Digital Humanities and Computer Assisted Literary Criticism
WHAT IS DIGITAL HUMANITIES
WHAT IS IT DOING IN DEPT. OF ENGLISH
A NEW COMPUTER-ASSISTED
MATTHEW G. KIRSCHENBAUM
RAYMOND G. SIEMENS
Unit 2: Literary Theory & Criticism
Dept. of English, M.K. Bhavnagar University,
Bhavnagar (Gujarat – India)
June 2012 (edits Jan 2014)
I teach, therefore you learn . . . or do you?
Changing form of literature – subject & narrative
style – an influence of the ‗time‘.
Vook? Reading vook.
Recent research – Jockers – ‗Influence of Jane
Austen on other literary figures‘
Example of ‗door‘ in ‗The White Tiger‘
Big Data as a Lense on Human Culture
The future can hold now that so much of the literary
canon is accessible digitally
WHAT IS DIGITAL HUMANITIES?
The digital humanities is an area of research, teaching, and
creation concerned with the intersection of computing and the
disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the field
of humanities computing, digital humanities embraces a
variety of topics ranging from curating online collections to
data mining large cultural data sets. Digital Humanities
currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials
and combines the methodologies from the traditional
humanities disciplines (such
as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology,
music, and cultural studies), as well as social sciences  ,
with tools provided by computing (such as data
visualisation, information retrieval, data
mining, statistics, computational analysis) and digital
WHAT IS DH DOING IN ENGLISH DEPTS.?
some half a dozen reasons why English
departments have historically been hospitable
settings for this:
First, after numeric input, text has been by far the
most tractable datatype 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 departments.
WHAT IS DH DOING IN ENGLISH DEPTS.?
Second, of course, there is the long association
between computers 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 1980s and the widespread means to
implement electronic archives and editions very
soon after; Jerome McGann is a key figure here,
with his work on the Rossetti Archive, which he has
repeatedly described as a vehicle for applied
theory, standing as paradigmatic.
WHAT IS DH DOING IN ENGLISH DEPTS.?
Fourth, and at roughly the same time, is a modest
but much-promoted belle-lettristic 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 departments to
cultural studies, where computers and other objects
of digital material culture become the centerpiece of
analysis. I‘m thinking here, for example, of the
reader Stuart Hall and others put together around
the Sony Walkman, that hipster iPod of old.
WHAT IS DH DOING IN ENGLISH DEPTS.?
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 largescale text digitization projects, the most significant
of course being Google Books, with scholars like
Franco Moretti taking up data mining and
visualization to perform ―distance readings‖ of
hundreds, thousands, or even millions of books at a
OVERVIEW OF SOME RECENT WORK IN
COMPUTER ASSISTED LITERARY CRITICISM
Tim William Machan
Tamsie Van Pelt
In the first paper, "Computer Criticism", John Smith
explains that computer applications for language and
literature studies have either involved the production of
aids with which most of us are familiar (e.g., dictionaries
or concordances) or have involved the use of the
computer for the analysis of specific works.
He explains, correctly I think, that the second offers a
new methodology that has been largely overlooked
because of lack of experience on the part of those who
have traditionally undertaken literary analysis.
Smith correctly points out that the computer can only
augment the critics' judgment, not replace it, but he
makes a convincing case that such augmentation is of
If there is such a thing as a new computerassisted literary criticism, its expression lies in
a model that is as broad-based as Smith's, and
is as encompassing of the discipline of literary
studies as it is tied to the evolving nature of the
electronic literary text that lies at the heart of
that discipline's intersection with computing
It is the desire to establish the parameters of
such a model for the interaction between
literary studies and humanities computing - for
a model of the new computer-assisted literary.
