you and I will certainly try to oblige.


The University requires you to act and write with the highest degree of integrity. Ignorance of the standards of academic integrity is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. For more information, consult the website of the Dean of Students.

See below (Note 4) for more information.


NOTE 1: Please make and keep a copy of all your assignments. In case any difficulties arise with respect to misplaced assignments or with respect to discrepancies between your records and my own, I will accept the evidence of your computer system's dating function. For your own peace of mind, I suggest that you lock any document on the day it is due. That will prevent your system from associating your document with a later date.

NOTE 2: The schedule of this course is subject to change. It is not to be construed as a substitute for your attendance or as a catalogue of all the information for which you are responsible. All changes will be announced beforehand. This syllabus and the accompanying schedule constitute a binding contract between a student and professor. If you do not agree with any of the provisions set herein and as of this moment, then you are free to drop this class within the time allotted by the administration.

NOTE 3: All material pertaining to this course is copyrighted material and is subject to international and US laws of copyright. No recording devices, please.

NOTE 4: Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. The procedures outlined below are intended to provide an efficient and orderly process by which action may be taken if it appears that academic dishonesty has occurred and by which students may appeal such actions.

Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. For more information about what constitutes academic dishonesty, please see the Dean of Students’ website at:

NOTE 5: Disability Statement. [Text from CTFD] The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to making reasonable, effective and appropriate accommodations to meet the needs of students with disabilities and help create a barrier-free campus. If you are in need of accommodation for a documented disability, register with Disability Services to have an accommodation letter sent to your faculty. It is your responsibility to initiate these services and to communicate with faculty ahead of time to manage accommodations in a timely manner. For more information, consult the Disability Services website at


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Academic Schedule