TIM WILLIAM MACHAN
In the introduction to his Medieval Literature:
Texts and Interpretation, Machan succinctly
expresses a division of literary critical and
scholarly work into two chief categories: what
he terms "Lower Criticism," which is chiefly
textual and bibliographical in nature, and
"Higher Criticism, “which is typified by
the relationship between the two is mutually
influential, for "without the traditional Lower
Criticism's constructing of texts, there can be
no focus for the theorizing of Higher Criticism,
just as without the traditional Higher Criticism's
interpretation of texts there can be no contexts
within which Lower Criticism can identify facts"
"The Text of Performance and the Performance
of Text in the Electronic Edition “explores the
notion of the "performance crux"- a moment,
puzzling to the director and actors, that calls for
some kind of stage business to justify or
explain action - in the surviving texts of many of
In her article," Computer-mediated Texts and
Textuality: Theory and Practice,“ she continues
concern with the scholarly electronic edition,
beginning with the observation that the majority
of literary archives in electronic form within
have been conceived more as digital libraries
than disquisitions that utilise the medium as a
site of interpretation- tracing this situation to
the underlying philosophy of texts and
textuality implicit in TEI-SGML
" Industrial Text and French Neo-structuralism“
discusses that mode in the context of its origins in
reaction to French post-structuralist theorization
and examines a number of exemplary approaches to
text analysis in this vein.
Further, he considers how computer-assisted
accumulation of text-based expertise in the world at
large complements this approach, ultimately
concluding that we can anticipate the direction of
critical studies to be radically altered by the sheer
size of the economic stakes implied by a new kind
of text, the industrial text which lies at the centre of
an information society.
TAMSIE VAN PELT
Exploring further the cross-fertilization of theoretical
approaches and computing is Tamise Van Pelt's "The
Question Concerning Theory: Humanism, Subjectivity, and
Within, Van Pelt surveys the shift from humanist, to antihumanist, to posthumanist assumptions in literary critical
circles and questions whether today's computing
environments can still be approached through late twentieth
century anti-humanist theories or whether electronic texts
demand new, media-specific analyses.
Current work in new media, she asserts, suggests that the
dominant discourse on the subject - the rational individual
of the humanistic enlightenment, which gave way to the
constructed subject of the mid-twentieth century (the
discourse underlying much contemporary critical theory) - is
being challenged by an emergent discourse of the
in his "Animating the Language Machine:
Computers and Performance,“ explores how we
consider a recently-emergent type of text - the
computer-mediated writing space - as a unique
performance medium with characteristic
Drawing on contemporary performance theory,
literary criticism, and communication theory,
Soules proposes that technologists, academics,
and artists are developing idiomatic rhetorics to
explore the technical and expressive properties
of the new "language machines" and their
In "Gore Galore: Literary Theory and Computer
Games," Geoffrey Rockwell provides a brief
history of another recently-emergent type of
text, the computer game, and asserts that they
have not been adequately theorized. Rockwell
develops a topology of computer games and a
theory, based on Bakhtin's poetics of the
novel, that views them as rhetorical artifacts
well-suited for critical study.
In her "Mutability, Medium, and Character,"
Grigar explores the future of literature created
for and with computer technology, focusing
primarily on the trope of mutability as it is
played out with the new media. In its
speculation about the possibilities of this new
genre, it explores ways in which we may want to
think when developing future theories about
literature- and all types of writing - generated by
and for electronic environment
CASE STUDY 1: MATTHEW JOCKERS
Computing and Visualizing the 19th-Century
Method: The 3,592 books in my corpus span from
1780 to 1900 and were written by authors from
Britain, Ireland, and America; the corpus is almost
even in terms of gender representation. From each
of these books, I extracted stylistic information
using techniques similar to those employed in
authorship attribution analysis: the relative
frequencies of every word and mark of punctuation
are calculated and the resulting data winnowed so
as to exclude features not meeting a preset relative
OUTCOME OF CASE STUDY 1
Using three measures of network significance
(weighted in-degree, weighted out-degree and
Page-Rank), I will end my presentation with the
argument that Jane Austen and Walter Scott are at
once the least influenced (i.e. most original) of the
early writers in the network and, at the same time,
the most influential in terms of the longevity, or
‗fitness,‘ of their thematic-stylistic signals.
The signals introduced by Austen and Scott position
them at the beginning of a stylistic-thematic
genealogy; they are, in this sense, the literary
equivalent of Homo erectus or, if you prefer, Adam
CASE STUDY 2: ‗DOOR‘ IN THE WHITE TIGER
eText of The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga
The word ‗Door‘ recurring more than 100 times.
It‘s recurrence is symbolic.
It proves to be an important ‗key‘ to solve the puzzle
of ‗The White Tiger‘.
"'You were looking for the key for years/But the
door was always open!'"
This is possible only if the text is in digital format.
CASE STUDY 3: ‗LIZARD‘, ‗BUFFALO‘, ‗TIGER‘,
BUDDHA AND GANDHI – RECURRING IMAGES SYMBOLISM
The feature as simple as ‗Ctrl+F‘ gives us
opportunity to find recurrent ‗words‘.
The study of ‗words‘ from the semantic field of
animals, gives us an idea to have ecocritical
reading of the text.
It was a pleasant surprise to find recurrent images
of buffalo, lizard and tiger in the novel which
opportune us to explore deeper symbolic
connection with the archetypes.
Similarly, Buddha and Gandhi, also resurfaced in
the narrative at regular interval.
CREATIVE WRITERS UNDER DIGITAL LENS
The new tools of discovery provide a fresh look at
culture, much as the microscope gave us a closer
look at the subtleties of life and the telescope
opened the way to faraway galaxies.
―Traditionally, literary history was done by studying
a relative handful of texts,‖ says Mr. Jockers, an
assistant professor of English and a researcher at
the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at
the University of Nebraska. ―What this technology
does is let you see the big picture — the context in
which a writer worked — on a scale we‘ve never
In literature, stylometry is the study of an author‘s
writing style, and these days it leans heavily on
computing and statistical analysis.
Culturomics is the umbrella term used to describe
rigorous quantitative inquiries in the social sciences
―Computing and Visualizing the 19th-Century
Literary Genome.‖ Such biological metaphors seem
apt, because much of the research is a quantitative
examination of words. Just as genes are the
fundamental building blocks of biology, words are
the raw material of ideas.
For example, type in ―women‖ in comparison to
―men,‖ and you see that for centuries the number of
references to men dwarfed those for women. The
crossover came in 1985, with women ahead ever
since. (Lohr, Steve – Dickens, Austen and Twain,
Through a Digital Lens. nytimes.com)
UNCHARTED: BIG DATA AS A LENS ON HUMAN
Aiden and Michel, who met at Harvard‘s Program for
Evolutionary Dynamics and dubbed their field of
research ―culturomics,‖ contextualize the premise:
―At its core, this big data revolution is about how
humans create and preserve a historical record of their
activities. Its consequences will transform how we look
at ourselves. It will enable the creation of new scopes
that make it possible for our society to more effectively
probe its own nature. Big data is going to change the
humanities, transform the social sciences, and
renegotiate the relationship between the world of
commerce and the ivory tower.‖ (Aiden and Michel)
Adiga, Arvind. The White Tiger. 2008. HarperCollins. India
Aiden, Erez, Jean-Baptiste Michel. Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture. 2013.
Barad, Dilip. Comparative Overview of the Forms of Storytelling with Reference to the
Digital Age. Spark International eJournal. Vol III. Iss. 3. Aug 2011.
―Digital Humanities‖. Wikipedia. Wikimedia, 26 Nov. 2010. Web. 2 June. 2012.
English Departments? 2010.
Jockers, Matthew L. Stanford University. ―Testing Authorship in the Personal Writings of Joseph
Smith Using NSC Classification.‖
Jockers, Matthew. Macroanalysis.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in
Lohr, Steve. Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Ed. ‗Cyberspace Textuality – Computer Technology and Literary
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